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March 1996, Volume 3, Number 3

MexicoSteps Up Southern Border Enforcement

Mexico stepped up enforcement on its southern border with Guatemala, arresting an average 300 Central Americans and Asians per day at immigration checkpoints in late January, double the number in 1995. Central Americans who fail to make it across the border are reportedly turning Tecun Uman, a Guatemalan city of 20,000, into a staging area with more than 20,000 transients, coyotes and guides.

Getting illegally into Mexico is a lot easier than getting into the US--usually only a quick trip on a homemade raft across the Suchiate River. But once inside Mexico, non-Mexicans headed for the US reportedly suffer abuse at the hands of the police and criminal gangs. According to one priest: "There are more human-rights violations here [Mexico] in one day than there are in a year in the United States."

According to a regional Mexican official, border apprehensions have jumped from 150 a day in January, 1995 to 250 a day in January 1996. The Mexican government claims that any military build-up at the border is for national defense.

In mid-February, leaders of the so-called Zapatista rebellion who took over government offices in Chiapas January 1, 1994 agreed to sign an accord with the Mexican government that spells out the rights of the 10 million Indians in Mexico. The agreement recognizes the right of Indians to "autonomy," which means, inter alia, that Indians can use traditional forms of government in their communities, and run for office without being members of a formal political party.

Mexico's economy shrank by almost seven percent in 1995, and most forecasters expect two to three percent growth in 1996.

Mexico is considering ending tortilla subsidies, which cost 8.5 billion pesos ($1.2 billion) in 1995, as Conasupo paid farmers high prices for corn, and sold the corn at lower prices than it paid to tortilla makers. One company, Maseca or Mission Foods in the US, reportedly receives most of these subsidies. It allegedly used its close ties to the government to force a switch in the way tortillas are made. Instead of boiling corn kernels in water and lime, and then grinding the pulp into dough (nixtamal), Maseca supplies tortilla makers with corn flour.

The tortilla subsidies benefit mostly urban Mexican residents who can buy subsidized tortillas. Mexico's rural poor usually do not buy ready-made tortillas.

Mexicans returning home from the US for the holidays in December reported many encounters with bandits who robbed them and stole their cars. This, despite a program that increased federal patrols along north-south highways traveled by tourists. For years, Mexicans have been victims of bandits, and they claim they are getting no police assistance because of corruption.

The Teamsters Union began running radio ads in January 1996 that urged the US to maintain the ban on Mexican trucks delivering goods in border states. Cross-border trucking was scheduled to go into effect under NAFTA on December 18, but was delayed indefinitely by the US.

Mexico says it is prepared to permit US trucks into Mexico, as NAFTA stipulates, but most US experts expect the trucking ban to remain in place until after the November 1996 US election. US companies have complained that Mexico is not letting them invest in Mexican trucking companies, as NAFTA stipulates. Under NAFTA, US companies can own up to 49 percent of Mexican trucking companies that specialize in international transport--domestic cabotage, or movements of goods within Mexico, remains off limits to foreign investment.

The Clinton administration reportedly considered not certifying Mexico as a country making sufficient progress to stop drug smuggling. The US Foreign Assistance Act requires the president to announce by March 1 of each year which nations will be officially listed, or certified, as cooperating in the effort to halt drug trafficking.

Colin McMahon, "Mexico Tightens Guatemala Border, Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1996. Hayes Ferguson, "Mexico Gets Tough on Southern Border," Times-Picayune, February 18, 1996. Anthony DePalma, "How a Tortilla Empire Was Built on Favoritism," New York Times, February 15, 1996. Javier Rodriquez, "Brutal truth about Mexico's welcome to its own," Houston Chronicle, February 5, 1996. Michael Samba, "Mexico's Double Standard," Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1996