July 22, 2005

Protests, Polemics and Proposals at Border Governors’ Meet

Gathered in the old northern Mexican cotton-growing capital of Torreon, Coahuila, governors and their representatives from the 10 U.S.-Mexico border states concluded their annual conference this past weekend (July 16-17, 2005). Meeting during an increasingly charged atmosphere along their common frontier, the states’ chief executives issued proposals for border security, law enforcement, environmental regulation, and education. While not endorsing any specific reform, the governors called for the promotion of legal immigration and respect for the law in both Mexico and the United States.

In an apparent allusion to the Minuteman Project and similar groups,  Mexican President Vicente Fox, in a videotaped message transmitted to the meet, expressed concern about the actions of “certain civilian groups against migrants, respectable persons, with dignified aspirations,” A brief appearance at the conference by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sparked a media frenzy and triggered protests by non-governmental groups affiliated with the New Mexico-based Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ).

The network represents more than 50 Latino and other people-of-color organizations from northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. In an interview with Frontera NorteSur, Richard Moore, Sneej’s executive director, explained that the network’s presence was part of a long-term movement to promote human rights, economic sustainability and environmental protection along the 2.000 mile long Mexico-U.S. border. Moore said that while the campaign is ultimately aimed at the federal governments of Mexico and the United States, the network is currently taking its issues to the governors. “The touchable, reachable ones for us were the border governors,” he said. “We think that at least in New Mexico and Arizona we can get some fairly progressive legislation.”

Making sure that officials heard their grievances, the network sponsored a demonstration outside the hotel where the governors stayed. The protestors raised crosses in memory of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez and migrants killed while trying to cross the border. Another demonstration involving as many as 1,000 people was held by the SNEEJ in Torreon the last day of the conference, Moore added.

After convening an “alternative people’s forum” attended by farmers, youth, women and others, the SNEEJ issued a document that demanded guaranteeing environmental and economic justice, curbing the Minutemen, upholding the right of education, legalizing immigrants in the U.S, respecting  labor rights, and tearing down border walls. The network also reiterated its demands to halt violence against women, especially those residing in Ciudad Juarez. A meeting between SNEEJ leadership on one side and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Coahuila Governor Enrique Martinez on the other was held to discuss the network’s immigration positions.

“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” said SNEEJ’s  Moore. “It was pretty obvious to those governors that the Southwest Network has a lot of recognition. Very clearly we were making our presence known by the bodies of hundreds and hundreds of people who demonstrated.”

On the official agenda, joint border security and law enforcement were among the hot items. The governors approved a declaration calling on their respective national governments to define the border region as a strategic security zone, step up joint police training programs, increase cooperation against organized crime, and speed up intelligence exchanges. Pledging to budget $5 million extra dollars for security, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced during the conference that additional state troopers will be deployed in the border region of his state. New Mexico Gov. Bill Rich-ardson and his colleagues urged the federal governments Mexico and the U.S. to pay greater attention to border security by allocating more resources and appointing liaisons to the governors’ group.

Although the macabre phenomenon of femicide is an ugly reality in a number of different border cities, no specific plan to counter the murders of women and girls was part of the official agenda. In response to questions from reporters, Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza appealed to the public not to single out his state and Ciudad Juarez. He contended that femicide is actually worse in other entities. Gov. Reyes said his administration is taking steps to contain the murders, pointing to recent actions like the arrests of suspects in last May’s murder of 7-year-old Airis Estrella Enriquez Pando in Ciudad Juarez. Gov. Reyes added he will not “magnify or downplay” the women’s murders, but will instead emphasize his admin-istration’s actions.

On the environmental front, the governors requested that the federal governments of Mexico and the United States finish appointing the board of directors for the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank (NAD Bank). They called for greater flexibility in NADBank’s credit rules, extending the area of eligibility for NADBank funding from a limit of about 60 to 175 miles away from the border, and continued funding of border infrastructure projects by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. With the water dilemma in mind, the governors called for a new working group to look at resources in hydrological zones shared by the 10 states.

Finally, the baton of conference leadership was passed on at the just concluded session from the outgoing president, Coahuila Gov. Enrique Martinez, to the new one, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours Castelo will serve as the new vice-president. Martinez, who presided over the organization for the past year, is one of the candidates for the nomination to represent the Institutional Revolutionary Party in next year’s Mexican presidential election.

Now almost three decades old, the annual border governors’ conference seeks to coordinate policies and advocate common concerns before the federal governments of Mexico and the United States. Leadership of the conference is rotated on a yearly basis between the 10 member governors.

Story reported by Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. Email fnsnews@nmsu.edu

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