Mexico – along with the rest of Latin America – had long served as America’s exotic other. Where Americans went to experience people who were like them – but also deliciously different.
This was true in the Fifties and Sixties – but then changed hugely. All of a sudden, Latinos (and by extension, Latin America) became an enemy America had to defend itself against. What happened? I cannot pose as an expert here – I can only recall what I saw.
The tipping point seemed to coincide with NAFTA – which was supposed to make relationships much better – but succeeded in doing just the opposite. Mexican labor was exploited by American business – and American agriculture products (including most of all, corn) flooded South – ruining Latino farmers – who fled to the cities and absolute poverty. It is worth reviewing the situation just before this.
Mexicans could easily move across the border in search of American jobs. And American businesses (of all kinds, including agriculture) were glad to hire them. There was a huge demand for unskilled labor. Back in Mexico, the peasants still survived – doing what they always had done – growing agricultural produce (mainly corn) – for the local market. The situation was far from perfect – but it worked.
When my father visited Guatemala City in the late Forties – he thought it one of the nicest capitals he had ever seen. When I visited it in the Seventies it was nothing but a huge, dangerous slum. The same was true of Mexico City.
The economies – in the North and the South – deteriorated badly – but especially in the South. This must have started in the Eighties when the loans made by American banks to the South could no longer be paid. Which created a financial crisis – the first in many.
No one thought to question whether these financial dealings were sound – which most certainly they were not. The banks expected to make lots of money off of them – and once they were bailed out by the taxpayers (both North and South) – they did.
The demand for unskilled labor – both North and South – disappeared. The poor became desperate – and tried to move North to where they thought jobs were – and the North became equally determined to keep them out. Although for the few that survived the trek North, jobs could be found in the underground (but still large) economy.
To this has to be added the huge demand for illegal drugs. Alcohol and tobacco were no longer enough. Americans had to have something much stronger – and they would do anything to get them. Much of it came from the South – illegally, of course – but very profitably. Both for the drug dealers – and for the drug police – who worked – mostly unsuccessfully - to stop them.
This made a bad situation impossible. Conditions approaching a war soon developed – the war on drugs. Which devastated large areas (mostly slum areas) in the North and South. The jails were packed with unskilled people who tried to make a living off of dealing in drugs – at all levels.
I will be glad to hear from others about this. Other things happened – such as the Cold War and the Contras in Nicaragua – and the genocide in Guatemala – to say nothing of South America.
This is a huge subject as the NACLA keeps saying.