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Some things to consider (re: “All Things Considered”)

7 February 2016

I have had several computer “challenges” over the last two weeks, and this is on a different machine, with its own quirks and some unfamiliar software.   Apologies in advance for the typos I know infest the piece.  I can’t figure out all the editing functions yet, and some just don’t work like I think they should.

“All Things Considered”, the popular news program from U.S. National Public Radio recently interviewed Luis Ortíz Perez … about whom I know only that he worked mostly with U.S. media (and both the CBC and BBC) before becoming the CEO of an “organization dedicated to producing digital solution for socially responsable projects”.   The subect was the announcement that Afro-Mexicans will be enumerated as a separate class (as Indigenous people were in the 2010 census) in the 2020 census.  This seemed remarkable to the U.S. broadcaster, Ortìz noting that “The last time people of African descent were counted was in the 19th century. The Mexican federal government is arriving late to the party. ”

Two observations.  “Race” itself was a northern European obsession, not one shared by Latin America.  While it is true that under the French-influenced Bourbon dynasty, the Spanish colonial system had a complex racial classification system (Peninsular, Criollo, Mestizo, Mulatto, Zambo, Pardo, Lobo, etc.), our political heritage is largely anti-racial.  The father of our country, José-María Morelos y Pavon, ridiculed the whole notion of “racial” designations, speaking to the Chilpancingo Convention (which wrote the first Constitution that designed all men, regardless of race, as equal) he said:

“We should do away with the picturesque jargon of black, mulatto, mestizo… and etc., and instead view ourselves geographically, calling ourselves Americans for where we are from, as do the English, and the French and that other Europ“We should do away with the picturesque jargon of black, mulatto, mestizo… and etc., and instead view ourselves geographically, calling ourselves Americans for where we are from, as do the English, and the French and that other European country that is oppressing us, and the Asian in Asia and the African in his part of the world.”

The Mexican census never included a category for “Afro-Mexico” after Independence (i.e. in the early 19th century) for the simple reason, it never mattered.  With two our our early presidents (Vicente Guerrero and Juan Alvarez) being either Afro-Mexican or “mulatto” depending on how you look at it, and any number of our major figures (including Lazaro Cardenas and Diego Rivera) thinking nothing of including sub-Saharan Africans in their blood-line, it was interesting to have some Afro-Latino ancestry, but only in that it put one squarely in what 20th century Mexican philospher José Vasconcellos defined as “la raza cósmica”… the “race” of all races (White, red, black, yellow, according the early 20th century categorization).

Ortíz is right in pointing out that there were three (and maybe four) “waves” of African migration to Mexico.  The first, hardly voluntary, was the slave trade of the late 16th to early 19th centuries.  However, slavery was  abolished at Independence, and was never as economically intergral to Mexican agricultura as it was in the United States.  Given that the child of a Mexican slave and a free person was not a slave by birth, even during slave days, Africans were assimilating, marrying free women, or — following emancipation — tended to live in the general community and were not segregated as in the English-speaking world.

A second wave (overlooked by Ortíz) was in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Slaves from the United States self-emanipated not only by heading for Canada, but heading here as well.  With the imposition of “Jim Crow Laws” in the U.S., and the on-going problems with segregation and prejudice in the United States, led African-Americans to move to Mexico up into the 1950s and 60s.

Ortíz considers the migration of small numbers of Africans in the latter period to be related to decolonization in Africa (true in part), but more Afro-Mexicans who trace their ancestry in this country to those years were from West Indian or South American families.  And, of course, Africans are still migrating, either for political or economic reasons, along with West Indians (especially Cubans) and Central Americans of African descent.

While Ortíz sees Mexico “catching up” with the global north in recognizing “race”, I tend to see his remark as simply another example of those who insist we are “backwards” for not sharing the same obsessions as our northern neighbors.  Don´t get me wrong… there isn’t anything sinister in identifying Afro-Mexicans, and in collecting data that permits the state to target certain areas for special consideration.  But I think he misses the rationale, and the importance of what is being proposed.

The only questions on the 2010 census at all related to ethnicity had to do with identifying Indigenous Mexicans.  Defined as those who had a cultural tie to a community dating back before the Conquest (1524), the census also asked those who were self-identified as Indigenous what language their parents spoke.  Most questions on the census (other the standard ones about age, place of birth, number of persons in the household) had to do with living standards:  what kind of floor the house had, what appliances we owned, educational level, etc.). But put those two together, and there is excellent data for arguing that indigneous community have a lower standard of living, and it identified those communities that required special services …. either minority language education, or housing assistance … due a long-neglected and abused community.

There are Afro-Mexican communities that share certain characteristics of indigenous communities, although they do not have an identity going back to before 1524,  Some, like the well-known Afro-Mexicans of Guerrero — descendants of freed or escaped slaves who settled in isolated communities — simply were cut off from the Mexican mainstream.  Others, like the “Black Seminoles” of Chihuahua, migrated en masse from elsewhere, but — like the Mennonites and Mormons — came with a communal identity based on things other than those recognized by our Constitution.

I suppose there is some value in knowing how much of the Mexican population considers itself of African descent… given that we’ve learned that medications tested only on those of north European descent don’t always work the same way on those of other ethnic heritages, but I don’t see that Mexico is so much “arriving late” to the concerns of the global north as it is a case that so much of what is newsworthy to our richer neighbors is that we sometimes do things the way they do… whether needed or not.

Jalisco: let us not admit impediments

27 January 2016

Love is not love, which alters where it alteration finds… except in the 26 states where same-sex marriages … while legal… still require one to obtain an amparo from the federal courts.  Although the Supreme Court definitively ruled that same-sex marriages are a constitutional right, and the court can (and did) order the states to change their marriage laws to meet constitutional standards, it has only limited power to force them to do so.  And, for historical reasons, “state’s rights” in constitutional matters are difficult to overcome. While the ruling is binding on all federal courts, and the Supreme Court can tell the states to change their marriage laws, it can’t force them to do so.  UNLESS… there are at least five rulings by federal courts within the state finding the law unconstitutional.

While in a few states, the legislatures have simply accepted that they need to change their marriage laws, the rest — to avoid the hassle, or to give cover to politicians scared to death to actually take a not-particularly controversial stand — are trying to shift the burden for making changes to the federal courts. Federal courts will automatically follow the Supreme Court’s ruling, and grant an “amparo” (injunction) for same-sex couples to marry.  So, in theory, a same-sex couple can marry anywhere in Mexico… provided they can invest the time, money, and energy into filing for an amparo.   Although there are any number of organizations and individuals working to bring same sex marriage cases to the federal courts, it’s a slow process.

But in Jalisco, the process has been short-circuited.  While Puerto Vallarta may be a “gay mecca” and Guadalajara might show a modernist facade, the state was the heartland of the Cristero movement and has been notoriously reactionary.  When the Federal District opened marriage to same-sex couples, Jalisco’s legislature was quick to pass a “one man-one woman” marriage law… too quick, it turns out.

Having overlooked the age at which one can marry, the state legislature had to revisit their marriage law and tweak it.  Little noticed, and uncontroversial in itself, the change did open a window of opportunity for lawyers to question the constitutionality of what was in effect a new marriage law passed after the Supreme Court’s ruling.  And for the Supreme Court to make Jalisco the sixth state (including the Federal District, which is becoming a state) to those places in Mexico that joined the 21st century.






State-sponsored terror: British arms to Mexico increase 6,000% in nine months

26 January 2016

Source: State-sponsored terror: British arms to Mexico increase 6,000% in nine months

Is Spanglish a lengua?

20 January 2016

Sí, according to Ilan Stavans:

Podcast Ep 6: Clickear Here

What was left unsaid

11 January 2016

I’m not particularly bothered by the complaint among “professional journalists” that the video-interview with Chapo was from prepared questions:  that’s not all that unusual when the subject won’t speak to the media in any other way.  Nor am I all that bent out of shape by Chapo’s insistence on reviewing the story.  Although unusual, Penn’s story was more about Penn than Chapo and the video-interview was what mattered…  a “letter to the world” from an important and new-worthy source.

What does bother me is that the heart of the interview was not released.  It’s nice to know what Chapo thinks of his mom, but left out was this part (my translation):

I am not the problem. Even if they kill me, if I cease to exist, there will have no effect on drug trafficking. I already have a replacement who will follow mean in the trade. I am not the problem: the problem is the United States clamoring for the goods. Provided there is demand, there will be people who want to be in business: you are the problem.

I did not cause problems, I only defended myself. The problem is the government that you have given all the power, the government taking their cut and pretending to know nothing, then comes searching for me. The problem is lack of work and penury, while they hoard their money. Where I come from, there was no other way to survive, no other way. Government is the problem, and those that believe in the government are the problem, not me.


The thrill that’ll get ‘cha, when you get your picture…

10 January 2016

ScreenHunter_40 Jan. 10 02.32

Naturally, everyone is interested in Chapo… less so in Sean Penn (who cares about his farts?), and the article in Rolling Stone seems more about Mr. Penn than about Chapo… but still, it is an important piece and attention must be paid.  Although badly edited (or not edited at all) and chock full of irrelevant details (about Mr. Penn, his flatulance, his ramblings on his penis, his claims not to know how to use a computer — while at the same time using technical acronyms like BMM) and an overuse of the first person singular, there is value in what Gawker calls “A presumably edited, rambling 11,000-word account of a madman’s meeting with a criminal. ”

The squawk about “journalistic ethics” of giving the subject control over the interview (“obviously, unambiguously indefensible to give the subject of an interview/article final say over its publication” said Chris Hayes of MSNBC) seems overblown — one having to ask how else such an interview, by an actor (not a journalist) would be conducted elsewise.  I am more concerned by the possible role (intentional or otherwise) Mr. Penn and The Rolling Stone played in what may have been a bloodbath in rural Badiraguato.

I know real journalist who say they’d kill for a good story, but in this instance, an amateur journalist may have gotten a lot of other people killed. As Penn (or the RS editors) note, following the interview:

There were additional reports that 13 Sinaloa communities had been ravaged with gunfire during simultaneous raids. La Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (the National Commission for Human Rights) struggled to enter the area but were prohibited. Villagers protested their treatment by the military. By the time news agencies broadcast the story in the United States, the mayhem throughout Sinaloa in those days had been essentially reduced to a nearly successful raid that had surgically targeted only Chapo and his men, and claimed he had been injured in flight with face and leg wounds.

The late, legendary, Mexican journalist Julio Scherer García, famed for his saying “If I could interview the Devil, I’d go to Hell” managed a more in-depth, enlightening interview in 2010 when the then octogenarian Scherer met with “El Mayo” Zambada. Scherer, like Penn, told of the security measures he needed to interview the “irregular agricultural export trader”, but the focus of the story was on the so-called “cartel” leader, and on the business itself and not on the details of obtaining the interview.

Naturally, outside Mexico, Scherer’s coup was practically ignored:  which is what gives the shallow Rolling Stone “interview” its oversize importance.  Although there are plenty of narcotics/human trafficking/gunrunning organizations around, when U.S. law enforcement agencies (followed by the media) started dubbing them “cartels” (and… in an absurd attempt to make them seem more a military than police issue… “TCOs” [Transnational Criminal Organizations]), there had to be a “Mr. Big”… and Chapo fit the bill, becoming the poster boy for those who want a villain to blame for social ills.  Buried in Sean Penn’s Excellent Adventures there is at least the recognition that Chapo is less a super-villain, than just a hillbilly made good.  That Joaquín Guzmán Loera is even in the “drug” trade has more to do with abject poverty in the Mexican countryside than anything else; that if people buy “drugs” they are going to be sold; that foreign corporations (unnamed, supposedly by Chapo’s own preference) are eagerly profiting from the “investments” created by the trade; and that Chapo himself is rather unimportant in the scheme of things when it comes to these sort of enterprises.


Cutting through the weed

3 January 2016

An interesting footnote to the much hyped ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court that allowed a few individuals to grow and use marijuana if they so wished.  They don’t want to, and don’t intend to do so.

I don’t think the position taken by those four people, whose rationale for the suit was an interest in public health and personal rights, is particularly out of the Mexican mainstream.  As Pablo Giralt, one of the four, said:

… I have no desire to use cannabis.  The point was to reaffirm the liberal state and to approach drugs from a  health and not a criminal perspective.

Gerald and the others could have easily made the same argument for the (re)legalization of heroin — and maybe should have —  rather than marijuana. In theory, heroin possession (up to 50 mg) and other drugs, including a very small amount of marijuana (40 grams) is not a criminal offense, and hasn’t been since 2009.

All of which makes it less than likely that the “National Debate on the Use of Marijuana” is going to be much more than an academic and political exercise of more interest to foreigners than to Mexicans themselves.

Jan-Albert Hootsen lays out the main arguments of those opposing further legalization in “Vice News“…. all based on the presumption that marijuana legalization will do nothing to lessen the problems of organized crime.  What is troubling is that the court’s ruling had nothing to do with the effects on organized crime.   While the effect of legalization on organized crime is an issue — the claims that legalization is meant to weaken the reach of criminals were ones more likely to be raised in consumer nations (above all in the United States) than in producer nations.

As I’ve pointed out before, marijuana usage in Mexico is extremely low.  Despite the anecdotal “evidence” (usually by foreigners living in “expat” enclaves) to the contrary, the best estimate of cannabis consumption in Mexico is about 1.2 percent of the population (compared to 14.8 percent in the United States). While I suppose it is possible that personal consumption rates would rise with legality, it certainly would have little or no effect on the marijuana trade:  there just aren’t enough consumers — and, given the court’s ruling, the consumers would be growers themselves — to mean anything at all.   What is done in Netherlands (consumption rate estimate 7.0 percent) or Uruguay (8.3 percent, and — like the United States, next door to a major producer, Paraguay) is completely irrelevant to Mexico.

Even if one assumes that this “opens to door” to full legalization, I see more problems than solutions.  Perhaps the so-called cartels would get out of the marijuana business (and into the human trafficking, opium and heroin production, meth lab, and extortion trade instead), but so what?  Despite the best arguments from marijuana enthusiasts in the United States and Canada, that their “good weed” will drive “Mexican ditchweed” off the market, basic economics tells me that cheap (even inferior) products drive higher priced (although superior) sell better.

We’ve seen a few “mega-plantations” of marijuana — in water scarce areas like Durango and Baja California — even while the cultivation is illegal.  One fears for our water tables if marijuana was to be a commercial product.  And, while what returns to the rural community from the illegal trade is only a pittance, the gangsters have to win the “hearts and minds” of their suppliers if they are to do business at all.  While the “cartels” might be terrible people, they are locals, and some sense of noblesse oblige — or at least a paternal attitude towards employees and their community.  After all, they live there.  What will be the effect on rural economies and on rural workers should the industry be controlled by foreign corporations?

 I’m sure legalization will generate a lot of excitement in some quarters, but don’t expect it to give birth to … anything.  Or, as Edgardo Buscaglia puts it, absent a decent regulatory system for business and industry, any talk about legalization is just “legal masturbation.”



Enciso, Froylan. When Drugs Were Legal in Mexico (Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, 20 February, 2012)

The Four Mexicans who don’t smoke marijuana but wanted freedom of choice (El Universal English, 5 November 2015).

Hootsen, Jan-Albert. Opposition to Weed Legalization Unites Mexico’s President With One of His Harshest Critics (Vice News, 1 January, 2016)

Malkin, Elizabeth and Azam Ahmad. Ruling in Mexico Sets Into Motion Legal Marijuana (New York Times, 4 November 1015)

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  World Drug Report 2014

Usborne, David. Heroin and cocaine now legal in Mexico — in small doses (The Independent, 14 August 2009)



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