A recent speaker in South Texas is “bullish” on Mexico! Duncan Wood, Senior Advisor, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., says “the future is bright” for Mexico and both sides of its northern border. (Steve Taylor and Blanca Gomez, “Everything Duncan Wood said about the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation Event,” Rio Grande Guardian, 28 Jul 23).
But, Wood added lots of “ifs”: IF the Mexican Federal government works well with the U.S.; IF it works well with northern Mexican states; IF those states are provided with needed energy. infrastructure, and human capital. Only then could productive, “cross-border” conversations be sustained. Quite a list of “ifs.” Many a Mexican official or citizen (or Mexican American on this side of the river) might add: “ojalá!,” that is, “If God Wills It.” First, there are current tensions standing in the way of fulfilling Wood’s dream. Who knows when or how they might be resolved?
Among those tensions are major disagreements regarding how to deal with violence from cartels. Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) does not accept data from US Drug Enforcement Administration Chief, Anne Milgram, alleging “45,000 members, associates, facilitators and brokers in over 100 countries” support the Sinaloa and Jalisco “New Generation” (CJNG) Cartels. He recently shut down an elite police unit working with the DEA. (“Mexican President Pushes Back on DEA’s Assessment of Cartel Strength,” Latino News, 27 Jul 24). Most knowledgeable observers on both sides agree cartel power will continue as long as arms are smuggled into Mexico and drugs are smuggled into the US.
Meanwhile, the time is over-due for better relations, for a release of forces on both sides of the border who desire (and are primed for) major advances in economic and cultural relations. What doesn’t Wood “get?” What holds the bullishness back? For one thing: remnants of a former president’s racist anti-Mexican attitudes and policies. Work on the infamous “Wall” is still proceeding. (Ironically, a few undocumented immigrants from Central America I personally know, hired to work with private contractors, building the Wall).
The other major obstacle to creative, positive relations is the symbolism of a (alleged to be illegal?) “Water Wall,” smack in the middle of the Rio Grande River. It is constructed of giant buoys and razor wire, courtesy of Republican Governor, Greg Abbott. In contrast – a large number of US tourists, peacefully cross daily into Progreso and, yes, even into Reynosa. Moreover, consider the buses from McAllen to Monterrey and beyond (to Leon, to Guanajuato); they are frequent, continuous and full. Note, also, the reduced, but still numerous Mexican citizens crossing each day by foot over car to shop and work—legally, for the most part—on the US side. Our border economy would be badly affected without them.
Right now, another factor is certain to have a negative effect on the potential for opening up a bullish economy: imminent national elections in both countries. In the US, we are well aware of the divisions, the dangers, the nail-biting angst growing among us. In Mexico, there is more certainty about which party might win the presidency in June of 2024, but lack of clarity about which candidate might emerge the winner.
Two major candidates just met, jointly celebrating 500 years of Indigenous Resistance to Spanish invaders: recent past Mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum and recent Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard. Both are trying to appeal to the masses, especially to the mestizo and indigenous populations, that is, to the masses. Both belong to the now dominant political party, (60% approval) MORENA (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), the party of of President AMLO. He cannot serve more than one term, according to the Mexican Constitution. If Sheinbaum is nominated (the nominations will be announced soon) and should she be elected, she would be the first female president of Mexico.
But hold on. Another prominent female candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, is creating a stir. If nominated by the opposition (also soon, probably a coalition of old major parties, such as the PRI and PAN, with smaller parties, yet to be named) she would be in the running as another possible female candidate. She is supported by conservatives, or any opposed to AMLO and MORENA. Part of MORENA’s strength? The acronym translates as “brown,” so, La Vírgen Morena, the Brown Virgin, the Virgin of Guadalupe, or the national religious symbol of Mexico. It seems likely that the Xóchitl candidacy (meaning “flower” in Nahua, the Aztec language) would boost Scheinbaum’s chances.
But that remains to be seen. A former PAN (National Action Party) president, Vicente Fox, recently, Trump-like, created problems by calling Scheinbaum a “Bulgarian Jew”(Foreign Policy, 7 Jun 23). He was forced to apologize for his racism and antisemitism, but as a white, right wing, former Coca-Cola executive, his faux pas revealed the racism and colorism that exist among many “Spanish” or white citizens of Mexico. Many privately call AMLO racist names, referring to his color and indigenous features. They also constantly accuse him of corruption. It will be a hot election. The point is, AMLO has too much on his plate to make nice with the US right now. He faces a popular female candidate. He must consolidate his power, if he can.
On her part, Xóchitl makes use of her Aztec name and her history, “selling tamales” on the streets of Mexico City. She asks adherents to “triunfar, sin olvida de tus raices,” (triumph without forgetting your roots). I’m not sure that is clear enough or strong enough to overcome the advantages of indigenous appeals of AMLO and MORENA. AMLO has urged Mexican Americans not to vote for Governor DeSantis; what would he do if DeSantis or other Republicans weighed in on voter preference in Mexico? The presidency and 500 congressional seats are up for grabs next summer.
The approaching (possible) turmoil in both the US and Mexico over elections make me leery of endorsing Wood’s optimism. I want to be optimistic too, and I hope he proves me wrong, but I don’t currently see a major new sweep of positive US-Mexican relations. If the Wilson Center and/or Wood have influence, so be it; use that influence.
But few—progressive, neo-liberal or conservative—have ever been keenly aware enough of Mexico (nor of us, here on the border). I admired and liked President Obama a great deal, although I can’t think of much he did for or with Mexico. And, his brand of neo-iiberalism is nearly dead (“The Rise and Fall of Neo-Liberalism,” Louis Menaud, Harvard, The New Yorker, 24 Jul 23). Will Biden and Democrats, all of a sudden, look south and favor Mexico (and/or Mexican Americans)? That hasn’t happened much lately. They are too busy trying to prevent take-over by an authoritarian return of Trump and Trumpism. And I can understand (and support) that noble goal. I love our country and our Democracy too much to risk losing it.
But, as much as I support President Biden (over a twice-impeached, twice indicted grifter) I fail to see his insight and focus into Mexico. Yes, of course, kudos to Biden for leading the DOJ against Abbott’s anti-Mexican, inhumane policies. (If I were teaching at Texas A M, I might be suspended for attacking Texas legislators.) But so much more remains to be done. People on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo await action. “Hope makes a strong breakfast, but a lean supper.” Por favor, get those bulls moving, si se puede. I mean not “Sí se puede”, not “Yes, you can,” but IF you can!
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by UT-Rio Grande Valley Professor Emeritus Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Dr. Mounce can be reached by email via: email@example.com.
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