Ken Salazar, as ambassador, could do much to repair the U.S.-Mexico relationship

The Biden administration will soon be naming an ambassador to Mexico, and I certainly hope that it will be former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar. Having worked with him in the administration of former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, I can attest to his experience, knowledge, integrity and commitment. There is no better choice for this challenging position that offers great potential for improving mutual U.S.-Mexico issues.

The first challenge would be gaining the trust and respect of Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador ( Better known as AMLO). Despite Trump’s unending insulting of Mexico and Mexicans, AMLO became a Trump supporter and has been cool to Joe Biden. He remains extremely popular in Mexico and with the Congress in the control of his party, Morena, very powerful.

However, his cavalier attitude towards the pandemic has resulted in many unnecessary deaths, and he is only now beginning a vaccination program. The murder rate is staggering. There have been 604 murders just in Juárez (pop. 1.5 million) in the first five months of 2021. That compares to 447 in all of 2020 in the much larger New York City where concerns about violence are dominating the upcoming mayoral elections. Despite his alleged commitment to the poor, I have seen absolutely no evidence of social programs in my many visits to the border and in the Juárez area. And unlike the U.S., there has been no stimulus program for the millions who were put out of work by the pandemic.

On returning from her brief trip to Mexico, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of a “new era” in U.S.-Mexico relations. To think that that can happen as a result of a few hours with AMLO is farfetched; having an Ambassador like Salazar on the ground in Mexico could, however, make a huge difference.

Other issues involve the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement which replaced NAFTA and was enacted on July 1, 2020. Can a new Ambassador help with its implementation? Mexico and Canada are Colorado’s largest export markets and this accounts for thousands of jobs.

When NAFTA was passed in 1994, there was a commitment to a bi-country border cleanup program which was never fulfilled. This is still a huge need and could be a boon to Colorado’s many environmental companies.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation calling for improved technology at ports of entry which is where 90% of illegal drugs enter the US. Could a new ambassador help form a partnership with Mexico whereby Mexico could also use this technology to slow the flow of guns into Mexico?

Could Mexico and the U.S. initiate a border-based COVID-19 program that could be quickly implemented for the many workers who have to cross the border every day. Could this be expanded to help with the many other health issues that plague border towns like Juárez?

U.S. officials arrested General Salvador Cienfuegos in Los Angeles last Oct. 15 without notifying Mexican officials, causing a diplomatic uproar and ending with a dismissal of his drug-related charges. Although this occurred during the Trump presidency, there remains a lack of trust. Can’t a new and better working relationship on drug interdiction issues be formed between Biden and AMLO with the new ambassador pushing it along behind the scenes?

Given conditions of violence, corruption, crop destruction due to climate change, on-going poverty and devastating hurricanes, we can expect continuing flight from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Could a new Ambassador accelerate a Mexico-U.S. effort to assist those countries?

Immigration is obviously the most highly publicized issue. Most Americans see this as just a political issue; couldn’t a new Ambassador show us that this is an issue of humanity, not just politics? In the last few weeks, I’ve visited four shelters in Juárez and nearby Palomas. The stories of these families who have been waiting for weeks or months for asylum hearings is heartwrenching.

The challenges are enormous but so are the opportunities. Let’s hope that the Biden administration moves quickly and that this very special public servant, Ken Salazar is their choice.

Morgan Smith served as the Director of the Colorado International Trade Office under Governor Romer, led many trade missions to Mexico and opened the first Colorado trade office there. He has been documenting conditions in the Juárez area for the last decade as well as assisting a number of humanitarian organizations there. He can be reached at [email protected]

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