Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon didn't waste any time after taking the stage March 22 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for the last installment of the 2017 Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series.
There was no joke to break the ice before jumping into a discussion of Mexican-American relations.
"This is an important issue that needs to be addressed," Calderon said. "People on both sides of the border need each other. I believe that we can be more prosperous together."
Although U.S. President Trump has criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement, Calderon offered a counter perspective on trade between Mexico and the U.S.
While declining to explicitly comment on the president's policies, Calderon noted the impact Mexican consumers have on the American economy. Mexico, he said, is the second largest buyer of American goods. Twenty-five percent of tourists visiting the U.S. is Mexican, and those tourists to the United States spend $4 million more in the U.S. than American tourists spend in Mexico.
The math, Calderon said, is simple.
"The point is that Mexico is the best ally for the American economy to make the American economy productive," he said. "Both counties win in this equation."
He describe the benefits of cooperation not only in terms of trade. Calderon described instances where joint communication between the U.S. and Mexico led to the apprehension of suspected terrorists.
"I believe that the key to this strategy is cooperation, not confrontation," Calderon said.
Regarding Mexican immigration to the U.S., Calderon said net immigration — the difference between immigrants coming to the U.S. and those leaving the U.S. to return to Mexico — has been declining since 2010, citing a Pew Research Center study.
Mexico, Calderon said, is not an enemy. "Who is the enemy?" he asked.
Calderon didn't verbalize his answer, only clicking to the next slide in his presentation, which featured a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The audience applauded.
"We cannot be so naive anymore to think he (Putin) is not a threat," Calderon said.
He also cautioned RCLA patrons to be aware of the growing influence of the Chinese economy.
"China is trying to be the most influential country in the world," he said, "exactly the position America is in today."
Calderon said a strong Mexican-American relationship is an indispensable asset to the U.S.
"Mexico is a great partner. I consider it one of the best partners you can have," he told the audience. "Don't lose this partner. Don't lose this ally. Don't lose this friend."