Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Well, it's a nail-biter, but I think we can assume at this point that Calderon has won the Mexican election, contrary to my own prediction at the end of last year. I hope we can agree that this is good news. Lopez Obrador was unfairly characterized as a Chavez-wannabe, but neither was he plausibly a Lula, someone with populist roots but who had come to terms with the nature of his country's economic position in the world and the constraints of the dominant liberal paradigm (and of, well, reality).
I don't think it serves American interests for us to bet too heavily on any particular political outcome in, well, most countries, certainly not basically friendly ones like Mexico. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't invest in a process the success of which matters to us a great deal. After President Bush's reelection, I advised him to focus on three countries in Latin America: Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. Brazil is an emerging regional economic and diplomatic power; it behooves us to have a better and more substantial relationship with that traditionally neglected country. It also behooves us to show the world that we can get along very well indeed with Latin American countries that elect left-wing governments so long as those governments do not directly threaten American interests or subvert democracy. Colombia we should embrace and support, because they have been staunch supporters of America facing enemies who are our enemies as well. In this I'm preaching to the converted, of course.
As for Mexico, I argued that Bush should sit down with Vicente Fox and have a little talk, explain to him that there had to be more give and take in the US-Mexican relationship. Specifically, Fox would have to publicly tackle corruption, particularly in the army, and take real steps to control Mexico's side of the border (rather than, as currently, actually assisting traffickers in people and drugs to penetrate into the US). In exchange, the United States would commit to significant financial assistance for development that could absorb internal migrants from Mexico's south who are currently being "moved on" to the United States.
We now have another opportunity to present such a deal. America has an enormous interest in Mexican economic success, an interest that would not have been served by a Lopez Obrador victory. But it is vital that we distinguish America's interests from American *business* interests, and as well to distinguish America's interests from *Mexican* business interests. Business interests north and south of the border are indifferent to the plight of the underdeveloped Mexican south; indeed, they may be positively inclined on both sides of the border to excessive (very nearly exclusive) reliance on the "safety valve" of emigration in addressing this longstanding problem. One of the more interesting inversions of the Mexican political scene is that it was Vicente Fox of the nationalist PAN who argued that Mexicans who leave for the United States are actually Mexican patriots, and that Mexico has a legitimate interest in their success in America, while it was the leftist Lopez Obrador who took the more patriotic line that mass emigration from Mexico was a national tragedy and a sign of the failure of Mexico's political and economic system to provide opportunity at home. Calderon may be inclined, based on his background and history and the general positioning of the PAN, to govern as the representative of the business class. Ironically, it may fall in part to the Americans to prod him into being more of a *national* leader, in large part by making him aware of political reality in the United States, and the fact that the safety valve is inevitably going to close, the only question being how fast and how hard.
Calderon has been heard to say that one kilometer of road in Tabasco (was it Tabasco?) is worth ten kilometers of fence on the border in terms of ending illegal migration from Mexico to the US. Okay, we should say: we'll pay for that road in Tabasco. It'll be good PR, and it might even help. But in exchange, we expect real results: on corruption, and especially on corrupt support by the Mexican military and police for traffickers in narcotics and people. The safety valve is closing. The more Mexico does to show a good-faith effort to control the border on their end, the more good-faith effort we'll show to close that valve gently. It should be clear to Calderon that, if no such good-faith effort is forthcoming, politics on this side of the border will slam the valve shut harder and faster.