Q & A with Flinn-Brown Fellow Erik Lee, Executive Director, North American Research Partnership

July 21, 2015

By Arizona Center for Civic Leadership

Flinn-Brown Fellow Erik Lee is known internationally for his expertise on Mexico and the relationships among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Recently he and Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., edited The U.S.-Mexico Border Economy in Transition.

Your report describes the border region as “both Mexico and the United States,” yet it is also “something more.” What do you mean?

“Something more” refers to a number of elements, including an enormous amount of economic potential, a rich mix of cultures, and the creativity and toughness to deal with a difficult reality that distinguishes the area from others. This is a strategic region that is misunderstood and misrepresented in many ways. Residents of border communities in the U.S. and Mexico take great pride in their ties to the other side, and this—together with the region’s relative isolation from national and state capitals and other factors—results in its uniqueness. 

You are a long-time observer of Mexico. What were some of your most important takeaways from Mexico’s recent mid-term election?

The level of generalized discontent with the current administration in Mexico was one of the most striking characteristics going into the election. In many ways, it feels like the 1990s again in Mexico, with broad-based discontent with the political class, almost without regard for party affiliation. The PRI remains on top in Congress because of the divisions between the conservative (PAN) and center-left opposition (PRD). One interesting element is the election of an independent as governor of the northern state of Nuevo Leon. The rise of independent candidates and independent voters is something that could potentially make the entrenched, well-financed major Mexican political parties nervous and more willing to level the field.

What do you think was the most important election outcome in terms of Arizona’s interests?

Claudia Pavlovich’s election as the first woman governor of Sonora and the return of state-level dominance to the PRI stand out. The PRI’s strength in Sonora is a key factor in the historical stability of the Arizona-Mexico Commission/Comisión Sonora-Arizona. Nationally, the PRI held onto enough seats in Congress for President Pena Nieto’s administration to continue to push for economic reforms, which will be important for Arizona businesses wanting to expand into Mexico. Arizona will have to watch the medium- to long-term trends with respect to Mexico and its economic development very closely. Mexico is an enormously complex, relatively wealthy nation with highly divergent regions and social classes that must be understood in detail to get a full picture of what is going on now and what could happen in the future.