BORDER ON THE ABSURD

Another war with Mexico? It can’t happen here.

Generals are always preparing for the previous war. And people who live along borders always anticipate the re-enactment of the war that established the border in the first place. San Antonio banker Alfred Vasquez has the best of both worlds.

“In World War II, I was an intelligence officer with the Southern Defense Command,” says Vasquez, who is vice-president of Alamo Savings and Loan in San Antonio. “At that time, we didn’t know which way Mexico was going to go – with the Allies or with the Axis – so we had to have full contingency plans for military action along the border. The Germans were very active there then. In addition, it was our responsibility to protect our tankers leaving South Texas, rounding Florida, and going on up the seaboard to New York. The Germans were actually sinking our ships in the Gulf. So it was conceived that we would build a pipeline from South Texas all the way to New York. The Big Inch and the Little Inch pipelines were constructed, and later sold to private interests.” Vasquez has his own ideas about how the United States should respond to Mexico’s announcement that it has enormous oil reserves.

“If ever we enter a crisis with any nation,” he says, “we’ll be in one heck of a situation with respect to Middle East oil [because of the difficulty of protecting the oil fields and shipping lanes], so we’ll have to have a guaranteed supply on the North American continent. It will behoove the American government to enter into a good, strong, solid relationship with the Mexican government and Pemex [the Mexican state oil company] – including a military agreement that if the oil is endangered in any way we would have the right to go in and protect the oil fields and pipelines. That will be very touchy. But the sooner we do it the better. If we wait we’ll look bad; the Mexicans will say, You only come to us when you’re in trouble.

“Mexico will have more gas than it can possibly use, and it would be good for us to know we have those resources available. Our destinies are absolutely linked together. We’re one great continent and, like Europe, we’re going to have to learn to live together, work together, fight together to survive. If the U.S. goes down, so will Mexico. And if Mexico goes down, the U.S. will be in big trouble.”

Down in Mexico City, a senior embassy official nearly gagged when Vasquez’s suggestion was reported to him: “I wouldn’t dare talk to Mexico about such a treaty,” he said. “The last thing they would want is U.S. troops on their soil for any reason.” Nevertheless, there are, as numerous Texans never cease pointing out, people who still remember the Mexican oil expropriations of 1938, not to speak of the Alamo, and it is not hard to imagine the revival of jingoistic sentiment if Mexico proves balky about satisfying the ravenous U.S. appetite for oil.

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and Mexico has its own fierce nationalism. Picture a still-divided Mexico, 30 years from now, plagued with rampant inflation and an increasing disparity between its rich and poor citizens, the poorest of whom continue to heed the Church’s command to be fruitful and multiply. El Presidente looks around and notices, just across the Rio Grande, a land of milk and honey (and artichokes, avocados, and everything on through the alphabet to zucchini). This land, which some call California and Texas, used to be Mexican territory but was stolen away by the gringos in a war that even the gringos’ own most respected intellectuals and politicians called unjust. Today, that land is once again populated mainly by people of Mexican heritage. Even though those people, who call themselves Chicanos, have nominal control of the political institutions in the territory, the majority of the people are still discriminated against by the economically more powerful gringos. El Presidente goes on television to inspire his people to solidarity with the poor Chicanos of Aztlán, the lost tribes, the brothers and sisters of la raza pining once again to march behind the eagle-and-serpent standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe. . . .

Anyone remember the Sudetenland?

Yet another scenario for trouble is envisioned by Jorge Bustamante, professor adviser to the Mexican government on border problems, and one of the chief exponents of closer ties between Mexico and U.S. Chicanos. The scenario begins with a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on the employers of illegal aliens, close off the border, and deport millions of mojados back to Mexico. From Tijuana to Mata-moros, border towns on the Mexican side already glutted with refugees from rural poverty are overburdened by the expatriates. Municipal services collapse, there is riot if not incipient revolution, and troops are called out to deal with the crisis. The Mexican military, traditionally subservient to civilian authority, begins to like the taste of its newfound influence. Meanwhile, on the northern side of the border, things are not going too well either; as Bustamante observes, “what happens on one side of the border necessarily has corresponding effects on the other side.” Relations between Anglos and Chicanos deteriorate as Chicanos bid up the price of labor. There are “intereth-nic” clashes and riots, and the National Guard is called out to quell the disturbances. A hypothetical bilateral military cooperation pact between the two countries is invoked, lending further stature to the political position of the Mexican military. When civilian authority proves incapable of restoring peace and order a junta takes over.

None of these scenarios is very likely to come to pass. But the generals, both armchair and otherwise, can’t dismiss them.

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