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Column 012907 Corcoran

Monday, January 29, 2007

 

U.S.A.-Mexico Interdependence Continues to Grow

 

By Patrick Corcoran

 

Mexican President Felipe Calderon made news a couple of weeks ago when he said that Mexico belongs first and foremost to Latin America.

 

“Mexico is essentially Latin American,” the president said. “Independent of the fact that geographically we belong to North America, we know our essence and our substance, our history, our past and our future are in Latin America.”

 

Pretty words but are they true?

 

Leaving aside the fact that Latin America is something of an artificial construct (after all, what do anarchic, French-speaking Haiti, emerging giant Brazil, and wealthy, dynamic Chile all have in common? Not a whole lot save a hemisphere), there is little to support Calderon’s claim. For better or worse there is no push for a Bolivian trade agreement in Mexico, nor are people scrambling to line up jobs at an Argentine retail chain that is opening stores across the land of the Aztec Sun.

 

The mere fact that Calderon felt compelled to make the above statement is evidence of Mexico’s growing integration with the United States, and some voters’ resulting uneasiness.

 

The most common interpretation of Calderon’s comments, made during his Central America visit for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration, is that the president was distancing himself from his pro-American image, shoring up his political flank on the anti-American left. It follows that Calderon’s symbolic first journey as president-elect was not to the United States but to South America.

 

George W. Bush has been more than willing to reciprocate his lack of enthusiasm for the relationship. Despite the fact that he gave immigration reform ample attention during his recent State of the Union address, Bush never once mentioned Mexico. Although he recently placed a friendly phone call to Calderon, the soaring rhetoric and personal intimacy that characterized Bush’s pre-September 11 rapport with Vicente Fox are absent. Xenophobic, anti-immigrant congressmen are a force in Bush’s party, and he has shown little willingness to open himself up to attacks from the right by reverting to his erstwhile enthusiasm for Texas’ southern neighbor.

 

But their leaders’ behavior notwithstanding, the connection between Mexico and the United States is as strong as ever and not likely to weaken.

 

Culturally, most of northern Mexico has more in common with Texas than it does with, say, Santiago de Chile. Across the nation consumers shop for American products and watch American movies. And the cultural exchange is a two-way street. In the United States a movie made by a Mexican is up for the Best Picture Oscar, while a television show derived form a Mexican telenovela [soap opera] won a Golden Globe.

 

The two nations’ economic integration was cemented by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which has now been in place for 13 years. Mexico is the United States’ third leading trade partner (having recently been leapfrogged by China), as well as a leading source of oil.

 

As important as those trade ties are to the United States, they are absolutely essential to Mexico. The United States eats up almost 90 percent of Mexican exports, while providing more than half of its direct foreign investment. Mexicans residing in the United States supply a US$20-billion-plus annual jolt to their homeland’s economy through remittance payments.

 

The Mexico-United States political relationship focuses primarily on security, and in this realm the last couple of weeks have been busy ones. On January 20, Mexico announced the extradition to the United States of fourteen drug convicts. Among the group was Osiel Cardenas, who’d been staking his claim as the second most powerful drug lord in Mexico despite being imprisoned since 2001. The United States was more than happy to take the group, especially Cardenas. And the response to the extraditions from Mexico’s political commentators, notoriously sensitive to American infringement on their national sovereignty, was mostly positive.

 

Calderon emphasized that the extradition decision was unilateral, with no pressure from the United States, and that may be true. Regardless, it is evidence of the mutual dependence Mexico and the United States have on each other. Each country used the other to remove a thorn from its side.

 

Days before the extradition, US Congressman Silvestre Reyes (Democrat, El Paso) proposed a massive upgrade in the amount of US dollars given to Mexico, which pails in comparison to annual grants to Peru and Colombia. Under Reyes’s bill, the United States would give Mexico US$170 million annually for five years, with the money used to pursue five different security objectives. The passage of Reyes’ bill is not assured, nor is it a guarantee that Mexico will accept the money if offered (again, sovereignty issues present obstacles), but it is another sign that Mexico and the United States are becoming ever more integrated.

 

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a whole lot of news about Mexico’s relationship with its southern neighbors. Probably the biggest news of the past two weeks was Bolivian President Evo Morales’ comment that he had felt humiliated by Vicente Fox, and although he’d never met Calderon he saw the same tendency in Mexico’s new leader. Surely this is not a sign of brotherly, unbreakable links.

 

Like an old married couple too petulant to realize they forever are doomed to each other’s company, leaders from the United States and Mexico will continue to downplay the two nations’ interdependence. The millions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living in the United States, as well as the billions of dollars in bilateral trade, speak more loudly than any politician. Whether leaders deny, denigrate, celebrate or ignore the relationship, it will continue to grow.

 

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Patrick Corcoran, a MexiData.info guest columnist, is a writer who resides in Torreón, Coahuila.  He can be reached at corcoran25@hotmail.com.