martes, 10 de junio de 2014

Border Governance: The complex cooperation between local governments.

Durante el Séptimo Semestre de mi licenciatura, me inscribí a una materia optativa de reciente creación en la Facultad de Economía y Relaciones Internacionales, llamada "Global Perspectives on Development: Political and Economic Issues". Dicha asignatura tenía como fin abordar distintos tópicos de la agenda internacional en la frontera Tijuana-San Diego desde una visión interdisciplinaria, ya que nos inscribimos alumnos de las tres carreras de la facultad. La materia se impartió completamente en inglés y por distintos catedráticos de la facultad, así como profesores visitantes tanto de Estados Unidos como Alemania. Al finalizar el curso, se nos requirió un ensayo final relativo a alguno uno de los temas vistos durante el semestre. Dicho ensayo tenía que ser escrito en inglés, yo elegí el tema de la Gobernanza Fronteriza. Éste fue mi ensayo final.

The relation between states and regions suffers a lot of problems because many reasons. One of them (the more obvious) is the complications that emerge when states with different types of government system want to strengthen their relationships, and the differences can be clearer in the local government level. Differences like the capability of the governments, the resources at their disposition, the legitimacy of the rulers, the ideology of the party in office, and of course the distinct political culture that every nation has, makes the cooperation between governments a very complex effort. 

Mexico has a presidential type of government, inspired by the system that the Founding Fathers of the United States create when they triumph in the war for the independency of the thirteen colonies over the United Kingdom. Also, the Aztec nation reproduces the same type of state that the US has, a federal type, with national sub entities united by a federal pact: the Constitution. 

Many could think that with these similarities, the communication between governments in all the levels will be easy, but that’s not true, because these two nations adopted this figures (the federal state and the presidential government) for different reasons: while de US become a federal state to promote the centralization of the national government, creating an authority with the power to maintain by the force the unity of the nation (the Presidency), Mexico adopted the federal system because the regional leaders, commonly named as “caciques” want to preserve their shares of power, and the President became “a national referee”. It is useful to remember that when Mexico became an independent nation, his first type of government was the Centralized Empire, so the federal system wasn't the original project for organizing the new nation.

Additionally, the political culture in the US, individualist and liberal, supports the existence of a limited government, with a few functions, with intervention over the economy only as a regulator. These principles are shared by the two main parties, the Republican and the Democrat, producing a two-party system with centripetal competition, according to the political parties’ theory of Sartori. In Mexico, the huge differences that exist in his own citizenships, like the culture, the income, education and many more, has produced a distinct political culture that has been expressed, in the federal level, in a three-party unique system that in some cases has a centripetal or centrifugal competition. 

Political similarities and administrative differences at local level.
As we can see, the political differences between these two nations are wide and varied despite they have the same type of government and form of state, but as we say in Mexico, “the devil is in the details”. However, in the local level of government, we can find another kind of similarities and of course, another kind of differences. The political situation in some Mexican states is somehow similar to the American states, and we can see an example between California and Baja California. 

Both states have a two-party system with a centripetal competition, and the political culture is very similar. Although in the two last presidential elections the leftist presidential candidate ended in second place (the same place as national level), the local elections in Baja California have been maintained as a competence between only two political parties: the National Action Party (in government since 1989) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who returned to power in the 2012 presidential election. Hence, if the political situation is in some ways similar in these two states, the difficulty to cooperate can be found where? The difficulty is in the particularities of theirs governments at the local levels. Mexico has only three levels of government: federal, state and municipal level, but the US, specifically California, has more levels: federal, state, county, city and many types of “districts” (school, transit, municipal utility, etc).

California has a lot of charges that are elected directly by the universal vote, like the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Controller, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Insurance Commissioner. In the counties the situation is the same: in San Diego, the county government is composed of the elected five-member Board of Supervisors, several other elected offices and officers including the Sheriff, the District Attorney, Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk, and Treasurer/Tax Collector, and numerous county departments and entities under the supervision of the Chief Administrative Officer. The American citizens are proud of their democracy, but in the local level, the fact that many charges are elected perhaps it is good for the democracy, but not for the operation of the public administration. If the cooperation between these local authorities is difficult, it is logic that the cooperation with public functionaries of other country will be more complicated. 

In Baja California, the Governor of the State designates all the positions of his cabinet with freedom, except the Attorney General, that needs to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies. The state government is more centralized, so the governor can take decisions in a way much easier than the California governor, but the centralization of the public administration makes that the risk to fall in phenomena like corruption becomes more present. The figure of “County” doesn’t exist in Mexico, so the next level of government, the municipal, are govern by the figure of the “Ayuntamientos”, that are more similar to the City Councils than the Counties. 

And the differences doesn´t finish here: in California the Legislative Power is divided in the Senate and the House of Representatives and they are all elected directly, while in Baja California the Chamber of Deputies has members elected directly and other that came to the office thanks to the proportional electoral system.  Also, the Judiciary in California has a lot of Courts and the Judges are elected by the people, while in B.C. the judges are not elected. These differences generate a complex situation for the cooperation of the governments and public servers of our frontier, and the incentives to do it are not very clear and recognized by them.
The relationship between the local authorities since 1989 has been institutional, but it looks that the transfrontier cooperation it´s not a priority for any ruler on both sides of the border. This situation has to change immediately, because in the interconnected times that we live the kind of problems that can be solved only by the action of one government has been reduced. 

The local governments in the United States have a lot of functions but they are more economic independent of the federal government than the Mexican local governments, and for that reason they can achieve their goals. At the same time, they promote more the citizen participation in the public policy and in the decision making, using with regularity the figures of direct democracy like the referendum and the plebiscite.

For a better cooperation with the American local governments, Mexico has to strengthen his local governments, giving them more resources and promote the professionalization of his public functionaries. The incorporation of the civil society as a supervisor of their own government can be part of that process of professionalization. At the same time, the local governments of both sides of the frontier need to communicate more and create new public spaces of deliberation for a better cooperation. Security, environmental issues, economic alliances, protection of human rights, educational agreements and interchange of technology and knowledge are some of the topics that local government can have in common despite their differences to work together and give a better life to their citizens.