The last time I visited Tijuana was in 1994 when I was traveling with then Vice President Al Gore to attend the groundbreaking of a water treatment plant on the U.S. side of the border that protects the region's water resources. At that time, I was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with primary responsibility for U.S. policy toward Mexico. As we were busy implementing what was then a new trade agreement, NAFTA, I made frequent trips to the border region and learned to appreciate the deep ties between our two countries.
When my friend Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow invited me to speak at the Institute of the Americas Hemispheric Forum on Freedom of Expression in San Diego, I decided to visit Tijuana as well. I wanted to see for myself how much the San Diego-Tijuana region had developed over the past 15 years and wanted to hear from Consulate staff their impressions about working along the border, as well as to recognize the work they do. Crossing into Tijuana at the San Ysidro border, the busiest land crossing in the world, reminded me that a million people cross every day to work, study, visit family and friends, shop, or conduct meetings. Trade between our two countries has exploded since my last visit. U.S. exports to Mexico have nearly tripled, and Mexican exports to the United States have more than quadrupled. The dismantling of trade barriers and the opening of markets have led to economic growth and rising prosperity in both countries.
Our diplomatic representation in Tijuana has grown along with the deepening of our bilateral relationship. The Consulate General still handles a huge consular workload -- hundreds of visa applicants every day and some of the most complex American citizen services in the world -- but it has also transformed into a platform for a wide range of political, economic, and security engagement and a regional hub for law enforcement cooperation. The staff of the Consulate General outgrew their current facilities long ago and are waiting for their new, ultra-modern “green” Consulate to open later this summer. Tijuana is now a more dynamic city than many Americans realize. I enjoyed meeting with a group of young civil society leaders at the Consul General's residence to discuss the role of youth in community development in Mexico and the United States. My lunch with security, energy, and tourism officials of the Baja State government allowed me to hear what Baja is doing to deal with the problems of narco-violence, to develop job and business opportunities in the alternative energy sector, and to promote tourism. I also had the chance to visit a grade school in Tijuana to see how a group of Mexican high school students who participated in the Jóvenes en Acción exchange program were using what they learned in the United States to benefit their neighbors. These students were passionate about giving back to their community and again proved the benefits of exchange programs in public diplomacy.
My visit to Tijuana vividly showed what a wide-ranging and productive relationship we have with Mexico. Beyond cooperation on immigration and drug trafficking, we are working together on cross-border energy and environmental programs. Mexican students are studying in the United States, thousands of American citizens reside in and retire to Baja, and tens of thousands cross the San Diego-Tijuana border each day to visit friends or go shopping. President Obama has said that the fates of the United States and Mexico are more intertwined than ever before. What I saw in Tijuana definitely supports that statement.
You can view pictures of Assistant Secretary Valenzuela's visit to Escuela Independencia here.You can view pictures of Assistant Secretary Valenzuela's discussion with civil society organizations here.Secretary Valenzuela's remarks at the Hemispheric Forum on Freedom of Expression can be found here.