The revelations from the massive hack of the Mexican Defense Ministry (#SedenaLeaks) are explosive: A nexus exists between some Mexican government officials, the Mexican military, and drug cartels—all at the expense of Mexican people, but not only. The human rights abuses, unrest, and corruption have spilled over across Texas’ southern border through human and drug smuggling and trafficking. What can Texas do?
While both the U.S. Constitution and the Mexican Constitution reserve foreign policy to the federal government of each country, including trade with foreign nations, diplomacy, the power to declare war and sign treaties, international relations between subnational governments (states, counties, municipalities) are not fully out of reach.
In recent decades, a phenomenon called “paradiplomacy” for parallel diplomacy developed around the world. Jorge Schiavon, who has researched the subject, found several responsible factors, including increased economic competition at a more local level, increased cost of isolation from globalization, decentralization of government, or addressing local issues.
With the current border crisis and in the absence of a solution from the federal government, Texas stepped in to protect its citizens in various ways, one of which is through paradiplomacy. In April 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott signed agreements with the governors of the four Mexican border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. These memoranda of understanding (MOUs) aimed to develop cooperation between these Mexican states and the state of Texas on border security. The Mexican states agreed to work to limit the flow of human and drug trafficking out of their states and into Texas in exchange of which the governor would stop recently instituted enhanced inspections of commercial vehicles entering Texas from Mexico.
Such cooperation must remain within constitutional bounds, and the agreements are not always legally binding, but they can foster goodwill between local governments of different nations or be used as diplomatic tools. Areas often targeted by this type of cooperation are economic development (first and foremost), cultural relations, educational exchanges, protection of the environment, and public health.
Research on the subject has progressively increased with the growing involvement of local governments in paradiplomacy around the world in the past few decades. Mexican states have recently increased their participation in such international relations, and not surprisingly, Texas is one of their main counterparts.
The United States is the country with which Mexico has the most such cooperation. The number of such agreements between Mexico and Texas approaches the number between Mexico and its second international partner, making Texas as a hypothetical country “third in degree of cooperation after the USA as a whole and Spain,” according to Schiavon’s research.
You may well be familiar with a few of these agreements if you know your city’s foreign sister cities. Dallas has sister city relationships with Monterrey in Mexico and Dijon in France, among others. Sisterhood agreements are probably the most well-known form of paradiplomacy, helping to build international relationships around cultural and educational exchanges. Although they are a rather nonconsequential form of paradiplomacy, they have sometimes also been used to make policy statements, such as when the Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson proposed dissolving a sisterhood agreement with the Russian city of Saratov following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and suspending all ties with Russia.
The areas of cooperation most seen between Texas and Mexico are economic development—the state of Texas opened its only foreign trade and investment office in Mexico—infrastructure, education, water and environmental issues, and public health issues. Some forms of cooperation (such as for international bridges), though not all, necessitate the intervention of the federal government.
Interestingly, Mexico requires that all inter-institutional agreements Mexican states enter into be reported for approval to the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, the equivalent of the U.S. State Department. The agreements are then listed and available online. We have found no such registry in Texas.
Local cooperation agreements offer a window to our state’s relationships with our southern neighbor, Mexico, showcasing cultural ties, goodwill, economic opportunities, and willingness to cooperate to solve important issues. Recent revelations, however, demand more transparency on such cooperation and the assurance that we are working with partners for a win-win relationship for people on both sides of the border. As such, these agreements should be made available more easily to Texans and the Legislature should consider a system of review for the most consequential agreements similar to Mexico’s system.