Oh, down in Mexico
I never really been so I don't really know
I guess Ill have to go
With President Obama meeting with Mexico's President this week for the second time in four months to discuss guns, drugs and money laundering, the world ponders Mexico's future. To be sure, Mexico is not a "failed state," but as Latin American scholar Shannon O'Neil suggests, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, it may be "on the brink."
Mexico has a democratically elected government, and a relatively stable society, but the power of the drug cartels is formidable. Last November in Mexico City, a suspicious crash of a Learjet, carrying nine passengers, claimed the lives of the powerful Interior Minister, Juan Camilo Mourino, number two man in the government, who spearheaded President Calderon's military crackdown on the drug gangs, and drug czar Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos who was behind Mexico's highest profile operations against the cartels. Last April, a DEA briefing on Mexico drug trafficking accused Vasconcelos of having taken bribes from the Beltran Levya drug cartel.
Since 1994 with the enactment of NAFTA, Mexico has become one of our most important trading partners. America is responsible for some 85 per cent of Mexico's legal exports -- well over $200 billion, -- and is after Canada our largest market. American companies furnish more than 60 per cent of all foreign direct investment. But the drug problem overshadows free trade. Ninety per cent of U.S. cocaine and large quantities of other illegal drugs come from or through Mexico. And drugs are not the only form of contraband to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. The overwhelming number of illegal guns seized from Mexican drug gangs have their origin in the United States. And drug money laundered through the United States lines the pockets of the Mexican drug lords to the annual tune of billions of dollars.
In a recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, underscored the importance of interdicting "...the smuggling of narcotics, weapons, bulk cash and people at the United States-Mexico border" to ensure "that...the large cartels there are broken up."
Napolitano further stressed that Mexico must not be permitted to become a transit point for terrorists seeking to launch an attack on the American homeland. Accordingly, under the Merida Initiative, Congress pledged $1.4 billion in security funding over three years to buy weapons and training for the Mexican military and police. Some experts have criticized the Merida Initiative as helpful but inadequate aid for a next-door neighbor, particularly when compared with the Plan Colombia package of $600 million a year.
A major element of the security mix will be changes in U.S. immigration policy. Ever since FDR reminded the Daughters of the American Revolution to "Remember always that all of us...are descended from immigrants and revolutionists," it scarcely needs saying that our country was built on a cornerstone of immigration. Mexico is the largest source of immigrants to the United States. As a result of economic pressures and soaring birthrates beginning in the 1980's, some 11 million Mexicans have legally or illegally immigrated to the United States seeking better jobs and higher wages. In 2007, these workers sent home to their families roughly $24 billion in remittances. Mexicans represent 30 per cent of our foreign born population. Many of these are here illegally and have no plan to return. Comprehensive immigration reform is obviously necessary to replace a system which has become dysfunctional. A blue-ribbon task force of the Council on Foreign Relations headed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Mac McLarty just concluded that,
"...Mexico represents a special case for U.S. immigration policy. Because of the size of the cross-border labor flows, its close economic integration with the United States and the implications for U.S. homeland security, the U.S.-Mexico relationship on migration issues is particularly important for American foreign policy interests."
The jury is still out on how much US aid can bolster democratic institutions in a lawless Latin American society. In Colombia, where serious crimes continue to be committed with impunity, massive US aid may have prevented the drug lords from toppling the country, but a huge number of unpunished murders halt progress and stall a free trade agreement with the United States. Thus, Shannon O'Neil perceives Mexico's Achilles heel to be its corruption; Colombia's Achilles heel to be its lack of civil governance. The way forward, she says, is to strengthen democracy and rule of law in both countries.
James Taylor actually was in Mexico. He is said to have been confined to his hotel room for the entirety of his stay with "Montezuma's Revenge." Some say, however, that the song is really about doing drugs.
James D. Zirin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Assistant United States Attorney. He has been to Mexico.