Mexico’s Peña Looks Certain to Win Presidency

Polls suggest that Mexico’s once dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party will again claim the presidency in July. The party’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, has a comfortable lead of roughly 20 percent over his closest competitors. Several hiccups and gaffs haven’t significantly damaged his reputation. A possible scandal involving his family could have a negative impact on his popularity yet however.

Last month, the candidate’s daughter took to Twitter to denounce her father’s critics as “a bunch of morons from the proletariat.” He had been made fun of on social media when he apparently failed to remember any books beyond the Bible that had shaped his thinking and couldn’t mention the prices of basic commodities like tortillas nor the country’s minimum wage.

If there is a drop in Peña’s approval rating, it will likely recover in the upcoming months as the incidents are forgotten and the elections move closer. Mass online criticism of the candidate has already winded down. So long as Peña and his family refrain from committing more public mistakes, the next polls, which will be conducted in February, could be encouraging for him.

The media exposure that Peña and his family enjoy, and have helped him propel to frontrunner status, could ultimately work against him if the people grow weary of what the French call the peoplisation of politics. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his celebrity wife Carla Bruni have avoided the spotlights in more recent years after French voters came to perceive their leader’s presence in the headlines and tabloids as unpresidential.

Peña could suffer the same fate before there are even elections, especially if Mexico’s other political parties exploit this vulnerability and manage to portray him as an unserious candidate who may seem glamorous but lacks the intellectual depth to lead.

For the conservative National Action Party to mount an effective campaign against Peña, it will soon have to nominate a candidate to succeed incumbent president Felipe Calderón. Former businesswoman Josefina Vázquez Mota is the party’s best option according the polls but it is losing precious time to challenge Peña as long as it fails to nominate her.

Another potential obstacle to PAN winning the presidency again is the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution which may be tempted to focus its attacks on the incumbent party, thus splitting the non-PRI vote. If rather they prioritize undermining Peña’s popularity, they may regain competitiveness in the polls ahead of the vote this summer but given PDR’s history of battling the right, a coordinated anti-Peña campaign seems unlikely.

Challenges to American-Mexican Security Cooperation

Texas’ governor Rick Perry recently suggested that Mexico and the United States should cooperate militarily to solve the drug conflict along their border. The comment irked the political leadership in Mexico. Mexico’s ambassador to the United States was very clear when he stated that the possibility was not on the table.

Although violence is rising and corruption among the Mexican armed forces increasing, there are historical and political reasons for limiting military cooperation between the two North American countries.

Throughout Latin America, sovereignty has been traditionally been a highly regarded principle. Its countries were forged from independence struggles with European powers. Once independent, arguments which emphasized the protection of territorial integrity and of sovereignty against foreign aggression became factors of social cohesion in these states and helped shape their national identities. They quickly became sacrosanct principles for the young nations. The second wave of colonialism, in Africa and Asia, and the subsequent interventionist policies of the United States during the Cold War only helped to accentuate their importance.

For Mexicans, speaking of territorial integrity and the United States at the same time is especially contentious. The 1846-1848 Mexican-American War ended in Washington annexing nearly half of Mexican territory. It is an event that every Mexican is taught well in school.

Friction endured in the twentieth century. Under Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule, the bilateral relationship has had more downs than ups. Factions within the party did not bother to hide their discomfort with American foreign policy and publicly supported leftist guerrillas in Central America.

Improvements in the relationship were rapidly seen when the most technocratic faction within PRI arrived to power and even more when the incumbent National Action Party (PAN) defeated the PRI in 2000. However, security policy and cooperation of both countries is still restrained by arguments of sovereignty.

Recognizing that drug trafficking is a transnational problem that Mexico cannot confront by itself, the current government has demonstrated a willingness to improve bilateral cooperation in the security area. It agreed to unmanned American drone aircraft patrolling the border and let American agents operate in Mexican airports. These measures were widely criticized by Mexican society however which, by majority, regards American actions within its national territory as tantamount to intervention. Consequently, PAN’s opposition may use their concessions as political weapons. American politicians should bear this in mind, especially as Mexico prepares for presidential elections in 2012.

Governor Perry may have won some (potential) votes by portraying himself as a hardliner on border issues but he may have also contributed to what appears is a deterioration in the bilateral relationship. The consequences of the secretive and badly planned operation “Fast and Furious,” as well as other ones which the United States Congress has just found about, have already strained interagency ties between both countries, affecting the trust and progress that had been achieved.

Trust is essential when it comes to security policy and military cooperation between two nation. Mexico won’t end cross-border efforts but isn’t eager to accept more “help” either. Innovative approaches may not be adopted because of Mexico’s reluctance. Yet a return to a more backward thinking may be on the horizon. Opinion polls for next year’s election suggest a victory to the PRI. The party has upheld much more traditionalist views regarding international relations than the PAN.

This is not to say that the PRI will suddenly retreat the military from the north and pact with the cartels. But it may not be as willing as the PAN to improve security cooperation with the United States

Presidential elections are still far from now and anything can happen in the meantime. Success on the security front could boost the PAN’s chances of retaining the presidency. If the PRI holds on to high approval rates however, American politicians may want to consider what they say or do to keep from further straining bilateral ties.

How One Court Case Upset American-Mexican Relations

Facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC
Facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

In contemporary American-Mexican relations, decade-old legal proceedings continue to upset amicable ties between two governments that have to closely cooperate to combat human trafficking and a deadly drug trade along their border. The particulars of the case involve a number of complicated legal questions.

José Ernesto Medellín was a Mexican national, convicted of capital murder under Texas state law and executed in 2008 for his part in the robbery and sexual assault of two minors who were murdered by Medellín and his accomplices to prevent their identification. His case highlighted an important distinction in treaties between nations — self executing and non-self executing, both of which are recognized under international and American law.

On appeal, Medellín asserted that his right to substantive due process was violated because the state had failed to inform him that as a Mexican national, he had the right to speak with and receive counsel from the Mexican consulate under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963.

The controversy turned on the question whether or not the treaty violation constituted a substantive violation due process or was a procedural error that did not necessarily raise sufficient grounds to vitiate Medellín’s conviction. The subtle difference between self executing and non-self executing treaties was relevant here. Whereas the former are lawfully binding immediately upon ratification, non-self executing treaties require passage of enabling legislation before they can come into effect.

Medellín’s request for a writ of habeas corpus reached the Supreme Court of the United States. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, while not explicitly endorsing any single position, reaffirmed the position long held by the United States on the nature and interpretation of treaties.

The determination of whether or not a treaty is self executing or not as well as the nature of the obligations imposed upon the parties involved is, and has always been, a function of and dependent upon two primary variables: one, the context in which a treaty is made and the intentions of its framers as discernible through the linguistic elements and conventions employed in its construction as affirmed in Ware v. Hylton by the Supreme Court in 1796; two, the meanings attributed to the words themselves as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in 1918’s Towne v. Eisner:

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.

The Medellín case and its aftermath have served to reinforce a wariness on the part of the Mexican government to work with the United States in anti-drug operations. This the Bush Administration predicted in 2007 when it argued before the Supreme Court that Medellín’s execution could end up frustrating American foreign policy. Texas was allowed to carry out the sentence despite appeals from Mexico and the International Court of Justice which both urged the state to delay capital punishment.

Texas stressed that Medellín and his accomplices were on death row for murdering Texan citizens. Indeed, their crimes were abominable and the Texas government has a duty and a responsibility to protect its people from harm and punish those who inflict it. The rights of children, moreover, trump many legal considerations but the effect on American bilateral relations with Mexico, if not future legal proceedings involving American citizens abroad, has been profound.

Are the BRICs Ready to Lead?

The rising powers of the world, China foremost among them, are preparing for a more assertive stance on the world stage. Some wonder whether they’re ready to take on greater responsibility though.

Jorge G. Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign secretary, complains in Foreign Affairs that the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa too — are immature and indifferent. “Their shaky commitment to democracy, human rights, nuclear nonproliferation, and environmental protection would only weaken the international system’s core values,” were they to be admitted to, say, the United Nations Security Council permanently or granted a larger role in institutions as the World Bank or World Trade Organization.

Brazil, India, and South Africa are representative democracies that basically respect human rights at home, but when it comes to defending democracy and human rights outside their borders, there is not much difference between them and authoritarian China. On those questions, all four states remain attached to the rallying cries of their independence or national liberation struggles: sovereignty, self-determination, nonintervention, autonomous economic development.

Such appeals to nonintervention “contradict the values enshrined in the international order,” according to Castañeda. Evidently, states minding their own business and urging others to do the same are rather considered inconvenient than virtuous, if we are to take Castañeda’s word for it.

One is tempted to point out that Mexico, formerly the de facto representative of Latin America and closest to the United States, is frustrated with neighboring Brazil far outperforming it this past decade. Recent Brazilian initiatives — negotiating a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Iran and spending billions of dollars on international aid — are only likely to amplify the South American giant’s leverage on the world stage while Mexico, plagued with an ongoing internal drug war, may well succumb to chaos and corruption unless anyone bothers to intervene. Castañeda certainly has reason to fear that his country will be sidelined in the process of multilateralism.

Indeed, oftentimes the loudest opponents of granting either of the BRICs a permanent seat on the Security Council or some high level appointment in any multinational forum are not established powers but nearby competitors who fear being overshadowed by their regional hegemon.

Their fears would be justified if those rising powers showed any signs of powerhungryness. Except they don’t. China may be scrambling for resources worldwide and vying for influence with Russia and the United States in Central Asia; India may occasionally poke its nose in the affairs of neighboring countries but that’s largely to ensure its own security; Brazil is promoting all sorts of Latin American cooperation clubs which goes to show how little ambition it has to dominate its own continent; and Russia — hardly a “rising power” to begin with — is certainly still roaring but no superpower anymore. Smaller countries, like Germany and Japan, or smaller economies, as Indonesia and South Africa, are either too integrated in or too disconnected from the international order to seriously consider challenging it at all.

Underlying the foreign policy aims of nearly all aforementioned countries — certainly all the “rising” ones — is a clear and uncompromising sense of self preservation. Even China, which recently surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, is worried that its impressive growth track could be interrupted when its people start to demand greater political freedoms. Brazil and India, too, each harbor hundreds of millions of people living in desolate poverty. Their governments are genuinely concerned with doing something about that first before they’ll start trying to box out neighboring states in some sort of zero-sum regional power struggle.

Brazil, China and India are each huge countries which, as they continue to grow, will expect to have a greater say in international rules and games. Their inclusion in the G20 is an encouraging sign of Europe and the United States realizing that they stand little to lose from having these countries participate. But as their own democracies are fragile and their populations still partly impoverished, they’ll do more to try to secure resources and international regulations that work in their favor too, than promote freedom and democracy around the world as the United States have been doing for the past fifty years.

Open the Borders

The United States were built by immigrants and up to this very day, The Economist has argued, “The greatest strength of America is that people want to live there.” So why is the country turning so many people away?

The immigration debate flared up again last April when the state of Arizona passed a controversial law that enables racial profiling in an effort to find and extradite illegal aliens.

Although the situation along the Mexican border is worsening, President Barack Obama was quick to join in criticism of Arizona’s law. His Justice Department is reportedly considering taking legal action against the state.

The difficulty with the border issue is that drug and human trafficking go hand in hand. The violence these criminal activities produce is mostly to blame on America’s futile war on drugs rather than an inability to secure the border. Indeed, border patrols have quadrupled in recent decades and it hasn’t stopped the problem.

Speaking at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC on Thursday, President Barack Obama recognized this fact when he reminded his audience that today, the United States have “more boots on the ground near the southwest border than at any time in [its] history.”

Many of the eleven million estimated illegals currently residing in the country didn’t cross the Mexican border under cover of darkness but came in legally and subsequently overstayed their visas.

“The overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children,” said the president.

What’s more, immigrants are of enormous value to the country. The president described immigration as a “steady stream of hard-working and talented people” which has made America “the engine of the global economy and a beacon of hope around the world.” To this day, he said, “America reaps incredible economic rewards because we remain a magnet for the best and brightest from across the globe.”

So why is America denying itself this enormous growth potential?

That’s what John Stossel wondered earlier this week when he noted that often overlooked in the debate about the Mexican border issue is that “every year,” the United States “turn away millions of smart, hard-working foreigners for no good reason.”

Based on State Department waiting lists, Stossel pointed out that it would take a computer programmer from India so much as 35 years to get a green card that allows him to work in the United States. A thirty year-old Mexican with little more than a high-school degree would be so far down on the list, he couldn’t get in for over a hundred years. “If he wants to work in America, why would he even bother to get on the legal list?”

Many fear that immigrants “steal” jobs and many lawmakers are only too eager to perpetuate that illusion. But it’s simply not true. According to Philippe Legrain of Forbes magazines, “Just as working women haven’t deprived men of jobs, immigrants create jobs as well as filling them — both when they spend their wages and in complementary lines of work.”

“Allowing people to move freely is not just a matter of economic self-interest,” according to Legrain. “It is also a moral imperative.” Freedom of movement is a basic human right that should not be denied to people who had the bad fortunate of being born in a Third World country.

People will always crave freedom and opportunity. America prospered when it admitted foreigners who were willing to work for a living and contributed to the economic and intellectual growth and development of the country. In times of economic hardship, the need for free immigration is all the greater.

Situation on US-Mexican Border Worsening

America’s southern border is on fire. We have the Mexican government now suing the State of Arizona over its immigration law, which merely upholds and enforces national law — which the federal government refuses to enforce. We have ever increasing kidnapping, murders, theft and violence of every kind along the entire frontier. National Guard troops in Texas seized large caches of weapons from a paramilitary group that was attempting to cross the border. The Mexican government is safely escorting drug runners across the border, into America. And the president can only talk of amnesty and is considering suing Arizona as well?

The border is literally being attacked, both by paramilitary and actual Mexican military forces. In a recent open letter to President Barack Obama, Jon Voight wrote: “You have brought to Arizona a civil war, once again defending the criminals and illegals, creating a meltdown for good, loyal, law abiding citizens.” Unfortunately, he is right. America is moving ever closer to civil war. Never have we been in danger of such an extremity since we battled over the question of slavery.

In the photos are weapons seized by American National Guard troops near the Texas border with Mexico. The symbols on the hats and bags are from an organization called Los Zetas, which, according to Wikipedia, is “a criminal organization in Mexico dedicated mostly to international illegal drug trade and other organized crime activitites.”

This drug cartel was founded by an elite force of assassins from Mexican Army deserters and is now integrated by corrupt ex-federal, state, and local police officers, as well as ex-Kaibiles from Guatemala.

This group of highly trained gunmen was first hired as a private mercenary army for Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. Since the arrest of the Gulf Cartel’s leader […] the two entities became a combined trafficking force, with the Zetas taking a more active leadership role in drug trafficking. Since February 2010 Los Zetas have gone independent and became enemies of its former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel.

Realize as well that the problem is not merely Mexican and Central American drug cartels. A border this porous entices criminals of all types, including terrorists. The borders are a national-security issue, the most fundamental of government responsibilities.

Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and eventually even the Kool-Aid drinkers of California will have to defend their borders in defense of their lives.