The Coming Mexican Quagmire

March 16, 1995|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris. -- The commitment the United States now has made to Mexico bears a distinct resemblance to the commitment it made to Vietnam during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, when the troubles in that country were only beginning.

Most of this was known or assumed while Washington was cam

paigning to make Mexico part of NAFTA. There is also, of course, an armed rebellion among impoverished Indians in the state of Chiapas in the south, which enjoys much national sympathy from intellectuals and a part of the Roman Catholic Church.

The stabilization plan announced by Mexico's finance minister Guillermo Ortiz promises the Mexican people recession, unemployment and personal hardship. Inflation is now forecast to rise to 42 percent this year. There will be a one-third loss of buying power, a 50 percent increase in value-added tax, programmed rises in electricity and gasoline prices -- and a great many bankruptcies.

This program is the price demanded for the debt guarantees Washington has arranged, as well as being a consequence of the fecklessness of the Salinas government in refusing to confront the country's currency and deficit problems last year while there was still time to deal with them.

Neither corporate business nor organized labor in Mexico has yet been willing to endorse this plan. Whether it will succeed is open to question. Chaotic financial conditions may return.

Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve has said to Congress that while he dislikes the ''too big to fail'' argument in favor of American guarantees to Mexico, this nonetheless has been an international crisis -- and of course may become one again.

Washington's ideology in all of this, under Democrats and Republicans, has been that of the universal benevolence of unrestricted global free trade -- a contemporary version, or inversion, of domino theory.

Lawrence Summers, undersecretary of the Treasury, says that the guarantees to Mexico are an essential part of America's commitment to ''a new international era.'' They are among ''the modes and methods for United States engagement in global transformation,'' meaning ''the liberalization and integration of trade around the world,'' to which only isolationists and the ''nostalgic'' could object.

The globalist official rhetoric particularly recalls the 1960s. We now have only to await the light at the end of the tunnel. It will be some time before we see it.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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