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Juan Guerra and Jesús Antonio Valdez Palazuelos hold a copy of the Pharr-Culiacan 'Certificate of Alliance.'

PHARR, RGV – The cities of Pharr, Texas, and Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, Mexico, have signed a “certificate of alliance” to promote and strengthen their cultural and commercial ties.

The Mayor-Elect of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Jesús Antonio Valdez Palazuelos, toured Pharr and Reynosa on Thursday. At the Pharr International Bridge offices, Valdez signed the certificate alongside Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra.

The two leaders said signing an accord made sense because of their common bonds. Culiacán is famous for its production of fresh produce and Pharr is the No. 1 importer of fresh produce in the United States. Pharr leaders pointed out that since the opening of the Mazatlán-to-Matamoros superhighway, more and more trucking companies that carry fresh produce to the eastern seaboard of the United States cross through the Pharr port of entry.

“This is one of my first visits as Mayor Elect of the city of Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa. Culiacán is a city with around one million residents, and it is considered one of the more stable zones in Mexico, with strong opportunities to grow in commercial relationships, academic endeavors and administrative issues,” Mayor-Elect Valdez said in his remarks at the ceremony.

Valdez, who takes office on January 1, 2016, predicted the peoples of Pharr and Culiacán will learn more about each other’s cultures, and make more exchanges, as a result of the new accord.

“I came to see this great bridge, the Pharr-Reynosa, which is, for us, a learning experience, and we realize the kind of relationship we can have, and how important it can be,” Valdez said, speaking in Spanish.

“We are very pleased by the reception given by the Gastelum family, all the administrators and businessmen we have met. Now we invite you to visit Culiacán.”

Juan Gastelum is CEO of Grupo Jugas. Pharr leaders cite Gastelum as the person most responsible for developing import-export infrastructure on the Reynosa side of the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge. It was Gastelum’s birthday on Thursday and he was present at the certificate of alliance ceremony.

“We have a great opportunity in Culiacán, not only in tourism but also with the coming era of the natural gas,” Mayor-Elect Valdez added. “I believe we have the opportunity of manufacturing different products. Right now, Sinaloa is leader in the production of food, but we want to continue growing. That’s the reason we have been investing in new products and brands directly from the field.”

Guerra, the Pharr city manager, said of Culiacán: “It is a beautiful city with friendly people. If you want a vacation, it is a place to dream about. Very beautiful, filled with great people.”

Guerra said signing a certificate of alliance with Culiacán made perfect sense. “Pharr is the No. 1 bridge for produce. Culiacán is known for its produce. Nogales used to be No. 1. Now it is Pharr. A lot of that is thanks to the produce Culiacán produces and takes by truck to Mazatlán and then on to Pharr.”

During his remarks, Guerra asked a rhetorical question: What does Culiacán give us? “You are looking at it,” he said, pointing to boxes of tomatoes. “Pharr is the No. 1 produce bridge in the United States of America. We are the No. 2 produce bridge when it comes to tomatoes. Culiacán is the king for growing tomatoes.”

Highlighting the cultural aspect of the certificate of alliance, Guerra referenced the Rio Grande Valley’s ties to Mexico, Guerra said: “The majority of us in South Texas originate at some generation from Mexico. We never forget our roots and where we come from and our friends in Mexico.”

Guerra pointed out that earlier in the day Pharr also hosted Sabrina Dadrian-Kassabian, consulate general of Canada. He said Dadrian-Kassabian could not be at the certificate of alliance signing because she had to catch an early plane.

“Pharr is the Texas corridor to international trade. We had representatives from the country of Canada. We had CBP representing the United States. And we had officials from Culiacán. What you are seeing here is pretty much what the Pharr International Bridge represents: international trade, international relations, the desire to continue extending the olive branch of friendship to our brothers and sisters.”

Guerra also made the point that Pharr International Bridge is not just important to Pharr. “The Pharr Bridge does not just fill the warehouses in Pharr but the whole region. It is an economic engine for McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Weslaco, the region,” he said.

Guerra concluded his remarks by wishing Grupo Jugas CEO Gastelum a happy birthday. “Mr. Gastelum is Pharr International Bridge’s great partner. The infrastructure that makes the Pharr Bridge such an attractive place for international trade leading to the United States is actually in most part due to the infrastructure that Mr. Gastelum has in place. Thank you so much for being such a great friend to Pharr.”

Luis Bazan, director of the Pharr International Bridge, concurred with Guerra’s comments about Gastelum. “Mr. Gastelum contributes a vast part of the infrastructure, not only for northbound traffic. We are going to be investing in southbound commercial traffic.”

Bazan said when the infrastructure and inspection facilities Gastelum is constructing in Reynosa are in place, the Pharr Bridge will be able to handle the export of apples, grain and peaches. He said most of the grain exports currently go through Progreso. “Now they will be able to go through Pharr,” Bazan said.

Asked about his tie-up with the City of Pharr and its international bridge, Grupo Jugas’ Gastelum told the Rio Grande Guardian: “We have been given the opportunity of helping them as liaison in Mexico, and we are business partners since we represent the Mexican side of the bridge. On Mexico’s side we have been building important developments to benefit the traffic coming south.”

Speaking in Spanish, Gastelum said he was born in Culiacán, works in Reynosa and lives in McAllen. “Culiacán is where we produce the tomatoes, such as the ones you saw. Sinaloa is considered Mexico’s bread basket,” Gastelum said. “My business is in Mexico. What we are doing is trying to develop a commercial base to bring services such as gas stations, scales, fridge warehouses and open warehouses. To be able to help Mexican producers on their trips to the U.S. and do the same on their way back to Mexico. The goal is the help each other, to help the authorities in Pharr and all the U.S.”

Edgar Delgadillo, chairman of the board for the Pharr Bridge Board, explained why he believes the certificate of alliance is important.

“Some of the growers from Culiacán are already utilizing our facilities. Some are still skeptical. So, we thought bringing a city official to come and have a look would be a good idea. The Mayor-Elect can give a sense or assurance that we have the facilities, we have the security, and we have the inspections. Most of the growers that have visited us, they like what we have to offer,” Delgadillo told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We know we are becoming more and more attractive to the growers in Sinaloa that are taking their produce to the eastern seaboard. We are also important for maquilas taking their finished goods to Canada. We are essential to this region, to Texas and to the United States. We are the only international bridge in this region with northbound and southbound possibilities.”

Editor’s Note: Melva Lavín of ML Agenda Cultural assisted with this story from Laredo, Texas.