Don’t be fooled by tequila-slamming spring break-ers and sun-baked baby boomers who retire south of the border. Truth is, Americans, especially those in the Southwest, really don’t like Mexico. They consider it dirty, corrupt, dirty, backward, dirty, inferior, and — did I mention? — dirty. In fact, aside from the occasional trip to Cancun and a chimichanga here and there, many Americans want nothing to do with their neighbor.
That is, until they want something. Then, it’s: “Hola amigo!” Sometimes, it’s teenagers who want beer and margaritas. Or maybe it’s the uninsured that want affordable eye exams, dental work, or prescription drugs. You name it, Mexico will provide. Now, with gasoline selling for around $4.50 a gallon — and probably on its way to $5.00 a gallon before the end of summer — Americans are desperate for a new commodity: Mexican gas. It’s only running about $2.66 a gallon.
And so, all along the border, from Brownsville, TX, to San Diego, CA, Americans are invading Mexico. But they’re only staying long enough to fill up their tanks with low-cost, low-grade fuel. Trying to maximize the take, some Americans are even retrofitting their vehicle’s gas tanks to increase capacity or taking along empty five-gallon cans to stockpile as much as they can.
In fact, los Americanos are consuming so much of the petroleum inventory, I found out during a recent trip to Tijuana, that Mexican gas stations are finding themselves with no mas product. That has the locals up in arms and reminding the Americans that the reason that Mexican gas is so affordable is because it’s being subsidized by the Mexican government, which controls the petroleum industry in Mexico. It’s a gesture that was intended to help Mexicans — not Americans.
Now there is talk that Mexican authorities might somehow try to cap American gas consumption, perhaps by leveling an additional tax on foreign vehicles that come into Mexico to fill up. Others are suggesting a flat-out ban on selling gas to foreigners.
Neither option would be wise. A gas tariff would be as harmful and self-destructive as any other tariff. If the Mexicans are smart, they’ll stay away from this doom-and-gloom Lou Dobbs brand of protectionism and look at the situation more positively. Let’s recap: Basically, Americans are going into Mexico to spend money. Isn’t that what the Mexicans say they want — more cross-border commerce? They constantly complain about the border wait hurting business because it discourages Americans from visiting Mexico, and they spend millions on ad campaigns trying to lure American tourists.
In this case, maybe after these American gas poachers have filled their tanks, they’ll take a look around and find a nice restaurant and have lunch. And they’ll spend more money.
Perhaps the Mexicans would prefer that they keep their gas and Americans keep their distance, in which case no one profits.
The larger issue here isn’t about gasoline or trade policy. It’s the dysfunctional relationship between Mexico and the United States, two countries whose people can’t stop criticizing one another — even though they can’t live without one another. Whether the issue is illegal immigration or drug trafficking, each country likes to blame the other for its problems, and neither is eager to accept its share of responsibility. Yet, as much as Mexicans and Americans complain about one another, they can’t get enough of each other. They devour each other’s food, culture and music. And now they’re consuming each other’s resources.
This is one strange marriage. But we might as well try to work out our differences because, given our level of co-dependence, divorce isn’t an option.