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MEXICO

Four Ways U.S. Can Deepen Ties

February 11, 2001|Carlos Fuentes | Carlos Fuentes is a Mexican writer and essayist. His most recent book is "The Years With Laura Diaz."

MEXICO CITY — The new presidents of Mexico and the United States are simultaneously beginning their administrations. The most visible novelty is that Mexican President Vicente Fox has a clear, popular mandate, while George W. Bush occupies the White House under a cloud of suspicion, having lost the popular vote but having won the election, thanks to five U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The more constant news lies elsewhere: Never has the relationship between Mexico and the United States been closer. After a century and a half of often regrettable confrontations, Presidents Lazaro Cardenas and Franklin D. Roosevelt took a new path. When Cardenas' government nationalized U.S. oil companies in Mexico in 1938, Roosevelt did not send in the Marines. Instead, he negotiated, and Mexico agreed to compensate the oil companies. There have been other problems between Mexico and the United States since then, but it will always be possible to resolve them through negotiation. In general, this principle has predominated, and it is one that suits both countries. Canny old Don Luis Cabrera, an early 20th-century agrarian theorist, stated it well when he said: "On the battlefield, the gringos will always defeat us; at the negotiating table, we always have the advantage."

Four principal items define the Mexico-U.S. agenda. All four will come up when Fox and Bush meet Friday in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Drugs. The elimination of the insulting U.S. annual process of certification and decertification is the first step toward better antidrug collaboration with Mexico. It is impossible for the importing country--the United States and its estimated 14.8 million illicit-drug users--to judge or condemn countries--Colombia and Mexico--that are only responding ("Long live the free market!") to North American demand. Beyond this unbearable Manichaeism lies a proposal by Jorge G. Castaneda, Fox's foreign minister: evaluate what has worked and what has not worked in current strategies; consider how the markets can be influenced and price mechanisms juggled to make narco-traffic less lucrative, and thus lessen both profits and corruption. On the other hand, U.S. demands against capos and their mafias in Mexico should be matched by--until now, a very weak--U.S. action against drug lords and their mafias in the United States.

At the end of the road, there is only one solution to this terrible scourge that af-fects us all: legalize, or decriminalize, the use of drugs. The problem is, this would have to be a global decision, without exception. The benefit is that even though drug addicts would continue to exist, no one would become rich through their sufferings. That is what happened when Prohibition was repealed in the United States in 1933. There continued to be drunks, but there were no more Al Capones.

Labor. The flow of Mexican workers to the United States is the result of two factors: the absence of employment in Mexico and the need for labor in the United States. Our workers do jobs that no one else wants to do. Without them, there would be less food, services and fiscal resources in the U.S. Mexican workers pay taxes and contribute an estimated $28 billion annually to the U.S. economy. They also send $6 billion home annually.

But beyond the economic data, these workers are exactly that--workers, not criminals. They are bearers of human rights and culture. They deserve protection and respect. They deserve, in the case of the undocumented, a new U.S. amnesty law, and while the two new governments are negotiating new accords, they should consider a program modeled on the German gastarbeiter, or guest-worker program.

In any event, the indispensable presence of the Mexican worker in the United States should not be subject to the internal mutations of the U.S. economy. In California, former Gov. Pete Wilson used immigrant workers as scapegoats for the state's difficult transition from a military-based, Cold War economy to a post-industrial, high-technology one. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently said the U.S. needs to import workers to keep its economy, which in 2000 reached its highest degree of expansion in 50 years, growing. Now, with the U.S. at the portals of a mini-recession, what will Greenspan say? What will Bush say with respect to the power of the migratory work force? And what will Fox say, considering that his long-term objective is that in a globalized world, not only merchandise should circulate freely, but also people; not only things, but also workers?

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