When will Mexico become a developed country?

Clay Reynolds, Retired Professor of Humanities & Creative Writing at University of Texas at Dallas (1998-present)

This is merely an opinion, but as an observer and lifetime resident of a border state that has close ties to Mexican culture and its people, I believe that Mexico has the potential to become not only a fully developed nation but a powerhouse in the western hemisphere.

Mexico has sufficient arable land, a wealth of natural minerals (including oil), and an enormous labor force. Its development, for many decades, was hindered by a lack of navigable waterways to the interior, a shortage of quality highways and railroad transport that was slow to develop. It’s also a vast nation, in terms of territory, with multiple ethnic identities and an array of cultural disparities and differences. Generalizing about Mexicans is about as valuable as generalizing about the US; regional and ethnic divisions make any overarching statement worthless. These problems have been addressed, particularly with regard to rail and highways, in recent years.

Unfortunately, though, Mexican history has been marked by a long series of inept, often corrupt, generally ineffective governments that reflect the principal interests of the wealthiest citizens at the expense of the lower working class and poor. Social safety nets don’t entirely work, often don’t work at all, and millions of Mexicans live at or well below the poverty line. Although it gets little press, racist attitudes have also informed Mexican development; the issue is not skin color but an antique caste system that relegates many citizens to the lower strata of society and provides little opportunity for individual improvement or development.

Mid 20th century, Mexican history had the need for land reform: this was the principal issue that launched the 1910 Revolution. While improvements in this area have been made over time, rural Mexicans still struggle with an economic system that often works against them.

Curiously, or possibly not, Mexico has managed to avoid becoming involved in any major war — apart from its own revolutions and civil wars — and has not spent much of its wealth on foreign entanglements.

Taxes are relatively low, so is the cost of living. Public services are reasonably in place, although they do not reach many of the people who desperately need them. Infrastructure suffers. Lack of strong regulation and efficient bureaucracy in vital areas are hampering progress.

In recent decades, and thanks in large part to NAFTA, Mexican economics have improved, owing to manufacturing jobs that didn’t previously exist in such volume. At the same time, poverty and a general lack of advanced education is common throughout the country, a situation that has created an environment in which crime with international connections has established itself and flourished in the form of cartels and gang-controlled areas that seem impervious to government interference with their operations.

Corruption, intimidation, and incompetence seems to dominate Mexican politics and bureaucracy; however, this is largely an inaccurate picture, fostered more by Hollywood and fictional depictions rather than facts. Millions and millions of Mexicans are honest, hard-working, tax-paying, well-educated and law-abiding citizens whose principal interest is in a strong nation and strong and progressive economy with security and safety being main goals.

The future of Mexico, though, is inexorably tied to its connections to the United States and to a lesser extent to its responsibility as the premiere nation of Central America. Strong trade and international legal agreements between the two nations is the key to the prosperity and development of both, as both share a common interest in the stability of other Central American nations that are presently suffering from far worse conditions—often as a result of American interference. A closer and better understood relationship between Mexico and the US is to the advantage of both. For the countries to eye one another with suspicion and nationalistic negativity harms both.

For nearly two centuries—up until 9/11—the two countries enjoyed an open border and a mutual trust; while illegal crossings were common and deplored, they did not represent any significant security risk until the drug trade became central to the issue. Solving that problem—if it can be solved—would solve most of the difficulties on both sides of the border and could restore the close partnership that the two should be able to enjoy and grow.

Mexico’s potential remains largely dormant for the time being, though, capable of awakening and advancing rapidly if the political will of the Mexican people can be marshaled and channeled into a progressive mode. It’s hard, though, not to view the situation in Mexico and not recall the words of the dictator, Profirio Diaz, “Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.”


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