Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s acclaimed author, writer and statesman, spoke to the Globe and Mail editorial board about the challenges facing his country and the region. The Royal Ontario Museum’s Institute for Contemporary Culture invited Mr. Fuentes to Toronto to give the Eva Holtby Lecture on contemporary culture Nov. 14.
Mexico is facing a dramatic security challenge. President Felipe Calderon has confronted the drug cartels by sending in the military. Has this worked?
President Calderon arrived at the presidency five years ago and his victory was widely doubted because he only won by a small margin: 0.5 per cent. We are not accustomed to that in Mexico. He wanted to prove he was in command so he launched a war against drug cartels. Past presidents of Mexico have negotiated with them, set one group against the other and played politics. Calderon brought the fight directly to them and created a huge problem. He couldn’t count on the police, they were very corrupt. So he used the army. Now the army has become corrupt and sometimes it is beaten by the cartels. This is not a good situation. It has taken over the country’s agenda.
What other issues are important?
There are other things happening. The country is growing. We have an important financial and business class, a good bureaucracy, a middle class which is a bit unhappy. And we have the “Ni-nis”, people who are neither students nor workers. And a great hidden mass of discontented people. So it is a tricky situation. I hope it can be solved by political means. If not, we may have major violence in Mexico.
What is the significance of next year’s election?
It is a decisive election, the most decisive I’ve ever witnessed. It will decide what the country becomes. It will be Mexico’s destiny. We need politics that can take us forward.
People are very worried and looking for a political solution to a grave crisis. The security of the country is in bad shape. Though it is also true that the drug problem is reduced to six states in Mexico. Drugs are not a problem in Mexico City.
Who are the leading candidates?
We don’t have official candidates yet from any parties, but the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party]seems bent on recovering power. It was in power for 77 years until 2000, when the opposition PAN [National Action Party]was voted in. Today, after 12 years in power, the PAN is in third place. The left is divided. There is a spoiler called AMLO [Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador]on the extreme left [who contested Calderon’s victory]and centre left is Marcelo Ebrard [currently the mayor of Mexico City]
I would vote for Ebrard.
What are the challenges?
Whoever wins will have to face the problem of rising insecurity, criminality, and the needs of the growing middle class. The fight against criminal gangs, in which the co-operation of the U.S. is essential.
We have huge problems. Our population has gone from 20 million to 110 million today, and that in the space of my lifetime. We have this enormous population and we are not offering them sufficient work. That is why so many leave Mexico and go to the U.S. In Mexico, there are corrupt political bosses, discrimination, injustice, loneliness. They leave and when they arrive in Canada and U.S., I see them and they are intelligent, hard-working people we have lost.
Mexico is a victim of proximity to the US. Is the US playing a productive role?
The drug gangs, we know who they are; we know the names of the drug lords, we know they buy their arms in Texas and send drugs to the U.S.
But what about the consumers and distributers? We don’t know. There is a major problem here. There is certain co-operation with the U.S., on security and police work. But it is imperative that the next president reaches an agreement with Barack Obama to involve the U.S. in a fight against the cartels.
The markets and consumption is in the U.S., and the U.S. does not do sufficient work to help Mexico with this matter.