Pubdate: Wed, 12 Aug 2009
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Times, LLC.
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Author: James D. Zirin
Note: James D. Zirin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations 
and a former assistant U.S. attorney. He practices law in New York.


Oh, down in Mexico

I never really been so I don't

really know

Oh, Mexico

I guess I'll have to go

. James Taylor

With President Obama meeting with Mexico's president this week for 
the second time in four months to discuss guns, drugs and money 
laundering, the world ponders Mexico's future. To be sure, Mexico is 
not a "failed state," but as Latin American scholar Shannon O'Neil 
suggests, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, it may be "on the brink."

Mexico has a democratically elected government, and a relatively 
stable society, but the power of the drug cartels is formidable. In 
November in Mexico City, a suspicious crash of a Learjet, carrying 
nine passengers, claimed the lives of the powerful interior minister, 
Juan Camilo Mourino, No. 2 in the government, who spearheaded 
President Felipe Calderon's military crackdown on the drug gangs, and 
drug czar Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos who was behind Mexico's 
highest-profile operations against the cartels. In April, a U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration briefing on Mexico drug trafficking 
accused Mr. Vasconcelos of having taken bribes from the Beltran Levya 
drug cartel.

Since 1994 with the enactment of the North American Free Trade 
Agreement, Mexico has become one of our most important trading 
partners. America is responsible for some 85 percent of Mexico's 
legal exports -- well more than $200 billion -- and is after Canada 
our largest market.

American companies furnish more than 60 percent of all foreign direct 
investment. But the drug problem overshadows free trade. Ninety 
percent of U.S. cocaine and large quantities of other illegal drugs 
come from or through Mexico. And drugs are not the only form of 
contraband to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The overwhelming number 
of illegal guns seized from Mexican drug gangs have their origin in 
the United States. And drug money laundered through the United States 
lines the pockets of the Mexican drug lords to the annual tune of 
billions of dollars.

In a recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, 
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano underscored the 
importance of interdicting "the smuggling of narcotics, weapons, bulk 
cash and people at the United States-Mexico border" to ensure "that 
. the large cartels there are broken up."

Ms. Napolitano further stressed that Mexico must not be permitted to 
become a transit point for terrorists seeking to launch an attack on 
the American homeland. Accordingly, under the Merida Initiative, 
Congress pledged $1.4 billion in security funding over three years to 
buy weapons and training for the Mexican military and police. Some 
experts have criticized the Merida Initiative as helpful but 
inadequate aid for a next-door neighbor, particularly when compared 
with the Plan Colombia package of $600 million yearly.

A major element of the security mix will be changes in U.S. 
immigration policy. Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt 
reminded the Daughters of the American Revolution to "Remember always 
that all of us ... are descended from immigrants and revolutionists," 
it scarcely needs saying that our country was built on a cornerstone 
of immigration. Mexico is the largest source of immigrants to the 
United States.

As a result of economic pressures and soaring birthrates beginning in 
the 1980s, some 11 million Mexicans have legally or illegally 
immigrated to the United States seeking better jobs and higher wages. 
In 2007, these workers sent home to their families roughly $24 
billion in remittances.

Mexicans represent 30 percent of our foreign-born population. Many of 
these are here illegally and have no plan to return. Comprehensive 
immigration reform is obviously necessary to replace a system that 
has become dysfunctional. A blue-ribbon task force of the Council on 
Foreign Relations headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former 
Clinton White House Chief of Staff Mac McLarty just concluded, 
"Mexico represents a special case for U.S. immigration policy. 
Because of the size of the cross-border labor flows, its close 
economic integration with the United States and the implications for 
U.S. homeland security, the U.S.-Mexico relationship on migration 
issues is particularly important for American foreign policy interests."

The jury is still out on how much U.S. aid can bolster democratic 
institutions in a lawless Latin American society. In Colombia, where 
serious crimes continue to be committed with impunity, massive U.S. 
aid may have prevented the drug lords from toppling the country, but 
a huge number of unpunished murders halt progress and stall a free 
trade agreement with the United States.

Thus, Ms. O'Neil perceives Mexico's Achilles' heel to be its 
corruption; Colombia's Achilles' heel to be its lack of civil 
governance. The way forward, she says, is to strengthen democracy and 
rule of law in both countries.

Mr. Taylor actually was in Mexico. He is said to have been confined 
to his hotel room for the entirety of his stay with Montezuma's 
revenge. Some say, however, that the song is really about doing drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake