Tonight marks the start of the Mexican Independence bicentennial. It also corresponds with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. It seems that every 100 years Mexico faces social and political upheaval. So here we go again...
I have been following with dismay the violence that has gripped my home country over the past few years. I was struck with the fear that underlies people's lives when I was there visiting my family. Private guards with automatic weapons, barricades, walls, and general paranoia dominated the landscape. The government has launched offensives against the drug cartels and has tried to purge its ranks to eliminate corrupt officials. But the violence continues to escalate.
I realize that the violence is not widespread, that the media profits by sensationalizing it. Nonetheless, the crimes committed are stupefying. The killings, the disregard for life, and the lack of compassion are discouraging.
What has become of my country?
Violence has been part of its history, so in some ways what is occurring now is nothing new. The Revolution created anarchy throughout the country a hundred years ago. Political repression is part of the historical fabric of the nation. But the recent, albeit slow and uneven, economic and political progress offered glimpses of optimism that Mexico could move on and overcome its skeletons. Such hope has been eclipsed, at least for now. While it is not dead, a major struggle lays ahead.
But why? Why is Mexico, a country of such kind and friendly people, engulfed in such a nightmare?
This is the eternal question. In my eyes, it is a natural consequence of prolonged inequality, both economic and political. Inequality destroys civic society. The blatant disparities that exist in Mexico, while almost invisible to those living there does affect the psyche of people. Blatant wealth and development that provides riches to a few and toil to the many, while the political system stifles voices of dissent, creates an atmosphere of discontent. In such a system, corruption becomes a vehicle for public officials to eat at the table of the haves. Graft by government workers corrodes the public trust and civic participation dies.
In such a place, the lure of quick success, a ticket to wealth regardless of the path becomes very tempting. If morality has been lost in the rest of society, what is the benefit of adhering to it. Loyalties switch, sometimes bought with tangible benefits. In the absence of civil morality and staunch group loyalties, violence becomes the only viable tool. As the violence escalates, vengeance is inevitable. Tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, into an unending cycle of horrors. All the while, the wealth (and the arms) continues to flow, providing the incentive (bait?) for new recruits, new foot soldiers to carry on the fight and pawns to be sacrificed in the war.
So where is Mexico going? I do not know...
The path out is one that seems untenable at the moment. It would require legalization of drugs and tighter control over weapons in the US, a controlled but free movement of labor between Mexico and the US, and a civic awakening among Mexican citizens. Legalization of drugs would reduce the profits and wealth of the cartels. It would make the recruitment of participants more difficult. Weapon control would make it more difficult for the cartels to arm themselves. Free movement of labor would end human smuggling, would allow for a better flow of wealth from the US to Mexico that would stimulate the Mexican economy and promote entrepreneurship. None of this is likely to happen, though.
So all that is left is civic participation. There have been glimpses of this already. I do not know if on its own it can succeed. Never underestimate the will of determined people, especially Mexicans. It takes a strong will to make the way into a country that is determined to keep you out, to work in the field, to be abused and denigrated, and to continue to smile through all of this.
For now, Mexico will celebrate. Perhaps forget its problems for a day or two. It is a time to be proud, to remember our history. But it is a time to draw strength for the struggles that lay ahead, a time to reconnect with neighbors, to see that there is hope to overcome the violence that lies in wait.
Happy Birthday, Mexico! Hopefully 100 years from now you will be able to celebrate in peace.