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BOOK REVIEW 7: “The role of Consular Diplomacy in a transborder context: The case of CaliBaja” (Chp 13) in La Diplomacia Consular Mexicana en Tiempos de Trump.
In this post, I will review the last chapter of the book "The role of Consular Diplomacy in a transborder context: The case of CaliBaja", written by Ambassador Marcela Celorio.
Note: I will use the term CaliBaja as presented in this chapter, e.g. CaliBaja rather than Cali Baja or Calibaja.
I am skipping a few chapters because I believe the CaliBaja example is the other side of the coin of the TRICAMEX mechanism that I reviewed in this post.
In this chapter, Celorio puts forward a very different experience from the other corner of the Mexico – U.S. Border: CaliBaja, a bi-national mega-region, which stands for California-Baja California. The Ambassador also discussed an example of what she defines as Transborder Consular Diplomacy.
The CaliBaja initiative started in 2006-2007 and was officially launched in 2011. It comprises local and county authorities along the border between the two states but is mainly focused on the Tijuana-San Diego axis.
There is even a website about the mega-region calibaja.net. It is the most-advance bilateral collaboration scheme along the nearly 2,000 miles of the shared border.
As seen in the previous review, TRICAMEX comprises four consulates, focusing on immigration issues. At the same time, CaliBaja is a business-lead scheme that concentrates on trade and economic development.
Ambassador Celorio divided the chapter into three:
In the introduction, the Ambassador states that the borderland is a strategic area. The challenges and opportunities faced by the Mexican Consular Diplomacy are different from those in other regions such as the U.S. East Coast or the Midwest.[i]
Some of the challenges and opportunities at the border include:
Celorio explains that to administer and develop the border, authorities at the federal, state, county, and local levels on both sides have undertaken numerous activities, some unilateral and others bilateral. Some have been institutionalized like the NADBank, and some did not last very long. These actions' success or failure depends on their capacity to respond to the border communities' needs.[iii]
She explains that in the case of the San Diego- Tijuana border communities, their collaboration has expanded thru the years and now includes all municipalities of Baja California, along with California's border counties, including many cities.[iv] As a result, the private sector has visualized this cooperation as a mega-region and created the term CaliBaja.[v]
Ambassador Celorio explains that even though "the international border divides the people living on both sides, there are all types of factors that unite them and make them interdependent."[vi]
Among different elements that unite border communities, she highlights the following three:
i) a binational community that crosses international boundaries daily,
ii) the need to mutually solve transborder problems, and
iii) a strong economic and labor interdependence that is the basis of the region's entire population's well-being.[vii]
Celorio recognizes that CaliBaja's success "…relies on the vision of its inhabitants, business persons and authorities, who have accepted the identity of a mega-region…",[viii] that happens to be located in two different countries.
The Ambassador ascertains that being on the outskirts of power in both countries became a competitive advantage, establishing local communication channels that allow to self-define as a binational mega-region.[ix]
For example, she writes about the Cross Border Xpress's uniqueness, a pedestrian bridge that connects Tijuana's airport with San Diego, transforming it into a binational airport.
2. The consular function in a transborder context.
In this section, the Ambassador describes the particularities of a consular office located on the Mexico-U.S. border. She goes beyond the traditional definition of a consular district and explains how the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego is more than just a regular consular office. Celorio details the consulate's work with Mexican authorities and labels these activities as Transborder Consular Diplomacy.[x]
Celorio explains that "Mexican consular offices have transformed from a simple service agency to an effective diplomatic representation of Mexico in its consular district."[xi] And when the consulate is located at the border, such as the one in San Diego, the consular office transcends its legal definition, and it becomes some sort of a transborder consulate.[xii]
The Ambassador indicates that the Mexican Consulate in San Diego is a transborder consulate that performs double duties: Mexico's government spokesperson while being involved in local and CaliBaja issues abroad.[xiii] She presents three concrete examples of these transborder responsibilities: binational sewage administration, education collaboration, and crisis management.[xiv]
3. Consular Diplomacy efforts during Trump's Administration.
Ambassador Celorio explains that the role of the consulates of Mexico in the U.S. has expanded into new areas with the purpose of empowering the Mexican community so they can fully integrate into the host society.[xv] She refers to this "consular activity with a prominent focus on diplomatic and social issues" as Consular Diplomacy.[xvi]
A significant contribution of this chapter is the definition of Consular Diplomacy, which refers "to the handling of international relations via peripheric organizations (consulates) -in their consular districts-, with local authorities, the host society, and its migrant community to protect their rights and improve their well-being."[xvii]
In Trump's era, the Ambassador indicates that Mexico has recognized Consular Diplomacy as one of its foreign policy main advantages to protect its national interests and the ones of its community living abroad.[xviii]
In the case of CaliBaja, the Transborder Consular Diplomacy is executed in the context of a highly intimate cooperation between authorities on both sides of the border. And these authorities and society have responded to Washington's policies by putting first the regional and border community interests.[xix]
As an example of the Transborder Consular Diplomacy, Celorio describes the participation of the San Diego consulate in the binational border security meetings, Custom and Border Protection's (CBP) leadership training, and the consular office inside CBPs facility at the San Ysidro Point of Entry.[xx]
For me, the participation of border consulates in the binational border security meetings is a perfect example of Consular Diplomacy as defined by Maaike Okano-Heijmans in "Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy,"
Consular officers participate in local meetings that deal with federal and diplomatic issues and negotiate with U.S. federal authorities in their areas of responsibility. The head offices at the capitals do not intervene or participate directly. Still, the meetings nourish the bilateral dialogue at the federal level not only between the Embassy and the Ministry with DHS but with other national stakeholders. Something similar happens with the collaboration on labor issues, particularly the Semana de Derechos Laborales (SDL) or Labor Rights Week.
Ambassador Celerio closes her chapter, stating that no country can overcome alone the social and economic challenges of the 21st century. In some parts of the world, society and the government have decided to enhance efforts and create regions to meet the current reality competitively. The success of the bilateral relationship in the CaliBaja mega-region exemplifies how the Mexico-U.S. border is a source of prosperity and opportunity for both countries.[xxi]
Why read this chapter?
In this paper, Ambassador Celorio identifies the benefits of Consular Diplomacy regarding local issues that impact the overall bilateral relationship. CaliBaja is a significant development as they define themselves as binational and include trade to exchanges and crisis management.
Besides, she states that the Transborder Consular Diplomacy helps create a prosperous, secure, and competitive region. "It is a diplomacy that adds not lessens, that helps to tear down walls and build more bridges and that recognizes that Mexico and the U.S. are more interdependent and are more integrated every day, particularly in the CaliBaja mega-region.[xxii]
I believe that the CaliBaja initiative has many layers that have not yet been studied. For example, one is the issue of Place Branding of a binational mega-region and its impact on the overall Nation Brand. Another one is how a mega-region like CaliBaja can support the exercise of Soft Power in a localized way. Can the region's Soft Power overcome the two countries' unflattering characteristics?
Ambassador Celorio introduces an innovative definition of Consular Diplomacy that goes beyond local issues and transcends borders, which helps develop the concept as practiced by Mexico's consular offices across the United. States.
[i] Celorio, Marcela, “El papel de la diplomacia consular en el contexto transfronterizo: el caso de la CaliBaja" in La Diplomacia Consular Mexicana en los tiempos de Trump, 2018, p. 271.
[ii] Ibid. p. 271-272.
[iii] Ibid. p. 272.
[iv] The CaliBaja mega-region has a population of 6.5 million people and a GDP of 250 billion dollars. Ibid. p 274.
[v] Ibid. p. 273.
[vi] Ibid. p. 273.
[vii] Ibid. p. 274.
[viii] Ibid. p. 275.
[ix] Ibid. p. 275.
[x] Ibid. p. 277.
[xi] Ibid. p. 276.
[xii] Ibid. p. 277.
[xiii] Ibid. p. 277.
[xiv] Ibid. p. 278.
[xv] Ibid. p. 279.
[xvi] Ibid. p. 279.
[xvii] Ibid. p. 280.
[xviii] Ibid. p. 280.
[xix] Ibid. p. 281.
[xx] Ibid. p. 281.
[xxi] Ibid. p. 283.
[xxii] Ibid. p. 284-284.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer, or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.