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May 5, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, some further thoughts about Mexico from essayist Richard Rodriguez of the Pacific News Service.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ, Pacific News Service: The United States is the most powerful country on earth, the largest consumer, the greatest advertiser. But we like to imagine ourselves innocents in the great world. In recent years the Colombian drug lord has become a stock character in Hollywood movies. We have read stories about mayhem in Medellin, Colombia. Judges and politicians have been murdered in Bogota, and we in the U.S. have watched these scenes on the evening news with almost child-like detachment.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I want to say a few words about Colombia and Mexico.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Recently, President Clinton decided to decertify Colombia as an ally in our famous war on drugs. The White House gave Mexico a reluctant past, over the objections of many Senators and Congressmen who point an accusing finger at Mexico, complaining of Mexican corruption. To my knowledge, no American president, no. U.S. Senator, has ever apologized to Mexico or to Colombia for the way our drug habit has destabilized both countries, destabilized the entire hemisphere.

America has a drug habit second to none in the world. That habit has created the drug lords of Latin America. We read now of Mexican scandals, murders, and conspiracies at the highest level, the great political families, various state governors, police officials are under investigation for being under the control of drug lords. Certainly if Mexico is in danger of falling apart, these are dangerous times, if also oddly hopeful times in Mexico. The old order, the PRI, the rusted ruling party of Mexico is collapsing.

For all of its corruption, the PRI was a known entity. It enforced almost Victorian manners on Mexico. Now, rather like Russia after the Soviet era, Mexico stumbles toward civic chaos. Despite various Indian insurrections, Mexico seems not to be tempted by revolution as much as by an older consoling cynicism, a cynicism that might stand in the way of future civic reform. Mexicans are a dark, cynical people, tolerant of human failure, their own and others.

Mexicans have long tolerated a corrupt civic life, just as they presumed a certain irony regarding their gringo neighbor. From the Mexican point of view we North Americanos are a prudish people, moralistic, self-righteous, given to self-delusion. For decades Americans slipped into neo-lit Mexican border towns whenever we needed whores or liquor or gambling or drugs. For decades Mexico obliged. It was the perfect meeting of cynicism and hypocrisy. There are Mexicans in a border town like Tijuana today who will tell you that Tijuana would not be ruled by drug lords were Tijuana not so near San Diego, the enormous appetite of Californians for drugs.

That’s a very Mexican sort of thing to say, to take a certain comfort in the universality of evil. The American, on the other hand, refuses Latin cynicism, but we do so as a way of ignoring our own corruption. We easily point an accusing finger at Mexico, or at Colombia. We assume self-righteous disdain as a way of ignoring our own state. But the North Americano and the Latin American, for all of our differences, because of those differences, are each perfectly vulnerable to the excesses of each other. Mexicans–Mexicans of average ambition and virtue, like most Colombians, are fascinated by America, want things American, want to be like us, wear our clothes, and drive our cars. It should come as no surprise. Latin America and the United States are neighbors. We are bound to influence one another and to be implicated in each other’s lives. Mexico and Colombia, as smaller and weaker countries, know this.

It does not yet occur to most Americans to see in Colombia’s or Mexico’s calamity a reflection of our own soul.

I’m Richard Rodriguez.