The governor of the Mexican border state of Nuevo León, whose election as the first independent governor in the country’s history shook up Mexican politics, visited the city of Austin, Texas on Thursday March 31st, and met with Gov. Greg Abbott to discuss collaboration on energy, trade, transportation and border security.
The Austin American Statesman reported that in a whirlwind trip that lasted less than 24 hours, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, known as “El Bronco” to his constituents, also met with University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves, as well as Mexican students and business leaders living in the Lone Star State.
His main goal, he said, was improving the lives of Mexicans in Texas and finding new ways to collaborate with the Texan government on mutual challenges like border security. Rodríguez Calderón also said he wanted to work with Texas on ways to stem the flow of migration northward.
“Just like the Texan government helps us with security, or investigations, or technology, I think we can have a collaboration to help make sure that fewer people are trying to come here,” Rodríguez Calderón said.
Through collaboration, the Mexican governor said, the two sides could create programs that help combat poverty and the drug trade. He called on Texas to increase focus on reducing drug consumption, which he said only fuels the drug trade and violence in his state.
“There’s a high drug consumption here and that makes it (economically) interesting for people over there to start making drugs and bringing them to the United States,” Rodríguez Calderón said. “So what is the Texas government doing to reduce drug consumption and what should we be doing to reduce drug trafficking?”
After meeting with Abbott, Rodríguez Calderón said they had a very “human” conversation and their discussion had been more as two people trying to solve problems than as two heads of state. In a news release, Abbott said he thanked Rodríguez Calderón for engaging on issues important to citizens on both sides of the border and added that he looked forward to advancing the partnership between the two states.
Wolfgang Niedert, the chairman of Aguila Alliance, a recently formed civic group in Austin that works to foster the relationship between Mexico and Texas, said he was very encouraged by Rodríguez Calderón’s visit because people in his group want to create stronger ties with Nuevo León’s rising technology and energy industries.
“It may not happen right away but it’s always good news that there seems to be more open doors,” he said.
Rodríguez Calderón’s visit felt like a stump speech at times. The 58-year-old governor is widely considered a possible candidate for the Mexican presidency in 2018 since his landslide victory for the governorship of Nuevo León last summer. In Austin, he did not shy away from the speculation over a possible presidential campaign.
“I have to work to keep the promises I made with Nuevo León,” he said. “But if after the two years I have left before the election I am able to meet a majority of those goals, I will consider declaring my candidacy.”
He added: “I do envision Mexico having an independent president because there is a growing movement in the country.”
With his plainspoken and often coarse language, his heavy use of social media and his folksiness, Rodríguez Calderón, who spent more than 30 years in Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolution Party (known by its Spanish acronym, PRI), has now become the embodiment of the country’s anti-establishment movement and has attracted a large following of business leaders, young people and others who are weary of the status quo.
On Thursday, he spoke of the need for authenticity in Mexican politics and railed against the kind of “political marketing” that often leads candidates to present themselves as someone different from who they are.
Rodríguez Calderón also talked about how his prolific use of social media has fueled his connection to his widespread coalition.
With the aid of his staff, he said, he spends three hours a day answering thousands of messages on Facebook and other social media, and he openly gives his phone number to anyone who asks. During breakfast, he said he had 1,263 WhatsApp messages from his constituents on his phone.
“What does that mean?” he asked the audience. “Confidence.”
His wide social media availability also leaves him open to criticism. As governor, it is now his job to combat the deeply-rooted drug cartels and government corruption he denounced as a candidate, and his constituents use social media to denounce robberies, kidnappings and violence and ask him to do more.
“I see all criticism on social media as positive,” he said. “The people are now asking their governor to do something. They have access to him and can say, ‘Hey, do something about this.’ That to me is not bad, but good… It’s communication.”
In the first six months, he added, his government has laid out the foundations to succeed in this battle.
Rodríguez Calderón also denounced what he called unjust terms in Mexican election law, which give independent candidates less of an opportunity to get their message out. But, he said, the independent wave will continue to grow this June when 13 more Mexican states have elections.
“It’s good that citizens are believing now and I think some of (the independent candidates) will win,” he said. “This will be the beginning of a new independence for Mexico.”
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