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Home arrow Opinion arrow Thomas D. Elias column: Don't expect much from Mexico

Thomas D. Elias column: Don't expect much from Mexico

The riotous November inauguration of new Mexican President Felipe Calderon carried negative implications for both his own country and neighboring California.

Here's why: If about half the Mexican Congress remains convinced Calderon is a usurper who achieved office only through a crooked election, he stands little chance of becoming a strong leader capable of lifting the majority of his countrymen out of poverty. Just such a lift is the only thing that will end the current wave of illegal immigration from Mexico.

When the opposition party occupies half the podium during an inauguration, refusing to leave even under police threats, at the very least you've got a recipe for legislative gridlock.

Gridlock, though, is something Mexico can ill afford. And it's bad for California when Mexico is so afflicted.

With one-fifth of all native-born Mexicans living in the United States (and California home to one-third of those) because of poverty and corruption at home, Calderon or someone else will have to lift millions of impoverished Mexicans into the middle class or the immigration tide will keep washing over the border and generating political battles in this country.

But today's scene indicates little or no likelihood of any change for the better. Mexican business remains largely in the hands of monopolies under no pressure to increase pay scales for their workers or decrease prices to customers. Break up those monopolies and you might have a chance to reform Mexican society and remove some of the motivation so many Mexicans feel when they head for El Nor How pervasive are Mexican monopolies? Just two broadcasters own 94 percent of Mexican TV stations. Two brewers have a combined 90 percent share of the Mexican beer market. One man, Carlos Slim (cq) Helu - estimated by Forbes Magazine to be the world's third-richest man - controls about 94 percent of land telephone lines and 80 percent of cell phone service. And on and on.

Corrupt labor unions regularly thwart attempts at pension reform or even letting pensioners have some form of watchdog to protect their money.

Before he can even begin to think about changing these realities - if he wants to, and he has never said he does - Calderdon will have to pacify or make peace with rebels in southern provinces like Oaxaca, whose uprising began even before the last president, Vicente Fox, took office.

Domination by monopolies and labor union leaders has meant collusion between them for decades, with both sides getting rich and the middle class and poor spiraling downward.

For Mexico is a country where the rich become richer at a faster pace than almost anywhere else, and the poor poorer, also faster than elsewhere.

One United Nations study found that while Mexico boasts more billionaires than Switzerland (10 at last count), about 48 percent of its people live below the poverty line, scratching daily for food and other needs.

Hope of escaping this inequality and becoming middle class either in the current generation or the next is the single greatest force propelling illegal immigrants here.

But once they get here, the problem belongs to California and the rest of America. They crowd American prisons out of proportion to their presence in the populace. They fill California schools with so-called English learner children.

Meanwhile, fewer and fewer adult immigrants from Mexico learn English.

The numbers of adults speaking primarily in foreign languages rose in California from 12 million to 13 million between 2000 and 2005. That's well over one-third of the populace. It means inexpensive English-learner classes offered at most junior colleges plainly have not solved the problem. But if recent immigrants don't learn English, their children likely will fare even more poorly than if the parents had stayed home in Chihuahua or Sonora or Sinaloa.

Border wall or no border wall, Minutemen or none, California can expect no relief from its vast assimilation project until things change in Mexico.

But with Calderon facing six years of gridlock or worse, it may be unrealistic to expect anything to improve very much during his term.

Reach Thomas D. Elias, a long-time California political reporter: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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