The debate was never in good faith. Democracy was still a decade away; the left was marginal and toothless; the old Francophiles had begun to retire. The three countries of North America signed the treaty with great fanfare. The Mexican economy grew, but not at the pace of the neoliberals’ projections. The richest man in Mexico became the richest man in the world, but the poor remained as poor as they had always been. In a sense, they were poorer than ever. Their corner stores now sold American cigarettes, but their young people were gone. Many were never seen or heard from again. Those who returned came back broken, telling confused stories about predawn raids and freezing detention cells.
As the years passed, even the neoliberals began to suspect that something was wrong. Again and again, your father’s generation of politicians called their US classmates, who by then had become senators and governors. Had they not sat through the same seminars, listened to the same exaltations of the laissez-faire virtues of open borders and freedom of movement? Hadn’t they made a deal? The Americans would demur, misquote some Burke passage about gradual change, and say they were actually just stepping into a meeting.
You sit in your father’s TV room, your temporary bedroom, watching the economist all but tear out fistfuls of his own hair. You look at his face, at the large, deep-set eyes that are the marker of your people. Looking at him, it occurs to you that the problem was that his generation of criollos refused to see themselves as colonials. They did not realize that their classmates at Harvard and Chicago treated them nicely not because they saw them as equals but because they were light-skinned curiosities in well-cut suits, distinguished guests from a quaint but insignificant country. With indios and mestizos, it was a different story. The Chicago Boys’ belief in individual freedom did not extend to people with dark skin. Their economics was not the objective science they claimed it to be, but rather a political instrument designed to justify imperial expansion — a postmodern American equivalent of 16th-century Spanish Catholicism.
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