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One hundred chilangos

10 April 2014

It’s a cliche (and every Thomas Friedman column), that talking to a taxi driver is the path to gaining insight into a community. here’s a taxi driver who discovers his own city.

Artist Jason Schell turned that idea inside out… becoming a Mexico City taxi driver to gain his insight from his passengers.

Cien retratos

(written 9 April for later posting)

Crop rotation

10 April 2014

Nick Miroff has a long article in last Sunday’s (6 April 2014) Washington Post suggesting that Mexican heroin from Mexico is flooding the U.S. as a result of tolerance for marijuana use.

While not presented as sensationalism (it’s no secret that people in the U.S. have always had a tremendous appetite for chemically-enhanced means of altering their moods), the story is misleading in a number of ways.  Patrick Timmons of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project said much what I would write about this, and does so much more succinctly than I would:

I find Miroff’s article about Sinaloa’s poppy production to be deeply, deeply flawed. Poppy production in Sinaloa has absolutely nothing to do with US attempts at legalizing marijuana. Since the late nineteenth century poppies have always been a successful Sinaloa product — the work of Froylán Enciso, currently at UCMexus in San Diego’s proves this, and with stunning attention to archival detail.

opium025The story that the myopic Miroff misses is that marijuana cultivation has significantly expanded to the Laguna, much closer to the US border, and much closer to large bodies of water which marijuana needs to grow. (Poppies are much better suited to Sinaloa’s climate, they need less water, and aren’t damaged, like marijuana is, by the coastal climate.) The story Miroff has missed is that the increase in marijuana cultivation in La Laguna is leading to forms of internal displacement that seem unprecedented. There are strong indications of a huge crisis of land ownership and tenancy in the Laguna. There are transplants to Chihuahua from Sonora who tell of being forced from their lands by the marijuana cultivating narco.

I won’t dispute — not in the slightest — that the United States is a huge consumer of illegal drugs, many of which are cultivated in Mexico, but to say that poppies are being grown more now in Sinaloa because of U.S. legalization efforts is deeply deeply problematic, for the reasons that I have identified above.

I am sorry to see that the WaPost’s Mexico coverage has started to slip in quality, and quite drastically.

(written 9 April for later posting)

Will be off-line temporarily…

10 April 2014

If my posts have been mostly links to other sites lately, it’s because I have been extremely busy with our publishing business. We have two new books coming out (or, rather have been printed, though are not in hand yet): Brave Blood, a definitive lexicon of bull-fighting, and a second printing of Sterling Bennett’s “thinking man’s western”, Playing for Pancho Villa. In addition, we have about a dozen works in progress (or… rather… in various states of progress), including at some point, a revised “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos.

And, while I’ve agreed to take on (at least part time) a consulting project headquartered in Mexico City which would only require occasional stays of a couple of days at a time, I have also long known that doing business in Mexico… even in the age of E-mail and video conferencing… is a face-to-face proposition. And, Mazatlán is not on the radar of most publishing and book distribution people. A one or two day fly-in visit is not enough time to hunt up sales people, buyers, distributors… nor is it always possible to do research for my own writing completely on-line.

So… I’m off to Mexico City tomorrow, and will be commuting back and forth for at least the next few months. I should be posting semi-regularly again by next week at some point. Here, or there… if not somewhere else.

“Hecho en México” doesn’t just mean built there…

7 April 2014

Via CCTV (China’s English-language service)…

Re-barring any more catastophe…

7 April 2014

Remember how the news was dominated by the big earthquake in Chile?

Neither do I… and, as Inca Kola News says, that’s news that should be reported:


chileSee that Rebar? That’s what good buildings have in seismic areas (for example, the house in which your humble scribe is currently typing these words, as it was built by us) and it’s precisely that kind of building standard that allows the very big quake and its aftershocks in well-built Iquique to become a minor news item just days after the event. Because that building was put together correctly, the very large and heavy concrete roof sheared and wobbled horizontally, causing the damage seen, but didn’t break off and pancake the house to nothing. Meanwhile, we’re still talking about the 2010 Haiti earthquake which measured at 7.0 mag, precisely and exactly because nobody could be bothered to put rebar into any of the concrete columns. Result, 220,000 dead bodies.

Building with rebar is expensive… much beyond the budget of poor Haitians. Outside of a few private initiatives, I haven’t heard of any governmental “assistance” going into any projects that just involve building better houses. Maybe scrap metal isn’t sexy enough for the NGOs and there’s not enough “concessions” in it for the banksters and “economic consultants” to think about, but the best rehabilitation project I can think of for any earthquake shattered region is “preventative medicine”… try to keep people from getting killed, and having buildings fall down in the first place.

(I’ll be living part time in Mexico City over the next few months, so earthquakes are on my mind).

Civil rights… if you can get them: Same sex marriage and abortion

7 April 2014

(Sombrero tip to Patrick Timmons)

Julio Salazar and Eduardo Piñón are the first same sex couple to be married in Cd. Juarez, the second such couple to contract a marriage in the State of Chihuahua… where the legal code defines marriage as:

…el acuerdo de voluntades entre un hombre y una mujer para realizar la comunidad de vida, en donde ambos se procuran respeto, igualdad y ayuda mutua, con la posibilidad de procrear hijos de manera libre, responsable e informada.

(…the voluntary agreement between a man and a woman to form a community for life, with respect, equality and mutual assistance, and with the ability to bear children in a free, responsible and informed manner).

Photo:  José Luis González,

Photo: José Luis González,

We’re in this weird situation in Mexico where just because something is legal doesn’t mean you don’t have to prove it’s legal.  Federal courts in Mexico consistently rule marriage codes like that in Chihuahua violate of both the constitutional guarantees of equality of gender, as well as equality regardless of physical ability (like bearing children).   And, since the constitution here guarantees the right to family planning, the ability to bear children is irrelevant to marriage.

However, unlike the United States, it would be unusual — if not impossible — one is only guaranteed the right to “struggle” for one’s own rights, or one’s rights as part of a class.  Which means, right now, the only same-gender marriages you are seeing outside of the Federal District and Quintana Roo (both of which explicitly allow for same-gender marriage in their civil codes) is if you have enough money to sue the State… and the persistence to follow the case through the Federal Court.

Sterling Bennett wrote this week about another right that exists more in theory than in practice and which can — and does — lead to more immediate consequences than a delay in legal recognition of a relationship.

indexIn 2007, the Federal District changed its criminal code to strike down any penalties for first trimester abortions.  Upheld by the Supreme Court, seventeen states criminalized the procedure… including in most, provisions that allow the woman who had the abortion to be imprisoned.  The situation is even more confusing in that all but three states permit abortion under some circumstances, with one state (Yucatan) adding  “economic necessity” to the usual list of rape, risk to the mother, or fetal deformity”  … while in a few, especially Guanajuato, women have been imprisoned for either seeking an abortion, or having a “suspicious” miscarriage (suspicious in the minds of the state ministry, anyway).  As Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian soon after the Federal District’s more lenient abortion law was upheld by the Supreme Court (and before there was a rush to add “life begins at conception” to a number of state constitutions):

The laws of most Mexican states allow terminations in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life or severe foetal deformities. In practice almost no states offer abortions in such cases. However, nor do they prosecute the doctors who offer safe illegal abortions or the cheaper life-threatening backstreet practitioners.

One needs to add that alternative (and technically illegal) first trimester abortions are often openly advertised (as treatments for “late menstruation”) and that in U.S. border states with restrictive abortion laws, like Texas, women of limited means go to Mexico for legal means to terminate their pregnancy, that are not considered abortions, and not covered under existing laws here).

Constitutionally, no state can have a more severe penalty than any other state for the same kind of crime.  But… with abortion NOT a crime in the Federal District, and with that constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to family planning, Federal Courts do uphold the rights of (in this instance) the defendant.

HOWEVER… as with same-sex marriage in states that do not permit such… the problem is getting an amparo.  It takes a lot longer than three months, and for women who have been jailed, it’s a matter of finding a lawyer, being able to hire a lawyer, and sitting out their sentence until their case comes before the judge.

Both the anomalous situation with same-sex marriage laws and with abortion laws unfairly affect the poor.  That the Constitution also guarantees equality before the law regardless of “social condition”… which, I suppose means, ability to hire a lawyer.  Which it would take hiring a lawyer to get to court to enforce the provision.





Who watches the watchers?

6 April 2014

How many unsuitable officers or infiltrators slipped through before the polygraph program was implemented or beat the test is anyone’s guess, though the bureau has tried to address the question.

The polygraph program in question is part of the hiring process for applicants for positions as Border Patrol agents. Only instituted six months ago, polygraph tests on would-be agents have turned up murderers, rapists, child molesters, kiddy porn producers, one pig-fucker, and a lot of former marijuana smugglers and more that a few people with serious substance abuse issues. How many future problems slipped through during the Border Patrol hiring frenzy that has been on-going since 2006 is anyone’s guess. We’ll probably start finding out about 2015:

One internal study on corruption, completed in December 2011, found that corrupt agents had been on the job an average of almost nine years before they were caught.

(Quotes and source: Andrew Becker, “On Polygraph Tests, Would-Be Border Patrol Agents Confess to Crimes,” Daily Beast, 4 April 2014)

Throwing more agents at the border (not the Canadian border, mind you, but the Mexican one) was more political grand-standing than anything else, and one area where the a government “make work project” was salable to conservatives on the argument that “THE GOVERNMENT MUST DO SOMETHING”, even if the “something” was as likely to cause more problems than whatever problem it was that the government was supposed to do something about ever did.

indexIt’s not that “corrupt” policemen are unique to Mexico, of course… the corrupt police officer (think of Claude Raines as Lieutenant Renault, in “Casablanca” who describes himself at one point as “just a corrupt police official”) and the cop who plays both sides of the law have been staples of fiction (and real crime news) everywhere. But, here in Mexico, it seems that our government MUST DO SOMETHING about police corruption.

The easiest way, and the one that gets the most attention is simply to hire new cops.

One is constantly seeing in the news that some police department or another is being completely replaced. When I read that, I wonder what happens to the ex-police officers, Is there any sort of career placement service, or are the left on their own? I suspect the latter, or that career placement has been outsourced to the same people who “corrupted” them in the first place. Every time some kidnapping ring, or hitmen are arrested, it seems at least one or two of them are described as a “former police officer”.

indexRecently, with the turn-about by the Peña Nieto administration on the “self-defense groups” in Michoacán… from potential “terrorists” to would be rural police, there have been… um… “issues”… with self-defense groups that may or may not be on the side of law and order, or have personal agendas… or, are operationally no different than any police they supposedly replace.

Where I have seen improvements in policing, it’s not been where there are just more cops, more trucks and more guns but where someone has gone to the effort of asking what a police officer should be: an unpaid peon, keeping the poor away from the rich?; a hired thug to be unleashed when there is a threat to the established order?; a collector of “human garbage” (as more than one cynical cop has defined his job)? Or a civil servant?

While I am afraid that all of the above are a policeman’s lot, where I have seen genuine improvements have been in places where questions have been asked about why the officers are of such low quality and what can be done to find better officers. Paying a decent livable wage was one answer. So was better physical training; and — what seems to have been most effective here — raising the educational requirements for recruits.

And polygraphs. They aren’t perfect by any means, but the better departments are at least weeding out some who never should be given a gun and a badge anywhere. Whether this means less “corruption” in the future, it’s hard to say.

BUT… and this is what I notice about both the Border Patrol and our “new” police. No one (or almost no one) asks the basic question… why do we need new officers? Is there a better way to handle immigration than throwing enforcers at it? What social needs are unmet, that police officers are needed to prevent unrest? Should the rich hire their own thugs (and should society as a whole be protected from them)? Can we recycle “human garbage” in some less wasteful manner?


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