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One Year After 9-11
Attacks Stirred Sympathies but U.S. Popularity in Latin America at New Low
by John Ross | September 18, 2002
It was a small, if ignominious, incident as far as global imbroglios go. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had flown into Mexico with a blue-ribbon delegation from San Antonio, including former Mayor Henry Cisneros and basketball giant David "The Admiral" Robinson, to secure the 2007 Pan-American Games for the Alamo city–a shoo-in choice, according to insiders. The Texans set up camp by poolside at the fashionable Camino Real Hotel, threw a side of beef on the barbecue, popped open a few cases of Lone Star beer, and buttonholed delegates from the 42 American nations who would make the final decision about the location.
The next morning, the envelope was ripped open and the winner was: Rio de Janeiro, a selection that set off a wild celebration among Brazil’s partisans who seemed to number every Latin delegate on the floor. Although the ballot was a secret one, it now appears that no more than nine South American, Central American, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean representatives cast votes for the U.S. site. The governor got back on a plane and headed north, a perplexed but dubiously wiser man.
Perry was already a not-so-popular figure in Mexico; his recent refusal to take a call from Mexican President Vicente Fox, who was pleading for the life of a condemned national, resulted in the cancellation of a Fox tête-à-tête with U.S. President George W. Bush.
The Pan-American Game flap was a minor measure of U.S. standing in Latin America today. Just a year after the 9-11 terror attacks aroused a continental wave of sympathy for the wounded Colossus of the North, Washington’s popularity has plummeted to rock-bottom from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.
Item : For the first time ever, polls show that more Argentines despise the United States than admire it, reports right-wing Argentine Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer. The Bush administration’s studied posture of disinterest in that Southern Cone nation’s economic collapse and the recent declassification of documents establishing that Washington was complicit in 35,000 Dirty War deaths and disappearances in Argentina, have made the Yankees Public Enemy No. 1 on the streets of Buenos Aires.
Item : The blatant intervention of the U.S. Embassy in recent Bolivian elections to thwart indigenous leader Evo Morales’ ascendancy to the presidency, has a sizable number of voters in that majority Indian nation muttering anti-Yankee imprecations. Washington’s efforts to destabilize Brazilian markets in order to sabotage the front-running presidential bid of leftist Luis "Lula" da Silva, is not making a lot of friends either.
Item : The Bush administration’s green lighting of last April’s foiled military coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in the grand tradition of Yankee imperialism has stirred deep anger at the grassroots in that oil-rich nation. Meanwhile, next door in Colombia, the U.S.-sponsored ($1 billion a year) war against "narco-terrorist" guerrilla armies has generated mounting human rights abuses and the wholesale destruction of vital food crops.
9-11 Fallout Continues to Aggravate U.S. Relations with Next Door Neighbor
On the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S.-Mexico relations could not have been better. Fox had been hosted at a gala White House fete and a landmark immigration agreement was apparently just around the corner. "Mexico is our most important foreign relation," the marble-mouthed U.S. president told the media. Today, a year later, Fox’s Secretary of State Jorge Castañeda tells the British Broadcasting Corp., "Mexico is no longer a U.S. priority." And Fox, calling for a more modern, multi-dimensional security accord, pulls Mexico out of the Organization of American States’ Rio treaty, which was crafted to protect U.S. cold war fears of communism’s spread on the continent.
The plight of Mexican undocumented workers, a quandary that last year seemed headed for resolution, has only deepened with record numbers of deaths of migrant border crossers being reported in the Arizona desert this summer.
How many Mexicans actually perished in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 last year has never been established with precision. Mexico’s New York consulate lists 17 dead, most restaurant workers in the 108th floor Windows on the World. But the Tepeyac Center, a nongovernment organization that works with the migrant community, holds another list of 16 names, many of which do not appear on the consulate’s death roster. Both sources concur that, unlike the millionaire sums dispensed to U.S.-born victims, many of whom were affluent stockbrokers, no Mexican citizen, documented or otherwise, has received any compensation for the calamity.
The U.S. economic downturn, already in progress but accelerated by 9-11, has slammed Mexico. Tourism, the third leading generator of Yankee dollars here, fell precipitously as North Americans stopped hopping flights in the wake of the attacks. The maquiladora sector, which produces consumer goods for U.S. markets, nose-dived after 9-11, and a quarter of a million low-wage workers lost their jobs. All indicators signal that 2002 will be another no-growth year for Mexico.
Mexico Swept Up by U.S. Security Shift
The morning after Bush’s Sept. 19, 2001 declaration of the War on Terror, made in a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, widely read Mexico City political columnist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa opined, "This is not our war," a sentiment that seemed generalized here.
"The U.S. has many enemies that are not Mexico’s enemies," underscored former national security chief Gen. Jorge Carrillo Olea.
Although Mexico usually takes a cautiously neutral stand when it comes to world conflict, like it or not, this not-so-distant-anymore neighbor nation is a participant in Bush’s terror war. This October, the Pentagon’s hastily formulated Northern Command, the first U.S. military command ever assigned to protect U.S. territory, will set up shop in a Colorado bunker, and Mexico, defined as a principal U.S. security perimeter, will become a priority for North American military defenses.
Whether this means increased over-flights and satellite surveillance or the eventual annexation of Mexico’s security apparatus is the source of much speculation here by military experts like legislative analyst Jorge Luis Sierra, who considers either option to be a violation of Mexico’s national sovereignty.
Offering lip service to U.S. security schemes and freeing up U.S. security agents to operate in Mexico, Fox has become a passive partner in Bush’s terror war. The FBI was recently encouraged to investigate a hijacked truckload of cyanide in central Mexico, and Bush’s Homeland Security bulldog Tom Ridge praised Fox for permitting U.S. oversight on Mexico’s southern border.
On the northern frontier, 22 border crossings with the United States have been all but locked down by Homeland Security. A number of smaller crossings along the river the United States calls the Rio Grande and Mexico the Río Bravo have been eliminated entirely, dividing families and disrupting communities. "Everyone coming in here now is a potential terrorist," a U.S. Customs agent told the New York Times last month in Laredo, Texas.
Mexicans Eschew Uncle Sam’s Heavy Hand
A year after the terrorist attacks that took 2,800 lives, sympathy for the United States has soured to cynicism. Some Mexicans, conditioned to favor conspiracy theories by seven decades of one-party rule, seem convinced that Bush bombed himself. "If Bush was so serious about the war on terrorism, why can’t he find Bin Laden?" snorts Lalo Miranda as he snips this reporter’s beard at his central Mexico City market stall. "Because the two are in this business together," the barber answers his own question.
This June, with Bush under fire because he had failed to act on foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks, La Jornada , a big-selling, national newspaper that has been having a field day with Bush’s terror war, editorialized that the U.S. president was instigating "delirious paranoia to divert public attention from his lamentable failings in preventing the tragedy."
"The U.S. is the greatest violator of human rights in Latin America–especially in Cuba," asserts human rights lawyer Camilo Pérez, pointing to hundreds of accused Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners confined to tiger cages at the Guantanamo Bay Naval facility.
Pérez was steaming about the arrest of José Padilla, a Brooklyn-born U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican heritage who had converted to Islam. Padilla is being held incommunicado in a South Carolina prison, charged with purportedly smuggling plans to detonate a so-called "dirty" bomb on the streets of America. "Wouldn’t you know they’d find a Latino to blame it on?" says Pérez, who teaches in New York. A Mexican citizen was reportedly shot in Los Angeles during the wave of ethnic violence that followed 9-11, because he resembled an Arab.
Last year in September, Alejandro G., a rabid anti-Yankee, was delighted by the Saudi pilots’ coordinated attacks that killed thousands: "How beautiful!" he exclaimed to a U.S. reporter. But now Alejandro is not so sure. "Now I think it was all a dirty plot by Bush to take over the world."
A spate of U.S. flag-burnings has accompanied the anti-Yankee wave. Embattled farmers, during their recently successful fight to fend off a Fox-imposed airport, actually chopped up the stars and bars with their iconic machetes at a lively demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Battles out in the provinces over the opening of a McDonald’s in the colonial plaza of Oaxaca city, and the mauling of Cuernavaca by the giant U.S. retail chain Costco have heightened the anti-Yankee ambiance. That ultimate all-American plastic product, Britney Spears, who was photographed giving the Yankee finger to the media, was booed and jeered off the stage at a recent concert here.
In this rarefied atmosphere, the mega-frauds that have crumpled U.S. corporate empires Enron and WorldCom have not much burnished Bush and associates’ image south of the border. Nor will the U.S. president’s unilateral invasion of Iraq, an aggression already condemned by the Fox administration, which demands that the United Nations, where Mexico occupies a seat on the Security Council, handle conflict. Bush’s father’s 1991 efforts as then-president to topple Saddam Hussein ignited widespread demonstrations here. Now, once again, groups gather in front of the embassy torching flags, and waving signs that read "Bush–The Biggest Terrorist!" and "Washington = Nazis."
U.S. Leaders Misinterpret Latin American Signals
For U.S. hardliners, Latin America is a minor league hotbed of terrorism. Hezbullah is supposed to be strategically installed in the Paraguayan outback and ETA warriors allegedly wander the continent with impunity. Terror bombs detonate outside the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru; Cuba is exporting bio-terrorism; the Zapatistas won’t take off their ski-masks; and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) is knocking on the U.S. door.
As this deliberately self-delusional threat gets closer to the border, the panic spreads in concentric circles. One reaction seems to involve declaring the Mexican border a terror zone and unleashing North Com to take care of the problem. Sounds far-fetched? In an August 8 Washington interview with the Mexico City national Reforma newspaper, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chieftain Asa Hutchinson cited arrests of several Colombians purportedly affiliated with both the FARC and the partly decimated Tijuana Cartel; he declared the border to be "infected" by narco-terrorism, a prognosis confirmed as fact by ex-White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey.
Mexican authorities accused Hutchinson of jumping to conclusions–which seems to be a favorite Bush terror war exercise these days.
John Ross, author of The War Against Oblivion–Zapatista Chronicles and Against Amnesia , a new chapbook of poetry, is a frequent contributor to the Americas Program.
For more information:
"Immigration Reform and National Security" | New York Times , September, 16, 2002
"Securing Freedom’s Triumph," by President George W. Bush" | New York Times , September 11, 2002
"Mexico Quits Rio Pact, Cites Passe Coverage" | Washington Times , September 7, 2002
"The Dynamics of World Disorder" | Le Monde Diplomatique , September 2002
"September 11 Ceremonies Slight Truths of the Tragedy" | Daytona Beach News-Journal , Sept. 10, 2002
"Why Some Mexicans Have Mixed Emotions About 9-11," | Americas Program, September 19, 2001
Published by the Americas
Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2002. All
John Ross, "9-11 Stirred Sympathies but U.S. Popularity in Latin America at New Low," Americas Program (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, September 18, 2002).