June 30, 2000


In the war against "narco-terrorism" – the latest incarnation of the Eternal Enemy – the attention of US policymakers and the Congress has lately been fixated on Colombia, which is now the designated Latin American hot-spot. But the trouble is far closer to home, just south of the Rio Grande – where the oldest one-party dictatorship is tottering on the brink of defeat. The polls leading up to Sunday's Mexican presidential elections indicate that Vicente Fox, the National Action Party (PAN), is running neck-and-neck with Francisco Labastida, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has been in power for 70 years, the oldest ruling party on earth – and certainly among the among corrupt.


The dynamics of this election reflect the underlying crisis of the Mexican state, which is being buffeted by economic, political and social tsunamis that threaten to plunge the country into chaos. Corruption is a way of life in Mexico, where mordida rules and the drug cartels have made huge inroads both politically and socially. The last three Mexican presidents have been deeply implicated in various deals with drug traffickers, and the stench of scandal has become so thick that even the remarkably tolerant and long-suffering people of Mexico, infused with Catholic stoicism, have had enough. The PRI leadership, which has always disdained party primaries, was so panicked that they abandoned the long-standing custom of the outgoing president appointing his successor and actually held a party primary. The preordained winner, Francisco Labastida, is a grim and colorless technocrat, whose short stature is a kind of metaphor for the standing of his party in the public's affections.


Fox, his chief opponent – who, in a burst of political incorrectness, once called his opponent "Shorty" – is the governor of the northern province of Guanajuato whose National Action Party has been able to wrest several northern governorships from the PRI in recent years. He is blunt, but charismatic, and has succeeded in extending the appeal of his party way beyond its northern, middle-class base. The PAN, founded in 1939 by Catholic activists, social conservatives, and Mexico's embryonic class of entrepreneurs, has been infused with new blood over the years, and a free-market faction ideologically aligned with the Republican party in the US arose to challenge the stodgy old leadership. After winning the party primary, Fox came on strong as the major contender after an abortive attempt to form an alliance with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) – whose candidate, Mexico City Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, has since become one of Fox's chief critics, second only to Labastida. In shaking the thick but essentially hollow tree of the PRI, Fox has stirred up a hornets' nest: he points his finger directly at Mexican Cabinet officials whom, he says, are directly involved in narcotics. In January of 1996 he told El Norte: "Everyone knows that there are people involved with drugs at the highest levels of power."


This is the great irony of the recent Senate debate over "Plan Colombia," in which the Clinton administration in alliance with internationalist Republicans committed the US to a war on "narco-terrorism" in Colombia to the tune of $1.3 billion On the one hand we are supposedly fighting the Colombian "narcoterrorists, " and on the other hand we are allying ourselves with the Mexican wing of what Christopher Whalen of Legal Research International, and editor of The Mexico Report calls the Narcosistema. As Whalen puts it:

"The drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia are not separate, discrete organizations limited by national borders, but rather fingers on a hand that is a transnational drug delivery, money laundering and financial investment corporation – call it the Narcosistema – with powerful political and business ties that reach all around the world, from Washington to Mexico to Cali to Palermo to Moscow."


As in Colombia, so in Mexico: the drug lords are a major political factor, perhaps the major factor. They alone can provide ready access to large amounts of hard currency, enough to not only pay off a few cops but also to grease the wheels of a formidable political machine. Both coca and marijuana have long been staples of South American agriculture, and their attempted eradication by US anti-drug agencies is widely perceived as yet another example of Yankee cultural imperialism – malignant meddling that is increasingly resented. The atmosphere of lawlessness and official corruption is no better in Mexico than it is in Colombia, and the power of what a recent New York Times article called the "narcocracy" persists even in PAN-controlled provinces, such as Baja California. Mexican law enforcement authorities appear to be little more uniformed auxiliaries of the Mexican Mafia, the real rulers of Mexico. As the Times' Tim Golden puts it:

"After years in which Mexicans held to the belief that drugs like cocaine were a problem that merely passed through their country on their way to places like Los Angeles and New York, the illicit trade here has begun to profoundly affect people's lives. Street crime, fed by an explosion of drug abuse, has risen exponentially. With the police overwhelmed by drug-related killings and the courts awash in traffickers' bribes, crimes almost unheard of not long ago – kidnappings, bank robberies, drive-by shootings – are commonplace."


It is widely believed that, but for massive vote fraud by the PRI, Cardenas would have won the last presidential election, but he has fallen out of favor with the electorate and is way down in the polls. The early hopes for a united opposition were dashed by regional and ethnic divisions, as well as sharp ideological disparities: Cardenas' chief strength is among the indigenous peoples of the region, as well as the university-based far-left, while Fox represents the ranchers, entrepreneurs and workers of the Anglicized, industrialized north. In any case, Cardenas has confined his role in this election as chief attack dog for the PRI, training his fire on Fox and practically ignoring Labastida. The alleged PAN plan to privatize the state-owned Pemex oil company – nationalized by Carndenas's father, President Lazaro Cardenas, in 1938 – has been the theme of the PRD campaign. The PRD originated as a tendency inside the PRI, a left opposition caucus that eventually seceded. For a long time the PRD functioned as little more than a satellite party that revolved around the PRI, just as the various "Peasant" and "Democratic" parties in Eastern Europe (and, today, in China) were allowed to operate in order to give those regimes a facade of democratic legitimacy. It wasn't until the corruption and complete breakdown of civil society pushed the PRD forward, as the only organized center of opposition to the regime, that the party became any kind of national force. Now it appears that the PRD has reverted to its historic role as a left-satellite of the PRI, an unwanted left opposition that is basically loyal to the nationalist, egalitarian, and deeply anti-American orientation of the ruling party.


The Mexican people have had enough, and they are rising up in a populist movement to take their country and their lives back from gangs of marauding thugs. For the second time in its 70-year reign, the PRI is in danger of losing the presidency: the first time they managed to avert disaster by pulling off a massive campaign of electoral fraud. But this time the whole world is watching rather too closely for them even to think of trying that one again; more than 800 observers from various countries will be on hand to keep an eye on things – but in Mexico, where politics is as melodramatic as any TV novela, nothing can be ruled out as too obvious. Before a single vote was cast, Fox was already vowing to lead massive protests if he were "cheated" out of victory. "If there is fraud, if there are irregularities, we'll surely defend the citizens' vote. First we'll use legal defenses, and of course we'll also mobilize our people." People in the streets, mass demonstrations like those held by the Toledo supporters in Peru, a challenge to the legitimacy of the "elected" government – could Mexico be on the brink of civil war?


The PRI, for its part, has been engaged in a campaign that is not only overshadowed by coercion, bribery, and fraud, but in the last few days has taken on the tone of a veritable civil war. To top off the accusations that the PAN was in the pay of the big American oil companies, not to mention Coca Cola – Fox was the CEO of Coca Cola's Mexican division – the PRI is now claiming to have "proof" in the form of canceled checks: the only problem is that all the checks appear to record legitimate business transactions unrelated to his political activities. Never mind how the PRI got hold of the "evidence" – suffice to say that Labastida, as the director of government operations, functioned as the head of Mexico's secret political police. In a fascinating piece by J. Michael Waller in a recent issue of Insight, "The Narcostate Next Door," the author depicts Labastida as a kind of Mexican Putin, the man Washington sees as being able to bring order out of chaos:

"It's a sure sign that a corrupt regime is on its last legs when the head of the secret police becomes the anointed presidential candidate of the ruling party. This specter not only is appearing in far-off Russia, where the icy KGB veteran Vladimir Putin runs the government day to day and plans to succeed ailing President Boris Yeltsin. It also is right on the U.S. border."


Insight goes on to report that as "the chief political enforcer of the PRI" Labastida presided over a vast intelligence-gathering network of political operative whose job it was to keep tabs on private lives as well as the politics of the regime's enemies. While secretary of government, basically the link between the government and the PRI apparatus, Labastida's minions routinely engaged in electronic eavesdropping, bugging the offices of the opposition parties as well as businessmen, journalists, and others. According to Insight, "At one electronic spy center in Campeche, investigators found seven years' worth of tapes and transcripts documenting the private lives of opposition figures and others."


If this sounds all-too-familiar, i.e., positively Clintonian, that's because it is: Labastida has imported his American equivalent, none other than James Carville, the Clintonian attack dog, as a campaign consultant. Teamed up with Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and Tony Coelho's daughter, the Carville is employing the very same tactics that he used so successfully in this country: smear-mongering, fear-mongering, and outright intimidation, the politics of personal destruction with a Latin beat. While the official stance of the US government is the strictest neutrality, everybody knows that the Clintonians are pulling out all the stops for their friends in Mexico City, the oligarchs and their drug-trafficking friends, one of the most corrupt regimes in the world – a natural ally for one of the most corrupt administrations in American history.


A hot election issue is who profited from the $100 billion bank bailout that arose from the 1994-95 currency crisis. It was the US taxpayers who originally financed the bailout, but US political leaders have been crowing about how they not only got their money back but made a profit on that deal – and it is the Mexican people who have wound up footing the enormous bill. Now they want to know who reaped the benefits of the bailout, who looted the banks with illegal "loans" that would never be repaid? The answer to that tantalizing question is contained in an encrypted computer diskette protected by five coded passwords that – in a touch of Mexican melodrama the mechanics of which I can't for the life of me figure out – are held by Mexico's main political parties. While the four opposition groups have all revealed their passwords, the PRI is the lone holdout to withhold the mystery. Now the PRD has hired hackers to get past the system's electronic defenses, and the Mexican hackers are "very optimistic" that they'll soon have the list of bailout beneficiaries. It is like something out of a novela, an overdrawn morality play in which caricatures shriek and posture, preen and scream at each other, all the while teetering on the brink of violence.


Never mind Colombia: the question is – what are we going to do about Mexico? Pat Buchanan describes the story of an 80-year-old woman living on the US Mexican border, an American citizen who is a prisoner in her own country, who lives with bars on the windows and in a virtual prison because of the dangers posed by illegal aliens pouring across the border. Her dog is dead because someone fed it meat mixed with crushed glass. Her property is overrun on a daily basis, and she lives in terror, unable to move.


It is interesting to note that the virulently anti-American tone of the PRI's campaign was orchestrated by American political consultants: Fox was depicted as the agent of a "foreign power" which could only be the US, and Cardenas all but called him a traitor in even raising the question of privatizing Pemex. The PRI ran a television ad that stated: "Many Mexicans who go to the United States ... are hunted by racists as if they were animals." Fox was depicted as an uncritical puppet of the evil gringo colossus to the north , too bought off to criticize US immigration policies. But Carville & Company are playing with fire. Low level warfare has already broken out along the US-Mexican border, and Mexican troops have ventured into the US in direct clashes with the Border Patrol. American ranchers are organizing to protect their homes and their land, as the US government seems indifferent to (or collusive with) the Mexican invasion. But the Mexican "human rights commission" isn't satisfied even with these lax policies. The Mexican government has protested to the US, and is now demanding UN intervention. In a letter to UN human rights czar Mary Robinson, Jose Luis Soberanes Fernandez averred that "We must prevent an atmosphere of growing intolerance and exclusion motivated by incidents in Arizona spreading to other places, with serious risk of there being a climate of lynching and death." How long before the "peacekeepers" arrive, and the Bosniazation of the American southwest is complete?


But what about that 80-year-old woman Buchanan talks about, who is a captive in her own home, or the ranchers whose property is overrun by hordes of illegals, swarming over pasture land, despoiling the environment and trampling on ranchers' livelihoods? The reconquista of the American southwest has been in progress for a long time, and now the tensions that have built are coming to a head – with James Carville and the Democratic party stirring the pot, targeting the evil gringos as racist colonialists and smearing Fox as a traitor to Mexico. This beauty of this propaganda theme is that it is the exact opposite of the truth: Carville, Greenberg, and Ms. Coelho are not "operating out of a war room in a glitzy Mexico City hotel," as Insight put its, desperately trying to rescue Labastida's troubled campaign purely out of mercenary motives: nor is it a coincidence that on the eve of the Mexican election, Janet Reno's Justice Department issued a report exonerating a key Labastida ally, tycoon Carlos Hank Gonzalez, purported to be the kingpin of one of Mexico's biggest drug cartels.


If Fox wins, the oligarchs and the drug lords will not go quietly into the night. On Sunday, if the PAN takes the Mexican White House, will the victor live long enough to take possession? In the wild West shoot-'em-up atmosphere of Mexican politics, where more than one presidential aspirant has been gunned down in recent years, this is an open question. Regardless of the results, what this election portends for Mexico is nothing short of impending disaster – one that will be keenly felt by Americans in the not too distant future. Already, the border states are beginning to chafe under the burden of being in the frontlines of the invasion, the veritable flood of undocumented immigrants pouring over the border and effectively erasing it. Fox proposes that we abolish the border altogether, and allow the free movement of individuals as well as goods, in effect the merger of the US and Mexico into a single state.


I won't go into the arguments against "free" immigration here, except to say that this North American version of the European Union would soon acquire all the trappings of a political union. In effect, Mexico would become the 51st state. The merger of the PRI and the Democrats would be effortless, since they already have much in common, including but not limited to the services of that "Ragin' Cajun" Carville fella. And Fox is a perfect match for the Republicans, with his conservative social agenda carefully tailored so as not to offend, and his mildly free market proposals that would trim the Mexican Leviathan around the edges but leave it basically intact. As if in preparation for the coming merger, Dubya travels around the country campaigning in Spanish and is running ads featuring his Latino nephew.


Fox's proposal of a de facto merger in imitation of the EU would provoke a storm in Mexico and give rise to a nationalist backlash – and the prospect of war with our southern neighbor. For the only sections that seek to merge – indeed, have already merged with the US both economically and socially – are the northern provinces, the bastion of the PAN, where the general breakdown of law and order has led to open talk of secession. The creation of such a "free zone" would speed up that process, and hasten the coming crisis of American – and Mexican – sovereignty. Do we want to get involved in the next Mexican civil war, or do we start sealing off our border now so as to avoid trouble down the road?


This is the question American policy makers must face, and much sooner than anyone thinks. This Sunday marks the beginning of a new chapter in Mexican history: one that could very well prove to be a long and bloody one. But this is one novela that we don't want to get a part in, not even a walk-on role – because there will be no walking off. The central government in Mexico City has long tyrannized and looted the provinces, but they were tolerated as long as they offered a modicum of protection. The general breakdown of the social contract and the criminal justice system has opened up the possibility of the dissolution of the Mexican state: we have seen the beginning of it in Chiapas. The US has an interest in maintaining peaceful relations with Mexico – something that obviously needs to be explained to the Ragin' Cajun – but we don't have a dog in that fight. Fox must liberate his own people, and fight his own battles – but if the seceding provinces of the north applied for statehood I would campaign against it. For this would mean permanent war with Mexican irredentists. Instead of extending our southern border, we need to fortify it – against the storms to come.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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