Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Andrew Selee's obituary for Sidney Weintraub in El Universal (Mexico City)

Sidney Weintraub
Andrew Selee, Executive Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center, has published an obituary of my father, Sidney Weintraub, in the Mexican newspaper El Universal.  You can read it here.

He also did an English-language translation of his piece and gave me permission to post it below.  (I would have liked to reproduce the Spanish-language original, too, but something about the newspaper's website seems to make doing that technically difficult.)

Selee's obituary in El Universal is titled "El abuelo"—i.e., "The Grandfather"—in recognition of my father's role as an intellectual progenitor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  As Selee puts it:
Después de que se negoció el tratado de libre comercio entre México, Canadá y EU, originalmente una iniciativa mexicana, muchos lo llamaron a Weintraub el "padre de TLCAN", aunque él siempre decía que más bien debía ser "el abuelo" por su edad.  [....]  Lo recordaremos como un gran ser humano y como el "abuelo" de la idea de ese experimento importante, incompleto y contradictorio, de la integración económica entre los tres países tan distintos pero hoy interconectados de América del Norte.
Or, in English translation:
After a free trade agreement was eventually negotiated between Mexico, Canada, and the US, something that was originally a Mexican initiative, many called Weintraub the "father of NAFTA," although he always joked that he should be called the "grandfather" instead because of his age.  [....]  We will remember him always as an outstanding human being and as the "grandfather" of this great, if incomplete and sometimes contradictory, experiment of integration between the three very distinct, yet today interconnected, countries of North America.
=> For some further discussion of my father's role as an early, persistent, and influential advocate of North American economic integration (a role that has made him "revered" in some circles, as someone once said to a friend of mine, and rather less revered in others), see:

Raymond Robertson's review of Sidney Weintraub's Unequal Partners: The United States and Mexico.

=> Two previous obituaries, posted by institutions where my father worked after leaving the Foreign Service in 1976, can be found elsewhere on this memorial website:

Sidney Weintraub, Retired LBJ School Faculty Member, Dies at 91

CSIS mourns the loss of our colleague Sidney Weintraub

=> Again, the obituary published in El Universal is here; and Andrew Selee's English-language translation of his piece, posted with his permission, is below.

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  At the risk of seeming excessively fussy, I do feel moved to head off one possible misunderstanding.  Unlike Gabriel García Márquez, my father did not live primarily in Mexico during his final years.  His main residence was still the apartment in Washington DC that he shared with his wife Elizabeth Midgley.  But they also had a house in Cuernavaca where they stayed for extended periods several times a year.  It was during one of those visits that he developed his terminal illness.
    Still, that's a minor caveat.  Everything that Selee says about my father's affection, admiration, and concern for Mexico and its people is entirely correct.  He definitely felt at home in Mexico.

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El Universal (Mexico City)
April 30, 2014
The Grandfather
By Andrew Selee
Andrew Selee is Executive Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center
During the last few weeks the world has paid homage to a great author of universal themes who made Mexico his home during several decades. Gabriel García Márquez was, without doubt, a writer who succeeded in addressing in his novels the great issues of humanity, of love, of politics, and of social inequality, with a prose so rich and yet accessible that he become an inspiration around the world.

Now it is time to say goodbye to another author, less known perhaps but also of immense impact, who also made Mexico his home during his final years. Sidney Weintraub, an American economist, diplomat, and scholar, was, during the 1970s and 80s, the intellectual author of greater integration between Mexico and the United States, whose books posited the idea of a free trade agreement between them almost two decades before that became a reality. He passed away a few weeks ago in Cuernavaca, Morelos at the age of 91.

After a career in the U.S. foreign service and as a public official in the economic arena, he was named a distinguished professor at the University of Texas, where he began to write about global economics. He had been deeply affected by three years spent in Mexico during the 1950s with his family, and he began to suggest in he books that America's economic future was rooted not in Europe or Asia, where everyone else was looking, but in relations with its neighbors, Mexico and Canada, a radical idea at the time. In particular, his 1984 book Free Trade between Mexico and the United States? was the first systematic treatment of of the idea of free trade between the two countries.

After a free trade agreement was eventually negotiated between Mexico, Canada, and the US, something that was originally a Mexican initiative, many called Weintraub the "father of NAFTA," although he always joked that he should be called the "grandfather" instead because of his age. In Washington, as the holder of the Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he continued his studies on economic integration, and his critical instincts never failed. Although he was immensely pleased that the United States has finally understood the importance of placing greater attention on its neighbors, he knew that not all the results of greater integration were positive and that we lacked sensible policies in each country to take full advantage of free trade, including managing the greater movement of people across borders.

A few years ago, he wrote his last book, Unequal Partners, which explored the recent history of negotiations between Mexico and the United States, two countries which had integrated their economies very quickly despite great asymmetries in size, levels of development, and global influence.  [JW: Review & discussion here.]  In the book, he examines six specific negotiations between the two governments, and he concludes that the asymmetries have changed over time. Though it is true that this continues to be an unequal relationship, the fact that the United States now depends economically on Mexico and Canada to a degree inconceivable twenty years ago means that it has to pay much more sustained attention to its neighbors than ever before. And although the United States remains the economic heavyweight among the three, there are more than a few cases in which the Mexican government has been able to move its agenda forward with its neighboring country, not because of its economic size but because of its ability to position issues well within bilateral or trilateral discussions.

Weintraub returned to live in Mexico with his wife Elizabeth Midgley, fulfilling a dream to spend part of his final years in a country that he had always loved an admired. We will remember him always as an outstanding human being and as the "grandfather" of this great, if incomplete and sometimes contradictory, experiment of integration between the three very distinct, yet today interconnected, countries of North America.

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