Mexico is currently suffering from the same sort of drug-related violence that plagued Colombia during the 1980s. Mexico and the United States can learn a great deal from Colombia's example, including that they must build law enforcement capacity and not rely solely on military force.
Mexico’s famed political stability has not been destroyed by the country’s current economic crisis. But that stability can no longer be taken for granted.
Over the past half-century, the Mexican political system has brought economic development, albeit unjustly distributed, inefficiently planned and plagued with waste and corruption. It has ensured social peace and political continuity, although with recurrent repression and electoral fraud. And it has maintained peaceful relations with the United States, despite asymmetries, irritants and sporadic confrontations. These three pillars of Mexico’s stability, which is unique in Latin America, are not yet crumbling, but all are growing weaker, as is the political system they sustain.
The causes of Mexico’s deepest crisis in modern times are clearly economic; the crisis is rooted in the country’s 1982 financial crash and has been compounded since then by economic stagnation, austerity measures and the devastating earthquakes that hit Mexico in September. But the most immediate and acute expression of the crisis is political. Though the consequences of a breakdown in the political system would be chiefly domestic, there could be grave repercussions for the United States.
President Miguel de la Madrid has encountered many unsolvable problems since he took office in December 1982: a present-day $100-billion foreign debt; a five-percent drop in GNP in 1983 with no prospect of renewed economic growth; rampant corruption at most levels of national life; a country disappointed in itself, questioning its direction. But the principal challenge the president, and Mexico, face today is the total lack of credibility in the political system.
Results from a poll taken last June and published in Excelsior, Mexico’s leading daily, underline this fact. When asked whether government officials lied or told the truth in stating that the country was emerging from its economic crisis, 88 percent of those interviewed replied that the officials were lying. Likewise, when asked if they believed whether the results of the then upcoming elections would be respected, 55 percent said no, and only 13 percent answered in the affirmative.
This is a premium article
Buy PDFBuy a premium PDF reprint of this article.
SubscribeSubscribe and get premium access to ForeignAffairs.com.