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Valuing Mexico

IT used to be said of the United States that when it, as a great power, stretched its arms and yawned drowsily, other nations experienced earthquakes. Now the US is learning what it means to be on the other side of the ``Gulliver'' effect as its neighbor Mexico flings out its own arms -- though more in desperate search of help than amiable lethargy. Mexico needs help -- and quickly.

The multibillion-dollar financial loan package now being put together by the United States and global lending agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, is crucial. That package, reportedly involving credits in the range of $5 billion to $6 billion, should be consummated as quickly as possible so that vital funds can be moved into the worsening Mexican financial pipeline. The peso had fallen 30 percent against the US dollar in the past week, although it is reviving somewhat as of this writing. Needed development capital is fleeing the country, mainly to the US. Unemployment, underemployment, and inflation are day-to-day threats for the average Mexican household.

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Mexico warrants a deeper and more fundamental support from the world community for reasons that go beyond momentary financial concerns.

Granted, Mexico is the third-largest trading partner of the US. But more important, it has earned its right to assistance. It has been a role model for other third-world nations in its long-range commitment to popular democracy. Mexico has problems: widespread corruption; top-heavy and inefficient state-owned industries; the virtual domination of its political system by one party; its overdependence on oil revenues that made it vulnerable to the sharp drop in oil prices; and the extensive trade in illicit drugs and the massive flow of illegal immigrants into the US. And Mexico must continue to make reforms -- denationalize state companies, curb corruption, open up political channels for dissidents. But such reforms ought not be the result of draconian austerity measures imposed by creditors from without. Mexico's political and business leaders require financial breathing room. They also need some old-fashioned appreciation.

Mexico's stability is crucial to peace and progress in the Americas. It is a rich, colorful, vibrant society of hardworking, family-oriented folk. The US and other nations can do no less than assist in this time of Mexico's economic stress.

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