Mexico and the U.S. -- Well-Suited Neighbors

SAN FRANCISCO -- The army of the self-righteous has begun to gather in Washington -- pompous senators and congressmen are pointing an accusing finger at Mexico, claiming that Mexico is a corrupt, unworthy ally in our famous war on drugs.In fact, Mexico and the U.S. are well-suited neighbors -- comparably corrupt. The U.S. has the highest murder rate in the world; a federal government awash in corruption; and a drug habit second to none. Mexico has a criminal police force; a vast drug economy; and a federal government awash in corruption.Mexicans are a dark, cynical people, overly tolerant of human failure and moral compromise. Americans are a priggish, self-righteous people, moralistic and given to self-delusion. For decades, along the 3,000 mile border that separates the two countries, Americans slipped into neon-lit Mexico, whenever Americans needed whores or liquor or gambling or drugs. For decades, Mexico obliged.The Mexican and the American are, for all their differences, because of their differences, perfectly matched. And perfectly vulnerable to the excesses of the other.In recent years, Mexico has been devastated by scandal -- murders and conspiracies at the highest level. The great political families of Mexico, various state governors, police officials -- all are said to be lackeys of Mexico's notorious drug lords. Drug lords with mugs as ugly as pirates are said to be in control of the Mexican economy.Certainly, Mexico is falling apart. These are dangerous days, if also perversely optimistic times in Mexico. The old order -- the PRI, the corrupt ruling party of Mexico -- is collapsing. The PRI for all its corruptions was a known entity in Mexico; it enforced a kind of civic morality. Now, rather like Russia after the Soviet era, Mexico flounders toward criminal chaos. There are teenage mobsters; old women are assaulted on the street. Villagers turn to vigilante justice because the police chief is nowhere to be found.Today's Mexico, despite various Indian insurrections, seems not to be tempted by revolution as much as by an older consoling cynicism. That cynicism may stand in the way of needed civic reform. The cynicism, in any case, exposes a Mexico that is extremely vulnerable now without a dependable civic society.Mexicans I know say they are embarrassed by the recent scandals, fed up by corruption on high. But, finally, Mexicans incline toward an old strategy of blaming others for their problems. In this case, blaming Mexico's current chaos on the drug appetite of the Norte Americano. It is, after all, the whore's excuse: the john made me what I am.Mexico has a point. The john is as guilty as the whore. If Tijuana were not so close to San Diego -- not so near California's enormous drug appetite -- Tijuana would not be ruled by drug lords.To my knowledge, no American president has ever apologized to Mexico for the way Americans have destabilized Mexico with our hunger for drugs. But then, Americans are not, by inclination, given to self-recrimination. Our self-righteousness inclines us to see the other's evil, as a way of blinding ourselves to our own state.Instead of moral grandstanding, America might do better working with those Mexicans -- reformist politicians and honest police -- who deserve our support,. The irony, however, is that Americans are too busy becoming cynical -- as cynical as Mexicans -- to believe in reform. Americans are, for example, currently highly entertained by movies about murderous presidents, corrupt CIA operatives, and an FBI that is not to be trusted.Mexicans, average Mexicans of average ambitions and virtue (like most of humankind) are fascinated by America, want things American, want to be like us, wear our clothes and drive our cars, want our blond fantasies and our comic disrespect for the established order.It is no surprise. Mexico and the U.S. are neighbors. We are bound to influence one another. Mexico as the smaller and weaker country knows this -- the way a whore must. It does not yet occur to most Americans to see in Mexico's calamity a reflection of our own soul.

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