From the CIAO Atlas Map of North America 

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State-Level Foreign Mechanisms Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Julie Blase

University of Texas at Austin, Department of Government

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000

Given that responsibility for U.S. foreign affairs is constitutionally assigned to the federal government, one expects U.S. states to be restricted from international involvement. Yet today, states are increasingly institutionalizing foreign relations with other nations. The State of Washington has three overseas offices in Asia. The state of California has trade offices in 10 nations. The six New England governors have been meeting with five eastern Canadian premiers since 1973, to discuss common problems such as energy and acid rain. 1 State government officials in Texas speak daily with officials in Mexico on issues ranging from criminal justice to the environment to child custody. If states are constitutionally limited in international affairs, how did these relationships develop?

Some have argued it was the end of the Cold War which eased national security concerns and allowed states to jump into the foreign policy process. 2 The basic and untested assumption of this argument is that states were restricted from international involvement during the Cold War. This is not the case. U.S. state involvement in foreign affairs began long before the Wall fell in 1989. Texas opened a Trade Office in Mexico City in 1971. The Southwestern U.S. governors began holding regular meetings with Mexican border governors in 1980, to discuss topics of federal jurisdiction such as immigration and drug control. These are only two of a multitude of such developments.

There is still much unknown about U.S. state involvement in foreign affairs. This paper offers a possible method to explore how it is that U.S. states appear free to institutionalize contact with foreign nations despite the tradition of federal preeminence in foreign affairs. Three “miniature” case studies are presented, all involving the state of Texas and the neighboring nation of Mexico: the opening of the Texas trade office in Mexico City in 1971, the creation of the Border Governors’ Conference in 1979; and the creation of the Border States Attorneys General Conference in 1986. Each mechanism is explored through an examination of three relationship axes: U.S.-Mexico, Texas-Mexico, and Texas-U.S. Each account is prefaced by a summary of U.S.-Mexico relations at the time, and three relationship axes are utilized to find the answers to the following questions:

  1. The Texas-U.S. axis explores the question: did the U.S. federal government know of the state’s action to create the international mechanism? Did it approve of the action, object to the action, or delegate the action?
  2. The U.S.–Mexico axis asks the question: Were there any national security (anticommunism) issues which constrained the state’s goals in creating the mechanism?
  3. The Texas-Mexico axis explores the question: How did Texas’ interest in and method of contact with Mexico differ from the U.S. government’s relations with Mexico?

A systematic study of the evolution of state-foreign activity is essential to understanding the new &-; or newly noticed – roles U.S. states play in foreign affairs. Such a study will help reveal the patterns to the new division of responsibility between the states and the federal government over U.S. foreign affairs. 3

Constitutional Issues

The law governing states and foreign relations is still largely unclear. The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government exclusive control over certain aspects of foreign affairs. Article I, Section 10 prohibits states from making treaties – this aspect of the law is indisputable. Often at the conclusion of meetings between Texan and Mexican officials, a document summarizing the proceedings is signed. Texas officials are careful to ensure such a document is never worded like a treaty nor called a treaty. 4

But the Constitution also states: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress... enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power...” 5 Does this mean Texas should seek congressional consent every time state officials sign a memo with Mexican officials? No. Congress has declared that not all compacts require congressional consent; what matters is the state’s intent behind the documents. The 74th and 88th Congresses 6 issued the following statement on the Constitution:

“The terms ‘compact’ and ‘agreement’ not apply to every compact or agreement...but the prohibition is directed to the formation of any combination tending to the increase of political power in the States which may encroach upon or interfere with the just supremacy of the United States. The terms cover all stipulations affecting the conduct or claims of states, whether verbal or written, formal or informal, positive or implied with each other or with foreign powers.” 7

Thus, as long as Texas is not deliberately trying to dominate Mexican relations, or forming a compact with the Southwestern U.S. states in order to override U.S. policy towards Mexico, Texas-Mexico intergovernmental relations are not likely to be seen as violating the Constitution. 8

Were there a challenge to the Texas-Mexico connections, a court would likely let stand an arrangement which did not implicate an important federal interest, says Jack Goldsmith of the University of Chicago School of Law. 9 But separating domestic from foreign interests is not as simple as it once was. For some 200 years “foreign relations” has been primarily defined in terms of military and diplomatic affairs, unquestionably federal responsibilities. Today’s foreign relations include many issues in which the states are historically involved. The blurring of the lines between foreign and domestic issues raises important questions of jurisdiction over domestic issues that involve foreign entities or have implications for foreign policy.

There are many areas in which the states and federal government are both legally able to legislate; this is called concurrent jurisdiction. If the states legislate in a manner which Congress finds objectionable, the burden is on Congress to either prohibit or preempt state law. There is a doctrine called "foreign affairs preemption" by which courts will sometimes invalidate state actions that impinge on federal foreign relations interests. But if Congress has not acted in a certain legislative area, does this mean the states are free to act until preempted by Congress? If the states are acting and Congress does not stop them, does this mean Congress has consented to the states’ actions, or simply that it lacks the political will to do so? The law in this area is unsettled and developing case by case.

In short, a challenge to Texas intergovernmental relations with Mexico is unlikely as long as the nature of the state’s activities remain focused on finding non-binding, cooperative solutions to what are essentially domestic problems shared with Mexico. 10

General Historical Background

The United States’ foreign policy objective during the Cold War was “containment” – preventing the spread of communism from the Soviet Union or China to any other nation. To this end the U.S. policy sought a communist-free Latin America for two reasons:

Geopolitical Protection: In the late 1930s, the rapid surge of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies throughout Europe and North Africa made policymakers aware that nations could be threatened by mere proximity to antagonistic or ambitious governments. Defending the hemisphere as a whole from Communist influence was now recognized as the only way to ensure the United States’ own safety.

Postwar U.S. policy towards Latin America encouraged the spread of democratic governments and free-market development. But the “loss” of Cuba to the leadership of revolutionary Fidel Castro in 1959 was a shock to the United States. Cuba’s case made it feasible to U.S. policymakers that other underdeveloped, poverty-stricken Latin nations could follow the same path. In the 1970s, the emphasis on supporting democratic governments gave way to the support of any government that declared itself the opponent of communism, regardless of its democratic failings.

Economic Needs: As during a “hot” war, the United States had to keep open lines to vital natural resources throughout Latin America.

Mexico’s Role: The history of U.S.-Mexico relations is marked by war, conflict, turmoil, and more war. World War II wrote a new, but not necessarily harmonious, chapter in U.S.-Mexico relations over natural resources. The United States bought much of Mexico’s strategic minerals to keep Mexico from selling to the Japanese. 11 Mexico’s discovery of major oil resources in 1972 brought greater economic interdependence but not necessarily greater mutual respect. The strategic role of oil in world politics increased Mexico’s economic importance to the United States and thus the political imperative to keep Mexico free from communist influence. While the possibility of such seems ludicrous from the post-Cold War standpoint, at the time the fear of a communist influence in Mexico seemed authentic, and caused U.S. policymakers to justify intervention, both covert and outright, in several Latin American nations. 12

For its part, Mexico has struggled to maintain a sense of autonomy from the United States. While the United States’ main fear during the Cold War was of the Soviet Union, Mexican society was often divided over “the American peril;” that its past territorial aggression has been replaced by a cultural and economic imperialism. 13 Since the early 1990s, however, Mexican government has embraced at least the economic integration of the two nations. Mexico earnestly supported the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

An interesting development of Mexican attitudes towards the United States can be seen in the Mexican president’s attitudes towards the English language. Pres. Luís Echevarría (1970-76) took pride in the fact he knew nothing of English. Pres. Miguel de la Madrid (1976-82) did not speak English but understood some. Pres. Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94) was a graduate of Harvard University. Pres. Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) speaks English in public. And his probable successor, Francisco Labastida, has said that all Mexican schoolchildren should learn math – and English. 14

CASE ONE: The Texas Trade Office in Mexico City, 1971

On October 1, 1971, the Texas Industrial Commission (TIC), the state’s economic development agency, opened an international trade office in Mexico City in the Maria Isabel Hotel on the Avenida de la Reforma . Known in Texas as the Texas Trade office, in Mexico it was Oficina de Commercios de Texas .

U.S.-Mexico Historical Context, 1966-1971

* The Alliance for Progress has little effect * During, the Kennedy administration’s Latin American development program, known as the Alliance for Progress, Mexico had refused to sign an agreement guaranteeing U.S. private investment in the country. 15 By 1966, the Alliance was deemed a failure. The U.S. Agency for International Development Office in Mexico City was closed in 1966. Between 1962 and 1971, Brazil was granted $1.4 billion in U.S. aid, and Colombia $744.7 million, whereas Mexico received a comparatively small $70 million in direct U.S. aid, mostly for bilateral border issues. 16

* The Rockefeller Report * Upon his election in 1968, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon (R) quickly assigned Nelson Rockefeller to report on U.S.-Latin American relations. The Rockefeller Commission took four trips throughout Latin America, spoke with more than 3,000 political leaders, and was the target of many anti-U.S. demonstrations. The Commission’s report was released in August of 1969, and painted a bleak picture of the state of U.S.-Latin American relations.

The United States has certainly talked about solidarity, the report said bluntly: “but it has not truly practiced it.” The result? “The United States has allowed the special relationship it has historically maintained with the other nations of the Western hemisphere to deteriorate badly.” The report faulted several causes: “narrow special interests,” “well-intentioned but unrealistic rhetoric,” a “paternalistic attitude” on the part of the United States and conflicting priorities in U.S. foreign policy. 17

The report portrayed Latin American society as a communist revolution waiting to happen. Widespread resentment against the United States was strong in a society undergoing urbanization, rapid population growth, and dizzying economic change. “(T)he opinion in the United States that communism is no longer a serious factor in the Western Hemisphere is thoroughly wrong.” The only positive force Mr. Rockefeller found was the “new type of military man” now in the Latin American military. Rockefeller saw the military as willing to use the means of power for the ends of social progress, but also as characterized by “ideological unreliability and a vulnerability to extreme nationalism. (These militaries) can go in almost any doctrinal direction.” With the Cuban revolution merely ten years in the past, the report advised the United States to prevent further hemispheric losses by cooperating with even authoritarian regimes, lest these nations fall under the influence of the Soviet Union. “The United States cannot allow disagreements with the form or the domestic policies of other American governments to jeopardize its basic objective of working with and for their people to our mutual benefit,” the report stated. 18

The report led to cooperation with Latin American dictators being a given element of U.S. policy for almost the next ten years.

One analyst writes that Nixon made only one “official statement of policy” toward the region, on October 31, 1969. In a speech to the Inter-American Press Association that day, Pres. Nixon recognized the U.S.-Latin American relationship as “a more mature partnership in which all voices are heard and none is predominant.” 19

Yet on other occasions, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger appeared to know or care little about the Latin American voice. “History has never been produced in the South,” he told Chilean foreign minister Gabriel Valdés in 1969. 20 Kissinger was preoccupied with the global balance of power and had a strong desire for hemispheric stability, even if stability would come from authoritarian governments. But Kissinger did endorse the idea that free trade and foreign investment had a “vitally important role to play in social as well as economic development in all of the nations.” 21

* Mexico’s Dirty War * The U.S. government was not the only one concerned about communism. anti-Communist fears took a toll during the administration of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. In 1968, police in the Plaza de Tlatelolco opened fire on a crowd of 10,000 people protesting the Díaz Ordaz regime’s lavish preparations for the 1968 Olympic Games. The official story admitted that thirty-two people were killed during the hour of chaos which followed. Unofficially, between two and three hundred were dead and the bodies burned without ever being seen by next of kin. Some in the Army and the private sector felt the Olympic protests were incited by an international communist conspiracy, or perhaps the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. 22 Mexican historian Enrique Krauze writes: “During the remaining twenty-six months of Díaz Ordaz’s term, the country lived in fear. The President assumed responsibility for the Tlatelolco massacre, but rarely appeared in public. Organized opposition was impossible and critics of the regime spoke in whispers.” 23

As he settled into his presidency starting in 1970, Díaz Ordaz’s successor, Luís Echevarría, surprised the nation with his nationalistic talk of social justice and interest in French Marxism. He adopted the economic recommendations of the UN Commission for Latin America, increasing state intervention in economics, raising tariffs, and endorsing import substitution, thus making Mexico a closed economy. Chilean president Salvador Allende implemented a more radical version of Echevarría’s plan starting in 1970. Allende would later lose his life in a coup supported by the U.S. government in August of 1973. 24

The 1968 Tlatelolco massacre haunted Echevarría. During his term, from 1970 to 1976, Mexican citizens suffered through “a largely secret and poorly documented version of the same ‘dirty war’ that unfolded in other Latin American countries,” writes Enrique Krauze. When more demonstrators were killed on June 10 th of 1971, Echevarría claimed the attackers, a mysterious group of young men known as Los Halcones, (“The Falcons”) sought to sabotage his progressive administration. Nine years later, a subordinate of the President claimed Echevarría planned the entire attack to throw off the shadows of the past and gain favor with Mexican society. 25

* Economic Interdependence Evident * Despite Echevarría’s protectionism, industry boomed in the border tariff-free zone created in 1966 by Minister of Industry and Commerce Octaviano Campos Salas. By 1973, the 12-mile strip along the U.S.-Mexico border had attracted about 385 firms that had invested some $800 million, were producing $40 million in goods and employing about 44,000. This was the beginnings of the thriving maquiladora or twin plants industry of today, in which U.S. manufacturers send parts to Mexico for labor-intensive assembly and then finishing is done back in the United States. The jobs created by the tariff-free zone led to border population growth rate of 77 percent over ten years and soon population on the Mexican side equaled the 2.2 million residents on the U.S. side of the border. 26

In August of 1971, a 10 percent import surcharge imposed by the Nixon administration outraged Latin American nations. The Mexican ambassador at every opportunity stated quietly but firmly how his nation’s exports would suffer. The surcharge was revoked in December. However, Mexican complaints failed to budge quality controls limiting tomatoes sent to the United States in 1971-72.

In Mexico, there was debate over the extent and desirability of U.S. penetration in the economy. To maintain a sense of control, the Mexican Congress passed the Law to Promote Mexican Investment and to Regulate Foreign Investment in 1973. Foreign investors were not allowed to own more than 49 percent of a Mexican interest. 27

* Drugs * There were tensions over how to handle the trafficking of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States. On September 21, 1969, the Nixon administration began Operation Intercept, whereby all vehicles crossing the border into the United States were thoroughly checked for illegal drugs. While the Mexican government had been consulted about the operation, the delays caused by the rigorous searches were unexpected. Traffic at the border was paralyzed for days. Protests ensued on both sides of the border. On the Mexican side Operation Intercept was seen as “a policy of political coercion.” 28 Operation Intercept was ceased on October 11, barely three weeks after its noisy commencement. It was followed by Operation Cooperation, in which Mexican and U.S. forces joined to oppose the growth and smuggling of opium poppies and marijuana.

The Texas Trade Office

The Texas Trade Office had an auspicious debut on 1 October 1971. On hand for the opening were a number of Mexican officials, including the extant president, Luis Echevarría. 29 Also attending were past Mexican president Miguel Aleman 30 , acting Minister of Foreign Relations Lic. Ruben Gonzalez Sosa, and Lic. Jose Campillo Sainz, undersecretary of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. 31

The Trade Office was a part of the Texas economic development agency, at the time known as the Texas Industrial Commission (TIC) 32 . According to two TIC staff members at the time, Texas governor Preston Smith and Mexican president Luis Echevarría became good friends, most likely by virtue of being in office at the same time. 33 They had a mutual respect for one another, even though the two were very differently politically: Gov. Smith, a conservative Texas Democrat, and Pres. Echevarría, a Mexican nationalist and leftist. Gov. Smith had allowed a Mexican office of either an economic or diplomatic nature to open in Dallas in 1970, and perhaps in return Echevarría endorsed the Texas office in Mexico City.

Jim Harwell was executive director of the TIC from 1968-1978. At the time, he remembered, “we had this quasi-mandate from the (Texas) Legislature to promote international business.” So when other states opened overseas offices, such as Georgia and New York – “Hell, Arkansas had one,” said Mr. Harwell, but no state had a Mexican office, Harwell felt Texas had a unique opportunity. 34

The TIC minutes from 1967-1971 show that increasing international trade was a significant part of TIC’s mission. In 1967, board and staff members discussed how Texas was competing with “the far East” for industrial development. 35 A competitive awareness of other U.S. states’ international efforts is also evident: at a 1969 meeting, commissioners speak with envy of the multi-media presentation the Denver Chamber of Commerce would make to foreign visitors to attract international business opportunities to the Denver area. 36

Before the trade office opened, at least one trade mission to Mexico was led by the Texas Secretary of State (part of the Texas Governor’s office) and accompanied by 50 businessmen. Also the TIC export director, Col. Jim Havey, took a “market survey” in Mexico during the summer of 1970. Havey reported to the TIC board that on this trip a Mexican buyer was persuaded to change a $3,000,000 order from a Canadian supplier to a “Texas concern.” The product was likely telephone poles, which were transported from Houston to Mexico on Texas trucks which were also bought by Mexicans. A bus took Mexican truck drivers from to Houston and the Mexicans then drove the trucks, loaded with telephone poles, to their new owners in Mexico. The Texas Department of Public Safety arranged for the drivers’ crossing into Texas and designated their routes. 37

The trade office was authorized by the Legislature in 1970. For the fiscal year in which the office opened, (from September of 1971 to the end of August 1972), the Texas Legislature allocated $150,000 from the General Revenue Fund for “international trade projects including but not limited to foreign trade missions, overseas offices, reverse investment consumable supplies and materials...planning grants and all other activities for which no other provisions are made. The agency estimated it would receive $200,000 in federal funds but no details on how those were used or if they were used for the office. 38

Domestic and overseas trade shows were also an important part of the Commission’s activities. During the 1968 World’s Fair – Hemisfair – in San Antonio, TIC helped sponsor an international trade center, financed by contributions from members of the Texas International Trade Association and featuring a staff fluent in 10 languages. Other trade missions are mentioned in the commission’s minutes: to Osaka, Japan (often referred to as “the Orient”); to Australia; and two to the Soviet Union, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which featured only Texas oilfield equipment manufacturers. Texas at the time was not shy about its claim to be “the center of the petrochemical industry in the US.” At this time, USDOC sponsored overseas trade missions which were categorized as “horizontal” –– featuring many types of products –– or “vertical” –– featuring one type of industry, such as oilfield equipment. Businesses from any state could participate in these kinds of missions. But Texas was the first state to sponsor its own, single-state overseas trade missions. 39 Texas’ two missions to the Soviet Union took place “before Nixon was there and announced détente,” explained Mr. Harwell. 40

For years Texas enjoyed having the only Mexican office. A California trade office had been proposed but never opened. Apparently the idea of the California office lacked the support of the Mexican federal government. Thus the Texas office was the only “official” US foreign trade office in Mexico City for years. There even may have been a tacit agreement on the part of Texas and Mexican officials that no other state’s office would be approved. 41 Mr. Harwell says the director of an industrial development office in Arizona tried to open a Mexico office in 1973 or 1974. The Mexicans refused the offer. The Arizonan called Harwell and asked, “How did you do that, get to open an office there?” 42

The function of the office was to arrange meetings between Texan and Mexican business representatives. The Texas businesses were looking for buyers for their products, opportunities to invest in Mexico, or to lure Mexican manufacturers to establish a plant in Texas.

The presence of the Trade Office no doubt encouraged Texas businessmen to make contact with Mexico that would not have otherwise occurred. The expropriation of U.S. oilfield equipment and leases by Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 had soured many U.S. businesses on venturing into Mexico. Some of those who did would come back with “horror stories,” said Mr. Harwell. “Learning how to do business in Mexico was the only difficulty. Someone would buy something and then suddenly it wasn’t his. Or he sent stuff down and it was confiscated by (Mexican) Customs and he couldn’t get his stuff back, and couldn’t get any authorization, couldn’t file insurance, you were just swallowed up down there if you didn’t go through the right channels.” Then the U.S. Congress passed a law prohibiting U.S. companies from bribing foreign companies. “That was a hell of a thing, it was a bind for American companies how to figure out how to do business over there if you can’t do it in the normal way,” said Mr. Harwell. But the effect of the law was that U.S. businesspeople had to rely on the Texas Industrial Commission to help “do business above board,” Mr. Harwell explained. 43

Analysis of the Texas Trade Office Creation

What does the opening of the Texas Trade Office in Mexico City at this time indicate about the role of U.S. states in foreign affairs?

U.S.-Mexico Axis: Were there any national security (anticommunism) issues which constrained the state’s goals in creating the mechanism? No.

Relations between the United States and Mexico can be characterized at this time as both tense and neglected. Mexico did not figure prominently on the Nixon administration’s limited Latin American agenda. The Rockefeller Report estimated a strong potential for Marxist, Castroite, and Communist influence throughout Latin America, including Mexico. The new U.S. policy of cooperation with Latin American dictators necessitated ignoring significant human costs, frustrating many segments of Latin American and Mexican society. Pres. Nixon’s support of dictators and possible instigation of the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile did not make him a popular man in Mexico. 44

There are disagreements over U.S. federal trade policy and drug trafficking during this time. The Nixon administration responds favorably to Mexico by rescinding the 10 percent import surcharge but refuses to open the market to Mexican tomatoes (still a contentious issue today). The disruptive anti-drug operation is replaced by a new tactic of supposedly mutual cooperation, but U.S.-Mexico relations on drugs have been marked by distrust and tension since then.

Mexico’s creation of the border tariff-free zone in 1966 is of huge significance. This marks the beginning of the maquiladora industry. A maquiladora is a corporation which is allowed to temporarily import raw materials and equipment duty-free. The raw materials are assembled in Mexico and re-exported to the United States or elsewhere. Under current Mexican law, foreigners can own 100 percent of a maquiladora. Labor costs are very low and transportation back to the United States inexpensive and quick.

Given Echevarría’s desire for a closed economy, the creation of the tax-free zone seems incongruous. Nevertheless, the maquiladora industry stands as the most significant intertwining of the U.S. and Mexican economies.

In short, neither Mexico’s violent internal struggles, Echevarría’s protectionism, nor the Nixon administration’s support of dictatorships and neglect of Mexico seemed to limit Texas’ pursuit of the Trade Office. This indicates that the U.S. government sees all levels of government as appropriately involved in export support. This suggests states are partners with the federal government on trade policy at this time. More than a mere implementer of U.S. trade policy, Texas shows initiative in venturing into Mexico, the first state to do so.

Despite high levels of concern about Mexico’s susceptibility to communist influence on the part of the United States, Texas is not prevented from institutionalizing trade relations with Mexico by opening the Trade Office in Mexico City.

Texas-Mexico Axis: How did Texas’ interest in and method of contact with Mexico differ from the U.S. government’s?

U.S. federal government policy at the time encouraged increasing exports and foreign direct investment and allowed states freedom to pursue these goals. U.S. states then found themselves in competition for overseas opportunities. Mexico was the most logical venue for the Texas Industrial Commission to pursue to accomplish both the national goal of economic development and its personal goal to establish a presence in Mexico before any other states.

Personal relations between Gov. Smith of Texas and Pres. Echevarría of Mexico opened doors to international trade that would have remained closed otherwise. Echevarría’s acceptance of the trade office could have been a statement that he saw a place for U.S. involvement in the Mexican economy, and yet other states were restricted from doing so. This indicates the personal relationships between the two leaders mattered. The TIC manager who ran the Mexico City office was also on exceedingly good terms with the Mexican president’s office. Col. Benoid Glawe had been the air attaché to the U.S. embassy for six years prior to his appointment as manager of the office, and served as manager during three Mexican presidential administrations. 45

The Texas and U.S. governments shared goals of economic development, so the interest was mutual. But relations between Texas and Mexico were far warmer than relations between Mexico and the United States. The lack of public support for Mexico from the Nixon administration could certainly have made Echevarría more receptive to a friendly Texas governor.

Texas-U.S. Analysis: Did the U.S. federal government know of the state’s action to create an international mechanism? Did it approve of the action, object to the action, or delegate the action?

There is no indication the state of Texas sought – nor needed – any federal permission to open its Mexico city office. But it is clear federal authorities knew of and approved of the opening of the office.

By all accounts, the relationship between TIC and USDOC officials was completely amicable, even symbiotic. The trade office in Mexico City was right next door to the U.S. embassy, which included the office of the USDOC commercial attaché. Although publicly USDOC claimed Texas would receive no special treatment over any other state pursuing trade opportunities in Mexico, covertly there was some advantage to being next door to the attaché. USDOC would assist Texas Trade Office personnel in making appointments and in publicizing upcoming missions, including printing the occasional trade fair brochure.

Interestingly enough, even if USDOC sponsored a trade mission, it was always billed as a Texas trade mission with no mention of USDOC’s sponsorship. Thus Texas received the credit for the trade mission, but USDOC would get the overseas sales figures it often had difficulty in obtaining: competitive businessmen kept that information secret. Thus the Industrial Commission required any trade mission participants to report any sales or projected sales made while on a trade mission. These figures were forwarded to USDOC, as well as being included in TIC’s reports to the Texas Legislature. USDOC did not fund any TIC activities, except for the occasional brochure.

CASE TWO: The Border Governors’ Conference 1979-1980

The case of the Texas Trade Office suggests states have a good deal of freedom when their actions are essentially the implementation and furthering of federal policy. The next case study involves federal resistance to attempted state action as Texas Gov. Bill Clements rubs federal officials the wrong way in his outspoken opposition to U.S. policy in the context of the Border Governors’ Conference.

The first formal and institutionalized venue for intergovernmental relations between the ten states along the U.S.-Mexico border was the Border Governors’ Conference, which continues today. The conference’s first meeting was in June of 1980. On the agenda for the first meeting: energy, immigration, and drug trafficking, topics of federal jurisdiction in both the United States and Mexico.

U.S.-Mexico Historical Context, 1972-1980

* Oil and Politics Do Mix * On the world scene, the Iranian Revolution caused the cessation of all Iranian oil exports by the end of 1978. Over the next two years, petroleum prices rose from thirteen to thirty-four dollars a barrel. Although total global production had fallen only about 5 percent, panic produced a 150 percent increase in price per barrel. Demand had risen steadily over the past few years; the conservation movement was not yet visible and the availability of oil from nations who did not belong to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was not yet fully known.

Mexico was sitting on a great deal of the world’s non-OPEC oil. The huge Reforma oil fields were discovered in 1972; Mexico kept information about the discovery largely quiet. The field’s output was initially reserved for domestic use, but in 1974, Mexico began exporting limited amounts of oil. Mexico’s production increased from 500,000 barrels per day in 1972 to 830,000 in 1976 and 1.9 million in 1980 – “almost a fourfold increase in less than a decade,” writes Daniel Yergin. 46 While Mexico previously had been avoided by international lenders, after 1976, the nation borrowed with vigor and was pursued by many a global banker and private investor.

Oil and its resulting wealth and prestige changed Mexico’s position on the world political scene. As the owner of its own oil resources, Pres. López Portillo could refuse invitations to join OPEC. In 1979, he presented his own World Energy Plan to the UN General Assembly. The following year, Mexico and Venezuela joined forces to subsidize oil to Caribbean nations, at significant cost to the two oil-producing nations, and to ship oil on good terms to Nicaragua as a means of supporting Sandinista revolutionaries. 47

* Oil Does Not Equal Respect * Oil fueled Mexican growth rates of 8 percent through 1981. But rural areas remained stagnant and a great deal of food had to be imported from the United States. The Carter administration approved an embargo of grain sales to the Soviet Union as punishment for its December 1979 invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. As oil prices rose and the need for food imports persisted, Mexicans found themselves uneasy about the connection between food, politics – and oil. Just at the time Mexico had established a modicum of independence from the United States in foreign policy, the reality of economic dependence on its neighbor hit hard. There was a nagging feeling in Mexico that the United States wanted its oil and might go so far as to use Mexico’s food dependence to get it. 48

A deterioration of the U.S.-Mexico relationship was fed by such fears and what Mexico perceived as “Washington’s refusal to join a host of other industrialized nations in acknowledging Mexico’s new importance.” 49 When U.S. Pres. Carter arrived in Mexico City in February of 1979, Pres. López Portillo stood before the press corps and gave a speech hinting at a deep anxiety. “Mexico has suddenly found itself the center of American attention – attention that is a surprising mixture of interest, disdain, and fear, much like the recurring vague fears that you yourselves inspire in certain areas of our national subconscious,” he said. Pres. Carter did not respond to López Portillo’s veiled requests for respect and reassurance. And the day Pres. Carter arrived, the U.S. Trade Office in Mexico City closed.

The Border Governor’s Conference

The conference has its roots in the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 (Title V), intended to foster economic development in Appalachia. In 1975, Jim Wright (D-Texas) amended Title V to allow counties along the U.S.-Mexico border to lobby federal authorities with “one voice.” 50 President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law on 31 December 1975. In June of 1976, the four U.S. border governors sent a petition to Commerce Secretary Elliott Richardson declaring their intent to form a joint federal-state commission under the new legislation. The result was the Southwest Border Regional Commission (SWBRC), administered by the Department of Commerce, and co-chaired by a presidential appointee and a rotation of the state governors. 51 The SWBRC was one of eight Title V regional commissions in the United States. 52

The Commission was charged to deal with such problems as economic development, immigration, the influx of illegal aliens, overcrowded educational and medical facilities, increasing traffic at international crossings and the flood of narcotics smuggled across the border.” 53 Title V legislation did not empower regional authorities to interact with foreign governments, but diffusive border problems begged for the Mexican states’ cooperation if the Commission was to meet its goal of border development. Thus the idea of inviting the Mexican border state governors to the conference arose.

The official Border Governors Conference (BGC) history credits Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt for proposing a binational governors’ forum while the four U.S. governors were at a 1979 SWBRC meeting. 54 However, other sources credit Texas Governor William P. “Bill” Clements with the idea of including the Mexicans.

Clements pursued closer relations with Mexico with more vigor than any previous Texas governor. During the 1978 gubernatorial campaign, Clements emphasized Mexico’s importance to Texas and urged the betterment of conditions along the Texas-Mexico border. One of his first acts as governor was to fly to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President José López Portillo. Although his background as an oilman raised questions about whether his primary motive was to garner business for his oil-drilling company, SEDCO, Clements was undeterred, and during his first term (1979-1983), he met with his “Mexican counterparts” twenty times. 55

Whether it was Clements or Babbitt who suggested including the Mexicans is unclear, but in either case, the other three governors quickly endorsed the idea and for the rest of 1979, possibilities for a binational meeting were discussed.

But even before meetings with the Mexicans began, relations among the four U.S. border governors turned contentious over just how to approach Mexico – and which level of government could best foster international cooperation. Early in 1979, the two most ideologically opposed governors, conservative Gov. Clements and liberal California Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, readily agreed the SWBRC should be the venue for the Southwestern states to negotiate with Mexico on energy and border problems, aside from any negotiations by the Carter administration. Gov. Brown exclaimed that when visiting Washington, D.C., “I get the idea there is no Southwest.” The two governors envisioned a future common market between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. 56 says Mexico balked at the first mention of a North American common market, “fearing it would lose control of its economy and energy resources." 57

But Clements and the Arizona governor, Democrat Bruce Babbitt, clashed on many levels. Gov. Babbitt, at the time also chairman of the SWBRC, took the role of defending the federal government and fellow Democrat, President Jimmy Carter. Gov. Clements was so vocal in his disapproval for U.S. policies on drugs, immigration and energy that Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt vowed he would not let the June 1979 SWBRC meeting in Brownsville, Texas turn into “a platform for attacking Carter and putting forth national policy.” Upon arriving in Brownsville, Babbitt told reporters the U.S. governors’ conference should focus on “regional matters, such as...economic development and tourism along the border.” 58

At the conclusion of the 1979 SWBRC meeting, the four governors were to forward their mutually-agreed upon position papers to the U.S. Department of State as background information, from the areas closest to Mexico, for international agreements. Gov. Clements’ papers for the meeting proposed a revised bracero program to bring “guest” migrant workers from Mexico into the United States, and an exchange of U.S. electricity for Mexican oil and gas. Gov. Babbitt made it clear he would not support Clements’ proposals at the meeting or as a basis for national policy or treaty negotiation with Mexico. 59 He characterized Clements’ proposal for joint U.S.-Mexico venture to develop Mexico’s oil reserves as “a continuation of the American imperial position.” 60 He said the message Clements seemed to be sending Mexico is: “’We’ll show you how to get that energy and (you) let us soak up some of your cheap labor,’” Babbitt said. “We’ve got to be more sophisticated and careful about recognizing Mexico’s interests.” 61 He added that Mexican President José López Portillo “doesn’t want Mexico to be the gas station for the rest of the world.” 62 Instead, Gov. Babbitt proposed the United States make private and governmental aid available to Mexico for refining its oil, which could then be exported to the United States. 63

When he arrived in Brownsville later the same day, Gov. Clements told reporters: “Because of the growing economic independence of Mexico, a new relationship with our neighbor to the south is rapidly developing and I think the United States’ role in this relationship must begin right here in the Southwest,” he told reporters. “Our job and objective is not to usurp the duties and prerogatives of the U.S. State Department or the presidency or the Foreign Office of Mexico, but we are here to speak up and offer Washington the benefit of our experience.” 64 During the meeting, Clements demonstrated that his reputation as a tough-talking Texan was deserved. One Austin reporter wrote that: “When the representatives of the other states balked at his statement that his (immigration) proposal should be endorsed, Clements responded by saying Texas has more than half the U.S. border with Mexico. He would work out his own agreement with governments of bordering Mexican states. Then he quickly indicated what he really meant was that it was a matter for continuing and intensive study.” 65

At the meeting’s conclusion, the four Southwestern state governors had agreed in principle to: study ways to reduce drug trafficking; and urge the U.S. government to adopt a “stable national energy policy (and develop) a program of mutual benefit involving the purchase of Mexican oil and gas.” Any mention of “joint ventures” with Mexico had been deleted from Clements’ original proposals. In addition, the governors added in a suggestion of Gov. Jerry Brown’s, which Gov. Clements supported, that the United States, Mexico, and Canada cooperate in a future North American Common Market. 66

In early 1980, Gov. Clements – who had already met with several of the governors from the four Mexican states bordering Texas – met with Gov. Alphonso Martinez Dominguez of Nuevo Leon, and told him of the U.S. governors’ desire to meet with the Mexican governors. Gov. Dominguez agreed to act as intermediary between the Mexican border governors and the Mexican president. Without President José Lopez Portillo’s permission, the Mexican governors could not participate in an across-the-border forum. In March of 1980, Martinez and Clements met in Monterrey with Portillo and agreed the conference would take place in early summer, in Juarez, with the agenda comprising the issues already proposed by the U.S. governors: energy, immigration, and drug trafficking. President Lopez formally granted his support, as did U.S. President Jimmy Carter via his special ambassador-at-large to Mexico, Robert Krueger, a Democrat and former U.S. representative from Texas.

The first meeting convened in June 1980 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. The governors presented position papers on agriculture, twin plants, cultural exchanges, energy and commerce, tourism, and ecology and pollution. 67 There were some fireworks, mostly involving Governors Babbitt and Clements over Clements’ energy and immigration proposals.

But Amb. Krueger was critical of the meeting for including issues such as drug control, immigration, and pollution, which he said should be discussed by federal officials only. He suggested states could focus on education of immigrant children and health matters. 68 While the previous year, Gov. Babbitt of Arizona had taken a similar position, this year he and this time seemed to have no problem with the regional group discussing issues of federal jurisdiction, and objected to Krueger’s remarks. “Border relations are too important to leave to impersonal decisions in Washington and Chapultepec,” Babbitt told reporters. “The most significant accomplishment here was that for 100 years we have misunderstood each other and for the first time the six Mexican border governors and the American governors have sat down together. It’s the beginning of an important and historical process.” 69 Gov. Bruce King of New Mexico agreed that it was entirely appropriate for the states to discuss the issues and lobby their federal governments into action “on policies agreed to first at the state level.” 70

Even the previously critical Gov. Babbitt was more temperate towards Clements’ suggestions. Clements’ guest worker plan was for some reason much better received at the first BGC meeting than at the previous SWBRC meeting. Conference attendee Leonel Castillo of Houston, former director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, praised parts of Clements’ proposal and said it was more liberal than President Carter’s 1977 proposal, which had been opposed by Mexican-American groups and the U.S. Congress and consequently scuttled. 71 The 10 governors agreed to send their suggestions to their federal governments.

At the conclusion of the meeting, it was clear no problems, either of state or federal jurisdiction, had been resolved. Clements’ response was that setting a precedent of cross-border communication made the meeting itself an accomplishment.

But the SWBRC itself was short-lived. All the Title V regional commissions were abolished by the Reagan administration four months after the June 1980 binational conference. Enough funds remained for four more meetings. To handle the monies, a non-profit Southwest Border Region Conference, Inc., was established by the U.S. governors. As these funds dwindled, it was unclear whether or not the governors would willingly pay for future meetings. But the abolishment of the regional border commission was seen by some as a step backward for U.S.-Mexico relations. Discontinuing the governors’ forums would likely inspire more criticism. It was decided the meetings would continue, alternating between a Mexican state and a U.S. state, with the host state responsible for funding that year’s meeting. 72

Analysis of the Border Governors’ Conference Creation

Texas-U.S. axis: Did the U.S. federal government know of the state’s action to create an international mechanism? Did it approve of the action, object to the action, or delegate the action?

Yes, the U.S. federal government knew U.S. governors planned to meet with Mexican governors. The first meetings were funded by the USDOC via the Southwest Border Regional Commission funds. The Carter administration approved of the idea even as it objected to the governors’ discussing federal issues.

The Mexican Constitution reserves foreign affairs powers to the federal government as well, yet Mexican Pres. López Portillo approved of the meetings – with strings attached. Apparently, even today, the Mexican governors are required to attend a briefing with the Mexican president before each BGC meeting. 73

Perhaps to quell fears of subnational uprisings, federal authorities from each nation were invited to the first meetings. It is questionable whether or not federal officials’ fears were put at ease while listening to Texas Governor Bill Clements enthusiastically propose substantial changes to federal energy and immigration policies. His short-lived threat to negotiate his own agreements with Mexico no doubt raised some eyebrows. Nevertheless, the meetings continue.

Many federal officials attended in the early years. Mexican President José López Portillo attended the third meeting. Numerous ambassadors, secretaries of the Treasury, and so on attended meetings as well.

But ten years after its inception, the number of attendees and the hoopla generated by federal participants seemed out of control. Nearly 1300 people came to Tucson in the early 1990s. A turning point came in 1995: the scheduled meeting in Chihuahua was canceled when only one U.S. governor planned to attend. It became clear the meetings’ appeal had waned as the logistical demands of scheduling – and paying for – the numerous participants overwhelmed the working nature of the meetings. The answer? Reduce the number of delegates to ten per state and eliminate all federal participation. But it was discovered the Mexican governors were not permitted to sign the Joint Declaration summarizing the meeting unless the document had the approval of an official from the Mexican foreign ministry. Thus at the 1996 Santa Fe meeting, the only federal representative allowed was from the Mexican foreign affairs ministry, Secretararío de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE). Since then, two federal observers are allowed at the planning meetings and the conferences: one from the Mexican SRE and one from the U.S. State Department. 74

The host state has the right to invite other federal officials but typically these officials are from border or regional offices such as the International Boundary Water Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the North American Development Bank. Seldom is anyone from Washington D.C. or Mexico City invited. The observer status of federal officials is enforced; they are allowed into the private sessions only if needed as a resource on a particular topic. There has never been any federal representation on the BGC committees, even if a committee’s purpose is to study an issue of federal responsibility, such as immigration.

U.S.–Mexico axis: Were there any national security (anticommunism) issues which constrained the state’s goals in creating the mechanism? No. Communism was not a significant concern. Pres. Carter emphasized human rights and broke some of the relations with dictators established by the Nixon administration. But he did not have close relations with José López Portillo.

However, the national security of oil figures heavily in this relationship at this time of worldwide energy crisis. Rather than constraining the state, these conditions could have driven the U.S. governors to seek closer relations with the Mexican governors. Gov. Clements was in a unique position to understand the significance of oil. From 1973-76, he served as Undersecretary of Defense, the No. 2 man in the Department of Defense. He had made his fortune as a Texas oilman. He had a vested interest in accessing Mexican oil, both to supply the United States with oil and to secure opportunities for the Texas oil industry. Higher oil prices allowed Mexico to purchase new oilfield equipment, much of it from Texas suppliers. In this case, Clement’s goals coincided with the national needs due to the energy crisis.

Texas-Mexico axis: How did Texas’ interest in and method of contact with Mexico differ from the U.S. government’s?

Texas’ interest in contact with Mexico was oil-driven, same as the federal government’s, as described above. Regarding the method of contact, the personal element again matters as Gov. Clements and Pres. López Portillo were on very good terms. Gov. Clements was also quite friendly and inclusive of the governors of the four Mexican states bordering Texas.

Expanding the Southwest Border Regional Commission to include the Mexican governors has had ongoing effects within Mexico. The Mexican federal government is highly centralized, and power centrally controlled. Mexican state governments do not have the autonomy enjoyed by U.S. states. The BGC was the first time Mexican states were allowed to participate in a joint U.S.-Mexican forum focusing on state powers and opportunities.

Since then, the freedom of the border Mexican states has slowly increased. Mexican state officials now meet in many venues with U.S. state officials. Whereas U.S. states have for years been invited by the U.S. federal government to participate in border-issue conferences such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Border XXI meetings, Mexican states have only recently been permitted to attend such meetings at the invitation of Mexican federal officials. In this way, the U.S. states have influenced Mexican politics by consistently seeking the participation of their neighbor states in border issues.

CASE THREE: U.S.-Mexico Border States Attorneys General Conference

U.S.-Mexico Historical Context, 1980-1986

* Oil and Politics * In the 1980s, Mexico’s oil remained its means of distancing itself from the United States – at least as much as an oil-producing state could distance itself from the world’s largest consumer nation. The 1979 price hike in oil gave Mexico the wherewithal for further exploration. With newfound expertise in the field, Mexico enjoyed helping Cuba, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica search for their own oil. By 1981, Mexico was said to have the world’s fifth-largest oil supply and the seventh-largest gas reserves. 75

To prevent dependence on the U.S. oil market, and thereby retain a sense of autonomy, José López Portillo ordered in 1980 that “no more than 50 percent of Mexico’s crude exports should go to any single client.” 76 However, when world oil prices starting dropping in June of 1981, Mexico had little choice but to increase its exports to the United States.

In August of 1981, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico’s federal oil agency, signed a long-term contract to supply the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve with 50,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd). Mexico was rapidly losing money as oil prices still fell. To compensate, the nation borrowed from foreign lenders. But suspicions that the peso was overvalued and unstable led to a significant flight of capital. In February 1982, José López Portillo devalued the peso by 40 percent. Another peso devaluation in August was followed by a suspension of principal payments on Mexico’s huge foreign debt. That same month, Pemex signed an additional 12-month contract to supply the U.S. reserve with 110,000 bpd. Thus by 1983, half of Mexico’s exported oil – 750,000 bpd – was going to the United States, to fund its crucial national security reserve of precious oil. 77

The oil dip made two things very clear: the first was oil’s huge new role in world finance. By 1982, Mexico had an international debt greater than $84 billion, borrowed against its newfound oil wealth. 78

The second was the irony that Mexico’s oil and gas – its presumed ticket to political independence from the North – had created more economic interdependence of the Mexican and U.S. economies than ever before. This was most readily apparent in the effects of the peso devaluation on the Southwestern United States. Businesses in the border states felt an immediate impact as many of their best clients – Mexicans – had no capital for purchases. Exporters of everything from oilfield equipment to light aircraft lost clients. Adding fuel to the fire, so to speak: the consequent recession in the United States shrunk markets for Mexico’s non-oil exports.

The impact of the Mexican economic woes in the border states contrasted greatly with the ignorance of interdependence apparent in the U.S. capital. When the Mexican Finance Minister, Jesús Silva Herzog, realized Mexico’s inability to pay even the interest on its huge debt, he anxiously flew to Washington on August 13, 1982 to seek help in staving off Mexico’s imminent bankruptcy. After explaining his country had run out of foreign exchange, he was told by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan: “Well, that’s your problem.” Only after Silva Herzog made clear how involved U.S. banks were in Mexico’s economic welfare did frantic negotiations to shore up its economy begin. The Southwest’s regional interest in the Mexican economic health became the national interest when the interpenetration of U.S. business in Mexico was known. The Reagan administration, somewhat reluctantly, promised an emergency package of aid, including $1 billion in advance payment for oil and other loans. 79 What was called a “rollover” was really a way to keep from saying that Mexico had at least partially defaulted on its loans. 80

* Central America * In 1981, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Pres. Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that “Central America is the most important place in the world for the United States today.” Civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador took on global importance as the Reagan administration identified the area “as a fundamental testing ground of national resolve in a worldwide struggle against the forces of communism,” writes Latin Americanist Peter H. Smith. 81 Secretary of State Alexander Haig explained the United States had to assist the military government in El Salvador because of a “well-orchestrated international Communist campaign designed to transform the Salvadoran crisis from the internal conflict to an increasingly internationalized confrontation...This effort involves close coordination by Moscow, satellite capitals and Havana, with the cooperation of Hanoi and Managua....It is a threat, in our view, not just to the United States but to the West at large.” 82

In 1983, Amb. Kirkpatrick cautioned that Mexico’s economic struggles made it susceptible to communist influence that could seep up from Central America. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger chaired a commission on Central American policy which, in its 1984 report, warned against the likelihood of Nicaragua’s Marxism spreading throughout Latin American, including Mexico. Also in 1984, the chief of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, General Paul F. Gorman, testified before a U.S. Senate committee that within ten years Mexico would be the United States’ “No. 1 security problem” because it was “the most corrupt government and society in Central America” and it was already “a center for subversion.” 83

Washington was not happy when Mexico joined with the French government in August 1981 in supporting the revolutionary group Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN). In February 1982, José López Portillo issued a plan to negotiate a settlement in El Salvador, create a nonaggression treaty between the United States and Nicaragua, and to “serve as a bridge” for dialogue to reduce tensions between Cuba and the United States. The Reagan administration dismissed his plan in favor of military solutions.

Another thorn in the Reagan administration’s side was Mexican’s joining with Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama in on the island of Contadora in January 1983 to craft a peace plan for the Nicaraguan conflict. The Reagan administration worked behind the scenes to prevent adoption of the Contadora peace plan, at the same time increasing military aid to El Salvador. Eventually elements of the Contadora plan were included in a plan developed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez which in 1987 brought “a measure of peace” to the region. 84

* O Grenada * In 1983, an internal and bloodless coup in the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada turned ugly when disagreement between the two coup leaders led to the murder of one by the other. A plan for the evacuation of some 1,000 U.S. citizens on the islands mushroomed into a full-scale military invasion. On October 21, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States met without Grenada and agreed to invite friendly governments to intervene in Grenada. The following day, the Caribbean Community voted to suspend Grenada’s membership in that organization and passed sanctions against the troubled nation as well. Also on that date, Pres. Reagan approved proceeding with invasion plans.

The next day, Sunday October 23, across the globe in Beirut, a suicide bombing by an Islamic extremist took the lives of 241 U.S. Marines. The tension level in the White House escalated, as did concerns that the popular Middle Eastern terrorist tactic of hostage-taking might now be used in Grenada. On October 25, Grenada was invaded by 1,900 U.S. Marines as well as airborne troops and a small contingent of Caribbeans. Within a few days, the United States had met its military goals. The casualties: twenty-one Grenadian security forces and twenty-four civilians, twenty-four Cubans, and nineteen U.S. servicemen.

Pres. Reagan explained to his constituents that Grenada was “a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy...We got there just in time.” 85

Others saw the situation differently. Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, Mexican ambassador Porfirio Muñoz Ledo rejected the invasion as “a clear violation of international law...totally lacking in justification.” The Security Council voted 11-1-3 in favor of a resolution deploring the military action. Pres. Reagan was even criticized by his compatriot, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who complained that the United states had invaded a member of the British Commonwealth. 86

The Border States Attorneys General Conference

The first meeting of the ten attorneys general from the U.S.-Mexico border states took place in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico on 21 and 22 November 1986. By all accounts it was an informal get-together, more of a cocktail party and photo opportunity than a policy session. There was no agenda.

Reportedly the meetings were first proposed by the Mexican Attorney General at the time, Sergio García Ramirez, to U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese as a way of improving border coordination on criminal justice issues, including drug interdiction. 87 It is likely that Mexico was using part of a sizeable anti-drug grant from the United States to fund the meetings, and that the meetings themselves were a way of showing the United States that Mexico was using the grant constructively.

The Texas attorney general at the time, Jim Mattox, remembers thinking that the Mexican attorneys general “did not have a good understanding of the relationship of the U.S. state attorneys general to the U.S. federal attorney general. Most state attorneys general did not have high levels of criminal jurisdiction at the time,” Mattox said. “The Mexicans thought we did. We were not certain if they wanted to meet with us or with the U.S. Attorney General.” 88

The Mexicans’ number one concern was the guns being smuggled from the United States into Mexico. “We were interested in guns to the extent that they destabilized the country (Mexico) and (because) the drug runners were using high-powered weapons,” explained Mr. Mattox. The Mexicans’ next concern was the “adoption” of babies from Mexico in the United States. Of lesser importance to the Mexicans was the issue of illegal drugs, “and their emphasis was always on reducing demand rather than supply,” Mattox said. The Mexicans were also interested in missing persons – the Mexican nationals who crossed to the United States and were never heard from again. For their part, the U.S. attorneys general wanted to talk about money laundering, auto theft, and drug smuggling.

The Mexican attorneys general were interested in learning more about U.S. technology. But there was “great resistance” among U.S. state officials to sharing information on weapons, equipment, anything that could inform drug smugglers about enforcement activities or methods. “Our side viewed them as part of the problem,” Mr. Mattox explained. But, “we were cautioned not to talk to them about corruption,” he remembers, “probably by someone from DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice).”

After a few years of mostly insubstantial, happy-hour-type meetings, the U.S. attorneys general were of a mind to cancel the whole endeavor.

Then a horrific crime proved the necessity for cross-border cooperation. In 1989, a University of Texas student, Mark Kilroy, was vacationing with friends in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, in Texas’ neighboring state of Tamaulipas. During the evening, he disappeared.

Kilroy’s family searched for him. His father wandered the streets of Matamoros with paper flyers of Mark’s photograph. People barely spoke to him. Finally Mr. and Mrs. Kilroy went to see then-Attorney General Mattox at his Austin office. Mattox first sent his chief investigator to Matamoros. Then Mattox met with the Tamaulipas state attorney general. The Mexican state official soon fired all the federal police who had been on the case. Mexican authorities intensified the search. Mark’s body and the bodies of several others were found on a farm outside Matamoros. All had been the victims of ritual sacrifice by a devil-worshipping cult.

Mr. Mattox feels knowing the Mexican authorities on a first-name basis was vital to the pursuit and eventual conclusion of the case. “They were very responsive to me,” he said, adding that this was the first time officials from both sides of the border had cooperated to solve such a significant crime.

In the past, the kidnapping would not have caught the attention of either a U.S. or Mexican attorney general. Any problems would have been dealt with through the local police chief – likely the first person the Kilroys contacted – or perhaps a Mexican federal official.

After this case, the BSAGC meetings became more businesslike and more helpful. Each side seemed better able to communicate their viewpoints and to listen with more understanding, Mattox said. In June of 1991, Mr. Mattox’s successor, Dan Morales, attended the BSAGC meeting in Tijuana. A new resolve seemed evident. The North American Free Trade Agreement was now a political possibility, and Mexican officials were eager to convey that law enforcement in Mexico could be trusted.

At the end of the meeting, the attorneys general signed the “Tijuana Resolution,” which recognizes the “new relation” between the two nations, and “the increasing social and economical interchange in the frontiers of both friendly nations...” The Resolution vowed cooperation in seven areas, including auto theft, money laundering, regulating the adoption of Mexican children, and the need to assist police forces: “to elevate the quality and preparation of those elements in charge of preventing and investigating the crimes.” 89 The resolution set the agenda for subsequent meetings, which continue today.

Analysis of BSAGC Creation

Texas-U.S. axis: did the U.S. federal government know of the state’s action to create an international mechanism? Did it approve of the action, object to the action, or delegate the action? Yes. The U.S. federal government knew of and approved of the creation of the conference. Apparently it never funded the U.S. side of the meetings.

Texas’ Mr. Mattox does not remember how he learned the meetings were to begin, but he said he never got nor sought permission from U.S. federal authorities. At some point, questions were raised whether or not the states could carry on such close relations with foreign entities, particularly when it seemed the Mexicans wanted the U.S. officials to enter into cooperative agreements. “We realized they were talking to us as if we were the federal government,’ Mr. Mattox said. “Of course, in Texas we took the position we were sovereign over everybody,” he jokes. “We never came to any conclusion (on the constitutional question), we just moved forward anyway.” He said there may have been a U.S. federal representative at the early BSAGC meetings, but Mr. Mattox says federal officials did not have a significant involvement in the process at first. Today, federal representatives from both sides are invited to make reports and observe the meetings, but the state officials are definitely in charge.

The U.S.–Mexico axis: Were there any national security (anticommunism) issues which constrained the state’s goals in creating the mechanism?

No, in fact it can be argued that the changing national security concerns during these closing years of the Cold War necessitated the involvement of the states.

In May of 1977, U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter and Mexican Pres. José López Portillo had created a binational forum called the U.S.-Mexico Consultative Mechanism. The Mechanism established a means of communication between Cabinet-level officials in both nations. In 1981 the Reagan administration renamed it the Binational Commission (BNC). The BNC comprises working groups of officials exchanging information on political, economic, and social matters. It is likely the idea of the Border State Attorneys General Conference was first broached at a BNC meeting between the U.S. and Mexican federal attorneys general as they discussed criminal justice issues. 90

On the international scene, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. Pres. Reagan had developed a mutual respect for one another. As Cold War issues waned, drug use in the United States and illegal immigration from Mexico climbed higher on the U.S. national security agenda. But these issues require a different approach from the military policy of containment. Diffuse in nature and regional in impact, an effective method requires cooperation at all levels. Thus the states became partners in fighting the new national security threats.

The Texas-Mexico axis: How did Texas’ interest in and method of contact with Mexico differ from the U.S. government’s?

Texas was already somewhat active in increasing cooperation with Mexico on border crimes. During Jim Mattox’s administration, the Office of the Texas Attorney General had already sponsored cross-border crime law enforcement cooperation seminars. 91

Because of the creation of the Binational Commission, the method of contact does not differ in this case between the U.S. government and the Texas government. Regular meetings among state officials mirror the cabinet-level meetings among federal officials via the BNC. But could it be the federal government took its lead from the states in creating a conference similar in structure to the Border Governors’ Conference?

Texas and Mexico enjoy the benefits of a mutual relationship which exists independently of U.S.-Mexico ties. An assistant to Dan Morales told an analyst that Morales had “a close working relationship with Mexican criminal justice officials that is not reflected in the U.S.-Mexican binational relationship on criminal matters.” He has been told that, on issues affecting the Texas-Mexico relationship, Mexican officials “prefer to work directly with the Texas government instead of through the U.S. government,” as would have been the case in the past. 92


There is still much research to be done on U.S. states’ actual behavior in the international arena. My dissertation will elaborate on the examples given here and analyze many more.

It is difficult to detect patterns with only three cases, but some conditions have emerged. When I first began this project, I secretly hoped the evidence would show Texas was acting as a “rogue state,” in some way ignoring the U.S. Constitution and forging its own independent policy with Mexico, actions befitting a state that was once its own country. How quickly we must confront our own biases; in my case, the patriotism of a third-generation Texan.

But the evidence shows two things: that Texas’ actions are consistent with overall U.S. policy; and that Texas’ relative ideological freedom allows for closer personal relationships, which open doors to cooperation.

State Actions Are Consistent with U.S. Policy: In 1978, Earl Fry wrote: “the federal government, particularly through the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture, has actively encouraged the state governments to expand their activities in certain international spheres and has acted as a coordinator for many state missions abroad.” 93

In the case of the Texas Trade Office, Texas did not need federal permission. The opening of overseas trade offices by U.S. states was evidently a means of implementing federal trade policy. In the other two cases, Texas was granted federal permission to meet with state counterparts from Mexico.

The only friction between the state and the federal government over relations with Mexico stemmed from Republican Gov. Clements’ strong criticisms of Democratic Pres. Carter’s policies. It is difficult to calculate how much of both the criticism and the friction was due to partisan politics. Perhaps the change in Gov. Babbitt’s stance reveals the most. Initially, he opposed Gov. Clements’ discussion of federal policies, as a means of defending fellow Democrat Carter. But given the opportunity to meet with the Mexicans, Gov. Babbitt no longer objected to state governors talking about federal policies. It appears Babbitt’s interest in exploring mutual solutions to problems of the border states overrode partisanship.

Ideology-free Personal Relations * Personal relationships are a difficult reality for political scientists to acknowledge. Relationships cannot be quantified or predicted. Yet they matter, particularly in international relations where conflict and ideology can obscure common needs and interests.

Texas was not a purveyor of anticommunist ideology to the extent the federal government was (not that Bill Clements would have been “soft” on communism). But the lack of ideological responsibility allowed Texas the freedom to pursue items of mutual interest with the border states. The state relationships were built on a mutual need for economic development, public safety, and the opportunity to communicate the needs of the area to respective federal governments. Personal relations allowed Texas to be not merely an implementer of U.S. policy but to expand upon it (the Trade Office) and to innovate (the BGC).

The recent changes in U.S. foreign affairs have exposed the failings of theory which focuses on federal-level actors only. There is much activity at the subnational level which needs to be researched and analyzed. A suitable theory also needs to be developed to explain this significant political activity.


Note 1: See handout of the National Association of State Development Agencies, Washington, D.C., Miles Friedman, Executive Director. Handout, Washington State Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development: Trade and Market Development. Dave Lesher, “Golden and Global California,” The Los Angeles Times , 8 January 1998, p. 1A; Martin Lubin, “New England, New York, and Their Francophone Neighborhood,” in Perforated Sovereignties and International Relations: Trans-Sovereign Contacts of Subnational Governments , Ivo Duchacek, ed. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988) p. 155. Back.

Note 2: For example, see Michael Clough, “Grass-roots Policymaking: Say Goodbye to the ‘Wise Men.’” Foreign Affairs, Jan-Feb 1994, v. 73, n1, p 2., and Samuel P. Huntington, “The Erosion of National Interests,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997, vol. 76 no. 5, p. 40. Back.

Note 3: These issues will be studied at length in my dissertation to be completed in 2001, The Evolving Role of U.S. States in Foreign Affairs, as Illustrated by Texas-Mexico Relations. Back.

Note 4: Telephone interview with Paco Felici at the Texas Office of the Attorney General, 11 February 1998. Back.

Note 5: Article I, Section 10 states: “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal;...No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection Laws...No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of Delay.” Back.

Note 6: The 74th Congress met from 1935-1936; the 88th from 1963-1964. Back.

Note 7: Senate Document 39, 88th Congress, 1st Session, pp.416-419. Back.

Note 8: Federal officials did object to the Southwestern border governors discussing issues of federal jurisdiction with Mexican governors in 1980. More on that coming up. Back.

Note 9: Telephone interview with Jack L. Goldsmith in Chicago, 29 April 1999. Back.

Note 10: For further reading, see Jack L. Goldsmith, “Federal Courts, Foreign Affairs, and Federalism,” Virginia Law Review , vol. 83, no. 8 (November 1997); Barry Friedman, “Federalism’s Future in the Global Village,” Vanderbilt Law Review , vol. 47, no. 5 (October 1994); and Earl H. Fry, The Expanding Role of State and Local Governments in U.S. Foreign Affairs (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1998); Louis Henkin, Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Constitution , 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), Chapter VI. Back.

Note 11: María Emilia Paz, Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the U.S. as Allies in World War II , (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 1997), ch. 5. Back.

Note 12: The author is not a Latin Americanist by training, but is learning fast. Any help is appreciated. Back.

Note 13: Jorge G. Castañeda, “Mexican Foreign Policy,” in Limits to Friendship: The United States and Mexico (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 168. Back.

Note 14: An observation shared by former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, John Gavin (1981-1986) during a telephone interview from Los Angeles, 8 March 2000. Back.

Note 15: Alan Riding, Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans (New York: Vintage Books/Random House) 1984, p. 498. Back.

Note 16: Ibid, p. 499. Back.

Note 17: Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of U.S.-Latin American Relations , 2 nd ed., (New York: Oxford University Press) 2000, p. 81. Back.

Note 18: Smith, pp. 159-160. Back.

Note 19: Michael J. Francis, “United States Policy Toward Latin America During the Kissinger Years,” in United State Policy in Latin America: A Quarter Century of Crisis and Challenge, 1961-1986 , John D. Martz, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press) 1988, p. 28. Back.

Note 20: Francis, p. 30. Back.

Note 21: Francis, p. 33. Back.

Note 22: Riding p. 86, and Enrique Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power, A History of Modern Mexico 1810-1996 Hank Heifetz, trans. (New York: HarperCollins) 1997 Back.

Note 23: Riding, p. 86. Back.

Note 24: Krauze, p. 749. Back.

Note 25: Krauze, p. 752. Back.

Note 26: Schmitt, p. 243. Back.

Note 27: Schmitt, p. 247. Back.

Note 28: Karl M. Schmitt, Mexico and the United States 1821-1973: Conflict and Coexistence (New York: John Wiley & Sons) 1974, p. 241. Back.

Note 29: Interview with Jim Harwell, Wimberley, Texas, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 30: Interview with Col. James Harris and Col. Frank Alagna, Austin TX , 3 November 1998. Back.

Note 31: Conrad C. Manley, “Smith Lauds Texas-Mexico Cooperation,” The Dallas Morning News, 3 October 1971. Back.

Note 32: Now the Texas Department of Economic Development. Back.

Note 33: Harris and Alagna interview, Austin, Texas, 3 November 1998. Back.

Note 34: Harwell interview, Wimberley, Texas, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 35: TIC minutes, 14 December 1967. Back.

Note 36: Texas Industrial Commission minutes, 23 October 1969 Back.

Note 37: Phone interview with Frank Alagna, Austin, TX., 17 November 1998. Back.

Note 38: Col. James Harris, formerly of the TIC, said federal funds were not used for the Mexico office. Back.

Note 39: Interview with Col. James Harris, Austin, TX, 16 November 1998. Back.

Note 40: Jim Harwell interview, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 41: Statement by Ben Glawe, director of the Mexico office, TIC minutes, 25 April 1974. Back.

Note 42: Harwell interview, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 43: Harwell interview, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 44: Peter H. Smith writes: “In retrospect, it appears the overthrow of Allende was due more to the escalation of political and social conflict within Chile than to the efforts of the United States. It is undeniably true, however, that the United States was making strenuous efforts to undermine and overthrow the Allende regime.” Talons of the Eagle , p. 177. Back.

Note 45: Harwell interview, 28 November 1998. Back.

Note 46: Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), p. 667. Back.

Note 47: Riding, p. 241. Back.

Note 48: Riding, p. 282. Back.

Note 49: Riding, p. 466. Back.

Note 50: “Three Governors Back Border Aid,” Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1976. Back.

Note 51: The four U.S. governors at the time were Dolph Briscoe of Texas, Jerry Apodaca of New Mexico, Raul Castro of Arizona and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., of California. Back.

Note 52: William Schmitt , Border Governors Conference – A State Level Foreign Policy Mechanism ,(U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Institute, 25 th Session of the Executive Seminar in National and International Affairs, 1982-83.) Back.

Note 53: “Three Governors Back Border Aid,” Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1976. Back.

Note 54: First International Meeting of the Border Governors of the United States and Mexico , (June 26 and 27, 1980, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua). Back.

Note 55: E.V. Niemeyer, Jr., “Texas Discovers Its Mexican Neighbors,” in Rio Bravo , (Austin: Morgan Printing Company) vol. II, Fall 1992, Number 1, p. 78 Back.

Note 56: John Geddie, “Clements, Brown agree on Mexican action,” The Dallas Morning News, 28 February 1979. Back.

Note 57: Riding, p. 495 Back.

Note 58: Dave Montgomery, “Arizona governor to resist efforts to make conference anti-Carter,” The Dallas Times-Herald, 21 June 1979. Back.

Note 59: Fred Bonavita, “Border State Governors Disagree on Clements’ Key Policy Stands,” the Houston Post, 23 June 1979. Back.

Note 60: “Clements’ tactics called ‘imperialist,’” The Austin Citizen, 22 June 1979. Back.

Note 61: Jim Davis, “Arizona Governor Blasts Clements’ views of Mexico,” Corpus Christi Caller, 22 June 1979. Back.

Note 62: Fred Bonavita, “Oil Top Issue As Governors Open Meeting,” The Houston Post, 22 June 1979. Back.

Note 63: Dave Montgomery, “Squabbles Usher In Start of Border Conference,” Dallas Times-Herald, 22 June 1979. Back.

Note 64: “Rival Bonilla At Meet Is Surprise For Clements,” San Antonio Light, 22 June 1979. Back.

Note 65: Dave McNeely, “’Texas Position’ Falls On Deaf Ears,” Austin American-Statesman, 23 June 1979. Back.

Note 66: Anne Marie Kilday, “Clements Gets Governors To Do Little In Meeting,” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 24 June 1979. Back.

Note 67: The Mexican governors were Roberto de la Madrid of Baja California, Samuel Ocaña Garcia of Sonora, Oscar Flores Tapia of Coahuila, Alfonso Martinez Dominguez of Nuevo Leon, Enrique Cardenas Gonzales of Tamaulipas, and Manuel Bernardo Aguirre of Chihuahua. The U.S. governors were William P. Clements of Texas, Bruce King of New Mexico, and Bruce Babbitt of Arizona. Gov. Edmund G. Brown of California was represented by Gray Davis. Back.

Note 68: Fred Bonavita, “U.S.-Mexico Governors’ Meeting Convenes Today Amid Criticism,” Houston Post, 26 June 1980. Back.

Note 69: “Krueger Chides Meeting of U.S., Mexican Governors,” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 29 June 1980. Back.

Note 70: “Krueger Chides Meeting of U.S., Mexican Governors,” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 29 June 1980. Back.

Note 71: George Kuempel and Stephen Downer, “Governors Hail Meeting,” The Dallas Morning News, 28 June 1980. Back.

Note 72: Today, the U.S. states often rely on the private sector to fund the meetings while Mexican hosts are more likely to use public monies. Back.

Note 73: Personal interview with Jorgé Garces of the Texas Secretary of State’s office, 26 March 1999. Back.

Note 74: The current federal observers to the BGC are the U.S. border coordinator, Mexico desk, U.S. State Dept. David Randolph and Leonora Guerra, SRE for N. America. Back.

Note 75: Riding, p. 240. Back.

Note 76: Riding, p. 241. Back.

Note 77: Riding, pp. 91 and 486. Back.

Note 78: Yergin, p. 730. Back.

Note 79: Riding, p. 487. Back.

Note 80: Yergin, p. 731. Back.

Note 81: Smith, p. 182. Back.

Note 82: Smith, p. 179. Back.

Note 83: Riding, p. 473. Back.

Note 84: Smith, p. 215. Back.

Note 85: Quoted in Smith, p. 181. Back.

Note 86: Smith, p. 182. Back.

Note 87: McDonald, p. 82. Back.

Note 88: Phone interview with Jim Mattox in Austin, Texas, 3 February 2000. Back.

Note 89: Transcript of the XIV U.S.-Mexico Border State Attorneys General Conference, compiled by Roberto San Miguel, and printed by the Texas Office of the Attorney General, 1995. Back.

Note 90: Fact Sheet: U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, U.S. Department of State Dispatch, June 28, 1993, v4,n26,p. 459. Back.

Note 91: Mr. Mattox felt these meetings were more cost-effective than the meetings of the attorneys general. Back.

Note 92: Interview with Texas Deputy Attorney General Drew Durham, conducted by Jan Gilbreath, and related in her paper, The Mexico-Texas Relationship: Redefining Regionalism , paper prepared for La Nueva Agenda de la Relacío n Bilateral Conference, Mexico City, May 19-20, 1995, p. 17. Back.

Note 93: Earl H. Fry and Gregory A. Raymond, Idaho’s Foreign Relations: The Transgovernmental Linkages of an American State (Boise: Boise State University) 1978, p. 29. Back.