Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama & Mexico

More Criticism
of The Obama Administration

Epigmenio Carlos

Still less do I share the euphoria of those who lived with extreme excitement the very short visit of the American leader to Mexico. It's true that the man --this has happened on his international tours-- has the impact of a rock star. His charisma, the curiosity that his persona awakens, the hopes that he raises in his speeches are enormous, but nevertheless, the ataduras are as well, and through history, the Americans --beyond whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power-- have demonstrated that they are very bad neighbors, worse partners and highly capricious and volatile allies to say the least. With Obama things have no reason, I'm afraid, to be different.

On the other hand, I am profoundly worried by the excessive flattery --merely diplomatic resources transformed here for he who receives them into electoral capital-- that Obama and his functionaries offer to Felipe Calderón and his war against drug trafficking. Behind the flattery lies the same symptom-based, police-military vision of combatting a problem that would demand from all the actors a commitment very different in nature. Those that in Mexico encourage the installation of an authoritarian regime --perennial temptation of the panistas-- the apostles of the "firm hand" that love to wear olive green, may --and with reason--interpret the North American posture as an endorsement of their pretensions. Kennedy, in his time, another charismatic caudillo, imposed, quite a paradox given that it involves a Democrat, upon Latin American rights. In that era it was anti-Communism that made Washington walk with the most despicable allies; today with drug trafficking the same could happen.

Obviously Washington --as always-- wants to have more men, more guns, more influence in Mexico. Why do we want more dollars and more bullets? If they already arrive from the North in hoards, than why are there more deaths in the streets? The fight against drug trafficking, the security of southern border are the ideal pretext; the new foreign enemy so necessary to the American political culture; the opportunity that the Pentagon and the security agencies to reaffirm their power and influence after the failure in Iraq.

This is obviously deluded in several spots, but it's a good illustration of where a lot of Latin American critiques of the US go from valuably contrarian to divorced reality. From a Latin American standpoint, I can see calling Kennedy a caudillo. It's also helpful to be periodically reminded that in a lot of ways the US has been an extremely bad neighbor, and one friendly visit can't overcome two centuries of mistrust. However, when Ibarra drifts from analyzing the limits of Obama's trip to speculating about the possible consequences, he takes a severe wrong turn.

It is in general bad practice to attempt to distill the constellation of governmental goals into a short list of ulterior motives; beyond that, Ibarra is also spectacularly misguided in his specific analysis. Comparing the fear provoked by the Cold War to Mexico's drug violence is like comparing Salingrad to a snowball fight. A newly authoritarian Mexico would be a disaster for Obama. The idea that the Pentagon would want to bounce back from Iraq by involving itself in another intractable foreign basket case boggles the mind. The possibility that the US wanting more men in Mexico is a means to an end (less effective and weaker drug traffickers) rather than an end in and of itself seems not to have occurred to Ibarra. Too often in such critiques, whatever the worst possible result is for your country is actually the foremost goal of American policy in Latin America.

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