LatinaLista — Antonio Garza was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico under President George W. Bush from 2002-2009. A native Texan and grandson of Mexican immigrants, Ambassador Garza, at the time of his appointment and service was the United States’ youngest Chief of Mission serving abroad.
Recently speaking at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas conference on Mexico at the Houston branch, Ambassador Garza revealed he’s had the chance to talk to a number of journalists on both sides of the border about the U.S. elections.
In the following interview posted on the Ambassador’s blog, he shares his perspective on the U.S. presidential election and what the future looks like for U.S.-Mexico relations.
Five Questions with Ambassador Garza
1. Ambassador Garza, on the eve of the U.S. presidential election and after four years of President Barack Obama’s leadership, are Americans better off?
Ambassador Garza: The question should be: “Is our economy performing the way it should? Is President Obama up to the job?.” And, many Americans are answering that question, “no”. There is still great concern about the level of unemployment. For nearly 43 months we have been at 8% or greater unemployment, there are 23 million people still looking for jobs, and 45-46 million people now seeking public assistance. That, and public spending is out of control. There’s real concern and anxiety in the U.S. about the economy. And, while your question is ultimately one that Americans ask every presidential cycle, what we are seeing in the 2012 election cycle is both a very close race and stark contrasts between the two candidates. Both parties, Democrats and Republicans are working very hard to turn out their most partisan, most die-hard supporters. Recent polling suggests that there are as few as 3 to 5% of truly undecided voters in the United States. This is going to be a race about the electoral map where a handful of states are going to determine the next president. Perhaps a better question may be how do small groups of undecided voters in states like Florida, and Ohio, and Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada feel? In these key states the economic impact of the crisis and of the downturn has registered differently. I think it’s going to be an interesting election but, quite frankly, Americans know that until the United States addresses issues of debt, deficit and competitiveness, our economy is not going to grow at a pace that it needs to create real opportunity in the country. And President Obama simply hasn’t done that.
2. You are an expert in U.S.-Mexico relations. What could a Romney win mean for the bilateral relationship?
Ambassador Garza: Well, I think the overarching themes in the U.S.-Mexico relationship would remain those of prosperity and security. How can we both have a safe and secure environment, and conduct trade in a way that moves us forward in terms of growing both economies. The Washington Post recently noted that the increase in bilateral trade year on year was double digit, that’s impressive. I think in spite of the transition here in Mexico, and the possibility of a new president in the United States, the issues will remain relatively unchanged. But increasingly, Mexico has its own place in the world, its own weight, its own agenda. And how we complement each other is the bilateral challenge. We’ll always have issues like trade, immigration… and, certainly drugs and security. I don’t see a dramatic shift in how we discuss those issues, or a radical change in priority. There may be some tactical adjustment and a transition period where new personalities have to get comfortable with each other and build a level of confidence so that you can have free and open dialogue, but the U.S.-Mexico relationship is very institutionalized, it’s very broad. And it’s driven much more by economic realities than people realize. It’s a healthy, stable and mature relationship. And, I’m certain that will remain the case.
3. The GOP has a Latino vote problem. Marco Rubio introduced Mitt Romney in Tampa, but Cuban Americans are very different from Mexican Americans. What does the GOP need to do to capture the Latino vote?
Ambassador Garza: I think if you look at the GOP there’s quite a good representation of Latinos in leadership… Susana Martinez, the Governor of New Mexico, Ted Cruz, Texas’ Republican nominee for the United States Senate, and certainly Marco Rubio has a very high profile. But, if you look at efforts to appeal to the Latino vote in the United States, the GOP has to be more focused on the basic issues of economic opportunity and education. There’s no doubt that the Latino market is an enormous one, both economically and politically. On the economic side, the numbers suggest a nearly trillion-dollar market. And, corporate America is focused on appealing to that market. Our political parties have to do something similar in terms of attracting Latino political support. But it’ll be a gradual process; it’ll be a process of focusing on issues that are important to Latinos. And again, I think that economic opportunity and education are the key drivers. Interestingly when Republicans have done that, they have done well with the Latino community; certainly President Bush did it, and I think Governor Romney will surprise people and do much better than people are imagining right now.
4. Now that the PRI is back in power in Mexico, what kind of relationship would you expect between the PRI and the U.S.?
Ambassador Garza: I think it will be very good. I think the United States and Mexico have enjoyed a very healthy, a very respectful relationship. We’re far more open in the way we discuss issues. I don’t see it as a contentious relationship, I think largely because it’s one critical to both countries in terms of trade, security, and, for the U.S., recognition of our changing demographics. Let’s face it; much of our cooperation is simply out of necessity. Mexico has a place in the world that is more impressive each day. I think we are about to see Mexico’s decade in terms of both economic opportunity, and leadership; regionally and in the world. I think this new government understands that. If you look closely at the campaign and the issues President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto has been talking about; economic reform, and the anticorruption and transparency initiatives which have already been placed before the congress, you recognize that this government is positioning itself very well and will be building upon a foundation that has been constructed over the last 12 to 18 years. By that, I mean much work has been done with regards to macroeconomic stability, building institutions for security, the judiciary, the role of the legislature. All of these are moving in the right direction. So I’m very optimistic about the president elect and his team, and impressed with what I have seen so far.
5. One of Peña Nieto’s promises is to open Pemex to competition and allow foreign investment. What could this mean for the bilateral relationship?
Ambassador Garza: Energy reform is something that is going to be driven in Mexico by Mexican leadership. Whatever form it takes, the markets will evaluate it. Global markets and global investors will ultimately make their assessment by how they choose to invest. That’s how markets evaluate reform. This new administration recognizes that. I think any opening in the energy sector for additional private investment will be welcome not only globally but, obviously, in the United States. We as a hemisphere must view the opportunity to have energy independence as something critical to our future, and Mexico is very much a part of that equation. So this discussion on energy reform places Mexico in a unique and strategic position. I repeat, it’s something that must be done by Mexican leadership for Mexico… but if it’s done, it will be good for everyone.
Antonio Garza is former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and now counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case. He can be followed on Twitter @aogarza.