Mexico Calls US 'Xenophobic' For Incidents on Fleeing Aliens

MEXICO'S virulent reaction to recent incidents involving undocumented Mexicans in the US indicates that relations between the two countries could be slipping back to an old, angrier mode.

But the reaction is as much a sign of Mexicans' frustration with their government's inability to solve the problems that make migration a necessity, some analysts here say, as it is a condemnation of the US.

Despite official insistence from both sides of the border to the contrary, signs of less mutual understanding and of haste to blame the other country for problems are building.

This week, the Mexican media, some intellectuals, and members of Congress, attacked the US as xenophobic and increasingly anti-Mexican.

The reaction comes after two heavily publicized encounters this month between authorities in the United States and groups of Mexicans attempting illegal entry into California.

Mexican Congressman Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said the incidents were evidence of a "low-intensity war" in the US against Mexicans, and symptoms of an increasingly aggressive and unilateral policy towards Mexico.

In the first incident April 1, following a high-speed chase after a group of illegal aliens attempting to avoid arrest, Riverside County, Calif., sheriff deputies were videotaped beating two of the unarmed Mexicans. Then last Saturday, a pickup truck carrying another group of undocumented Mexicans near the border in Riverside County overturned as it fled a Border Patrol vehicle. Seven Mexicans, several of them seasoned laborers in the America, were killed.

Response in Mexico was immediate, with Mexican television news replaying the videotaped scenes of "Anglo" uniformed officers repeatedly beating cowering Mexicans - one of them a woman - with clubs. Anger grew this week after the deadly truck accident, even after survivors denied initial reports that the accident was due to a hot pursuit by Border Patrol agents.

Vicente Fox, governor of Guanajuato state, accused California Gov. Pete Wilson of provoking attacks on undocumented Mexicans with "xenophobic" political rhetoric and his support for California's antimigrant Proposition 187.

The Mexican rhetoric follows a bout of "Mexico-bashing" over recent months in the US among Republican presidential candidates, particularly Pat Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan, who refers to Mexicans collectively as "Jose," advocates building a wall all along the border, canceling the North American Free Trade Agreement, and ending assistance to Mexico's "corrupt" government.

The gloves-off stance between the two countries follows several years during the presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari - before and after NAFTA's passage in 1993 - when a growing and modernizing Mexico was ready to set aside old historical wounds to develop a more equal relationship with its powerful northern neighbor.

But Mexico's deep economic crisis has set back chances of it achieving that equal footing and caused old sensitivities to resurface.

The increase in potentially violent encounters between migrating Mexicans and American authorities is a by-product of what prominent Mexican political analyst Sergio Aguayo Quezada calls the "historic modification" implicit in US moves to control its borders over the last year.

That decision predictably raised Mexico's hackles, given the wide range of ramifications it entails, he says. But the "frustration" expressed in Mexico's Congress and elsewhere is directed more at the Mexican government than at the US, Mr. Aguayo says.

"In the past, attacking the US was an easy way for the government to escape its own responsibilities," says Mr. Aguayo. "This time most Mexicans accept that the US is acting [on the immigration issue] in its own interests, whether we like it or not.

"There is anger over the rights abuses of some US authorities," he adds, " but frustration with the profound inefficiency of our own government to correct the economic slide and address the lack of hope here that makes the migration inevitable."

Remedios Gomez Arnau, a migration specialist at the Center for North American Studies at the National Autonomous University here, says Mexican perceptions of the US are becoming more polarized as the US-Mexico relationship becomes more complex and as government policy ceases to represent all sectors of society.

"One explanation for the harsh words in Congress on these recent incidents is that Mexico's legislative branch wants to establish itself as independent from the executive, especially when some people say its response was weak," she says. "That's something that Americans should be able to understand."

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