Mexico is a mystery to most Americans -- and not unjustifiably. Millions of Mexican citizens have fled north to the United States to escape poverty, crime, and all the akin problems associated with such deprivation. That's about all their hosts know about the land to the south that produces such misery. The image of Mexico that both countries prefer to emphasize focuses on the luxury of its multi-billion dollar resort industry -- a nation of blue tequila and bronzed beauties. Convenient but false.
Part of the reason for this pervasive ignorance is the diplomatic pretense to neighborliness. Whether Democrat or Republican, politicians have been loath to characterize North America's third world neighbor as anything but an important developing nation and ultimately a U.S. ally. New presidents meet, pledge to commit all energies to assist whatever matter is politically appropriate at the moment, and go home announcing a new day has arrived in U.S.-Mexican relations.
This ritual having been accomplished, the Mexican leader implies in his national report of the meeting that he successfully went chest-to-chest with the American president and made clear the needs and desires of his great country of Spanish heritage. After that is completed, Mexico continues on its traditional way where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the drug-financed economy becomes even more criminalized.
President Felipe Calderon added to this usual line his view that Mexico's problems with crime and violence were due primarily to the ready presence of the American market for illicit drugs. Interestingly, no one in the White House made any effort to object to the Mexican president's blame-shifting.
An excellent example of the contradictory nature of the official U.S. approach to Mexico is contained in two sentences in a State Department travel warning of May 5, 2010: "…Resort areas and tourist destinations do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems … the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens…"
What exactly is the State Department trying to say? Tourist areas are sort of less dangerous, but that Americans are nonetheless at "serious risk"? Not a very good recommendation for tourist travel, one would think. Why don't they say that?
Meanwhile the influx of Mexican refugees is characterized as "immigration" even though the entire process is a result of repeated Mexican governments' inability and unwillingness to provide for the welfare of their own people. What originated as a migrant labor issue was converted into population relocation. To use President Calderon's own logic, the so-called need for American immigration reform is really a demand that the United States solve the economic and social problems of Mexico by allowing millions of his countrymen to reside in and be cared for by the U.S.
The reality is that the northern provinces of Mexico are only nominally under the authority of the central government. The provincial officials and administration at best have a working relationship with the criminal cartels. At worst the provincial governments are the criminal cartels. Efforts by honest politicians to bring about change are met with intimidation and -- as in the recent case of Dr. Rodolfo Torre, gubernatorial reform candidate in Tamaulipas -- assassination.
The issue of cartel connections with Mexico's two principal political parties has now become a staple of electoral rhetoric. The growing strength of the earlier dominant PRI party has brought charges from Calderon's PAN of close relations between some PRI members and the Gulf cartel. The Sinaloa cartel supposedly influences politics of both parties in the province of that name. The current elections for governors, mayors and local officials in 12 states will further escalate drug family involvement and controls at all political levels.
Presidential statements to the contrary, the job of bringing peace and prosperity to the northern provinces is beyond the capability of the federal government. This has been the case for generations -- and always those who control Mexico City have found a way of blaming the "Anglos." Mexican history says that the politically ambitious gangster, Pancho Villa, was a "Robin Hood" figure. When he raided across the border into the United States, he was simply standing up against American "imperialism." The fact that he robbed and killed innocent people is ignored.
As the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz famously lamented more than a century ago, "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States." This view is as fresh in Mexican political minds today as it was back then. It explains nothing and everything at the same time.