By Aaron Humes
Former Secretary of Finance and Energy in the administration of President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, Dr. Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, has stayed on in the cabinet of Calderon’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, as Secretary for Foreign Relations.
In that capacity, Dr. Meade visited Belize this weekend and was hosted by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Wilfred Elrington, who told a press conference at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel on Sunday afternoon that the two countries, despite a relatively strong relationship and close proximity, have been somewhat “distant neighbours” – Belizeans relegating their knowledge of Mexico to shopping in Chetumal and occasional visits to Merida and Cozumel, while Mexicans know little of Belize beyond San Pedro Town.
A first meeting between Dr. Meade and Minister Elrington took place in San Cristobal, Chiapas, last year, but the return has been plagued by scheduling issues.
In an effort to strengthen the informal relationship between the peoples of Belize and Mexico, the two countries are sitting down to build a legal framework for cooperation. The agenda includes a formal extradition treaty, trade arrangements and protection of investment and against double taxation, and cooperation on education, security, health and other areas, according to Minister Elrington.
Dr. Meade says President Peña Nieto has “tasked” him to build on the relationship that started when Mexico first recognized Belize’s independence and named an ambassador here.
Later this week, he said as an example, the two sides will meet to “identify where exactly Belize is at in terms of refurbishing its civic center and in which way Mexico can support that effort…we want to be part of refurbishing that civic center.”
On securing the border, which he and Minister Elrington toured before the meeting, Dr. Meade said that there are “challenges” in securing the border against narco-trafficking but also “opportunities” for the two countries to cooperate through a border commission.
Belize’s Minister Elrington added that both countries recognize that the border is Mexico’s “first line of defense” and so it is a matter of importance for both countries.
Few know that the neighbors have a “discrepancy” in the border in the vicinity of the Bay of Chetumal, but Minister Elrington noted that it is not a “contentious” matter in terms of respect of territorial sovereignty and the two countries are working to resolve it.
Dr. Meade classified the work as “technical” and “not an irritant” for Mexico.
Finally, Dr. Meade told the Reporter that, in relation to a possible future visit of President Peña Nieto to Belize, he did not “rule out” such a visit or one of Prime Minister Dean Barrow to Mexico, but “we have not yet identified that on either the Prime Minister’s or the President’s agenda.”
He noted that the two men had already met in Haiti and would meet again at a future meeting of the Association of Caribbean States where such a matter would be discussed.