Watching the War:
With Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Co-Bureau Chief, Mexico City
Friday, April 4, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, Washington Post Mexico City reporter and bureau chief Kevin Sullivan spent some time with a popular morning drive-time radio host. The idea was to listen to talk about how Mexicans get their news about the war in Iraq, and radio is by far the most powerful force in the country.
Sullivan will be online from Mexico City, Friday, April 4 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss his impressions of what Mexicans think about the war.
"Watching the War" is a series on how people around the world are perceiving the war in Iraq through their local media.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Kevin, welcome to washingtonpost.com. Your article in today's Post is about how the people of Mexico view the war in Iraq. What did you hear at the radio station from the people in the street?
Kevin Sullivan: Thanks very much--great to be here. What I heard at the radio station pretty much echoes what we here everywhere in Mexico: the war in Iraq is extremely unpopular here, and many Mexicans are suspicious of U.S. motives in the war. There is a very strong feeling among Mexicans that Washington should not have acted without U.N. approval. One newspaper here runs all its stories about the war under the logo, "The Unilateral War."
Arlington, Va.: Doesn't Mexico's failure to support the U.S. in the Security Council or on the battlefield indicate the predominance in foreign policy of the leftist Foreign Minister whose major virtue seems to be his command of English? Is Fox chicken?
Kevin Sullivan: Great question. I assume you are referring to the former foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who left his job in January (his French is great, too). The current foreign minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, doesn't fit your description. I think it's unfair to call Fox chicken. He's the leader of 100 million people, and the vast majority of them were telling him not to support the war. I think his stance, whether one agrees with it or not, was honest and heartfelt and reflected the sentiment of his nation.
Macomb, Ill.: You know I think that Mexico should have a lot more U.S. support; I mean we don't need to be spending all this money in Iraq. We need to send money to Mexico. They are the ones who need it. Plus Hispanics are a very large part of out population.
Kevin Sullivan: Hispanics are also a fast-growing part of our military. I think they were something like 4.3 percent of active duty forces during the first Gulf War, and about 9 percent now. Several of the casualties so far have been immigrants to the United States--at least one from Mexico and one from Guatemala. It's caused great anguish here: people admire the soldiers' bravery, but feel sad that they died in what most here consider the United States' war.
McLean, Va.: Was was Jose Gutierrez Vivo like? Is he fair and balanced?
Kevin Sullivan: He's an incredibly impressive guy. Thoughtful, well-prepared and yes, I thought, fair and balanced. He translated the Powell and Bush speeches cleanly and without editorial comment. It would have been easy--in Mexico--for him to score some cheap points at their expense. But I think he's much more interested in informing than inflaming. The idea that he devoted an hour-plus of his show to the historical, cultural and religious significance of Iraq and the region says that he's not a frivolous guy. That said, he's very strong in his views, which I think pretty closely mirror those of the majority of his callers.
Alexandria, Va.: Don't they have cable news in Mexico City?
Kevin Sullivan: Sure, but it reaches only a small percentage of the population. The vast majority here rely on the two main Mexican networks for their news. And an even larger number listen to radio. You have to remember, more than half of this country lives in poverty. Many people live with dirt floors and no running water--they have never heard of Larry King.
Hyde Park, Chicago, Ill.: Dear Kevin,
I enjoy the Post's excellent coverage of Mexico, including its recent series on the bankrupt Mexican criminal justice system. Here's my question: could oil have played a role in Fox's lack of support for the war? Pemex's profits will suffer when Iraq's full production hits the market.
Also, this is probably the first and last time Fox will have a real lever with the Bush administration; why didn't he exploit the opportunity to push his migration agenda with Bush? Thanks!
Kevin Sullivan: Thanks about the justice series. The oil question is tough. I can tell you that was never part of the public debate about the war. I don't remember anyone, in all the arguments that were made against the war, saying that Pemex's profits were at issue. Beyond that I would be guessing. On the immigration question, many people here were making just that argument: trade the vote for a migration deal. But people in the Fox administration I talked to called that the "trick or treat option," and they said the Mexican public would never forgive Fox for selling Mexican principles for a deal on migration. Many people close to Fox were telling him that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is too important to Mexico to play that kind of politics. And that's the way he ultimately went.
Vienna, Va.: Given the vast number of immigrants from Mexico moving into this country (some even die trying to get here), it seems obvious they are fleeing something terrible.
Given that, I highly suspect many of them would like us to liberate them as well. They are a lot closer than Iraq and don't have any WMD, so we could liberate them fairly quickly.
Kevin Sullivan: Can you bomb poverty?
Tempe, Ariz.: What is your impression of the quality of Mexican media coverage of the war? Is it responsible, even-handed, sensationalist, one-sided, pro-U.S., anti-U.S., etc., etc.?
Kevin Sullivan: Mexican media coverage has been Mexican. La Jornada, the leftist daily, runs pictures of dead babies on its cover and never misses and opportunity to interview Noam Chomsky. Milenio newspaper has the "Unilateral War" logo. Reforma and El Universal are more down the middle, but there is still much more attention paid to civilian casualties than you might see in most U.S. papers (with the exception of the amazing reporting by the Post's Anthony Shadid in Baghdad, who has truly brought that place to life on our pages). I think it's wrong to call it anti-US. It's anti-war, and proudly so. Televisa is much the same--they anchor their nightly news from Doha and have several reporters in the region. But their news tends to focus less on military tactics and technology and more on the human element.
Baton Rouge, La.: I would be interested in your comments about Mexican attitudes toward the U.S. in general. My contention is that, despite the standard argument about a "love-hate" relationship, it is in fact about 97 percent hate versus 2 percent love.
I have lived in Mexico City and visited much of the Republic. I have many Mexican friends. But still, I think that the "pueblo mexicano" is deeply, viscerally, anti-American. And this hostility, even though things generally don't get violent or anything, is extremely hard to miss if a sensitive observer takes a Transportes del Norte bus from Monterrey to the D.F. The "vibes" are just not good.
I respect the reasons for this, from our land grab in the 19th Century to U.S. beach tourists who can behave in Cancϊn in ways they would never think of behaving in Florida to economic disparity.
I am hardly shocked that Mexicans would oppose the U.S. position in Iraq. Indeed, I tend to agree with their position. However, I can't help suspecting that most of this opposition comes from innate anti-American feeling rather than an analysis of the situation.
1. How did ordinary Mexicans react to the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, which was viewed more favorably in much of the world and which had a much more obvious justification?
2. Isn't this deep historical hostility a readily observable fact, and one which tends to be conveniently ignored when people talk about Mexico and the U.S?
Kevin Sullivan: I understand all that you are saying, and I wouldn't question your personal experiences. But mine have been different. I find there really is a love-hate relationship here. If you throw out those on either extreme, I have found that most Mexicans really do admire the United States and have no problems with most Americans. They don't like the history and they hate the drunk kids in Cancun. But they love the NY Yankees (no accounting for taste)and rap music and computers and who knows what else. And my family has been incredibly warmly received here--almost all the time. It's a more complicated question that we have time for here---but my take is more optimistic than yours. On Afghanistan, I think many people (not all) here saw that as a direct and reasonable response to 9/11, which Mexicans condemned as a heinous act of terrorism. I don't think they make the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda as easily. They see it more as a U.S. war of choice and aggression.
Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed your article. It's a shame no one in the major media here would ever devote an hour to the historical context of Iraqi culture, religion, etc. You can get a little bit of that on PBS or TLC, but certainly not the big talk shows with their huge audiences.
Kevin Sullivan: Amen.
Washington, D.C.: If Mexicans go to war for the U.S., won't they get citizenship?
Kevin Sullivan: There is a common misconception here--and has been since World War II--that joining the military is the fast-track to citizenship. Mexicans here call the U.S. embassy asking if can join up in exchange for a green card. It doesn't work that way. People who are already citizens and permanent residents are eligible to serve in the U.S. military. Now, I don't know whether a soldier who is a permanent resident and goes to fight in a war then has an easier time becoming a citizen. I hear there is some movement in Congress about recognizing such service with citizenship. But again, I don't know exactly where that is--and I don't want to cause a run on the embassy...
Bethesda, Md.: To what extent do people in Mexico believe that the war is not about WMD or regime change, but just about business (e.g., oil investments)?
Kevin Sullivan: I think that's a big part of the problem. Many Mexicans simply don't believe the reasons for the war presented by President Bush and his advisers. The war is regularly portrayed here as an oil grab, or as the President avenging his father, or just about anything else--except an honest effort to remove a dangerous dictator from power.
Kensington, Md.: Were callers worried about the repercussions of the Mexican policy towards Iraq on bilateral issues, let's say, trade or immigration?
Kevin Sullivan: Not so much callers yesterday, but yes, I think there is a generalized fear here that bucking the United States on its most important issue will cost Mexico in the long run. The business community here is terrified of how if might affect trade. The immigration question is less central. Even people close to Fox feel like immigration died long before the Iraq issue came up. So, the thinking goes, you can't lose something you weren't going to get anyway.
Kevin Sullivan: I think time's up. Thank you all for the very good questions. It's nice to know that so many people are still interested in Mexico, with everything else going on in the world. Thank you.