To the chagrin of some, border fences and sporadic animosities have done little to alter the shared destiny of the people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
With two-thirds of the 2,000-mile border and nearly $12 billion a month in bilateral trade and deep social bonds, Texas' future has been hitched to Mexico's. Whether it's in stanching illegal immigration, calming gangland violence or opening energy industries to private investment -- Texans have a stake in who rules Mexico for the next six years.
"A growing Mexico would let Texas expand and benefit from trade even more," said Shannon O'Neil, an analyst with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. "A floundering Mexico limits any growth and could put Texas companies and workers' jobs in jeopardy."
"The ties between people, families, communities bring the two nations even closer," she said. "Stability, safety and prosperity on the Mexican side will help these binational families, the reverse hurts them."
In a generation, this country has become something of a global player -- evidenced by this week's gathering of world leaders at the G20 economic summit in Baja California. But it also remains widely impoverished, profoundly unjust and savagely violent.
Where they stand
Much of the cross-border relationship is set in stone -- especially by the North American Trade Agreement and by the Merida Initiative that is providing some $1.8 billion in aid for Mexico's anti-gangster fight. Those relations can be chipped but not shattered by official spats and citizen ire.
But the policies of the winner in the Mexican presidency on July 1 -- and the White House in November -- still can greatly influence events.
Presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto -- by most polls miles ahead of rivals -- has vowed to tinker with but continue President Felipe Calderon's anti-crime crusade and free-market economic policies. Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of Calderon's conservative party, promises much the same.
All three viable candidates say that jolting the economy to provide more and better-paying jobs will sap both illegal immigration and criminal violence and prove to be Mexico's best gift to the United States and the world.
"We have to tend to our issues," said leftist Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador, who is in second place in the polls. "For them to respect us outside, we need to resolve our problems."
"There has to be growth, there have to be jobs, there has to be well being," he said.
Lopez-Obrador proposes greater government involvement in the economy, with a New Deal type emphasis on helping the poor and a wide ranging anti-corruption drive. Vazquez favors a more hands off economic policy. Pena falls somewhere in the middle.
"Mexico today projects to the world an insecure, violent and impoverished country," Pena said in the June 10 debate. "It's incredible that, being neighbors of the first economic power in the world, Mexico has this poor economic performance."
He and his advisers in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, say that allowing private investment in Mexico's state-owned petroleum and electricity monopolies offers the quickest way to provide that growth.
"The main objective of the reform is to have real development and growth," said Emilio Lozoya, Pena's international affairs coordinator. "We are doing it for our own good. But it will dramatically impact the bilateral relationship."
Pena's planners hope to change the constitution to permit such investment, something his party's legislators scuttled when Calderon and others tried to do the same four years ago. Success will hinge upon the PRI winning majorities in Congress, something polls suggest quite possible, and bringing along members of Calderon's party.
"There seems to be a willingness between the two parties for a meaningful reform," said Duncan Wood, an energy and political analyst in Mexico City.
He and others suggest some energy reforms could be passed by a new Congress in September before Calderon leaves office.
Shale gas development
Allowing foreign investment in the oil fields, which were nationalized in 1938 and remain the exclusive fief of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, will be especially touchy. Planners also hope to allow private participation in refineries and distribution channels like gas stations.
Lopez Obrador and his supporters, as well as left-leaning or nationalistic members of Pena's PRI, firmly oppose any change to Pemex's control.
Pemex delivers nearly all its profit directly to Mexico's treasury, providing nearly 40 percent of public funds and leaving the company little for exploration and investment. Reforms would lighten that financial burden, planners say, but require raising taxes elsewhere to make up the difference.
"It's not going to be easy," economist Francisco Suarez-Davila, deputy director of a leading PRI think tank, said of transforming Pemex. "But we have to open it up."
Pena aides believe its more likely they could get quick congressional approval for private investment in developing Mexico's shale gas fields, most of which lie just below the South Texas border. They argue that shale gas is not included in the congressionally mandated national ownership of oil.
"You just have to look north to see the potential," Lozoya said, referring to the shale gas boom, which some have argued will make the United States energy self-sufficient.
"Obviously we are going to develop that with private capital," he said. "It's a huge opportunity on both sides of the border."
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