From a major dip in economic growth to a spike in drug-related violence, the past two years have been tumultuous ones in Mexico. But there are some early signs of change. The country’s economy is humming once again, and in recent months authorities have arrested several major leaders of various drug cartels. NEWSWEEK’s R. M. Schneiderman spoke with Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, about the country’s economy and the war on drugs.
Why has President Felipe Calderón launched this war against narcotraffickers?
[He] launched this offensive because organized crime today is the most important challenge to the rule of law in Mexico.
Why does the violence seem so much worse in a border city like Juárez compared with, say, Tijuana?
The baseline from which the federal government started attacking the problem is very different. For many years, as a result of the influx of foreign direct investment that was coming from a lot of the assembly and manufacturing facilities into Ciudad Juárez, it became one of the cities in Mexico with the highest per capita income. But if you look at things like number of clinics, number of day-care centers, number of cinemas, number of theaters, number of parks, Ciudad Juárez is in the lowest percentile of Mexico’s cities in terms of social infrastructure. That disparity is what, among other things, has been taken advantage of by the drug syndicates. In Tijuana there is a much deeper, wider middle class.
How will Mexico’s success against traffickers affect other LatAm nations?
Mexico’s recent success … is fundamentally shifting the pattern of cocaine transiting Mexico via land and is generating huge pressure points in Central America and the Caribbean. Continued success forces the U.S., Colombia, Mexico, and other regional partners to think about how to take on the challenge regionally and how we implement a truly holistic hemispheric policy. Because if not, all we will be doing is playing Whack-A-Mole.
What’s your response to the accusations of human-rights violations on behalf of the Mexican police?
We take this issue extremely seriously. The only way that we will maintain the support of public opinion and of civil society is if we can ensure that there are no human-rights violations. There have been cases where there has been ample and sufficient proof. Some of them are being investigated; some of them have already reached the indictment process. [In] others, the evidence has been sometimes flimsy or hasn’t been substantiated.
Immigration has been a contentious issue between the U.S. and Mexico. Could this problem ever solve itself?
We will become in the next 20 to 25 years a society with a demographic curve very similar to what you have in the U.S. If we were to grow [GDP] like this year at [a rate of] around 5 percent for a sustained period of time, what you would see is the Mexican economy absorbing most of the labor availability. That would diminish the pressures for migration across the border to the United States. And in 20 to 25 years, even if the U.S. would still need the numbers of immigrant labor that it needs today, there is a high possibility that those numbers would not be available from Mexico and we would be able to soak up that labor supply.
What have been some of Mexico’s recent economic success stories?
President Calderón has been very aggressive in pursuing two niches: aerospace and IT. It’s creating a virtuous cycle in … Guadalajara and Mexicali in IT and the area called the Bajio, which is the central part of the country, in terms of aerospace. Bombardier, for example, has established a very important facility, which will be turning out most of their aircraft production worldwide. This is creating a hub-and-spoke system of small and medium suppliers in Mexico.