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Is Mexico About To Fall Apart? Brenda Walker Says Yes
[See Allan Wall's Memo From Mexico: Is Mexico About to Fall Apart?]
For a couple years now, I've been toting up the unpleasant symptoms of Mexico's lurch toward failing statehood from the viewpoint of a concerned neighbor who lives next door to a crack house. Now I read that VDARE.COM's resident Mexico expert Alan Wall thinks that I'm overstating the problem.
I read his analysis with interest because of my great respect for his opinion. But still think I'm right—Mexico is a lawless mess that's getting worse and presents a near and present danger to us Americans, who have unlucky geography. [VDARE.COM NOTE: It was, of course, the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz who was credited with saying "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States", but the corollary is obvious.]
One crisis that doesn't seem imminent is a Pancho Villa style revolution. I've never suggested that scenario was likely. Marxicans clearly hoped that a teachers' strike in Oaxaca in May would grow beyond a leftist mini-insurrection into a national uprising. The Oaxaca disturbance has lasted several months and shut down much of the central city. But it didn't spread.
A precedent occurred earlier in Chiapas, when Subcomandante Marcos tried to stir up a revolution as NAFTA was implemented in 1994. His small army of disenfranchised Mayan Indians took over a town or two, but that uprising remained localized also.
The Mexican meltdown is instead a 21st century phenomenon in which non-state actors—the drug cartels—acquire enough money and power to carve out their own areas of control through private armies. Think Somalia meets Colombia.
In fact, the Colombianization of Mexico is an accepted description. It describes Mexico's new status as the illegal drug hub of the hemisphere, with all the carnage and corruption that designation implies.
"'The Mexican cartels are the most dangerous trafficking organizations in the world,' says one U.S. official in Mexico City who asked not to be identified for security reasons. 'They'll kill you for a dime, and they have everyone paid off and scared to death.'" [Losing the War: A sharp spike in drug-related violence has some analysts worrying about the 'Colombianization' of Mexico, Newsweek 7/11/06].
Wars among the cartels are a growing source of violence, wreaking economic devastation on places like Nuevo Laredo, a border town that has lost 60 percent of its American business in the last two years. At least 40 businesses have closed in the town, where firefights between cartels may include rocket-propelled grenades and hundreds have been killed.
In August 2005, the State Department closed down the US Embassy in Nuevo Laredo for a week to reassess security after a shootout between drug gangs using machine guns, grenades and a rocket launcher. During the previous month, the city's police chief was gunned down just hours after taking office.
And even without the cartels, crime is worsening to the point where average Mexicans feel threatened The issue has become part of the political debate—Mexico expert George Grayson remarked in November about el Presidente Calderon, "He knows it is imperative that Mexican citizens feel that they are safe in their own streets."
Mexico City is home to "express kidnapping" in which middle class people are snatched and forced to give up their debit card and pin number. As a result of kidnapping becoming a more common form of rip-off, Mexico is #2 worldwide in kidnappings per capita.
In 2004, a stunning quarter million people rallied in Mexico City to protest the government's inability to stem the worsening crime wave. People carried pictures of crime victims and demanded the death penalty be added to Mexican jurisprudence.
From 1992 to 2002, Mexicans reported at least 15,000 kidnappings—second only to (guess who?) Colombia, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.
March organizers said most violent crime goes unreported, partly because of police corruption and the knowledge that nothing will be done.
"We are afraid. We can't go out onto the street and the police do absolutely nothing to protect us," said Yolanda Tellez, 62, who is retired. [Mexicans protest at soaring crime, by Mary Jordan, The Melbourne Age, June 29, 2004]
When crime reaches a certain level, it becomes an issue of national security. The Vice President of Colombia, Francisco Santos, said as much in September:
"Crime is the biggest problem of the next decade," he said. "It will hinder tourism, investment and threaten democracy." [Violent crime called 'biggest threat' to Latin America, EuroToday September 19, 2006]
Street gangs have proliferated throughout Central America in the 15 years since the end of civil wars. Guatemala has called in United Nations crime fighters, in an admission that its own police forces cannot cope.
Quite simply, what's going on in Mexico fits the definition of a failed state. The combination of factors—growing corruption and crime, lessened competence in Mexico City, the rearrangement of Mexican geography into cartel fiefdoms with the uptick in narco-influence (see map)—have merged to lessen government power.
Inability to enforce the law and preserve order over territory is one definition of a failed state. That's exactly the situation in Mexico.
The new Presidente, Felipe Calderon, took office December 1, albeit under inglorious circumstances as he hurriedly took his oath among brawling opposition legislators [video] who sought to prevent his swearing in.
But one of his first major acts has been to send 6,000 troops to Michoacan to round up traffickers. He also plans similar military incursions in other areas. Calderon appears to be made of sterner stuff than his predecessor. But it remains to be seen how much the military deployment is for the cameras.
Let's consider some other symptoms of the Mexico malaise.
- Cartels have consistently beaten back police and the Mexican army when the government has attempted to reassert its authority. El Presidente Vicente Fox sent troops into Nuevo Laredo June 13, 2005, but when the military was pulled out in late July, the city was "more violent" than when they went in.
Regions that once were free of narco-violence, particularly tourist areas that bring in needed cash, are now free-fire zones. Once glamorous Acapulco is now called Narcapulco, because the drug gangsters have moved in with little opposition.
Cartels have taken a style cue from al Qaeda and are now using beheadings to terrorize the police and populace. In April, gangsters from one drug gang decapitated the commander of a special strike force and one of his agents in the resort city. Police cannot protect their own men, much less the civilians entrusted to their care.
- A poll last spring revealed that half of Mexicans believe their country is on the brink of chaos, that "50 percent of respondents feared the government was on the brink of losing control." Part of the reason was the decreased sense of personal safety that average Mexicans felt due to the violence and corruption they see in their communities.
- Mexico's oil reserves becoming pumped out. The Calderon government recently announced it would pursue a tax on soft drinks to make up for falling oil revenues. The chief oil field at Cantarell is projected to decline by 14 percent a year between 2007 and 2015. Oil provides 40 percent of the federal budget, so a dry-up at the pumps is serious.
Falling revenues for the government oil monopoly Pemex mean decreased tax receipts and less money to deal with Mexico's many real needs in education, health care and infrastructure. (A systemic source of Mexican enfeeblement is the critically low level of taxation generally, particularly from the rich, who pay zip.)
In a country where the underground untaxed economy is enormous, there's a popular saying among wealthy Mexicans: "If you're paying taxes, you have the wrong accountant."
It's unsurprising then that Mexico raises less revenue through taxation than nearly any other Latin American country, just 12 percent of GDP, which is one reason why the nation's enormous wealth is not better utilized. By comparison, the United States takes in 25-28 percent of its GDP in taxes. Even Brazil taxes itself at twice the Mexican rate.
- At least one American investor decided against putting money into Mexico, specifically $40 million for a project near Zihuatanejo because of crime at levels of social destabilization. Unquestionably there are many unreported others who avoid the narcostate as simply bad business.
Finally, let's consider the daily crisis of Mexico that's before our eyes. Millions are fleeing Latin America's wealthiest nation to work in America, where they are despised and exploited. Twenty-five million Mexicans are already here, and 46 percent of those still living in Mexico would leave if they could, according to a 2005 Pew poll.
Not only is Mexico a failing state, it's also a failing society. The country should be a paradise. It has valuable resources, great natural beauty, an ideal location and hard-working people. Its elite do very well indeed.
What it doesn't have is an aversion to corruption. While many Americans live their entire lives without paying a single bribe, mordida [bribery] is endemic in Mexico. Such attitudes lead to dishonest police and politicians. Add a permissive attitude about crime, where smugglers are romanticized in song, and you have a perfect atmosphere for narcotopia.
How much worse can it get? The issue of law and order in Mexico in the near term hinges on how serious Calderon is about cracking down on the cartels—and whether he can bring meaningful force to bear given the corruption of the army and police. Somalia and Colombia really are the possible models over the long term since cartels are not unlike warlord organizations.
The cartels have virtually unlimited money, and Mexico City is taxing soda pop to raise funds. Increased instability from organized crime will only encourage millions more to abandon the sinking ship and go north, since we know few Mexicans care to stand and fight for their country.
Bottom line: Mexico has an immense problem. Which means the U.S. does, too.
Brenda Walker [email her] her lives in northern California and writes frequently on her websites LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org that multiculturalism is a failed ideology, particularly so for women.