Introduction by Hon. Lee H. Hamilton

Lee Hamilton noted that Mexico is one of America’s most important partners, whose people share deep ties and common interests. He recognized that the two countries had had differences on policy in recent months; however, he urged the two governments to move past their differences, and reaffirm the importance of the bilateral relationship. “Working together, we can make progress on security, migration, and trade concerns that will leave both nations more prosperous and secure,” he observed.

The Wilson Center started the Mexico Institute in March to focus increased attention on Mexico and U.S.-Mexican relations. As part of this effort, the Institute has started a Public Policy Scholars Program with the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. This director’s forum with Jorge Castañeda, he noted, was one in a series of events that will highlight issues facing our important neighbor to the south.

Mr. Hamilton introduced Jorge Castañeda as a distinguished intellectual and policymaker from Mexico, who is well-known both for his many publications and for his service as foreign minister in the Fox administration. He highlighted Castañeda’s work to transform Mexico’s foreign policy to face new challenges and opportunities with a particular emphasis on multilateral action and the advancement of human rights.

Remarks by Dr. Jorge Castañeda

Jorge Castañeda noted that Mexicans had voted for two different things in 2000. On one hand, they had voted “against the past,” to change the system that had been in place for 70 years. At the same time, they had voted “for change,” for a new approach to economic, political, and social affairs. He argued that President Vicente Fox’s leadership had ensured a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy, and he acknowledged the responsibility of President Ernesto Zedillo in this as well. Given the record of difficult transitions to democracy elsewhere in the hemisphere, this is a very important accomplishment. However, he noted that the “change” many Mexicans expected has not come about fully, because of an adverse economic climate, exaggerated expectations, the resistance of vested interests and of members of all three major parties, and the conservative nature of Mexican society. He acknowledged that the Fox Administration, in which he had served, had probably set too many priorities at the outset.

He suggested an agenda for change, therefore, that would focus on only a very few goals which could lay the foundation for inclusive growth in Mexico. He noted that the two major goals would be (1) Rule of law; and (2) Education. Mexico had previously been under the “rule of order,” which collapsed with the authoritarian system, but never under rule of law. Therefore, a strong and systematic campaign is necessary to strengthen the judicial system, create a national police force, and change habeas corpus (amparo) laws. This would help make Mexico more competitive economically and ensure a better quality of life. With regards to education, Mexico lags behind not only the United States but also some other countries in Latin America. He suggested that urgent reforms are necessary to improve the educational system. These reforms could include making high schools part of secondary education, creating a national high school exam or national university entrance exam, and changing the content and procedures of the educational system. It would be especially important to change the approach to education from one of memorization to one of analytical thinking.

To be able to get these two key reforms approved, Dr. Castañeda suggested that Mexico needs to reform its political system, which is still based on institutions created in the nineteenth century. These political reforms would need to include a constitutional change to allow for reelection of members of Congress (in order to allow for greater accountability, professionalization, and specialization); a constitutional change to create the figures of referendum, popular initiative, and plebiscite; and legal mechanisms to allow for the creation of a working majority in Congress.

In order to pay for these reforms, Dr. Castañeda argued that it is necessary to raise new revenues both by passing a substantial fiscal reform and making better use of existing oil reserves. First, Mexico should eliminate all exemptions on its taxes, while locking in any new revenues generated by this to specific social and rule of law programs. This would enable citizens to see what the new taxes would be used for. Second, he noted that Mexico has 22 years worth of oil reserves, which is many times more than most countries, and that these reserves could be used to generate wealth that can be invested in social and rule of law programs. There are several ways of generating the initial capital for this, including selling oil futures at fixed prices. Doing this would allow Mexico to use its wealth of today to combat poverty and create a more equitable society for tomorrow.

Prepared by Andrew Selee, LAP/Mexico Institute 202-691-4088