c o m m e n t a r
Predicting the Worst for Mexico and Points South in
Into the crystal ball, darkly
by John Ross | February 26, 2002
The Sept. 11 terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center have shattered all crystal balls, and the seers peering into the tunnel of 2002 are in the dark. Divining the future seems to have become a game of blind man’s bluff in which the sole touchstone is the worst-case scenario.
One of the few certainties left in these tremulous times is that when the over-arching power in a unipolar world is gravely wounded by surprise attacks, global political relations are bound to experience radical transformations.
The U.S. response to the attacks has been to declare a new world war against
yet another "-ism." Preemptive strikes have been launched against
those Washington lists as terrorists, and more could come.
Latin America is among the first to feel the effects of the ongoing re-ordering
of imperial priorities. In our hemisphere, the White House is circling
its wagons, shutting down borders, and seeking to extract unequivocal
allegiance from its neighbors for the new North American crusade.
But how neighborly are people in countries like Argentina, Colombia,
Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico really feeling?
Argentina’s bank default came as a severe jolt to the hegemony of Washington’s
chief instruments of control in the region, the International Monetary
Fund and World Bank. And the resulting street protests—rooted were just
a sampling of the discontent that the "Washington Consensus"
economic model is breeding in the region. Bridling at decades of structural
adjustment, many Latin Americans are poised to emulate the Argentine response.
How long will the United States suffer such foolishness? In 2002, housewives
banging pots and pans, in the now-classic cacerola demonstrations of Buenos
Aires, Quito, La Paz, Lima, Santiago, Sao Paolo, and Mexico City run the
risk of getting tagged as terrorists for obstructing Bush and U.S. Vice
President Dick Cheney’s economic and energy strategies for the continent.
A glance at history’s lesson plan reminds us that not so long ago this
same brand of dissenter was tarred as communist, and the generals of Latin
America were unleashed at Washington’s behest to crush out their kind
in the name of hemispheric security. Is such a worst-case scenario in
the wings for 2002?
Next door to ravished Argentina, Brazil is approaching a presidential
election in which notorious globalphobic Luis Da Silva ("Lula")
is leading the pack-a fact that must terrorize Bush and associates.
Further north, in Venezuela, Bush sets his sights on another potential
terrorist. President Hugo Chavez has earned this satanic status by huddling
with Saddam Hussein, Moamar Quadaffi, and Old Scratch himself, Fidel Castro.
Could calls for Chavez’ destitution by members of Venezuela’s military
be the result of efforts by Bush Inc. to demonize and destabilize the
Up the coast, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have
long been a fixture on the U.S. terror list. Now President Andres Pastrana’s
cancellation of peace talks makes way for the United States’ Plan Colombia—originally
an anti-drug scheme—to fuse the "War on Drugs" with the
"War on Terrorism." Don’t forget that Bush’s father and former
U.S. president, George Bush Sr., coined the concept of the narco-guerrilla.
Are preventative air strikes and deployment of U.S. ground troops on Colombian
soil in store for the year ahead?
As is de rigueur with U.S. wars, Bush’s War on Terrorism is not just
a little about oil. Nearly 42% of all U.S. imports now flow from the Americas,
27% alone from Mexico and Venezuela, with Canada supplying the rest. Colombia
is the third-largest U.S. oil source in Latin America, which makes control
of such conduits as the Cano Limon pipeline (bombed 130 times by guerrillas
in 2001) a national security priority for Washington.
In the wake of Sept. 11, Washington wants the American producers to provide
at least half its oil barrels while it reduces the 13% share furnished
by the Saudi royal family, leaders of an increasingly unstable regime
in a country whose populace appears to be ever more hostile towards the
For Mexico, which ships 86% of its export oil output to the United States,
a key concern must be whether it is inside or outside of Fortress America.
By enlisting in Bush’s War Against Terrorism, harnessing security and
energy production to Washington’s war machine, Mexico repeats a familiar
pattern—World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Drugs are instructive
Bush is going to need a lot of Mexican oil to fly his bombers and fuel
his envisioned lifetime war. He also has announced intentions to finally
fill the 19 million barrels of the U.S. Strategic Reserve in Louisiana,
historically supplied by Mexico.
Now as the Bush vampire brain trust thirsts for even more Mexican oil,
this distant neighbor’s resistance to increasing extraction of diminishing
reserves and its reluctance to privatize its national oil monopoly Petroleos
Mexicanos (Pemex) must be weighed against Bush’s "you-are-either-with-me-or-with-the-terrorists"
One area that oilmen like Bush and Cheney drool over is Pemex’ exploration
and development sector, where transnational contractors have made significant
inroads in recent years. Uncovering new sources to ease the drain on the
nation’s shrinking reserves-now estimated at lasting no longer than 20
years-is an energy priority in Mexico.
But in opening up new sectors and deepening U.S.-Mexico oil ties, Mexican
President Vicente Fox and his foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, run the
risk of fueling patriotic fervor linked to Mexico’s oil industry even
more, potentially sparking a retaliatory backlash in vulnerable southern
oil fields. Indeed, one likely target for fresh exploration in response
to increasing U.S. war-time energy needs is the southern state of Chiapas,
where the eight-year rebellion of the largely Mayan Zapatista National
Liberation Army (EZLN) has nullified new prospecting for the better part
of the past decade.
Located between Mexico’s largest land-based oil producing state of Tabasco,
and bordering Guatemalan oil fields, the jungle zone of southeastern Chiapas
where the rebels have much influence, is thought to hold sizable natural
gas and petroleum deposits. The zone has long been coveted by U.S. and
Increased pressure by the Bush and Fox administrations to open up Chiapas
oil fields is certain to generate friction with the Zapatista rebels,
who have long struggled for indigenous autonomy and local control of natural
The Indians’ refusal to cooperate with the Bush-Fox effort should insure
their place on the U.S. terrorist list. Indeed, at a Dec. 30 Mexican congressional
forum on international terrorism, U.S. Embassy official Christian Kennedy
claimed that the EZLN was already on that list.
Embassy officials now say that Kennedy may have confused the Zapatistas
with the Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, whose activities don’t necessarily
fit the job description, either.
A new uprising in Chiapas, featuring the EPR, which is increasingly active
in the state, and dissident Zapatistas disaffected by the EZLN’s abandonment
of the armed option, should not be discounted on the list of worst-case
The shards of shattered crystal ball foretell increased conflict between
the Fox administration and Mexico’s more than 15 million indigenous peoples.
An expected Supreme Court turn-down of hundreds of appeals protesting
the bogus Indian rights law, passed by Congress over Indian protests last
spring, will force militant groups organized into the National Indigenous
Congress to declare themselves autonomous and step outside of institutional
channels, a shift guaranteed to trigger a broad band of friction with
local authorities and the federal government. That will undermine the
Fox administration as it gears up for critical 2003 mid-term elections
around the country.
But the Indians are not the only ones plowing furrows into Fox’s beetled-brow.
The United States and Mexico are cohabitants of the same economic organism,
and when el norte slumps into crippling recession, the Mexican economy
More than half a million Mexican jobs went down the tubes in 2001, a
quarter of them in the maquiladora sector, which motors Mexico’s export-dependent
economy. Despite Fox’s pathological optimism, the Mexican GDP suffered
zero growth this past year, and Wall Streeters prognosticate that 2002
will not get any better. Indeed, some prophets of doom, such as Morgan-Stanley-Dean
Witter’s Stephen S. Roach, are talking about a protracted deflation cycle
that will mean rock-bottom commodity prices, massive unemployment, and
moribund money markets for years to come.
In the face of such dire forecasts, Fox’ upbeatness seems suicidal. As
the gap yawns wide, between what the first president elected from the
ranks of the opposition in 71 years promises and what he actually delivers,
the remaining crumbs of his credibility are wiped away. Elected under
the buzzword banner of change, Fox has changed little, and the president’s
ratings will fall below 50% before 2002 runs its course, assures veteran
Fox-watcher Denise Dresser, a pundit at the University of Southern California.
The poor performance of the Mexican Congress also is souring those who
retain belief in the party system. The legislators’ opportunism, lust
for short-term gain, and lack of national vision is fast turning a once-hopeful
citizenry cynical. Such surliness on the part of the electorate does not
bode well for Fox and his National Action Party in next year’s midterms.
In fact, such a souring enhances the chances of the venerable Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), once the longest running political dynasty
in the known universe.
A PRI bounce-back from the dead in the 2003 midterms would be a Sept.
11-sized disaster for democratic aspirations in Mexico and yet another
worst-case scenario for the near future.
In a year of worst case scenarios, the scenarios will only get worse.
John Ross is a veteran Mexico reporter, author of The War against
Oblivion-Zapatista Chronicles, and Against Amnesia, a new chapbook of
Published by the Americas
Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2002. All
John Ross "Predicting the Worst for Mexico and Points South in 2002,"
Americas Program Commentary (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource
Center, February 26, 2002).