Monday, December 27, 2010

the dangerous (and paranoid) north

The hysterical nonsense that Americans and Canadians are fed about the dangers of Mexico has long been a staple of bloggers south of the border.

I have simply become accustomed to the stereotypical journalist misuse of a few facts to weave a tapestry of terror.  And it never seems to end.

But a Christmas warning from Texas got me back on my high horse.  As Kurt Vonnegut would say: Here it is.

"Mexican drug cartel-related violence continues in the northern Mexican border cities and other location, such as Monterrey and Acapulco," said Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven. C. McGraw. "Drug-related or other criminal activity has been documented in popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Mazatlan. The safety and security of holiday travelers cannot be guaranteed if they venture into Mexico."

Is there drug gang violence in northern Mexican border cities?  Yes.

Have Monterrey, Acapulco, Cancun, and Mazatlan suffered drug-related violence?  Yes.  And so have a lot of other towns and cities, including my small fishing village by the sea.

But what about the conclusion -- the safety and security of holiday travelers cannot be guaranteed in Mexico?

Guaranteed?  What can be?

Well, Crime Dog McGraw, can you guarantee if I drive in Texas, I will be perfectly safe?  If I invest in Texas, will you guarantee that my investment will be safe and give me a good return?  Can you guarantee my safety if I travel in drug-areas of Austin?

Of course not.  Just like the FBI cannot guarantee that all terrorist plots on American targets are going to be foiled.

Plug in any large American or Canadian city in the Texas warning.  After all, every big city has its crime problems.

Then why don't we see warnings like: "The safety and security of holiday travelers cannot be guaranteed if they venture into Canada or the United States."

The reason is simple.  Because the conclusion cannot be drawn from the facts.  It is pure fear mongering.

I thought of that the other day when a friend of mine sent me a link to a piece entitled: "What to Expect From Mexico in 2011."  I fully trust Al's suggestions.  But I am a bit leery of American writers discussing Mexico's future.

I do not know the author: Victor Davis Hanson.  But, at least in this piece, he has a very level-headed view of the relationship between the United States and Mexico.  He idealizes neither Mexico nor the United States.  What he offers is a new take on how to start resolving relationships between the two countries.

I am not a closed borders fan.  For one basic reason.  Closed borders do not work.  Even the iron curtain had leaks.

But I must concede a point to Mr. Hanson.  He argues that as long as some of Mexico's hardest workers can find financial benefits by heading north illegally, Mexico has no incentive to do what it needs to do to reform its social and political structure.

"Mexico has not embraced open markets, truly consensual government, respect for private property, transparency, and an independent judiciary—in the style of the reformist agendas in Chile and Brazil—and thus cannot provide security and prosperity for its own people."

This is the discussion that should be taking place inside Mexico (perhaps, with a friendly nudge from Washington and Ottawa).  There is no reason why Mexico cannot do what Chile and Brazil have done.

The Economist published its annual Latinobarómetro poll earlier this month.  When asked "How satisfied are you with the way democracy works in your country?", a majority of Brazilians and Chileans said they were satisfied. 

They have seen how democracy and liberal markets can work for the benefit of their countries.

Not so, Mexicans.  Less than a quarter are satisfied with how democracy is working for them.

The good news is that, even though Mexicans are not satisfied with the way democracy is currently working for them, they are not interested in an authoritarian government.  (Ironically, the only three nations with lower pro-authoritarian sentiment, each have authoritarian governments: Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.)

As for me, I am not venturing north of Nogales for Christmas.  It is just too dangerous (and cold) for me.


Islagringo said...

Your point is so well taken. I live in what is basically a suburb of Cancun. I certainly do not fear for my safety. That said, I do exercise caution in Cancun, or any other city I visit, and stay away from areas that are known to be dangerous. A little common sense goes a long way.

Felipe said...

Closed borders do not work?! Errant nonsense. Of course they do. Can you still get across them without permission? Sure. But does a closed-border policy keep more people without permission from entering than does an open-border policy? By a long shot.

Steve Cotton said...

Islagringo -- Common sense, indeed.

Felipe -- Unless the United States wants to cut off the flow of all trade and all foreign visitors, we cannot have a closed border policy. Free societies, by their very nature, have porous borders. Of course, most closed boder advocates mean they want to stop the stream of border penetrations by people who are sneaking in illegally. Even the Iron Curtain did not accomplish that. I wish I had a better solution. I do not mind borders being enforced. I am just not certain the cost of doing it is worth the supposed outcome. Much in the same way we agree on the silly war on drugs.

1st Mate said...

Often missed in discussion about closed vs open borders is the fact that there are towns in Mexico where the economy depends on funds sent back to families by workers living--legally or illegally--in the US.

It's probably a good idea to stay way south of Nogales...not because it's dangerous but because of the weather there this time of year. Once when the Capt was at the border it was snowing! Driving in those conditions, you're taking your life in your hands! Much safer in Melaque.

KfromMichigan said...

Travel warning should be listed for Detroit .. even here in suburbs it's getting bad. I'm very careful where ever I go! I've never had any trouble in Cancun and have always felt safe there. Common sense is wise!

Marc Olson said...

Well put, Steve.

Anonymous said...

The newscaster promised to answer the question "Is it safe to go to Mexico?" It turns out that the news item was about an American being arrested in Mexico for an attempted kidnapping in a disputed child custody case. So, the question was never really answered. The next news item happend to be about a local (major US city) robbery/murder. The safety of the US city was not questioned.

This was years before the cartel related violence. The fear mongering has been around for a long time.


Anonymous said...

Look, amigo: The journalist from Texas was no more cautious than yourself. Venturing into Texas or Canada is, as surely you must well know, far less dangerous than piddling about in Mexico. We wish you the best, and applaud your instincts to follow this dream you've developed. We predict that you'll get a rude kick in the pants and hope that will be sufficient to send you back to the safety to which you are accustomed. We predict you that you will become a lonesome target for someone who befriends and betrays you. It's with trepidation that we occasionaly check your blog.

Be Safe.

Steve Cotton said...

1st Mate -- Snow alone would keep me south of the border towns.

KfromMichigan -- There are plenty of troubles in the world -- wherever we live. I suspect my circumstances are just about the same as when I lived in Salem.

Marc -- Thank you, sir. You are most kind.

Andrés -- You are correct. I remember people asked me the same questions when I traveled to Mexico in the 70s.

Anonymous -- I thank you for your friendly concern. But, your premise is flawed. There are places in Mexico that are safer than the average Canadian town. There are also places in Mexico that are as dangerous as some American cities. I don't go to those parts of Mexico. And they do not come here. So, I am, not certain when this "rude kick in the pants" is going to occur. Maybe it will. If it does, there are plenty of other parts of the world to explore. And I may not need a kick to start looking at them.

Islagringo said...

Because I understand what your lead picture is, I found it funny. People who don't realize it will find it just another reason why Mexico is so dangerous. Pretty girls with "guns" indeed!

Steve Cotton said...

Islagringo -- For some reason, the Bond effect (girls with guns) seems to be a little less intimidating than the news stories. I took the photograph during our Festival del Mar parade. The float was from the local paintball venue -- "Gotcha."

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you for calling it what it is - fear mongering. And shame on anyone who does it by suggesting bad things will happen to you.


Steve Cotton said...

JoS -- Thanks. Some of my friends thought the broken ankle was a sign that I should go "home." It was, of course, merely a sign that I have no idea how a distinguished retired gentleman should comport himself.