MISSION, RGV – State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will take a legislative delegation to Mexico City in November to meet with President Peña Nieto and members of his Cabinet.
Lucio says he met with Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade Kuribreña in Austin last week to lay the groundwork for the visit. The meeting took place before Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán escaped from a high security prison. Lucio said this development makes the visit even more important.
“We must develop stronger intelligence ties between Texas and Mexico in order to help fight organized crime and corruption. We need to get El Chapo Guzmán back behind bars as soon as possible,” Lucio told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“Developing closer ties and shared intelligence with Mexico is more important than ever. We need to go into Mexico, reach back and say we are interested in addressing the issues that are important to you and we want you to consider the issues that are important to us. Some of these issues were asked of me during side meetings with Secretary Meade, the issue of organized crime and the drug war along our border and northern Mexico. These are some of the issues we can discuss when we visit Los Pinos, or wherever we meet.”
Los Pinos is the official residence of the president of Mexico.
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lucio said that the fact that Meade was in Austin “spoke volumes” about Mexico’s willingness to improve relations with Texas. Meade was in Austin to meet with Gov. Greg Abbott and sign an agreement about student exchange and academic cooperation with UT-Austin.
“The mere fact that Secretary Meade was in Austin means he is reaching out. He is reaching out to Texas. He understands that Texas is Mexico’s No. 1 trading partner. We are a state within a union and yet we play a tremendous part in the Mexican economy. So, it is my job as chairman of the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations and also a past chairman of the Committee on International Relations and Trade to put a delegation together, not only of Valley senators but senators from other parts of the state who want to better understand our relations with Mexico and have an opportunity to learn more and prepare ourselves for the next legislative session so that we can address some of the issues legislatively,” Lucio said.
Lucio said he indicated to Meade in his private discussions that he will be contacting him about the visit to Mexico City. “I do not want to wait for Austin to react. I want to react from the border area on behalf of Austin as well. I will be talking to our Lieutenant Governor in the very near future that I am interested in reaching back (into Mexico). I will be happy to echo the Lieutenant Governor’s sentiments and to work on strengthening our ties with Mexico.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lucio added: “I want to go in November before the holiday season. My Senate colleagues and I will need to have an agenda ready for when we go to Mexico. We need to have an agenda that will be beneficial to us and one that will hopefully bring to light what we feel about them as well. We depend on Mexico for a robust economy in Texas.”
Lucio referenced his planned visit to Mexico City during a Q&A at a legislative report card luncheon hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. The event was held at the Club of Cimarron in Mission.
Lucio was asked in the Q&A about corruption in the Rio Grande Valley by former KURV News Talk 710 anchor Kennedy LaFave.
“Corruption is a major issue. It is one that all of us should be concerned about. It is one that I speak about quite a bit. I have met with editors from Mexico that have come over to visit with me to discuss this issue and I ask them do you print everything that is going on over there. They say, not that much,” Lucio said.
“I live to see the day when we can go back into Mexico to have dinner, and travel into Victoria and Monterrey, to be able to drive there without any chance of an altercation or even death for ourselves or our families. I will be flying to Mexico City with a (legislative) delegation that I will be working with.”
Lucio told the audience that his meeting with Meade was “wonderful.” He said one other state senator was also in attendance, Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, along with several state representatives. “We had a lively discussion about corruption and organized crime along the border. It (corruption) is on both sides. I kind of kid sometimes – they kind of sleep here and then go do their dirty work in Mexico. It’s true.”
Lucio pointed out that the amount of money the state spends on border security has shot up from $400 million to $800 million. He said he is working on the issue with legislative colleagues such as state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, who also spoke at the luncheon. “If we feel we need to increase our funding to support our (security) agencies, we will do so,” Lucio said. “But, we want to make sure that we don’t disrupt everything else that is important to us. The thing that hurts me the most is our young children getting hurt with drugs.”
In his remarks at the luncheon, Lucio spoke about two pieces of legislation he passed that will directly impact Mexico.
One was Senate Bill 1389. Lucio said the bill updates and reforms the enabling statute that set up the office of border commerce coordinator “in order to make the position more effective in addressing the trade needs of the border region.” Lucio said that under SB 1389 the border commerce coordinator will be assisted by a task force comprising mayors from cities on the Texas-Mexico border, including mayors from Mexican cities.
“This Good Neighbor task force gives our border mayors the ability to advise the border commerce coordinator on critical issues that impact them and their duties, such as key trade, security and transportation-related matters. The border task force will be a great resource as the border commerce coordinator works in pursuance of SB 1389 to address traffic congestion to our international bridges and works with the appropriate state and federal authorities to develop initiatives to mitigate congestion at our ports of entry,” Lucio said.
“Essentially, the new task force will prove to be invaluable to our region when the border commerce coordinator develops recommendations that are designed to do three things. No. 1, increase trade by attracting new business ventures, No. 2, support the expansion of existing and new industry and No. 3, address the workforce training needs of border Texas.”
Lucio said SB 1389 was “strategically drafted to have a far reaching beneficial impact to our region. It will help address the economic and community needs of our area. With this bill we increase communications and cooperation along the border in order to improve the flow of international trade and commercial vehicles through our ports of entry.”
The other piece of legislation Lucio referenced that has a direct impact on Mexico is Senate Bill 797, which aims to reduce wait times at international land ports of entry by providing more inspectors for trucks carrying fresh produce. Funding for the program will come partly from the state and partly from private industry.
“Three point four billion dollars in fresh and frozen produce comes into the United States through our state’s international bridges. This means that over 107,000 truckloads of produce have to be inspected annually by produce inspectors. Within the next five years the number of truck loads is expected to double due to in part to the superhighway that is being constructed by our neighbors in Mexico. That is why our border delegation worked so hard to pass SB 797 as a proactive measure that will show the rest of the nation the value of investing in trade inspectors at our Texas international bridges,” Lucio said.
The Brownsville Democrat also mentioned legislation he passed in support of the City of Pharr establishing a foreign trade zone. He said the Pharr International Bridge handles $30 billion of trade a year. He said the new foreign trade zone would sit adjacent to the bridge. “Foreign trade zones are proven programs that have been assisting many communities in creating and retaining jobs as well as capital investments in regions within their jurisdictions. The City of Pharr will be greatly assisted by House Bill 2515 and the resulting foreign trade zone,” Lucio said.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story features state Sen. Eddie Lucio at the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Report Card luncheon held Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at the Club of Cimarron in Mission, Texas.