MCALLEN, RGV – Having had a successful meeting with Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s chief of staff in Mexico City, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez feels comfortable in inviting Mexico’s next president to the Rio Grande Valley.

Gonzalez was part of a congressional delegation that visited Mexico and Guatemala. The delegation included U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Congressman Ruben Kihuen of Nevada.

In Mexico City, the delegation met with Alfonso Romo, a businessman from Monterrey who is chief of staff to López Obrador, along with Mexico’s undersecretary for foreign trade, Juan Carlos Baker, and Secretary of the Economy, Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal. 

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez

“I would like to invite Andrés Manuel López Obrador to our district. To meet people in our community. I would like that,” Gonzalez, D-McAllen said.

Gonzalez had a media availability with Valley reporters about the trips to Mexico and Guatemala. Both were highly successful, he told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“In Mexico City we met with AMLO’s foreign minister, his NAFTA negotiator and Alfonso Romo, his chief of staff. We were able to talk trade, immigration, and border security,” Gonzalez said.

“We got on very well with Mr. Romo. He is from Monterrey, he is a businessman, a very middle-of-the-road type of person. I am quite impressed by the cabinet he has put together.”

López Obrador achieved a landslide victory in the July 1 presidential election. Gonzalez said that while there were a lot of negative stories about López Obrador during the campaign, he was impressed with what he heard during his meeting with AMLO’s top staff.

“He has got some good ideas. He has got some bright folks from the business sector that are advising him. We were talking about creating a new free trade zone on the other side of the border and in other parts of the country,” Gonzalez said.

“We also talked about immigration, and how they (Mexico) could be helpful on Mexico’s southern border. A lot of the issues we deal with here I think could be addressed on Mexico’s southern border.”

Gonzalez pointed out that Mexico now has a negative net migration to the United States.

“More Mexican nationals are going back to Mexico than are coming to the United States. Most of the immigration we are dealing with now is coming from the three Central American countries, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala,” Gonzalez said.

“I think if we engage Mexico in a more diplomatic way and find a way to address that mass migration on Mexico’s southern border, everything we are doing here, now, detention centers, asylum hearings, could be done on Mexico’s southern border.”

Gonzalez said he would like to see Congress give Mexico the sort of support it did in 2006 with the Merida initiative.

“In 2006 we gave Mexico $80 million and they stopped more migration at their southern border than we did along the entire 2,000-mile border. I think we need to start having creative ideas to address the problems we are dealing with today.”

Amnesty for Drug Cartel Leaders

The Rio Grande Guardian then asked Gonzalez about AMLO’s intending drugs policy. There has been a lot of news coverage about Mexico’s next president ending the so-called War on Drugs.

“During the campaign, he (AMLO) talked about legalizing marijuana. That is an issue that is important to them. They think they are wasting a lot of law enforcement resources on marijuana,” Gonzalez said.

“We have 37 states in the United States where it is legal in one form or another. So, the tide seems to be moving in that direction and I think Mexico wants to address it on a federal level.”

Another idea being floated is giving an amnesty to some drug cartel leaders.

“They also talked about a potential amnesty agreements with cartel leaders. That is certainly way out of the box, right, telling people we are going to let you off the hook but you have got to stop now. And, you have got to help us secure your region, where you operate. Those are certainly out of the box ideas,” Gonzalez said.

The McAllen Democrat said from his perspective, the most important topic is improving border security.

“What I am trying to do is bring security to our border and to ensure that violence is down, drugs are not coming across as freely as they are now, and certainly trying to prevent arms from going south,” Gonzalez said.

Asked if AMLO might legalize all drugs, in order to reduce cartel and gang violence in Mexico, Gonzalez said:

“It is marijuana only and oddly enough we had a congressman from Nevada (on the trip) who was able to talk about his experiences now, with marijuana being legal in the state of Nevada, recreationally legal. Apparently, they have raised $10 billion in taxes this year alone and that money is being used for education.”

Gonzalez said he is in favor of out-of-the-box thinking.

“So, not everyone may agree with that (legalizing marijuana) immediately but we need to address it somehow. Obviously, the current policy that has been in place for decades now has not worked. We are spending a lot of money on drug enforcement and right now we have some major issues with opioids, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, other types of pharmaceuticals that are flown across the border and when we are stopping marijuana we are using resources that could maybe used to address some of these heavy drugs.”

Asked if he was cautiously optimistic about a López Obrador presidency, Gonzalez said:

“I am. I think it is a lot better than some of the rhetoric you hear out there. I was very impressed with the Cabinet he has put together. We met with the mayor of Mexico City, who did a fabulous job in bringing security to the city. We hope he can expand that nationwide. And, we met with Alfonso Romo, who is from Monterrey, a very successful businessman. That should give a lot of confidence to our business community, that he is being advised by very capable people. The campaign is over, the political rhetoric has toned down, I am waiting to see some good action.”

News Release

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, and U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Ruben Kihuen issued a news release with quotes about their visit to Guatemala and Mexico. Here are their comments:

Congressman Gonzalez:

“This visit proves that Members of Congress can close the divide on issues critical to the well-being of this nation. By establishing a neighborly rapport in Washington, Mexico, and Central America, we can strengthen trade agreements, create jobs, and tackle gang violence and drug trafficking to all of our mutual benefit.”

Senator Cassidy:

“Mexico and Guatemala are key partners in the global fight against drug trafficking, including the deadly opioids fueling the addiction epidemic in our neighborhoods. In our discussions I was able to stress the importance of their cooperation, and get a firsthand look at their efforts on the ground. We also talked about the impacts of illegal immigration and the need for greater security and strong borders. When it comes to trade, Louisiana sells billions of dollars worth of goods to Mexico, so I want to make sure that as NAFTA is renegotiated it is done so in a way that strengthens our trade relationship and provides even more benefits and opportunity to Louisiana workers.”

Congressman Kihuen:

“Mexico and Guatemala are key allies to the United States. Strengthening our relationships with our southern neighbors is critical to our efforts to combat drug trafficking, reduce gang violence and ensure regional stability. We also must strengthen our trade agreements to ensure free and fair trade and create jobs for Nevada workers.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Andrés Manuel López Obrador (right), Mexico’s president-elect, alongside his chief of staff, Alfonso Romo.