Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Mr. Bush, Tear Down That Wall

By David G. Young 

MEXICO CITY, November 28, 2000 --  

Friday's inauguration of Vicente Fox as president of Mexico may be even more monumental than would be expected for Mexico's first transition in power in over 70 years. The near certain ascension of George W. Bush to the American presidency two months from now may help Fox achieve his ambitious goals.

The most fantastic of these proposals is Fox's plan to expand the existing North American free trade zone to include the free passage of people. Under this plan, the United States would tear down its heavily fortified strip of walls, barbed wire and search lights and release the armed patrols that make the border as shameful as the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. Fox's vision would replace this atrocity with a border open as the one between France and Belgium. People, like goods, would be free to flow without restrictions.

Of course, convincing the United States government to overcome its irrational fear of millions of poor migrants seeking menial jobs will take time -- something Fox freely admits. But what would be utterly impossible in a technocratic Gore administration has at least a small ray of hope in a Bush administration.

Bush will likely be more open to change, not just because of his limited Spanish and Mexican-American relatives, but due to his experience.1 He is governor of the state where some of the most brutal federal atrocities have been committed against Mexican migrants. He has witnessed the destructiveness of Federal policy, and managed its unpopularity with residents in the border region. Witnessing this policy failure does not mean he will take action to change it, but it probably does mean he will be more receptive to Fox's proposals.

Fox acknowledges that much work will have to be done before the American government will agree to open the border, and it may take several decades. The income of Mexicans must be raised substantially to lessen the gap in standard of living -- per capita income in America is nearly five times larger than that in Mexico.2 In addition, Mexico's security situation must be improved -- guerilla attacks have occurred in southern Mexico as recently as 1996, and pervasive corruption exists in its security forces, especially as a result of drug trafficking.3

Explosively growing the Mexican economy will certainly prove as difficult for Fox, as one man's influence is minimal. But he stands to do much to improve security. Already, he has appointed a Defense Secretary without consulting the corrupt military -- a massive break with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) tradition that allowed the generals to pick their own boss.4 He has also proposed amending the Mexican constitution to forbid the military from participating in police work.

This is a welcome move. The military is omnipresent in Mexico -- soldiers guard toll stations, road checkpoints and banks. This high-profile role has probably done much to inflame tensions in southern Mexico, where small indigenous rebel groups still fight the unjust rule of the Mexican government. Lowering the military profile may help calm these rebellions.

Solving the remaining security problems will likely be closely tied with improving the economy. If Fox -- whose economic policies are at least as good as any of his main opponents -- can open the economy and provide the nurturing influence of the rule of law, the poverty that leads millions of Mexicans to flee north will be eased.

Likewise, if a future President Bush keeps an open mind and constructively engages President Fox, a gloriously open border with Mexico may be in America's future.

Related Web Column:

Lessons of the Conquistadors, April 4, 2000


  1. The Christian Science Monitor, Bush's Español: Un Poco Goes Far, August 4, 2000
  2. OECD, GDP Per Capita Using PPPs, 1999
  3. US Department of State, Background Notes: Mexico, August 1999
  4. The News (Mexico City), Justice, Security Posts Fill Out Slate, November 27, 2000