Governor Ventura embarks on the first full day of his Mexican trade mission. His visit comes at a momentous time in the country's history. For the first time in 71 years, the dominant political party will hand over power to an opposition leader. Ventura will go to Mexico's presidential palace to meet the outgoing president, Ernesto Zedillo. Ventura says he sees parallels in Mexican politics with his own rise to power.
Gov. Ventura with United States Ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow.
See more images and stories on MPR's Jesse in Mexico section.
ZEDILLO IS NEARING the end of a six year-term that began with economic turmoil, but is ending with stability and economic growth. Now, he's preparing to peacefully hand the presidency over on December 1st to Vicente Fox, who was elected earlier this year. For Ventura, this transition echoes the events of 1998, when he shocked the state's political establishment by winning the gubernatorial election. Outgoing Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, like Zedillo, agreed to a smooth transition, rather than trying to complicate the transfer of power. Ventura says he admires Zedillo for that reason.
"He's done a very professional business-like job of making it as smooth as it can be done," said Ventura. "It's good for Mexico that that happened. Mexico is now becoming a very big world player."
The country's potential was apparent from the windows of Ventura's plane, as it came in for a landing Saturday night. Thick cloud cover gave way to reveal a dense and shimmering galaxy of lights, hinting at the presence of Mexico City's 22 million residents. For Gov. Ventura and the representatives of 70 Minnesota businesses along on the trade mission, this vast metropolis is the key to the country's burgeoning economy. Ventura says he hopes his meetings with political and business leaders will lead to expanded economic ties.
"We're hoping to develop a relationship because that's how trade happens down here," he said. "Hopefully we'll be successful, and Minnesota companies will prosper and Mexico will prosper and everyone will feel good about it."
Ventura and his staff will promote three key industries: information technology, agriculture and medical products. Some have questioned whether this trip is worth the estimated $80,000 that the administration is spending on it. But Trade and Economic Development Commissioner Jerry Carlson says it is. Carlson went to Japan with Ventura a year ago. He says that trip is yielding new and lucrative opportunities for Minnesota business, and he expects this one to do the same. Carlson says Ventura's qualities make him a rare and valuable advocate for the Minnesota economy.
"One of the other things that we don't ever want to underestimate is the ability of Jesse Ventura to attract attention to Minnesota. He's a very effective spokesperson for our state. He can relate to sophisticated business leaders and he relates to the children in the elementary schools that we visit," said Carlson.
Trade between the United States and Mexico has almost doubled since 1994, when both countries and Canada signed the North American Free Trade agreement, or NAFTA. Minnesota's Mexican trade has grown by 24 percent during the same period, to roughly $300 million last year. More recently, the U.S. has been pressing Mexico to more quickly open its fast- growing telecommunications market.
Ventura met with U.S. trade representative Charlene Barschefsky two weeks ago. She briefed him about Mexico, and tried, gently, to get Ventura to lend his support to Washington's trade policy. But Ventura says promoting the state's business is his first priority.
"I don't see myself really carrying the nation with me," he said. "I haven't been instructed to do so by any higher-ups. I'm here on behalf of the state of Minnesota, and will work for the state of Minnesota. Let the other 49 do their own work too."