TO hear the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates,
Mexico will be the whipping boy of the 1996 US campaign.
Of course, the reason for all the attention has nothing to do
with concern over the welfare of the Mexican citizenry. The only
interest is how Mexico affects the lives of US voters. The issues
are corruption, illegal immigration, bailouts, NAFTA, and drugs.
Even Pat Buchanan agrees that the individual Mexican - whether
US immigrant, illegal alien, or tomato grower south of the border -
isn't the target. The villains are the makers of policy and those
who carry it out, on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The scale and influence of corruption in Mexico is difficult for
Americans to imagine. The image of giving a policeman 50 pesos
(about $6.50) to avoid a traffic ticket is true, but woefully
incomplete. What hurts American businesspeople is the unfair
competition they face from cronyism: the common corruption where
friends and relatives get sweetheart deals and kickbacks (politely
These practices can't be rationalized by saying that they happen
in all countries, including the United States. In the US, law
enforcement officials often catch, and courts punish, offenders. As
writer Carlos Fuentes explained earlier this month, the difference
is that in Mexico there is still impunity.
Illegal immigration should be a valid concern. But is it really?
Most say it's simply a matter of supply and demand, and as long as
there is an equilibrium, the US just winks at illegal entries. In
normal times, with reduced labor costs and low fruit and vegetable
prices, the US consumer is the big winner and everyone is happy.
The 'safety valve' rebelling
Now, with the Mexican economy having dropped by 6.9 percent last
year, the circumstance of having an impoverished neighbor has
When it can't feed its people, the Mexican government has
welcomed the safety valve of having the United States available to
receive its poor. For the US, however, illegal immigration seems to
have gotten out of hand. In January the US Border Patrol caught
more than 42,000 undocumented aliens, as against only 9,500 a year
Sure, a few high-profile areas might be sealed off. But the
whole border? Building steel walls and deploying military personnel
simply isn't the answer (except, perhaps, in the sphere or
electoral politics); it would be prohibitively expensive, and it
shouldn't be necessary. The viable solution is for the US to
pressure Mexico to adopt policies that will reduce Mexican income
inequities and keep its people satisfied at home.
That should be important for Mexico, too. It is losing some of
its best workers - the ones with the ambition and drive to try to
On bailing out the Mexican economy every time it nears
bankruptcy, which has happened at frequent though irregular
intervals over the past 14 years, Pat Buchanan is right - but for
the wrong reasons. He says US aid shouldn't help "left-wing regimes
such as ... Mexico." Yet the past 13 years have seen more
Reaganomics in Mexico than the US had under the Great Communicator
himself. With this laissez-faire economic policy, the rich got
richer and the poor got poorer - or went to the US.
In propping up Mexico's continually corrupt government, whose
deeds come nowhere near fulfilling President Ernesto Zedillo
Ponce de Leon's democratic-sounding words, the US State Department
seems to lack any ability to distinguish between a system that can
democratically fine-tune the governing of a society (the US, in
spite of all its faults) and one that can't (Mexico, because of its
many governmental faults). …