Mexico's New Power Before the United States

During a debate we had here on The Narcosphere back in August, I wrote:

" is impossible for the United States to militarily invade Mexico - or even place an economic embargo upon it - without causing conditions that would fast lead a rebellion by United States citizens against their own government at home, and that Mexico enjoys a unique power in this sense..."

I have said this, in fact, to thousands of people in recent years, imploring Mexican friends and allies to realize the real power they have to change drug policies, and others, without fear of Uncle Sam, and imploring gringo friends and allies to understand that a potential silver bullet exists South of the Border to collapse the entire drug war game.

I usually get blank stares in response. To suggest that the little guy can beat the neighborhood bully here in a barrio called América seems to cause a kind of nervous discomfort.

But in today's Mexico City daily La Jornada, somebody else just said it: a very official-looking bloke from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. His name is John Coatsworth. Look at his photo. It's not like he's wearing a ski-mask over his suit and tie. This guy is as establishment as they come. I'll translate his words. Maybe y'all will listen to the guy in the suit... Coatsworth, director of the Rockefeller Center, said:

"For the first time in the history of the Mexico-United States relationship, the latter can't act against its neighbor in a manner that damages significant Mexican interests without damaging its own interests...

"I think that the most interesting and least recognized aspect of the relations between both countries is how power has been displaced so dramatically from the United States toward Mexico. The people who keep talking about the asymmetry have to rethink it. That offers Mexico the capacity to project power toward Washington in favor of its own interests and in a way that is still not being exploited, very consistently and consciously..."

Coatsworth was interviewed by David Brooks and Jim Cason about the upcoming elections in the United States, prospects for changes in immigration policy, and economic issues. To be fair, I'll note that he didn't bring up drugs. But I'll also say that everything he says about the changing power dynamics between the two countries applies with exactitude to questions of drug policy.

The days are over when U.S. Ambassadors and special envoys - like Washington's Charles Shapiro attempted Thursday in Bolivia (Read Alex Contreras' Narco News report on that adventure in imperial arrogance) - can threaten Mexico with similar harm if it doesn't toe the line on drug policy. The dynamics are simply too explosive. Harm the Mexican economy, and you harm the U.S. economy. The right hand can't shoot the left hand without losing blood itself.

So what keeps the drug war in place in Mexico?

Mainly, it's the inherent corruption of a prohibition policy, which creates large amounts of loose cash to bribe law enforcers and public officials. The U.S. Embassy's game for years has been to look the other way just long enough for some pol or cop or narco-banker (or, in too many cases, journalist) to wet his beak with dirty money, deploy the DEA and other agencies to gather the evidence, and then use that evidence to blackmail him as an individual. That is how Washington and Wall Street end up owning Mexican politicians. That is how, frankly, the sale of the National Bank of Mexico (Banamex) was coerced into the hands of Citigroup at a bargain-basement price.

But one fact remains: There is no public consensus in favor of gringo-style drug policies in Mexico. Few, if any, Mexican citizens believe the hype, as their Northern neighbors do, that governments are keeping drugs out of the hands of children or that prohibition laws are necessary to do so. I have interviewed countless Mexican politicians and opinion leaders who, the moment they go off the record, freely admit that the only solution to the drug problem is legalization. (Some - we've reported them on these pages, from governors to prosecutors to the president of the Republic - openly embrace such reforms.) But, still, they do nothing, absolutely nothing, concrete to change the policies.

It's hard to move the lawmakers because the prohibitionist system is set up to corrupt everybody. And a corrupted leader is a fearful leader: when he knows that the corruptor has the goods on him, he can't do anything to piss him off. That's when the evidence flies out of the DEA's locked file cabinet, onto the front pages, and extradition to U.S. prisons becomes a real prospect.

In fact, it's easy to pick out the honest ones because they're the few and proud who openly challenge US-imposed drug policy in Mexico. They can speak their minds precisely because they've remained clean. That doesn't mean that "evidence" won't be fabricated and leaked to the newspapers anyway. Even some of the honest ones live in fear of being framed.

But in the next two years, approaching the July 2006 presidential elections in Mexico, you're going to see democracy breaking out all over the place in that country of 100 million people... Ten years of an educational process about democracy "from below" - a kind of democracy that existed before Columbus thought he was in India and named those prehispanic democrats "Indians" - has brought another kind of power that, like the new strength Mexico has in front of Washington, is so new that it is hard to see unless one is consciously involved in that process.

Perhaps it is human nature that it's hard to accept good news, especially when it regards how much power we actually have.

Because with power comes responsibility.

In the past, United States troops have been sent to invade Mexico many times. In 1846 the U.S. it "annexed" (a euphemism for "stole") California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico from Mexican territory. In the early 19th century U.S. soldiers encroached again and again into Mexican territory trying, in vain, to catch General Francisco "Pancho" Villa. In 1918, U.S. troops helped squash the creation of the Socialist Republic of Yucatan. Some scholars have counted more than 150 U.S. invasions of its neighbor to the South.

But those days are over. It can't be done anymore without creating an exodus of northbound immigration and a resulting chaos inside of U.S. territory.

But the vestiges of the psychology formed by the world's wealthiest nation living next door to one of the most unfairly impoverished (because, after all, Mexico is rich in human and natural resources) do not fade so easily.

Gringos - even "liberal" or "progressive" ones - tend to find the suggestion upsetting that Mexico has a new power over the U.S. government. And many Mexicans, knowledgeable of the bullying history, the ruthlessness, the hypocrisy, of U.S. policy toward them, have come to believe that the dynamic was permanent.

In geopolitical terms, it could be said that Mexico's new (but yet to be realized) power is akin to that of a youngster who has achieved legal age. He can drive, he can leave, nobody can force him to do anything, but dad and mom prefer to keep him infantilized and in the house. But at some point, if they use too much force or pressure, he explodes.

Anyway, you've heard it from me, and now you've heard it from some suit over at the David Rockefeller Center. The suit and I probably have little else that we agree on. But we've both observed: Mexico has grown up. It's a sovereign and autonomous state that can make its own policies. And because Washington and Wall Street are still playing rough, as if the old dynamic of absolute control is in place, it is only a matter of time before the explosion comes.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.