Wednesday, April 13, 2005 | Eugenio Elorduy Walther, Mexico’s Baja Governor, said that he opposed maintenance and construction of border fences as ineffective to stop illegal Mexican immigration, environmentally unsound and a certain source of ill feelings. Elorduy spoke to a standing room audience of more than 150 business owners, academics, government officials and nonprofit representatives at a symposium held last month at the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego.

Last month, the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee and three Southern California congressmen held a press conference in San Diego to showcase their support for the Real ID Act, which passed the House of Representatives in February. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Bush, construction on the border fence’s remaining 3.5 miles will override any environmental regulations that would otherwise stand in the way of its completion.

The Elorduy event was one in a continuing series on Culture, Economy, Politics, Art, and Science (CEPAS) to foster “broader interaction and communication” between the United States and Mexico, sponsored by the Institute of the Americas, Jose Cuervo Tequila and the Procopio law firm.

Elorduy noted that U.S. plans to modify a water canal, using California provided funds will divert water from Mexico’s Mexicali agricultural district areas straining U.S.-Mexican relations. Mexican President Vicente Fox and President George W. Bush discussed the canal project at a recent meeting in Crawford, Texas. Mexican attempts to establish a dialogue with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger concerning the proposed canal modification have not been successful.

Explosive growth in Tijuana’s population at the annual rate of 90,000 people per year is stretching scarce Mexican government resources to provide housing, education, water, recreation, employment, police protection and other services, Elorduy said. In 2003-2004, 53,000 new jobs were created in Mexico, and Mexico’s domestic product increased $1.3 billion or 7.3 percent. The Mexican government funds small 500 to 600 square foot homes on 1,500 square foot lots for “minimum salary” families with a 30-year credit line. Housing loan repayments are based upon a percentage of annual income. The modest homes are a source of great pride to the owners. Baja’s public education expenditures are 73 percent of the total budget which is triple that of any other Mexican state, he said.

On the subject of crime, Elorduy said that Mexico has stepped up efforts to fight illegal drug traffic, organized crime, kidnapping and police corruption. Last year, 296 known organized crime figures were extradited to the United States. Proximity to California – said to have the fifth largest economy in the world – makes Mexico a preferred location for illegal drug manufacturing and transportation. Public relations campaigns directed at families and children are among recent Mexican anti-crime programs. Governor Elorduy estimates that 16 percent to 17 percent of the Mexican government budget is spent on public safety.

Public perception that crime is more prevalent in Mexico than in the United States is influenced by Mexican media. Unlike American newspapers, Mexican newspapers have sections dedicated to regular reporting of crime. Elorduy said that comparing police crime statistics of Mexican cities to California cities indicates that crime rates are actually higher in California.

Mexico’s political system evolved from an “imperial presidency” to a “constitutional republic” similar to the United States with legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Governor Elorduy observed that the Mexican people for the first time in their history are feeling politically empowered. However, he believes that it will take a generation for Mexicans to make decisions affecting government similar to those currently made in the United States.

Responding to an audience comment that Mexico is not friendly to small business, Governor Elorduy said that Baja established business assistance centers in four cities, provides public funding to micro business, and that a Mexican micro business can be formed within 24 hours.

Leonard Krouner is a San Diego-based consultant, writer and professional in dispute settlement who can be reached at (858) 277-5323.

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