Latino Voices

Greg Abbott's 'Third World' Comparison Stirs Controversy In Texas

Offering unflattering comparisons of the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley to the “third world” may not be the best way to cultivate Texas’ Latino vote.

The Republican candidate for Texas governor ruffled feathers across the state last week when he said that instances of law enforcement corruption in the Valley resembled “third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities” -- a comment that drew immediate criticism from Democrats and Latino groups, who viewed the remark as based on an ethnic stereotype. A majority of the Rio Grande Valley’s residents are Mexican-American.

The controversy continued to simmer over the weekend. The Monitor, a newspaper in the border town of McAllen, published an editorial on Friday saying Abbott should apologize for his comments. The editors wrote that the paper was tired of seeing Hispanics portrayed “as the bogeymen of Texas.” They went on to issue a challenge:

[W]e view this incident as a potential defining moment in this year’s election. We call on all campaigns for statewide elective office -- especially Abbott’s probable rival in November, Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis -- to denounce these words or embrace them. Our numbers in the Valley dictate that we have a seat at the table in which public policy is fashioned. We demand to know the attitude of those with whom we are seated.

Davis answered the call in an editorial published Sunday by the Monitor, in which she said she “wholeheartedly” agreed with the paper’s stance.

“Abbott’s comparison of activities in South Texas to those of a “third-world” country is untrue, hurts our state, harms economic development in our border communities and won’t help the hardworking Texas families who live there,” Davis wrote.

For his part, Abbott is sticking by his comment. In response to a tweet from a reporter at the Texas Tribune, Abbott said he’d respond in the Monitor to Davis’ piece. “It will show how clueless she is about the RGV,” Abbott tweeted, referring to the Rio Grande Valley.

Abbott’s “third world” remark came as he announced a border security plan during a campaign stop in Dallas that calls for spending $300 million over two years to increase border security.

The Associated Press notes that crime has actually decreased along the border in recent years. The border city of El Paso, Texas, has been ranked the safest major city in the country for three years in a row, according to the Congressional Quarterly’s annual release of crime rate statistics.

Three Democratic Congress members who represent border districts criticized Abbott’s plan, saying they played up unfounded fears.

“The policies were crafted and sold very far away from the border,” U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) of El Paso said, according to the El Paso Times.

Congress members along the Texas-Mexico border have long called for policymakers to shift the focus from border security toward decreasing wait times at legal ports of entry to facilitate international trade with Mexico, the United States’ third-largest trading partner.

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