McALLEN, RGV – Carlos Cascos says when Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him secretary of state he gave him clear instructions to improve Texas’ somewhat strained relationship with Mexico.
“The Governor said when it comes to Mexico, do what you have to do to improve things and we have been doing it,” Cascos said, referring to a week-long border infrastructure listening tour that members of his border affairs staff have just completed.
Avdiel Y. Huerta, assistant secretary of state for Mexican and Border Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of State, and Chris Valadez, border initiatives coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of State, held meetings last week in El Paso, Presidio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville. Along with city and county leaders from the Texas side of the Rio Grande, the meetings were notable for the presence of a many officials from Mexican border communities.
“I applaud the Governor and the Secretary of State for setting up these meetings. For me they reaffirmed what we who live on the border already know, that we, cities such as McAllen and Reynosa, are good neighbors who have a good attitude and goodwill. We want to make this region very competitive. We want to do things in such a way as to share the profits of living in the same border region,” said Mexico’s Consul in McAllen, Guillermo Ordorica Robles.
Ordorica attended the border infrastructure listening tour event at McAllen City Hall.
Because highway infrastructure was a key component of the talks, two Texas Department of Transportation officials were present throughout the listening tour – Caroline A. Mays, interim director of the freight and international trade section, and Manuela A. Ortiz, from the state agency’s international relations office.
“It is important to get out of Austin and to come and see first-hand what is happening on the border,” Ortiz said. “We learned things that are happening on the Mexican side we were not aware of, projects designed to reduce congestion. These were productive meetings.”
Ortiz said she will take findings from the tour to the U.S.-Mexico Binational Bridges and Border Crossings Group, when it meets in Mexico early next year.
In speeches, Cascos emphasizes trade with Mexico
Cascos did not attend the border listening tour but says he plans to organize a similar tour for himself, probably for next April. Cascos said he has tried to bring new purpose and new direction to his role as Texas’ point man on Mexican affairs.
“Just about every speech I give I emphasize our trade with Mexico, the half a million jobs that are created in Texas due to direct trade with Mexico. Many people do not realize that there is not a single state in the United States that does not have jobs because of direct trade with Mexico. Six million jobs in the United States exist because of direct trade with Mexico,” Cascos said.
“In my speeches, I also talk about those who talk about the border in a negative way, many of whom have never been to the border. My message is, if you want to know the border, come down to the border. Don’t just come down for an hour for a photo-op and then say, I have been to the border. It takes time to recognize the customs, the culture, how fluid the population is between the sister cities, between the U.S. side and the Mexican side. It is about bringing a different awareness to it that I do not think we have done in the past.”
Cascos said the border infrastructure listening tour undertaken by Huerta and Valadez had a flexible agenda. “They were there to listen and gather information. And we wanted TxDOT there so they can become aware of things they may not be aware of. If you really want to engage in border trade you really have to visit the border. You have got to get the feel for what is going on, watching the lines in Laredo, stand there for 30 minutes and look at the trucks. Come to the Pharr Bridge and watch the trade. Go to El Paso.”
Cascos said every part of the state plays an integral part in the overall Texas economy. However, he acknowledged that trade with Mexico, according to projections, is only going to increase, due in part to improved highway infrastructure in Mexico and shared production platforms in the auto industry.
“We have to look at the quality of infrastructure as it leads to and from our bridges. Not just on the U.S. side but on the Mexican side as well. It does no good to have all this trade if we have backed up trucks for four or five miles. If we cannot move them quickly then truckers will find someplace else to cross. They will find another route. So, part of this tour is to really look at the infrastructure on the Texas side and the Mexican side to see how we can work together,” Cascos said.
Cascos said the reaction he is getting from governors in Mexico has been very positive.
“I had a visit with the Governor of Nuevo Leon (Jaime Rodríguez Calderón) about a month ago at his inauguration and he is on board. He recognizes that his state is probably one of the most profitable and economically advantaged states in Mexico. He wants to work with us. I met with the Governor of Tamaulipas (Egidio Torre Cantú) about three weeks ago. He supports the projects I am looking to support, whether it is improvements to our bridges, or another weir or dam along the Rio Grande, to take care of our water before it flows out into the Gulf. Those are projects that are important to the border and so far the Mexican governors I have spoken with are very supportive.”
Asked why he felt the reaction in Mexico has been so positive, Cascos said: “I think I have been able to relate to them. The fact that I was born in Mexico, I speak their language very well, I can drink a cocktail with them no problem, I think that gives them a comfort level and that is what I keep hearing; that they feel very comfortable. But I have to give thanks to Governor Abbott. When I took over as secretary of state he basically said, do what you have got to do to improve relations with Mexico. I could not do this without the support of Governor Abbott. Even during his campaign, he was pro-Valley, pro-border. He recognizes the fact that the future of the Texas economy is within this 1,254 mile stretch between Brownsville and El Paso. He recognizes that. He recognizes the importance of the Gulf ports as well. We are well on our way but we need to continue advocating for infrastructure funds and making sure that Mexico and Texas are on the same page.”
Perhaps it is telling that Cascos and his two key aides on Mexican affairs, Huerta and Valadez, were all born in Mexico. Asked if having the border initiatives coordinator actually based on the border (Valadez offices out of Brownsville), was a first, Cascos said: “It could be. We are working within our budget, which is important, and we are looking at things from the ground level. Instead of looking at it from Austin down, we are looking at it from the border up. I think that is playing an important part in this.”
Asked about the border infrastructure listening tour, Valadez said: “It has been very productive. We want a better working relationship with Mexico, to address some of the problems they face, such as infrastructure. We need to plan for the growth that is coming and that is what we are doing.”
Huerta agreed. He said the border infrastructure listening tour has been of great value.
“In September, Governor Abbott signed an agreement with the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes in Mexico and he appointed TxDOT to work closely with Mexico on border infrastructure and future projects. To ensure we kept the momentum going, Secretary Cascos assigned myself and Chris Valadez, our director of border initiatives, to do this border tour, to meet with city officials, county officials and to meet with our counterparts in Mexico, to listen to the infrastructure challenges they are facing and to find out what projects they are working on,” Huerta said.
“We know we are doing close to $200 billion in trade with Mexico, our No. 1 trading partner, and for Mexico, Texas is their No. 1 trading partner. As Secretary Cascos said when he took office, we not only have business partnerships with Mexico but we share values, we share family, we share language, we share culture. As Governor Abbot said on his visit to Mexico, this is a new chapter between Texas and Mexico.”