Monterrey, situated picturesquely at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains in the heart of what’s now reputedly Mexico’s most dangerous state (Nuevo Leon), is paradoxically also known as the economic juggernaut of Mexico. We flew the short 1 1/2 hours from Houston to Monterrey with that city’s Regional Security Officer (RSO). Upon arrival, we opted for the security by obscurity found in a non-descript sedan rather than an attention-grabbing SUV as the means by which to get from the airport to the U.S. Consulate, an old converted hotel that sits sandwiched between various state government buildings on the banks of the Santa Catarina River that still bears the scars of last year’s intense flooding.
A new Consulate is slated to open in the suburb of Santa Catarina in 2013, but for now this architectural anachronism holds its own as the State Department’s reigning champion when it comes to the issuance of H2 visas (Seasonal workers), the product of more than 250,000 applications last year.
Nace Crawford serves as the Counsel General in Monterrey. He graciously greeted us upon arrival and – with his consular team of economic, political, and security advisors – briefed us on the realities of living and doing business in that city and region. While not dodging some of the more sobering elements of the current situation (e.g. 4-6 kidnappings a day) they were quick to point out the fact that, notwithstanding those facts, the city is still economically vibrant.
Countries like Spain and Argentina are committing significant economic resources in the region. But they’re not alone. Sixty percent of next month’s tradeshow participants are, in fact, U.S corporations. While an environment not necessarily for the “faint of heart” there are still economic opportunities to be had here, the financial benefits of which outstrip the additional costs one must incur in mitigating the attendant risks.
As we “locked shields” with the RSO in re-launching the Monterrey Country Council, I could not help but note with no small admiration the courage and tenacity evidenced in the voices and declared intentions of the Mexican members who showed up at our meeting. In partnership with other corporate allies and the U.S. and Mexican Governments, they are committed to “retaking” their country, reminding us that the problems we face here defy the classic boundaries that delineate where domestic and international interests begin and end, reminding us that there is a “Demand-side” of the Cartel challenge just as much as there is a “supply-side”.
We bid good-bye to Monterrey and grabbed an evening flight on to Mexico City. The next morning, Mexico City made up for the rather docile reception we’d received the night before, by greeting us with the dregs of a 6.5 earthquake. The epicenter was sufficiently deep and far enough away that we ended up with not much more than a gentle but unnerving sway. I only wish I could say that about some of the other challenges that face us here. It’s been at least five years since I was last in Mexico City and while much has changed what apparently persists, notwithstanding a noble showing on the part of the sun, is the automobile pollution that settles on the valley and obscures what would otherwise be a bright view of the surrounding mountains (volcanoes).
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City is actually older than the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey but appears to have weathered the years a little better. Situated at a prestigious address on Paseo de la Reforma, just a short distance from the Angel of Independence, the embassy was a quick walk from our hotel.
The Ambassador was out of town, but his Deputy Chief of Mission, John Feeley, together with his RSO, welcomed us and sat with us for over an hour, sharing a number of astute insights into Mexico. Of the many that they shared, none struck me more acutely than that which counseled us not to approach an understanding of Mexico with a “single lens” (so easy to do in a media-dominated world), but rather with a multitude that appreciate the “Mosaic” that makes up modern Mexico. A nuanced understanding of the differing regions is absolutely critical if we’re to avoid the mistake of ascribing to the “whole” those characteristics or attributes found in “a part.”
We followed up our meeting with the DCM with a session with the Executive Committee of Mexico City’s OSAC Council. One of the most mature and well-run Councils in the world, its efforts were among those recently singled out by Congressman Shimkus in comments made on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and memorialized in the Congressional Record. Other members of the Embassy community also met with us, including the FBI’s Legal Attaché, the Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs, their Consejero Politico.
Shortly thereafter, we grabbed an over-night flight from Mexico City, through Panama, to Rio where will resume our Country Council Chronicles next week. Join us then. If you’re in the region, look for exact dates and times of Country Council meetings at www.OSAC.gov