Our trip to Mexico
Jacqueline and I went on a very pleasant and informative trip to Mexico, for eleven days in late February and early March. Though we did not encounter any hostility, it is clear that U.S.-Mexican relations seem to be in rather bad shape right now. Mexico has resisted pleas by Spain and U.S. to vote in favor of enforcing U.N. resolutions. The Mexican press is full of rumors that President Bush is bluntly threatening to invoke reprisals against Mexico if cooperation is not forthcoming. Anti-war protests have been very visible, and a group of Mexicans just flew to Baghdad to become "human shields" against a U.S. attack. The image of the U.S. has sunk to the lowest level in many years, and the degree of distrust and scorn toward North Americans was quite shocking, even to me. I would like to think that much of this is simply a reflection of a society that is not accostumed to free political expression and is being manipulated by a jingoistic press, but I fear the sentiment is mostly real.
President Fox is hamstrung on the domestic front, as his National Action Party (PAN) is divided and tainted by scandal. On Feb. 25 top party official, Edgardo Herndandez, was charged with money laundering and arrested at his hotel. (The event was covered live by TV helicopter, which we saw hovering only a couple blocks away from our hotel.) Outspoken First Lady Marta Sahagun has been the target of sharp criticism for her active involvement in politics and (alleged) use of state resources for partisan activities.
During our trip there was a bloody street battle in Chiapas, between partisans of the PRI, the PRD, and peasant militias connected to the Zapatista rebel movement. At least three people died and dozens were injured. While in nearby Oaxaca, Jacqueline and I witnessed protests by the "People's Revolutionary Front," a communist organization that proudly displays the figure of Joseph Stalin. It was bizarre to see all those menacing figures just across the zocalo (plaza) from affluent Western tourists dining at outdoor cafes.
There will be "pre-elections" on Sunday (March 9), and the country is currently flooded with campaign propaganda, in print and on television. The once-dominant Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) has apparently rejuvenated itself by forming an alliance with the Green Party. The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution is surprisingly professional and effective ads, and is poised to become the second biggest party. Midterm congressional elections will be held this summer.
UPDATE: When Jacqueline and I were in Mexico from late March to early April, there was a lot of media attention paid to a group of Mexicans, including nuns and lay members of the Catholic Church, who flew to Baghdad to become "human shields" in hopes of thwarting U.S. war objectives. According to a subsequent article in El Universal, however, the "human shields" from Mexico left Iraq as soon as the war began. It's a good thing, since an errant bomb might have caused U.S.-Mexican relations to become even worse.