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Two Views of Mexico

SOME Americans seem to think it's OK to beat up Mexicans who try to cross the border illegally. In defending the Riverside, Calif., sheriff's deputies who were videotaped beating two illegal immigrants recently, former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates said, "No matter how you use that club, people are going to criticize." Wait a minute, Mr. Gates. We criticize because the way the clubs were used was wrong - brutal, racist, and discriminatory.

Human rights are human rights, period. Neither the United States Border Patrol, sheriff's deputies, nor any vigilante groups have a valid excuse for violating them.

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When inaugurating an international human rights conference on April 16, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo condemned American violence: "We are deeply offended by acts of intimidation, which threaten the health and safety of migrants and which have even resulted in loss of life." Under the circumstances, it was the correct statement to make.

But has Mr. Zedillo no shame? Whose policies are pushing the Mexican people to take these desperate measures? Who is putting the Mexican "migrating" workers at risk? On April 1, the Mexican government boosted the minimum wage 12 percent, but the price of food staples and other commodities rose almost 30 percent.

According to legend, an English king once ordered the ocean tide to stop. It didn't. Nor will President Clinton be able to stop the avalanche of Mexicans into the US simply by wishing they would stay home. Mr. Clinton and many in the US government believe the Mexican economy has "turned the corner" and is recovering. It hasn't and it isn't, even if the message coming from the Mexican propaganda machine sounds good.

Mr. Zedillo's economic policy is like the emperor's new clothes: Everyone wants to believe they are sound, but even a child can see that they just aren't working.

Take last week's news that the Mexican Social Security system registered slightly more than 100,000 new workers during the first three months of this year. "This is an accurate figure, these are real people back on the payrolls," the government trumpeted.

What it didn't say is there are about 1 million young Mexicans entering the work force this year (250,000 during the January-March quarter), so even if the 2 million who lost their jobs last year aren't considered, job creation at a meaningful level isn't happening.

Not only are the lower classes affected, but many in the emerging middle class are losing so much purchasing power that they're poor again, too. This is reflected in falling retail sales.

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News reports last week said the Gigante supermarket chain, the second-largest in the country, couldn't pay its debts. Millions of Mexicans can't pay theirs, either.

Sooner or later politicians and bureaucrats in Mexico City and Washington will be forced to admit that Mexico is in the middle of a great depression. They don't want to admit it for fear the truth will drive away foreign investment.

Rubbish. Proper legal and political reforms will attract funds, but someone has to make them happen.

The old Carlos Salinas policies don't work anymore. The ball game has changed. It is politically impossible for the US to pour in any more funds. The foreign-financing well has just about dried up. The Mexican government will have to continue reform at a quicker pace and at the same time prime the pump itself to get the economy moving. The US private sector can help, as can Mexico's own exports - but not quickly enough.

Zedillo must act fast.

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