The evidence is in - not all of it, but enough to prove that the U.S. government knew a year in advance that Mexico was headed for financial disaster.
The chronology shows that the Clinton administration used the year to keep the information secret and feed the American public a false, knowingly deceptive line about the strengths of the Mexican economy.
The cover-up went on until Mexico was only a day or two from bankruptcy. Then, announcing that an emergency existed, President Clinton ordered a $20 billion American loan plus another $20 billion or so of “international” money, much of which also will be paid by U.S. taxpayers.
But even after the bailout, the administration still is withholding full documentation - and real candor.
But why should it worry? After Clinton ordered the loan out of special funds, without debate or vote in Congress, the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress, grateful for avoiding responsibility, told him how fine and how brave he was for going over their heads.
However, nine senators, led by Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., have had the gall to hold hearings in the Senate Banking Committee. They are trying to get through the still-heavy administration smoke screen of secrecy and evasion.
D’Amato has introduced a bill putting a $5 billion cap on the U.S. loan. That still would be five times larger than any faintly similar past loan.
But the $5 billion cap is not the real issue - if the senators want more, they can amend D’Amato’s bill. Rather, D’Amato is trying to get them to face what they ran from last year: a vote on the bailout and, if approved, a decision on how much it should total.
My working-class soul rebels at the thought that without a vote, the government is entitled to spend even $20 billion of my money to meet a crisis it had concealed.
So, here is part of the still-emerging chronology of deception as detailed in the congressional hearings and by other sources:
Summer and fall The United States pushes through the North American Free Trade Agreement by proclaiming Mexican economic stability.
February The International Monetary Fund privately warns that Mexico is living like a credit-card addict.
March 23, The United States lends Mexico $6 billion for quick-fix bolstering of the peso.
Spring CIA privately warns the Treasury Department of the dangers of a Mexican collapse.
July, August Treasury Department privately warns Mexico.
September Lloyd Bentsen, then secretary of treasury, privately warns Mexico himself. Publicly, he expresses support for Mexico.
Dec. 9, Clinton praises Mexico, publicly, as a fine example of economic development.
Dec. 20, Mexico devalues peso; U.S. taxpayers learn of crisis.
Jan. 12, President suggests Congress enact a $40 billion loan but finds Congress vastly reluctant.
Jan. 31, Clinton and Congress acknowledge an emergency; president allocates $20 billion. Congress surrenders its right to vote or debate.
By now, Mexico has spent $5 billion of American money, making good on its high-interest bonds, and is readying another $5 billion. The money has whipped from Washington to Mexico, to Mexican and foreign investors and currency speculators, and from them, out of the country.
As unconsulted lenders, Americans at least should know who they are and how close they are to the Mexican or U.S. governments.
As for Mexican workers, they know they also will have to pay - in taxes, lost collateral, lost jobs. At least they have the good sense to be surly about the whole mess.
Real concern for Mexico would have meant public warnings from Washington as soon as trouble was discovered. Legitimate confidentiality does not include deceiving the world. But making this matter public would have brought embarrassing revelations at the very time Mexico and the United States both were preparing for elections.
Washington insists it did nothing wrong. This deprives Americans even of the small satisfaction of knowing that the officials concerned have learned anything at all from the great U.S.-Mexico combination plate of catch-up with botch-up.
April 3, D’Amato supplies me with his New Yorker’s summary of American and Mexican behavior: “The king has no suit.”