Friday is day 10 of the U.S. government shutdown. Eight hundred thousand furloughed employees of the federal government are still going without pay. The economy is hemorraging $300 million a day in lost output because of the halt in all nonessential activities of the federal government, according to an estimate by market research firm IHS. And while many Americans wonder why Congress still can't agree on even a temporary budget measure to keep the government open, their neighbors to the south are even more outraged.
Mexicans have good cause for worry about the shutdown and a potential default on U.S. debt. The United States is far and away their nation's largest trading partner, having bought 77.5 percent of Mexican exports in 2012, according to trade stats cited by the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. Mexico exports more to the United States in just over a month than it does in one year to the entire European Union.
The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who a week before the shutdown met U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in a bilateral summit that was all smiles and promises of ever-closer cooperation, is watching closely. Neither the president nor his ministers are undiplomatically telling their powerful neighbor and ally what to do, but they are undoubtedly worried sick.
"It's an event with an enormous potential to affect financial markets," said Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray of the shutdown and possible default in an interview with Radio Fórmula earlier this week.
But other comments about the latest American crisis were far more incendiary. In fact, even a cursory scan of Mexico's mainstream media reveals a stunning frankness, and a near-unanimous indictment of one culprit alone: the Republican Party. Specifically, its tea party wing.
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"The Republican Party really hates Obama rabidly," wrote José Luis Valdés Ugalde in the liberal-leaning Excelsior. Ugalde is far from a rabble-rousing America-hater. With a PhD from the London School of Economics, he teaches political science and international relations at UNAM, one of Latin America's most prestigious universities. And he has absolutely no compunction in calling the shutdown the product of, quite simply, racism.
The tea party, he wrote, is defined by "an immaculate whiteness" and is "disturbed by the blackness of the president," whose presence in the White House it sees as "a perversion." Tea party-backed members of Congress are "a gang of thugs who can sink the local and, in passing, also the global economy in the name of a reaction, rather than rational action."
Harsh words, and probably stronger than anything an equally liberal European newspaper would publish, but Ugalde is closer to the problem than Europeans are. "Mexico must take the necessary precautions to avoid the consequences of this ideological crisis that has poisoned the politics of our neighbors," he wrote.
Yet he is not isolated in his reading of the tea party phenomenon, and of the shutdown, as a backlash against Barack Obama's skin color. "There is an unease of a racial kind," said economic commentator Ramón Pieza Rugarcia in an interview with Red FM radio.
And Benjamin Laureano Luna, founder of the NGO Mexican Human Rights Front (Frente Mexicano Pro Derechos Humanos), wrote in the Jewish website Enlace Judío that the tea party "is racist, and the enemy of Mexican undocumented immigrants" as well as responsible for "blackmail against President Obama directed by Senator Ted Cruz."
Merely leftist bile against a big, powerful neighbor? Hardly. An opinion piece in the conservative-leaning El Informador is just as scathing against the right wing of the Republicans: "One must comment that we are witnessing the appearance of a truly unprecedented crisis […] the tea party represents the retrograde political wing par excellence." And most of all, the shutdown crisis "is damaging not only the economy of the United States but also of the whole world, and especially Mexico. Because as the saying goes, when the colossus to the north sneezes, our country gets pneumonia."
Patricia Rey Mallén contributed reporting for this story.