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Another travel warning… ho hum

22 April 2007

Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News is the source for the AP wire stories on the latest warning from the U.S. Department of State:

MONTERREY, Mexico – The U.S. State Department warned Americans this week of ongoing drug violence in several parts of Mexico, including states along the Texas border. The move comes as emboldened traffickers have posted written death threats against government officials and their families – attaching them with ice picks to the bodies of murder victims, U.S. and Mexican officials said.

Two of the states listed in the State Department’s travel advisory are Nuevo Leon, “especially in and around Monterrey,” and Tamaulipas, “particularly Nuevo Laredo.” The travel advisory also includes the popular beach city of Acapulco.

While much of the violence is between rival cartels battling over control of drug routes into the United States and for new emerging drug markets in Mexico, the U.S. government warned that foreigners also faced risks.


The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, added, “We ask U.S. citizens to exercise all due caution while in Mexico and remain vigilant for any situation that could become dangerous.”.

In other words, the same thing Tony always says. He made a big fuss a couple of years ago about Texans disappearing in Mexico, til it finally got through his thick skull that the Texas were either people who wanted to disappear, or were involved in the drug and gun running business. I’ve yet to hear of any legitimate foreign traveller or resident coming to grief, other than the usual accidents or the occasional crime that happens anywhere (my friends in the Canadian press tried to spin a payroll robbery at a gold mine into an anti-foreigner incident, but I don’t think the Mexican Butch and Sundance wannabes were particularly concerned about the nationality of the guy with the loot).

The one troubling incident isn’t mentioned by either the Dallas Morning News or by the Ambassador. The murder of labor organizer Santiago Rafael Cruz is never mentioned.  While I don’t advertise that I also work as a journalist when in Mexico (I list escritor as my profession on my visa form), I’m not involved in any shady business.  I suppose I should worry about annoying big business interests, which is what Cruz apparently did… though, like a journalist, he was someone doing an honest job that interfered with criminal enterprises (and, — this does worry me — he interfered with the “legitimate” big businesses that depend on immigrant labor). 

Besides, saying “avoid Nuevo Leon because of problems in Monterrey” is like saying that people should stay out of Texas because of problems in Dallas.  Both NL and TX are huge places. And Monterrey and Dallas are huge cities (and you’re more likely to be a victim of random violence in Dallas). 

I think what’s bothering the Ambassador is something else:

U.S. officials also expressed concern for U.S. citizens and American investments in Mexico, particularly in the northern region, which has been hard-hit by drug violence this year. As many as 50,000 Americans live in the Monterrey area, and 1,200 U.S. businesses have investments there, representing about half the region’s $14.4 billion in foreign investment, U.S. officials say. That makes the situation “a great national security concern for us,” the U.S. official said

Mexican business is less and less dependent on the U.S. and, U.S. businesses (or until recently U.S.-based ones) are continuing to move to Mexico and to Monterrey. Halliburton’s Energy Service Group is moving their manufacturing facilities to the Nuevo Leon city, something that barely raises a blip in the press these days, and Mexican business deals have been announced recently involving non-traditional (i.e., non-U.S.) partners like the European Union (auto exports and China (WiFi and telecom services). Agricultural exports are the one place where U.S. businesses are dominant, and even that’s under some threat. While Montsanto GM corn seed will be allowed in under very limited conditions, the overlooked rice import agreement with Pakistan suggest even the pro-U.S. Calderón administration is looking for alternatives.

While agro-business still has too much control over Mexico, even there, there are Mexican competitors waiting.  In the oil and energy sector, where U.S. oil companies could reasonably expect to get back into the Mexican market, it looks like the Mexicans are going to be working with the Brazilians, the Norweigans and the French.  Only the French company (Total) is corporate. Even mining is out of U.S. hands, having ended up largely in Canadian ones. 

Frankly, I think Tony Garza is a hack, the worst U.S. Ambassador since James Rockwell Sheffield (who served the only President that even comes close to Bush II in terms of incompetence and political corruption — Warren G. Harding) .  Sheffield and Garza both painted Mexico as dangerous for U.S. citizens at a time when the economy was changing, and not in the interests of their U.S. corporate sponsors. 

For Sheffield, it was the oil business, and for Garza… it’s a little of everything.  Better to say “Mexico is dangerous for tourists” than to deal with the reality.  Grant-Thorton International’s latest survey of emerging economic powers notes that 

 Mexico, with the world’s 14th largest economy, is benefiting from its close trading ties with Canada and the U.S. through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “Mexico is well-placed to play a more significant role in the Americas.”…

According to Hector Perez from Salles, Sainz-Grant Thornton in Mexico:

“The reason for such an outstanding performance from the Mexican economy during 2006 was the unprecedented macroeconomic stability, a steady Mexican peso and a low inflation rate of 4%.

“Mexico is an export-oriented economy, dominated by a mixture of industry and agriculture. It is the biggest exporter in Latin America (US$250.3 billion) and the 15th in the world, as well as the only member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the region. Furthermore, Mexico received the highest figure of foreign direct investment headed to Latin America and is top of the list in terms of per capita GDP. It is one of the most open economies in Latin America and has signed 12 free trade agreements with 43 countries. There is no doubt that it will be one of the top emerging markets in coming years.”

If the Ambassador were to issue a REAL warning, it should be to the U.S. that between retirees moving their assets to Mexico and more Mexican businesses looking for other markets, the U.S. is going to have to look at economic intergration differently, and stop blaming its overdependence on Mexican narcotics for all the problems it has with Mexican business.

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