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Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States

por | Sep 11, 2022 | 0 Comentarios

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When people think about Mexico, I guess most people think of its rich culture and traditions. For many of these, Mexicans owe them to the rich encounter that took place between the Spanish and the indigenous cultures. Moreover, some people think that Mexico was a colony of Spain similar to the situation of African countries under European rule, but such an idea is completely mistaken and absolutely ignorant of Mexican history. 

If we are to consider an important relationship of harm toward Mexico, we should shift our sight toward their neighbors in the north. But, why is this so? Didn’t the Spanish kill a lot of the indigenous population? Didn’t the United States invade Mexico only once? 

The differences between these two countries are more profound than the evident socio-economic divide and the opposition between development and underdevelopment, wealth and poverty, and domination and dependence. To fully understand the complex relation between Mexico and the United States and the profound differences between them, we need to go back in time. 

The opposition between Mexico and the United States is an ancient one dating back to pre-Columbian America. The northern part of the continent was settled by nomadic, warrior nations; Mesoamerica, on the other hand, was home to settled agricultural civilizations with complex social and political institutions. The first ones were hunters, and the second ones were farmers. This division greatly influenced the policies of the English and the Spanish toward the Native Americans.

The differences between the English and the Spaniards who founded “New England” and “New Spain” were also decisive: in England, the Reformation triumphed, whereas Spain was the champion of the Counter-Reformation. Conquest and evangelization, both words deeply Spanish and Catholic, best describe what happened in Mexico. England’s colonial expansion had no relation with these.

Catholicism brought to Mexico by the Spaniards was full of assimilation and there was a mix of cultures. From the Indigenous culture, Mexico kept: the family, friendship, attitudes toward one’s father and mother, the image of authority and political power, the vision of death, work, and festivity. From the Spanish culture, Mexico kept: the language, religion, political institutions, and a brave adventurous spirit. Mexico is a nation born of two civilizations with a rich past, from both the indigenous and the Spanish. 

In the United States, there is no native element. Most Native Americans were exterminated, and the few who were left were put on “reservations.” As Mexican Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz wrote, “the United States was founded on a land without a past.” The United States has no roots, and exactly the opposite is true of Mexico, which has an abundance of heritage. In one of his essays, Octavio Paz suggests that the attitude of Hispanic Catholicism is inclusive, and the attitude of English Protestantism is exclusive: assimilation vs. segregation.

Another significant opposition relates to the attitude of each nation toward work and festivity. For the society in New Spain, work did not redeem, and manual work was servile. The superior man commanded, contemplated, and enjoyed himself. Leisure was noble. And if you had wealth, you built churches and palaces and made big celebrations. On the contrary, the Protestant society in the United States affirmed the redemptive value of work and rejected the value of festivity. For the Puritans, work was redemptive because it freed man, and this liberation was a sign of God’s choice. 

Mexican society was very heterogeneous, so this required a strong central government tied by both the Spanish monarch and the Catholic Church. The situation of the United States was different. The small colonial communities were rather homogenous, and democratic institutions could flourish there more easily. 

For Octavio Paz, these countries’ strongest contrast is their position regarding time. The United States is a society oriented toward the future. “The American lives on the very edge of the now, always ready to leap toward the future. The country’s foundations are in the future, not in the past … the act of its founding was a promise of the future.” Mexico’s position is just the opposite. “Its ideal is to conserve the image of divine immutability… it has a plurality of pasts, all present and at war within every Mexican’s soul… Utopia for them [is] a return to the source, to the beginning.”

These different stories and paths have made both countries profoundly different. However, it must be said that Mexican society was richer and more prosperous than American society up until the end of the eighteenth century. But everything changed…

Right after Mexico’s independence, the United States started disrupting even more the unstable situation of the new nation. One of the darkest figures of U.S. imperialism and one of its finest spies and troublemakers was Joel R. Poinsett, the first U.S. agent in South America and first U.S. minister to Mexico. He was a Protestant, mason, anti-Catholic, anti-Hispanic, anti-monarchy, greedy, and clear-minded officer determined to get the most benefit for the United States out of the Mexican political situation —very much anti-Mexican.

He was sent to promote a border adjustment that would grant the United States two-thirds of Mexican territory. Of course, his petition was denied. But after his attempts failed, he chose a different strategy: dividing Mexicans and fostering intrigues among them. For this purpose, he established masonic lodges, which have disrupted and managed Mexican governments ever since. Additionally, he fostered the anti-Spanish “black legend” that suggests that the Spaniards robbed and murdered the great indigenous cultures. But this is not true since the Mexican nation is mestiza, which means the combination of both Spanish and Indigenous. Of course, there were some abuses, but the balance is more positive than negative. The situation in Mexico fostered the first developments of the notion of human rights by religious missionaries and Mexico did not have slaves as the U.S. because its citizens were direct subjects to the King of Spain as requested by queen Elizabeth since Columbus discovered this land.

Poinsett’s evil intentions also encouraged the expulsion of the remaining Spaniards, which produced a greater crisis in Mexico in many ways: there was a loss in population in several regions that were left as easy prey for ambitious Americans, a loss in capital and industry needed for the development of the new country, and the loss of many priests and missionaries. Finally, people asked for Poinsett’s expulsion of the country because of all the instability that he was causing. But in 1847, the United States invaded Mexico, occupied it, and imposed on it terrible and heavy conditions of peace. This was the Mexican-American War in which the United States forced Mexico to cede more than half of its territory. The greedy territorial expansion of President Polk left Mexico with worse domestic turmoil, lots of lost lives, and its national sentiment in a state of degradation and ruin.

During much of the nineteenth century, Mexico suffered civil wars, and Mexican liberals (mainly masons left by Poinsett’s work) tried to implant a democratic republic by confronting the Catholic Church. This meant a radical break with the past and produced more internal division. This rupture with the Church made education collapse and resulted in leaving lots of people uneducated and poor. The wars eventually produced the militarism that led to the dictatorship of president Díaz, which in turn led to the Mexican Revolution, which could not implant true democracy but only an authoritarian regime with a mask of democracy. Social inequality and the actions of economic monopolies, among them those of the United States, have made it more difficult for Mexico to develop ever since. 

Up until these days, American interference in Mexican politics continues but it has morphed into the economic pressure of big companies and their power to manipulate and abuse Mexico’s frail institutions corroded by corruption. Additionally, the United States somehow abuses its southern neighbor’s dependence and takes advantage of cheap labor without providing labor rights or security to the employees’ families. 

A particular situation of injustice in the Mexico-U.S. relations that can be portrayed as a “global shadow” is the one related to the war on drugs. It is a multifaceted shadow of power, privilege, inconsistency, and irresponsibility because the U.S. government has made little progress in reducing the demand and consumption of illegal drugs. This has encouraged market growth for drugs, which fosters cartel growth too and triggers many vicious cycles at the same time. Drug violence disrupts communities and many young people die from drug-related violence or drug overdoses. Moms have to work in factories (far from their homes) to provide for their kids, and in the meantime, kids are left alone at the mercy of drug cartels that enroll them for their business. Drug consumption is a societal ill, but the most affected are the most vulnerable. The United States seems to care only for its economic profit and washes its hands by providing more weapons to combat the cartels but does nothing to address the vice of its citizens that causes all the trouble. In the meantime, in addition to all its problems, Mexico is becoming a drug consumer itself, and the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. jurisdictions has pushed drug trafficking organizations to refocus on harder drugs.

One solution could be reducing consumption through serious campaigns and not further encouraging consumption through the legalization of drugs. Culture must be changed. The sickness of the United States is moral, and its hedonism is another face of desperation. Licentiousness is not liberty. Freedom is not doing whatever one wants. True freedom is to do the Good. Let us teach our young ones to use their freedom to serve one another in love.

Proponents of drug legalization say it will eradicate the black market, but it may as well continue selling marijuana at a lower price and to the underaged. Say NO to marijuana YES to education. In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens. By exercising true freedom, you do not harm yourself nor others…  

Paz’s genius ends his insightful essay about Mexico and the United States with a warning that is still valid today:

“Today, the United States faces very powerful enemies, but the mortal danger comes from within: not from Moscow but from that mixture of arrogance and opportunism, blindness and short-term Machiavellianism, volubility and stubbornness which has characterized its foreign policies during recent years … To conquer its enemies, the United States must first conquer itself—return to its origins. Not to repeat them but to rectify them: the “others”—the minorities inside as well as the marginal countries and nations outside—do exist. … If the United States is to recover fortitude and lucidity, it must recover itself, and to recover itself it must recover the “others”—the outcast of the Western World.”

Octavio Paz, “Reflections-Mexico and United States”, The New Yorker, September 1979.
Irene González Hernández

Irene González Hernández

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