LAREDO, TEXAS – Former federal congressman Agustín Barrios Gómez remembers a visit Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made to Mexico City a few years ago.
In his remarks to a group of dignitaries, Abbott kept referring to Mexico as a neighbor of Texas. Barrios Gómez said when it was his turn to speak he corrected Abbott.
“Gov. Abbot was in Mexico City, it must have been about three years ago, and I had a chance to present him. He would say neighbor this and neighbor that. He would also say Mexico is the bridge to Latin America,” Barrios Gómez recalled.
“When I presented him I had an opportunity to clarify two points. We are not neighbors, we are roommates. And it is that intensity of the relationship, particularly with Texas. And two, there is no such thing as Latin America. Not in the context of Mexico and Texas or Mexico and the United States.”
Barrios Gómez offered one more tidbit to make his case that Mexico and Texas should be considered roommates.
“There is more trade between Mexico and Texas than everything the rest of Latin America trades everywhere. We trade more with Texas than everything that Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, whatever, combined. Combined, okay? Just so you get an idea of the intensity of this roommate-ship, or this roommate relationship we have with each other. And the fact is, none of this is new.”
Barrios Gómez made his remarks in a keynote speech at the recent Pathways For Trade Symposium at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. He is the son of a Mexico ambassador to Canada and general partner in International Capital Partners. He earned his master’s degree from the Madrid Law School and co-founded the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. He has a weekly politics program on Televisa that airs in Spanish and English.
Impact of Laredo Port of Entry
Barrios Gómez started his remarks at the symposium by saying: “I am one of those weird chilangos who is actually interested in the border.” A chliango is a resident of Mexico City, which Barrios Gómez says is the best city on earth.
He went on to make a case for Mexico being considered a “roommate” of Texas, rather than a neighbor. He said he met up recently with Mary Beth Sheridan, an experienced Washington Post correspondent based in Mexico City. He said Sheridan was surprised by the statistics he cited about the impact of international trade crossing U.S.-Mexico ports of entry.
“Did you know it (Laredo) is the No. 1 port in the hemisphere, but not just as an inland port. It has been that for a while. It has been the No. 1 inland port on the planet,” Barrios Gómez said.
“This is something I cannot emphasize enough, for those of us who have lived around the world. Please get out of the mentality of saying, Nuevo Laredo is the most important port in all of Mexico. It is the No. 1 inland port on the planet.”
Barrios Gómez then cited trade numbers from May 2019 which showed that the Laredo port of entry did more business than Long Beach, California.
“It actually beat Long Beach, Los Angeles, to be the No. 1 port in the hemisphere. That seriously does not happen,” Barrios Gómez said, to warm applause.
“Hear I am telling Mary Beth Sheridan. She is looking at me. Really? Yes, really. I am not talking about Argentina-Brazil, I am talking about your beat.”
Barrios Gómez said focusing on just border security issues was missing the point.
“Yes, there are horrifying things that are going on along the border, there are unacceptable things. In my country, in your country. Absolutely. There is a lot of stuff we need to do with respect to how we handle immigration. That is absolutely true, but it is not the whole story.”
Barrios Gómez said reporters from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, as well as other national news outlets, “need to start getting the big picture.”
The reason, he said, is because border communities deserve to be recognized for what they are. “They are incredible, they are incredibly entrepreneurial, they are incredibly active, they are making North America as people want North America to be.”
Barrios Gómez said that unlike the European Union, which was fashioned by “wise men” after World War II, the interconnectivity of the United States and Mexico came about by ordinary people doing business and travel.
Most integrated countries on the planet
“It turns out that Mexico and the United States are the two most integrated countries on the planet. I am talking order of magnitude. It is not even open for discussion. We have the most legally crossed border on the planet, 350,000 legal border crossings through 330 ports of entry,” Barrios Gómez said.
“We have the most important inland port on the planet, which is Laredo-Nuevo Laredo. We have 14,000 tractor trailers – I hope I still have this correct – crossing every single day. San Ysidro, which is San Diego-Tijuana, is the most crossed border station on the planet.”
Barrios Gómez said it is wrong to call San Ysidro merely an important border crossing point.
“It is the most important border crossing on the planet – 120,000 people every single day cross between San Diego and Tijuana. That is 43 lanes of traffic, ladies and gentlemen. Visualize that. Think about that. That is five eight-lane highways side by side. That is unbelievable.”
Barrios Gómez said the U.S. and Mexico must be doing something right “because it turns out that our shared border is actually safe. The reason this can happen is because we are doing our work. There can be a lot of criticism on a lot of different fronts but at the end of the day this is happening, this is real and it works. And it works better than anywhere else in the world.”
Barrios Gómez then recited more statistics.
“There is the equivalent of the population of Canada in the United States in terms of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, 37 million. Eighty percent of whom are either U.S. citizens or legal residents. Not undocumented immigrants. The Mexican story in the United States is not, on the whole, a story of undocumented immigration.”
Barrios Gómez said not only is the U.S. the number one destination for the Mexican diaspora, Mexico is the No. 1 destination for the American diaspora.
“At any given time there is between one and three million Americans in Mexico. Which is between four and 12 times more than second placed Canada. It is the No. 1 destination by order of magnitude. One out of four international flights that leaves the United States to an international destination is Mexico. Mexico is not just the No. 1 destination for the United States, it has more visitors from the United States than the other four in the top five combined.”
Barrios Gómez then spoke about the influence Mexico has had on the United States. “There is a reason we are in these places that have Spanish names, because this is a shared history,” he said.
Barrios Gómez recalled a conversation he had a few years back with then California Governor Jerry Brown in which he pointed out that the seal of the City of Los Angles includes an eagle and a snake. “What does it commemorate? The founding of Mexico City. Do you know what year?” Barrios Gómez asked the audience. He later gave the answer, 1325.
“Mexico City is in many ways the capital of North America. It named the continent, it gave the continent the dollar sign. The symbol for money is the symbol for pesos. It is News Spain and Spain bound together. It was copied by the 13 colonies when they wanted to establish a currency, they took the symbol for money in the hemisphere, which was the Mexican peso,” Barrios Gómez said.
“Why was it the Mexican peso? Because Mexico City was the city that actually had a mint. So, we minted the money for the entire continent.”
Barrios Gómez said a visit to the Confederate Museum in Richmond, Virginia, would show that the last wage given to a Confederate soldier in the war was the Mexican peso because it was the only money that was worth anything. “It was the currency that had value for the longest time.”
Barrios Gómez said he believed the relationship with Mexico to be the most important the United States has. “I believe this and I can argue it ’til the cows come home,” he said. He then rattled off more tidbits to prove his case.
“Mexico City is the only place outside Washington, D.C., where every U.S. government agency is represented. That is the level of the relationship. Mexico at the same time, of course, has the largest consular presence of any country, anywhere, in the United States – 52 consulates in the United States. It is not as if we don’t know. We do know and the boots on the ground show that we know the reality behind the relationship. It is just that the rest of the world does not know.”
Not only does the rest of the world now know this, Barrios Gómez said, but it is under-appreciated in Mexico City and Washington, D.C.
“Why? Because we been epically not up to the task, ladies and gentlemen. We have got the creme de la creme, this is the cutting edge, in this room. These are the people in the most important port in the hemisphere. These are the only people, for all practical purposes that are really thinking about our region. That is wonderful because, of course, there are some incredibly high-quality people in this room. But, I think it is also horrifying. Why isn’t this room ten times as big? Why are we not having these meetings with all of the senators and all of the members of Congress in Mexico City and Washington, D.C. Why is that not happening?”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above feature shows Agustín Barrios Gómez (center) being presented with a present for giving a keynote speech at the Pathways For Trade Symposium held at Texas A&M International University on Sept. 10, 2019. Barrios Gómez spoke at a reception hosted by IBC Bank. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
Editor’s Note: The above feature is the second in a three-part series focusing on the analysis of Agustín Barrios Gómez. Click here to read Part One.