Big Challenges for Mexico and the United States

The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish on January 24th, 2013 in La Jornada, Mexico City’s leading daily newspaper, considered by many scholars as one of the last remaining independent newspapers in the Americas.

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The U.S. and Mexico border.

On Sunday 20 January, Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44 th constitutional president of the United States of America. In this second term, he is likely to reinforce his strategies and policies to stimulate economic activity, open up new opportunities, and create jobs and social equilibrium between those who earn most and those who have least. International relations and immigration policy will be fundamental issues, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries: Mexico and Canada.

Mexico and Enrique Peña Nieto’s government must maintain a healthy collaborative distance on some topics and strengthen national sovereignty on others, which might include natural resources, justice, respect and the dignity of the Mexican people. Peña Nieto must live up to what Mexico needs and expects from him. Now is not the time for improvisation or for making serious mistakes that put the nation’s future at stake. There are enough accumulated problems that are the result of foreign policy and Mexico’s prestige and image national and internationally having been neglected for over a decade. The violation of democracy that Felipe Calderón committed in order to get into power, with his motto ‘whatever it were that went on,’ can no longer be projected around the world if we want to regain what is most valuable in Mexico, our prestige, culture, history, traditions and our inevitable insertion with this heritage in modernity. We Mexicans have our dignity, and we need a government that can live up to that.

On the issue of migration, both Obama and Peña Nieto must move towards a real agreement that respects the dignity and rights of Mexican workers in the United States. This has to be one of the major reforms that Obama has already announced and which he will push forward so as to regularise the legal situation of over 11 million people whose status is still undefined. But the Mexican government also has the serious responsibility of creating decent jobs that will stop the outflow of Mexicans towards neighbouring countries in North America. In fact, there are already voices, above all in the US union sector, calling on their government to find a solution for this phenomenon, as declared by Richard L. Trumka, leader of the AFL-CIO, the most important union federation in the US.

We cannot ignore the fact that Mexico has become more vulnerable. A natural disaster or any political or social conflict would put the future of a system with only the outward appearance of peace and security at great risk. We must not simply put an optimistic sheen on this, the risks are present and they stem from 12 years of total neglect under the last two administrations which sunk Mexico further into a high-risk potential crisis. Insecurity, unemployment, the global financial crisis, poverty and marginalisation, alongside climate change and unexpected meteorological events, remain latent and time will not allow improvisation or the application of misguided policies that will only make the situation worse.

Mexico, and the anxiety and uncertainty of the Mexican people, can wait no longer. For this reason, the Mexican government, as joint signatory with the United States and Canada of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), must cast aside their neglect of labour issues and fulfil the Complimentary Agreement on Labour Cooperation that is set out in the NAFTA. This must no longer be simply a commercial agreement, it must become an integral treaty for cooperation and economic and social development between the three countries. The United States and Canada have sufficient presence to revise these aspects of the NAFTA and enable the Mexican government to, firstly, end the constant repression and violation of the working class’s labour and human rights and, secondly, respect freedom of association.

In these circumstances, Peña Nieto is facing the responsibility of securing national reconciliation and finding the new opportunities that the population want and are expecting. The current development model cannot continue to function in a way that benefits only a minority.

This is the reality of a country like Mexico, which has one of the highest degrees of wealth concentration in a few hands. We need a social conscience that can change the high levels of exploitation and injustice to which the huge majority of the population are subjected. This is the terrible reality in which over half of the Mexican population live.

Obama put it very clearly: A country with extreme inequality has no future. To this we could add that a nation without freedom or justice is equally unable to further its development. If there is no true state of law, and what there is only serves to benefit a small minority, then Mexico will be at permanent risk. The Mexican government must be very clear about this and act accordingly. History is our witness.

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