The plane has lifted off from Puebla International Airport. It’s January 16, and Director of Alumni Relations Amy Reyes and I just completed an extraordinary weekend attending the sixth and final State of the State Address of Lycoming graduate and Governor of the State of Puebla Rafael Moreno Valle ’91. We had accepted an invitation to be a special guest of the governor and undertook this trip to honor one of our most distinguished alumni.
Moreno Valle, who was born and raised in Mexico, attended Lycoming College from 1987-1991 and graduated magna cum laude with majors in political science and economics. He delivered the 2016 Commencement address and received an honorary degree from the college.
Moreno Valle spent his early years after graduation in private finance and then entered public service and served in both the State House and the Senate of the Republic of Mexico. In 2010, an historic election victory brought him to the Governorship of Puebla — he was the first opposition party candidate elected to the post in 78 years. The event that we attended marked the conclusion of his six-year term as governor (Governors in Mexico and the President of the Republic are limited by the constitution to a single six-year term). Moreno Valle is now a strong candidate for the Presidency of Mexico and also used his address as an opportunity to articulate his vision for Mexico.
We arrived in Puebla on Friday evening after a full day of travel and went directly to the hotel. Saturday was spent taking a guided tour of Puebla. Populated by 2.5 million people, Puebla is a city of rich contrasts. The historic downtown dates to 1531 when the Spanish colonized the region. In the morning, we visited tunnels under the city that were an integral part of the defense system in earlier centuries, the oldest library in the Americas, the tallest cathedral in all of Mexico, and a chapel that includes statues and other iconography that are wonderful examples of Mexican baroque art.
After a sumptuous lunch, we headed to contemporary Puebla and a visit to the International Baroque Museum that has been open for less than one year. This world class facility is a project that was championed by Governor Moreno Valle and offers a comprehensive overview of the history of the Baroque artistic movement from sixteenth century Europe through its spread to Mexico and other places in Latin American. The museum is situated in a very modern part of Puebla that also includes several universities, a recently completed overhead walkway/bike path, and a renovated performance hall. Several brand new hotels, including a Hilton product, can also be found in this section of the town. Parks and green space are also prominent.
While we were visiting the Baroque Museum, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting the Governor’s parents. They told me that Rafael owes much of his success to the education that he received at Lycoming College. They recounted a wonderful story about campus during Rafael’s first year and a meeting with Dr. John Piper, who was Rafael’s advisor. They also assured me several times that it meant a lot to Rafael to have the president of his college in attendance. They clearly have great affection for Lycoming.
Saturday concluded with viewing an aquatic light show that occurred on a man-made lake in the area near the forts where the Battle of Cinco de Mayo unfolded. Although Cinco de Mayo has become a day for reverie in many parts of the world, the 1862 battle is an important one in the history of Mexico. Its outcome preserved the nascent Mexican republic that had been established by the Revolution of 1812. Although this show concluded our day of tourism, there is much more to see in Puebla. It is easy to see why more than 12 million tourists have visited the State of Puebla during the past six years.
The Address on Sunday was an extraordinary experience. The event took place at the site of a new Audi plant, which also includes a recently opened technological university. Amy and I were honored guests and seated in the second row of a 1500 seat auditorium. The front row was occupied by the governors from 21 of Mexico’s 32 states - many of whom helicoptered in to show their respect for Governor Moreno Valle — an indication of the strength of his candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic.
The theme of the Governor’s speech was “El Cambio es Posible” (Change is Possible). He recounted a remarkable six-year record of transformational actions and concluded by saying, “if we can do it in Puebla, we can do it for all of Mexico.” The following is a sampling of the accomplishments that were cited. Gains were made in health care as 50 hospitals were constructed or improved and 544 centers for health were rehabilitated, constructed or renovated. The infant mortality rate declined by 36%. Investments made in education reduced illiteracy by 33 percent and increased the number of higher education degrees by 41 percent. Improvements in culture, recreations and tourism included the construction or renovation of 21 museums and a new stadium for baseball and soccer.
Perhaps the signature achievement of Moreno Valle’s term, however, is the Audi plant that has been constructed in San José Chiapa, Puebla. The plant has an annual production capacity of approximately 150,000 premium SUV’s and by the end of 2017, a total of 4,200 jobs will be created locally at Audi México. In addition, Volkswagen invested millions of dollars in new production facilities that fabricate the Tiguan and Golf 7 models. These two investments have made Puebla the leading producer of automobiles in Mexico and generated thousands of jobs. An entire new model city is being constructed around the Audi plant and the area is filled with technological marvels.
While I was in Puebla, I received an email from Dean Andrew Kilpatrick telling me that he was sitting with Andre, our first exchange student from an agreement that we struck on an earlier visit to Puebla with the Universidad UPAEP. Andre may be the first Poblano to study at Lycoming since the Governor. I hope his presence is the beginning of deepening ties between the people of Puebla and Lycoming College. Puebla would be a great place to study for students majoring in Spanish, archaeology, business, history or Latin American studies. Archaeology students could gain exposure to a number of important excavation sites such as Cholula and Cantona — perhaps through a May term travel course. I expect to see Lycoming students take advantage of the exchange agreement with UPAEP. I can envision the Tour Choir going to Puebla for their next international trip.
I personally will impatiently await my next visit and hope that we can again lure Rafael (and maybe his parents) back to campus to deliver a lecture on a subject such as role of government in fostering entrepreneurship.