Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is Mexico a Failed or Failing State?

Sign on Arizona border ranch. Grassroots right and left find
common ground in simplistic anti-free trade analysis of 

U.S.-Mexico relations/ Photo by Tom Barry
Concerns that Mexico may become a failed state have induced a spate of doctrinaire and muddled analysis by both the right and the left. On both sides, ideologues have tapped the failed state debate as an opportunity for tirades -- about the federal government’s insufficient commitment to border security and immigration enforcement on the right, and about U.S. imperialism and free trade on the anti-globalization left.

On the left, Manuel Pérez-Rocha, an analyst with the Institute for Policy Studies, rightly challenged the alarmism about Mexico’s failed state prospects. “Labeling Mexico a potential ‘failed state’ is a false and dangerous distraction from the country's real problems,” he wrote in a Feb. 23, 2009 commentary for IPS’ Foreign Policy In Focus.
What are those real problems? In keeping with dogma of the anti-economic globalization left, Mexico is not a failed state but its central problems, including narco-violence, can be attributed to the failed free trade model and NAFTA,  according to Pérez-Rocha.
“While drug cartels have managed to corrupt many officials at the state, local, and national levels of government, as well as in the police departments and the military, there are no indications that the Mexican state — or any individual Mexican state — is on the brink of dissolution or disintegration,” Pérez-Rocha wrote in February 2009. “Mexico still has strong institutions that millions of people work and struggle every day to defend, including relatively well-functioning public services such as health and education.”
Where the threat comes from is the global economy and U.S. trade policy. “Today it's clearer than ever that Mexico's unfettered opening-up to the global economy has made it exceptionally vulnerable,” he asserts.
Pérez-Rocha faults President Calderón for his “neoliberalism.” Since the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, he contends that “conservatives have touted the country as a successful example of ‘neoliberal’ reforms, including trade and investment liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. NAFTA promoters heralded the increase in trade and investment flows between the three North American countries.”
“Mexico is in crisis, but the roots of that crisis are the economic policies that have created such widespread hopelessness and despair,” he wrote – repeating the same anti-free trade, anti-NAFTA mantras that the left’s anti-economic globalization activists have relied on as a substitute for analysis over the past two decades.
For Pérez-Rocha -- and many others on the left -- the narco-violence in Mexico can be largely explained by the ravages of free trade.
No doubt, as he observed, that NAFTA failed to deliver promised gains in poverty reduction or wage growth.” But as an explanation for the increasing reach of ungoverned spaces in Mexico, the horrific drug-related violence, the country’s systemic corruption, the absence of any commitment to the rule of law, or Mexico’s social disintegration, it falls far short.
Connections can be made, but the neither the roots of Mexico’s current narco-violence crisis nor the country’s other long-simmering crises such as its out migration, endemic corruption, or centralized political system can be found in the free trade model.
Left dogma often turns delusionary.
That’s the case in James Cockcroft’s new essay, “Mexico: ‘Failed States,’ New Wars, Resistance,” in Monthly Review.
Mexico isn’t a failed state but merely a pliable subaltern in the empire, according to Cockcroft.  That’s been his analysis of Mexico and the rest of Latin America over the past four decades.
“It is not a failed state because it carries out well the tasks assigned to it in the empire’s design,” writes Cockcroft in the socialist Monthly Review. “All Washington’s propaganda backs up the militarization of Mexico in order to protect the interests of transnational corporations and foreign banks.”
No need for any new analysis thinking about Mexico. The shop=worn anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly capitalism analysis will do just fine, in his view, for pressing questions about narctrafficking, organized crime, and governance in Mexico.
Cockcroft sees conspiracy in U.S. aid for President Calderón’s three-year drug war. “Sponsored by Washington and its allies,” the drug war has nothing to do with ‘national security’ or ending the drug traffic.” Rather, the drug war is a cover for a war against Mexico’s nationalist, popular forces. In Mexico and elsewhere, according to Cockcroft, the “’failures’ of the campaigns against the narcotraffic help to justify war, state violence, and massive repression in whole societies.”
In the view of Cockcroft, what we are seeing in Mexico is a “right-wing offensive, which, building on twenty-eight years of neoliberal economic policies, has led to the country’s increasing militarization.” The right-wing offensive unleashed by Calderón has taken the form of “a reign of terror.” This veteran Mexico observer says that “broad-based social movements are resisting” this offensive.
It’s all a transnational conspiracy. According to Cockcroft:
“What are the real targets of these plans for the international coordination and militarization of the struggle against supposed terrorists and narcos? The plans are aimed at immigrants, original peoples, guerrilla resistance, political dissidents, and social movements protesting transnational corporations that take over water and cause mining pollution. These plans, financed by billions of dollars, have made Mexico a security priority for the U.S. ruling class… They do not know that this war is an excuse for militarizing the nation.’
Dogma deludes. Cockcroft, like others in the hard left (both here and in Mexico), is delusionary about the centrality of the “empire” in determining Mexico’s political economy. Equally dogma-driven are his assertions about the hidden counterrevolutionary agenda of the drug war.
He also lauds a popular resistance that most other observers of Mexican politics haven’t detected.
Cockcroft finds hope in that “nationalist forces are resisting” the “galloping privatization” that is “overrunning the energy sector,” without any acknowledgment of the hopeless state of the state energy company PEMEX.
“The new popular protests are mainly defensive,” he admits, “however much spiced by calls for a ‘revolutionary offensive,’ a ‘Constituent Assembly,’ and ‘national sovereignty.’ Right now, the correlation of forces does not favor human liberation.”
“But you never know,” he says, apparently hopefully, “at what moment the creation of fear in a society will turn into an expansion of rage and rebellion—an explosion of ‘popular power’ organized from below.”  Clearly, the governance and development strategy in Mexico badly need an overhaul.
But would a raging “popular explosion” -- particularly along the revolutionary offensive, nationalist, and socialist lines Cockcroft still favors -- lead to improved governance and improved social welfare? What would happen to Mexico’s still emerging system of representative democracy in Mexico?
Cockcroft writes off the system of multiparty, representative democracy, noting that all the major political parties have become neoliberal and corrupt.” There are, however, no words of criticism or caution about the armed “resistance.”
“There are a dozen guerrilla groups operating in Mexico but they are small and divided,” writes Cockcroft, “During this period of popular protests, they have done no shooting. All resistance is peaceful…for the moment” – as if to say that another revolution is around the corner, and bienvenido.
Good analysis about the stability and reach of the state in Mexico is hard to find anywhere. But the lack of an attempt of serious analysis within the traditional left is particularly shocking and dismaying.

Both in the United States and in Mexico, the left’s dismissive assessments about the value of representative democracy and its tendency to lay the blame for all problems on free trade, U.S. imperialism, and transnational capital blind it to the real security threats faced by the Mexican state and the Mexican people.

Although Mexico is certainly not a failed state, organized crime’s control of increasingly large swaths of national territory merits more serious analysis.

1 comment:

David Ronfeldt said...

good points. pertinent review. i quite agree with your analysis, tom.

mexico remains far from having a failed state or a suborned state. but it's painful to see so much of "mexico lindo y querido" being eaten alive by a resurgence of "mexico barbaro" -- if i may put it that way.

in my view, mexico is having a very diffficult time adapting to the market form of organization in all sectors of society, after decades of relying on the tribal/clan and hierarchical institutional forms. but that's another story.

much appreciation from here for your continued postings at this blog. onward.