The Relationship

Luis Rubio

There is no border as complex and diverse as that separating Mexico from the U.S. It would be easy to simplify it, rationalize it as a merely commercial matter. The reality comprises an enormous diversity, complexity and multiplicity. The boundary with the U.S. includes legal and illegal crossing points, drugs, contraband, persons, ideas, goods, services and disputes. An old saying from the Mexican side of the region held that “if it fits through the bridge, it can pass”.

From the high plateau of Mexico City, it is difficult to understand the diversity and complexity of the border zone. It concerns a region, on both sides, that experiences a symbiotic relationship in which each lives off each other andneither could explain its existence, and success, in the absence of the other. Many have spoken of a “third” country as distant from Mexico as from Washington D.C., but in reality it entails a space of dynamic exchange where everything comes to pass, the best as well as the worst of both nations.

For decades, U.S. citizens saw the Mexican side of the border as a space for recreation and lust, but also of greater simplicity and ease of living without the very structured life of their country. We Mexicans ended up seeing the border as an inexhaustible opportunity for markets, clients and developments that would never have been possible without the liberalization of trade that took place under the auspices of NAFTA. Beyond the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the devalued successor of NAFTA, and, in general, deriving from the close relationship that existed up to 2016, the ties between the two nations are increasingly deeper and more diverse. The trade war between the U.S. and China opens additional opportunities that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago.

The big question is whether we Mexicans will be capable of converting this juncture into opportunity, now within the context of Trump and of old structural problems of Mexico that never get fixed and are not even part of the public agenda.

The Mexican government recognizes the existence of problems and limitations regarding the development of the country, but it has not been willing to recognize that its preconceptions are unviable and act to the detriment of the government’s objective of relaunching the development of the country. On the side of the problems, it recognizes that the insecurity is persistent, but not that its great purposes can be met with the strategy that it has adopted, which does not even strengthen or standardizes the police forces at the local level.

Mexicans, of any origin and lineage, have demonstrated a huge capacity of adaptation to daily life, while migrants, with an ever-greater capacity and enthusiasm for developing grand projects of economic and commercial transformation, make their appearance in the national life. The bilateral relationship is constant, unequivocal and systematic: source of enormous benefits or intractable conflict. But it does not endure radical changes.

The violence that typifies the relationship is the product of a poorly understood interaction. It is obvious that a large proportion of the arms employed by the mafias of organized crime stems from the U.S. Similarly obvious is the fact that Mexico –at all levels- has not been capable of developing security strategies that confer certainty on the inhabitants of the Mexican side of the border. It is a secret to no one that Mexico has been an immense failure in providing the most basic of rights, which is security, whether in borderline municipalities or in the principal cities of the country.

Mexico leads a life of uncertainty and insecurity that all Mexicans know, independent of the loyalty or rejection that they profess toward the President. Although many respond positively in opinion surveys and with conviction support the President, the same surveys show that the majority wants an improvement and not a radical change.

From the summit of power it is easy to accuse or pardon the supposed transgressors of the law but, for the Mexican citizen in the street, every example of corruption, extortion, murder and flagrant lying is just another milestone in a long history of abuse, imposition and corruption. The President can be impeccable, but his administration has been shown to be indistinguishable from those that have preceded it. Corruption is strangling Morena, as it did with the PRI, the PAN and the PRD. Unless it changes course, its results could not be distinct.

The bilateral relationship poses an opportunity or a curse, depending on the perspective that each Mexican decides to adopt. Whosoever has observed the day-to-day reality of life in the neighborhood knows well that the fundamental problem is not the border, the Americans, or the relationship, but the persistent incapacity of the Mexican side to stabilize the country, to generate local police officers capable of maintaining order and guaranteeing security, likewise to the most modest and the most lofty Mexican.

The President’s agenda is as ambitious as it is blind.  What Mexico requires is solutions; what the President seeks is excuses for going against what the citizenry wants and demands. The question is how much time –and damage- it will take for the obstinacy to cede to the reality.