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Among the dignitaries to meet with the governors of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in Cerralvo on Friday were Starr County Judge Eloy Vera (third from left) and Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal (second from right).

MISSION, RGV – Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal asked U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to go back to Washington, D.C., and tell his congressional colleagues and President Trump to stop bashing Mexico.

“We need to tone down this rhetoric and the message needs to be that we are working with Mexico, not against Mexico,” Villarreal told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Our neighbors are concerned about the rhetoric because it is not necessary. Rhetoric like that does not help the cause because at the end of the day we share a lot of points of interest and we need to work with them, not against. That rhetoric is hurtful and doesn’t allow us to address the issues that are necessary to address.”

Villarreal met Cruz at a private meeting Texas’ junior senator set up at the Center for Education and Economic Development in Mission. Many Rio Grande Valley mayors were present, including those representing Brownsville, San Benito, Harlingen, San Juan, Alamo, Hidalgo and McAllen.

Reporters were allowed in at the start of the meeting to take b-roll footage. During this time, Cruz talked about how his immigrant father had arrived with Cuba with little money. He said his father had to work in restaurants to make ends meet. Cruz asked if any of the mayors had worked in a restaurant in their younger days and a majority of hands went up.

Cruz then said he was there to listen and opened the meeting up for conversation. Mayor Villarreal was the first mayor to speak. “How do we tone down the rhetoric against Mexico,” Villarreal asked. “We invite our friends in the media to step outside the room so that our conversation can be truly unvarnished,” Cruz replied. Reporters then stepped outside.

Interviewed after the meeting ended, Villarreal told the Rio Grande Guardian that Cruz appeared to take on board the importance of maintaining good relations with Mexico and not to attack them verbally like President Trump.

“The hope is there. Will it occur? I don’t know,” Villarreal said. “But, I can’t address that enough about having a message indicating that we are gonna work together with Mexico.”

Villarreal said U.S. and Mexico share the same concerns. He said the Trump administration needs to be very careful if it starts renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We do depend on trade on both ends, and any time rhetoric affects our pacts, that affects our border, and that’s the important message: the words that we communicate does have an impact so close to our home here,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal added that a consensus message is needed because whatever impacts Mexico impacts the Valley also. And, vice versa.

Later in the day Cruz held a news conference on the banks of the Rio Grande in Anzalduas Park in Mission.

Asked by a reporter what his response to Villarreal was regarding ugly rhetoric towards Mexico, Cruz said: “Listen, I think Mexico is a strong ally. Mexico is a friend. And, I agree with the sentiment in politics, there’s far too much over-heated rhetoric, frankly on both sides. There’s far too much vitriol and I believe we should engage each other on substance and engage other with respect. Whether we agree or disagree. That is how I have always tried to approach this job,” Cruz said.

Cruz said if people would engage in civil discourse on substance, common ground can be found. “My hope is on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, that we see less overheated rhetoric and more work on common ground.”

Meeting in Cerralvo

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mayor Villarreal said he had joined a Starr County delegation in meeting with mayors from Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas on Friday. The meeting was held in Cerralvo, Nuevo Leon, a town located at some 100 miles from Monterrey. The governor of Nuevo Leon, Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, and the governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, as well as business owners, were present.

One of the main themes of the meeting, Villarreal said, was addressing security along Route 54 (Ruta 54) Project, which runs from Monterrey to Roma, Texas.

“We talked about what is it that we can do on both ends of Mexico and the U.S. to address safety and security. It was a great discussion, and they are ready to work with us. That’s the whole point. Mexicans are ready to work with us if we just find the way to avoid the need for this rhetoric,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said the two governors committed to address safety and security along Route 54 by implementing a highway patrol 24/7, with a tentative start date of Feb. 27.

“Far from building walls we need to build more bridges, not only with concrete but with opportunities to strengthen the economic development improving people’s quality of life on both sides of the border,” Gov. Garcia Cabeza de Vaca said at the meeting, according to a press release.

The next meeting between officials is scheduled for May or June in Starr County.

“The fact is that they (Mexico) share the same commonalities that we do, they have concerns about safety and security, they are concerned about trade and how this relationship is going to affect their trade, and we do too”, Villarreal said.

Villarreal expected to meet with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Sunday. At the meeting, he said he would present the Valley’s case all over again.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Mission, Texas. This is the first in a three-part series about Sen. Ted Cruz’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley. Part Two will be published on Sunday.