NAFTA's weakest member, Mexico, is fighting a desperate battle against narcos. The cartels have murdered 4,000 mayors, police, army and others in the past year and on Nov. 4 election day they sent a terrible warning to the country.
This may become President-elect Barack Obama's first test and crisis. The day of Barack Obama's landmark election, Mexico's second-highest official in charge of other key drug interdiction officials died in a fiery jet crash during rushhour in downtown Mexico. Fourteen died in total and 40 were injured on the ground.
The government is saying very little and the investigation is being conducted in the U.S. too, but the facts have frightening implications for all three NAFTA partners. Some 40 million Mexican-Americans also live in the U.S. and are gravely concerned how this crisis is handled.
Here's excerpts from my National Post blog:
"There was no press attention in Canada, and hardly any in the U.S., about the crash carrying Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, along with key drug interdiction officials. Another passenger was former Assistant Attorney-General José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos who had a multi-million dollar price put on his head by the cartels because of his work against the drug trade during the Administration of Vicente Fox.
"It appears to be a message that the drug cartels will stop at nothing as they continue to corrupt and ruin the country as they did in Colombia. Mexico's stock market and currency fell calamitously and the implications for the U.S. are obvious in the form of violence along its border, increased illegal immigration and a continuing flow of illicit narcotics.
Unchecked, Mexico could descend into a kleptocracy.
"The plane's black box is being examined in the United States, not Mexico, and reports are that one of its engines fell off as the jet approached Mexico City's airport. The crash site could not have been more high profile and created a firebomb in the heart of the city, fuelling speculation that the pilot was on a suicide mission. He also reported no problems to the tower as they approached the airport.
"The tragedy plunges the government of President Felipe Calderon into a crisis. Already, there are problems with declining oil income, and revenues for the government from oil, as well as the drug war.
"Rosanna Fuentes-Berain who is a prominent Mexican author and newspaper editor, said in an interview with me: "The Calderon Presidency will be tested by how he reacts to an unfortunate event that will take at least a month for experts to establish if indeed it was an accident or an intentional attack."
"In a country where, in the current year, 4,000 people have been murdered, it is not irrational to think that this could be an escalation precisely because Calderon has fought so courageously against drug traffickers that operate as almost a parallel state."
"Transparency and scientific evidence beyond any reasonable doubt are to be at the heart of how this case is presented to the citizens. Mexicans have very low levels of confidence in their politicians. This is a society that has had more than its share of lies coming from politicians."
"The crash is more worrisome considering that the plane was under the protection of the Armed Forces, but it is widely known that there has been penetration of the military by the cartelistas. Not surprisingly, the peso and Mexican stock markets tumbled in part because of the American downturn, but also undoubtedly due to worries about the stability of NAFTA's southernmost partner."