I will always prefer to be buried in a grave in Colombia than to be imprisoned in a cell in the United StatesPablo Escobar Gaviria
Thirty years ago, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States consolidated itself as the triumphant power of the Cold War, the last superpower, victorious and ready to rule over the new world order, with sufficient moral authority from its strong democratic institutions, its clearly successful economic model and its firm commitment to the highest values of freedom and justice, becoming the only indispensable nation that could ensure proper global governance through sharing the “American” moral values. It is the kind of moment that led political scientist Francis Fukuyama to affirm that we had reached the “End of History.”
In the same period, the leaders of Canada, the United States, and Mexico embarked on an equally ambitious project: the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Anticipating a world increasingly inclined to globalization, with economic, commercial and financial markets that were rapidly integrating, logic indicated that it made sense to form an economic free trade zone between these three countries, creating one of the most important and competitive markets of the world. NAFTA was signed in 1992, ratified by Bill Clinton in 1993, and came into force on January 1, 1994. Although the treaty had several objectives, in the end its mission was to produce prosperity for North America, for the three neighbors, for the three partners, for the now “three friends”, aligned as never before with a common vision and with their sights set on a very promising future.
This happened less than three decades ago and, as incredible as it may seem, today we are witnessing the political, economic and social implosion of our beloved region of North America. In less than five years, Mexico and the United States have experienced unprecedented setbacks in many important areas. At times it seems that Canada is the last stronghold of stability in the region.
But what are the characteristics of a failed state? The most important include:
1. Loss of control of the territory.
2. Erosion of the legitimate authority to make collective decisions.
3. Inability to provide basic public services such as water, electricity, telephone, or to provide key social services such as access to health or access to peaceful and democratic elections.
4. Inability to interact with other states as a member of the international community.
In the United States, the Donald Trump administration has left negative balances in many political and social indicators, from the fight against climate change, to the increase in economic inequality, and obviously the management of the pandemic. The re-election of Donald Trump would be a direct blow to the reconstruction of democratic institutions in the United States and would continue the decline of its political and social life and its relevance, no longer as the indisputable leader of the free world, but even as an important international actor. On the other hand, the emergence of paramilitary groups in different states is a phenomenon that should not be overlooked. It is estimated that there are around 200 paramilitary groups in the country, many of them made up of retired soldiers, but with capacities and weapons that often exceed those of the formal authorities. Many of these groups have existed for decades, but they gained new strength in the wake of the election of Barack Obama, as a response to having the first African-American president in the nation’s history. The FBI and other federal agencies have recently declared that these paramilitary groups constitute the main threat to national security. The FBI recently stopped a plan by one of these groups to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, with the aim of “taking her to a remote location for trial.” Last year, another paramilitary group called the “United Constitutional Patriots” generated controversy by detaining hundreds of migrants on their own in some areas near the border with Mexico. It is only a matter of time before we begin to find the links between these paramilitary groups and the Mexican drug trafficking groups.
In Mexico, the arrest of the former Secretary of National Defense in the United States is a direct blow to the heart of our political system. It is a fact that starkly evidences the level of corruption that exists at the highest levels of our governmental institutions and that illustrates the inability or indifference of the Mexican justice system, having been unable or unwilling to investigate a crime of this magnitude. It is an action that puts in jeopardy some of the pillars on which the Fourth Transformation rests: That the army is one of the few reliable institutions and that therefore it is worth entrusting many of the crucial activities for the country to them, and that the Corruption ended two years ago and now in this administration all illegal acts are investigated and punished. It is a fact that invites reflection on whether in Mexico we live in a Narco-State: Although that is a theory that had been in the popular imagination for decades, now we have conclusive evidence in a prosecutor’s office in New York. And it is also clear that drug trafficking is a factual power, in many respects stronger than the Mexican State itself.
There is no doubt that the prosperity of North America depends on the prosperity of its three member-states. The fall of Mexico or the United States would be a catastrophic event. Evidently the United States, even despite Trump, continues to have stronger political and social institutions than Mexico’s. Mexico is the candidate with the greatest risk of becoming a failed state and the road map to get out of this problem is not clear. If anyone thought that the Fourth Transformation was really a viable solution, Washington took it upon itself to shatter that dream last week. We will have to see the results of the American election in early November, but everything seems to indicate that patience is running out in Washington regarding the Mexico issue.
Managing Partner of Nuricumbo + Partners. His work as a consultant has focused around CFO services and challenges, in companies of all sizes, both in Mexico and abroad. He began his career at PWC. Later, he held the position of internal audit manager for Young & Rubicam and The Interpublic Group, two international advertising groups, working for five years in New York City and performing audit projects in many countries.