Mexico News & Analysis: Oct 29-Nov 4

WHY IS MEXICO ABSENT FROM US ELECTION DEBATE?
This coming week, about half the eligible voters in the United States will participate in a quadrennial exercise in limited democracy by electing 435 Representatives, one-third of the Senate, and a President - all wealthy, mostly white and male, and inevitably beholden to one sector of the capitalist class or another. Political commentators recently noticed that, aside from a few brief mentions of migration and Latino voters, Mexico has not been part of the electoral debate.  Why ignore our neighbor to the south? 

Well, from the perspective of the US capitalist class, Mexican affairs are very much in order, thanks largely to sitting President Felipe Calderon and his National Action Party (PAN).  For the past six years, Calderon has been a loyal minion, defending free trade agreements, maintaining a neoliberal economic agenda by cutting social spending and sustaining a relatively balanced budget, waging an increasingly violent “war on drugs,” and acting as US surrogate in Latin American political circles. Occasionally the US will step over a line that even the PAN can’t overlook, generating a few carefully measured words from Calderon, almost always delivered to the Spanish-speaking media - for example, when the Border Patrol murders Mexican citizens, not an uncommon occurrence.  But for the most part, US authorities say jump, and Calderon responds with “how high.”  Mexico’s political wagon is hitched securely to the US capitalist class, and as a result, Mexico boasts some of the wealthiest capitalists in the world, while more than half the country lives in poverty. 


But there may be a more profound reason for ignoring our southern neighbor. Perhaps Mexico is not part of the US political debate because their status quo is, in fact, our own future under capitalism. Politicians don’t want to draw attention to the obvious lessons from a textbook neoliberal economy where only the financial, export and natural resource sectors are capable of generating wealth, and then only when starvation wages are part of the equation.  Perhaps we should include telecommunications, where Carlos Slim became the wealthiest man on the planet via a unique level of monopoly control, or real estate, though that story won’t sell any more north of the border. Oil is also part of the Mexican mix, but in a nationalized version that draws only criticism from private capitalists in the north.

 

Take drugs, for example, a $40 billion business that replicates the early years of laissez-faire capitalism.  Cartels don’t somehow end at the border, and in fact, the world’s largest drug market and most of the money-laundering are found north of the border. In Chicago, as in other major drug centers, murder rates are on the rise, parallel with unemployment rates and home foreclosures in many neighborhoods of color. The link between drugs and a corrupt political class many not be as clear - yet - north of the border, but police and Border Patrol corruption are on the rise, and links with the financial sector are obvious, with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America as apparently the most egregious violators. Some experts attribute the financial sector’s solvency (barely) during the 2008 crisis to drug money circulating in banks on both sides of the border. An estimated US$10 billion greases the political and law enforcement wheels in Mexico every year, and it’s hard to imagine some of that doesn't find its way into the US system.  Illegal drugs exemplify the perfect capitalist market, with entrepreneurs on both sides of the border reaping the benefits, and billions of dollars lubricating a financial system increasingly in search of lucrative investment opportunities.

 

Migration is another bilateral issue that generates consensus across borders, at least for the capitalist class. Cheap and exploitable migrant labor acts as a reserve army north of the border, particularly in seasonal sectors like agriculture and the more dangerous elements of construction (think roofing and demolition). Those same workers serve as the second largest source of hard currency south of the border via family remittances, thereby providing a social safety net that enables the Mexican political class to cut government services and ignore unemployment benefits. And a workforce constantly on the move and struggling to get by is hardly a threat to capitalist hegemony.

 

Free trade agreements offer another common interest. Remember, it was former President Carlos Salinas de Gotari who initiated NAFTA. Yet, despite job losses to the north, it has been Mexican workers who suffered the most dire consequences. Increases in undocumented migration over the past three decades run exactly parallel to increases in US grain exports, particularly corn, to Mexico, which in turn drive campesinos from farming. Mexico’s capitalist class sold NAFTA with visions of a future full of middle class prosperity, a snake oil job that even experienced US politicians could learn from. In fact, the Mexican political class has been even more adroit than their northern counterparts at promoting a nearly pure version of neoliberalism “trickle up” economics, leaving the country with one of the worst Gini coefficients (measurement of inequality) in the world. 

 

Calderon will be replaced by Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI on December 1, but with minor exceptions, he is expected to largely reproduce Calderon’s agenda. The one notable exception is Calderon’s war on drugs, which Pena Nieto is likely to replace with a negotiated (behind closed doors) “live and let live” scenario. The PRI will likely return drug trafficking to the modus operandi enjoyed for most of the last century, something roughly similar to the revolving door of US political operatives who regularly enjoy the perks of private business in exchange for ignoring or corrupting the people’s business. If Mexico represents the future of the US, it’s no wonder politicians don’t want the subject on the electoral agenda.

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