(Independence Day)

Soph Mom,

You ask a question that is far beyond my limited capacity to answer– something like,  what might be the effect of the Mexican population living in the US,  on the 2008 US Elections?

Skipping the literal part for now– how this factor might change,  or might be used to change,  the vote count and result– I’ll begin with something of my current mantra on Mexico.

Mexico’s economy– Mexico’s actual production minus oil and payments from abroad– has declined by well over 50% since 1990.  The figures are easy to find.  That this itself has not prompted an international response– given that its consequences have caused 20 million or more to flee Mexico– is beyond me.

Though the official statistics– the Calderon’s regime’s economic reports,  and the counts of jobs and murders– paint a somewhat different and more rosy picture,  oil production and payments from abroad hardly make up the difference– or “right the ship of State.”

Imagine the United States if basic production were to halve in the next eight years.  That’s roughly what happened between 1992 and 2000 in Mexico.

In 2008 to date,  about 3,500 official civilian deaths have been reported in the “drug war” in the northern states.  This is a figure which cannot be correct — and as the North becomes “ungovernable,”  no one has a grip on the Southern states,  which have long been indeed “ungovernable.”

The evens are also not simply a “drug war.”  In mid-2007,  reporting of the bombings and the military techniques made that abundantly clear– as did the later chatter from the “revolutionary factions–”  before all such news became “unreportable.”  A year ago one could get a reasonable view “reading between the lines” by watching El Universal and Reforma–  in the first few hours there would be an initial report,  likely as accurate as one would get– then revised report,  with the spin of various agencies —  finally an “official” report,  tailored to present the purged reality.

Today there is simply no report.

I knew and spoke to a few of the reporters,  and received their explanation of what happened when one of them reported on a bombing of a factory or electrical facility,  or the breach of a prison holding “revolutionaries.”  I feel I’m making the situation sound too much like Iraq or Afghanistan– but that’s exactly what it is,  with the same training manuals circulating,  and if we are very unlucky,  the same support apparatus.

Today I fear there are simply not enough reporters.

Should I be declarative? : “No significant media in Mexico today can operate independent of the State and the corporate families;  no one can,  or is,  reporting the events ‘objectively.’ ” How does one “prove” such a statement– especially in an era when there is no funding for “investigative reporting”?  What I can say is that many of the people I knew in media and government positions– “who were critical of the regime on occasion,  however slightly–” were quietly removed from those positions. Many are lucky– had the resources to flee to Europe or the US or elsewhere– others,  who never earned more than $15K or so a year,  have returned to the struggles of poverty and to fates I fear are worse.

Of the others I know, professionals, others — the decision has become clear:  “it is time to get out.”  The people I consider my friends and family are re-establishing their lives as they can, abroad– and perhaps the specific and intense threats to their security blinded me to the general pattern affecting all.  My prayers remain with those– among both governments– who have chosen to remain,  to assume the risks of hope.  The assassinations of members of the Calderon regime have made clear that neither side is filled with demons,  nor immune to what is occurring.

And it is not getting better.  Two weeks ago I read it called in English “the collapse of the Mexican State–”

*     *     *

I recite the above to set a context– both for my fears for what is stirring on our southern border,  and to try to grasp the some of the varied thoughts and concerns and ideas of the Mexican population living in the United States.

Much of what I’m about to say is going to be speculative and wrong– and certainly not popular– so let me acknowledge that.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the previous three years talking to the Mexican population in the United States.  When I ran a last-ditch campaign to register Mexican citizens living abroad for the 2006 elections,  the reactions I received could be divided into two broad categories– “Mexico is corrupt and cannot be reformed”– “We want to go back,  Mexico is our home.”

Both statements tend to reflect the preconceptions of the old US-Mexico relationship,  the pre-1990 era,  a poor,  indeed often corrupt,  but fundamentally stable nation with a longstanding pattern of providing a small portion of its population as temporary workers to a larger and far richer nation.  Far more rarely,  I came across someone who indicated that something far more fundamental had changed– a woman in Chicago,  outside a church,  explaining that to go back to Mexico would mean struggling each day not to get shot in the streets of a small,  and once peaceful town.

And what is reported, of course: that those towns have lost over half their population,  and most of their men.

From particular statements and many experiences,  I might use a series of examples to illustrate the immense gratitude many Mexicans have towards the United States–  how Mexicans view the United States as a “land of opportunity,”  a refuge,  an ideal and hope– how they resent the United States’ and “Americans” strange hostility towards them, and the racism–  and their complex emotions regarding the necessity that brings them the shores of the United States– all of these reactions,  at the same time.

Calderon’s wonderful declaration “wherever Mexicans live,  is Mexico,”  also defies a simplistic summary– acknowledges the enormous dependency of the Mexican Nation and People upon the United States and the world,  — and exposes some of the complexities that lie within where we draw the boundaries of nation-states,  especially during the mass Exodus of populations and the near-unprecedented shifts of our era.

Two cautionary and background notes:  the great tumults over the ideal of a “cultural or linguistic nation”– and conflicts over the Sudetenland and Alzace-Lorraine;   Europe’s new experiment to escape the nation-state,  and create a superpower that is not a nation-state.

We live in interesting times– amid vast and unprecidented changes– currents changing more swiftly than we understand.  And the lesson of history,  of course– is that this is a curse.

*     *     *

After such ‘Gallic excesses:’  what is the role the “Hispanic population” might play in US 2008?

I have no idea– perhaps someone here would like to invoke the dubious science of polling,  for a population who largely do not have phones that they answer?

The conventional wisdom went something like:  Mexicans living in the US identified with GWB’s independent,  rancher persona– could identify with it– whereas they couldn’t quite identify with Gore or Kerry.  Much to that– and much has changed since 2000 and 2004.

Substantively,  GWB also took very concrete actions to defend the population and foster relations with Mexico,  often in direct conflict with the Republican party.  I cannot but think that,  in the end,  history will remember and judge positively,  that when the Congress edged toward the abyss of initiating mass deportations,  President Bush forestalled this action.

McCain could certainly do well to pick up on that goodwill– though it is obviously a very touchy issue.  (Of note,  on the small and insular nature of regimes and their ‘insiders:’  McCain’s son evidently wrote much of his early campaign copy in Spanish).

On the other side– I hear that Obama’s Mexico policy is firmly under wraps.  I assume that is because it is judged to “not play very well.” I can’t imagine he wants to engage in the pandering of “fence building.”  What else could,  or should,  his campaign do?

From there,  I’m not sure I want to,  or can meaningfully speculate.  I can say what I would do,  if I were to craft something of a “Hispanic appeal”– and that would be to address the issue of Mexico,  and America,  head-on.   Ours is a Representative form of government– or should be– and capturing the (“Hispanic”) vote requires demonstrating that one can represent the interests of others.

I’m neither sure where that should go– but I can give some basic outlines.

First,  the discussions between the Obrador camp and the US focused on the position of the Mexican population in the US,  and repatriation.  To acknowledge the US’s support of Mexico– and the need to support and stabilize Mexico– is essential.  We should not talk of deporting Mexican refugees to a collapsing nation where their security cannot be assured,  but of establishing a bi-lateral relationship which stabilizes both nations,  which is economically beneficial to all– and which gives Mexicans the prospect of somewhere to return to.

Second– overlapping– it is time to recognize Mexico’s enormous dependence,  economic and otherwise, on the US,  — and the United States’ security dependence on Mexico– and renegotiate the terms of this relationship — while acknowledging the very negative consequences US and Mexican policies have had on each nation.  The US should become firm in refusing to continue to financially support an undemocratic and failing regime–  but both nations must forge new roles as equals,  not as hostile partners who confront each other in an odd struggle of co-dependency,  economic and otherwise.

Third,  — overlapping again– each country’s enormous contributions to each other,  as sister nations,  must be acknowledged– and a much closer relationship sought.  Senators and Representatives in the US– and officials at lower levels– should know their counterparts in Mexico,  who are making decisions that affect the other.  The “guest worker” population in the US must be given a political and legal status– a legitimacy– which does not alienate it from Mexico,  nor preclude repatriation,  nor undercut the position of US workers.  The borders and economies of our two nations should become much more fluid for citizens of both nations– while remaining secure against the threats of terrorism,  the drug and arms trades,  the interference of non-regional players,  etc.

*    *    *

Three points are enough.  Let me draw back.

The above presents a very incomplete picture of tumultuous events with an incredible scope of complexity.  What happens in Mexico,  and in the United States,  has suddenly become tied to a series of rapidly evolving global processes– shifts in the balance of power and new regional alliances,  new and unprecedented forms of economic integration and dependency,  remarkable displacements in population and change in the nature of identity and culture.

We tend to view these in the terms of the past– “spheres of influence”– but the phenomena are fundamentally new,  and ungrasped– outside of our grasp.

I began composing this before the fall of Lehman,  with little specific expectation of the event– and spent the small hours of last night chatting with European colleagues,  who were aghast.  I reminded them– we’ve been talking about this for years.

The question has been:  when?  Days,  weeks,  months?  How long could it be avoided?  What security might be put in place,  in its stead?

The questions intermingle.  For two years I’ve discussed the possibility of civil war in Mexico.  For just over half a year,  that possibility– how it would start,  how it would play out– has been so concrete to me,  that I’ve wondered and worried– tomorrow?  This week?  This month?  Is it avoidable?  (From the first discussion:  “could Mexico accept UN forces on its soil?”)

We are that close.  Mexico could fall today– could fall tomorrow– could fall next week.  It has been discussed,  on all sides– each side has been preparing for these years.  Perhaps the United States is the least prepared– its career diplomats having been cut out of the process …

And of the United States?  None of these issues,  these emergent phenomena and threats,  exist in isolation.  The fall of Lehman is not an isolated event– its logic and structure is not limited to the markets. It is a sign of the times,  the challenges before us.

These are the hard and difficult and terrible choices we must face.

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