Monday, August 25, 2014
California Governor Brown Scored a Diplomatic Coup
By Kent Paterson
by the U.S. media, California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent mission to Mexico may have recast the future of U.S.-Mexico
relationships in a bigger way than any other U.S. leader has achieved in contemporary times.
agenda-packed tour of three days at the end of July, Brown not only parlayed with President Enrique Peña Nieto and
other Mexican government leaders, but dialogued with Mexican and Central American bishops on immigration, signed bilateral
agreements ranging from new high-tech business initiatives to curbing climate change, and overall set a far different tone
on border affairs than is pronounced in the crisis-ridden rhetoric dominating elite U.S. discourse.
historic. It’s extremely important that it’s coming from our governor,” said California State University
(CSU) Professor Armando Vazquez Ramos. “This is what should have been in place decades ago.”
by the California Chamber of Commerce, with support from the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, the delegation
of an estimated 150 people that accompanied Brown gave the Mexican visit a definite economic accent. A glance at the roster
of travelers reveals the interests seeking to cash in on Peña Nieto’s economic reforms. It also gives a glimpse
of the direction of foreign capital investment in the Aztec Republic in the coming years. Among the companies represented
on Brown’s tour de force were British Petroleum America, NRG Energy, Northrup Grumman Aerospace, and Sempra Energy,
the firm that’s embroiled in controversy over an alleged fraudulent land transaction in Baja California and its cozy
ties with officials in Mexico and the United States.
“For California businesses, Mexico represents
incredible opportunity,” Brown insisted.
According to the California Chamber of Commerce, Mexico
was California’s number one trading partner in 2013, purchasing 14.2 percent of the state’s exports for a sum
of $23.9 billion. Computer and electronic goods excelled as the products of choice headed across the Golden State’s
While the economic accords reached with Mexico — including one that allows Mexican companies
access to California’s network of public-private high tech research hubs — conform with the NAFTA model, Brown’s
Mexican visit went beyond a narrow business focus to create new openings for addressing outstanding, cross-border environmental,
labor, immigration and education concerns.
For instance, in a letter of intent signed between
Brown and the Mexican Ministry of Labor, the two parties pledged to safeguard the rights of H-2 guest workers by making the
recruitment and assignment system more transparent and accountable. A downsized successor of the old Bracero Program of Mexican
guest labor, the H-2 program has been criticized by labor advocates for abusive and exploitative practices.
the H-2 agreement came at a moment when any sort of immigration reform is stuck in the Washington morass.
the environmental front, the Brown administration and Mexican federal environmental officials agreed to develop joint action
plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, strengthening vehicle fuel standards, promoting renewable energy and stepping up
wildfire suppression efforts along the 136-mile Mexico-California border.
“Climate change increases
the vulnerability of Mexico and California to extreme weather events including drought, floods, wildfires, and extreme weather
temperatures, particularly at our common border, with wildfires becoming more frequent,” states the Memorandum of Understanding
signed between Brown and senior officials from Mexico’s Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment, and the
National Forestry Commission.
Moreover, the agreement envisages better air quality monitoring,
improving waste management in the Baja California-California corridor, and allows California to enter into other agreements
with individual Mexican states. Inviting cross-border public comment on policy design and rule making processes, it also provides
for personnel exchanges, training, information sharing and resource allocation. To put the potential of the new California-Mexico
environmental policy framework in perspective, the agreement was consummated between a U.S. state of nearly 40 million people
with an annual $2 trillion gross state product that, if independent, would be among the top ten economies in the world, and
a nation-state approaching 120 million people which was ranked last year as the world’s 15th biggest economy ($1.26
trillion gross domestic product), according to the World Bank.
CSU Professor Vazquez, who also directs
the non-profit California Mexico Studies Center in Long Beach, praised another agreement that laid the groundwork for increased
academic cooperation between California and Mexican institutions of higher learning.
advocate of closer ties in academia north and south of the border, Vazquez said fostering student and faculty exchanges is
at the core of futures in Mexico and the United States, as both nations increasingly demand better-educated populations in
a globally competitive environment.
The exchanges that existed were disrupted in recent years
when U.S. universities’ banned their students and faculty from traveling to Mexico due to concerns over violence, the
researcher said. Vazquez said his own institution finally lifted such a ban last year, and small groups of CSU students and
professors are just beginning to revisit Mexico again. For the California-Mexico higher education agreement to succeed, he
insisted that advocates need “to hold (Brown’s) feet to the fire” so adequate resources are allocated to
fund “thousands” and not hundreds of fellowships.
While he was in Mexico, Brown made statements
that grabbed Mexican media attention. In a joint appearance with Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Meade, Brown distinguished
himself from his indicted Texan counterpart by declaring that his administration would not militarize the border.
a separate encounter with religious leaders, the California leader reiterated the need for a U.S. immigration reform as well
as humanitarian support for children crossing the border. Besides reflecting a deepened commitment to resolving the dire circumstances
of the children, the meeting with Catholic Church leaders and other officials “underscored the unique relationship between
California and Mexico and Central America,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor of education and geography at the University
of California-Berkeley who was present for the encounter. “The state wants to ensure that the interests of the children
were addressed,” Shaiken added.
According to Shaiken, a lot of advance work went into Brown’s
Mexico mission, with four bilateral Memorandums of Understanding prepared ahead of time. Another outcome, he said, was a “significant
amount of interaction” on the trip among business sector representatives, non-governmental activists and legislators.
CSU’s Armando Vazquez noted that Brown has signed into law about a dozen immigrant-friendly
measures like driver’s licenses for undocumented persons. In comments to the Mexican Senate, Brown touched on the contentious
energy reform approved by the Mexican Congress, issuing a warning to lawmakers as global energy giants prepare to conquer
a newly-opened, deregulated market.
The Democratic governor urged the Mexican government to
pursue “an iron hand” in regulating foreign energy corporations or risk seeing the country devoured. If appropriate
regulatory measures were not put in place, Brown warned, the big energy players “will eat you alive!” As California
state Senator Lou Correa, who accompanied Brown on the trip, later told Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, the
Democratic governor spoke from bitter experience.
“This is a lesson that could serve Mexico,”
Correa was quoted. “With pleasure, we will share with you all the lessons that we have painfully learned.”
recalled the 2000 California “energy crisis” in which Enron and other energy companies, emboldened with new power
in the wake of market deregulation, concocted power shortages that caused blackouts, sent electricity rates soaring and, almost
as if following a Shock Doctrine script authored by writer and analyst Naomi Klein, resulted in the recall of Democratic Governor
Gray Davis and his replacement by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
energy crisis set the stage for what could be considered California’s 'Lost Decade' of economic decline, housing
foreclosures, out-migration and public policy austerity that saw budgets slashed and the cost of higher education soar into
the galaxies." According to Vazquez, the state is barely pulling back from the edge of the abyss.
Mexican trip tightens the bonds between neighbors with a long, common history. Conquered in a war the U.S. waged against Mexico,
the native Californios were dispossessed of their lands. But more than 150 years later, the Latino population, and especially
Mexican presence, has reshaped California in ever-surprising ways.
Latinos, mostly of Mexican
descent but also with a sizable representation of Central and South Americans and other nationalities, now comprise 39 percent
of the state’s population and are expected to surpass whites as the largest state ethnic group this year, the Pew Research
Different regions of California are characterized by the transplanting of virtually
entire communities from Mexican states like Oaxaca or Michoacan. At least eight California cities now host annual celebrations
of Guelaguetza, the indigenous Oaxacan festival.
Conversely, a significant population of California
and U.S. expatriates has settled on Mexico’s West Coast, where Thanksgiving Day celebrations are now held, their dinners
even prepared many times by Mexican cooks who learned the menu while working in the United States.
the California-Mexico connection has fostered a dynamic fusion in cuisine, the plastic arts, cinema, literature, language
and music. While the U.S. Silver Screen attracted Mexican actors and actresses like Antonio Aguilar and Dolores del Rio, the
so-called “Hollywood Gang” of John Wayne, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and friends made frequent visits to Acapulco.
Johnny Weismuller, the iconic Tarzan of Hollywood, is buried in Acapulco, where he lived out his last years.
popular music the surrealistic guitar leads of Mexican immigrant Carlos Santana added a Latin flavor to the San Francisco
rock of the 1960s, while the sounds of the East Los Angeles Chicano combo Los Lobos blended rock, blues, folk, polka and traditional
Mexican ballads in a street gritty but stunningly stellar creation that might be called “Mex-Americana.”
a younger generation, 2014 Grammy Award winners La Santa Cecilia, formed by young Mexican-Americans from Los Angeles, synthesize
the California-Mexico musical/cultural scene with bilingual lyrics and influences ranging from rock to cumbia to norteño,
evident in tunes like the group’s accordion-laced cover of the Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which
forms the sound-track of a psychedelic-like cartoon video starring farmworkers harvesting one of California’s major
La Santa Cecilia’s acclaimed song “Ice El Hielo” is an anthem of the times. Capturing
the realities of millions of California and U.S. immigrants, the tune can be heard on YouTube accompanied by video that portrays
a young female restaurant worker confronted by a militarized raiding party from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of La Santa Cecilia's members recently “outed” himself as undocumented.
Vazquez, the California-Mexico accords are a catch-up to demographic and economic realities that transformed two important
places on the planet while Washington and Mexico City were preoccupied with other matters. Now, it remains to be seen if the
2014 agreements could represent far-reaching shifts in the politics of U.S.-Mexico relations on both sides of the border.
"Ironically, I think under this (Mexican) PRI government there are better conditions for collaboration,"
Vazquez said. "Neither (former presidents) Fox nor Calderon had any moxy, or expertise, to grow the relationship with
On the other side of the diplomatic coin, the July 2014 agreements differ from
the main thrusts of Washington's Mexican and Latin American policies of recent administrations which, according to Vazquez,
have centered on the "policing policies" of Plan Colombia or Plan Merida (Mexico), the U.S. anti-drug strategy first
implemented during the Bush administration and continued under the Obama White House.
more information on some of the issues discussed in this article:
California Mexico Studies
La Santa Cecilia “Ice
La Santa Cecilia “Strawberry
Video Documentary on La Santa
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Cruces, New Mexico
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur. Reprinted with authorization
from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.