Saturday, August 31, 2002

Losing Pan-AM Games: "The execution might have weighed in terms of their thinking", says expert.

"The execution might have weighed in terms of their thinking", says expert.

U.S., Mexico at crossroads 
Editorial Board 


Saturday, August 31, 2002 

This was the week Mexican President Vicente Fox was supposed to visit Austin and other Texas cities, and meet with President Bush at his Crawford ranch and Gov. Rick Perry at the Governor's Mansion. But Fox abruptly called off his trip after Texas executed convicted killer Javier Suarez Medina, one of Fox's countrymen. Fox had asked that Medina's sentence be commuted to life in prison because Medina had not been afforded his right to contact the Mexican consulate for help following his arrest, as ordered in a 1963 treaty. Mexico has no death penalty. 

When Perry traveled to Mexico this week to woo delegates of the Pan American Games on behalf of San Antonio, he was besieged with questions from reporters about the morality of Texas' death penalty and whether it discriminates against minorities who are disproportionately represented on death row. There are 17 Mexicans on death row. 

American-Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips spoke to University of Texas professor Peter Ward regarding the cooling relations between Texas and Mexico. Ward holds the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations and is director of UT's Mexican Center at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. The following are excerpts: 

American-Statesman: Texas has executed citizens of Mexico in the past. Why did this execution stir so much furor in Mexico? 

Peter Ward: This time there were real problems tied to the arrest and the lack of access to consular representation in 1989, when the murder took place. 

Also, President Fox was due to visit some 10 days (after the execution) and he personally sought to intervene. Mexico felt that there was sufficient wiggle room for Perry to grant a 30-day stay -- had he wished. Once his overtures and the diplomatic scrambling had been ignored, Fox could hardly just say, "OK, no matter, I'll see you in a fortnight." 

I don't think people in Texas really realized how close to the surface feelings were (in Mexico regarding Suarez's execution), how this really would have been a problem. 

This is the second trip Fox has canceled this summer. He was supposed to come in June, but bowed out over the dispute regarding water rights between Mexico and South Texas farmers. How will relations between Mexico and Texas be affected by those events? 

They will continue to cool. President Fox was able to steal the moral high ground (in protesting Suarez's execution). It was also a way of rapping Texas and the United States across the knuckles for going slow on these bilateral issues so important to Mexico and to Texas. 

There is a growing sense of frustration within Mexico that these issues aren't being addressed. The slap in the face from Fox toward Texas not only concerned the issue of executing (Suarez) but the frustration on the other issues. 

What are the bilateral issues Fox is pushing that affect Mexico and Texas? 

Immigration is the No. 1 issue, particularly the opportunity and access of Mexican workers to work in the United States. It's become more problematic since Sept. 11. 

Other issues include border security, controlling the flow of illegal drugs, controlling the border for entry of terrorists, and NAFTA, implementing it in an equitable way. The United States is in breach of NAFTA's free access of trucks between countries. Prior to Sept. 11, it was about to be dealt with. 

A key thorn in the side of Texas-Mexico relations is also that of water treaties. 

The Suarez execution focused international attention on Texas' death penalty system at a time when San Antonio was vying for the Pan Am Games. Do you think that had anything to do with San Antonio losing the games to Rio de Janeiro? 

I don't know. Whether the Mexican officials used their position to throw support behind the Brazilians, I'd rather doubt it. But in terms of the people who voted . . . the execution might have weighed in terms of their thinking. The execution and the cooling of relations didn't do Texas and San Antonio any good.

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