McALLEN, December 1 - Congressman Henry Cuellar believes Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s planned focus on strengthening economic ties with the United States will help the border region enormously.
Cuellar was one of four members of Congress to attend Peña Nieto’s inauguration on Saturday as part of the official U.S. delegation. He is a good friend of the PRI leader was the only foreigner allowed into his “war room” when Enrique Peña Nieto won election on July 1.
“This is the best relationship the United States has had with Mexico in 150 years. We are working together a lot closer on so many things. With the new president I think you will see an even more enhanced relationship, based on what the President-elect has been saying,” Cuellar told the Guardian, before flying to Mexico City on Friday.
Peña Nieto met with President Obama, cabinet members and congressional leaders on a visit to Washington, D.C., earlier this week. Cuellar said he liked what he heard from his good friend.
“When President-elect Peña Nieto talked with the congressional leadership he started with a very different message to the one I have heard from past presidents of Mexico. Usually, Mexican presidents talk about immigration, guns, security, drugs,” Cuellar said.
“He answered questions when it came to those issues but his real emphasis was economics. How do we enhance the economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico? How do we maximize this relationship to make the border region more efficient? He emphasized the importance of the border region. I think that is good news.”
Cuellar said the thrust of Peña Nieto’s message in Washington was looking at ways of enhancing economic competitiveness. “How do we enhance our relationship so that we can create more jobs in the U.S. and in Mexico?” Cuellar asked. “Peña Nieto talked about foreign investment and oil and gas in Mexico, not to give it away but to bring in more technology and develop partnerships. He talked about the oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. So, his emphasis was economics, economics, economics.”
Cuellar said such an emphasis is “good news for both countries and it is very good news for the border.” He said the more attention that is paid to improving efficiency at border ports of entry, the more U.S. trade with Mexico, which currently stands at $1.2 billion a day, will flourish. “This will be good news for the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of the border,” Cuellar predicted.
Asked how the U.S. government can help Mexico, Cuellar said: “My message to the president elect is what I told President Calderón some years ago. We can help Mexico with whatever topic they want us to cover. Every president talks about Mexican sovereignty. I understand that concept but our relationship with Mexico has greatly improved and we can do a lot more. We can help with foreign investment, with technology, with oil and gas. We have the best companies in Texas in oil and gas. Perhaps there is an equivalent to Eagle Ford Shale on the Mexican side that they want help with? Whatever the case, we have companies that are ready and willing to work over there.”
A long standing complaint about the Mexican economy is that wealth is concentrated in a few hands and its middle class is not large enough. This in part was due to the transfer of nationalized industries such as telecommunications into private monopolies. Cuellar said Peña Nieto can address this by focusing on economic competitiveness. “That was his number one message, whether it is creating more jobs in the energy field, in the automotive field, that will help the middle class. The fact that he had an economic message is not only good news for the middle class but for all Mexicans.”
Cuellar said that on his visit to Mexico City he intends to meet with federal senators and congressmen, as well as officials moving in to the Peña Nieto administration. He said that by forging stronger relationships at the federal level he can help the U.S. and Mexico develop closer ties in the commercial world. “We are looking for foreign investment and Peña Nieto is looking for foreign investment. I am sure there are American companies that want to go down there and there are Mexican individuals that want to come up here and invest. I think this is a mutually beneficial arrangement between both countries,” he said.
Cuellar first met Peña Nieto in May, 2011, long before the PRI leader announced his intention to run for president. “He was not even a candidate then. We were trying to set up meetings in Washington. Not many people wanted to meet him. I said to him the other day, ‘Hey, it is amazing what an election does. Now, everybody wants to be with you.’ He said when all the ceremonies are over he wants to invite me to Los Pinos (the official residency of the president). A personal invitation from him will be a great honor.”
Cuellar added that when he returns to the U.S. from Mexico he will talk to reporters about how the South Texas border region can benefit more from the Peña Nieto presidency. “Every time I go to Mexico he always makes time to see me. I was the only foreigner in his ‘war room’ back in July. He had a private reception afterwards and I was the only foreigner there. It has been an honor to get to know him. We still call each other ‘tocayo’.”
Tocayo is the Spanish word for sharing of the same first name.