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Was it good for you, too?

10 January 2015

© 2014 John Kirsch. Originally published in Adirondack Review.

Right at the end of my book, Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, in mentioning recent trends in Mexico, I wrote

Foreigners, particularly retirees from the United States and Canada, learning that México is a relatively inexpensive, stable place to live, flood into the country…

With my publisher located in one of those towns where those foreigners were flooding in, my editor tried to add something about “enjoying the good life” to my original text.  And, as I recall, something about sitting on the beach and “delicious” food.  While I did allow mention of “retirement visas” in, I was rather annoyed with the “suggestions” and struck them out as inappropriate.  I can understand the temptation the editor had, but I was merely describing political and economic trends, and tourism as a new industry, not recommending it any more than I recommend traditional industries like mining or manufacturing.

Having later been hired by my publisher, I was, in a small way, expected to be part of the establishment in my own little town, or at least the expat establishment.  I suppose for many, a place like Mazatlán is the “good life”… whatever that is.  The weather is generally good, and there’s a beach.  The bars and restaurants are convivial, and the cost of living is such that those with a decent pension can acquire a lifestyle to which they would like to become accustomed.  But that wasn’t my purpose in living there, nor are the “leisure options” things I would necessarily chose for myself (not as an everyday activity anyway).  And — having lived in some very tiny and isolated places at various times (I rather enjoyed being one of the 6000 or so souls in Alpine, Texas) — it’s not so much a matter of having a wide circle of potential acquaintances that convinced me to move back to Mexico City as it is a matter of being able to pursue whatever it is that makes for a “good life”.

Like most resort areas, outsiders … whether we are comfortable in the new culture or not… are steered into “expat community” activities.  I know several fine people who have found meaningful “second career” in some sort of volunteer organization (whether professionally run, or ad hoc) but I was pursuing a first career, and — while writers can work anywhere, and with the internet, it’s possible to pursue most (not all ) scholarly research — I did need to earn my daily bread and had little time or inclination for the usual charities.

As I recall, my editor, when he hired me, told the “community” I was going to write a history of Mazatlan as a follow up to “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos”… something I had no real intention of doing, but I did look into it… and decided it wasn’t something I could do… or even wanted to do.  But, such is the lure of “paradise” that one assumes one’s own life — or lifestyle — is of general interest to everyone.  Perhaps a local history might sell… locally.  Perhaps it might even be praised… locally.  Perhaps one even might be taken seriously… locally.  Provided, of course, one is thinking locally.

There were also sound business reasons for moving to Mexico City, from what one of our published books calls “Paradise” (and for the author, and his audience, it is), but perhaps more importantly, there was a need to get out of the localism and assumption I was there for the “good life” and only the “good life”… and the overwhelming assumption that the “good life” is the life one wants for him or herself.


John Kirsch,  wrote the following about the issues that arise when your work doesn’t reflect the “good life”.  He has been exhibiting photographs since the late 1970s, and worked for several years as a photographer and newspaper reporter in Iowa and Texas before moving to Mexico.

For several years I’ve been working on a writing and photography project about my paternal grandmother and the lobotomy she had in the early 1950s.

The project has been a journey into a dark corner of my family’s history – and the nation’s, too. My mother only revealed the secret to me many years later, after I had committed myself to a mental hospital in Texas for several days for work-related stress. The revelation made me see my grandmother, who passed away in 1993, as a kindred spirit and I set out to learn more about her experience, and that of others like her, who were committed to institutions like Cherokee State Hospital.

Thousands of people, such as my grandmother, were lobotomized from the 1930s to the 1950s. Some, such as Rosemary Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, were permanently incapacitated. My grandmother was apparently one of the lucky ones. She always seemed happy and cheerful in family gatherings in the late 1950s and early 60s. 

My efforts have resulted in essays published in Iowa newspapers and the outline of a novel in which the lobotomy figures prominently. Last summer The Adirondack Review, a respected online literary and arts magazine in the States, published my photo/text essay featuring some of the photographs I’ve taken in the museum at the mental hospital in Cherokee, Iowa.

 © 2014 John Kirsch. Originally published in Adirondack Review.

© 2014 John Kirsch. Originally published in Adirondack Review.

But I live in Mazatlan and thought it would be nice to show my Cherokee photos here. I have an artist’s ego and wanted to show people here that I’m doing serious photography. I knew my work was challenging, a departure from the usual fare of sunsets and seascapes, but I decided to take a chance and see if a local arts organization would be interested in showing it.  I’m old-fashioned enough to want to make actual prints and hang them on a wall. So, in October, I contacted an arts organization here in Mazatlan, about having an exhibit in their space.

Not only did the Director like my photos, she proposed that I do a slide presentation in the theater before an audience.

A date was set for Jan. 7, then postponed till Feb. 4.

It didn’t occur to me to take the postponement as a sign of softening support. But suddenly quizzical emails from the Director did. I sought assurance that my presentation on Feb. 4 was still on the calendar. Just in time for Christmas I learned that it had been postponed yet again. Soon thereafter the entire project collapsed.

Since the presentation, in whatever form, is not going to happen, at least in Mazatlán, it seems pointless to dwell on the reasons given for scuttling my project. I will say I found the reasons to be unconvincing.

But the experience has caused me to look inward a little, too. Maybe I was naive to approach an arts organization that appears to cater primarily to snowbirds. I can easily imagine elderly couples from Vancouver or Seattle frowning in disapproval at my black and white photographs of straitjackets and the long, needle-like instruments once used to perform lobotomies. If I can imagine that happening, then so could the people running the show.

The larger context is important, too. Like any tourist town (or any town, period), Mazatlan is infected with boosterism. Criticism of existing institutions, especially gringo institutions, is discouraged, at least in public.

Already, an English-language weekly here has turned down an essay on my experiences with the local arts establishment. Inappropriate for a tourist paper, the editor told me. I got no response after telling the editor of another tourist paper what my essay was about.

Something good has come out of this frustrating experience. I had been weighing the daunting prospects of moving to Mexico City.  Having been born in a small town in Iowa and growing up in Des Moines, which is about as close as Iowa comes to having a real city. Crowds and noise bother me, perhaps more than many other people. The prospect of living in such a gigantic place — with a population 60 times greater than that of Des Moines — is daunting to me. I try to convince myself that the chances of getting my work recognized are much greater in a place such as Mexico City, noise and all.

But when I visited my partner, Richard, in Mexico City recently we met with Jack Little, the editor of the internationally distributed poetry magazine,Ofipress.

The editor likes my Cherokee photos and has asked a poet friend to write about the images.

One door closes, another one opens (maybe).

The crimes of Padre Pérez … and Marciel Maciel

6 January 2015

The ghost of pedophile, drug-addict, embezzler, apparent blackmailer, and — incidentally — founder of the Legion of Christ, still hovers over the Prelature of Cancún.  Despite a troubled path to ordination (his scandalous behavior as a seminarian allegedly caused his uncle, the-Bishop, now Saint Rafael Guizar, to have a fatal heart attack), the Michaocán priest rose to prominence within the Church under John Paul II’s Papacy, as the founder and leader of an order that was seen as a counterweight to “liberation theology”.  Although controversial, Legion seminarians and priests took not only the traditional oaths of poverty, chastity, and obedience required in many traditional orders, but also vows of humility and personal allegiance to the Pope… and Marciel Maciel.

Always having an eye towards the “main chance,” The future Papal adviser on Mexican affairs saw as early as 1970 that the planned resort town of Cancún would attract the kind of wealth that he could profitably milk, and through his friendship with then Mexican President Luis Echeverría was able to convince Pope Paul VI to create… not a dioceses (where the regular clergy would normally run things) but a Prelature for “missionaries”… specifically Legion of Christ priests.

Before his downfall and banishment (to Jacksonville, Florida of all places… although how a wanted pedophile was able to get a visa to the United States has never been explained) by Pope Benedict XVI, the Legion of Christ and Maciel had “locked in” Cancún, not only filling Prelature offices (with the present bishop,Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas, plucked from teaching at a Legion of Christ seminary in the United States), but also serving as parish priests to Cancún’s growing service workers.

Enter Padre Pablo Pérez Guajardo.  Before and after his ordination in 1991, Padre Peréz had worked for Maciel and the Legion in Rome,  in a number of administrative posts.  A native of Playa del Carmen, he returned to Mexico in 2006 to care for his terminally ill mother, and after her death was sent by the order “on the road” as a “spiritual director” to would-be wealthy donors to Maciel and his order.  Landing in Cancún, was ordered back to Playa del Carmen, and wait.

Padre Pablo … without so much as a by your leave from his Bishop… took up the duties of a normal parish priest in a Mayan working class neighborhood.  Seeing that the Prelature’s reason for existence was supposedly to provide priests to the Mayans (at least that’s what Maciel had told Echivierra and Paul VI), there wasn’t a whole lot Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo could do about a priest who was doing the kinds of things “good shepherds” should be doing… assisting his parishioners in negotiating the bureaucracy, pushing for better social services for the neighborhood, working with social workers to lower the high suicide rate among Mayan youths.  Not exactly “liberation theology” (which the Legion was meant to counter), but the “church of the poor” was not exactly what the Legion was all about either.  In other words, Padre Pablo went rogue from the rogues.

That in itself made Padre Pérez a pain in the ecclesiastic wazoo, but it was when Pérez started spilling the inside dope on Maciel, and on the workings of the Legion that the Bishop acted.  In September 2010 (Maciel had died in disgrace in January 2008), while the Legion was still fighting off forced reorganization, but had released priests from the vows to Maciel, Pérez wrote the new head of the order, detailing not only what he knew about Maciel’s corruption and pedophilia, but that of other priests in the order.  Worse yet, he stated telling whoever would listen about the ties between local clerical and political corruption, especially when he saw collusion between local officials and the clergy that worked against the interests of his own parishioners.  By 2014, when Padre Pérez was laying out his accusations in the national press, the Bishop finally had to “do something”.

With the Legion having been in under forced reorganization … and rather like a bankrupt business under a special master, its management being overseen by an outsider… and with even its wealthy backers loathe to be connected to it… and a new Pope who seems to favor the “church of the poor”, the best Bishop Elizondo could come up with was to claim Pérez was challenging “ecclesiastical unity” (in other words, out of step with the status quo).  As Pérez put it,  “The bishop was very upset because I’m outside the ecclesiastical chain of command. And if that were not enough, some parents in Playa del Carmen complained to Bishop Elizondo that I was teaching Liberation Theology, to which I replied I’m not, but simply being close to the people.”

To undermine Pérez, the most the Bishop suspended Baptisms for children whose parents received pre-baptismal counseling from Pérez.  And ordered Pérez not to perform Baptisms.  It was obviously meant to undermine his “spiritual authority” but mostly has meant that Padre Pérez is spending less time with expectant parents and new babies, and more time hounding the municipal authorities for better pre-natal care and assistance for the Mayans… and building political ties with opposition politicians and other working priests.

Just after Christmas, the Bishop gave up, restoring the rights of Padre Pérez to baptize children and counsel their parents.  Sometimes the right side wins.

Blanche Petrich, “La prelatura de Cancún, gran empresa de la Legión de Cristo” La Jornada, 21 April 2014
Sergio Caballero, “Levantan parcialmente veto a sacerdote que criticó a los Legionarios de Cristo,” Proceso, 5 January 2015
Fascist pervert Marcial Maciel dies. Good, Mexfiles, 31 January 2008


1 January 2015

Via Mexico Daily News:

It will cost more to gas up today, but less to make some phone calls.

Effective today, there is no such thing as a long-distance charge for telephone calls within Mexico, from either fixed-line or cellular phones. Elimination of the charge came with federal telecommunications reforms.

Mexico’s dominant player in the telephone business took the new rules a step further this week by eliminating international long-distance charges as well. Carlos Slim’s Telmex made changes to its telephone and internet packages by dropping tariffs on worldwide long-distance calling.

Subcomandante Marcos talks with America del ValleIt also included its video-on-demand service, ClaroVideo, as part of the packages, without additional cost. Those changes also take effect today.

Gas and diesel fuel went up today by 3%, based on the projected inflation rate. It will be the only increase this year.


Actually, it won’t be the only fuel increase this year.  EPN celebrated the New Year by breaking yet another of his promises.

How to succeed in business: the Sinaloa Cartel

31 December 2014

Writing in Nexos, University of London post-doctoral student David Peréz Esparza outlines the reasons the Sinaloa Cartel is one of the world’s most successful companies.  As a multi-national company (with sales and marketing outlets in 54 counties (compared to Cemex, which only operates in 17) with a 35 percent world-wide market share in its core product (marijuana), and with more employees than McDonalds, perhaps it might be profitable to other entrepreneurs to study the factors leading to the Sinaloan’s success.

Peréz acknowledges the Sinaloan’s geographical advantage — production facilities close to transportation.  Besides the port of Mazatlán and excellent roads — incidentally vastly improved under the Calderón Administration thanks to the new Mazatlán-Durango highway — Sinaloa has airfields (recognized and otherwise) offering easy access to their single most important outlet, the United States.  Having acquired facilities in a number of other seaports  (Manzanillo, Lazaro Cárdenas, Acapulco and Salina Cruz) within a comfortable proximity, vastly simplified the ability of the Sinaloans to dominate the export market.

While there has been some drop in sales lately, due to moves to legalize marijuana in the United States, the Sinaloans, opiates remain steady, with some growth in sales, and with it’s already existing transportation facilities in place, has been able to adjust to changing consumer demand.  Ports are not only for export.  China and Mongolia provide the ingredients needed for methamphetamine production, and with the Sinaloan’s sales force already in place, there seems to be an unlimited growth ahead.

More than geography and product delivery though, what has been essential to the success of the Sinaloans has been their management structure and successful branding.  Mixing the best of both worlds, the Sinaloan mangement strategy has been to adopt both the common Asian business model, with key executive positions held by people related by blood or marriage, with the model used by successful U.S. and European firms of hiring outside experts for specific tasks (accounting, software design, money laundering, murder) as needed.  Having avoided expanding beyond what is necessary to preserve the core business of peripheral trades like extortion, kidnapping, truck highjacking, and murder for hire, has given the Sinaloans a reputation as the “best” in their trade… evidenced perhaps by the reluctance of the government to pursue high level leaders of the Cartel, as opposed to the “low hanging fruit” of groups like the Beltran-Leyva Family, the Zetas.  The Sinaloans have been masters of “soft” media manipulation:  when they slaughter their rivals or potential threats to their own interests, they are very good at how they present their side of the story.  Their “narco-mantas” (the poorly spelled banners they hang up at the scene of the crime)  give a rationale for their acts are less a taunt of their would-be rivals or those seeking to close down their industry, as it is a “sorry we had to do this” note… that they know will be reported, bad spelling and all.  The bad spelling probably isn’t intentional, but it does help, in creating the popular image of the Sinaloans as “hillbillies” simply trying to make a living, and not the sophisticated international luxury goods supplier that it is.  One suspects the attention the Cartel pays to popular culture… commissioning corridos and other “low-brow” entertainment… is part of the same branding strategy.

Certainly, they have been a successful business, and with their funds, are able — as with other multinationals — to underwrite political campaigns and to steer public policy towards their own interests.  One wonders why business professors are endlessly gabbing on about Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, or holding up UPS or McDonalds as models of successful businesses other than they just can’t imagine a bunch of yahoos from back of beyond Mexico are just as capable of forming successful international firms as any gringo.

Well, there is that whole “criminal” thing… but still…



Amaranth brings tidings of comfort and joy to depressives

29 December 2014

On nearly any busy street corner or bus stop in Mexico, you’ll find people selling amaranth and honey bars… a traditional snack food that goes back to pre-Conquest Mexico, and known as “alagría” (“joy”). I like ‘em, and always feel good when I eat one, but always thought it was just they taste so darn good. It’s more than that.

“Words often hide a wisdom revealed to whoever is willing to see what is behind them,” said Manuel Soriano Garcia, a research scientist at UNAM’s Instituto de Química. Soriano has been studying the chemical properties of amaranth, which – while not providing instant joy  – has proven useful in treating depression at trials conducted at the National Institutes of Neurology and Psychiatry.

indexAmaranthus hypochondriacus, the naturally occurring tryptophan in Amaranth “won’t make you jump up and dance, but it has proven useful when a person’s mood sinks and helps them get out of their depression as quickly as possible,” he said, holding out the possibility of creating pharmaceutical quality amaranth capsules as an alternative to medications like Prozac.

“Commercial antidepressants work by saturation, meaning six weeks must elapse before the patient sees any improvement, and even then may suffer from side effects.

“In contrast, we lay hold of a plant eaten by our ancestors for thousands of years, which has an almost immediate effect and, most importantly, without the ravages that accompany chemical treatments” said Soriano.


(Adiós a la depresión con el amaranto, La Silla Rota, 23 December 2014)



Blessed are the rich…

28 December 2014

Not my normal post, but couldn’t pass up this venture into neo-liberal (what USAnians call “Libertarian”) thinking, as re-told by Fr. James Martin, S.J., and published in the progressive Jewish publication, Tikkun. 


The Rich and Therefore Blessed Young Man

1. As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  2. And Jesus said to him, “What have you done so far?” 3. And he said to Him, “Well I was born into a wealthy family, got into a good school in Galilee because my parents donated a few thousand talents for a building with a nice reed roof, and now I have a high-paying job in the Roman treasury managing risk.” 4. Looking at him, Jesus felt an admiration for him, and said to him, “Blessed are you!  For you are not far from being independently wealthy.” And the man was happy.  Then Jesus said, “But there is one thing you lack: A bigger house in a gated community in Tiberias. Buy that and you will have a treasure indeed.  And make sure you get a stone countertop for the kitchen.  Those are really nice.”  The disciples were amazed.  5. Peter asked him, “Lord, shouldn’t he sell all his possessions and give it to the poor?” Jesus grew angry.  “Get behind me, Satan!  He has earned it!”  Peter protested: “Lord,” he said, “Did this man not have an unjust advantage?  What about those who are not born into wealthy families, or who do not have the benefit of a good education, or who, despite all their toil, live in the poorer areas of Galilee, like Nazareth, your own home town?”  6. “Well,” said Jesus, “first of all, that’s why I left Nazareth.  There were too many poor people always asking me for charity.  They were as numerous as the stars in the sky, and they annoyed me.  Second, once people start spending again, like this rich young man, the Galilean economy will inevitably rebound, and eventually some of it will trickle down to the poor.  Blessed are the patient!  But giving the money away, especially if he can’t write it off, is a big fat waste.”  The disciples’ amazement knew no bounds.  “But Lord,” they said, “what about the passages in both the Law and the Prophets that tell us to care for widows and orphans, for the poor, for the sick, for the refugee?  What about the many passages in the Scriptures about justice?” 7. “Those are just metaphors,” said Jesus.  “Don’t take everything so literally.”

Time is on my side, yes it is!

28 December 2014

Sylvia Ribera in La Jornada (translation by Jane Brundage for Mexico Voices):

Another year is ending in which the struggles of the peoples of corn, in various ways, continue to impede the release of genetically modified [GM] corn in Mexico, its center of origin. It is an issue of global importance and a breath of fresh air in the face of such disaster that the country is living through, with a State that massacres daughters and sons, young people, peasants, indigenous people.

dia1In its final report delivered in November of 2014, the international jury of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (TPP) called for banning GM corn in Mexico, in order to contain the contamination and violation of the rights of the peoples who created the corn. It appealed to several UN agencies, such as the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and the Convention on Biological Diversity, to fulfill their global obligation to protect the center of origin of maize [corn] ( It supported the legal measure that suspended the planting of GM corn in response to the collective action filed by 53 individuals and 20 organizations, and that still stands, despite the concerted attack by multinationals and the government.

Corn is one of the three main staple food grains across the planet, and it is the greatest agricultural feat that humanity has inherited. The foods we eat were not originally as we know them today. All the seeds cultivated in the world are the result of collective care, of the mutual breeding that indigenous and peasant communities have been doing for centuries, converting the seeds into the heritage of the peoples in the service of humanity, as reviewed in La Via Campesina [The Peasant Way]. From the teocintle, which is almost a grass, Mesoamerican communities created a plant with ears that presents an enormous variety of colors, sizes, flavors, properties, and that grows from the hotlands at sea level up into the cold mountains at altitudes of 3,000 meters [9,800 feet]. When the conquistadores arrived, corn was grown from Canada to Tierra del Fuego. Corn is a humanized plant: it neither exists nor multiplies without the action of human beings. But its pollen is spread on the wind and by insects and birds. Corn marries with other corn varieties, and those [hybrids] with still others, moving, brightening both themselves and us, coming back to grow again thanks to peasant hands that take in the corn, feed it and from it feed themselves and feed us.

2661Genetically modified corns violate all this. They are hybrids developed in the laboratory, to which genes are introduced from species that would never interbreed in nature, only to serve the great, standardized industrial production, with heavy machinery, using great quantities of pesticides. They are not in order to increase production, since the crop yields are equal to or less than already existing corn hybrids, but like all the genetically modified organisms [GMO’s], they are a tool for corporate control. These GMO’s and seeds are patented by a few transnational companies who are aiming for total control of farmers and seeds. Once in the [open] field, GM contamination is not only inevitable, but it has serious consequences for corn farmers, the environment and health, but it is business for these companies.

Monsanto, DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow, have about 95 percent of the global market for GM seeds. In turn, Monsanto and DuPont (through its subsidiary PHI Mexico) control 95 percent of the market for hybrid corn seed in Mexico. These powerful companies cannot believe that they have still failed to legalize the cultivation of GM corn in Mexico, especially when the official trend has been to deliver the nation’s wealth to the higher transnational bidder. The government authorized hundreds of thousands of hectares of GM cotton and soybeans and since September 2012, it wanted to authorize the commercial planting of GM corn. It came up against widespread resistance from the peoples, social movements and organizations, environmentalists, intellectuals, artists, scientist critics, consumers, both nationally and internationally, that blocked it.

Injunctions filed by organizations of beekeepers on the Yucatán Peninsula stopped the legal planting of GM soybeans, which threatens to end beekeeping and the peasants who make their living from it. In the case of corn, the popular resistance has been ongoing for more than a decade, managing to postpone experimental plantings for years and paralyzing commercial planting. In October 2013, a protective injunction decreed by Judge Jaime Manuel Marroquín ordered the suspension of authorizations for experimental and commercial plantings, before a class action lawsuit legally represented by Collective AC and Seeds of Life [Semillas de Vida].

imagesSince then, these companies, together with SAGARPA [Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food] and SEMARNAT [Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources], have presented 90 appeals in various courts, trying to reverse the suspension. All have failed. This case of the State working with multinationals against the public interest and for the transfer of ownership of one of the country’s vital assets, is one of the examples that the TPP used to demonstrate the diversion of power systematically engaged in by the Mexican State.

Corn is forever woven into the life of the peoples, and there is no time for ending the resistance to the dispossession. As the TPP wrote in its ruling, picking up on the testimony by Luis Hernández Navarro about the situation in Mexico:

“The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Mexico Chapter, is simultaneously witness and midwife of a new reality. They, up there, have the timepiece. You and us, down here, we have the time.”


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