Jorge Ramos: For Mexico, lessons from the South
As the nation continues to be mired in violence and millions of residents remain impoverished, Mexico runs the risk of descending into a ruinous spiral of even more poverty and violence if it does not learn some valuable lessons from Peru and Colombia – and very quickly.
From Peru, the first is this: When election season comes, those people whom society has forgotten will remember those who forgot them. In this month’s presidential elections, contrary to predictions, former army officer Ollanta Humala defeated Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced and imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, thanks to voters in Peru’s impoverished rural areas.
While Peru’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing in Latin America in the last decade, the poorest of its residents remain trapped in poverty; the nation’s economic growth seems to have only benefited the richest Peruvians. And this is precisely why voters chose Humala, the candidate who promised to defy the system, over Fujimori, a politician who sought to preserve the status quo. Sooner or later, the forgotten get their revenge – in the streets or in the voting booth.
Mexico, which is more like Peru than many people think, needs to take note. Poverty is endemic in both nations, passed down from one generation to the next; both have an obscenely wealthy upper class, along with outrageous discrimination against indigenous populations. And while statistics tell one story, the jobless and hungry tell another.
There are 54 million people living in poverty in Mexico, but Ernesto Cordero, Mexico’s finance minister and presidential candidate, said during a recent speech that “it’s been a long time since Mexico ceased to be a poor country.” The nation must learn from Peru that attempts to cover up a nation’s social ills with half-truths or other window-dressing does not set a politician on the path to embarking upon great change, nor should such feeble talking points win elections.
If not, Mexico runs the risk of losing another decade, during which it will fall further behind emerging economic powerhouses like China, India and Brazil – perhaps to the point of irrelevance.
From Colombia, Mexico can learn about effectively combating drug violence.
President Felipe Calderon’s military-led strategy against the drug cartels has clearly failed: almost 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico over the last four years. Yet when I speak with my Mexican countrymen about the situation, I always hear resignation in their voices. “There is no other way,” they tell me. But, in fact, there is.
There are four things Colombians have done well since the 1990s that have allowed the government to get the upper hand – four things that Mexicans are not doing:
1. Colombian law enforcement officials understood that it was necessary to focus on seizing property and confiscating drug money. Their Mexican counterparts are not hitting the cartels where it hurts most: their bank accounts.
2. The Colombian government created a single national police force. In Mexico, there are nearly 2,000 different police corps operating with little coordination.
3. A virtually incorruptible elite strike force was assembled in Colombia to directly combat drug gangs. Such a group doesn’t exist in Mexico.
4. In the last decade, Colombia has liberated, one by one, cities and highways once controlled by drug organizations. Like Colombia, Mexico has lost territory to the cartels. But when will Cuernavaca, Monterrey or Ciudad Juarez be liberated? When will the highways of Sinaloa and Michoacan be liberated?
So, there is another way. Drug violence can be defeated, but only through adequate strategy. The problem is that President Calderon and the Mexican army are unwilling to change course, even when every new victim provides additional evidence of their failure.
No matter the cost, and regardless of their history, Mexicans need to learn some vital lessons from nations to the south, so as not to die of hunger or from a bullet.
(Jorge Ramos, an Emmy-award winning journalist, is the senior news anchor for Univision Network. Mexican-born Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”)