New Mexico-Chihuahua border brouhaha

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez listens as Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte talks about development of the emerging Jeronimo-Santa Teresa borderplex. (Photo courtesy of the state of Chihuahua.)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez listens as Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte talks about development of the emerging Jeronimo-Santa Teresa borderplex. (Photo courtesy of the state of Chihuahua.)

Binational development raises ire in Juárez

Frontera NorteSur | Special Report

In the aftermath of a media blitz staged by the state governments of New Mexico and Chihuahua to jointly promote the development of the emerging San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa borderplex,  a sharp polemic over the project has rekindled in Ciudad Juárez.

Reinitiated by the Mexican city’s El Diario de Juárez newspaper,  the debate swirls around the possible impact of a new mega-development on the struggling urban core of Juárez, the provision of water and other resources for what’s touted as a future new city and the personal versus collective benefits that might or might not materialize from the growing binational development.

In a series of lengthy articles this past week, El Diario quoted academicians, community activists, former officials and market analysts who criticized or questioned the cross-border San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa development, where a huge Foxconn factory and Union Pacific intermodal facility under construction are laying the foundation for what the New Mexico state administration of Gov. Susana Martinez is billing as the up-and-coming, largest inland port of the Americas.

Located about 10 miles from the northwestern edge of Ciudad Juárez, San Jeronimo/Santa Teresa is reached from the Mexican side of the border by a desert highway built to connect the new border development with the city. Workers are currently transported from the city to work at Foxconn’s sprawling plant.

With an expanded U.S. port of entry buzzing along at Santa Teresa, New Mexico, some observers view the binational project as serious competition for Juárez proper,  which is more directly connected to three other international crossings leading into El Paso.

“Whether we like it or not, San Jeronimo is going to compete with Ciudad Juárez,” said Miguel Angel Calderon Rodriguez,  vice-president of the Chihuahua State Economists Association. “If New Mexico improves its (border inspections) to be faster, this will surely attract more firms, including ones from Juárez.”

“I don’t see benefits anywhere, except for some groups that are interested in investing, but nothing for Ciudad Juárez,” said Agustin Gonzalez Medrano,  who served as the engineering director for Juárez between 2002 and 2004.

“They will have to take basic services out there,  what could be called the complete equipment for a city, and this will correspond to the municipality, though it will be insufficient with the resources they are going to do it with.”

Alfonso Arenaza Cortes, economist for the Cassem employment placement firm, said ongoing trends were pulling development away from Juárez  and into the nearby Juárez Valley as well as San Jeronimo/Santa Teresa.

Arenaza raised the specter of what might be termed the Detroit Syndrome. Already, thousands of abandoned homes and businesses pockmark Juárez. As of August 2013,  26 available industrial buildings offered more than 3.7 million square feet of space, according to the maquiladora trade industry journal Juarez-El Paso Now.

“That’s why the city should change into a nerve center of businesses and tourist manufacturing services, or it will become a devastated city like what happened to Detroit in the U.S.,” Arenaza added.

Victor Quintana Silverya, longtime social activist, political analyst and former Mexican congressman, contended that the San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa project was unfolding in a non-transparent manner with basic questions about water services, environmental protection and economic benefit to the larger population still unanswered.

“It’s good to think about a binational development, but there are basic matters that should be known because there has always been a lot of opacity with respect to San Jeronimo, and it is necessary to specifically know what is going to be done, where it is going to be done and how many public resources are going to be used in order to know who will be favored,”  Quintana said.

New Mexico and Chihuahua officials recently declared that 70,000 acres of San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa will include master-planned commercial and residential developments for tens of thousands of people.  Economic planners say the twin development’s geographic location, halfway between the ports of Long Beach, Calif., and Houston  gives it a prime advantage in the global economy.

“The potential of the Santa Teresa-San Jeronimo area is infinite and with this plan we will be in an excellent position to compete for global investors,” New Mexico Gov. Martinez recently said.

El Diario’s  series took aim at prominent Mexican businessman Elloy Vallina Laguera, who purchased about 47,000 acres around Jeronimo.

According to the newspaper, Vallina paid approximately $5.1 million for the land in 1998 but made a hefty profit of $4.6 million when the state government of Chihuahua bought less than 500 acres of the huge tract only days before the conclusion of the Patricio Martinez administration in 2004.

The state government had expropriated about 4,600 acres from Vallina but returned the land before paying the businessman the multimillion dollar sum for the smaller tract, according to El Diario.

In a published response to the newspaper’s series, Vallina did not address the particulars of the San Jeronimo land deal but sharply criticized El Diario for acting as “the great moral censor of Chihuahuan society” and projecting “twisted intentions” on “any mortal” who dares to undertake anything from which the newspaper is excluded.

“(El Diario) considers itself infallible in its judgments, and in a delirium, almost in a demented way,  furiously lashes out against any investment, public or private, that breathes life into the development of any zone  of Ciudad Juárez or the state,” Vallina wrote.

Vallina concluded by stating that he would not waste time worrying about El Diario and instead devote himself to the Jeronimo project.

In a lengthy reply,  Osvaldo Rodriguez, president and general director of El Diario, revisited the land deal and the history of citizen opposition to the passage of a partial development plan for San Jeronimo by the Juárez City Council in 2005.

“The only thing El Diario did,  Mr. Vallina,” Rodriguez responded, “was document and publish a reality.  The doubts and suspicions weren’t generated by me or the newspaper, but by official sectors with their obscure transactions-in which you were involved — and their noncompliances.”

The revived polemic reached Mexico City when a correspondent for El Diario approached former Chihuahua Gov. Patricio Martinez, who is now a senator for the PRI party, and asked the politician about the old land deal with Vallina.

“You want to force me into a fight,” the veteran politician was quoted. “I don’t get involved in gossip.”

In a broader context, the brouhaha over San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa comes at a moment of ramped-up competition over border crossings,  as different economic sectors supported by local and state governments reposition themselves in the 21st century economy. In this contest, speedy border crossing times are the key.

Oscar Leeser, El Paso’s new mayor,  was recently asked about the possible effect of San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa on his city down the road. “They are doing a good job,” Leeser said. “I am not sure it will affect us if we do our job, and we need to do our job,  and we just need to make sure that we continue to grow.”

To ease congestion and shipment delays, The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has just launched a pilot program in El Paso and five other locations that will allow public and private entities to pay for the salaries of added CPB inspection personnel.

The pilot system, in turn, is stirring concerns among some border business sectors that taxes in the participating cities could go up to pay for the extra costs while simultaneously putting those who use crossings not included in the program at a distinct disadvantage.

“It seems that CBP and certain Texas towns are going into business together while the rest of the border is left out,” said Nelson Balido, Border Commerce and Security Council chairman. Balido said it was the responsibility of the federal government, namely the Obama administration,  to adequately fund border inspections.

“Because of either its unwillingness or its inability to properly fund CBP, the Obama administration has tapped local government to do its dirty work,” Balido asserted.

Meantime, the popularity of Santa Teresa continues to grow.  State statistics reported that 81,339 commercial trucks used the New Mexico port of entry in 2012-a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

Additional sources:  El Semanario de Nuevo Mexico/EFE, August 15, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, August 10, 12 and 13, 2013. Articles by Gabriela Minjares and editorial staff. Juarez-El Paso Now, August 2013.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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