Global Threats, Friends in the Neighborhood

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

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

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This time of the year should be filled with joy and peace, but it is hard to see much of either reflected in the recent headlines. The barbaric terrorist attack in California this past week, as well as the earlier attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali have sent shock waves across the world, shattering thousands of lives and once again corroding our sense of security. They’ve also re-sparked debates on how to keep ourselves safer and best confront violent extremism. We all know that there won’t be any easy solutions. It will be a long road toward peace and security, and one that will demand U.S. leadership and global solidarity in the face of such senseless brutality.

The world’s attention is now focused on ISIS, Syria, and the conflict’s global spillovers, but that doesn’t mean that we can neglect our other foreign policy relationships. For example, our regional partners don’t often make it onto the crisis list and so subsequently onto our short-term policy agenda. This is a mistake. These countries arguably affect the United States’ economy and security more on a daily basis than any other region. In the first nine months of 2015, we traded over a trillion dollars in goods with Canada and Latin America—that’s over $2.6 million dollars a minute. We also work on a daily basis with our regional partners to keep contraband and criminals far from our borders.

Similarly, if we focus only on the crises abroad, we will miss the opportunities within our own hemisphere. A lot has changed this year. The U.S. diplomatic opening with Cuba could steadily reshape regional relations. The completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—of which the United States, Mexico, Peru, Canada, and Chile are all members—could further tie together continental trading networks. While political shifts, such as the election of President Mauricio Macri in Argentina, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s victory in Canada, and the Venezuelan opposition’s new legislative majority, could shake up old regional paradigms.

Having lived in Mexico for over a decade, I can honestly say that this past year has been a dramatic one. Economically, the country has moved into the slower and more painstaking implementation phase of its 2012-2014 reform agenda. In this phase, there have been some disappointing starts, but also some notable progress. As I wrote this past October, Mexico’s second bidding phase for its energy reform had a successful 60 percent field placement rate. Looking forward, an impressive sixty companies have already begun the pre-registration process for the third tender that will be held on December 15. This will all help the country’s economy, which is expected to grow by 2.6 percent this year. And as the reforms kick in and the United States’ economic recovery continues over the coming years, this growth is projected to become even stronger

Politically, Mexico is facing a different story, with the Peña Nieto government failing to overcome a serious lack of public confidence. While there are numerous reasons behind this, a lack of sustained progress on combating corruption and improving rule of law certainly played a role. There have been successes in these areas—including targeted community policing and the planned National Anti-Corruption System—but a few good initiatives haven’t been enough to turn the tide of public opinion or to seriously tackle Mexico’s most pressing challenges. Recent policy shifts, however, could point to a government changing course and adopting a more responsive governing approach.

As the year comes to a close, I want to wish you all a very happy, safe and blessed holiday season.

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