Mexico and the United States, two centuries of mistrust

The main obstacle to a more fruitful relationship with the United States is overcoming the mistrust that still prevails, on both sides.

Opinion by Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez: On the main stairs of the Chapultepec Castle you can see The Sacrifice of the Children Heroes, by the Jalisco painter Gabriel Flores García. It is an impressive and moving work. In the background, an army, spectral and menacing, wave the banner of stars and stripes. At the center of the mural, the face of the young cadet who throws himself into the void, with the Mexican national flag, expresses the feeling of helplessness –of fatality even– that marked the Mexicans who lived through the US invasion.

Almost two centuries have passed since that September 1847. Mexico lost half of its territory, but its survival as a sovereign nation is not in question. The North American region has one of the most integrated economies in the world. Donald Trump is no longer the tenant of the White House (and he is getting closer to moving to prison). The beaches and fashionable neighborhoods of Mexican cities are home, like never before, to a growing community of American digital nomads, who do not carry bayonets, but laptops. Even so, it seems to me that this early experience with Yankee imperialism, and the national myths that arose from it, left an indelible mark, for the worse, on the way we relate to our neighbors.

The Colegio de México invited me to participate in a series of conferences for officials of the United States embassy. I gladly accepted. A few days ago, I mentioned this to two good friends, extraordinary professionals, whom I deeply appreciate and respect. To my surprise, both of them strongly disapproved of my participation in the event aimed at United States diplomatic personnel. In their opinion, the US agents deployed in Mexico operate primarily against the national interest and are, essentially, indifferent to the violence that Mexicans suffer on a daily basis; they cannot be trusted.

I am not naive. The North American authorities, like the Mexican ones, have their own economic, political, and even personal agendas. Like any rational and autonomous actor, they use the information, contacts, and resources at their disposal to promote these agendas. It is also true that, on occasions, the DEA or the Department of Justice have promoted strategies that have actually been detrimental to the national interest of Mexico. That is what has repeatedly happened with the arrests, and attempted arrests, of hastily executed capos (this fixation on arrests is more or less universal, few temptations are more irresistible for governments than to presume arrests of high profile, even if they are counterproductive or end up in blunder).

However, I am also convinced that, currently, the points of agreement dominate the bilateral relationship as far as security is concerned, especially since the pacification of the Mexican territory is important for both countries. The United States wants this pacification, first of all, because Mexico is the place of residence of a growing number of Americans (from 2018 to this year alone, the number of temporary resident cards that the INM issued to United States citizens increased 64 percent). Second, tensions with Russia and China have also made supply chains passing through Mexico more important than ever for North American industry.

In terms of peacebuilding, there are already some important examples of binational collaboration. The support of US authorities and business chambers was crucial, for example, for Baja California Sur to successfully resolve the crisis of criminal violence that threatened to destroy its tourism industry at the end of Peña Nieto’s six-year term. It is also fair to recognize that some of the US agencies and officials operating in Mexico promote an agenda of institutional strengthening and promotion of human rights, and have contributed to financing very important initiatives on these issues.

The main obstacle to a more fruitful bilateral relationship is overcoming the mistrust that still prevails on both sides. Perhaps that is why Ambassador Ken Salazar has taken unusual pains to appear close to López Obrador (which has already earned him some criticism in his country). That is also why it seems important to me to continue participating in all the initiatives that seek to deepen the dialogue and narrow the channels of communication with US officials, academics, and opinion leaders. The crisis of violence in Mexico is a complex and deep-rooted problem, which in many aspects exceeds the response capacities of our institutions. It is a problem that we did not get into alone, because it has at its origin the immense flow of dollars generated by drug trafficking to the United States, and that Mexican criminal groups took advantage of to recruit their private armies. Nor is it a problem that we can get out of alone.

Originally published on El Financiero

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