Becoming Consul of Mexico in McAllen came as an offer by President Enrique Peña Nieto, “You cannot say no to the president.”
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition September 2018
Last year, on November 14, 2017, McAllen welcomed a new Consul of Mexico to the city. He looked at things differently if compared to past consular representatives for this region. He even spoke differently, none the less in a unique and yet as courteous a manner as prior Consuls, but in a distinguished way that attracted attention.
Consul Eduardo Bernal Martinez is an Attorney at Law who obtained his degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He was designated Consul of Mexico in McAllen, Texas on August 31, 2017, taking office on November 14 of the same year.
Before becoming Consul, he served his country in different capacities, most of them, among the highest positions in the hierarchy in the Republic of Mexico. As people of the Rio Grande Valley began to know more about him, they realized that he meant business.
The office of the Consulate in McAllen, aside from providing services to the Mexican community abroad, also interfaces with multiple entities such as the municipalities, and the state and federal governments. So, the activities of Consul Bernal have been numerous, and in a very short period of time, he has accomplished more than anyone else holding this position in the past. For him, there hasn’t been a dull moment.
The question is, who is Consul Eduardo Bernal Martinez? In Mexico, his commitment to public service lead him to seek popular elected positions. In 1990, he sought and was elected the state of Mexico’s House Representative. From 1994 to 1996, he was elected and served as mayor of the municipality of Tecámac in the state of Mexico; it had a population of 364,579 according to the last census. In 1997 he became Congressman of the state of Mexico. He was also President of the Federal Congress in October of 1997.
Consul Bernal had a distinguished tenure as Undersecretary of the Secretary of State of Mexico in 2000, and for the Attorney General Justice Office of the State of Mexico in 2001, and was a coordinator for Justice System of Tijuana, Baja California. From 2009 to 2011, he served as Coordinator of Cabinet Affairs in the LXI legislative term of the House of Representatives.
Consul Bernal also was sub-secretary of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This position allowed him to travel across the country of Mexico to share and be in contact with the people in a more direct way. “When I was asked to come to McAllen and take over the Consular office, I saw it as a new experience for me,” he said.
He’s been always curious about diplomacy, as a matter of fact, in 2012, he was offered by Sergio M. Alcocer, the sub-secretary of Foreign Affairs (SRE), to be vice-consul in Chicago. At the time, he declined due to family and political priorities.
Last year, when the current President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, offered the position, he accepted. “You cannot say no to the president,” he told Texas Border Business. He added that he saw it as “a beautiful experience and an opportunity to simply change the meaning of diplomacy.”
Consul Bernal claimed that the consular office must be more than an office that issues passports or birth certificates. “It should be more than just bureaucracy,” he asserted.
One of the first things he noted upon arriving at the consular office was that the people were not being treated properly. For that matter, he implemented a simple principle, “everyone should be treated right.” The implementation of this simple policy started with the security officers at the entrance of the consular office, immediately after instructing the staff to render services properly. To him, even the smallest detail counts, and the good treatment of people makes his day complete.
It didn’t stop there, he said, “During the winter, I instructed them to have a coffee available to anyone waiting outside. During the summer, I allowed people to have access to the upper level of the building, so they did not have to wait outside in the heat.” If you have visited South Texas during the summer, then you know that often times temperatures surpass one hundred degrees. He gave the people the option to come in out of the sun and the scorching heat because he cares about them and their wellbeing.
He enjoys counseling people about their rights, especially about the established procedures of the ‘Notificación Consular’ or ‘Consular Notification’. According to the Consul, when people face trouble with federal, state and local law enforcement, they can request notification of their consular office, and they don’t have to explain their migratory status.
Consul Bernal has participated in every aspect of the consular office services, from improving the social aspect, the medical services, and to the domestic violence awareness campaigns, which according to Consul Bernal, is unfortunately common in the area.
For this reason, during his current tenure, he increased the number of social and educational policies of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad. “Now we go to the communities instead of waiting for the communities to come to us”. In addition, he said, “The majority, of the people in need of our services, do not live close by the consular office. Mostly, he said, they live in rural areas or the cities adjacent.”
For example, he said, a few weeks ago there was a flood; he and his team visited several shelters to check if they needed anything. Consul Bernal said many people had gotten their documents wet. “We also found a case of a disabled child, and the Consulate has a resource designed to help people in need, and this support should be delivered. If you are waiting for them to come and ask for a resource and they do not even know it exists, it will not happen.”
The consular office is a busy place, if they wanted to operate twenty-four hours a day, this could be done easily because their services are needed all the time.
Consul Bernal is known first, for his service to others. He admits that he is a politician, because in essence that gives him the opportunity to be closer to the people.
He is also known for his big heart. You can see it and even feel it when you hear him talk about the DACA population, and with people that have been detained for one reason or another. He is always there to listen to their stories and to help.
Another of his signature activities is the cultural events; he says culture should not be forgotten just because of being abroad.
Under his tenure, the Mexican Cultural Center was created. He said, “It was difficult to pull it off, but we did it, and it is now open and full of resources that are useful to our people.”
If that wasn’t enough, he made it possible for the Amalia Hernandez Ballet Folklórico to perform at the McAllen Performing Arts Center. This group has traveled all over the world performing the traditional dances that showcase the culture and great history of Mexico.
How did Consul Bernal do it? Who knows, what is important here, is people will be able to see a three-hour show for twenty dollars. And for all the families that are on a low-income budget, admission is free at the McAllen Convention Center. The free event is on Saturday, September 22. All I can tell you is, this is huge!
In addition, he said, “Los Cadetes de Linares, Ramon Ayala, and a lot of school Mariachi groups, and many more will take part in the celebration of Las Fiestas Patrias and participate in the free event program.”
As I said, Consul Bernal has only been here nine months and yet has managed to make friends with people like ‘Maestro’ Rocafuerte, a piano player to whom he has expressed his gratitude. At the time of this interview, Maestro Rocafuerte had just performed at the Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He also enjoys friendships with Gloria Trevi, a Mexican pop-singer; the great philanthropist, Alberto Kreimerman from Hermes Music; Martin Anzaldua; Pancho Ochoa Jr.; Joaquin Spamer and more.
In another area of diplomacy and politics, just recently, he saw the need for bilateral meetings to discuss border bridges and crossing points between the U.S. and Mexico.
Consul Bernal also participated in learning what is missing in the infrastructure to start using the Anzalduas bridge, to make it profitable, to increase the volume of trailers that cross in Pharr from 2500 to 5000, and also to start using the Rio Bravo and Miguel Alemán International Bridges.
According to Consul Bernal, this type of action needs to be done to benefit their people. “In the end”, he said, “This border is used by thousands of them, maybe hundreds of thousands of our people, where some of them may work in Reynosa and live in McAllen and others may work in McAllen and live in Reynosa.”
He believes that if you “combine diplomacy with politics, it could generate extraordinary results.” His connection with all chambers of commerce, as well as with the National Council of Maquiladoras and Export Manufacturing Industry (INDEX) has been an extraordinary activity that keeps Mexico at a high level of friendship with the United States.
In a conversation, this reporter asked the Consul before the presidential election, “What would happen if Andrés ManuelLópez Obrador wins the election?“The answer is nothing,” he said, “because Mexico is a country with strong institutions. There is socioeconomic and political stability in the country.”
“Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the Border Patrol and it cannot be left unsaid with U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP).” He said, “We have pioneered a pilot project in this area called the Missing Migrant Program.”
The Consul’s involvement in this project is through a third-party organization called TRICAMEX, a consular coordination group that promotes communication, exchanges of experiences, and lessons learned in the field of protection and consular services. They are comprised of the consular offices from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico.
“As part of the efforts to save lives, with TRICAMEX,” he said, “we got into an 18-wheeler trailer, similar to one of those 18-wheeler trailers with a hole underneath them, which is a method used by smugglers.” He continued, “There were 40 of us inside and in less than an hour, we all felt as if we were being asphyxiated. It was just like the people trying to come across; that is what they endure.”
They did the same thing inside a refrigerated trailer because it is also used as a method to smuggle humans. “We needed to feel and live what illegal-immigrants experience in order to come here in search of a better life. But, that experience also makes you want to stop them from doing so.”
What they learned is to encourage people to follow due process. With the effort of saving lives, TRICAMEX members were led to a walking tour through the dense brush, giving attendees an idea of the dangers that migrants face such as heat-related injuries or simply becoming lost. During the walk, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) demonstrated how they use their abilities to treat subjects who may succumb to heat and dehydration.
Now, that Consul Eduardo Bernal Martinez leaves in November 2018, he takes with him all these experiences. Whoever has met him, knows that he is a man of action. He loves the freedom to help others by doing things his way. He has been a politician, is now a diplomat, but above all else, he is a human being with a heart in the right place for helping people.
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner and a Paul Harris Fellow award recipient.