Why Mexico needs more Canada, according to Denise Dresser (Toronto Star)
Forbes magazine has called Denise Dresser one of Mexico’s most powerful women. The influential writer and academic shares her thoughts on why Canada needs to pay more attention to Mexico’s drug violence, her crush on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and how she manages to attract all those Twitter followers.
Dresser was in Toronto this week for the inaugural 6 Degrees Citizen Space conference held by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
Why is the Canada-Mexico relationship important?
Mexico is a free trade partner of Canada. Despite that, for many Canadians, Mexico is even more foreign, unknown and uninteresting than many countries in Africa. Canadians pay more attention to what is happening in Europe, the refugee crisis in Syria than what is happening in Mexico, a country with deathly violence, drug trafficking that is becoming much more widespread and an economic crisis.
About 150,000 people have died of drug violence in the last decade, and more than 27,000 have gone missing. We have 43 murdered students (who were kidnapped in 2014). It’s as if we are living a low-intensity civil war in a country where lawlessness runs rampant.
What could Canada be doing to help?
While Canada’s attention is focused elsewhere, there is a fire in the neighbourhood. And I don’t see any Canadian firefighters, or demand for assistance that Canada help the way it has other transitional democracies. Canada could be calling out things in Mexico as it does on human rights issues in other countries, for example China.
In the context of the U.S. election, Donald Trump has said he is going to build a wall and deport 10 million Mexicans. As far as I can see, the Canadian government hasn’t taken a stand on this issue, which violates every principal of inclusiveness, tolerance and free trade. Trump has said he will dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement. This would be hugely harmful for Canada and the U.S., and for integration in the region.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently invited Trump to Mexico. How was that visit viewed?
It was nothing short of insulting and demeaning to Mexico. Maybe Pena Nieto believed that dialogue was required, that it is better to have your enemy inside your tent pissing out than outside your tent pissing in. However, he wasn’t courageous enough to confront Trump. Six hours after the visit, Trump gave a speech denouncing Mexican immigrants again as harmful to the U.S. economy. Now there is fear that Pena Nieto cannot stand up to Trump if he wins. There could be severe consequences for Mexico.
You have said you were thinking of running as an independent in the 2018 presidential election in Mexico. Are you still?
I was considering it. Our country is adrift and the candidates of the established parties are not offering alternatives. However, the barriers to entry are very high and it is hard to raise money. Mexico isn’t a country of routine debates among presidential candidates. When I said I was thinking about it, I began to receive daily attacks and weekly death threats. I am wondering if it’s better to remain as a source of provocative thinking to push the country forward, instead of being in the political realm.
What has Pena Nieto accomplished and what challenges remain?
He is to be applauded for approving reforms in the telecommunications, energy and educational sectors. But implementing them is difficult.
Incessant corruption scandals have clouded the administration. There have been repeated conflict-of-interest issues. Corruption has become the defining issue, and it hasn’t been dealt with quickly or vehemently enough.
Only pressure from Mexico’s civil society, and from outside, will force the political class to change its habits and change the system.
How did you get three million Twitter followers? That is one million more than Justin Trudeau!
I find it intriguing given I’m not Madonna or a super model. In an era of so much information, people are looking for someone who is genuine, for leadership, for consistency. They are looking for a voice they can trust to explain to them what is happening in the world. I tweet 20 times a day, not only about Mexican politics, but about film, books, restaurants, U.S. politics.
I tweeted about my crush on Justin Trudeau and I have retweeted things that he did, that half his cabinet are women, that he went to gay pride. In that way he is similar to the Obamas. He has mastered popular culture and is fully in control of his image in a way that resonates with millennials. It is a way of being a leader in the 21st century to use your image to build support for your causes. That is what has happened to me in Twitter land.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.