HARLINGEN, RGV – The border region does not have a problem with spillover violence due to drug cartel activity in Mexico but it should be concerned about spillover corruption, says the secretary of state for Texas.

Carlos Cascos spoke in depth about his passion for Texas’ special relationship with Mexico at the Governor’s Small Business Forum, an event hosted jointly by San Benito Economic Development Corporation and the chambers of commerce for Harlingen and San Benito. It was held at Casa de Amistad in Harlingen.

“Let me tell you the problem I have, and I think that everybody in this room should be concerned about. Because of the influence of the cartels in Mexico, the bigger threat is not spillover violence. That is not the bigger threat. The bigger threat is spillover corruption, where you have powerful cartels buying off our law enforcement,” Cascos said.

“We have seen that recently with national figures indicted, convicted and doing time. So, to me that is the bigger issue that we have. Not so much the spillover violence but the spillover corruption that unfortunately we are seeing, not just in the Valley but all over the border and many parts of our state.”

Later in his speech, Cascos discussed a semi-related point. When talking about the pitch Rio Grande Valley communities need to make in order to attract new business, Cascos said one topic gets overlooked. He said that in addition to highlighting the quality of local schools, what healthcare is available, and how the region’s cost of living is lower than other parts of the state, local leaders should also be concerned about how local government is functioning.

“What does your local government look like? Is there stability? Is there integrity? Is there credibility? Is there accountability? Because people that want to come down to the Valley, they want to see how our government works. They don’t want to deal with people that lack integrity, or credibility, or honesty or transparency. That is part of it but no one ever looks at that.”

Cascos said even at the Governor’s Small Business Forum he had been approached by old friends who had told him that things are not the same now that he is in Austin. “We miss you. It is not the same, things are different. We are concerned,” Cascos said he had been told. Cascos said those in the audience should be concerned. “That is why it is so important to engage in voting and that is part of my role, to inform and educate voters on the importance of voting.”

With regard to Mexico, Cascos said that when Governor Greg Abbott appointed him Secretary of State he asked him to get to work on improving Texas’ relationship with Mexico. He said he has made three official visits to Mexico in his new role. Two of these were to Mexico City and one of these was with Gov. Abbott. The other visit was to Nuevo León for the inauguration of the first independent governor ever elected in Mexico, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón. Cascos said he was the only U.S. official invited to the event.

“When I got appointed SOS, in a couple of conversations I had with Governor Abbott, he said, I ‘want you to fix, I want you to basically embrace, I want you to re-nurture, I want you to re-establish the good relationship that we had with Mexico.’ Because, as you know or may have heard it was somewhat fragile. Whether it was the water treaty of 1944, or setting National Guard troops on the border, or the spillover violence that we were told that we had because of drug cartels. ‘Go down and work with them and fix it.’ So we have been doing that and I think we have come a long way.”

With regard to the 1944 water treaty, Cascos said: “I think the water treaty is about to be concluded. I think we are going to fix that to where it is going to be acceptable to both the United States, Texas and Mexico.”

With regard to drug cartel violence, Cascos said: “I think that there is nothing we (Texas) can do about cartel violence. But, I told Mexico the one thing you need to acknowledge is that there is a problem and they have.”

Cascos said he gets tired of all the ill-informed proposals about what to do with Mexico. “I read almost every day about the rhetoric about Mexico and how we need to do A, B, C, because of Mexico. I do not know about you all but I have a problem when people are making decisions about our border that have never been on our border, that have never set foot on the border, that don’t know about the customs, the custumbres, la cultural, and relationships that Texas has with Mexico.”

Cascos said he likes to tell people about the bustling trade figures Texas has with Mexico.

“Let’s talk about the business issues that are important. I know you already know this because you all are smart entrepreneurs. And you live on the border so you know this. You know that one third of all Texas trade is with Mexico. You know that there are 500,000 jobs that are created because of direct trade between Texas and Mexico alone. But, you already know this. I have to educate and inform those people that do not know that. That our trade with Mexico is vital. Our trade with Mexico is important to the Texas economy. And, more importantly, it is important to the border economy.”

Cascos said many people are probably unaware that every state in the United States has jobs associated with trade with Mexico. “It doesn’t matter whether it is Alaska, Vermont or Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Idaho, name them all. Every single state in this country has jobs that are directly benefitted and created by our trade with Mexico. That is why Mexico is a big deal to Texas. That is why it is a big deal to encourage trade.”

Cascos said he spoke recently to students at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He said he asked if any of them had traveled to Mexico recently. Some had. They had visited popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Baja, and San Miguel de Allende. Asked if they felt safe, Cascos said the students said yes.

“The point I was trying to make is that I do not believe that Mexico should be painted with one broad brush; that every place in Mexico is dangerous because it is not. There are pockets of danger as we know, along the border and some parts of the interior that are not safe to travel. But there are other parts of Mexico that are safe to travel and these students from Fort Worth acknowledged it,” Cascos said.

“When someone paints the border with one broad brush and compares Brownsville to Laredo to El Paso, we are different. I will make it even simple. Even the Mexican food is different. The spices are different between Brownsville and El Paso. So when someone begins to paint the border with one broad brush it does a disservice to the border.”

Cascos added that the message about the special relationship Texas enjoys with Mexico needs to be disseminated to as wide an audience as possible.

Editor’s Note: The image accompanying this story shows Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos speaking at the Governor’s Small Business Forum held October 22, 2015, at Casa de Amistad in Harlingen. The event was hosted by San Benito Economic Development Corporation, Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, and San Benito Chamber of Commerce. This is the first in a two-part series about the forum. Part Two will be posted in an upcoming edition. Photo courtesy of Norma H. Benavides.