Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister and a professor at New York University, talks to the Globe and Mail’s editorial board about Mexico’s drug war, the country’s upcoming election in 2012, and its relationship with Canada.
Q: From your perspective has President Felipe Calderon’s military initiative against the drug cartels been successful?
A: We’re in a bigger mess than anybody could have imagined four and a half years ago. We are heading towards having 40,000 people killed. We have spent more than $45-billion. There has been terrible damage to country’s image. And, we very little to show for this. By the end of Calderon’s term, more people will have died in Mexico in the drug wars than Americans in Vietnam.
Q: What will happen after the election next year?
A: With the next president, I hope… there will be strong public opinion in favour of changing these policies and finding another way to deal with the real problem. It just so happens that the next president of Mexico will take office three weeks after election day in the United States in 2012. There will be a new proposition on the ballot in California to fully legalize marijuana and it is predicted to pass. (Given that it only missed by 3 points six months ago, and that turnout among Latinos and Blacks and young people is always much greater in presidential election than in mid-terms.) This may take us to a different route.
We should concentrate our resources on crime, violence and insecurity that will affect people: kidnappings, extortions, homicide, robbery, auto theft, and leave the drug guys alone. We should bring the army back into the barracks, and build a national police force.
Q: The drug wars get all the news, but what else is happening in Mexico?
A: If you take away Calderon’s drug mess, this has not been a bad government, like [former President Vicente] Fox’s government was not bad and [former President Ernesto] Zedillo’s wasn’t bad.
We have had 15 years of tremendous expansion of the middle class, of credit, of housing, and health insurance. One out of every four Mexican families has bought a house in four years. This is impressive.
Q: Does Mexico look more north than south?
A: Yes, 99% more. The rest is nostalgia, music and soccer. The real stuff, the tourism, exports, migrants and mining, is north. One out of every 9 Mexicans born lives in the US. That is one of the highest proportions in the world today. We need more of a vision of where Mexico should be in the world and what kind of a relationship it should have with the Americas and with Canada. Most people in Mexico now understand that Mexico is part of the North American economic space. But we need a vision of what this economic, cultural, social and political community can look like, knowing that Americans and Canadians have great resistance to this. If there is one thing Canadians don’t like is being thrown in the same bag as Mexicans.
Q: Do Mexicans realize this?
A: No. Until the visa mess [in 2009 Canada introduced a visa requirement for Mexicans], Mexicans loved Canada. Now the visa is an irritant. There is a real opportunity for the next government to lay out an opportunity for the Americans and for the Canadians. You won’t get everything but you can get a lot especially if [President Barack] Obama is re-elected. This is the only guy in a long time you can sit down and talk to and has an idea of what North American unity could look like.
Q: Why do you think Mexico is important to Canada?
A: It’s important for three reasons. The trade/investment/tourism numbers are finally beginning to be meaningful. Canadian investment in Mexico is a big deal, especially in mining. Canadian companies think there are important minerals in Mexico and they are investing huge amounts of money.
Secondly, the tourism numbers are moving. More than 1.4 million Canadians visit a year. The third reason is at the end of the day, it’s still probably easier for two countries to deal with the Americans than each one on its own. Canadians don’t like that because they think they have a special deal with Americans and no-one should get in the way, least of all Mexicans because they have all these issues and problems with the Americans, to do with drugs and security.
Q: Do Canadians understand Mexico, its diversity, geography and potential?
A: There are 11 million Mexicans living in US and 40 million people of Mexican origin. So their presence is there, in the U.S., the food is there, the music, the movies, the concerts, the television. In Canada, you don’t have that number of Mexicans. How to wield soft diplomacy is a real issue. This could be part of the North American economic community. How can we expand the guest worker program? Theoretically there should be more Mexicans immigrating here, coming to work here and coming to school here.
Q: How do we foster a closer relationship?
A: Build on what is there. The private sector has already taken the lead, people such as Tom D’Aquino [former CEO of Canadian Council of Chief Executives] Mexican groups, Bob Pastor, Andres Rosental, a lot of people who think along these terms. Push private sector to push the government. We are better off now, we have done more than we have 15 years ago.
It’s not that Canada doesn’t want a close, strong, good relationship with Mexico. It does. But it doesn’t want a special relationship, a better, stronger, tighter relationship. The Canadian political elite continues to believe that its deal with the Americans is the best deal you can get and you don’t want to contaminate it or pollute it by bringing the Mexicans into the room.