Ambassador Garza on Mexico’s Future

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s January 2015 newsletter.

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As 2015 kicks off, there is a lot of talk about what we should be watching over the coming months. Analysts such as Ian Bremmer and Andy Langenkamp have offered their thoughts in wide-ranging and succinct geopolitical roundups. Their hotspots span the globe, but reading them I was struck by how little there was on Latin America or Mexico in particular. So to complement their global approach, here’s a look into what events and trends I’ll be watching in the region over the coming year.

Looking at Mexico’s future, I would be remiss without starting with the two biggest things that everyone will be watching, and that is what develops on the security and energy fronts. After the heartbreak of the missing 43 students, government corruption, and the outpouring of emotion and frustration across the country, the government’s actions in 2015 will be critical for proving its leadership and ability to strengthen the country’s rule of law. What happens or does not will influence everything from protecting citizens to safeguarding investments to influencing the midterm election outcomes later this year.

Second, the implementation of Mexico’s 2013 energy reform, which most of you know I’ve been following closely for the past two years, will continue to be at the top of my list. With the first bidding round coming up quickly in February, low oil prices—hovering below $50 a barrel—may affect some of the outcomes, especially for shale oil and gas. Knowing this, however, the Secretary of Finance discussed the possibility last week of pushing these resources to later rounds, and is definitely something to watch in the coming days.

For many regional observers, one of the biggest topics for much of 2014 was U.S.-Mexico economic integration (included in CFR’s Task Force on North America report that I talk about here). In 2015 I would like to add another topic to the table: U.S.-Mexico cultural convergence. This is not to say that the blurring of cultural lines hasn’t been happening for years and decades – it absolutely has – but I think in the coming year it is time for us to recognize the varied ways in which our cultures have seeped across North America’s borders.

Perhaps most obvious are the culinary crossovers. In the United States, Mexican food now extends far beyond your salsa, tacos, or enchiladas to include high-end Mexican restaurants that serve traditional as well as vanguard cuisine. Last year Enrique Olvera, the chef behind Pujol in Mexico City (rated one of the world’s best restaurants) opened Cosme in New York’s Flatiron District, and famous international chefs are now looking to Mexico for their inspiration. (The New York Times even made an interactive about it.) Mezcalerías too have popped up across the country from Seattle to Los Angeles to DC, and artisanal tequilas are increasingly showing up on bar menus. While to the south, U.S. foods already have a long history in Mexican restaurants and grocery stores.

In sports, soccer unites both Mexican and American fans. And Mexican soccer teams are now more popular than ever in the United States, with ESPN taking note and purchasing the English language rights to Mexican national soccer games through 2018. American football is also becoming binational. The NFL believes that at least 17 million American football fans live in Mexico, the largest fan base outside the continental United States. In this year’s Super Bowl in Phoenix, Mexican businesses and even the federal government will be official sponsors.

After football, the United States’ award season will be up next. Hollywood has long had Mexican actors starring in its movies. But for the upcoming Academy Awards it is Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu who may be sweeping the show. His movie, Birdman, has been nominated for nine academy awards and he himself is up for Best Director.

When we talk about regional integration and cooperation in 2015, we will undoubtedly analyze trade statistics, investment numbers, demographic trends and energy flows. But as we look out across our continent, we shouldn’t forget the less quantifiable ways in which we are all, increasingly, culturally North Americans.

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