Dispatch From Mexico
"We have come to give flowers instead of missiles," a flower producer repeated, as he gave roses to the passers-by in the main square of Mexico City on Friday morning, hours after the US attacked Iraq. Seven hundred flower producers from several states had gathered that day with a double purpose: to protest the war and to continue with the campaign for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has adversely affected local producers.
This was just one of dozens of demonstrations, plays and performances that have taken place in all corners of Mexico since the start of the war. National issues--like widespread illegal electoral campaign funding and the proposal to militarize Ciudad Juárez following the murders of more than 300 women in that northern city since 1995--were set aside as TV sets throughout the country showed repeated images of bombs falling. Crossings along the 3,000-kilometer US-Mexico frontier, the busiest border in the world, were down to 10-15 percent of the normal rate. Also, the northern and southern borders and oil facilities are now heavily guarded by 20,000 Mexican soldiers, and five missile launchers have recently been installed at oil platform zones.
This country is binational--more than 20 million residents of Mexican origin live in the United States, and they send $10 billion a year to Mexico, so war against Iraq is an issue that directly affects Mexicans, especially in the form of relatives sent to war.
A national survey revealed that 80 percent of Mexicans were against the war on March 21, up from 68 percent a month before. "If Bush loves humanity so much, he should begin by bombarding himself," a schoolteacher living in a small village in the southern Oaxaca mountains said to me a couple of days before the United States went to war.
On the other hand, many Mexicans living in the United States believe that if the Mexican government confronts George W. Bush, they will pay the price, suffering more discrimination and abuse from US authorities. And, they predict, Mexico will have a harder time negotiating a migration agreement with Washington. As Guadalupe Gómez, a Mexican migrant who is head of the official Institute for Mexicans Abroad Council, told La Jornada a week before the bombing began, "Our sons are going to die in the Persian Gulf, with or without Mexico's support.... If Mexico votes against [Bush in the UN Security Council], life will be impossible for us [migrants]. In the following two or three presidential periods, we are going to lose many young Mexicans, in exchange for what?"
On Monday the 17th, shortly after Bush gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum, President Vicente Fox finally made up his mind on what to do at the UN. "We disagree" with the United States, Britain and Spain "on the timing and procedures" they followed to deal with the Iraq crisis, Fox told the nation. Everybody cheered, even opposition party and NGO leaders. Some say that Fox's position was influenced by the fact that this year there will be federal elections. If this is true, he's succeeding. As a taxi driver in his 60s told me the day after the war started, "This is the first thing Fox has done right."