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Wooed by Mexico

Author: Shannon K. O'Neil, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program
April 19, 2013
Zocalo Public Square


As my plane touched down at Benito Juárez airport in early 1994, I didn't know that it was the start of a 20-year relationship with Mexico.

I was coming to work at a boutique investment bank, the first paying job I was offered that would allow me to live in Latin America. I wasn't an obvious choice for the city or for the profession—a liberal arts degree holder who grew up in the rural Midwest. Still, there I was, playing international banker in this teeming city of 20 million. I dove into the hubris of it all, poring over balance sheets and building financial models to pass judgment on Mexico's publicly traded companies. I followed global financial markets, trying to match our traders' exuberance as they lobbed Cetes and Tesobonos, Mexico's peso- and dollar-denominated bonds, back and forth.

Being a foreigner in Mexico in the 1990s had its advantages. My status as a novelty—both a professional woman and a foreigner—opened doors that would have remained shut for most 22-year-olds elsewhere. I was able to meet the CFOs and CEOs of the companies I was covering and to attend high-powered meetings and meals. And I could pretend not to speak Spanish when pulled over for a bribe.

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