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Evidence of a policy change foretold?

10 December 2010

Mica Rosenberg and Anhi Rama (Reuters LIVE! via Montreal Gazette) don’t appear to be writing about possible social and political change in Mexico, but  “Firms fleeing drug wars settle in Mexico City” — while valiantly attempting to paint a move by border businesses to the Capital as a temporary reprieve in the “drug war” — inadvertently confirm the Mex Files’ own reading of the so-called “drug war”.

… Some 5,000 business owners fled to Mexico City recently from states near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Juan de Dios Barba, head of the city’s business association Coparmex. Most were restaurants, shops or professional offices, which have less overhead to move than bigger companies, although larger investors have also fled the northern border regions.

“Many were threatened or are struggling to find clients because a lot of people are leaving the north. They come here looking for a better economic situation,” Barba said…

The Reuters article makes two assumption about people “fleeing” the borderlands: that they are fleeing the violence by narcotics dealers and that those leaving want to go to the United States. As has been said (more than once) on this site, borderland communities like Juarez were more “boom-towns” than settled communities.  With collapsing economic prospects (NAFTA should have given preference to North American manufacturing, but the temptation to buy cheaper Chinese imports destroyed the economic based long before the “drug war” was thought of), limited resources (these communities are mostly in the middle of the desert) and indifferent local governance, people had been moving from the region for some time.

That criminals were able to exploit the borderlands is not all that surprising.  Organized crime at least provided a steady income and a reason for the communities to prosper.  With the chaos in that industry, it is, perhaps, the final straw for many, and does provide another reason for those without any deep ties to the area to leave.

An AFP article appearing in Prensa Libre (Guatemala) and translated into English by M3 Report begins:

Thousands of Mexicans who migrated in recent decades to Ciudad Juarez, the most violent city in the country, have returned in recent months to their origins due to fear of crime.  About 2,300 persons from Veracruz have returned on charter flights.  They had gone to work in the factories (maquilas) in Northern Mexico after NAFTA was approved in 1994.

Again, the assumption is that the narcotics violence is driving the exodus, when it may just be the final straw.  Places like Detroit and Cleveland, the U.S. “rust belt” also saw huge declines in their populations, among more settled families (who also walked away from homes and businesses) in the 1970s mostly for economic reasons, leaving communities prey to criminal organizations, which led to further declines.  Many, if not most, of the “blue-plate Texans” (the large number of people who emigrated internally from Detroit — driving cars with blue Michigan license plates — to Dallas and Fort Worth in those years) also claimed it was crime that drove them out.  And, of course, with an influx of new, unsettled residents, there was an unsurge in crime, even in already crime-ridden Texas, at the time).

In other words, the “drug violence” is as more a symptom of border problems than the cause.  Still, it has to be said that the root of the violence is a badly designed, and flawed policy for dealing with the narcotics trade and with economic conditions in general.

Which is why Mexico City seems to have an edge.  I notice in the Reuters story has to lead with crime:

… But even as the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people escapes the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts, traffickers are moving into the city’s outskirts and threatening to encroach on the capital’s relative calm.

The Federal District— Mexico City proper — is about 8 million people. The “mayor”, (rather the Chief of Governance of the Federal District) recently made the news as the “world’s top mayor”. That may not give much more than bragging rights to Marcelo Ebrard, but the fact is that going back to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s tenure, the Federal District has been pursuing a policy that has been relatively successful in reducing crime through alterative methods. Although Reuters points to security cameras, things like old age pensions, social programs for “at risk youth” (including job creation programs), better street lighting and police patrols in economically distressed neighborhoods, training programs for the police, and even twice daily garbage pickup …. all of which were criticized when they started… also make the Federal District a better place to do business, and mean that residents have the money in their pockets to spend in those businesses that just couldn’t survive any longer in places like Juarez.

Those “outskirts” are governed by different administrations, which have not been as innovative in their policies, and some of which are terribly governed.  The assumption from around the blogosphere (and elsewhere) is that State of Mexico governor Enrique Peña Nieto will be the next president.  I can’t find the link now, but his statement that he’d continue the policies of the present administration in fighting the narcotics industry seems to suggest that the United States will not object to a PRI victory, which is beginning to make me think he may indeed be the next President.  HOWEVER, those “outskirts” are mostly State of Mexico communities, and with rapidly eroding support for the present policies, we may be seeing the first signs of a call for change that is very real, but not one that fits the mainstream narrative… yet.

(Sombrero tip to Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Mexico Institute and M3 Report).

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