The Mexican Ambassador to Ireland, Carlos Garcia de Alba, addressed the Society for International Affairs (SOFIA) on Tuesday evening about contentious topics such as US-Mexican relations in relation to Migration, Trade and the controversial comments made by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.
The talk took place in the GMB debating chamber, which the small audience struggled to fill despite attendance reaching 30 guests at one point. The Ambassador began a lengthy address concerning Mexican History and National Identity before fielding a number of questions including the extradition of EL Chapo and the Zika Virus.
His Excellency, Mr. Garcia de Alba, has been the ambassador to Ireland for a little more than 3 years and has previously held positions such as the Consul General of Mexico in Dallas, Texas; the Director General of International Affairs at Mexico’s Ministry for Public Education and an advisor and permanent delegate of Mexico to the Food and Agricultural Organization.
Garcia de Alba began his address with a warm greeting and defined Mexico as disparate to the rest of South America which, according to him, begins 5000km away in Columbia. Garcia de Alba then moved on to a lengthy comparison between the US and Mexico in terms of “hard data”, a term he would use throughout the evening. According to Garcia de Alba, the average income in the US is 55,000 dollars to Mexico’s 9870 ,and the average life expectancy in the US is greater than Mexico by 4 years. He mentioned that Gross National Product in the US is 4 and a half times that of Mexico.
Economic relations between the US and Mexico and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was a passionate topic of Garcia de Alba, and he explained his belief that they could lead to closer union between the US and Mexico. According to Garcia de Alba in the early 1990’s NAFTA brought “trust and honesty” into the US and Mexico’s relationship which in the past had been distant. He also went to great lengths to explain that if the US, Mexico and Canada formed an economic union they would be the most competitive in the world as no other competitor could compete in terms of resources and production. He stated that China was the real winner when the US and Mexico remained divided over economic issues.
Garcia de Alba then moved on to the hot topic of migration between the US and Mexico across its 3300km border. He stated that one million people cross the US-Mexico border every year from both Mexico and the US and that this is only the figure for legal human traffic. He was keen to stress that Mexican migration to the US did not begin recently but after the Mexican-American War in 1848: “That is the beginning of the history of migration to the US”. Garcia de Alba explained that Mexico lost 55 per cent of northern territory as a result of its defeat in 1848 and that over 100,000 Mexicans were displaced as the US seized new territories. He als explained that the US states Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and California were all previous territories of Mexico with Spanish names and that as the border was adjusted Mexican citizens “migrated” to the US as a result.
Garcia de Alba continued to address migration for much of his speech and explained that the continued migration to Mexico to America for economic reasons began in the 1970’s as Mexico’s economy suffered a number of shocks which continued through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Previously, Mexican migrants had been welcomed to the US during WW2 to provide labour for industry and to work in agriculture in the southern states in the post war years. He stated his belief that this “flow” of migrants to the US is nearly finished and will continue to decline as the Mexican economy continues to improve. He revealed some startling statistics about Mexican immigrants currently living in the US. Each state in the US has on average 20,000 Mexicans residing and this includes Hawaii and Alaska and over 12 million Mexicans living in the US, making up 10 per cent of the population. Of the 12 million, roughly 65 per cent of them are “Illegals”.
It was impossible to mention illegal immigrants without the spectre of Donald Trump and his comments appearing. In the ambassador’s words “I can’t avoid to speak about it”. He reputed Trump’s claims that Mexican immigrants do not integrate or learn English by comparing them with to the two million US immigrants in Mexico which do not learn Spanish or integrate either. Garcia de Alba summed up this argument: “Migration, like the coin, has two faces”. Garcia de Alba also examined Trump’s plans to build a wall along the US-Mexican border and to make the Mexican government pay for it. Garcia de Alba wanted to show “how crazy this man is, how ignorant” and revealed that 65 per cent of illegal Mexican immigrants to the US do not enter over land but travel by airplane. He stated that if Trump wanted to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out of America, his wall would need to be 12,000 feet high as a result.
This raised the biggest laugh of the evening after which the Ambassador took questions from the audience.
One audience member asked about the extradition procedure of El Chapo to the US for his crimes. The ambassador reiterated the Mexican President’s decision to extradite the drug lord to the US and referred to the disappointment in some circles in Mexico that El Chapo would not be tried for his crimes in Mexico and as statement against corruption. For Garcia de Alba, the War on Drugs is not a war but a horrible terrible fight between cartels “for this impressive business”. Garcia de Alba explained that cocaine consumption continues to grow in the US in and that drugs are continued to be produced despite efforts to contain this. The Ambassador described Mexico as merely the corridor and that is trapped between a “South that produces and a North that consumes”.
Another audience member asked the ambassador what Mexico was doing regarding the tropical Zika virus, which is linked to birth defects and carried from person to person by mosquito bites. The ambassador acknowledged the concern of the virus and its spread across the Americas and mentioned El Salvador’s advice for women to avoid pregnancy until 2018.
Audience members who answered the ambassador’s questions correctly at the end received a prize of Roberto Brown’s, The Eagle and the Cross, a history of the Irish participation the US/Mexican War.