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Wednesday, April 13

Mexico: Terroristas, banditos, and the difference between commuting and migration

In January the US Department of State issued a travel warning about the deteriorating security situation in Mexico's northern border region, where killings and kidnappings have increased in an escalating war between drug traffickers.

In September 2004 the US consul in Reynosa, a border town across from McAllen, Texas, issued a travel advisory to US citizens. The advisory came on the heels of reports that Reynosa police were forcing US drivers to remote locations or ATM machines and demanding they hand over money or be imprisoned.

The warnings barely speak to the seriousness of the cascade effect, which Mexicans dub the 'Colombianization' of their country. Whatever successes are measured in the war on drugs in one Latin American country translate to a rising tide of organized crime somewhere else in Latin America.

Vicente Fox is understandably upset about the US warnings, which dampen tourism trade from the US and lend strength to calls for tighter border security and a clampdown on illegal immigration.

Pundita assumes President Fox is also miffed at complaints that Mexico is hard-handed with their illegal immigrants, which Mexican officials claim are mostly just passing through on their way from other Latin American countries to America.

Common sense tends to agree; of the official number of 200,000 illegals that Mexico detained last year, surely only a fraction represents professional kidnappers, drug traffickers, child slavery traders, hit men, and other representatives of the crime world. But it only takes a couple hundred of such characters to turn a region into hell. The banditos, as with the terroristas, have learned to think globally and act locally: when the heat is on in one locale, they transfer operations to another.

This is reminiscent of the Paddy Wagon solution, which the NYPD under the Koch regime infamously deployed. When the winos, heroin addicts, and prostitutes turned the Lower East Side into a zoo, the police would show up with a caravan of paddy wagons, load up the undesirables and deposit them in Harlem. When the same types sent Harlem business owners to the police station with blood in their eye, the paddy wagons would show up again and deposit the undesirables back in the Lower East Side. When the Lower East Side merchants set up another howl, the paddy wagons would arrive and deposit New York's colorful street life back in Harlem.

The problem is that banditos and terroristas are not zonked winos. Before you can load the varmits into a paddy wagon, first you have to catch them. If you can't catch them, you end up with gangs shooting bullets at each other in broad daylight a few blocks from the White House, as happened in Washington a year or so back.

All the above is preface to William F. Buckley's gaga perspective on illegal immigration from Mexico, which Pundita found through following a link on The Glittering Eye blog to the PoliBlog, which deposited me at Buckley's Op-ed titled, Can we stop illegals?

Buckley's analysis follows the time-honored Commentariat Rule: If you don't know anything about the subject you're talking about, talk about something you do know about, even if has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. Thus, Buckley dedicates his commentary to a discussion of the Berlin Wall, then tacks on closing observations about Mexico:
The flow of Mexicans to the north can be strategically contained either by improving the quality of Mexican economic life, or by suppressing opportunities in U.S. life. The former cannot be done, given cultural rigidities and impermeabilities. The latter can be attempted, but at great cost to American business interests and ideals...The immigration wave appears uncontainable, and we cannot generate the sentiment required to do the kind of thing the East Germans did. All of which argues that effective reduction in illegal immigration is not going to happen.
Buckley's Eastern Establishment mindset clearly excludes knowledge of the cross-fertilization of cultures in Mexico and the American southwest. And his Cold War paradigm limits him to thinking in terms of containing a migratory pattern. Germans wanted to flee East Germany, never to return until the communist dictatorship fell. The majority of Mexicans who come illegally across the border every day are not fleeing Mexico, they're commuting to work.

Informed discussion about the Mexican immigrant situation must draw a sharp distinction between illegal commuters and illegal immigrants. The illegal commutes can and must be thinned out, so that the banditos and terroristas cannot easily commute between Mexico and the US under cover of crowds.

As for the idea that the US cannot help to improve the quality of Mexican economic life, the US has already given considerable help and continues to do so, as has the US-led World Bank.

And the warning has gone out to President Fox from the International Monetary Fund. If Mexico wants the Bank to keep the loan spigot open, the IMF wants Fox's government to stop futzing around with tax reform.

No matter how understanding President Bush sounds when he talks about illegal immigration--when the IMF talks tough, that's a sure sign the US administration is really ticked off. Although it might not sound like tough talk to you, the IMF managing director's November speech to the Mexican Congress gets down to brass tacks when it arrives at Point #13:
...Tax reforms, focusing on broadening tax bases and improving administration, are needed to bolster Mexico's ability to finance the public sector and increase its resilience to shocks. Mexico's tax base is the lowest among OECD countries and a full 6 percentage points below Korea's, which has the second lowest. The public sector relies on the oil sector for a third of its revenue, although it is only 3 percent of the economy. The tax efficiency of the VAT in Mexico is well below that in other countries, reflecting many exemptions. And, as in many other countries, public pension reform is urgent. The current system is widely seen as inequitable and financially untenable. The fiscal costs of delaying reforms would be high, taking away scarce resources from spending programs pivotal for growth.
By point #17, the director is on a roll:
Finally, the costs of living and doing business in Mexico continue to be higher than warranted as a result of a lack of competition and a weak judiciary system. First, competition has been artificially limited in particular domestic markets such as the telecommunication sector, where tariffs count among the highest in the world, and regulatory reforms would help level the playing field. Second, Mexicans need to be provided with a reliable, rapid, efficient, and transparent justice system and root out corruption. The perception of a lack of legal protection is currently widespread among individuals and businesses in Mexico, which discourages new economic activity. Indeed, recent World Bank research indicates that Mexico is lagging the main OECD countries with respect to regulatory quality, and is lagging emerging market competitors in Asia and Eastern Europe from the perspective of the rule of law.
Mexico's ruling class should get one thing very clear. The US need for Mexico's oil will not prevent the US from adopting draconian measures against illegal immigrants and commuters in the event of another terrorist attack in the USA. Both sides of the border are living on borrowed time in this respect, so the Mexican government would be well advised to take the IMF instructions to heart.

For links to other Pundita essays on Mexico, US-Mexico relations, immigration from Mexico and the Mexico-US border situation/war on terror, see Mexico Desk.

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