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Mexico Must Get Used to Foreign Scrutiny

Chiapas: Expulsion of foreigners reflects outmoded, isolationist thinking.

April 26, 1998|SERGIO AGUAYO QUEZADA | Sergio Aguayo Quezada, a professor at the Colegio de Mexico, is a member of the National Directorate of Alianza Civica, a grass-roots elections monitoring and democracy watchdog group in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — My country is once again facing an old challenge: making Mexican nationalism compatible with our expanding role in international trade and our membership in the world community.

The recent expulsion of 12 foreigners is the latest move in a campaign waged by the Mexican government, its party, various media outlets and business groups to push an anti-foreign message aimed at limiting international presence in the conflicted state of Chiapas. This campaign is largely in response to the global scrutiny and criticism of the Dec. 22 massacre of 46 unarmed peasants.

Among the foreigners recently expelled was a French priest who served the Diocese of San Cristobal for 32 years and who, in statements to the international press, explicitly linked local ruling party officials to the gunmen who carried out the massacre. He now joins about 215 volunteers with international human rights and humanitarian organizations who have been forced to leave Mexico in the past two years.

Given the many invasions and aggressions Mexico has suffered at the hands of foreign powers over the centuries, Mexicans are rightfully wary of foreign intervention in our internal affairs. But the current anti-foreigner campaign is rife with inconsistencies and will prove counterproductive and dangerous.

The government promoting this anti-foreign campaign is the same regime that has overseen the wholesale opening of the Mexican economy to foreign capital. In the late 1980s, to boost its sagging political fortunes, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party forged a strategic alliance with Washington to open Mexico to foreign investment and trade, as exemplified by the North American Free Trade Agreement. How can we reconcile the current anti-foreign rhetoric with an economic strategy that embraces foreign trade and investment?

Another glaring inconsistency can be seen in the government immigration policy toward humanitarian and human rights workers. While the policy makes the reasonable demand that foreigners respect the law and traditions of nonintervention, it expels them in a legally retrograde fashion based on a provision in the Mexican Constitution that gives the president the "exclusive power to expel from the national territory, without need for judicial action, any foreigner whose presence is deemed to be inconvenient."

Now President Ernesto Zedillo is wielding that authority, although the expulsion of foreigners clearly violates just and modern legal process. It is also counterproductive because it sends a message to the world that the Mexican government is attempting to hide the truth about its human rights record from global scrutiny. Finally, the anti-foreign clampdown is dangerous because it whips up hate and intolerance toward others, which is the antithesis of a democratic and civilized society.

I agree that the presence of foreigners in Chiapas should be regulated and that foreigners should not intervene in our internal political affairs. But Mexico should in turn create explicit provisions to facilitate the work of bona fide international nongovernmental organizations. Furthermore, if Zedillo wants someone expelled, that person should be given access to legal counsel and granted due process, something that has not happened in recent incidents.

The international presence in Chiapas is a symptom of the times, not the cause of the conflict. If all foreigners were removed from Chiapas tomorrow, the result would certainly not be peace. We must deal with the root causes of our problems, not try to create a sideshow by scapegoating foreigners.

Mexico opened its economy to the world at a time when the international community was renewing its commitment to human rights and democracy. Mexico's rapid integration into international trade and the global community has spawned enormous social and economic changes in our society. For better or worse, this process is irreversible. It is foolish for the government to pretend otherwise.

Our challenge now is to reconcile our nationalism, with all its historic suspicions toward foreigners, with an ever more interdependent relationship with our international partners. If our doors are open to foreign business, they must also be open to the human rights community.

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