Mexico: So Close and Yet So Far

-

Thumbnail image for 800px-Border_Mexico_USA.jpgOur “neighbor to the south” is finally receiving some long overdue attention, albeit for undesirable reasons. Mexico’s crisis is stealing headlines here in the U.S., a difficult task during an economic crisis. Without a moment to spare, the White House has announced that President Obama is planning a visit to Mexico. In fact, President Felipe Calderon can expect an impressive parade of guests over the next couple of weeks: “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Mexico next week, followed by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in early April, and President Obama shortly after that.”
The label “failed state” has repeatedly been applied to Mexico. Jorge Castaneda, former Mexican Foreign Minister and fellow at the New America Foundation, recently made the case against this erroneous label, “The government represents the nation abroad, exercises a quasi monopoly on the use of force within its borders, collects taxes and ensures the integrity of its citizens against perils from within and without. By these measures– indeed by any standard definition of a failed state–Mexico is clearly acquitted.” While Mexico’s current state may not warrant the exasperating label “failed” it surely deserves more attention and cooperation than the U.S. traditionally offers.
Forty percent of Mexico’s citizens survive on less than $2 per day; an unacceptable figure for a nation that shares a 2,000 mile border with the World’s richest (and arguably most generous) nation. Policy makers have simply overlooked Mexico time and again. Mexico has been just stable enough to ignore. The FY2009 budget allocates little more than $500million in foreign assistance to Mexico or one-third what we annually offer Egypt. Mexico is our next door neighbor; for the sake of regional stability and national security the United States must invest in Mexico and its leaders. While Mexico is not a failed state, it is facing a crisis the United States cannot afford to ignore. President Felipe Calderon does not lack the will to fight the drug lords and corruption, but the resources. The legitimate economy of Mexico is severely undermined by two shadow economies that are difficult to track and impossible to tax. The drug economy is estimated at $10billion to $50billion and revenue from remittances in 2008 was around $25billion.
In December 2008 the U.S. government committed $400 million to support the Mexican government in their battle with gangs and drug lords. While I appreciate the gesture as a show of support for Calderon, this amount is insufficient to address the crisis that Mexico is now facing. More than a neighborly handout, the U.S. government must shoulder some of the responsibility for stopping this crisis; U.S. consumption is the driving force of the Mexican drug economy. Here’s an idea… let’s divert the billions of dollars set aside to build the atrocious border fence to strengthening the Mexican government and civil society. An investment in stabilizing our neighbor will do more for regional security than a wall that would only cause greater disparity between the two nations. Mexico’s greatest need appears to be police training and better armament, but I would also suggest a substantial investment in civil society. Mexico must be equipped to fight the drug lords; but this is not merely a gunfight, this is political struggle. Mexico needs money for alternative livelihood training, education, strengthening the judicial system and civic engagement. Empowering people is the best way to fight corruption.
Mexico’s process of democratization has left a power void that the drug lords happily filled. I see two ways to reclaim power from the drug lords: the state can re-consolidate power into a strong, centralized state relying heavily on the army–which would be a reversal of their recent democratization– or they must push ahead with the democratization and decentralization process. Which means local governance, with an uncorrupted police force and judicial system supported by civic participation, will prevail. I believe the latter is necessary for Mexico to not only survive the drug war but to thrive as a prosperous, democratic nation.
Presidents Obama and Calderon have much to discuss in their upcoming meeting; my hope is that Obama makes a significant commitment to the people of Mexico. We support you, we respect you, and we want you to succeed.
— Faith Smith

Comments

25 comments on “Mexico: So Close and Yet So Far

  1. Daro says:

    That North/South divide photo isn’t so shocking. I saw similar one road divisions between broken down housing and 5 star ritzy hotels in L.A.

    Reply

  2. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Chris Brown, you’re detached from reality. The corruption in Mexico goes all the way to the top tiers of the government officials, and has completely saturated the local governments.
    Whats more, I have no idea what your motive is in advancing such a naive and unrealistic premise. You are either remarkably uninformed, or you have a stake in the tourist industry down there. I may be wrong, but I picture you as a white shoed retiree, baby blue pants, sipping marqueritas on your deck in Rosarita beach. Sorry if I’m wrong.
    And as someone who battled serious addictions in my youth and twenties, and has now worked with recovering addicts for over a quarter of a century, I can say without reservation that legalizing drugs would be a sociological disaster. There is virtually NO aspect of the social fabric that would not be adversely affected. Obviously, this fuckin’ scam known as “the war on drugs” isn’t working. But legalizing them is hardly the answer. The drugs aren’t the enemy, its WHAT THE DRUGS DO TO PEOPLE that is the problem. Legalizing them will not change that, will it?

    Reply

  3. Chris Brown says:

    ss,
    I certainly not denying that corruption exists amongst government officials. I believe, however, that the scope of corruption is generally overblown by we gringos.
    As for your comments relative to drugs, I can only say strive for the ideal, but deal with what’s real.

    Reply

  4. silver slipper says:

    Okay… so maybe the higher up government officials want to follow the rules, not be bribed. But what about the policemen and military – the ones who have to fight the drug dealers head on? Do you think they don’t want/accept bribes? I think they do. I also applied for visa to allow us to carry in our furniture and well, all we got was red tape. We sat in plastic chairs and used furniture that we made. We felt they would have responded to a bribe, but you’re right, the official never asked for one. I think I do remember signs saying bribes were not lawful, but I feel like those signs actually show what a problem bribes have been for the government.
    The point about the congressmen receiving perks to vote certain ways is valid. In fact, our corruption is probably opposite of Mexico’s. The individual cops/military personnel are more likely to receive bribes in Mexico, while as I said earlier, when we get stopped by a policeman here in the US, there’s really no way out. But our system of lobbying does allow easy bribing to take place with our highest government officials.
    I disagree that legalizing drugs will decrease this problem. Persons posting on other topics talk about the greed on Wall Street. I say, greed is everywhere. Drug lords are greedy. We have an increase drug use at least partially due to the drug dealers pushing drugs on our streets and to our kids. Has everyone heard of cheese heroin? See the story at http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/06/12/cheese.heroin/ . It only costs a child $2 to buy “a hit”, and this article doesn’t say so, but I understand that you get quickly addicted to this product. I sorry, but this is the drug dealer’s greed that causes our children to become addicted and die from these drugs. That greed will remain, even if drugs are made legal.

    Reply

  5. Chris Brown says:

    POA,
    “Are you denying the the government down there is corrupt from top to bottom?”
    Yes, I am denying such. I’ve resided in Mexico for three and a half years, applied for residency visas, applied for the visa necessary to move household items here, enrolled in the national health insurance program, and have had many other interactions with federal, state, and local Mexican authorities. Never has any official suggested to me that I could expedite anything with the payment of a personal fee.
    The government offices generally have prominent signs indicating that no one in the office is authorized to received payments and that if one has a complaint whom in the office to speak to.
    All governmental fees, for visas or for health insurance enrollment for instance, are paid at banks and one returns with the bank receipt as proof of payment.
    Consider the magnitude of corruption in the USA congress. How many hundreds of thousands has Dodd, Schumer, and other members of the Senate Banking Committee accepted from commercial and investment banking interests? Bribing members of congress is perfectly legal so long as the proper reports are filed with the FEC.

    Reply

  6. Chris Brown says:

    Or the USA could put the drug gangs out of business by legalizing the personal production and consumption of marijuana, which I understand provides 60% of the Mexican drug gangs’ revenue. And establish a program, perhaps modeled on the Swiss approach, for the distribution of heroin and cocaine at cost to users.
    If significant numbers of folks insist upon using heroin or cocaine, whether prohibited or not, (the Harrison Act of 1914 has had little effect upon the rate of heroin use) shouldn’t we see that they are provided in a manner that ensures the users’ safety, greatly reduces the need for users to steal to support their habits of an overpriced product, reduces disease transmission, and which doesn’t involve criminal gang distribution networks and the crime attendant thereto?
    Additionally, scrapping the “wet foot, dry foot” policy for accommodating Cuban immigrants (enjoyed by residents of no other country in the world) would put the Yucatan based Cuban mafia human traffickers out of business.
    Mexico is fighting a couple of USA wars.

    Reply

  7. Susan says:

    “and arguably most generous”
    Is this a joke? Our country lags far behind most other first world countries in % of GDP donated to charities in foreign countries. We are not even good at taking care of domestic charities.
    We are good at destroying things. And here we are – bogged down in Afghanistan, where the bombs we drop every year cost more than the GDP of that country. And while we may spend a lot on bombs, we spend vastly less on rebuilding what we have destroyed.

    Reply

  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Haven’t surfed in over thirty years, so I’m hardly a “surfer jerk”. But hey, if it pets your diddler to call me just a plain ‘ol jerk, have at it, ’cause I’m gonna make a point of calling you a jackass.
    I remember when pot was pretty scarce, ounces were ten bucks, and it was all mexican weed. Coke was REALLY scarce, heroin even more so.
    Now, you jackasses are quite fond of blaming “demand”, but uh, gee, who the fuck fed the craving when it wasn’t such a huge problem? Who created the market?
    You remind me of the scumball heroin dealer, who gets some kid hooked, the kid ODs, and the dealer says, “hey, its not my fault, its just supply and demand”.
    Are you denying the the government down there is corrupt from top to bottom? Are you denying that mexican gangs are a huge problem in ALL our urban centers now? In fact, just what the hell IS your point?
    By the way, you got a green card? If not, get the hell out of our country.

    Reply

  9. JG says:

    Wow… so some pissed off, selfish surfer goes to Baja and is now an expert on Mexico… amazing. I am from Mexico, we have our problems, many of which is the fact that you can never be a “normal” country when you are next to the riches society in history… I am glad the guy with anger management problems loves his country… its a great one. But to pretend it does not have a problem… the MINUTE US citizens stop doing drugs, or stop being hypocritical about them (yes, YOU surfer jerk) this problems stops. Stop kidding yourself.

    Reply

  10. silver slipper says:

    The basic problem Mexico has (as some have already stated) is the corruption. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Mexican Army or the local police who are put in charge of securing the country from drug lords ….. either will be open to taking payment from drug lords to look the other way. Unfortunately, many Mexican government official could be taken in by bribes also. I’ve traveled in Mexico, and taking a 6 hour trip required us to stop 3 times and be questioned and/or belongings searched. The first stop was with immigration, the second with police, and the third with the army. Being American, we always were questioned and many times we were asked to step out of our car for it to be searched. They were very keen to find an infraction but not so they would have the satisfaction of enforcing Mexican law, but so they could accuse us and then be pacified by us paying them (the individual officers) a fine. – So far, America is blessed to still be a country of laws, and for not having such an invasive level of corruption. I mean, when I get stopped by a police man here, there’s just no way out! I will get a speeding ticket no matter what I say! But a drug lord in Mexico (who has lots of money) will most often be able to buy his way out of prosecution.
    The US is Mexico’s welfare system. Illegal immigrants come, sign up for our food stamps etc…, work without paying taxes except for sales taxes, and then send large sums of money back home to their families (a very honorable use of their money by the way). I don’t know why that system alone has not improved the Mexican way of life. At http://mexicomonitor.blogspot.com/2008/10/mexicans-in-us-send-less-money-back.html , it’s stated that money sent back home in 2006 was the second highest source of Mexico’s income – second only to oil. It also comments on how the total sent home is decreasing though because of our failing economy.
    I don’t know the best way to deal with immigration or with helping Mexico in this crisis. As pointed out by some people in other conversations, many times the US does things it believes will have a positive effect, but in the end, it’s has a negative effect. We’re often wrong because we don’t really understand the other country’s culture.
    I believe any assistance we give to any country should be in actual items needed, not money. Money gets abused and misused and seldom goes to the people who need it.

    Reply

  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Of course its terrorism. And if any here disagree, I’ll tell them what street to walk down, in what city, at 1:00 in the morning, and if they survive it with wallet or health intact, I’ll concede its not terrorism.
    This whole thing with our wide open borders really lends the lie to this horseshit they feed us about “homeland security”. You can have no “homeland security” when you have border policies such as we do. And our non-existent ability to control, monitor, or catalog who is coming or going across the borders makes this whole charade of “making us safer” transparently ridiculous.
    But don’t worry, the Patriot Act, being spied on, rendition, torture, murdering Iraqis, subsidizing Israel, and standing in some fuckin’ line for two hours at the airport will do the trick. Feel safer now?

    Reply

  12. JRub says:

    Here is one way to approach the issue — Vietnam style agent orange spraying of the Ho Chi Minh…I mean US-Mexico Border.
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6335446.html

    Reply

  13. jerseycityjoan says:

    “the hundreds of thousands of illegal alien gang members and cartel drug dealers that have infested virtually ALL of our urban centers, completely clogged the corrections systems in our border states, and, unlike the Muslims, are wreaking very real terrorism on United States citizens, on United States soil, DAILY.”
    PissedOffAmerican makes a very interesting point here, one that I certainly had not thought of.
    My feeling is that as the drug users, we are the most to blame for the drug problems here in the US. Pushing all the blame to the suppliers is a cowardly way to avoid acknowledging our drug problems and dealing with them.
    Having said that, however, isn’t what he said true: isn’t the crime that’s brought into the U.S. by the drug cartels a form of terrorism? I think there’s a lot of people in poor neighborhoods who wonder if they’ll make it back home when they leave their houses. Isn’t that terrorism too? Does the motive of the terrorist matter (money in this case, not politics or religion)?
    Why do we put up with this nonsense?”the hundreds of thousands of illegal alien gang members and cartel drug dealers that have infested virtually ALL of our urban centers, completely clogged the corrections systems in our border states, and, unlike the Muslims, are wreaking very real terrorism on United States citizens, on United States soil, DAILY.”
    PissedOffAmerican makes a very interesting point here, one that I certainly had not thought of.
    My feeling is that as the drug users, we are the most to blame for the drug problems here in the US. Pushing all the blame to the suppliers is a cowardly way to avoid acknowledging our drug problems and dealing with them.
    Having said that, however, isn’t what he said true: isn’t the crime that’s brought into the U.S. by the drug cartels a form of terrorism? I think there’s a lot of people in poor neighborhoods who wonder if they’ll make it back home when they leave their houses. Isn’t that terrorism too? Does the motive of the terrorist matter (money in this case, not politics or religion)?
    Why do we put up with this nonsense?

    Reply

  14. Mike says:

    JH puts a finger on the most complex issue, even more than legalizing drugs (which I bet many large corporations, such as Philip Morris, wouldn’t mind) maybe if we stopped undermining Mexican farmers with our exports of highly subsidized corn to that country, the rural standard of living might increase. Sure, many Mexico problems are self-inflicted, but we in the US ought to at least admit that some of our actions as a nation have contributed to their difficulties.

    Reply

  15. jerseycityjoan says:

    Ms. Smith, I admire your concern for the very poor people of Mexico, but I question your belief that the Mexican government is ready and eager to help the poor, if only they had more resources.
    It turns out that Mexico has a surprising amount of financial resources (although of course, not as many as we do). According to Wikipedia, “Mexico is firmly established as an upper middle-income country…. and the 11th largest economy in the world by GDP by purchasing power parity.” As of 2004, foreign remittances from abroad were only 2% of Mexico’s GDP.
    Americans are always told how desperately poor Mexico is. That’s not really true. What is certainly true, however, is that an unconscionable high percentage of Mexicans are desperately poor.
    It seems to me that over the past twenty years, just about the only thing Mexico has wanted from the U.S. is to admit more of their workers here. They have been shameless in their eagerness to push as many Mexican citizens across the border as possible. And yet despite the millions that are here, what’s changed for those left behind?
    My belief is that nothing less than another revolution in Mexico will change anything. The Mexicans who’ve been in charge for decades like things as they are; empowering the poor and sharing their great wealth is the last thing they want to do.

    Reply

  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Douglass, I really enjoy your artwork. Nice stuff. I feel you are a bit underpriced.
    My good friend Nina exhibits her work online as well, although not as a sales tool.
    Here, enjoy…..
    http://deepintoartlifewest.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  17. douglass truth says:

    There is no solution that will work other than legalizing drugs. The incentives and the money are just too much. The corruption that flows from it is overwhelming. There are powerful forces who wish to keep the drug war going as long as possible: prison industries and unions, police forces, lawyers, growers and suppliers. It is nothing other than a national and international catastrophe: that drugs are a criminal and not a medical issue.
    Anyone who thinks that marijuana, cocaine, or heroin production can be stopped just refuses to look at the data of the last 25-50-100 years.

    Reply

  18. jlo says:

    Steve notes there are two options, greater centralization of power, or more local control. He expresses a desire for the latter, but gives zero reasons why this would be better. He does mention continuing on a path to democratization, but that in and of itself is not an argument, merely an appeal to a feel-good political principal that no one much disagrees with in principal.
    I would make the argument that centralized states often do a much better job at controlling shadow drug economies. Of course they do it through regressive political means, but from the U.S. perspective, and from the perspective even of middle class Mexican citizens living just south of the border and suffering from the associated violence of the drug trade, a strong centralized Mexican government that can deal with this crisis is preferable. I agree that we should be sending massive amounts of Plan Columbia style aid to Mexico. I’m not sure about the role of the border fence. I do think it is rather odious from an immigration perspective, particularly for those Mexicans wanting to travel back to Mexico when jobs here are scarce (without showing they have been here illegally.) But I’d be interested to know more about the security implications of the fence with regards to curtailing weapons and cash that flow South and are feeding the drug violence. If there is really going to be a concerted effort by the US to slow these flows, then smugglers are going to look for other ways to cross the border. Is this a big enough issue to justify its costs, though? I have no idea. Would love the thoughts of others on here.

    Reply

  19. JohnH says:

    Porfirio Diaz said it best, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, and so close to the United States.”

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “How exactly is the US more generous than say the Scandinavian countries?”
    Arms sales, for one.
    And we are quite generous about American jobs we ship to China and India too.
    And heck, we ship our finest redwood and cedar timber to Japan, doesn’t that count for something?
    And just look at the millions of illegal immigrants we have allowed access to our hospitals, prisons, schools, farms, construction sites, and, uhm, lawns!
    Heck, we’re the charity capital of the world, by gawd!

    Reply

  21. JH says:

    “Policy makers have simply overlooked Mexico time and again” –
    Most people I read think that 2 of Mexico’s greatest problems
    are both direct results of US policy.
    1) Massive subsidies to US corn producers combined with NAFTA
    trade rules, which undercut subsistence farmers’ ability to earn a
    living and drive them off the land either to virtually guaranteed
    poverty in the outskirts of Mexico city or up north across the
    border, and
    2) Our insane policy towards drugs which does nothing at all to
    either reduce demand or regularize (read legalize) the trade and
    production, with creates an enormously profitable illegal market
    and all its associated violence.
    I’m skeptical of any discussion of our relations with Mexico that
    doesn’t start from a position of harm reduction on our part.
    PS. TS raises a good point as well

    Reply

  22. TS says:

    “the World’s richest (and arguably most generous) nation.”
    Oh yeah? Can you make that argument? Or is this just some throwaway rhetorical padding meant to make us all feel warm and fuzzy about ourselves? How exactly is the US more generous than say the Scandinavian countries?

    Reply

  23. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And while we are on the topic of shipping money to countries that take our money and give us nothing except expense in return…..
    I see that the Israeli government has not even bothered to contact the parents of Tristan Anderson. In fact, the Israeli jackboots just broke up a press conference, violently, that Tristan’s parents were going to speak at.
    Tristan remains stable, in an induced coma. The extent of his brain damage is not yet known, and he lost an eye. His survival is by no means guaranteed.
    Here we have two countries that recieve vast amounts of money from our coffers, yet they treat our citizens like shit if they dare run afoul of either government. It is well known how American citizens are treated by the Mexican police, justice system, and “corrections” facilities. And Tristan Anderson is certainly not the first American that Israel has sought to make an “example” of.
    Isn’t it about time we either put STRINGENT and ENFORCED conditions on the money we dole out to foreign governments?
    Sure, lets ship Mexico more money to deal with its internal problems. In return, they can station enough federales on their border with the United States to STOP the flow of illegal immigrants, and that particular avenue that is a main entry for drugs that are smuggled into the United States.
    And Israel? Why not make the money contingent upon them halting all illegal settlement activity, halting the demolition of Palestinian homes, and allowing all huumanitarian and infrastructural goods into Gaza? Instead, this biased broker, Clinton, uses terms like “unhelpful” instead of the correct term, which is “illegal”, to describe Israel’s destruction of Palestinian property. Meanwhile, despite Israel saying “fuck you” to American requests, Obama commits to sending them their usual bucket of American tax dollars.

    Reply

  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    You gotta love these touchy feely little odes to our poor ailing “Nieghbor to the South”, such as Faith offers here. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, and regularly visited Mexico on surfing expeditions in my youth, the Ensenada sailboat races, etc, I can attest to the fact that the Mexican government is, has been, and undoubtedly will be, corrupt to a fault from top to bottom.
    To suggest that shoveling more money into the pockets of the Mexican government is somehow going to make honest nieghbors out of them is naive and feckless. As our relationship with Israel so clearly illustrates, shoveling money into a nation without firm conditions and demands is like pissin’ in the wind.
    I have to assume, between Faith’s oooohms and kumbayas about sending more money into Mexico, she is also one of the bleeding heart advocates of amnesty for the few million illegals our government, and the government of Mexico, have ALLOWED to slink over our borders. Undoubtedly, Faith will sing you the refrain about deportation “breaking up families”, while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of illegal alien gang members and cartel drug dealers that have infested virtually ALL of our urban centers, completely clogged the corrections systems in our border states, and, unlike the Muslims, are wreaking very real terrorism on United States citizens, on United States soil, DAILY.
    So yes, lets by all means ship Mexico billions more in aid, so we can line the pockets of the politicians in Mexico, paying them to continue to do NOTHING to stop the flow of illegals and illegal drugs over the southern border our politicians have ALLOWED to remain open despite their ridiculous mantras about “homeland security”.

    Reply

  25. JohnH says:

    “Our ‘neighbor to the south’ is finally receiving some long overdue attention.” Which means that average Mexicans should be worried, very worried. Historically, US attention to Mexico brought bad things.
    Yes, Mexico deserves more “cooperation than the U.S. traditionally offers,” and not ‘business as usual’ cooperation with the corrupt oligarchs who run the place. As Faith says, “Empowering people is the best way to fight corruption.”
    The likelihood that this will happen? About as likely as a jaguar changing its spots…

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *