The Vee Oh Cee | The Truth About Mexico

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The Vee Oh Cee

A post by "Elliot Joachim" | http://www.vidalago.com/wordpress

Elliot is the author of "Lifestyle Refugee," a blog focusing on life in the Lake Chapala Region of Mexico. To see more posts by this author, click here.

I cannot watch the news. It only takes minimal exposure before I want to curl up in a ball on the floor. For instance, I keep hearing that Mexico is on the Verge of Collapse, and also that it is a Failed State. This is scary stuff. I’m not sure what happens when a country that has survived for a thousand years collapses. What is left behind?

I admit that it makes me anxious, and more so since I recently watched a harrowing special about the Dust Bowl on the History Channel. Was I to understand that having the earth denuded of it’s topsoil, drought, livestock keeling over dead, a historic depression, 25% unemployment, and plagues of freaking millipedes had not put America on the Verge-of-Collapse, but Mexico is permanently perched there? This means that somehow the country that I’ve chosen to live in has to be a third world hell worse off than Dust Bowl Oklahoma. My anxiety has turned to skepticism.

It turns out that The Fund for Peace has a grading system called the Index of Failed States. When a state is failing, it doesn’t mean that there will be some kind of supernova as it collapses in on itself, as I vaguely thought. It’s less like a star burning out and more like failing math in your sophomore year. Instead of A-F, it goes from Green (sustainable) to Red (Alert). In between are Cream (Moderate) and Yellow (Warning), and believe me, the whole world lives somewhere in the cream and yellow zone, including America and Mexico. It’s clear that you can’t be rock and roll and be in the Green…only countries like Luxembourg and Sweden are green. And Canada.

It didn’t require much of a time investment before I began to feel like I’d been had by the the Talking Heads and their catastrophe rhetoric. Again. If you don’t straighten up, says the Fund for Peace, you’re going to fail. Just like my parents used to say! But in the hands of newcasters with hour after hour to fill, it becomes something very different.

Believe me when I tell you that I’m content to leave politics to the people that give a damn. If it doesn’t involve rhinestone appliques or reality television, I’m not interested. When I am forced to listen to the news, I usually feel only a vague sense of horror, like a teenager hopelessly eavesdropping while grown-ups ruin her life. So I didn’t set out to become an expert on this kind of stuff, and in fact, I haven’t.

But I can report that the Verge of Collapse turns out to be a very wide place, a regular esplanade, if you will. I have learned that the standards for being a Failed State are low, and almost any accounting error or severe storm will qualify you. A government only has to come up short in one of many varied criteria, and economy is one of those, so to my surprise, the USA is in fact sharing the Verge of Collapse with her neighbor to the South! Also crowded onto the Verge are Argentina, Venezuela and Israel, and of course, Russia and China.

Thanks to the Internet, God bless it, even if the Fund for Peace gives you a passing grade, it’s pretty easy to find someone who thinks you’re a Failed State. As an example, I thought that England would be safe, serenely hunkered down somewhere with a gin rickey watching the sun set on those of us who were roosted on The VOC, but nope, Britain is in danger of bankruptcy, which certainly gets you an F. New England, too, because the Atlantic Codfish is, you guessed it, on the Verge of Collapse.

The exception is Canada. I mentioned my findings to the ladies who lunch, noting that Canada seemed to be safe from the VOC. “Oh, we’ve been bankrupt for years.” our Canadian bff drawled. “The healthcare system, you know.” I can’t find anything to substantiate her position though, and she’s the same woman that thinks W was an excellent king.

I’m pleased to report that Mexico can be a Failed State and on the Verge of Collapse and still be a damn fine place to live. Drug wars are bad and so is flu, but this sunny nation has never been free of violence or illness or poverty or even millipedes, and people have always fallen in love and settled in Mexico in spite of it. I don’t know what drives the relentless barrage of media that addresses only one aspect of this country of contrasts. It seems like bullying, petty and mean. The fact is, bad in Mexico exists, and it can be pretty bad… but, what the hell, Mexico’s good is so much better.

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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Daniel Says:

    Rather than giving news up for reality TV, you could try seeking more reliable sources. From the news programs I frequent, I’ve never heard that Mexico is on the verge of collapse or is a failed state. I have heard, however, concern about the increasing pressure of the drug trade on the government. And that sounds reasonable to me. Isn’t there room for an attitude that follows “bad in Mexico exists” not with “what the hell” but with “I’m concerned about it and I wish in some little way I could make it better”?

  2. Leslie Says:

    Daniel, where have you been that you have not heard Mexico is on the VOC or a “failed state”? This is the type of media garbage that is being fed on a daily basis. I believe Elliott’s comment, “What the hell” is more of a laze faire way of saying violence and illness has not kept you from living in the United States, why should it keep you out of Mexico. Mexico has much more to offer than just Swine Flu and Drug Trade. Last year there were a little over 200 American’s murdered in Mexico. Yes, this is a large amount, but compared to the 189 murders reported in Houston for the 1st quarter of 2009, I believe Mexico fares pretty well. Most of the murders that occurred were drug traffic related. Taking the proper precautions when traveling internationally ANYWHERE are necessary. As long as you are aware of your surrounding, don’t gloat about having money, and are not trafficking drugs, you should be pretty safe. Thanks for the information Elliott. Which sites did you visit relating to “VOC” status?

  3. Elliot Says:

    Thanks for your point of view, Daniel. I try not to watch any news at all, but of course it’s unavoidable. For instance, just opening my browser last week I saw a headline from Associated Press announcing that Joint Chiefs had warned that Mexico is in danger of failing, which is actually what led to this post. As far as helping in some small way, I hope that reporting on the pleasures of day to day life here in Mexico may help to counteract the anti Mexican propaganda that many news consumers that are less discerning than you are being inundated with.

  4. Elliot Says:

    Leslie, whew, you were able to interpret that “what the hell” perfectly for me! I confess that because my writing is intended to be humorous, my research would not get me a passing grade in any class. However, just by typing in “failed states, failing states, and verge of collapse, in combinations with Mexico,” some interesting sources come up, often very right-ish blogs. I got the grading/color system from The Fund for Peace Failed State Index
    http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=99&Itemid=140

  5. Leslie Says:

    Thanks Elliott! Glad I was able to interpret the “What the hell” perfectly for you, haha. I have been doing a large amount of research on the current conditions in Mexico and have found some pretty interesting points of view and source information on Mexico’s “Failed State” status. Dennis Blair, National Intelligence Director, released a statement saying, “Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. Let me repeat that, Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state.” He attributed the spike in deadly violence to the Calderon Governments willingness to go after the drug cartels. The media is so quick to show one side of the story, funny enough it is 99.9% the negative view. The truth is there is a war against drugs going on in Mexico. Yes, there have been deaths attributed to this war as are with any war. But the Mexican government is doing what they can to rid their country of said violence. As I recall, there has been a war going on in the United States for some 40 years now! Let’s not begin to add up the number of deaths in the United States since the declaration of the “War on Drugs” by former President Nixon. Let’s not be so quick to believe everything we see on T.V and actually do some research for ourselves.

  6. Betsy Says:

    Great piece, Elliot! Thanks for the insights and the humor.

  7. elliott Says:

    Thanks Betsy, I really appreciate the feedback.

  8. quiere tamale Says:

    Hi Elliot,

    Just had to pipe up after living now in Mexico nearly three years and hearing slander from US friends about Mexico ad nauseum, never mind inflammatory headlines like Rolling Stone’s “Mexico Descends into Chaos and Brutality” or something like that…

    Like you intone, Mexico is a civilization with a 10,000 year back story, compared to the US where I, born in 1956 in Montana, a mere 67 years after the Battle of Wounded Knee in which some 300-500 native Americans (depending which side does the counting) were slaughtered with automatic gunfire by the US calvary and heaped into a mass grave. With such a scant history behind my state, unlike most US citizens I see the US as more of a refugee camp for Europeans than a genuine civilization such as Mexico, what with more pyramids than any nation on earth.

    Furthermore there persists this notion among pilgrims up yonder that Mexico is Spain. Even the Mexican gummnt admits only some 10% of its people are anything close to fully Spanish. This is native America. If they look Indian they are Indian. Look at photos of DeSoto, Cortez, et al. They look like the English, with fish eyes, scant cheekbones, balding pates, etc. They do not look like “Indians” because the Spanish are a white race. Mexico is greater native America.

    Also those who flee northward to work illegally, more often than not, are not the wealthy scions of Spain who settled in Mexico, but instead are fairly illiterate people from more Indian-blooded places. This means that the “Indian Wars” of the US never ended, that in fact the nation most proudly boasting of democracy has “outsourced” its agriculture along racial and even border lines, and that if what our Mexican friends say is true, one day they will get fed up with rude treatment up there, and all leave en masse. Since more than 90% of all things agriculture – including and in particular restaurant work and food processing – are accomplished by Mexican hands, that famous “democracy” up there where 98.5% of the citizens are NOT employed in agriculture will have a hard time feeding themselves.

    This provides great motivation for “official” sources to play both sides of the question. They don’t dare offend their outsourced agricultural class en masse and they know it. Therefore there would be good reason to drum up a disinformation war, convincing their agricultural class that things back home are insufferable when in fact it is heaven on earth for 99% of the country. Wish we could say that about the US, huh?

    This and other aspects of what I can only think of as the native American/agricultural wars (including growing drug crops illicitly down south and hiring international support to “traffic” it northward) would provide significant explanation for the purely hallucinatory reports of Mexico being at war.

    Our Mexican friends (I speak Spanish well enough to converse with those who don’t speak English) are even more peeved and fatigued than we are with the propaganda war, everyone glancing hither thither and yon trying to find evidence that some “mass movement” is afoot among the people along the lines of civil war, but aside from the drug thing, no one has a clue what the US media is talking about.

    Finally one and all Mexicans seem to agree that up there it is very different in terms of sheer concentration of government forces. Up north if you consider all military and peripheral personnel, postal workers, all state, federal, county and municipal civil servants and the overweening bureaucratic classes such as forest service and bureau of land management personnel, perhaps you have a 1:2 if not 1:1 ratio among adults employed in some species of bureaucracy or government. Such a society is going to feel economic collapse like a heart attack.

    Down here, conversely, what holds society together is extended family. US people, a vast pastiche of strangers to one another for the most part, could never get it. Most US people don’t know four families on their block, do they? Down here, imagine you were related by blood to 50% of the people on your block and another 49% by marriage, and it went on like that for 100’s of miles. They do things as a vast extended family. They don’t have vast social services, let alone rely on them. Perhaps in Mexico the citizen to bureaucrat ratio is something like 1:1,000 if not 1:10,000. Most Mexicans we’ve asked agree with the notion that if the entire government and bureaucracy were entirely abducted into outer space, much of Mexico would not know or sense the difference for weeks, if ever.

    Don’t forget that it’s a myth that Spain conquered Mexico. True they dug into the valleys and fertile areas, as well as establishing mines, but they never went hells belles conquering all the Indians. There are still perhaps 15% of Mexico’s people up in the mountains hardly living any differently than they did 2,000 years ago. Funny, they don’t come down en masse begging for it to be different, either.

    Mexico is the native American success story, the last hold-out. If you get along with extended families, you should do much better than up north with the pilgrims.

  9. quiere tamale Says:

    postscript

    The exception to the story is, as with the entire world, really large cities. They are all unsafe in areas, containing more human suffering than the countryside ever does. That said, another masterpiece of public relations was convincing the US people that they are rich and Mexico poor. No matter how “poor” most families have land, humble abode and agriculture FREE AND CLEAR with a 365 growing season.

    How many times have we all read some photo caption like “a poor farmer and his cows.” What? Is there an adult cow in Mexico that is not worth some $800US on the hoof? Is anything on the planet more fungible than a goat in Mexico? So this guy with 40 cattle is poor? You do the arithmetic: how many people in the US are that far in the black anymore???!!!

  10. elliott Says:

    Quiere tamale! Thanks for your comprehensive analysis. Very thought provoking, and you make a whole lot of sense. I hope you don’t mind if I quote you in my blog!

  11. Jorge Says:

    Hey… I live in Mexico, born and raised in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and at least where I live things are not falling apart. I go to school everyday, I work on weekends and sometimes afterschool in my dad’s sewing workshop, I do my homework, and I hang out with my friends on weekends.

    Besides, Tequila is great down here, girls are pretty (miss universe is from my city… it’s unbelievable but you can see girls like her anywhere you go, even in the “poorest” parts of the town… (not saying they’re all like her though)

    So… if a foreigner happened to asked me how does it feel to live in a failed state, I’d say, only after I had stopped laughing, that I don’t really mind it…

    Of course we have to addmit that there are places where things are going worse, and that my life has had subbtle changes scince the govermment finally started figthing durg dealers… but I wouldn’t dare to say Mexico is a failed state. Nop.

    Those “changes” in my daily life are not so drammatic, I’ve even thought they are basic security measures everyone everywhere should adopt.

    Anyway, I must say that Zacatecas is, right now, somewhere I wouldn’t go… I don’t like Tijuana niether…

  12. elliott Says:

    Nice, Jorge! Thanks for writing, I’ll quote you often. If you can believe it, I wrote this post more than a year and a half ago, even before the swine flu nonsense. It’s just more of the same, media driven crap.

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