THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
By Phyllis Spivey
"Our neighborhood." That’s how President Bush described countries in the region during a March 23 joint press conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. They were announcing the creation of their Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America (SPP), which is nothing less than an instrument for merging nations of the Western Hemisphere through trade agreements.
The SPP is intended to set an example for other hemispheric countries, the three leaders explained, and to advance the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), followed by the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Since that Dallas summit, in his press conferences and weekly radio addresses, the President has repeatedly referred to the CAFTA countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic as the neighborhood. "CAFTA will make our neighborhood more secure," he promises in his drive to get the trade agreement ratified.
And ratification is close. Approved by the Senate July 1, the pact’s fate in the House of Representatives seems less certain, but President Bush has virtually demanded CAFTA’s okay and is expected to press for a vote within days. If Congress delivers its blessing, America’s traditional concept of neighborhood will soon be altered forever.
For most Americans, the ideal neighborhood represents home and hearth, welcome and
refuge. It’s inhabited by people of similar circumstances and ambitions who live by the same rules. Thus, "neighborhood" is a perplexing metaphor for a group of nations with drastically different cultures, economies, forms of government, and national goals.
In truth, the characterization screams for challenge, and invites an obvious question: Has the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now more than ten years old, made the U.S. neighborhood safer?
Even before NAFTA, Mexico was a captive of drug cartels. In testimony before the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs in September 1993, (the House of Representatives passed NAFTA November 17, 1993) trade and international business expert Christopher Whalen cited estimates from law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Mexico. Total revenues from marijuana and heroin production in Mexico and transhipment of cocaine from Columbia, he reported, had reached an astronomical $100 billion in 1992, producing profits of $16 billion– twice the amount of Mexico’s (then) total oil exports.
"Mexico, Whalen said, "is the largest single source of illegal drugs entering this country and drug trafficking is the country’s largest industry, yet the NAFTA is virtually silent on the issue of drugs."
According to news reports in the months preceding NAFTA’s passage, about 70 percent of the cocain reaching the United States from Columbia was estimated to pass through Mexico. So obvious were NAFTA’s benefits to the drug trade that, even before the U.S. Congress was scheduled to address the trade agreement, intelligence officers reported Columbian drug cartels setting up factories, warehouses and trucking companies in Mexico for delivery into the U.S.
Under NAFTA, the drug trade has flourished. According to the 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, as reported in the Dallas Morning News July 5, Mexico is "the leading transit country for cocaine and a major producer of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana destined for U.S. markets." Further: "As a result of the huge traffic in drugs, Mexican criminal organizations dominate operations, controlling most of the 13 primary drug-distribution centers in the U.S. The violence of warring Mexican cartels has spilled over the border from Mexico to U.S. sites on the other side."
In June, the Mexican government targeted 14 cities overwhelmed by drug traffickers and their paramilitary armies. In the border town of Nuevo Laredo, where narco gangs have been fighting for control, the government was forced in June to send in the military. A key entry point for tons of northbound cocaine and marijuana, 77 people have been murdered there already this year. More than 30 U.S. citizens were kidnapped or murdered over an eight month period.
Throughout Mexico, drug gangs have corrupted politicians and police and targeted investigative editors and reporters. In the past 10-1/2 years – NAFTA years – 29 Mexican journalists have been killed, according to the Inter American Press Association. At least 16 journalists have been killed or vanished since 2000 and last year eight journalists were attacked; four were killed. Not one case has been solved. The NAFTA years have also seen the mostly unsolved murders of more than 350 women in Ciudad Juarez, another border city.
The Mexican government’s response to this out-of-control murder and mayhem? Restrict the death penalty to victims. In June, the legislature approved an amendment that would strike the death penalty from Mexico’s constitution and insert language expressly prohibiting capital punishment.
But America gets more than Mexico’s illegal drugs; we get their illegal border crossers in staggering numbers, Time magazine pegging them at three million in 2004. Instead of discouraging illegal crossers, the Mexican government has published safety guides for them, defends "migration" as an economic and historical necessity, and incessantly demands that America change its laws to accommodate illegals.
And no wonder. Mexicans living in the U.S. send money home. In 2004, Mexico’s remittances totaled $16.6 billion, constituting one of that country’s largest sources of income. It’s quite a deal. Mexico exports its people for the U.S. to educate, medicate, and incarcerate while importing U.S. dollars generated by the same people. "Human capital," Vincente Fox calls them.
Yet, Mexico is a meddling neighbor who blames the U.S. for everything from dwindling numbers of Monarch butterflies to the plight of illegal border crossers. Mexico took the U.S. to the world court in early 2003 over treaty violations affecting its nationals jailed in the U.S. In March, Mexico again threatened to use international law to fight U.S. citizens’ groups monitoring the border from their own – U.S. – territory.
Meanwhile, with a single recent exception, Mexico has refused since 2001 to extradite murderers and other criminals who have committed crimes in the U.S., then jumped across the border to avoid long sentences or capital punishment
But what would the CAFTA countries bring to the neighborhood? A study done by the pro-CAFTA Heritage Foundation and cited in testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere April 20, indicates we can expect poverty, drugs, crime, and more illegal immigration. The Heritage Foundation’s solution:"give ‘em CAFTA."
But the facts, even as presented by the Heritage Foundation, argue against CAFTA.
Its countries are among the poorest in the world; the economies of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are dependent on remittances from the U.S. as underemployment averages about 65 percent;
Columbian drug traffickers moved into Central America in the 1990's to expand smuggling routes; rampant crime has forced the military to assist police in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras;
in 1998, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the hemisphere;
half of all homicides in El Salvador and Honduras are attributable to gangs; Mexican and Columbian traffickers use gang members to distribute narcotics in the U.S.
Who cannot see that the "neighborhood" of today – pre-CAFTA – is in danger of becoming a Third World slum?
Just ten days before the Heritage Foundation presented its study, the New York Times reported on U.S. illegals: "Nationally, 80,000 to 100,000 undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes walk freely on the streets, federal officials said. But the problem appears most acute in Los Angeles County, where 30,000 of the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants are criminals."
A word of advice to President Bush: When discussing the bankrupt, crime-ridden, gang-controlled countries of the hemisphere, drop the "neighborhood" metaphor; just call it "the hood."