By Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista
Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
A look at the newly 2,000 mile border that divides Mexico and the United States encourages an objective evaluation of the profound transformations it has had in the past few years.
A great number of newspaper stories were written about the impact the events of September 11, 2001 would have on the border communities. Entire pages were dedicated to predicting the impending catastrophe: an era of economic growth which was strongly supported by vital bilateral commerce would come to an end because of a border blockade without precedent in the recent history of both countries. A grieving nation mourning the loss of innocent lives was not going to just stand there and do nothing. And in that sense, the borders would be the silent witnesses to the most transcendental change in a post-war world: the emergence of a new paradigm in the United States which puts security before all and despite all.
However, with the third anniversary of such tragic events upon us, the scenario at the border is much different than the one predicted by the pessimists and reflects, instead, a healthier picture that has allowed the strengthening of binational bonds and, above all, the institutional setting that rules them.
The great skill of presidents Fox and Bush has been to understand the magnitude of the challenge that the new world paradigm imposes and to carry out an imaginative process, of great depth, to update coordination procedures and imbue with new dynamism the institutions that have been under formation during the last decade. All this is explained by the trust that characterizes and must characterize the relations between Mexico and the United States.
The governments of both countries have agreed to create a smart border for the 21st Century that constitutes an immediate response to ease the flow of people and goods at the same time that it offers the necessary mechanisms to avoid the threats to security and economic and social prosperity that are essential to the complete development of our peoples.
The Border Alliance Mexico-United States and the 22 points of the Action Plan are the instruments set in motion to advance the goals of modernizing the current infrastructure and drive the secure flows of people, goods and other assets through our common border.
The Action Plan has generated concrete achievements such as the protection of strategic infrastructure along the border, as well as the creation of more express lanes at the ports of entry, lanes fundamentally there to serve the border communities. As for the flow of goods and assets, the Border Alliance and the Action Plan establish programs of technological exchange that expedite the installation of railway inspection systems at the busiest ports of entry. Currently, there are instruments with gamma rays at all border railway crossings and at a growing number of ports of entry with budding commerce.
Another very interesting aspect that has been developed is the partnership with the private sector to increase the security of commercial transportation and the creation of systems for the free exchange of customs information, the type of programs that, again, revolve around the growing trust between our governments since the reviewing and updating of institutional coordination plans.
The secure flow of people and goods and the protection of critical infrastructure were complemented this year by the renovation of the Action Plan to include the human dimension of the border phenomenon and the availability of ready resources to avoid the death of Mexicans at the border through the strengthening of the protection of Mexican immigrants and the war against bands of people smugglers. The new plan seeks to improve security conditions through safeguard campaigns in the mass media; war on people smuggling and violence at the border; the prevention of migrant traffic through desolate areas, and the guarantee that repatriation processes are carried out in a safe and orderly way at the border and to the towns of origin of the migrants.
The decision of our governments to strengthen the Coordination Mechanisms to the interior and Border Liaisons deserves a special mention. These examples represent a first-level resource and immediate attention through coordination of the efforts of local agencies and authorities, which, under the supervision of the Mexican and U.S. consuls, prevent that commonplace situations occurring in everyday border activities turn into major problems for binational relations.
Recently, a pilot voluntary repatriation program that sends migrants to their towns in Mexico’s interior was started. This makes the procedures to return migrants back to Mexico more transparent and appropriate and takes care of the worries and unalterable interests of Mexico regarding this sensible matter, interests such as the absolute respect of the human rights and dignity of Mexican nationals; the preservation of family unity during the repatriation process; giving special treatment to handicapped people, minors who travel by themselves and other people in vulnerable situations; and the availability of procedures that will allow attention to mistreatment cases or the possible violation of human rights, as well as the reporting of rape cases and the follow through with the proper investigations and consequences.
This program only takes place in the Arizona-Sonora region during the 2004 summer season and its core is the principle of strict willfulness Mexican detainees must manifest before U.S. authorities, something that has to be authenticated by a Mexican consul. After a few weeks in operation, the program has allowed the safe and orderly return of people and families whom otherwise would have faced difficult situations in the desert and subsequent risks to their physical integrity and lives.
Another subject upon which definitive steps have been taken to reactivate the projects of community importance is the reform of the Bank of Development of North America and the Border Commission of Ecological Cooperation. The legislative protocol procedures of the accord which is the reason why both institutions were created have been completed, which will translate into faster procedures from both institutions to certify and finance environmental pro-jects. Our country now sees its desire to enlarge the geographical jurisdiction of these institutions to 300 kilometers, which will allow the main cities that have a great ecological and environmental impact on the border to benefit from their programs, and may also include the subject of water in the agenda of projects that could be funded.
Migration is and it will continue to be a priority subject in our bilateral agenda and it requires that Mexico and the United States reiterate their willingness to continue bilateral negotiations and reach accords that will allow both countries to deal with the matter in all its complexity. That is why, in their recent meeting at the Crawford Ranch in Texas, in March 2004, the presidents of Mexico and the United States reiterated their commitment to continue their dialogue on migration as a priority in the bilateral agenda, to establish the legal wherewithal that will allow a safe and orderly migration that warrants the human and labor rights of the migrants.
Despite the ample transformations, it is still necessary to continue the efforts to readapt the border to the new realities. This is a dynamic process that we cannot interrupt. It is impossible to imagine larger commerce volumes without agile and modern border ports of entry in which the flow of people, goods and other assets can be accomplished in a secure and efficient manner.
We must continue investing resources and human capital in new technologies and intelligence services, which apart from having a positive effect regarding crossing times, should help in the recovery of the competitiveness that has always characterized the border region.
We need to build a more modern and efficient border that can allow our governments to recover their competitive edge and turn the region into a more attractive area for national and foreign investment. This task should be specially sensible regarding the construction of more and better ports of entry, through which the growing flows of bilateral commerce can be carried out.