La Cronica de Hoy, Mexico
Mexico and the US: Reducing Asymmetry
By Francisco Báez Rodríguez
Translated By Slava Osowska
15 January 2013
Edited by Natalie Clager
Mexico - La Cronica de Hoy - Original Article (Spanish)
Part of what has to change with the change in government is the relationship between Mexico and the United States.
The main problem facing our country is this relationship, which — having always been asymmetrical — became even more unequal during the rule of the National Action Party.
Faced with a sluggish economy, the centerpiece of President Fox’s blueprint for relations with the United States was the enactment of an immigration reform that would allow Mexico to continue counting on a social escape valve. This centerpiece fell away — crumbled — along with the Twin Towers and the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. And like Humpty Dumpty, there was no way of putting it back together.
During the so-called Bush Era, national security was pursued obsessively; a good portion of this objective involved the United States’ southern neighbor. It is important to mention that much of the bilateral negotiation on these issues wasn’t between the State Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but between Mexico’s Interior Ministry (through the Center for Research and National Security, which at that time was headed by none other than Eduardo Medina Mora) and Homeland Security.
In fact, if there was ever a rational flow of people and goods across the border during those years of American paranoia, we can assert that it was thanks to these complex negotiations that the current Mexican ambassador to Washington participated in.
By the time Calderon took his oath of office, national security continued to be the priority in the United States, but it took a different path. It turned into a direct, frontal assault on drug trafficking (to combat insecurity), violations of human rights and the propagation of the cartels that we know of today.
Also, this put an end to the first electoral transition in Mexican democracy.
In the interim, while Calderon continued being adamant that his was the only way — along with the diktat from across the Rio Grande — three important things happened in the United States that compelled both parties to reconsider their priorities regarding bilateral relations.
The first was the economic crisis set off by the mortgage market and the poorly-regulated financial system in the U.S. The crisis hit Mexico hard and forced Americans to take another look at their financial and trade relations with other countries, including ours. Security stopped being the main concern, and unemployment took its place.
The crisis in the United States brought with it a change in demographic trends. The lack of jobs put an end to illegal emigration in a way that border fences, real or virtual, did not. The net population flow between Mexico and the United States even reversed itself temporarily.
Finally, political and demographic dynamics in the U.S. created a phenomenon — quite evident in the 2012 elections — that has granted unprecedented power to Hispanic communities there. They are now kingmakers. Candidates will have a hard time winning national elections if Latinos are against them, as Romney learned all too well.
These three conditions, along with the change of political party in power in Mexico and the resounding failure of the so-called “war on drugs” (with scandalous botched jobs like “Fast and Furious”), create a new foundation for bilateral relations. I insist that they should also create a relationship that is less asymmetrical.
Both presidents understand this, but up to now it’s been just talk. Obama and Peña Nieto advocate putting economic recovery at the center of their relationship. Both are putting the topic of security on the back burner. The trafficking of weapons is replacing drug trafficking as a focal point — and both agree that it is a good time for new immigration legislation in the U.S., without it becoming the core issue in bilateral relations.
Last but not least, let’s turn the matter on its head. In the words of Obama, the issue is “to enhance trade, strengthen our competitiveness and effectively manage our border.” This should translate to reining in the United States’ hidden protectionist policies, support for Mexican competitiveness in the medium and long term (in other words, education, I believe, which is much more useful than the attack helicopters of the Merida Initiative) and the continuation and strengthening of the cross-border agreements which prevented a collapse in the beginning of the century.
Of course, these same words can be read differently: Increasing Mexico’s importation of U.S. goods, competition through cheap labor and ceding real control of the border to our northern neighbor. In the logic of the short term — and thus, shortsightedness — it would be advantageous to Americans (although the well-being of both sides would be improved with a broader vision).
Betting on the medium term, insisting that economic integration bring with it movements of population that are beneficial to both nations, and understanding that modernization and job creation on this side of the border complement U.S. national security are all elements of a relationship that — in reality, not just as lip service — can be one of neighbors, partners and friends. Let’s see how much progress is made.
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