Violence in Mexico needs some perspectiveThe television news in a hotel in El Paso, Texas last week was disarming:
By: John Crisp, The Dickinson Press
The television news in a hotel in El Paso, Texas last week was disarming: just across the border, Mexico was uncomfortably close to becoming a “failed state,” defeated by poverty, corruption, and drug wars.
Assassinations and kidnappings were threatening to wash over the Rio Grande. Cross the border at your own risk.
I’ve been to Mexico perhaps 60 times, from daylong border crossings to extensive trips on Mexican busses and trains deep into the interior, but this time felt a little different. Nevertheless, early the next morning we boarded a bus with 40 other Americans and our Mexicana tour director — my wife prefers the structure and comfort of an organized tour to the rigors of Mexican bus rides — and crossed the border into Juarez, a prime battlefield in the war among the drug cartels.
We emerged after a week of bus and train travel through the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa without encountering any evidence whatsoever of the drug wars that are making headlines in the United States, except for slightly increased troop movements on the highway into Juarez. Of course, didn’t seek out illegal drugs or consort with prostitutes, but several times we separated ourselves from our fellow Americans and walked alone on the streets of Mexican cities completely free from threat.
Now, I’m not arguing from this somewhat limited and insulated experience that there’s no problem in Mexico. In fact, I hope you won’t blame me if you travel there and get kidnapped or shot.
Drugs cartels and criminals are a genuine threat. In some areas of Mexico kidnapping and extortion are common, and newspaper reporters and policemen are intimidated — or killed — by organized thugs.
Still, perspective is called for to bridge the gap between what we see on television and what ordinary Mexicans actually experience on a daily basis.
I gained a little perspective from a conversation one afternoon in the train’s club car where I was escaping my boisterous compatriots with a margarita at the bar. Sebastian, a young Mexican businessman, invited me to share the last empty seat in the car, at his table, where he had been reading a book and sipping a beer.
Sebastian had done me the favor of learning to speak excellent English — he used words like “detract” — and as mile-long tunnels and 300-foot-high bridges rolled past, his conversation revealed a perceptive understanding of international issues.
Eventually I asked him about the drug wars. He shrugged. He saw them as a disturbance of a long-standing equilibrium that involves the United States as much as it does Mexico. For years, drugs have flowed north and money south.
Everyone was happy, including drug users in the United States. When Mexican president Calderon cracked down, the hive was disturbed and the bees are fighting among themselves. But, Sebastian says, it’s temporary.
He drew parallels to the issue of illegal immigration, part of another long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. For years, much desired labor has streamed north, and much needed cash has flowed south. It becomes a problem only when politicians and the media look at it too closely.
Sebastian’s real point was that Mexico and the United States are inextricably “intertwined,” as he put it. The current troubles need the perspective of the larger relationship, one that many Americans have never fully appreciated.
Both countries will benefit from the resolution of the current upheaval. Mexico, of course, would be better off if the U.S. kicked its drug habit and quit sending high-powered weapons across the border.
And the U.S. could learn from Mexico. Sebastian pointed out that in some ways Mexicans are better prepared than Americans for the global economic crisis. Most are already accustomed to living modestly without the dubious benefit of excessive credit and consumption.
Sebastian’s well-justified pride in his country was evident. Mexico is no banana republic. I predict success rather than failure.
— Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.