Opinion: For border security and commerce, U.S. finds ally in Mexican Sen. Cabeza de Vaca
There is a rising star in Mexican politics. Senator Francisco Javier Garcia Cabeza de Vaca is a candidate for governor for the state of Tamaulipas, which sits along the border with Texas, adjoining the Laredo Port of Entry. He is a man of integrity, big ideas and fearless determination. And he is exactly the kind of partner both counties need to build a Texas and Tamaulipas that together will secure the U.S.-Mexico border and increase trade.
In Tamaulipas today, drug cartels are powerful, permeating the police force and infecting elected leaders. Previous governors of Tamaulipas are wanted by the FBI for corruption and money laundering. Relationships with American partners (state and federal) are weak. It is the opposite of what is needed for an effective relationship between those charged with interdicting narcotics, disrupting human smuggling, and expediting the legitimate flow of people and goods across the U.S.-Mexico border.
For as poorly as previous Tamaulipas governors have fared, Cabeza de Vaca is a different sort of leader, and it owes in part to his background. Cabeza de Vaca is currently Mexico’s Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, was born in McAllen, Texas, and earned undergraduate degrees from Houston Baptist University (as well as a master’s of international business from the Universidad de Monterrey). He holds citizenship in the United States and Mexico, and he is fluent in English and Spanish.
In short, Cabeza de Vaca is truly binational, and that gives him unique insight into a range of border security issues.
In Cabeza de Vaca, the United States finally finds someone who wants to collaborate at the state level. He understands that the trust between officials in Tamaulipas and those in the United States has been broken for a long time, and step one for a brighter future is rebuilding that trust. As such, he has been meeting with representatives from U.S. Border Patrol, the Texas Rangers, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and many others. He has met with every agency at the federal and state level, discussing how best to cultivate critical relationships with the United States.
In these meetings, in policy and at public events, Cabeza de Vaca is proposing greater intelligence sharing with U.S. agencies. Heseeks to open a Tamaulipas trade office in San Antonio, Texas, to promote commerce between the United States and Mexico. He has proposed multiple pre-clearance points for people and cargo crossing the border. And he’s calling for improvements in law enforcement, proposing the addition of 6,000 Tamaulipas police officers; currently, the Mexican military is filling the law enforcement role in the state.
All of these proposals are precisely what the United States wants to see happen in Tamaulipas, strengthening the state to better manage cross-border flows and stop narcotics and human smuggling.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has governed Tamaulipas for 86 years has given the state two governors who are wanted by the FBI, and they obviously do not like Cabeza de Vaca’s rising prominence. They are doing everything they can to taint his image. A smear campaign has emerged in Tamaulipas, with some public figures accusing Cabeza de Vaca of colluding with the cartels. Accusations of this sort are common in Mexican politics, no matter whether they are true. So the Border Commerce & Security Council conducted independent reviews to explore Cabeza de Vaca’s background and affiliations.
Based on the results of those reviews, I can write with certainty that claims about Cabeza de Vaca being a “narco senator” are completely baseless. He is as clean as a whistle. This conclusion is supported by the logical deduction that if Cabeza de Vaca had dealings with criminal organizations, he would not be able to travel as freely as he does in the United States, far more so than previous Tamaulipas governors who are wanted by U.S. law enforcement.
When looking at American politics, it’s easy to forget that in many countries a political career comes with threats to personal safety. In Tamaulipas, Cabeza de Vaca is taking a stand. He’s speaking about corruption, refusing to ally with the cartels and is working to build relationships that will help the economic and physical security of both our nations. This bold stand puts him on the wrong side of organized crime and entrenched political interests in Mexico. He’s risking it all.
But he’s not alone. Other candidates on the ballot for the June 5 election are breaking party lines to support him. (Unsurprisingly, those candidates were expelled from the ballot by the opposition and accused of working with the cartels as soon as they voiced support for Cabeza de Vaca). American partners are meeting with him to develop the relationships now that will be essential should he win the governorship. He is a catalyst for upsetting the status quo.
And that’s exactly what we need in Tamaulipas — and perhaps in Mexico overall.
Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido