Whenever there is a crisis centering on Mexico, George Grayson - professor emeritus at the College of William & Mary and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and an internationally recognized expert on Mexico - is called upon by the media to analyze the situation.
In a series of books, monographs, scholarly papers, newspaper articles and TV appearances, Grayson has analyzed and documented the narcotic-trade-induced mayhem in Mexico. Now in his latest book, "The Cartels: The Story of Mexico's Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U. S. Security," he chronicles Mexico's transition from a "relatively peaceful kleptocracy controlled by the Tammany Hall-style Institutional Revolutionary Party (1929-2000) to a country plagued by rural and urban enclaves of grotesque violence."
In his new book, Grayson examines the major drug cartels and their success in infiltrating American and Mexican businesses, and he assesses the threat that the continuing bloodshed represents for the United States.
Apparently, not much has changed since 2010, when in a National Public Radio interview Grayson told his audience about the "vertical government" ruling Mexico.
"One elected, the other imposed by force," he said. "A dual sovereignty. That is, you may have a city such as Reynosa, south McAllen, Texas, which will have an elected mayor, a police chief, a finance officer, a public works administrator. But cheek-by-jowl with the elected government will be a cartel boss and his entourage, and he's probably going to call the shots."
All this may sound trivial to Americans, but according to Grayson, from all the 194 independent nations that the United States has diplomatic relations, none is more important than Mexico in terms of tourism, trade, investment, natural resources, migration, energy and security. He pointed out that while military revolts convulsed many Latin American countries in the 1930s, Mexico maintained remarkable stability.
"A major factor differentiating Mexico from other hemispheric nations was the performance of President Lazaro Cardenas del Rio (1934-1940). He infused his nation with a sense of nationalistic cohesion. Taking a page from Italy's Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, Cardenas converted Mexico's dominant party into a corporatist entity - with participation based on one's occupational status, blue-collar, peasant, small businessperson, artist, professional, bureaucrat or teacher," Grayson wrote.
More than four decades after his death in 1970, Cardenas remains an iconic figure to the Mexican people.
"Who was this man whom historians sometime refer to as Mexico's Franklin Delano Roosevelt?"
Grayson poses the question. "Why did his tenure leave such an indelible mark on the nation and the challenges it confronts today? How did he help stabilize a large country - now threatened by criminal organizations?"
Grayson's book, using history as a guideline, points the way how newly elected Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is attempting to recuperate the power once enjoyed by the chief executive but diminished greatly in recent years.
Detractors heaped scorn on Pena Nieto during the campaign, Grayson reports. When questioned about the price of a kilogram of tortillas, Nieto said he didn't need to know because "he was not the woman of the house." At a literary fair, he could not name three books that affected his life. Critics derided him as an "airhead." But others, such as former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones, put him in the category of Ronald Reagan.
"Reagan was not analytically smart, but he had good political instinct. He chose people around him who knew how to run a government."
However, Grayson said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette that Nieto has turned to be an "administrator," not a "leader," and Mexico continues to suffer ubiquitous corruption and record kidnappings, even as the western state of Michoacan is engulfed in a civil war involving drug cartels, self-defense units, community police, the armed forces and the federal police.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.