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Southern Exposure

18 November 2009

The Woodrow Wilson Institute for International Scholars Mexico site picked up an article from El Universal that has captured what I think is one of Mexico’s greatest challenges… facing north when it should be looking south:

Mexico was once boasted as a leader in Latin America, but is now an observer of the development of other nations. Academics and specialists confirm that the country has found itself stuck in several areas stymieing its competitiveness.

The majority agree: the country wasted its potential, never looked south to reassert itself as a leader, and squandered the advantage of oil resources and neglected science.

(Original article in El Universal 16-November 2009)

I’ve talked before about the disadvantages of Mexico’s too-close ties to the United States economy, which has worked to discourage trade with the rest of Latin America and other parts of the world.  At the same time, despite my continual carping on the lack of attention the United States pays to Latin America, Mexico does receive attention… just not the kind that allows for creative and independent policy-making.

Narrow concerns with “stability”, coupled with the unfortunate co-incidence of the timing of the last presidential campaign during the United State’s own bout with extremist political and economic attitudes probably did have more to do with with the questionable outcome of that election than it should.  Not that a López Obradór administration would have necessarily have been more successful than the Calderón administration, but AMLO was more interested in pan-Latin initiatives, and his program was more focused on the basics — like educational and agricultural reform — than the incumbent is.

Secondly, Mexico’s willingness to fight the United State’s “war on drugs” — or rather, the Calderón administration’s willingness to use the “mano duro” against “instability” (which includes not just the narcotics exporters, but political and social dissent as well).  Basic judicial reforms, as well as social programs which would have ameliorated the need for so much dissent (as well as the need to make a living working in the narcotics industry) have been put on the back burner.

Third, while the PAN people are not incompetent per se, they are ideologically bound to the wrong issues.  This wouldn’t have been a problem had the U.S. economic house of cards stood up a few more years, but it didn’t.  While the United States could make some mild reforms thanks to an election at the right time, Mexico is stuck with the same mindset when it comes to economic responses as the Bush Administration in the U.S.  I thought it a good sign when Augustín Carstens was appointed Secretary of the Treasury, although — today — an orthodox World Bank type is exactly wrong.

And, of course, shit happens.  Mexico isn’t “exotic” — or exciting enough to rate the pres that Brazil does right now.  And, our stability may be working against us.  People like Felipe Calderón are kind of dull… even AMLO, or Beatriz Parades just don’t have the star appeal of other Latin American politicos like Bolivia’s Evo Morales or Ecuador’s Rafael Correa,  And, outside the “drug war” and quasi-crises like the flu epidemic, there hasn’t been any “change to believe in” that really captures one’s attention since the Oaxaca protests.

While it looks, on the surface, that nothing is going on… there are signs that something will give.  The cynical dismemberment of Luz y Fuero del Centro (and the union) hasn’t quite sunk in yet, nor has the Calderón administration’s coddling of the corrupt union boss, Esther Elba Gordilla… nor the seeming lack of ideas from the administration on how to respond to the economic situation.  There will be national elections in 2012… and although it appears for now that the likely winner is a Carlos Salinas protege, nothing is ever for certain in Mexico.  As Porfirio Dias said, just before everything changed, “Nothing changes in Mexico… until it changes.”


One Comment leave one →
  1. buddenbooks permalink
    18 November 2009 3:19 pm

    ¡De acuerdo! (I hope it isn’t messing in politics to say so.) I translated an interview for CP Americas Program a month or so ago that Laura Carlsen had with the president of Mercosur, Carlos Álvarez, said: “I am one of those who believes that it is good that we are not among the US’s priorities, that it is not bad that we are not on the radar of the United States…We propose for ourselves a denuclearized zone where there is no arms war, that doesn’t have international terrorism, that doesn’t have huge ethnic conflicts, in which the conflicts are manageable and are, shall we say, manageable by the governments themselves; here we don’t need the U.S. with its paternalistic or interventionist vision.” Seems to me Lula understands this and is capitalizing on it big time. Would be good of Mexico could, too.

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