Is Mexico a Failed State?

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Martin Peretz seems to think so:

I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies:  congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict.  Then, there is the Mexican diaspora in America, hard-working and patriotic but mired in its untold numbers of illegals, about whom no one can talk with candor.

The present political strife between the two countries is actually economic.  But it is not wholly subsumed under the labels of “free trade” or “protectionism.”

The fact is that Mexico is also a failed state…and its failures are magnified by its immediate proximity to the U.S. Its failures will increasingly cross the national boundary, like the drugs and the people, two very different manifestations of our intimacy.

I tend to agree with Peretz but in this case he is way off the mark. Yes, there has been an alarming upsurge in drug-related violence. There is also an understandable concern with border security. But there is a certain amount of hysteria involved as well. Much of this hysteria revolves around violent criminality in Mexico.

Mexico’s murder rate is 11 per 100,000 residents, almost twice the rate in the  United States (5.9 per 100,000 in 2007). Yet when placed in a comparative perspective with other Latin American countries, Mexico’s murder rate is lower. By this measurement, Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia and much of Latin America are all failed states.

Plus his comments regarding the “characteristic deficiencies” of “Latin societies” are offensive. I know Peretz would be upset if one made similar generalizations about Jews and Israelis. So it is disappointing to read him stereotyping other groups.

But Peretz is not alone in his assessment. In addition to the voices of the nativist right, the WSJ’s Joel Kurtzman recently reported:

[A] new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.

One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.

It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to “surge” civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary.

The problem is that in Mexico’s latest eruption of violence, it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico’s antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico’s antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.

Secretary of State Clinton was correct to point out that the U.S. is the primary market for Mexican heroin, cocaine and marijuana and that American consumers are keeping the Mexican drug lords in business. So how do we reduce the demand for these products?

Conservatives tend to support stiffer penalties for users and dealers while liberals generally promote an expansion of drug treatment programs. Neither enforcement or treatment have been especially successful as both policies fail to decrese demand for drugs. A third policy option is drug education but here too, the results have been less than inspiring.

Common libertarian proposals vary from decriminalization of marijuana and a relaxation of enforcement against hard drug users to the legalization of all illicit drugs. They may be on to something. Evidence from Switzerland, the Netherlands and other countries that have experimented with liberalizing drug laws suggest that demand for drugs among teens has decreased immediately following decriminalization or legalization with some moderate increase thereafter. Whether this would work in the U.S., I am not sure.

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3 responses »

  1. Plus his comments regarding the “characteristic deficiencies” of “Latin societies” are offensive.

    How would you suggest he say it? What Latin societies don’t exhibit corruption, crime, and authoritarianism that we would find intolerable here in the US? This is equally true, but to a markedly greater degree, in Muslim societies.

  2. Pingback: H1N1: Trends & Lessons, Part II » Mexico

  3. The Mexican govt. is irredeemably corrupt, and will never end the drug war or solve any other major problem. It’s time the U.S. finally admitted that Mexico’s problems trace back to the de facto apartheid it imposed in 1848 when it took half its territory for their whites-only homeland, and ended the apartheid by having Congress officially invite the Mexican people to dissolve their cruddy govt. and join the U.S. as the “51st state” (10+ state) sans racism. Click the url to read my Megamerge Dissolution Solution proposal showing how the Obama admin. can do it.

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