Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Krauze's cop out

On the eve of Mexico's bicentennial celebration, Enrique Krauze came out with a predictable editorial in the NYT about Mexico's tendency to explode every hundred years, "In Mexico, a War Every Century". The piece summarizes the social tensions leading to the explosions of violence that morphed first into Mexico's war of independence two centuries ago and then the revolution of the early 20th century with all the ease one would expect of an accomplished historian and writer like Krauze. However, when it comes time to explain Mexico's current descent into violence, Krauze takes the easy way out, blaming Mexico's problems on the U.S. and our insatiable demand for drugs as well as our gun-happy culture, which has clearly facilitated the acquisition of weapons for the narcochavos. These are valid points, but also easily exaggerated ones, especially the former. Historians have long struggled to explain the rise of consumption patterns of items like coffee and tea, sugar, and tobacco, without much success in disentangling the question of supply versus demand as the principal explanation for why mass markets for these products emerged. The drug economy is no easier to explain. Furthermore, the notion that local, state, and federal authorities in the U.S., as well as other elements of society, have stood idly by with respect to the flow of drugs into our country belies common sense for anyone familiar with the huge sums of money, public and private, devoted to counter drug use and addiction.
Krauze also argues that the so-called transition to democracy, another favorite albatross upon which Mexican intellectuals blame a multitude of problems, led to a kind of decentralization that gave rise to a variety of forces within Mexican society, among them the narcos. The transition itself merits a discussion too complex to delve into here, but what is most striking about Krauze's facile explanation of Mexico's current state of narco-terror is the absence of any mention of the frustrated social forces now contending for space, both political and economic, within this country. In the past two decades, Mexico has undergone a remarkable transition, which one could argue owes more to NAFTA than to the fall of the PRI, or perhaps in recent years, to the narco-stimulus provided by money laundering and the move from illegitimate to legitimate businesses on the part of the narco capos. As a result, the middle class has indeed expanded, while at the same time, nearly 45% of the population, according to President Calderon's recent state of the union address, remains in poverty. That contradiction suggests, as has been quite the norm in Mexican history, that this tremendous country has once again managed to achieve growth, but growth with a price. The price lies in the frustrated aspirations of the poor, who in the face of barriers to upward mobility still thrown up on a daily basis by this country's elite, have turned to the narco-economy. Mexico's upper classes still persist in perpetuating the same prejudices of caste, color, name, and education that frustrated the aspirations of the popular classes in the late colonial period and in the late 19th century. And to make matters worse, amidst their cries for greater governmental control, for a culture of legality and transparency, it is those same elites who flaunt their impunity in the face of the law, by continuing to set a poor example in their business practices, their cronyism in politics, and in their lack of common courtesy for people less fortunate than themselves. The social tensions that made possible the rise of the narcos are markedly absent from Krauze's analysis, as is any sense of accountability on the part of those Mexicans most empowered to change it for the better.

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