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Departing US Ambassador to Mexico Optimistic on Bilateral Relations - 2002-09-05

The terrorist attacks of September 11 last year set back efforts by the United States and Mexico to reach a bilateral agreement on immigration. But the departing U.S. ambassador to Mexico says relations between the two nations remain strong and that progress is being made on immigration, as well as other issues.

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow spoke to the American Chamber of Commerce on Thursday and provided an optimistic view of bilateral relations. Speaking to Mexican and U.S. business leaders, Ambassador Davidow acknowledged that efforts to produce an agreement on immigration had been set back by the terrorist attacks last year. But he said progress is being made nonetheless.

"There is a new and, I think, admirable desire on the part of American officials at all levels of government, to recognize the contribution of Mexican migrants to our society, to find ways in which this flow of humanity can be regularized in some way that provides justice [and] equity to all," he said.

Mr. Davidow noted that a consular identification card now being issued by Mexican consulates in the United States has improved life for thousands of migrants. He also noted that a joint U.S.-Mexico program to reduce money transfer fees has allowed migrants to send more of the money they earn in the United States to family members back home.

The U.S. ambassador said it would be a mistake to focus too much on specific issues in the bilateral relation, though immigration and drug smuggling have tended to dominate the agenda in the past. He said relations between the two North American neighbors are good, but that they could be better.

The U.S. ambassador said Mexico can improve relations with the United States and help its own people by accelerating its economic growth. This, he said, would provide more jobs and better wages for Mexican workers. He also said Mexico should focus on educating its young people for jobs that will be needed ten years or more into the future.

Mr. Davidow also suggested that economic growth will depend on a reliable supply of electrical energy in the years ahead. He said corporate planners are looking several years out to decide whether or not to expand operations in Mexico and they need to see that their energy needs can be met.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has proposed opening the publicly owned energy sector to private investment, but the measure has been stalled by opposition parties in the Congress. Mr. Davidow observed such political wrangling is simply the result of Mexico's recent transformation into a healthy democracy.

"Mexico, in its growth of democracy, with its multiplicity of voices, with its checks and balances and strengthening of various institutions, now, in my view, more closely resembles modern democracies around the world," he said. "Sometimes this is not the most efficient form of government, but I can assure you, and I think we all agree, it is the best form of government."

Prior to the election of Vicente Fox two years ago, Mexico had been ruled for 71 straight years by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI continues to hold a large portion of seats in Congress and President Fox and his National Action Party are negotiating in an effort to seek compromise on the energy initiative.

Another matter that will vex U.S.-Mexico relations in the years ahead, according to Ambassador Davidow, is the dispute over water resources along the 3,000-kilometer border. He said increasing demand for water on both sides and recent droughts have caused frictions that could worsen if a joint effort is not made to solve the problem.

Jeffrey Davidow has served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico for more than four years. He departs on September 14 to assume an academic position at Harvard University.