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Female soldiers dressed in traditional clothing march during a military parade in culmination of bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City, September 16, 2010. (ELIANA APONTE/REUTERS)
Female soldiers dressed in traditional clothing march during a military parade in culmination of bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City, September 16, 2010. (ELIANA APONTE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Mexico can proudly celebrate after 200 years Add to ...

If Mexico is a country beset by a sense of sullen resignation over the terrible human cost of its war against criminal drug cartels, it was hard to tell amid the joy and sense of national pride of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Mexicans who surged into the streets of Mexico City to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence.

The "El Grito", or battle cry, delivered Wednesday night from a balcony at the National Palace by President Felipe Calderon, honours the speech that Father Miguel Hidalgo delivered in 1810, imploring the people to rise up and fight for Mexico's independence from Spain. "Viva la Independencia Nacional!" the President said. "Viva Mexico!"

Mexico's independence was hard-won, through many wars and a revolution. So too was its democracy, which emerged after decades of authoritarian, and then autocratic, one-party rule. But Mexico today is a robust democracy, with an independent supreme court, growing civil institutions and a resilient economy. It is well positioned for the future; its war against organized crime just another necessary step in a tumultuous national journey.

When Mr. Calderón took office in 2006, he could have chosen the politically expedient path, giving the drug cartels an implicit license to operate. That would have limited violence, but corruption and moral decay would have set in. Taking on the gangs is courageous and correct.

The price has been terrible, with thousands killed. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently underscored American concern over the bloodshed on its southern border, telling the Council on Foreign Relations that drug cartels in Mexico are waging an insurgency, similar to Colombia two decades ago, "when the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country."

But Ms. Clinton should have taken greater responsibility for the U.S. role in the violence, as the destination for most of the drugs and the source of most of the guns. She should also have provided a little context. Mexico's nationwide murder rate is a relatively modest 14 per 100,000, closer to that of the U.S. than it is to almost every other Latin American country.

Yes, the drug violence is a serious challenge to Mexico's national security. Nor is it the country's only major challenge. Mexico still has shocking disparities between rich and poor. And yet, here too, there have been gains. Mexico has seen its poverty rate fall by 6 per cent from 2002-2008. Despite the effects of the global recession in 2009, Mexico's national finances are today sound.

Surely if there is any lesson to be drawn from its tumultuous history, it is that a stronger, better Mexico will prevail.

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