Despite Medina Mora's being the former director of agencies mired in controversy, Republicans and Democrats say his appointment affords them an opportunity to forge a new relationship with Mexico as it continues to grapple with drug cartel violence following the inauguration last month of president Enrique Pena Nieto.
An attorney and adviser to the Mexican government during its negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Medina Mora also served as the director of Mexico's national security agency, the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP), under former President Vicente Fox and served as attorney general from 2006 to 2009 under President Felipe Calderon. Both Fox and Calderon were members of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, which lost power when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, took over in December as Pena Nieto took his oath of office. The SSP was dismantled shortly afterward as a part of the president's new strategy to fight crime in that country.
Medina Mora officially presented his credentials to the White House and President Obama on Monday after the Mexican Congress approved his nomination.
"Our future economic growth and prosperity will increasingly hinge in our ability to work together to enhance trade, strengthen our competitiveness and effectively manage our border," Obama said in a statement released by the Mexican Embassy in Washington.
The Mexican government has long been accused of corruption, even at its highest levels. But U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who chairs the powerful House Committee on Homeland Security, said he thought the appointment is ideal and sends a resounding message that Mexico is willing to cooperate with its neighbor.
"I know there have been controversies regarding the SSP and some of the corruption there, but I don't attribute that to Mora's watch," he said. "I think that personally, this is an excellent pick."
Before the July 1 election, McCaul openly questioned whether the PRI would return to the ways of the last century, when its 71-year rule was tarred with allegations of deal-making, corruption and cronyism. He said Medina Mora's appointment signals a new PRI that recognizes the assets the government had during the opposing party's 12-year rule.
"I was a bit of a skeptic in the beginning," he said. "Our ambassador told us, 'Wait and see who they appoint to see what directions this administration is going to take,' and I have to tell you, I have been pleasantly surprised."
He said that under Calderon, Mexico extradited a record number of alleged criminals and he is hopeful the trend would continue under Pena Nieto.
Antonio "Tony" Garza, a South Texas native and the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico under President George W. Bush, characterized Medina Mora as a friend. He said his work in the private sector would only serve to boost this country's trade relationship with Mexico. Through the first 11 months of 2012, the countries traded more than $457 billion in goods, with the ports of Laredo and El Paso being the No. 1 and No. 2 trading destinations, respectively.
"Having served both as Mexico's director of intelligence and later, attorney general, he's got a keen understanding of the security issues, and his business background will be invaluable on the trade and commerce side," Garza said. "That, and given his grandmother's from Waco, I like to tell him he's practically a Texan."
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, made funding for land ports a major part of his campaign to unseat veteran lawmaker Silvestre Reyes. He said Medina Mora's recent comments about infrastructure improvements bodes well for border communities.
"I think that is good for both Mexico and the U.S. at large," O'Rourke said. "I am optimistic that he'll be a great partner for us, and I look forward to working with him."
Asked about Mexico's reputation worldwide as a country that investigates few crimes and prosecutes even fewer criminals -- and whether that blame should be placed with the attorney general -- O'Rourke said it was time to move on.
"There's not much I can do about that, I just have to look forward and not back," he said. "In his current role, we have a potential partner and ally in strengthening the institutions on the border and helping communities like the one I represent."
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