Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blind to Mexico's failures

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets his North American counterparts in Mexico next month at a summit hosted by President Enrique Pe±a Nieto that will focus on trade and investment. No one, however, is expecting anything significant to emerge and the meeting might not last more than a day.

As usual at such gatherings of the "three amigos," Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama will avert their gaze to the misery around them. The intense violence and widespread human-rights abuses that have come to define the country of 120 million people aren't on the agenda.

In fact, the problems with Mexico's backwoods democracy have never been part of the continental agenda, even though its state of affairs sticks out like a sore thumb next to its prosperous neighbours to the north.

The truth is some parts of Mexico are among the most dangerous places in the world. It's not just the drug wars, which have killed an estimated 70,000 people, but the disappearance of some 26,000 innocent people who were swept up in the violence. In Mexico, they're known as "the disappeared."

Mexicans also have a word for the murder of some 35,000 women over the last 25 years. They call it "femicide," or the killing of someone because of their gender. It's not known how many women have been raped because the crime is rarely reported in a society still dominated by an ancient machismo mentality.

Spousal rape was made illegal a few years ago, but the new law hasn't created much work for police.

Journalists and human-rights advocates who made too much noise are also counted among the dead.

The levels of violence actually exceed the carnage experienced in either Afghanistan or Iraq, some sources state. In the first nine months of 2011, for example, crime-related deaths in a Mexican border state exceeded the number of Afghan civilians killed at the same time in all of Afghanistan.

According to various sources, about 50 per cent of the country's population is living in poverty, which is defined as people with an income below the "well-being threshold and with one or more social deprivations," such as shelter, food, health services, or basic services such as water and sewer.

Several years ago, a journalist asked rhetorically why the Americans were squandering so much blood and treasure to stabilize Afghanistan and liberate its women when the same task was just as urgent in Mexico, and where the economic returns would have been greater.

No one is suggesting a war to bring peace and justice to Mexico, but it's an enduring puzzle that very little pressure has ever been exercised to compel Mexico's powerful ruling oligarchy to implement real reforms.

The Americans tend to be more concerned about protecting their border from illegal Mexican immigration, and in supporting the war against drugs.

Canada has largely been oblivious to Mexico, except as a winter getaway where the tequila and cigarettes are cheap.

The Harper government in 2009 imposed visa requirements on Mexicans because of a rising number of refugee claims, a move that has become a sore point in relations.

Mexico's president is expected to protest the visa requirement during the trilateral meeting, but it's unlikely Mr. Harper will make any demands on his host. President Obama might raise the question of "citizen security," whatever that means, but neither leader seems prepared to use their leverage to push for fundamental reforms.

Mexico has made great strides in economic development, but it still seems like a state teetering on the brink of civil and social failure. That is something the three amigos should ponder, both as matters of justice and self-interest.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2014 A16

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