The neighborhood is not only complicated but also extraordinarily contrasting. Although the border region between Mexico and the United States constitutes an exceptional space, distant from Mexico City as well as from Washington, the reality is that it is the most critical flash point in view of the year 2024, a moment at which the presidential elections of Mexico and the United States will coincide. It is there that the fears of the Americans will converge with the failures of Obradorism and the result is anything but certain.
Octavio Paz wrote that the border marks a greater cultural than geographical difference, an encounter of contrasting civilizations. Nothing illustrates this better than the way the Mexican government has responded to the growing U.S. clamor for Mexico to face its security, border control and migration problems. There is no doubt that the outcries of the U.S. legislators and governors entertain an evident political and electoral connotation trained on attracting their own voters, but that does not alter the fact that what impacts Mexicans are not the diatribes of prominent U.S. figures, but instead the extortion and violence that affect practically the whole population. Wrapping oneself in the flag is very emotive, but that does not in any way change the reign of impunity and fear under which nearly all Mexicans live.
Similarly evident is the bias that the current Mexican government has imprinted on the strategy toward the U.S. Recognizing, however implicitly, that geography is unalterable, the government has maintained a somewhat schizophrenic policy toward the Northern neighbor: fear concerning Trump, disdain for Biden; disinterest in the rules of the game inherent in the Mexico, United States and Canada Treaty (USMCA) vs. individual actions for specific companies to allay the risk that the U.S. might undertake punitive actions; control of Central-American migration, but paralysis on being confronted with the migratory crisis percolating along the entire border. Were it possible, the government would have distanced Mexico from the United States; since that is not an option, the government does whatever possible to provoke it. The risk lies in that, when the goings get complicated, it opts for setting off the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. This is not a small nor a minor risk.
The solution to the problems of Mexico does not reside in the presence of U.S. troops (or advisors) in its territory, but it is likewise obvious that many of the central problems characterizing Mexico cannot be attended to without the participation of the American government, nor can they be divorced from the reality of that country. The easy way out would be to envelop oneself in the flag and hurl oneself (metaphorically) over the wall of Chapultepec Castle, but that would not change the circumstances of a region in which the one depends on the other.
The situation recalls Marx’s often quoted phrase in the sense that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and we are now in the farce phase. Much the same disquisitions took place in the eighties and the final decision then was that it was impossible to resolve Mexico’s key problems without the concurrence of the U.S. government.
The notion that is possible to divorce the two countries is not only nostalgic, but also fallacious, merely ideological. Mexico’s real problem, exacerbated by the fact of the neighborhood, is found in the existence of a government that does not have the capacity (nor the disposition) to address such basic problems as security, justice and economic growth, all critical for getting ahead.
The visceral response is always to attack when confronted by the actions (almost consistently discursive) of the U.S. side, but that does not solve the problem facing Mexico, which is not drug addiction or fentanyl, but rather that the most rudimentary security has been denied to the population. I have not the least doubt that the arms turning up from the United States contribute, even decisively, to consolidating the power of the Narcos, but the Mexican problem is not that. As in so many other things that characterize the bilateral relationship, whether that be directly or indirectly, the arms are pure and simply an incidental factor.
The President is beguiled by pipedreams of restoring the old political system and has dedicated his government, in its totality, to that purpose. However, in terms of the matter of the bilateral relationship and security, the old system is unreproducible. In the middle of the past century the federal government was hyper-powerful, which conferred upon it the possibility of imposing conditions and limits on the Narcos of that epoch, all those Colombian. Today the Narcos are Mexican, they have entire regions under their control and the federal government is weak. Worse yet when that weakness is emphasized on limiting the capacity of action of the Army and the Navy. And much worse, because that is the underlying issue, when there is no investment in the building of a security system from the bottom up, the only one susceptible to modifying the reality of impunity and violence in the long term.
The neighborhood is an inalterable reality. The question is whether Mexico will see this as an opportunity or as a curse. As with Marx, Mexico has returned to the era where it is seen as a curse. The only one of the two that will function is opportunity.