November 3, 2003
An ambassador for the
Because of Mexico’s proximity to the United States, strong bilateral relations are important to citizens of both nations. In border states such as Texas, where problems can spill across a porous boundary, it is particularly important for the two neighboring governments to establish cooperative programs and initiatives that benefit the entire region.
Since he graduated from the LBJ School in 1977, Jorge C. Garcés has been shaping Texas policy toward Mexico and helping to foster better relations between the two countries. As a liaison to Mexico for two Texas governors—William Clements and Ann Richards—Garcés has spent much of his professional life working on transboundary projects that have had a tangible impact on people’s lives. He has also been in a position to watch the issues change over the years.
“Before NAFTA, the emphasis in Texas-Mexico relations was on trade, tourism, maquiladoras and investments,” he explained. “Trade and tourism still dominate Texas-Mexico relations, but since NAFTA, there is considerable interest on environmental and health issues, cleaning up the border and the need to provide basic services to residents of border communities.”
Garcés, who has been Deputy Managing Director of the North American Development Bank (NADBank) since April 2001, said that he has always been interested in world affairs and “all its related twists of diplomacy and international relationships.” Although his Hispanic heritage (he was born in Cuba) influenced his decision to pursue studies and a career related to Latin America, his initial interest was in Cuba and South America.
“It was not until I attended the LBJ School that my interest shifted to Mexico,” he said. “In 1975, with the addition of Sidney Weintraub to the faculty, the LBJ School started to offer courses of an international nature for the first time. One of my policy research projects dealt with colonias and living conditions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the other with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s role in the nationalization of U.S. companies worldwide. . . . Those courses definitely had an impact and made me very interested in Mexico and the border region.”
According to Garcés, it was his participation in the colonias policy research project that helped him secure his first job with a now-defunct Texas state government agency, the Good Neighbor Commission. At the time, the agency provided support to the Governor’s Office on all issues related to the border and Texas-Mexico relations.
“When Governor Clements was elected to his first term, he understood the importance of Texas-Mexico relations, and thus, he created a division within his administration to deal exclusively with Mexico and the border,” Garcés said. “My relationship with the Governor’s Office continued through Mark White’s administration, and then I went on to serve in Clements’ second term as his liaison for Texas-Mexico relations. That role continued during the first year of Governor Richards’ administration, where I served as Director of the Texas-Mexico Office.”
Later, Garcés went on to serve as Executive Director of the Border Trade Alliance, a unit of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s International Trade Division, and as Air Program Manager with the Office of Border Affairs of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). In 1998, he was employed by the Office of the Texas Secretary of State as the Manager of Mexican and border affairs in the Bush administration, a post he kept after Governor Perry took office in 2000.
Garcés said that one of his most significant accomplishments was helping Mexico and the victims of the September 1986 earthquake. At the time, he was the Director of Texas Response, a coordinated state effort to respond to Mexico’s needs. Garcés said he is also proud of the work he has done over the years in helping shape Texas policy toward Mexico as well as being a part of NADBank, a financial institution created under the auspices of NAFTA. Capitalized in equal parts by the United States and Mexico, NADBank finances environmental infrastructure projects along the two countries’ common border.
According to Garcés, NADBank has provided over $646 million in financing for 67 projects since it was established—a total investment value exceeding $2.1 billion. But he said that the most gratifying aspect of his work has been its direct effect on people and communities. “I am particularly proud of the involvement I have been able to have in bringing water and wastewater service to residents of the colonias in Texas and other parts of the border. There is still much work that needs to be done, but I believe we are making progress.”
Most recently, NADBank has become involved in new sectors of operation, including projects for improving air quality, energy efficiency projects and water conservation projects. “An example of the Bank’s work would be a $27.6 million loan recently made to the State of Baja California, Mexico, to fund street paving in several border cities,” he said. “Dust and other particulate matter from unpaved roads is a leading cause of respiratory ailments in the border region. Children and the elderly are particularly affected. Street paving projects along the border financed by the NADBank are one way in which this problem is being addressed.”
Referring to public service as an “honorable and rewarding career,” Garcés said he receives much satisfaction from his work because of its positive impact on the lives of individuals. “Young people considering a career in public service should bear in mind that change often occurs slowly, especially when dealing with bureaucracies, but it does and can occur. A combination of diligence and patience is required, along with a steadfast commitment to serve the public interest.” He advised current students to “always be prepared for opportunity.”
Pointing out that Mexico transacts more trade with the United States than any other nation except Canada and that 75 percent of that trade passes through Texas, Garcés said it is important for the LBJ School to continue to develop its research on the U.S.-Mexico area. “We have a border with contrasting economies and a number of issues that need addressing,” he remarked. “Institutions of higher learning play a significant role through research in shaping U.S. international policy.”
by María de la Luz Martínez
2003 Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
3 November 2003
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