A query by Dick Swart on “Speak Up” inspired a few thoughts on Mexico by Ken Thomas ’93, and others. In the interests of archiving the discussion, I am re-posting it here. I will begin with Dick’s comment and let the rest of the discussion continue ‘under the fold’.

Dick Swart says:

Ken Thomas –

“Drug-related violence claimed 5,700 lives across Mexico last year, more than double the number of victims in 2007. ”

BBC News today

This is more than Iraq and Iran for the US Military!

Dick (an old guy who hung in TiaJuana and Ensenada, and now Todos Santos and La Ventana)


  1. sophmom says:


    And those are the reported numbers.

    On the front page of today’s NY Times, the mayor of El Paso called neighboring border town, Juarez, a “war zone”.

    An excerpt from the article:

    Worries that the violence in Mexico could spread to the United States reach to the highest levels of the federal government. Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the Bush administration had laid plans to send a surge of federal agents and soldiers to trouble spots if the violence spilled over.

    If Homeland Security is worried about spillover, you can only imagine how bad it must be within Mexico.

    P.S. I really should have made this comment on this thread, where Ken’s essay makes for a fascinating preamble to the NY Times piece.

  2. Ken Thomas ’93 says:

    Dick and sophmom,

    You turn my attention back to a topic where I have written a few tens of thousands of exploratory words, made a few phone calls– and need to make a few more.

    I have no concrete handle on the situation– who does? The idea that only 5,700 people died in this conflict, in Mexico, in 2007– that figure is about as accurate as the job statistics that were officially released by the Federal government for that year, which, if you calculated through them, indicated 12.7% or so jobs growth in 2007.

    I’m watching my words here– in contrast to the thread sophmom links– but when “we” published this fact on a website– carefully worded, “coded,” obliquely, in the hope we could get away with it, and… — let me just say we’ve experienced a few threats in the course of this, and we chose to withdraw what was published. (Let me append: by no means have “I” been under the threat that others have bourne). This situation is similar to what I’ve reported before: when Universal or Reforma reported on the events, the bombings, the incursions, the prison escapes and assaults on infrastructure– the reports disappeared in hours.

    I’ve thought of it this way– how can we send hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq– to “foster and establish and defend democracy–” and accept and ignore a dictatorship– “a perfect dictatorship,” as it has been called– on our southern border? How do we confront the contradiction in that– and the threat?

    The reporters and civil servants I cultivated as contacts in Mexico are no longer there; anyone who tries to report, risks their life. I’d like advocate courage– by why should someone living on $15K a year take such risks, for unclear results?

    The way I’ve thought of the above, since the weeks of January and February of 2008, is as a “soft purge”– an elimination of the voices who questioned, carefully executed, without explicit violence, without setting off the triggers and signals of a violent purge. You don’t kidnap or murder a reporter, or an economist: you simply undermine, have them removed from their position, seize some accounts and assets … intimidate, manipulate…

    I want to underline another part of the story here– given PTC’s statements about following orders– I’ve seen a lot of examples of individual valour and courage in these previous years, I’ve seen intelligence liasons violate orders in order to do what seemed “right” and “their duty” to something “greater than themselves”– at great risk. As I am about to “wax:” there are heroes here, who are greater than I.

    I don’t have ears in State, to know how much the US knows and doesn’t reveal about the security assessment of Mexico– certainly the analysts who listen to the communiques, who monitor the phone conversations and emails and such, have a sense of what’s going on– but can and do they put it together with the actions of China and the Middle East? — but I fear we don’t have enough handle on the situation, on all the players sticking their “sphere of influence” into events– and I fear, from the conversations I’ve had, that we’re waiting on certainties, on forms of “concrete evidence,” on “proof”, that cannot emerge.

    On the ‘economic’ side– in brief– Mexico does not have the ability to marshal the resources to address the problem. We’re past the “tipping point.” Whatever window of opportunity we had two years ago– is closed.

    What you see reported in the NYT and Fortune (et al) is largely a (poor) refection of the situation in the northern states– the spillover of a far larger development. The real problem exists in the southern states: in the total collapse of their civil society– in the uncounted thousands who have died there, (because their is no one to count the bodies); in the inability of Mexico to control its borders; in the millions who have fled to the US and Europe and elsewhere. McClatchy was almost blunt a few months ago: any reporter who wanders there, will not come back.

    How many bodies– what is occurring, in those mountains? As with my Kurdish friends, I’ve run into to the refugees late at night, I’ve heard their stories, the descriptions of thecommandoes del muerte, the ‘death squads’– I have no way to measure or judge what has occurred– but– if I can sit in south Chicago, or Bowling Green or Nashville, and hear people talk again and again of the deaths of their families– how many have actually perished?

    Where do I go from there– what are the possible solutions to the problems represented by ‘these equations?’ I once thought– that I might, that “we” might– force a new relationship here, repair our bilateral alliance, built trust and begin to develop long-term co-operation– prevent Mexico from becoming a dependent satellite of the emerging European Union, or of China, or of another regional alliance– by — “allowing”– “helping” — (something more than those two words in quotations)– Mexico to be(come) something more that a satellite state of the ‘Washington Consensus’ — by wholeheartedly supporting Mexico’s “democracy” — and– ahem– speaking from the other side of my allegiances– forcing the US to confront its liabilities, our weaknesses, the fact that Mexico and other nations are now in a position to threaten the US, in ways “we” barely see through the fog–

    I worry that the previous sounds quite a bit more arrogant than it is; but Obrador’s administration would have given the United States a few shocks, and while — it would be absolutely arrogant and unwarranted to assume I would have assumed anything like the position I wanted– without the ability to describe the details, I’m trying to say the US may have needed those slaps two years ago– and contrary to the Mexican political assumption that the US will never treat Mexico as an equal, perhaps we would have done something entirely different–

    – there: perhaps a simpler principle. So long as the United States treats Mexico as an inferior and dependent, and fails to overcome the biases of our deep racism and ignorance– we leave Mexico no choice but to fall into the hands of other powers, and to engage in the fantasy that these powers will oneday treat it as an equal. And Mexico– like the United States– has few true friends.

    Let me immediately undermine myself: that’s inaccurate. It certainly wouldn’t fly with the hardliners. And as I’m at it– well, I’ll hold my words but for this– what is going on in Europe?

    “Europe” is following the “Chinese” path: or experiencing a new pattern of ‘globalism:’ complex economic and social integration across the globe, something more than that the ‘regional spheres’ I use to explain things above– extending into Central and Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia– and the populations of these nations are integrating, somewhat difficultly, with Europe– but much more quickly than in the United States. Brussels, Munich, Paris, Berlin– even Prague or Krakow– half the population of half these cities was born outside the EU. It may be a bold new experiment– I’ve called it “a new form of government”–

    but it holds such threats. I’ve sat with the staff of a few of the economic ministers in the past years– as a representative of country other than the US– and I don’t want to breach their confidence– but the possibilities and scenarios I’ve heard discussed, simply– disturb me, inspire fear, because– they are possible. And– clear to me– our “economic situation”– is a result something more than “irrational excess”– but a result of those calculations, and concrete actions, testing the waters of what can be done, to challenge and weaken the United States.

    Back to the question of Mexico: the urgency seems clear to me; that we are overwhelmed by the fog of war seems clear to me– that something must be done to stabilize the collapse of the Mexican Republic seems clear to me– but I cannot reach through uncertainties, the inability to see what is actually occurring, to a practical path– or even suggestions.

    Let me go too far again: I once asked if Mexico would– under some scenario– accept international peacekeepers on its soil. I can’t recount the answers– I mean it would be irresponsible to do so, a violation of trust and my promises to those who answered frankly– but the answers were surprising, not what I expected.

    I have to thank you all for tolerating my excesses and disorganization above– and for your prompts and questions– and hope you’ll excuse that I haven’t edited, taken the time to be clearer and more focused– but I want to end with Brzezinski’s call in that interview with Scarborough– what this situation requires, the only path through all of this– is serious engagement with the problems, “time and sweat and sacrifice,” if you’ll tolerate the repetition of that phrase.

    Or– if you’ll let me end on one of the devises of Obrador’s movement– in English– “what can you do, to help?”

  3. frank uible says:

    The world is and will continue to be hopelessly foolish, corrupt, evil and downright nasty – so much so that I have too little time, energy and other resources remaining to make it sensible that I try to do anything substantial about it but to protect my grandkids from it all as best I can.

  4. PTC says:


    Mexico is very wary of the United States. They too, remember the Alamo.

    All of Latin America is feeling the pressures of outside influences since we virtually abandoned the place after 9/11. Panama, not much more than one decade ago, held the largest concentration of US armed forces in the world. Even during that era of interest in our hemisphere, Mexico was a restricted area of operations and movement due to Mexican mistrust of the United States. The Chinese now own the Panama Canal. The days of Operation Just Cause are long gone. But the Chinese and others are still forced to defer to us for all things military in our hemisphere. Others had better tread carefully in terms of political and economic influence as well. We have been known to play chicken with nuclear holocaust in the past, in terms of protecting our interests in “our” hemisphere.

    When things erupt, I believe we will be able to seize control and repair Mexico rather quickly. Mexico is like a house that has been badly damaged by a major flood, but none of the residence of the house are willing to admit that the house needs to be rebuilt by a historically untrustworthy insurance company (us). The longer they wait to call the adjuster, the worse it will get.

    I am completely confident in the ability of the United States to re establish order and re build the Mexico, if it comes to that. As much as we have some major political and historical obstacles their, those are far outweighed by our geographic position strategically and our human connection with the place. How that might unfold and take place… I have no idea. I think we will see some form of power projection within the next decade.

    Ken- Do you have insights on a possible courses of action? Which political groups would you support now, if any, and why? If this were to happen soon, would you favor a large show of force that shows complete dominance, break the foundation and rebuild… or a more subtle approach that works within the larger framework of what exits to move on competing factions to create stability from within?

    In theory, we could make it the 51st State, or a territory… not beyond the realm of possibility. Hence the reason the owners are not yet willing to call that adjuster…

    Anyone else notice that the US Marines restricted liberty to Tijuana this week?

  5. PTC says:

    A great video on Mexico.


  6. kthomas says:

    PTC (@4):

    Your question set off ten or fifteen threads of response in my head, each with a quippy beginning– “Remember the Alamo is also a common phrase in Mexico, but…; what we need is bullet train service between Mexico City, Dallas and Houston– Americans seem to think this would be to bring Mexican workers to to the US, when it would also run in the other direction.” And so forth…

    Looking at the clock and the flight I have to meet, I have about 20 minutes. So:

    My sense of things is that each of the major Mexican parties has men and women who are willing to work for change– and certainly US policy should not favour any faction needlessly.

    I’ve spent a bit of the past years trying to talk about Mexico and Mexicans in the United States– I reel with disgust at Americans’ ignorance– in high terms, Mexicans have the status of Ellison’s invisible men, people whom we turn our eyes from and ignore– in other terms, I’ll use the word, Mexicans are simply the United States’ new n——.

    I think you have some idea how hard the average Mexican toils, the dawn to past dusk hours, the labour– and yet the United States continues to think of Mexicans as fat, lazy, ignorant– yet taking ‘our’ jobs– and Mexico’s civilization as ‘backwards.’ These prejudices must be erased, and we must begin to know each other.

    With time pressing, I’m going go back to my ideas from some years ago– we would begin with a series of Senators like Mark, and Representatives and mayors, and whomever was willing and capable of listening and acting (on both sides)– we would all-but-formally severe the existing mechanisms — and rebuild our relationship, representative by representative, individual by individual, businessperson by businessperson, from there.

    That’s one possibility — which could be tied to concrete steps and actions– if it is not too late. What I’m saying is– with the Mexican-born population of each city in the US approaching 10%– every city councilman in a town such as Nashville, should know their counterparts in cities in Mexico, and be able to call them up and simply discuss, one-on-one, the details of our relationship.

    From there, there are a lot of technical details– we needed to get a handle of sorts on immigration– we needed to control and direct it, so that regions in the United States correspond to complementary regions in Mexico, and the back-and-forth of commerce and cultural exchanges, reinforces both sides, and simply makes communications easier, because the elected representatives in an area in the US, could call the corresponding representatives of their region in Mexico.

    Needed. Time is running out. Something of what we needed was to bind the United States and Mexico in an exceptional and unique diplomatic and cultural relationship– one that breaks the rules, that builds a new entity–

    Time’s almost up. Mexico, of course, has more that one state– and if I keep going on, I’m going to start getting hate mail about advocating a North American Union again — which is not what I advocate.

    What I’m saying– I’m sure you know what it is, to live side by with someone in the same house, with a fence in between, unable to talk, resentful, wary of each other, — what I’m saying is that its time to take down the fences, speak to each other again, and see if the relationship can be repaired.

    Have to run– back later– my apologies for not answering some of your direct questions.

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