The Three Amigos Summit which just ended -- U.S., Canada and Mexico -- is the private gathering of North America's dysfunctional family. The level of good will and cooperation has been incredible, but border problems are growing, not abating.
Protectionism is on the business agenda but there are also border security issues such as illegal immigration, criminality, drug dealing and potential terrorism.
These concerns have resulted in two high-profile, and financially damaging, actions this year: the U.S. requirement that Canadians need passports to enter their country and Americans need passports to return home and also Canada's new requirement that Mexicans need visas to enter Canada.
The Real Story
These measures are irritants but are necessary due to two overriding difficulties facing the amigos.
For starters, Mexico has lagged behind its two northern neighbors economically and politically. This has led to a number of unintended negatives: the outflow of tens of millions of Mexicans, illegally, into American society and, most recently, the beginning of a flow of illegals, possibly criminals, into Canada through the manipulation of Canada's "refugee" loopholes to gain entry.
(Canada's refugee malfunction also contributed to the American passport requirement to prevent backdoor entry by criminals, terrorists and drug dealers from Canada into the U.S.)
Most Mexicans who leave are fleeing Mexico's growing poverty rate. Poor conditions have also led to lawlessness and a de facto takeover of parts of the country, its economy and society by vicious drug cartels.
Those conditions have played into the next major problem for the continent, which is America's growing appetite for narcotics and Prohibition, which makes them more valuable. Every year, Americans jail hundreds of thousands, spend billions and refuse to even debate legalization, regulation and taxation of drugs. Their War on Drugs has been a total failure and propagates the myth that addicts are criminals, not sick persons.
This confluence of events means that instability and corruption is metastasizing in Mexico, driving more Mexicans out of the country or into crime. Last year, 4,000 important civic officials from police chiefs to mayors and judges were assassinated by the country's powerful drug cartels. The total drug-related murder tally was 10,000 that year.
Last fall, the assumed-successor to the current President died when his jet mysteriously crashed in the heart of Mexico City on November 4, the day that President Barack Obama was elected. There was little news coverage considering the questions raised. It was deemed an accident but there are skeptics and should be.
Descent of Mexico
The situation is so serious that Mexico's army is engaged, Canada has just announced an initiative to send "military" advisers to Mexico and the Americans have been there for many months trying to help, too.
So summit coverage will be about business issues such as protectionism, the damage to tourism of the passport and visa requirements, and the banking crisis, but the subtext is darker.
The former President of Colombia laid out Mexico's crisis to me in an interview this spring in Brazil: "Drug usage is unstoppable [in the U.S.] and the cartels have coyotes [people smugglers] planting on the streets hundreds of thousands of illegals selling drugs. The U.S. consumption has stayed level despite huge costs and the jailing of millions of people."
He said the Americans must recant, and abandon, their drug Prohibition policies and adopt European or Canadian-style health care to deal with the problem. Because they have not, Mexico runs the risk of being devastated as was Colombia.
"Mexico is now fighting this battle and must do that, but cannot win," he said.
Neither can the other two amigos.
Follow Diane Francis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@dianefrancis1