Friday, April 16, 2010

System Breakdown at Heart of Mexican Violence

By David Hendricks -
Express-News

Systematic breakdowns in Mexico's society and institutions underlie the violence that mars daily life in that nation, Mexico newspaper magnate Alejandro Junco de la Vega said Thursday.

The same breakdowns, he said during a speech to the World Affairs Council of San Antonio, prevent democracy in Mexico from fulfilling its promise of freedom and hope for Mexicans, building a mentality of despair that fuels the drug trade and organized crime, said the CEO of the Monterrey-based Grupo Reforma, the nation's largest newspaper chain.

Junco said he wondered if Mexico had imputed to the idea of democracy the power far greater than it has in its nascent form.

“Perhaps we made a very great mistake. ... We anticipated that democracy would bring forth competition and freedom. I now know it is truer to say that competition and freedom and justice and truth and ethics and health and education are preconditions. To ensure a robust democracy, you must have the right foundation. Did we have the process out of sequence?” Junco told the luncheon crowd of more than 250.

The speech was titled, “Mexico: What Went Wrong.”

The drug lords and organized crime leaders no longer depend on U.S. drug consumption for much of their power and income, Junco said.

“Their true driving power lies not amongst meth- and coke-addicted customers across the U.S.,” he said. “It lies in dysfunctional practices, defective social engineering, in perverse incentives, in nonfunctioning health and education systems, in choked economic and judicial structures that make it so very hard to honestly earn a decent day's income. ... That is what has gone wrong.”

A call seeking reaction from Mexico's consul general in San Antonio, Armando Ortiz Rocha, wasn't returned.

Junco illustrated his topic with slides of front pages from his Mexico newspapers reporting episodes of violence that occurred without law enforcement resistance — and in some cases with actual police support — including the three fatalities of U.S. Consulate employees and family members on March 14 in Ciudad Juárez.

Grupo Reforma publishes 10 daily newspapers, including El Norte in Monterrey, Reforma in Mexico City and Mural in Guadalajara.

Junco moved his family to Austin from Monterrey in July 2008. The decision came after a series of interrelated events that included employee kidnappings and private conversations with cartel gangs and organized crime leaders.

“How do you reply to a request to calm down the market because we (newspapers) had heated it up?” Junco said.

Junco said his newspapers continue to report on the violence to warn citizens and to reflect on what's happening, despite kidnappings, beatings and killings of journalists, other newspaper employees and their families.

“My dear wife asks me, ‘Do you want to be the most famous journalist in a cemetery?'” he said.

During his speech, Junco enumerated Mexico's faulty institutions and policies.

They included the inability of Mexicans to choose their own doctors, the tenure system for public school teachers that can be inherited from generation to generation, the ineffective practices of law enforcement agencies and the corrupt processes in the judicial system.

“We must remove the (misguided) incentives, great and small, that hold us back,” Junco said. “We must go back to the start and look at the people and what makes them want to work hard and to produce.”

Mexicans aren't lazy or violent when they have options for a good life, he said. Mexicans who come to the United States, find jobs and send money back to their families prove that, he said.

In the meantime, Mexican business owners, shaken by constant threat of violence and “protection rackets” are flocking to move to and do business in Texas and the rest of the United States, taking investment dollars out of Mexico and reducing the chance for job creation there.

“It's a vicious circle,” Junco said after his speech. “The lack of hope is being reinforced.”

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