The upcoming Mexico presidential election and growing production from Canada's oil sands make retired Navy Admiral Bobby Ray Inman optimistic about prospects of North America becoming energy independent in the not too distant future.
He spoke Tuesday morning to more than 100 El Paso business people at a breakfast speech in the El Paso Club atop the Chase Bank building Downtown.
Inman, who turns 81 next week, spent more than 20 years in intelligence gathering for the Navy, the National Security Agency, and the CIA. People magazine years ago dubbed him "super spy."
He now operates an Austin firm which invests in high-tech startups, and he teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.
Inman said leading Mexico presidential candidates Enrique Pena Nieto and Josefina Vazquez Mota have, to his surprise, endorsed revising the Mexican constitution "to permit foreign investment into (Mexico's) oil industry to bring them the modern technology they need" to again increase oil production. Oil production has slumped for 20 years in Mexico's government-run oil industry, he said.
If Mexico further develops its oil reserves, if pipelines are opened to bring in more of the growing production from Canada's oil sands, and if the United States continues to develop its oil shale reserves, then "there is the prospect for the first time in a very long time that North America could be energy independent," Inman said.
"That would mean our vulnerability to what goes on in Venezuela, or much more importantly, the Persian Gulf, would have far less significance for own economy."
Inman complimented Mexico President Felipe Calderon for his efforts to fight drug cartels and clean up corruption in Mexico's police forces and judicial system. But, he said, "the jury is still out on how effective that has been for the long term." The new question is what the next Mexico president will do in the drug war, he said.
After his speech, Inman said he was not optimistic about the drug war ending in Mexico any time soon because the drug business is too lucrative for the cartels.
He doesn't see legalizing drugs in the United States as a solution to ending the drug war, he said in response to a question from his breakfast audience.
Inman has an encyclopedic-like grasp of what's going on in almost every country in the world. He spent about an hour taking his El Paso audience around the world -- pinpointing problems, political issues, power struggles, and United States' relationships with a long list of countries.
The United States' influence around the world is a "mixed bag," he said in response to a question from his audience.
"Our economy remains the greatest influence we have. Virtually every country wants access to the U.S. market," he said.
Inman was brought to El Paso by El Paso shopping center developer Mimco Inc., which each year brings in a speaker to give El Paso business people an outside view of the world and economy, said Bob Ayoub, Mimco president.
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