By Julio Espinoza, Staff Writer
Last Thursday, September 15, the Consulate General of Mexico in Phoenix and the City of Phoenix invited two T-birds, Tomas Thomas (MAGAM ’17) and I, to the VIP celebration of Mexico’s Independence: a closed-door event that gathered Arizona political and business leaders at the City Hall of Phoenix.
September 15th is the first Mexican major holiday that the newly appointed Consul General of Mexico, Claudia Franco, hosted in the midst of the U.S. presidential race, as well as declining national and international approval ratings of incumbent President Peña Nieto of Mexico. On Thursday night, while Mexicans gathered to cry “Out Peña” in Mexico City’s Zocalo (main square), the diplomatic and consular posts of Mexico in the world celebrated the Independence Day.
Regardless of the decline of the perceived legitimacy of the Peña Administration, what does it mean to be the top diplomat of Mexico in Arizona? What is the significance of the Arizona-Mexico relationship? What are the windows of opportunity ahead for the Consul General of Mexico in Phoenix?
Phoenix is perhaps the most strategic consular post for Mexico due to national security reasons: most of the political stability of the U.S-Mexico relationship depends on the correct management of the Arizonan-Sonoran desert region, which is a gateway for trade and investment but also presents myriad governance issues: illegal trafficking of people, drugs and arms as well as other organized crime activities such as money laundering and kidnapping.
Mexico is no longer the backyard of the United States as several pundits used to believe, but the front yard. This is thanks to the rapidly increasing levels of interdependence between the two countries and the responsibility possessed by Mexico in this new American Century.
Mexico is a trading nation with a strong orientation for a world order where peace, law, democracy and free trade prevail. Mexico City advocates for a stable and open international system, being on the same page with Washington D.C. If we are looking for the same results then we need to work with our neighbors making the most of our commonalities, which reminds me of the words of former Consul General Rodríguez a few months ago before leaving Arizona:
“México and Arizona are friends and strategic partners, both share multiple economic, social and cultural ties. México ranks as the first destination for Arizona’s exports with USD 9.1 billion in 2015. An estimated 111,216 jobs in Arizona rely on bilateral trade with México. But beyond trade, our most valuable assett continues to be our people. Arizona is home to 1.7 million people of Mexican origin that contribute importantly to the prosperity of both Arizona and México. We need to reinforce our path to the future, unlike the past we must build bridges and not walls.”
The last 3 years of the Arizona-Mexico relationship, in retrospect, have been remarkably positive thanks to Mexico. Former Consul General Rodriguez has achieved so much in a short period due to his commitment to cooperation and the steady intention of the last two Federal Administrations of the Mexican Government to improve relations with the U.S. and Arizona, in spite of the loud and reckless policy measures and statements of some American political actors at the State and Federal level. Since his appointment in 2013, Consul Rodríguez conducted an inter-agency dialog that resulted in the establishment of the ProMexico trade office in Arizona and Nevada (the international business agency of Mexico), entry into force of memoranda of understanding between Phoenix and multiple Mexican cities, and the opening of the Arizona State Trade and Investment Office in Mexico City.
Being the top Mexican diplomat in Arizona is a demanding job that requires a massive amount of analytical skills and stamina, besides a very rare talent for negotiation and peace building. The newly appointed Consul General Franco should continue with the Mexico-U.S. inter-agency cooperation that rests upon several mechanisms for regional integration such as NAFTA (1994), the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (2005), the Top Level Economic Dialogue (2013), The Mexico United States Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (2013) and the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (2014).
The high political and economic dialog must come hand in hand with a transparent grassroots dialog between Arizonan and Mexican community advocates, industry leaders, academics, experts and civil society in general. It will also be important for the new Consul General to build “consensus bridges” and tear down “ideological walls” by promoting tourism, trade and investment between Arizona and Mexico as well as mutual understanding and cooperation between local and state governments. The Mayors of Phoenix and Tucson know about the strategic value of Mexico and that is why they have been advocates for better relations with Mexico. Perhaps that is why the Mexico Independence Day Celebration took place at the City Hall of Phoenix: to send a strong political message of commitment for bottom-up (from city level to state and federal level) dialog that will translate into mutual respect and economic integration?