The Mexican Concept: Opening Up The Taco Of Unequal Relations

I was reading a random blog by a conservative writer in South Bend, Indiana, where I read a rant about the current state of the U.S.-Mexican border. It made me think about a few issues around the border — I have been personally affected by the deteriorating civic security apparatus in Mexico recently, in a somewhat direct way, because it fed into my decision to not make a visa appointment at a US Consulate in Mexico. I have heard fearful stories, both anecdotally and in the press, about how lawless things are in places like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and I don’t want to get caught in the cross-fire.

This is definitely a complex issue. Firstly, Mexico holds an interesting place in the American political constellation because of the immense numbers of Mexicans who have settled down in the country, legally or otherwise. Just look at the immigration data recently published by the New York Times, visualized very helpfully as a map showing the spread of foreign-born populations arond the world.

Then there’s the popular joke that most of the territory of the United States once belonged to Mexico, so in reality, by the parameters of this jest, it’s the Americans who are the upstarts in the region and who fail to pay proper respects to their forebears who pioneered the settlement of a large swath of land that now forms the four south-western and western states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.

There is in fact some reason to dig deeper into this piece of history, that makes it partially relevant to our times. The transfer of all this land from the Mexican to the U.S. government happened as a result of the Mexican-American war (referred to in Mexican history with the words intervención and invasión, as well as the more neutral guerra, giving Mexico a stance more of the victim, rather than as a co-aggressor) — and that war was started because of separatist movements fomented in Mexico by Anglo settlers from the United States! English speakers gained a quick majority in the north-eastern states of Mexico. This situation is surely in the back of every anti-immigrant American’s mind, and there sure are a hell of a lot of them in Texas. If their forefathers could have done this to Texas, who’s to say that the descendants of those who got the short end of the deal a century ago aren’t going to return the favor by flooding the border lands with Hispanic culture and gaining a political majority?

Of course, the history is long gone now, and the justifications of the war of 1847 are no longer relevant, one way or the other. The Mexican government, or the loose band of rivalries that represented it, was no angel of democracy and whatever else one might say of the exercise of American power, a sort of pre-Monroe Doctrine as it were, one has to commend the American government, for being able to then, as it does now too, stand firm in a time of martial aggression. After Rome and the Mongol Empire, America has been the only true military power, in the sense that it has, as a nation, pursued territorial and economic gains through the use of military might more intensely, in a more united fashion, and perhaps also more successfully, than any other state.

War as a guiding principle, and as a policy that is always confluent with and subservient to the nation’s well-being and democratic identity, has had only a few skilled practitioners over the ages, and the United States is surely in the top echelon of that group.

Of course, where there is war, there are spoils and also spoliations. The chicken has certainly come home to roost now, because the century of civil war and economic misery that the war of 1847 set off in Mexico is hurting that country’s richer neighbor as well. While the crime, smog, fear of death and social malaise that plague Mexico today are barely felt in the United States, and while the weaker southern economy affords cheap labor for the more powerful, industrialized one in the States, one cannot deny that the Mexican problem is more than a small burr in America’s saddlepack, especially in the last two decades, with the drug wars creating a powerful class of strongmen, who are financed by the addictions of middle-class Americans and, according to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, armed by its lax gun laws and the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitutions’s Second Amendment.

The internal politics of Mexico have always been pretty vicious, but the scenario gets murkier by the day as the drug lords battle it out with the rest of civil society. Even after the fall of the rpressive seventy-year old regime of the PRI, supportersof the left-leaning Manuel Lopez Obrador confess that Mexico will not support a left-wing government. Is this because there are no social ills in Mexico, or that every one is so comfortable bourgeois that a socialist government would have nothing to do? That is obviously a rhetorical question — technically speaking, Mexico is ripe for a little wealth-spreading. The difference between Mexico and the states of Venezuela and Bolivia, where the idea of each getting what they need led to the electoral victories of Chavez and Morales, is of course that neither of those countries have vast parts under the control of anarchic drug-runners. Nothing like a little cartel-based ransoming action to get the middle class clamoring for strong-armed governmental police actions.

The strong Orwellian reference aside, what is the outlook for the Mexican state? Pretty bad. Four years ago, a United States military report sounded some alarming reports on the state of the war against drugs in a “threat analysis” that spoke of how the ‘the decentralized organizational structure of drug trafficking organizations below the senior leadership has also proven to be a key factor in facilitating the cartels’ survival.’ If the Mexican drug cartels have adopted the methods that were made most famous around the world by Al-Qaeda, then you know that someone’s in for some big trouble.


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