It’s not surprising, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, to hear about the horrors of alleged cartel violence that transpire mere miles away in Mexico.
What isn’t heard as often, according to author Dr. Shannon O’Neil, is the potential, the possibilities.
“I wrote Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead because I couldn’t find a book that described and analyzed the vast transformations Mexico has undergone over the last three decades — both the good and the bad — and what they mean for the United States,” she said.
O’Neil is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead. The book brings to light, among other things, the trends in Mexico, and the lack of reporting on any positive note.
“It is important that we understand the many good trends happening there — the economic opening and integration with the United States, the political opening and change, the growth of the middle class — as well as the bad ones — specifically the rising violence — because of the importance of Mexico for our day to day lives.
“While other countries capture the headlines, Mexico arguably affects the United States more than any other nation,” O’Neil said. “From the food on our tables, to the parts in our cars, the gas in our tanks, the consumer for our products, to the drugs on our streets, Mexico is now part of what happens here — and so we need to understand the post-NAFTA, post-9/11, globalizing nation to our south.”
O’Neil lived in Mexico for two years, returning to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree at Yale and her doctorate at Harvard. The author said she wanted to give readers a more in-depth look at the country and its efforts to change — not just at the sordid events that grab headlines.
“I hope this book help readers better understand Mexico — the dramatic changes that have happened in recent years, as well as the challenges the nation still faces — and to work more closely with our neighbor, as both of our futures depend on it.”
The following is an excerpt from Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead:
In 2008 Juárez was named the “City of the Future” by Foreign Direct Investment magazine, a trade journal of the Financial Times Group. Per capita incomes surpassed Mexico’s average, and Juárez’s expansion spurred the biggest housing boom in the nation. New cars fi lled the streets, dozens of
stores and restaurants opened, and the city boasted eight universities.On a normal day at the Juárez –El Paso border crossings, some eightythousand people come and go. In the morning, children line up with backpacks, ready for school. Later on, drivers carry shopping lists or business leads as they pass through checkpoints to the other side. At night, couples, families, and friends visit relatives or head to bars and parties in the neighborhood (and oft en country) next door.
But open a newspaper or turn on the television, and a very different image of Juárez emerges. Each morning, numbed reporters recount the previous night’s murders. In 2009, Juárez’s death count topped 2500 — the highest in Mexico. Juárez set another macabre record in 2010, surpassing 3000 drug-related killings, making it by many measures the most violent city in the world. The bloodshed of 2011 brought the cumulative five-year total to more than nine thousand souls. 2 Teenagers, with little else to do, hang
around gawking at bloodstained sidewalks. Close to half of Juárez’s youths do not work or attend school, setting themselves up for a life on the margins.
Even in the strong midday sun, the unlawful menace is palpable, leading residents to scurry between their houses and work, to resist lingering in the open air, to duck when a car backfires. Whole neighborhoods have emptied out, as the residents, driven by fear, have made the heartbreaking decision
to walk away from their homes. In 2009, the government sent in seven thousand military troops and federal police to patrol the streets in face masks and bulletproof vests, carrying automatic weapons at the ready. This only temporarily quelled some of the bloodshed.
The extent of today’s violence is unparalleled, but crime is hardly new to Ciudad Juárez. Drug-related violence fi rst exploded in 1997 when the Juárez cartel leader died while undergoing plastic surgery to change his identity.
What began as intracartel fighting escalated as the Tijuana and Sinaloa drug trafficking organizations entered the fray in an att empt to gain control of the city’s lucrative border crossings. Ciudad Juárez is also infamous for the violent deaths of hundreds of young women — most workers in the international maquila factories. Their murders remain unsolved, the law enforcement system being too weak, too incompetent, or too complicit to delve into the deep underworld of this burgeoning Mexican city.
Juárez today mirrors Mexico’s — and the United States’ — larger dilemma. Can it realize its potential and become a hub of North American competitiveness and interconnectedness? Or will it succumb to inept government, weakened communities, and escalating violence, walled off rather than embraced by its neighbor next door?
Turn on U.S. cable news and story aft er story recounts gruesome beheadings, spectacular assassinations, and brazen prison-breaks, painting Mexico as a country overrun by drug lords and on the brink of collapse.
More evenhanded news outlets aren’t far behind. Th e Los Angeles Times boasts a whole section entitled “Mexico under Siege.” If this threat was not enough, pundits and politicians alike conjure up images of vast waves of humanity pouring over the nearly two-thousand-mile border — illegal aliens flooding U.S. schools and hospitals and taking Americans’ jobs. Whether by lost jobs, illegal immigrants, or thugs and drugs, Mexico’s downward spiral is portrayed as imperiling the American way of life. But this conventional wisdom about Mexico is incomplete. Worse, the response — walling off the United States — is counterproductive and even harmful to U.S. national interests. Paradoxically, such efforts make the doomsday scenario next door that we so fear only more likely, directing billions of dollars away from policies that could actually improve U.S. security and prosperity.
Overlooked, underreported, and at times even blatantly ignored in the United States is the positive side of what is happening in Mexico. Yes, the Mexican government faces significant challenges — the most urgent being security. But as dismal as the current news is, Mexico stands on the cusp of a promising future. Mexico’s real story today is one of ongoing economic, political, and social transformation led by a rising middle class, increasingly demanding voters, and enterprising individuals and organizations working to change their country from the inside.
Madeleine Smither covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4425.