Saturday, January 31, 2009

The "state" of Mexico's State

If anyone has been following headline's in the U.S. press about Mexico in the last month or two, you might have noticed a lot of alarmist and sensationalist garbage being thrown around suggesting that Mexico is coming close to collapse, is a "failed state" or a "narco state." Fox news has been spreading this message, along with a number of political commentators on the Sunday morning talk shows, and even Rolling Stone.

The violence in Mexico is worrying, and cause for concern, but the rhetoric seems to lead the uninformed to think Mexico is more like Somalia. It is definitely not.

Political Scientist Stephen Haber has an interesting column in the Wall Street Journal where he puts the violence in Mexico into perspective (in an article about the general state of Latin America). He writes:

The Mexican state is weak compared to the U.S., but incredibly strong when compared to places in Central Asia or Africa that are usually called failing states. There are no foreign troops on Mexican soil. There is no martial law. Garbage is picked up, streets are swept and children go to school. Middle-class couples take weekend getaways, and drive there on highways as good as those in the United States. After falling for a decade, Mexico's homicide rate increased in 2008, because the Calderón government courageously decided to take on the drug traffickers. If it keeps rising, it may soon be as high as that of...Louisiana.

I do have a lot of quibbles with what Haber writes, about Latin America in general, and in this particular paragraph about Mexico. With around 6,000 murders related to drugs last year in Mexico, comparing the rate of homicide from an entire country to the state of Louisiana does mask some of the horror going on in Mexico. Nearly half of the drug-related murders took place in the state of Chihuahua, a northern state in Mexico with a slightly smaller population than Louisiana. But the general gist of Haber's article is correct, even with allegations of corruption at all levels of government and in the police and military, and the gruesome ways in which people are being are being killed in Mexico, the state still works, and the overwhelming majority of people can still go about their daily lives as they did before Calderón came to office. 

For those that are interested, Patrick Corcoran over at the blog Gancho has been regularly addressing some of the more ridiculous claims about Mexico's supposed decent into anarchy.