May 16, 2003

U.S.-Mexico Rift - Past the Water Mark

By Raul Vasquez
Eastern Group Publications

In most every way, they were as close as they had ever been. When Mexican President Vicente Fox joined his American counterpart George Bush in Washington, D.C. on September 5 and 6 of 2001, an enveloping giddiness permeated cross-border relations, as was evidenced by their joint communiqué on September 6.

“Both Presidents agreed that U.S.-Mexican relations have entered their most promising moment in history,” said the joint statement. “Our governments are committed to seizing the opportunities before us in this new atmosphere of mutual trust. The depth, quality and candor of our dialogue is unprecedented. It reflects the democratic values we share and our commitment to move forward boldly as we deepen this authentic partnership of neighbors.”

But then, within days of the memo, September 11 happened. And after that came America’s wars: first in Afghanistan, which Mexico supported, followed by Iraq, which Mexico boldly –and crucially– opposed.

In the meantime, new “homeland security” measures in the U.S. targeting immigrants have further strained U.S.-Mexico relations, as well as diminished the latter’s hopes for a new blanket amnesty for nearly 3 million Mexican undocumented workers living in the U.S.

Just last month, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza said Mexico’s opposition to the Iraq war in the United Nations made it harder to come to any favorable agreement for Mexico on the amnesty issue. And two weeks ago, investigations discovered that the Justice Department paid tens of millions of dollars to buy personal data, including DNA and bank account numbers, of every Mexican (presumably, “potential immigrants”) living in Mexico – an act that clearly violates Mexican laws.

While it’s easy for some to disregard Mexico as an “insignificant” partner, the bonds between these two neighbors are as real and profound as they are complex. In 1999, Mexico surpassed Japan to become the U.S.’s second most important trading partner after Canada. And the U.S. desperately needs Mexico’s resources to help stem the flow of illicit drugs, since the majority of heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana consumed in the U.S. comes from its neighbor to the south. The U.S. also continues to court Mexico as a partner in its diplomatic war against Cuba’s government, despite resistance in Mexico to condemn the island nation.

Today the official public relations line coming out of government officials on both sides of the border is that they will “continue working closely” to “further improve relations.”

But behind the vague diplomatic language, it may well be that the summit in Washington, D.C., in the days before the worst terrorist attacks to date that so changed the world, also marked the high water point of relations between the U.S. and Mexico for years to come. In the United States, many influential Americans are consumed with events in the Middle East and don’t even consider it a possibility of granting amnesty to undocumented workers – over half of whom come from Mexico – despite what the Mexican government may want. Simultaneously, a growing number of influential Mexican intellectuals such as Carlos Fuentes are calling on the Mexican government to start looking to Latin America – rather than to the U.S. as they have for over a decade – to strengthen ties with.

“I’ve always said that the border between Mexico and the U.S. isn’t just the border between Mexico and U.S., it’s the border between the U.S. and Latin America, which begins with Mexico,” said Fuentes. “That means that the closer we become with our Latin American neighbors, the stronger we will become as a nation.”

Return to the Frontpage