Dear President Obama,
I read a couple of days ago that you were going to seek a billion dollars in non-military aid to Central America in projects designed to reduce the need for people to emigrate. Although it sounds more humane than sending military aid, aid in the guise of economic and social assistance can backfire pretty seriously. The unfortunate tendancy of diplomats and politicians and the like is to associate in other countries with their counterparts. I suspect at least in some ways, these officials have more in common with each other than with the rest of the people in a country. Mr. President, you seem to have a real liking for President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and have offered him support without having any real understanding of his position in his own country. What you really should do in the case of not only Mexico but Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is first learn about the country away from the leadership. A bridge to that knowledge could be Peace Corps Volunteers. I think the Peace Corps was pulled out of Honduras a couple of years ago, but there remain blogs by some PCVs on the web. Just look up Peace Corps Honduras. Guatemala still has Peace Corps, and the web provides some good entries into its experience there. Same with El Salvador. I was quite surprised to find out there were Peace Corps Volunteers in Mexico, where my husband and I have lived for eight years. Having been in the Peace Corps way back in the 1960s, we both would vouch for the fact that at least some of the PCVs have clear-eyed views of the countries they are serving and could even help people from Washington find their way around away from the diplomatic circle. Find some in a variety of situations.
Another thing to understand is that you can't really just suddenly understand the political situation.You might talk to Carlos Slim about the politics in Mexico. He's an interesting, odd man who is also very rich. Sometimes he tops Forbes's list of the richest people in the world. He also owns 17% of the New York Times where there have been some interesting developments regarding Mexico recently. In Mexico, where too many journalists are killed, some nDonetheless remain who would provide excellent insights into power and corruption here. You could start with Carmen Aristegui and Denise Dresser and Roger Ackerman, among others. I translate articles once a week for a site called Mexico Voces: Where Democracy and the Drug War Collide. You can Google the address. I think journalists in Guatemala, etc. might do the same.
What you also have to understand is that NGOs often have great limitations. They come in with a vision of what they want to do and all too often trample over local people who understand quite well how things are going. The local people also often have very good knowledge of what their needs are: ask them to help you decide what to do.
American economic beliefs are harmful to a lot of people here in Mexico and Central America. Yes they need education and jobs, but most of all they need to belong to their communities and to be interested in helping them and their families. I don't think it is good to just lambast the present, but indeed, jobs which uproot people and make them leave for distant places where jobs in Mexico exist in large factories or cut out local potential and cause people to feel they must migrate don't provide good aid. An example of this is I think farming. Mexico used to be self-sufficient in corn at least, but the competition from NAFTA products has made it too difficult to earn a living farming corn in Mexico for many people. Industrial pig raising in our state has put local pig farmers out of business. The waste from these plants has sullied local water supplies. Good economic aid might be pilot agricultural projects that exist in a local community that has good resources for farming: good soil and water, for instance. You might want to get in touch with Robert Hunter Manson at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Veracruz, for instance. His email address is Robert.Manson@inecol.edu.mx.
Then there is the problem of crime. It isn't just going to go away if you rip out people's crops or enlarge the police force, and certainly it isn't if you bolster the military. I don't have any contacts in this area, but I'm sure you could find some. It is absolutely critical to understand at least a little of how crime has poisoned the wells.
I could go on and on and on, obviously, but this is a start. I want you to know that I deeply love Mexico. It is a wonderful country, full of cultures and art and history, and a lot of other stuff. It has not benefitted from the US helping greatly to militarize the problems caused by drug gangs.
As my grandmother would have said, "Don't go throwing good money after bad." And I know you are extremely intelligent, in fact intellectual. We very smart people often misjudge a situation because we draw connections before we really have some of the important facts.
Most sincerely yours,
Colonia Ursulo Galván
Xico 91240, Mexico