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Mexico



Raúl Escalante Díaz presents this viewpoint of the US image in Mexico:

"Most well-educated and relatively apolitical Mexicans still harbor some mistrust for the US (at least those I know, myself included). Countries' governments have policies rather than intentions, and as long as the US doesn't credibly renounce Manifest Destiny, it is unlikely that we will feel at ease. It would be frankly stupid (let alone impossible) to curb the spread of multinationals, slow down the growth of our markets and oppose the political influence of the US in the rest of the Continent. I would be extremely surprised if this happened (I would also be very alarmed). It is only healthy to be wary of a government that, guided by special interest groups, invaded Mexico in several occasions during the past two centuries, as well as several other countries in the hemisphere.

It is obvious we can only trust the US Government as far as we can predict the outcome of how its institutions work. Non-tariff trade restrictions abound in US Import controls. The tuna embargo, avocado import restrictions, trucking restrictions are just a few of several trade issues in which the US Congress and Judiciary have applied double standards in favor of specific interest groups in the US. To be fair, in the big picture I would consider the US Government to be dramatically more reliable/predictable than our own (especially since next term's presidency is up for grabs).

Mexican official animosity to the US has had a handful of critical periods as well as some quiet ones. The oil company expropriation in 1938 has probably been the tensest time. During WWII, however, relations improved dramatically, at least from a practical perspective. The post-war period of Alemán was pro-American and definitely pro-big business. Another critical period came during president Echeverría's term in office, when Mexico's foreign policy objectives were to lead a powerful group of non-aligned developing countries. Notably, however, the only two banks in the Mexican financial system not expropriated in 1982 were the Banco Obrero (which belonged to the PRI's unions) and Citibank.

Counter to what Elías Castillo suggests, the last twenty years of PRI administrations were consistently pro-American, to the chagrin of Mexico's left (including most of the PRI itself). This is explained by a pragmatic approach to foreign policy, and the requirements of our economy, which has gradually become market-oriented.

As for the claim that Fox is undoing seventy years of PRI mistakes, I consider such a statement very rash. True, the Mexican economy was closed for many decades, as were those of practically all developing countries. The cost of remaining closed is hotly debated by economists: there are strong arguments for both open and closed economies during transition periods. Where we would probably agree is in saying that we did remain closed to trade for too long.

I would go further and say that the true problem (and the PRI's greatest damage to Mexico) was that the system of rewarding loyalty in the political and market arenas severely undermined market systems. A corollary of this was that loyal businessmen expected their markets to remain protected when it was no longer sustainable to do so; thus the incentives to become globally competitive were minor, and the damage from foreign competition has been compounded.

As for the new administration, I am somewhat embittered by its record so far. A couple of years ago, I was sure that the opposition would win the Presidency in 2000, and that the new governments' lack of experience and of competent civil servants would cause about ten years of stagnation in government renewal, market-oriented reform and (depending on the magnitude of the leadership's blunders) economic growth. When Fox was running, I came to believe that he could pull off some sort of miracle and avoid this negative scenario. No longer.

The first year in office is always chaotic, but not on this level. I know because I lived through 1995 as a mid-level official in the Finance Ministry (1995 was the year of the Peso-crisis and hardly a typical period). I hope that Fox pulls his act together quickly, although I frankly don't expect it to happen. I think the country will hobble on during the next decade on the momentum the US economy provides and which can only be harnessed thanks to the reforms put in place by the last 3 PRI administrations. Thank God that Fox had the level-headedness to leave practically intact the team that has run the economic policies of the country from the Finance Ministry during the last few years.

Such is the price of democracy; a price well worth the long-term benefits.

Ronald Hilton - 11/23/01


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