Amalia García Medina
"The U.S. and Mexico: A View from Zacatecas"

April 4, 2005

Amalia García Medina, the governor of Zacatecas, spoke in the Geballe Room on Monday, April 4.

Still Distant Neighbors?
By Prof. Alex Saragoza

The central state of Zacatecas faces the challenges of out-migration to the United States more than most regions in Mexico. With roughly half of all Zacatecanos resident north of the border, it is understandable why the state’s governor, Amalia García, seeks to link the issue of out-migration to the need for regional jobs and growth and to the role of the United States in Mexico’s economic development more generally. Citing the book Distant Neighbors, by the New York Times’ former correspondent in Mexico City, Alan Riding, Governor García stressed how both countries are gripped in an inextricable embrace, sharing, however reluctantly, a number of challenges.

A “social market economy” must characterize any strategy of economic expansion, she said during her CLAS presentation. In this light, NAFTA has benefited both countries, the governor argued, but too often the distribution of the fruits of the trade agreement has been far from equitable. Yawning income and regional disparities persist in Mexico despite the agreement and its vaunted outcomes. Not surprisingly, mutually different perceptions mar Mexico–U.S. relations. Gov. García, a longtime member of Mexico’s left-of-center party, the PRD, noted the very different ways that the public of each nation understands the results of NAFTA: Mexicans think it has largely benefited the U.S., whereas their northern counterparts assume that Mexico has garnered most of the gains from the agreement.

Much of the governor’s talk turned on the issues of migration and immigration. About half the population of Zacatecas resides in the U.S. at any given time, primarily as a consequence of migration flows back and forth across the border, both legal and undocumented. The importance of that flow of migration is reflected in the size and growth of the Mexican origin population in this country. But the significance of that flow for Mexico is also enormous, as remittances in 2004 alone came to about $17 billion. For Zacatecas, the sum of remittances amounted to about $480 million. Citing the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, Gov. García suggested that the only way to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. would be a large-scale, sustainable investment strategy to promote development, create more job opportunities, extend credit, spend on infrastructure and expand internal and external markets. On this point, the governor chided U.S. President Bush for his declaration to the World Bank in 2001 that globalization should be exploited to reduce poverty. “We need actions,” she observed, “not only declarations.”

Gov. García went on to indicate how migration has shaped her agenda as the head of her state. She has made numerous visits to Home Town Associations (HTAs) organized by Zacatecanos in the U.S. that funnel monies back to their hometowns for various types of civic improvements. Taking advantage of the “Program 3 X 1,” the funds sent by the HTAs are matched by state, local and federal monies to promote hometown enterprises, renovate schools and build infrastructure. Migration has also colored the politics of the state. The governor pointed out that several members of the legislature have been migrants, which has created support for electoral reforms to allow migrants to run for state and municipal office. In sum, the governor concluded, Zacatecas has become a binational state.

In the question and answer session, the theme of migration continued to shape much of the discussion. The governor expressed her evident concern and thinly veiled outrage at organizations like the Minutemen, a North American group of citizen volunteers in Arizona intent on patrolling the border in an effort to discourage undocumented entrants from Mexico. The rights of migrants must be protected, urged the governor, as vigilante type efforts, like those of the Minutemen, threaten fundamental human rights. She also criticized the attempts of politicians to manipulate 9/11 terrorist concerns to essentially bash immigrants, using the example of the drivers license controversy. President Vicente Fox’s handling of the immigrant issue with the White House also came under fire. Immigration should be a bilateral discussion, Gov. García stated emphatically. President Fox must be retake the initiative in resolving the immigration question with this country. Toward this end, the governor indicated her hope that a more European Union type approach to labor would eventually develop among Mexico, the United States and Canada. The governor went on to underscore the specific importance of migrant workers to the economy of California, as she made reference to the film, “A Day without a Mexican,” to make her point.

She was quick, however, to return to an earlier comment: Mexico needs to generate more and better jobs for its workers. In this vein, she noted the growing threat of China to the employment prospects for her country, as more and more companies move their operations out of Mexico to take advantage of low Chinese labor costs. Mexico must respond to the challenge by developing better jobs and opportunities for its people, not by relying on more maquiladoras and cheap labor. She enumerated her efforts and those of other Mexican governors to develop ties with their counterparts in the U.S. to foment mutually beneficial projects for the improvement of health programs and services for migrant workers. She also described her efforts to promote bilateral commercial opportunities between her state and those U.S. states with large numbers of Zacatecan migrants, including the improvement of transportation linkages between her state and Texas, the key entry point for Mexican trade to the U.S.

Though the discussion centered on issues of migration, the governor also commented on her drive to develop the state’s economic future and to better the social conditions for the people of her state. She highlighted her efforts to modernize and expand the silver mining sector, a traditional pillar of the economy of Zacatecas, as means of providing jobs and trade for her state. Furthermore, she described her effort to reach out to the most marginalized groups in Zacatecas, such as indigenous communities, like the Huicholes, for whom the governor has provided increased state funding for educational and health services. Clearly, the new governor of Zacatecas has taken a forceful, dynamic and broadly conceived approach to the challenges facing her state. The outcomes of her efforts will undoubtedly have long term effects, as Mexico may be witnessing the emergence of a strong leader of national proportions.

Amalia García Medina on the Berkeley campus.

Amalia García Medina is the governor of Zacatecas, Mexico. She spoke at UC Berkeley on April 4, 2005.

Alex Saragoza is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

Original event text

Amalia García Medina
"The U.S. and Mexico: A View from Zacatecas"

Amalia García Medina is the governor of the state of Zacatecas, Mexico. Previously she served two terms as a Federal Deputy and was the vice-president of the Executive Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. Governor García Medina was also a senator and a legislator in the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City. She is dedicated to a number of causes, including equal rights for women, human rights and the fight against corruption. Her tireless work promoting citizens' initiatives has led to substantial changes in the political system.

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