WWW.BILINGUALWEEKLY.COM | POSTED 9/10/11
New America Media, Commentary, Louis E.V. Nevaer, Posted: Sep 03, 2011
MERIDA, Mexico – Five days before terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Mexican President Vicente Fox addressed a joint session of U.S. Congress.
George W. Bush’s first state dinner was in honor of Fox, a sign of the Bush administration’s determination to focus on greater economic, political and social integration with Mexico and Canada— strengthening the “NAFTA” nations—in part to respond to the emerging consolidation of the European Union.
During the presidential campaign, Bush advanced an “isolationist” policy, favoring the idea that his administration should focus on “our neighbors.”
Speaking in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2000, Bush the candidate stated, “Immigration is not a problem to be solved, it is the sign of a successful nation. New Americans are to be welcomed as neighbors and not to be feared as strangers.”
This sentiment was reciprocated by Fox, who reminded the Congress on Sept. 6, 2001, “Migration flows that respond to deep underlying economic incentives are all but impossible to stop and must instead be regulated. Mexico is therefore seeking an agreement that will lend greater security and orderliness to the migration flows between our two countries.”
Then terrorists struck, and the world changed.
Within months, Bush declared himself to be a “war president,” and the original agenda of his administration was replaced by the pursuit of Al-Qaeda and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Gone was the talk of immigration reform, greater integration with Mexico and Canada and the possibility of increasing the fluid movement of people and goods across borders. In its place has been a country consumed with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the incurrence of debt to the brink of national bankruptcy, and the creation of a “Fortress America” mentality.
As Americans commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, Mexicans look on with melancholy at what they see as a period of exasperating estrangement from the United States, a country they once admired and trusted but now fear.
The perception that 2001-2011 was a lost decade in U.S.-Mexico relations is a conclusion borne of three developments that continue to undermine relations between the two nations.
9/11 Derailed U.S.-Mexico Immigration Talks
First, the plans announced by Bush and Fox to pursue a comprehensive approach to immigration reform have gone nowhere. Rather than addressing the complex and convoluted nature of immigration laws, in which some Hispanic immigrants are U.S. citizens (Puerto Ricans), others are political refugees (Cubans), and others are documented or undocumented (Mexicans), the system remains broken.
Today, the Obama administration has little sway over a radicalized Congress. The failure of the federal DREAM Act, which would put those who were brought unlawfully to the United States as children on the path towards legalizing their status, reflects this administration’s diminished clout before Congress.
“War on Terror” Led to “War on Drugs”
Second, many Mexicans blame the U.S.-led “war on terror” and the relentless pursuit of Al-Qaeda as a fundamental factor in the Mexican government’s failure to move against its own country’s drug cartels in an opportune moment. As a friend of the United States, Mexico’s intelligence and security forces cooperated completely with the Bush administration, to the point that the Fox administration turned its focus away from the incipient drug organizations that were establishing themselves along the U.S. border, particularly the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel.
As a consequence, Mexico’s current president Felipe Calderon has had to wage an unprecedented “war,” deploying the military to drug-trafficking hot spots across the country, which has led to the deaths of more than 35,000 people.
“Mexico squandered three years on wild goose chases, hunting imaginary ‘terrorists’ who were supposed to be convening in Acapulco, sipping margaritas on a beach in Cancun, or plotting to smuggle nuclear or biological weapons from Mexico City. All paranoid nonsense from the nutcases in Bush’s administration,” Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, the country’s second most powerful politician and head of domestic security, argued shortly before he died in a plane crash in 2008. “And during this time, the drug cartels [in northern Mexico] organized, grew and now pose an imminent threat to Mexican civil society.”
Mexicans’ Image of the U.S. Changed for the Worse
The other factor, and the one that remains the most regretful, is Mexico’s witnessing first hand as the nature of American society has changed since 9/11.
For most of the 20th century, Mexicans looked at the United States—and Americans—with admiration and respect. Here was a country that had it together. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, Mexicans routinely touted the achievements of the United States with awe and secretly longed to emulate America’s best qualities: honesty, integrity, a determination to create a more just and equitable society. But 9/11 changed all that, and overnight, the United States seemed to become a nation of hysterics.
For a decade now, the United States has been consumed by paranoia, a fear of foreigners, the vilification of Muslims and the unsustainable pursuit of a misguided “security” that has gone awry—from the quasi-militarization of airports, where Americans are expected to be on “orange” alert forever, to the inability of the Obama administration to close down the discredited Guantanamo base.
To many Mexicans, 9/11 represents a traumatic event most Americans have not been able to rise above, as if the whole of American society is suffering from a collective post-traumatic stress disorder. The nearly hysterical response to the commemorative events surrounding the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks demonstrates how consumed Americans remain. Few Mexicans fully understand why Americans have become obsessed with clinging to the mementos of tragedy, the need to use 9/11 as the prism through which they see the world.
For Americans, this is the first tragic event that they have had to overcome, and their can-do spirit has not been enough to overcome it. Americans seem to be ill-equipped to live in a flawed society, and as a result they live under a veil of eternal optimism. Now they are struggling to deal with the realization that there are limits to that optimism.
Mexicans, on the other hand, would be the first to tell you that life is full of tragedy and disappointment, but they also know the secret to happiness is to rise above these obstacles.
In Mexico, there is a sweeping sense of melancholy at the realization that the American people remain trapped by tragedy, unable to move beyond the horror of the day, and find happiness in an imperfect world.