May 16, 2008

The Flap over McCain’s Mexican Connection

Dr. Juan Hernandez knows how to play politics on both sides of the border.

A former official of the administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), Dr. Hernandez is now serving as an advisor to and fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The founder of the Center for US-Mexico Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, Dr. Hernandez’s involvement in the McCain campaign is stoking controversy in both Mexico and the United States.

In an e-mail circulated in the United States this week, Dr. Hernandez invited readers to a Cinco de Mayo celebration scheduled for McCain headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Potential attendees were urged to donate between $1,000 and $9,200 per couple. Dr. Her-nandez’s activism on behalf of the Arizona senator prompted negative reactions among some politicians in Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower House of Congress.

Edmundo Ramirez, an Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) member and the secretary of the border and immigration affairs commission of the law-making body, said he was concerned that Dr. Hernandez’s activities in the United States could harm Mexico’s image.

“Who is Juan Hernandez? He’s a person who’s always operated with the North American right and here in Mexico. He is one of the representatives of the most reactionary wing of the right,” Congressman Ramirez said. The PRI politician’s view was shared by legislator Alejandro Sanchez Camacho of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Holding dual nationality, Dr. Hernandez has likewise drawn fire from conservative sectors of the US Republican Party and certain radio talk show hosts. Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo has labeled Dr. Hernandez a “man of divided loyalties.” The Colorado Republican once said, “We can’t trust a man who says Mexico and the United States are of the same region and not two countries.” There was no immediate response from Dr. Hernandez to the latest remarks concerning his involvement in the McCain campaign.

Clearly recognizing Latinos as an important voting bloc, McCain is counting on Dr. Hernandez to woo the swing vote. The presidential hopeful has set up a bilingual web site that features videos from Cuban-American Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others. On one video, McCain’s talk in English is translated in Spanish sub-titles. The web site emphasizes support for free trade, small business, border security and “pro-immigration” policies that are not spelled out in any detail. According to the web site, Senator McCain “recognizes the importance of building strong allies in Mexico and Latin America who reject the siren call of authoritarians like Hugo Chavez…”

In Dr. Hernandez, McCain has made an important partner for building bridges south of the border. Playing a strategic role in advancing Vicente Fox’s political career, Dr. Hernandez facilitated the exposure of Guanajuato Governor Fox to US television audiences in the mid and late 1990s. In the business world, Dr. Hernandez helped to boost the fortunes of Guanajuato-based enterprises in the US after the triggering of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Serving as Fox’s personal secretary during the 2000 Mexican presidential campaign, Dr. Hernandez then went on to head the Presidential Office of Mexicans Abroad during the Fox administration. The Dallas professor’s name also surfaced in connection to the Amigos de Fox controversy that arose over the raising of money from outside Mexico for Fox’s 2000 campaign. Established as an independent fundraising mechanism, Amigos de Fox existed outside the framework of Fox’s National Action Party.

The involvement of Dr. Juan Hernandez in the 2008 McCain campaign is yet another example of how Mexican and US politics are becoming intertwined.

Frontera NorteSur is an on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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