I would like to start a series on Understanding Mexico. They seem to have some serious problems down there. Not sure how far I will get with this as I am not knowledgable about Mexican history, their culture or language. However we do spend winters there and I would like to learn and share more about this beautiful place and people. I am part way through Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes, A Mexican Journey, and will be using it as my road guide.
The socio-economic problems in Mexico are primarily due to political ones. According to Paul, Mexico was bankrupted in the 19th century due to three major conflicts:
- the long war of Independence from Spain ending in 1821
- the Mexican-American War from 1846-48 which resulted in the loss of 40% of their territory
- the War with France from 1861-67 which Mexico eventually won
- as well, conflict continued in the 20th century with the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War.
With a bankrupt nation, the only way to sustain political and security institutions is through corruption ie. instituting an inbuilt bribe tax. What this means is that in Mexico, you cannot distinguish the good guys from the bad ones. For example the police are paid very low wages in Mexico and some are known for “shaking people down” – namely insisting on a cash bribe or you will be locked or roughed up. Hence some police are not there to serve and protect as we know it in Canada, but rather perhaps, to line their own pockets to pay their bills. The other side of this is that if you have or will be committing a crime, you can pay some police to look the other way. Frightening, isn’t it?
The next part of the equation is that America criminalizes drugs like cocaine, heroin, even marijuana. This creates a huge market for illicit drugs that Mexico is happy to supply. Drugs flow north, money and guns flow south. The drug gangs referred to as “the Mafia” by locals control this trade and are not willing to give it up without a fight. Hence the extreme violence between the drug cartels and anyone else caught in the middle.
Bring in the military to a region and the killing rate goes up. This is exactly what happened in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, TX a few years back. The military are expert killers and not accountable for who they target. In fact, Theroux says the drug cartels hire ex-military staff precisely because they are such good killers.
So what is good about Mexico other than the weather? Why even risk going there you might ask? It is because the average Mexican you meet, faced with all this institutional dysfunction, becomes very self-reliant, family focussed, more religious, entrepreneurial and charitable, willing to help others, since they can’t count on the police or government for assistance.
As the saying goes within the expats community “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home.” We too have found this to be very true.
To be continued. Saludos, Dave