Foreign Correspondent: Land of Conquest
Mexico City. Mexico has 64 million inhabitants, and their number is increasing 3.2 percent yearly—one of the world's highest rates of population growth. If this continues, we will have 100 million people by 1993—just 15 years from now.
Mexico was conquered in the early 16th century by a band of ruthless Spanish adventurers, led by Hernan Cortes, who displayed in this exploit a military and political genius worthy of Alexander the Great. These Spanish conquistadores were the product of centuries of European warfare, and were accustomed to treachery, deceit, dissimulation, lying, and killing as a matter of course in the relentless struggle for life and power, and for gold as a means to both. They were also steeled to efforts and suffering unimaginable to us, both by their hunger for gold and power—which they could never hope to attain in their homeland—and by their faith as Catholics.
Thus, the motivation of the colonists who came to this part of the New World was completely different from that of the Pilgrims and other groups who came to the colonies of the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States—groups made up principally of English-speaking people.
Your colonists were looking, essentially, for religious freedom. Seeking this freedom for themselves and their families, they brought with them the invaluable asset of English Common Law, that marvelous institution, with its protection of property rights. Their Protestantism, with its doctrine of direct relation between man and God, through the individual reading and personal understanding of the Bible, provided the base for the development of intellectual freedom—or was itself already a result of the will to intellectual freedom characteristic of the individuals that made up these groups.
The Spanish conquistadores did not come to the Western Hemisphere looking for freedom. Freedom was never their concern. Freedom begins with the conviction that each has a right to think as he sees fit. This conviction was lacking in the minds of the Spanish warrior colonists. They came seeking power through wealth. The priests were the custodians of their consciences and their intellectual guides. Intellectual pursuits suppose intellectual freedom, and the bearers of the new Spanish culture thought they could do well enough without it. The ineffectual, impractically idealist Don Quixote, with his "impossible dreams" was created at the time, and symbolized then, as he still does today, the problem of the Spaniard confronted with impracticable ideas. Is Don Quixote a fool, or a Saint?
The defeat of the Indian population was followed by a mixture of Spanish blood with Indian blood. Most of Mexico's population is of this mixed descent, with the northern regions having a predominantly Spanish aspect, and the Center and South predominantly Indian blood. The defeat was so thorough, the demoralization of the Indian so complete, that today, if the advertising of a product uses brown-skinned models, the general public reaction is that the product is of low quality.
This is an indication of the tremendous complexes borne by Mexicans and the obstacles that stand in the way to development of the country's potential.
The history of the United States was shaped by people who were seeking freedom and therefore independence; the history of Mexico was shaped by people hungry for power and wealth. The Spanish culture was ambivalent; one admired Saints on gilded altars, but went after gold by any means. In this culture, wealth was not to be made, it was to be acquired, by cunning or otherwise, from whoever was luckless enough to allow himself to be fleeced.
Since the character of nations changes slowly, it is probable that the same story will hold true in 500 years' time. Mexico cannot, without forgetting all its history and character (a tall order), ever become a free-enterprise country in which property rights are inviolable, in which government is limited to a few specific functions, in which public officials are elected and responsible to the electorate, etc.
There is another important factor in Mexico's past, present, and future: it is a neighbor of the United States.
This article is not about US intervention in Mexico; I shall only say that a weak country such as Mexico, cannot exist by the side of the most physically powerful country in the world, without being the object of extensive intervention, in such ways as to benefit the powerful neighbor State. (Please note that I differentiate the State from the people.) I therefore suppose that Mexico's condition must be, to some extent, attributable to a deliberate, unpublicized policy of the powerful neighbor.
Although we are being told that Mexico is headed for an oil bonanza, the product of that enormous sea of oil in Southeastern Mexico, yet in the long run, I don't see how we can avoid a collapse. The reasons are, one, that our agriculture does not develop due to collectivist ideology and consequent lack of protection for property rights (though our government and every other related governmental agency in the world has sought the cause of our agricultural failure elsewhere) and two, that our government owns and operates, at a huge loss, hundreds and hundreds of businesses which make it impossible for the country ever to capitalize, as long as they are maintained.
The latest figures on the increase of the money supply are alarming; the increase from December 31, 1976, to December 31, 1977, was 24.8 percent. This increase is in what is known as "M 1," coins, bank notes, plus checking account balances. There is an atmosphere of relief in the country that President Echeverria (1970-1976) is gone, and there is hope that Mexico can regain stability under our President Lopez Portillo, whose term expires in 1982. But the ugly facts will not go away; the inflation is the result of deficit spending, and the deficit is the result of government ownership of enormous chunks of the country's business, run at a loss. I presume the government will not give up its business ventures, until it collapses. With inflation now running at 25 percent, it is not a question of if, but of when.
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I am still not convinced by this article, and I continue to think about why it gave me so much trouble to write—although I do stand by every word. I wanted to grasp the essential about Mexico, but find it elusive. Finally, I have come to this conclusion: you can only convey the essential about a population which shares, to a considerable extent, a system of principles. And our situation is so chaotic, so confused, so intellectually bankrupt, that there is nothing to grasp. As a people we are pulverized, going about our everyday life through simple inertia, living life on a strictly day by day basis.
I see no sign of an intellectual movement likely to produce an improvement in conditions soon. Things will get much worse before they begin to get better—if they ever do. We do have an honorable dissidence, but I have left that the subject for another article.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: Land of Conquest".