President Felipe Calderón’s State Visit and the Double Standard Mexico Enjoys

By George W. Grayson on May 21, 2010

Just imagine if President Barrack Obama paid a state visit to Mexico, which included a welcome highlighted by pomp and circumstances when his helicopter arrived on the South Lawn of the White House, an elaborate luncheon hosted by top officials at the State Department, and a State Dinner at Los Pinos.

Then suppose that Obama addressed the Mexican Congress and sharply scolded them for domestic problems that irritated him and complicated bilateral relations.

He might have begun by emphasizing the nationalistic dogma that "El petróleo es el nuestro" ("The oil is ours") – a policy, enshrined in article 27 of Mexico's constitution, that prohibits "risk contracts" in oil exploration and development. Rather than having private firms invest in finding and developing hydrocarbon reservoirs – and possibly benefit from successes – the revenues of Pemex, the state oil monopoly, flow into the national government's budget. This transfer means that there are far fewer pesos with which to provide adequate health-care, job-training, and regional development to uplift the 40 percent of the masses living in hard-scrabble poverty.

Obama might then turn to the stranglehold that the STPRM Oil Workers' Union has on the state oil firm, which is suffused by corruption, inefficiency, declining output, and feather-bedding. Pemex has roughly three times more employees than comparable private corporations. The visiting dignitary could even refer to the history of "suicidios petroleros" in which opponents of the union allegedly died by their own hand – with three bullets in their heads.

While on the topic of labor organizations, the U.S. chief executive might spend a few minutes on the SNTE Teachers' Union, led by Elba Esther Gordillo whom the late scholar M. Delal Baer referred to as "Jimmy Hoffa in a skirt." Not only has the union amassed a fortune that would be the envy of Midas by selling teaching jobs and peddling influence, it has damaged the quality of public education to the point that most middle-class families will make whatever sacrifices are necessary to enroll their youngsters in private schools.

Meanwhile, "la Maestra" Gordillo has placed hundreds, probably thousands, of her cadres into the Public Education Ministry where they can collects handsome paychecks every 15 days without even having to show up for work.

If Obama really wanted to transcend preaching to begin meddling, he could emphasize how Mexico's governors have immunized themselves from public influence. They now rule like latter-day viceroys thanks to a compliant press (whose owners fear losing state advertising), economic bonds to the private sector (whose members salivate for government contracts), blatant manipulation of states legislatures (whose deputies receive extravagant salaries and benefits in return for rubber-stamping executive initiatives), and malleable state electoral institutes (whose counselors owe their well-paying, prestigious jobs to state executives).

Of course, it's equally difficulty for average citizens to hold federal officials accountable: neither the 500 deputies nor the 128 senators can run for immediate reelection; 40 percent of the former and 25 percent of the latter win election via proportional representation lists, which party bosses configure; these same political pooh-bahs along with governors personally select most of the other congressional nominees, without the inconvenience of open conventions and primaries; and independent candidacies are verboten.

Should a foreign leader mention such sensitive topics in the San Lázaro congressional palace, he would be the target of Mexico's sibilant version of the Bronx cheer, walk-outs by law makers, and hastily made posters decrying his admonitions. In the past, deputies have either mooned speakers whose words rankled or donned pig masks to show their contempt. Needless to say, a clamor would erupt to have visiting dignitary declared persona non grata and given the bum's rush out of the country.

Still, official Washington rolled out the red carpet for Mexican President Felipe Calderón during his May 19-20 visit. He went before a joint session of Congress and told his audience how to run the United States. He asked for – "demanded" would be a better word – a change in gun laws, immigration policy, and the right for illegal aliens to be treated like welcomed guests rather than lawbreakers in Arizona. Worst of all, many representatives and senators applauded his intrusiveness into U.S. domestic affairs.

The double standard is alive and well, and Mexico takes full advantage of this blatant inconsistency.