On her first official trip to Mexico beginning today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will confront a range of bilateral issues and tensions: drug violence, trade and immigration, among others. Times editorial writer Marjorie Miller asked experts on both sides of the 2,000-mile border to discuss issues likely to come up on the two-day visit. Here are their edited responses.
Mayor of Rosarito, Mexico, and owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel
I wish the Obama administration would recognize the effort we are making to clean up our cities, our police forces, our state and country. Certain elements in the U.S. government have reacted very quickly in telling people not to come to Mexico, talking only about the problems we have and that we have a lot of narcos. We do, but you have more over there. Our criminals sell the drugs wholesale, you distribute them retail, and the amount of money handled by U.S. distributors is probably 10 times as much.
-- Hugo Torres Chabert
For our city in particular, the travel warning is a big problem. We have had lots of killings. But 96% of the killings in our area were between traffickers. That also happens in New Orleans and Baltimore and other cities with high crime rates. But all of a sudden, there is a campaign to stay away from Mexico. We haven't had any tourist or visitor caught in a crossfire in 20 years. We have 20 million visitors a year in Baja California, so really the risk is not there for a tourist. Yet in Rosarito, we have lost about 70% of tourists since the middle of last year.
Mayor of El Paso
I hope there is very candid discussion about what's fueling the money and arms for the drug wars. One thing we need is some kind of commitment from the U.S. as to how we're going to inspect southbound traffic. Currently we don't have that. Thousands of trucks a day travel from Juarez into El Paso and then make the trip back. This causes congestion on Interstate 10, and that's without stopping every vehicle for an inspection. If we were to start inspecting them, we would have traffic congestion for miles down the freeway at rush hour. One solution would be to use gamma ray technology, which we are using on northbound traffic. We run all of these big trucks through the gamma ray, and we can see what kind of cargo they have; we can see concealed compartments in the trailers and if there's a pallet of money or a pallet of weapons. The money we would end up confiscating could be used to make improvements to the ports of entry.
A second issue Mexico and the United States need to talk about is commerce. The lack of demand for consumer products on this side has had a significant impact on the economy of places like Juarez and Chihuahua. For example, Electrolux had 3,000 employees in Mexico. But as the demand for refrigerators drops on this side, they lay people off on their side, and we've seen high unemployment on the other side of the border. That's meant a decline in shopping and tourism from the south to the north. Our revenues for El Paso will be $9 million short of what they were projected to be. That's because the Mexican shoppers are not coming over here.
Jose Reyes Ferriz
Mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
What we saw from the previous administration was the building of a wall, trying to isolate the United States from Mexico to keep the problems outside. That doesn't work. There must be a recognition by both governments that we are facing joint problems and that the only way we'll be able to solve those problems is working together to bring about a solution.
The problem right now is organized crime. The major problem we have is the sale of guns in the United States without regard to the fact that those guns are going to be illegally smuggled into Mexico. This needs to be investigated by the United States.
The second point that needs to be addressed is money. The activities by organized crime in Mexico are financed with drug money coming in from the United States. Money-laundering investigations need to be stepped up so the flow of money into those illegal activities stops. And when organized crime goes unchecked, it ventures into new areas. We have seen some organized crime getting into the trafficking of persons, helping illegals go into the United States.
Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UC San Diego