Russia’s invasion of Ukraine figured prominently in discussions at the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit in Downtown El Paso Thursday, which included appearances by former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“I’m terribly sad about this, but let’s hope we wake up and take a stand and tell this extremely dangerous tyrant that the world is not going to tolerate this anymore,” said Harper, who commented that he had had a “legendarily bad relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his time in office. Harper was prime minister from 2006 to 2015. 

Fox echoed concerns about the situation, but was more nuanced in his assessment, saying that it was “very difficult to judge from the outside.” Fox was president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006.

He compared current events in Ukraine to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, advocating for a multilateral response among nations.

Of the Russia/Ukraine conflict, he said “there’s many interests involved, there’s many characters and personalities. We need to become again a multilateral sovereign system for tackling differences among nations.”

Hosted by The Borderplex Alliance, the summit’s website described the event as bringing together “the sharpest minds in business, public policy, diplomacy, and the arts from both sides of the border.” All but two of the summit’s speakers were men. 

Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represented Texas’ 23rd Congressional District from 2015 to 2021, also discussed Ukraine during the event’s opening speech. 

“Are we ready to defend Poland? Are we ready to defend the Baltic States? Are we ready to stand up and say we will honor our commitment to (NATO allies)?” he asked.

A former agent in the Central Intelligence Agency, Hurd has spent time in Ukraine and recently posted a video to social media explaining the conflict. 

Hurd said the trilateral relationship in North America is the example that leaders can use for explaining why multi-state alliances like NATO are important for resolving problems among nations. 

The event was staged at the Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park and Hotel Paso del Norte in Downtown El Paso. Approximately 540 people were in attendance, according to Jon Barela, CEO of Borderplex Alliance. 

Both former heads of state commented on the large indoor gathering within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m delighted that I’m in front of such a large crowd,” Harper said, explaining that he has done few events since the pandemic and the summit was by far the largest. “I’m glad you’ve declared COVID over,” he said, met with applause by the mostly maskless audience. 

Fox said it was “refreshing” to be able to sit together. Fox and his wife were both hospitalized with COVID-19 in August 2021. He said that he was still recovering from the “terrible, terrible disease.” 

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox advocated for “economic democracy,” criticizing the levels of income inequality in North America during his visit to El Paso. (René Kladzyk/El Paso Matters)

Fox and Harper also discussed challenges and opportunities for North America in relations with China, misconceptions that U.S. residents have about Canada and China, and the significance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (and the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement that replaced it) for the three nations. 

“To make NAFTA a reality that ends up benefiting people … it’s critical that groups like you continue to do what you do,” Harper said to the Borderplex Alliance audience. 

Fox highlighted income inequality as a key problem for the government and private sector to address.

“In our nations there is no economic democracy,” he said. “The economy is … controlled by a few large (actors). They don’t compete with themselves, they don’t compete with governments, they just make money.”

Feature photo: Former Mexican President Vicente Fox (far left), Borderplex Alliance CEO Jon Barela (center) and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed Ukraine at the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit in Downtown El Paso. (René Kladzyk/ El Paso Matters)

René Kladzyk reports on wide-ranging issues impacting the lives of El Pasoans. She also performs music as Ziemba. René can be reached at rkladzyk@elpasomatters.org. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.