Official records in Mexico claim a 3.7% unemployment rate (2007). Of course the real percentage is much higher, probably around 15% or as much as 25% for certain Indian groups. With a population of over 100 million, the Aztec country has had a very difficult time satisfying the needs of every citizen.
So why does the government "tweak" the numbers which show to the casual eye a prosperous country? We would have to go back to the early days of the Revolution against Porfirio Diaz, a ruthless dictator who nevertheless ended his days in Paris, France, with very limited resources (1911). He was the last Mexican ruler to leave power without considerable wealth.
Ever since the P.R.I. (Revolutionary Institutional Party) took control of the government in 1929, influential bureaucrats made sure that the numbers were always favoring the image of the current rulers. The PRI lost the power to the P.A.N. (National Action Party) in 2000, but government employees who worked under the PRI kept their positions thanks to powerful and corrupt unions. Old habits die hard and even though the recently elected President (PAN) Felipe Calderon, has tried to clean the house, he has faced enormous resistance. Without a clear majority in Congress - Mexico's government was patterned after the American model -, the new president is facing an uphill battle against entrenched interests (Well, that does sound familiar; will Obama be able to realize all the changes he has promised if he is elected?).
While Whites make up only between 5 and 8% of the population, vs. 60% for mestizos and 30% for Indians, the most powerful positions in government are held by Whites. In the last 50 years, the only mestizo president was Diaz Ordaz (1964-1970). This subtle discrimination is partly due to educational levels and partly to inherited wealth among a few very rich families. Calderon's cabinet includes names like Carstens, Kessel and Tellez Kuenstler, which reflect the strange Mexican preference for foreign names in government, a tendency best illustrated by the previous inept president Vicente Fox.
President Calderon's double dilemma is social justice, in other words how to distribute resources equitably among the poor, and the challenge posed by drug cartels. It is calculated that an astonishing 30% of the Mexican population lives in extreme poverty, without the basic resources that we all take for granted. Indians tribes especially, some of whom don't even speak Spanish, have been neglected for more than 200 years. The Secretary of Social Development was created in 1992 to attend to the needs of the lower levels of the population. Needless to say, most of the financial resources allocated since that date have been detoured to the pockets of corrupt politicians and businessmen. You cannot do business in Mexico without paying off several layers in government and even if the current Secretary has good intentions, she is hampered by the fact that she has to go through state governments, a hot bed of corruption in most cases.
President Calderon, who so far seems to be an honest politician, is fighting a system of "mordidas" (bribes) and "compadrazgo" (special friends called compadres), which permeates all levels of Mexico's business and government. He doesn't know who his friends are, any one of which may be on the payroll of some drug cartel. A well-placed politician once told me when the newly "elected" governor of a northern Mexican state took office, he received the visit of a mysterious man who carried a fat briefcase. The visitor refused to leave his name and said very simply: "We want to know whether you accept the case. If you don't, you'll be dead within a week." The case contained 1 million dollars and the governor took it, signaling that he would not interfere with the local drug lords. That happened 30 years ago, but may well take place today. I just hope that Calderon will be able to make a difference in the various battles his administration is fighting right now.
We need a stable and prosperous neighbor on our Southern border.