Mexico's top official for science and technology says his nation's worst problem is poverty and that the business, governmental and educational sectors of the United States need to step up to full partnership with Mexico to create a more stable and prosperous region.
Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, a graduate of Southern Oregon University, told an SOU audience Thursday that 40 million of Mexico's 105 million people don't have basic needs such as education, health care, clean water and employment, and that much of the solution lies in the areas of shared technology.
Romero Hicks, whose mother and wife immigrated to Mexico from the U.S., earned two degrees from SOU and became the governor of the state of Guanajuato. He is general director of the National Council for Science and Technology. Some of his 10 children attend school in Ashland.
Romero Hicks lauded SOU as a model of a university that works with Mexico and for decades has facilitated a strong flow of ideas, programs and people back and forth. Some 35 people traveled here this week from Guanajuato, Ashland's sister city in Mexico, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ties between the two cities and between SOU and the University of Guanajuato.
However, Romero Hicks decried the persisting negative stereotypes of Mexicans in this country, and vice-versa, noting, "how little we know about each other."
North America should be a partnership of equals like the European Union, he said, adding that the NAFTA trade agreement of the 1990s "is a contradiction because it opened a free flow of merchandise but not of people "¦ in a free, orderly and safe migration."
Romero Hicks said Mexico and the U.S. have many links in history, culture and trade, and "you need a strong Mexico. We need to listen to each other."
Pointing to problems in trade, migration, drug trafficking, public safety and the rule of law, Romero Hicks said all need a vision grounded in new technology, with university researchers able to get their advances readily commercialized.
"It's a huge contradiction. We've never known so much yet never had so many people in poverty," said Romero Hicks, noting that Mexico devotes .05 percent of its gross domestic product to science and technology, compared to 2.6 percent in the U.S. In addition, Mexico graduates 2,500 doctorate students a year compared to 50,000 in the U.S., he said.
Romero Hicks' candid assessment of Mexico drew support and suggestions from the audience, which included four past and present SOU presidents.
Stephen Reno, now chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, lauded growing regional partnerships between businesses, governments and universities and pointed to a new $235 million system piping methane from a landfill 13 miles to the University of New Hampshire, supplying 90 percent of its energy.
"It took seven years to do it — the first four years convincing people it was worth exploring," said Reno.
Romero Hicks responded with tales of his own — families responding "like it was a funeral" when a child planned to go into science, and professors who said that channeling their research to commercial applications would be "like prostitution."
To much laughter, he responded, "Well, you need more prostitutes."
As part of the shared vision sought by Mexico, Romero Hicks said his nation is seeking international partners and shared degree programs with universities.