With little opposition, the Mexican Senate ratified this week the nomination of Eduardo Medina Mora as Mexico’s new ambassador to the United States. In a presentation to the Senate’s foreign affairs commission broadcast on the Congress Channel, Medina sketched out his views on the parameters, problems and promises of the Mexico-U.S. relationship. A longtime mover and shaker on Mexico´s political scene, Medina touched on immigration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), migrant remittances, arms trafficking and drug legalization. Notably, he did not speak about outstanding environmental issues between Mexico and the U.S. per se.
“Few problems are as complex in the relations with the U.S. as this one,” Medina said of the immigration question.
According to the lawyer by profession, Mexican diplomats will have to keep careful tabs not only the progress of immigration reform in Washington, but ongoing initiatives at the state level as well. He said cross-border collaborations were needed to improve the repatriation process of Mexican nationals, especially women and children. In a long-range analysis of migration trends, Medina predicted relatively less of his countrymen (and women) will relocate to the U.S. in the future due to a drop in fertility rates among Mexican women and the looming end of Mexico´s demographic bonus of a young, plentiful labor force. In Medina´s estimation, however, the U.S. will still need to continue “importing people to keep growing.”
A private sector promoter of NAFTA in the 1990s, Medina judged the trade pact’s impact as an “extraordinary one for our country,” with commerce leaping six times since the agreement. The electronics and automotive sectors have especially flourished, he said, and now form an integral part of the global production chain.
In the bigger picture, Mexico is well-positioned to face China because of competitive transportation and other costs, Medina added. The attorney, who will celebrate his 56-year-old birthday later this month, acknowledged that border infrastructure grids and social development indices have not kept pace in places like Ciudad Juarez, a city where he said he has a personal history.
On the growing issue of drug legalization, which is gaining more attention in Mexico after voter approval of legalization measures in Washington state and Colorado last November, Medina adopted a kind of wait-and-see, middle-of-the-road stance, saying positives and negatives surrounded the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, as opposed to more dangerous drugs, but that a legalization regime would have to be done on a global scale to be viable.
On an issue of continued polemics south of the border, Medina denied that Mexico’s Office of the Federal Attorney General (PGR), an agency he headed from December 2006 to September 2009, knew about the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearm agency’s botched Operation Fast and Furious, which purportedly attempted to trap Mexican organized crime leaders in an arms sting that went awry and led to deaths on both sides of the border, including of a U.S. Border Patrol agent and an undetermined number of Mexican citizens. Medina added that the PGR has several ongoing investigations of Fast and Furious- an operation he called “absurd-” but that he had no further details to offer.
Jose Antonio Meade, Mexico’s new chancellor, expressed confidence that Medina would establish a “more productive” relationship with the U.S. Mexico’s new man in Washington is expected to meet with President Barack Obama on January 14. Coming to the banks of the Potomac after a stint as Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom, Medina replaces Arturo Sarukhan as the top Mexican diplomat in the U.S.
Medina’s previous professional experience at the helm of variously the PGR, CISEN (2000-2005), Mexico’s version of the CIA, and the Federal Public Security Secretariat (2005-2006), as well as his leg-work in lobbying for NAFTA, puts him squarely in the circle of Mexican and U.S. leaders responsible for the current economic and security arrangements between the two neighbors and portends a continuity in structural and elite relationships.
During Medina´s multiple stints in the public safety realm over the last decade, violence related to organized crime exploded in Mexico, 9-11 led to the tightening of U.S. border security, anti-terrorism became a major focus of the bilateral Mexico-U.S. relationship, and law enforcement and military exchanges grew between the two countries. In this context, Medina was an architect of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, a trilateral initiative aimed at uniting the military and security planning and response capabilities of the NAFTA nations.
Continuity in the relationship with Mexico’s other NAFTA partner is also the watch word after the reappointment of Francisco Barrio as Mexican ambassador in Canada.
Barrio’s initial appointment in 2009 was loudly but futilely protested by Mexican women´s and human rights organizations, together with Canadian supporters, because of Barrio’s record as governor of Chihuahua during the first wave of women’s killings that was exposed in Ciudad Juarez during the early 1990s. Non-governmental organizations criticized Barrio and his administration for disrespecting the victims and their family members, bungling investigations and fabricating scapegoats like the late Egyptian national Abdel Sharif Sharif in some of the killings.
More than usual, the Mexican media spotlight was on Medina, Barrio and other diplomats this week, as the country’s ambassadors gathered in the Mexican capital January 7-8 to receive the new political line to project abroad.
With the advent of the Pena Nieto administration, a change in public relations strategy is being rolled out to put the tinge of drug war violence in the past and promote Mexico as a youthful and peaceful land where investment and tourism opportunities abound. The diplomats’ task, Pena Nieto underscored, was to “make the name of Mexico a prestigious one in the world.”
In comments to diplomatic service personnel and other current and former officials, Pena Nieto struck a semantic chord reminiscent of ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gotari’s declaration more than two decades ago that Mexico was entering the First World. Mexico, Pena Nieto insisted, was in a positive macro-economic position and boasted a “low level of debt in relation to the size of the economy.” According to the new Mexican President, other strengths include “solid institutions,” a functioning democracy and a virtually unprecedented political consensus, as reflected in the Pact for Mexico agreed to by Pena Nieto’s PRI party and the nominally rival PAN and PRD parties.
Pena Nieto laid down the line for Mexican diplomats to transmit from their respective posts:
“Our economic model will be one of free trade, but with a great social purpose. Our country will continue being an economy open to the world, a promoter of world commerce and a guarantor of foreign investment that confides in our country. The government of the Republic will facilitate investments and, above all, will be respectful of private property and the law. There will be legal certainty for the investment projects that are realized in our country.”
Joining the consular corps to hear Pena Nieto’s words were Mexico state Gov. Eruviel Avila and Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte, both members of the PRI, as well as a cast of veterans of the political class. Dr. Jorge Castaneda, who served as Mexican foreign minister during the early years of the PAN Fox administration, was among the guests who heartily endorsed Pena Nieto’s message of a country encouraging peace at home and abroad.
“I think it is a great plus to leave behind the bloody, antagonistic and absurd (drug) war of Calderon,” Castaneda said.
Whether realities on the ground will conform to Pena Nieto’s or Castaneda’s image of the new Mexico is another matter entirely. While violence is significantly down in high-profile urban centers like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, blood keeps flowing in plentiful quantities in rural zones of Zacatecas, Jalisco, Michoacan and other localities which are far from the U.S. border, historically marginalized, less accessible to the press and out of the lens of the international media.
Kent Paterson edits Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news provided by the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico.