McALLEN, RGV – Texas can expect to enjoy a much closer relationship with Tamaulipas once Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca takes office as governor – so says the man himself.

In addition to opening an international trade office in San Antonio, Cabeza de Vaca said he plans to have about ten percent of the Tamaulipas state police force trained in Texas, along with the state’s top prosecutor.

The Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate made these pledges in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian just days before his comfortable victory over Baltazar Hinojosa Ochoa, gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas for the PRI-Nueva Alianza-Partido Verde alliance.

Cabeza de Vaca secured 630,513 votes, equating to 50.15 percent. Hinojosa Ochoa secured 453,062 votes, equating to 36.03 percent. The rest of the votes went to candidates from smaller parties. The PAN won 25 out of the 43 cities in Tamaulipas, including Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Altamira, and Madero. Sixteen out of the 22 state representative slots were won by the PAN.

“There are two T’s in my heart – Tamaulipas and Texas,” Cabeza de Vaca said in his interview, pointing out that he was born in McAllen and completed his education in Texas. “Being bi-cultural, bilingual, going to school here, I see things differently. It is going to help us a lot in Tamaulipas.”

Cabeza de Vaca’s views on forging closer economic ties between Texas and Tamaulipas echo those made by many economic development leaders in the Rio Grande Valley.

“A lot of our families live on both sides of the border. We are family. Washington does not understand this. Mexico City does not understand this. Of all the governors we have had in Tamaulipas, no one has gone to school here,” the former Reynosa mayor said.

Cabeza de Vaca said that if Texas and Tamaulipas worked more closely on economic development, manufacturing and energy, both states would prosper.

“If you put Texas and Tamaulipas together, the potential is enormous. So many other states wish they had 17 border crossing points. That is what we have. Gas, petroleum, we have so much. Texas is the third biggest economy in the U.S. and the 11th in the world. The officials in Tamaulipas have never worked with Texas, they have never pushed the economic ties we have. I intend to do this. We need to sell ourselves as a region. If we work together we will be attractive to investors.”

Cabeza de Vaca was mayor of Reynosa from 2005 to 2007. After this he became a federal senator for Tamaulipas. While mayor he teamed up with McAllen leaders to visit Korea on a trade mission. “The officials in Korea could not believe how close our ties were. They thought we were two different countries. But we are really family. We brought back L&G.”

Cabeza de Vaca said state leaders in Texas and Tamaulipas need to realize they are not competing with each other. “We are competing with Korea, and China and India. We need to sell this area as one region. All the benefits we have together, we can lower the cost of manufacturing, we have our version of Eagle Ford Shale. The potential is enormous. We have a lot of wealth we have not utilized. We have agriculture, cattle, the best wind, we have petroleum and natural gas.”

The interview with Cabeza de Vaca took place at the Casa de Palmas Renaissance in McAllen. A number of reporters from different media outlets were given time to interview him. At the time the polls had him six points up. Accompanying the candidate was Nelson H. Balido, chairman of the Border Commerce & Security Council. Balido said he was excited at the prospect of Cabeza de Vaca opening an international trade office in San Antonio.

“Businesses will be able to come in do matchmaking with Tamaulipas. It will be a place where the energy industry can come and talk. It will be a place for tourism. A place to talk about trade. It will almost be an external affairs office. He is putting the office right where NAFTA was signed – San Antonio,” Balido said.

Balido said Cabeza de Vaca has met with Border Patrol, the Texas Rangers, ICE and other organizations. “He has met with these groups in order to be ready. He has been well received. He has been asked to speak at various events here in Texas.”

A number of Texas leaders have spoken enthusiastically about Cabeza de Vaca becoming governor of Tamaulipas. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling spoke in support of the candidate in a campaign video. Christi Craddick, a Texas Railroad Commissioner, was excited about the possibility of closer ties between Texas and Tamaulipas in the energy sector and tweeted as much following a meeting with Cabeza de Vaca. “Christi Craddick said she cannot wait for me to win. She was real excited,” Cabeza de Vaca said.

Peace and Security

Much of the conversation with Rio Grande Guardian columnist Gary Mounce focused on border security. Cabeza de Vaca said once he takes over as governor, Tamaulipas residents will get back their peace and security.

“I have been preparing for this for a long time. We are going to get back our peace and security. We are going to create the best police the State of Tamaulipas ever had. People well-trained, well-equipped, on good salaries. We are going to certify them here in Texas.”

Cabeza said some of the funding for this additional training in Texas would come from the Merida fund. According to the State Department, the Merida Initiative, signed by the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico, is “an unprecedented partnership between the United States and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence while furthering respect for human rights and the rule of law. Based on principles of common and shared responsibility, mutual trust, and respect for sovereign independence, the two countries’ efforts have built confidence that is transforming the bilateral relationship.”

Cabeza de Vaca said Merida funding is not just reserved for infrastructure.

“They have opened it up for training. We cannot train them all of them (the Tamaulipas state police) here but we are going to train ten to 20 percent here in Texas and they will train the rest. It is a matter of trust. We are going to send a message, not just here but over there. I am going to make sure every police officer is certified.”

Asked how many state police officers might be trained in Texas, Cabeza de Vaca said about 1,000.

“We also need to pay them well and give them benefits. I am going to give them scholarships for their kids. I am going to give them health insurance and life insurance. And I am going to give them credit so they can buy a house. That way they will feel comfortable. They will not want to lose these benefits.”

Mounce asked Cabeza de Vaca what he made of Josefina Vasquez’s comments in The Guardian that Mexico really has two governments, with the one operating during the night being organized crime. Vasquez was the PAN’s presidential candidate at the last election.

Cabeza de Vaca responded by saying the next state prosecutor is not going to be a friend or compadre of the governor. “That is going to change. We will choose a well-respected man, someone who will not take money from organized crime. Not only that, I want our next prosecutor to be certified in the United States. Why? We want to send a message that we are working together. The criminals, they do not stop because there is a river. They are on both sides of the river. We have got to gain each other’s trust. No governor has worked together with this side (Texas) before.”

Asked why Tamaulipas has become such a dangerous place, Cabeza de Vaca placed much of the blame on previous governors.

“The governors have been corrupt. The cartels bought the politicians or the politicians asked for their help in order to stay in office. Either way they gave away our liberty. The governors gave them power. That is how the cartels got stronger. There is no way the cartels can get that strong without the help of the politicians. There is no way.”

Cabeza de Vaca said the caliber of politicians being elected to office in Mexico has to improve. “Too many of them say, if I don’t do it (bow to the wishes of organized crime), they will kill me. They should have told us they were before they got elected. I was a mayor of Reynosa. It did not happen with me. I had no relationship with them (drug cartels). I did not owe them anything. If you owe them something, then they are going to be above you.”

Cabeza de Vaca pointed out that Army had to take down 120 video cameras that were installed on street corners around the city by organized crime. “They had more intelligence than they Army. There is no way those cameras were installed without the knowledge of the city.”

Cabeza said he tried to shine a light on corruption in Tamaulipas while serving as a federal senator. He said he got no help from senators from the PRI but was, eventually, listened to by Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s secretary of the interior.

“I spoke about the corruption on the Senate, in open session. The senators from the PRI said there is no need to get involved. I said, come to my state. Let’s visit the owners of the 3,000 ranches that are empty, where the owners have gone away because of the security issues. Let’s ask the more than 900 families that had to leave Tampico because of the kidnappings. Or, let’s ask the truckers who get kidnapped. Days later I met Osorio Chong. I had to put a lot of pressure on the situation. The help was not asked for by the governor. It was not asked for by the PRI. It was asked by me.”

Cabeza de Vaca concluded the interview by saying security in Mexico will not improve if it does not include all three levels, federal, state and the cities. “What is happening right now? Only the Army and the Marines are working in order to secure the peace. They have done a real good job. The problem is at the state level and the city level. There, those that should be your allies are your enemies.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor and Rio Grande Guardian columnist Gary Mounce interviewing Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca at the Casa de Palmas Renaissance hotel in McAllen.