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A plague of locusts?

30 October 2015

The “Prophet of the Most High God Jehovah of the Army”, Juan Hernández López, is warning that San Cristobol de las Casas needs a name change… or else.

The “or elses” are detailed in a letter sent to San Cristobal’s municipal president, Marco Antonio Cancano Gonzales, dated 23 September, warning that if the city’s name was not changed (along with “converting” the municipal palace into a shrine to said “Most High God”) to “Ciudad de Jehová de los Ejércitos”, there was a risk of

  • tornados
  • earthquakes
  • hurricanes
  • giant hail strikes
  • drought
  • floods
  • a plague of locusts
  • meteorites
  • and… a tsunami.

While we are just hearing of this immanent threat now, I suppose one might want to be warned that San Crisobal (about 200 Km from the Pacific, and 300 Km from the Atlantic Ocean).   Watch out for falling meteors.



Refer madness

29 October 2015

Despite the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) deciding to delay by a week (and possibly more) any discussion of decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana,  a ruling was expected today, and — as one might expect — the social media outlets for foreigners in Mexico was full of discussions about what the SCJN should do.

A couple points:

  • The SCJN is going to make its own decision, and while Mexican courts consider foreign legal analysis and rulings, like any court, their decisions are based on legal principals.  The issue before the court is based on a reading of the Mexican Constitution’s prohibition of “discrimination that violates human dignity and has the objective of restricting or diminishing the rights and liberties of person” (Art. 1°). Coming on the heels of another ruling, that allowed for the importation of a marijuana-based medication for medical treatment, it might be understandable that we foreigners (and Mexican commentators, as well), assume the issue resolves around the alleged harmfulness (or lack thereof) of marijuana.
"Grace" with her parents

“Grace” with her parents

The earlier ruling, the “Grace Case” (Grace being a child whose seizures could be controlled by a marijuana-based drug not available in Mexico) was decided on a reading of Art. 4° which says “Every person has the right to health protection.  The law will describe the basis and means for access to health care services and will establish the concurrence of the Federation and the federal entities in matters of public health.”  The court ruled in favor of Grace’s right to protect her heath, not … as a general rule … to use marijuana for medicinal purposes (something already in the law, “necessity” being an affirmative defense in drug prosecutions).  It was a very narrow ruling, though understandably seen as indicating the courts’ drift towards legalizing marijuana use in general.

  • As I expected, although a few commentators on social media outlets stick to claiming people have a right to do whatever they want (generally with the proviso that they aren’t harming others), most went off on riffs about the alleged benefits of marijuana, or its relative harmlessness compared to other substances.  The first might be within the framework of Art 1°, the second it seems somewhat irrelevant, unless the court is considering the fact that other substances people use legally are more harmful, yet the use of which is protected.

sesion-de-la-scjn-619x348Protected, but limited:  even if the court were to rule that it was legal to use marijuana recreationally, the Chamber of Deputies would still be free under Art 74, bis XIV, inicio 4 to enact such restrictions as the Health Council sees fit.  State codes are pretty much the same, giving health departments wide leeway in setting the terms of what is, and is not, a threat to the public.   Drug crimes now are considered “crimes against public health”.

I am dubious that any ruling is going to change the “rules” all that much. Although I expect state laws might change to reflect those of the Federal District (where casual marijuana smokers who aren’t a public nuisance — which is a rather broad category, depending as much as anything on the social status of the smoker — are ignored for the most part, as they are now, even with laws against the use of the substance.

  •  The bulk of commentary, though, revolved around the “drug war” and the potential economic value of marijuana as an export crop.  Although such issues are somewhat peripheral to a narrower consideration of  “the rights and liberties of persons”,  the implications of any ruling have to be on the minds of the court’s ministers.

The best data I can find (here, and here, for starters) suggests that Mexico’s marijuana consumption is a tiny fraction of that in the United States, the main market for our domestic production.  Permitting usage does not automatically permit commercial production.  With both the United States and Canada also growing marijuana on a commercial (though mostly illegal) scale, and the legality of exportation  not even under consideration,  there is concern, as the leftist Jornada recently noted, that the real beneficiaries of any liberalized law are not the users, but the organized crime groups that control production and distribution.

nacoMoreover, although support for decriminalizing marijuana use has gone beyond being a “liberal” cause in the United States, the left here generally reflects mainstream “community values” and for political elites (like SCJN ministers), those values are middle-class ones, which see marijuana as a lower-class “vice” or a somewhat naughty and decadent indulgence — something done behind closed doors, or it is by no means a popular issue here, even on the left.   Although U.S. based advocacy groups (and lots of commentators today) speak of the beneficial effects of marijuana use, or its relatively benign effects, there is a fear that consumption levels would rise dramatically if domestic products were dumped on the market.  The U.S. histories all date the criminalization of marijuana back to the 1930s and name as their “villains” a few otherwise obscure police officials of the era, while Mexico’s attitudes towards weed go back much further… to the 1880s, according to historian Froylan Enciso (Nuestra historia narcótica, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, 2015).  If anything, opium poppy production was a more respectable business, as Sinaloa historian Luis Astorga has pointed out on more than one occasion.

lootAlthough both Enciso and Astorga argue that legalization would reduce the violence surrounding the narcotics trade, there is no guarantee that organized crime groups wouldn’t simply shift their business to other, equally or more violent activities:  human trafficking (including sex trafficking), murder-for-hire, bank robbery and the always popular protection racket.  Already, the “cartels” have been switching from marijuana to meth and heroin smuggling, which is apparently a positive move for their industry, anyway.  Whether the court’s ministers have read the two Sinaloa historians, I don’t know, but it appears the argument that legalization will limit organized crime’s activities, weighed against other considerations, is a wash.

  • A rather cynical view, and one I tend to feel will have an effect, holds that the United States — conflicted as it always has been about drug use (permitted to the white suburbanites, but considered a public scourge, with Mexican “drug lords” as public enemy #1) — will not “allow” the Mexican court to rule in favor of legalization, mostly to protect itself from having to seriously look at its own usage levels and criminal justice system, especially in a presidential election year.

A “darker” version of the same is the sense that the U.S. banking and arms industries profit too much from criminalizing “drugs” to give up the fight against Mexican marijuana too easily.  With the likelihood of “cartel” money still being made from (and in) the United States, were such stories true, I would expect more scare stories in the U.S. media about the effects of this rather limited ruling here in Mexico.

On the other hand, who can say what the delayed ruling is all about, and what’s behind it?



Itskhk Berliner , mexikan dikhter

27 October 2015

Sombrero tip to Esther Klein Buddenhagen.

As with so many of our hemisphere’s intellectuals in the first half of the last century, his cultural foundation was laid as a European survivor of that insane blood bath known as the First World War.   Born in 1899, Isaac (Itskhk) Berliner served in the German Army in a labor battalion, experiences reflected in the poems published in Yiddish magazines in has native Poland during and just after the War.   He emigrated to Mexico in 1922, at a time when Mexico City was rapidly changing, with refugees not just from Europe, but from the rural countryside following the Revolution, pouring into the metropolis.   Ironically his work as a street vendor selling rosaries, Virgin of Guadalupe and saints medals4846-31, positioned Berliner — a Polish-born Jew, writing in Yiddish — to capture the essence of what it meant to be a Chilango in those years.  Or a human being in a changing world, for that matter.  While the Jew has always been seen as an outsider in European culture,  the shared experience of losing a traditional culture and forced into a new and bewildering way of life, in a city reinventing itself during the “cultural revolution” that followed the political chaos of the political revolution, was something he shared with his customers and acquaintances:  campesinos turned factory workers, displaced Indigenous-language speakers, his fellow displaced Europeans.

His poems, stories, and essays were widely printed in his lifetime… in Yiddish publications in Poland, the United States, Belgium, Argentina and Mexico.  Although he lived modestly, he was a figure of high repute within the Mexican intellectual community.  His best known work, Shtot un palatsn (1936)was illustrated by his friend and fellow intellectual, Diego Rivera (English translation as “City of Palaces” published in 1996).

Although not much translated into Spanish, he continued to produce poetry and … after 1940… plays until his death in 1955, perhaps not the most widely read of Mexican writers, but a surprisingly and unexpected VERY Mexican one.

Marijuana (translated by Eli Rosenblatt)

mjThe path so muddy
A man, on the earth on the mist
Moving along lazy-stepped
with feet, like heavy pendulums
eyes, alight like candlesticks
small flames aroused, fall upon
womanly flesh and hips,
on girlishly tender faces.

What a waste!
He can’t avert his gaze.
Why, if man could master himself
slake in his eyes
these erotic flames.

The man smokes marijuana
A narcotic.

The dream-effect places him in a harness

The earth is not muddy.
He lays upon divans
that caress his feet, treading:

He doesn’t hear the laments,
The begging
The children on grimy corners,
play quartets
Here, thousands of singers sing

A man collapses from hunger?
They extend their hands and wail?
Their skin dried out?

An Emperor
A Youth
Upon thrones
Of red and bloody luminations

It smokes a man, that marijuana.

He’s harnessed to the divan.
upon the earth, which is filthy.


25 October 2015

Yes, the Jalisco-Colima coast was badly hit by Hurricane Patricia, and yes, the storms are moving across northern Mexico, and yes, I understand the impulse among foreigners in the tourist communities near the affected zones to help but…

… having been through a natural disaster (the Des Moines flood of 1993) — while I was co-incidentally recovering from a serious illness, on disability and not supposed to be out tossing sandbags (though I was) — I know that no matter how much one might think “just loading up the car and bringing supplies” might be a good idea, it is not.

Residents walk through the debris of homes destroyed by Hurricane Patricia, in Chamela, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Record-breaking Patricia pushed rapidly inland over mountainous western Mexico early Saturday, weakening to tropical storm force while dumping torrential rains that authorities warned could cause deadly floods and mudslides. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Residents walk through the debris of homes destroyed by Hurricane Patricia, in Chamela, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Record-breaking Patricia pushed rapidly inland over mountainous western Mexico early Saturday, weakening to tropical storm force while dumping torrential rains that authorities warned could cause deadly floods and mudslides. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Are the roads open, and are you going to be tying up traffic needed to ferry in supplies and transport injured people out of the affected zone?  Do you know what supplies are actually needed (and is it just guesswork, or have you contacted the local Protección Civil people (for that matter, are you even aware of what Protección Civil does in this country)?  Do you speak idiomatic Spanish (or the minority languages spoken in some communities)?  How are you planning to feed and cloth yourself during your visit?  Are you, as a visitor in an area where basics may be in short supply depriving those in need of their necessities?  What is your real motive… your karma or theirs?

Communities throughout Mexico will be setting up supply dumps, with a list of needed items.  DO NOT LOAD UP YOUR PRIVATE VEHICLE, but do load up your communal collection.

Give to Cruz Roja Mexicana.

Stay home.

A sweet deal?

22 October 2015

With the phase-out of farm subsidies in 2008, Mexican agriculture (with the exception of the unregulated marijuana and poppy trade) was devastated.  I’ve long thought that subsidies for agriculture were justifiable on two grounds… both as good domestic policy, and as a national security measure.

Having enough to feed its people is, of course, vital to any country.  “No corn, no country” as the opponents of the end of subsidies put it. That the end of corn subsidies at the end of 2008 devastated Mexican corn and bean production is no secret.  It seems a genuine national security risk to put the most basic need of the population at the mercy of agricultural policies outside national control.

imagesA more immediate threat, one that impacts both military security and social policy has been the loss of income in rural regions, especially when crops… marijuana and poppies … were unaffected by regulations.  While in part it meant that farmers either had to turn to those few reliable cash crops, which have created a security nightmare of their own.  What seems worse has been the effect on social policy.  The cities cannot absorb the growth due to migration by rural residents, and what rural residents have hung on are no longer independent farmers, but a rural proletariat … peons to corporate farmers (including those producing the above named unregulated marijuana and poppies) largely producing nothing for the domestic market, except for overstock.

Sugar might be, arguably, a luxury crop.  Mexico produces a lot of it, and has for centuries.  Tthe country has been trying for decades … with on and off nationalization of refineries… to prevent rural displacement and the resulting social displacement, by controlling the sugar market.  Given the emphasis on public health, which means lowering the demand for sugar in the domestic market, the only alternative has been exporting more sugar.

NAFTA was supposed to end all agricultural subsidies, throughout the three-nation region, but, obviously, the rich countries also had social policy to consider.  And, while agricultural workers were of only minor concern, agricultural producers weren’t.  NAFTA was also supposed to reduce consumer prices (or at least allow for competition) in the market.

NAFTA has not produced a “free market” in sugar, which continues to be subsidized … not because of any concern for rural workers, but for the benefit of producers:

… Every year the government grants sugar processors nonrecourse loans linked to the amount of sugar the government says they can produce at a set price per pound: 18.75 cents for raw cane sugar and 24.09 cents for refined beet sugar. If the market price is below the loan price when it’s time to sell, the processors simply forfeit their crop to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in lieu of repaying the loan. They can still make a profit thanks to the price guaranteed by the loan.

To ensure that imported sugar doesn’t drive down U.S. prices, provoking a sugar dump on Uncle Sam, there are also import quotas. Anything above the quotas gets hit with a hefty tariff—16 cents a pound on refined sugar.

Wall Street Journal (The Sugar Scandal, 29 July 2015)

So, to prevent Mexico’s lower priced, subsidized sugar from entering the U.S. market (and driving down the subsidized price paid by US consumers), Mexico will have to limit sugar exports to the US through 2019. Meaning… that while Mexico is also trying to cut domestic consumption, in the name of “free trade” it is being frozen out of it’s “free trade” markets.

Does that even make sense?



Also see:

Who Pays for Agricultural Dumping? (Timothy Wise)

¡Ya Chole!

20 October 2015

A British guy on U.S. television gets the mood of Mexico right:

One toke over the line?

20 October 2015

La Jornada’s “Dinero” columnist, Enrique Galván Ochoa, makes an interesting observation. While focused on the irony of Minister (Supreme Court Justice) Arturo Zavala being hailed as a “progressive” for pushing (if that’s the right word to use here) for decriminalizing marijuana, despite having ruled against Carmen Aristigui on an important free speech case seen as much more vital to progress and freedom, Galván notes that:

The Dutch government decriminalized marijuana consumption (originally five grams per person, then 30 grams) in 1976. Amsterdam became a global icon for its famous “coffee chops”, where tourists can buy it like a cappuccino. After nearly 40 years experience, the cost-benefit analisis is still under discussion. One of the worst consequences had been the development of a mutant cannabis strain that, according to experts, causes severe health damage.

That said, the Netherlands is among the ten least least corrupt countries in the world, in eight place, according to the Transparency International index 2014. That is, decriminalization occurred in a country under the rule of law. Now they want to decriminalize marijuana in Mexico, a country that ranks among the most corrupt, at 103rd place on that index.


…The minister’s project favors the reign of El Chapo. Perhaps Zaldívar wants to go down in history as a progressive jurist, but is in fact only an unwitting collaborator (let him determine to what degree) in the business interests of El Chapo and his fellow mafiosi.

It may be a tad harsh to accuse Minister Zalívar of collaborating (wittingly or otherwise) with gangsters, but then to just assume that the “magic of the marketplace” is going to erase exploitation and end violence is the hopelessly naive sort of thinking that makes me wonder if its proponents aren’t stoned when they say that. As I’ve noted before, the marijuana industry is not particularly different than any other tropical or sub-tropical commodities export business, its model based on exploitation and abusing rural communities. But, the Dinero columnist isn’t talking about exports, but about internal markets.

The internal market for marijuana … while only a fraction of that of our northern neighbor… may indeed be larger than I believe it to be, I don’t see how viable a market it really is. Not that I really care if people DO smoke marijuana (as long as they aren’t going to use heavy machinery, or attempt to engage in logical discourse), but the likely outcome being either corporate control of farmland better used for basic crops (and less water-dependent ones in dry regions where it is now being grown) and a lack of a good regulatory system for quality and purity … not to mention control over where and how it is sold, is likely to be disastrous in a country where even long established, “legitimate” exploitative commodity industries (think mining) have proven not just a danger to our environment and public health and safety, but to our economy as well.


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