Panel at RNC Maps a Strategy for U.S. – Mexico Relations

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Wilson Center co-sponsored the event, held on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 and attended by nearly 40 participants. Cohosts Mel Martinez, chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation and former U.S Senator, and David Dreier (R-CA), House Rules Committee Chairman, joined the panel that also included Barry Jackson, senior counselor to Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Ambassador Sarukhan. Wilson Center Vice President for Programs and Director of the Mexico Institute Andrew Selee moderated.

Geoffrey Cowan, president of The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, opened the conversation by describing the retreat on U.S.-Mexico relations convened at Sunnylands in March 2012 that led to a written and video report, A Stronger Future: Policy Recommendations for U.S.-Mexico Relations, the subject of the discussion.

Each panelist, several of whom had attended the retreat, provided insight on the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Dreier cited current challenges, including illegal immigration and the narco-trafficking problem, but also underscored recent social improvements in Mexico: an increasingly larger middle class, higher education levels, and lower rates of poverty. Martinez emphasized that the relationship should be defined not only by the challenges, but also by the opportunities it generates, such as NAFTA and the potential for further rapprochement with Latin America. Finally, Jackson quipped that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is “too important to be left to politicians,” and urged that private sector groups and NGOs expand activities “to help tell Mexico’s story over here.”

The panelists also reflected on the role played by Sunnylands, a place of serenity and privacy where high-level national and world leaders can come together to address the most pressing issues of the day. After watching the video report shot at Sunnylands and in which he participated, Martinez said he had “never seen himself so mellow.” Dreier admitted that “whenever there’s something to do with Sunnylands, it gets emotional with me,” due to the Annenbergs’ commitment to the issue of international understanding. Jackson commented that his relationship with Sunnylands “has been a wonderful partnership,” and Sarukhan thanked Sunnylands and the Wilson Center for “parading [the] report around,” which is an “important public policy tool.”

The program concluded with a brief question-and-answer session. Professor David Eisenhower of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, grandson of President Eisenhower, and himself no stranger to Sunnylands, attended the event with a group of students. Eisenhower asked the panel why the news media report predominantly “bad news” regarding the U.S.-Mexico relationship and not positive developments. Sarukhan responded, “sometimes no news is good news,” and cited NAFTA as an example that “is functioning pretty well,” even if it is “not a big story.”
Arturo Sarukhan, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States, stated the relationship between the United States and Mexico must include a more “holistic and strategic agenda” encompassing trade, energy, and global competitiveness, in addition to the “transactional” topics that currently dominate the conversation, such as security and drugs. This was one of many propositions raised at “The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations,” a breakfast discussion held during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.