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U.S.-Mexican Relations, Migration, and the Drug War

On April 15, journalist David Brooks of the Mexican newspaper La Jornada shared a reporter’s perspective on the current contours of U.S.-Mexican relations. Brooks organized his presentation around the theme of “collateral damage.” While U.S. and Mexican policymakers celebrate their common agendas, residents of both countries are struggling with the ramifications of the economic recession and drug-related violence. “We’re starting to look more alike than we think,” Brooks mused sadly.

In recent months, La Jornada has published stories on the public’s growing distrust of the financial sector, increased military spending, torture, gun violence, political corruption, and church scandals. “These are not stories about Mexico,” Brooks explained. “These are the stories we’ve been publishing about the United States.” As the U.S. bureau chief for one of Mexico’s leading daily newspapers, Brooks faces the daunting responsibility of explaining political developments across cultural divides.

"In Mexico, a whole generation has been born and raised on one single word:
'La Crisis'.”

Brooks argued that Mexico was more severely affected by the global financial crisis than other Latin American nations because its economy is so closely linked to the United States. The stock market crash of 2008 exacerbated pre-existing political and economic problems. In Mexico, “a whole generation has been born and raised on one single word: la crisis.” Provocatively, Brooks characterized the illicit drug trade and the export of human beings as “the best businesses [in Mexico] right now” and “the two most effective … results of NAFTA and neoliberal policies.” Thanks to remittances, undocumented migrants have become “the only export that keeps on giving.”

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006 and initiated a nationwide campaign against the drug cartels, an estimated 22,700 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes. Thirty percent more people were killed by drug-related violence in 2009 than in 2008. The drug war has become the major story in Mexico, but journalists put their lives at risk when they report on violent crimes, and “editors end up having to self-censor almost everything.” Even official statistics are difficult to assess or understand. When someone is murdered in Mexico, Brooks asked, “how do you know it’s a narco and not a neighbor?”

A recent poll in the Mexican newspaper Milenio found that 59% of respondents believed the cartels were winning the war. “I can’t stand opening the paper, and neither can most people in Mexico sometimes,” Brooks admitted, because the daily death tolls have become too difficult to stomach. He expressed frustration that the debates about immigration and drug policy in the United States rarely linked those issues to Mexico’s economic crisis. Experts had yet to devise “a development model that goes to the root causes.” Brooks’ lecture was supported by Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism and the MacMillan Center’s Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies, in conjunction with Professor Gil Joseph’s course on “Modern Mexican History.”