Segment Transcript

Aired December 16, 2004 - 18:00 ET


DOBBS: Tonight, an estimated 15 million illegal aliens live in this country, at least half of them from Mexico. Many are here because they chose to flee crushing poverty in Mexico.

But, in point of fact, Mexico is one of the richest countries in Latin America, amongst -- the millionaires, billionaires and its wealth concentrated in the hands of very few.

Casey Wian reports from Los Angeles.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They sneak across the border seeking jobs they can't find in Mexico. The question isn't why they come, it's why can't Mexico's economy support its own people.

Nearly half of Mexico's population lives in poverty. Ten percent are indigent, existing on a dollar a day. Yet the nation has vast wealth. Mexico has more "Forbes" billionaires, 11, than all but eight other nations. It has more billionaires than Saudi Arabia, Switzerland or Taiwan. It also has more than 85,000 millionaires.

GEORGE W. GRAYSON, COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY: There is a small economic elite who live like maharajas, and there's a political elite that protects them. Our border provides an escape valve which really lets the Mexican political and economic elite off the hook in terms of providing opportunities for their own people.

WIAN (on camera): About 10 percent of Mexico's 105 million people live here in the United States. They're called national heroes by President Vicente Fox because this year they'll send home about $16 billion, more than any Mexican industry except oil.

(voice-over): The country sits on oil reserves worth about $400 billion, but Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, doesn't have the investment funds to tap those reserves, and Mexico's Congress refuses to allow foreign investment in Pemex.

Mexico's outdated tax system is plagued by widespread tax evasion. It collects taxes at less than half the rate of the United States. As a result, Mexico's public-school and health-care systems suffer. CHRIS WOODRUFF, CENTER FOR U.S.-MEXICO STUDIES: We now realize -- and particularly in a world where capitalists are mobile -- that redistribution isn't going to work, and what people focus on now instead is allowing the poor to build assets. Mexico has undertaken some programs which will allow the poor to do that. But that's not a process that changes overnight.

WIAN: Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor is growing. So Mexico continues to export one of its most valuable assets, people.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.


| |