Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca: Spanish pioneer and healer of the 16th century. He was a Governor in the Americas.

In the 21st century his great-great (and more) grandson, Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, follows family tradition. He believes history will repeat itself in the very area his intrepid ancestor explored. Franciso hopes to be Governor of the important Mexican State of Tamaulipas, by the Texas border.

The original Cabeza de Vaca, famous trail-blazer, came from Spanish nobility. He became a trader, translator, even respected healer of Indigenous peoples (including Coahuiltecan tribes common to what is now Texas and northern Mexico). He was a proto-anthropologist, pleading the Native Americans’ cause, opposing slavery. (His story is highlighted in the 1991 Echeverria film, “Cabeza de Vaca,” and in the Ken Burns PBS documentary, “The West,” 1996). Now, Francisco wants to heal disunity and to govern.

Francisco comes from good stock. He is brave, unafraid to oppose the violence of northern Mexico. One comment during an interview I and Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor had with him at the Casa de Palmas Renaissance hotel in McAllen on Friday suggested Francisco had “cojones,” tackling the politically powerful PRI as well as the vicious cartels. He believes he can accomplish his goals democratically. Elections in Mexico will be held June 5, 2016. Francisco claims polls show him six points ahead of his opponent, Baltazar Manuel Hinojosa Ochoa, PRI candidate.

The PRI has held state power for 86 years. The national government is currently dominated by the PRI. The PAN, though stronger elsewhere in northern Mexico, will have rough going; many in Tamaulipas are beholden to the PRI for jobs. However, previous office-holders from that state are in legal trouble or actually “on the lam.” But Hinojosa says “I am not Tomás; I am not Eugenio,” both crooked PRI officials, out of office. But it is easy to say; that stain is not easily eradicated.

I asked Franciso if an old Mexican dicho (saying) still prevailed: “mejor el malo conocido que el bueno a conocer” (better the evil you know than the good you don’t know). He swears that attitude is over because “people want change.” He may be right and he may be the right man to prove it. He has been Mayor of Reynosa, a large city on the border, and is now a federal senator from his State. He has an admirable amount of “palanca,” or connections. But he “will not appoint a State Prosecutor who is a buddy,” as was the case before.

Francisco talks with “many other state officials who are envious of Tamaulipas’ multiple border crossings” and wish they had such opportunities. “I have not waited until I became Governor” to make changes.  As Mayor of Reynosa, he cooperated extensively with then Mayor of McAllen, the first Mexican American to hold that office, (my former student) Leo Montalvo, and with other officials since. He sees the need to “sell the region as a region; we are not in competition with one another, but with China and international forces.”

He plans, if and when elected, to install a new, clean state police force; he will “train the trainers” – about 20 percent – in the U.S. He insists the state police force be paid well, with provisions for insurance, even assistance in buying a home. (Part of the funds for training will come from the national government’s Plan Mérida). He understands the dilemmas the south Texas Valley faces; its problems not being adequately addressed by either Washington or Austin. He laments Reynosa and cities on the northern border face the same difficulties vis a vis attention from Mexico City, even scant attention from the State Capital in Ciudad Victoria. “We are not only partners but family,” speaking of the commercial and blood ties spanning the border.

Francisco admits problems of inadequate communication, infrastructure and services must be addressed. But first and foremost will be policy to change the climate of fear. All are affected by the challenge of corruption and threats from cartels. He understands the enormity of those problems and the causes (the demand for drugs from the U.S., the poverty of the region), but resolves to face them.

Sra. Josefina Vásquez Mora, former PAN candidate for President, recently opined: “Cities in Tamaulipas have two governments; one, elected, governing from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. and another, forced on them, governing from 6 P.M. to 9 A. M.” (The Guardian, May 2016). Francisco agrees and plans, upon taking office, to confront that reality forcefully. He will do that “in conjunction with U.S. and Texas authorities. “

Cabeza de Vaca’s vision is one of inclusiveness. He has been invited to speak to the U.S. Border Patrol, the Texas Rangers and to ICE agents. In effect, the Texas Energy Commission has endorsed him on “Twitter.” He thinks this is good but, I caution, it could be harmful if the PRI candidate chooses to try to make a “Mexico will not accept invasion of its sovereignty” issue out of it. Francisco does not believe the claim of threat to sovereignty will resonate anymore, not in this region. Is he naïve? Perhaps, or just a bit more modern and a lot more optimistic than more traditional Mexicans.

Also giving him hope in his campaign is the albatross around the opposition candidate’s neck; Hinojosa was cozy with criminal fugitive Tomás Yarrington. It is well known he and his staff have multiple ties with previous governors and officials in severe legal trouble for corruption. Cabeza de Vaca had the temerity to stand up in full Senate, in front of the powerful Ministro de Gobernacíon, to denounce complicity between cartels and local political officials (when hundreds of illegal cameras were found, installed in Reynosa streets).

It is also consoling to him that the “the military is non-political; I have formal and close relations, especially with the Army and Marines. I trust them to respond professionally to the new change of party government.” Others must agree; the candidate for Governor from the Citizens’ Party recently stopped his campaign and endorsed Francisco.

The connections are on both sides. Francisco is a dual citizen of both countries (as, allegedly, is his opponent, although Francisco has heard Baltazar deny it). In previous days, it might have mattered. Today, those skills and bi-cultural attitudes bode well for citizens on both sides of the border. Franciso is bi-lingual, fluent in English, and studied on the U.S. side. All that seems to be a plus, especially if and when he begins to govern.

I didn’t ask its origin but the unique cloth bracelet Francisco wore might help protect and guide him. (The one given me in Chiapas, given by a close and loyal friend, serves that purpose). It seems Alvar Cabeza de Vaca’s friendship with Native, original Tejanos and Mexicans, and his healing abilities have been passed down to his progeny, Francisco.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor, PAN gubernatorial candidate Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, and Rio Grande Guardian columnist Gary Mounce. They met at the Casa de Palmas Renaissance hotel in McAllen on Friday, May 27, 2016.