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A burro, Porfirio Diaz, and a pyramid…

3 July 2014

… but not Mexico.


Don Porfirio was in Egypt when Victoriano Huerta overthrew Francisco Madero and had the “apostle of democracy” shot (19 February 1913).

Don Porfirio sent a congratulatory telegram from Cairo :

The consideration you have shown me in my divorcement from public life is of inestimable satisfaction to me, and even more so is the delicate manner and kindly words in which you have been pleased to advise me of your elevation to the presidency ad interim of Mexico.

Accept this as an assurance of my deepest gratitude and as a hope that your self-effacement and patriotism may bring to the conscience of the people the realization that only in the shadow of peace can our country prosper and be happy and respected.

Boy, did he get that wrong.

Don Porfirio died in June 1915 peacefully… of old age it seems… but deeply disillusioned about the long shadow Huerta’s brief, but neither delicate nor kindly, regime had cast over Mexico. Huerta himself would follow Porfirio to the grave eight months later, a prisoner of the United States, his attemps to reinsert himself into the unhappy situation in Mexico neither self-effacing, nor … financed by the Imperial German Army… all that patriotic.


(photo:; telegram text:  San Francisco Call, Volume 113, Number 91, 1 March 1913)

We’ll get over it… eventually

3 July 2014

The young lady (who calls herself “dizzymissdc”) says she’s not homophboic, nor anti-Dutch. SHe is, however, a Mexican. Which means she’s going to see the results of the Netherlands-Mexico game in a certain light, and… like any other Mexico… she’s going to swear. A lot.

Some restrictions apply

1 July 2014


(Translation by Jorge E. Sanint)

(Translation by Jorge E. Sanint)

American exceptionalism?

30 June 2014

The United States is not alone in seeing this spike in refugees. There is a 720% increase in asylum claims in both Nicaragua and Belize, as people flee violence in the Northern Triangle.
The UNHCR found that 58% of these youth coming to the United States qualify for specific international protection due to their legitimate claim of fear and violence.

(Crisis on the Border: Unaccompanied Migrant Children. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas)

Obabma could have saved himself a lot of trouble if instead of “at my direction, [having] the Vice President convene… leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as Mexico,” he’d first talked to the Sisters of Mercy, who like the U.S. goverment have been in the business of providing “assistance” in the region, although the nuns admittedly have much less background in sending military “advisers”, weapons and “biometric identification software” (the latter something the U.S. seems to think Mexico will install on their southern border… just because).  The short (three page) document from the Sisters of Mercy is probably the best and simplest overview of the situation I’ve read.

Mexico 1935… two films

30 June 2014

The first, from the Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthopology) seems to be three travel films run together… of Mexican City (most of which should be recognizable to anyone with any familarity with the city today), of someone’s trip down the canals of Xochimilco, and a minute or two of men cutting agave.


The second, “Mexico Revisited” is allegedly, travel films taken by the producer’s grandfather of a road trip from Laredo to Mexico City and back.  Obviously, “provincia” has changed radically in the last 80 years, but what’s fun is recognizing how many of the stereotypes still presented about Mexico were seen even then as “colorful”.  It also suggests to me why the Cardenas administration (1936-42) was so concerned about modernization.

I don’t doubt that the film really was shot by tourists back in the 30s, though it crossed my mind to ask who was filming all those scenes of the car going down the road, crossing streams, etc.  While the “time capsule” introduction is cute, the producer might want to re-edit .  The flag supposedly filmed by his ancestor in 1935 (at 3:33) is one that didn’t exist until 1968, when the national seal was redesigned.


Going out with a song: Los Tres Tristes Tigres

30 June 2014

Zapatismo without tears

30 June 2014

Sombrero tip to Barry Carr (LaTrobe University [Melbourne] and Colegio de Mexico) for this critique of the Zapatista movement, found in a review of a French collection of essays on the Zapatistas (Bernard Duterme et al. Zapatisme: la rébellion qui dure. Alternatives du Sud. Paris: Centre Tricontinental and Éditions Syllepse, 2014). The entire review is posted on the New Politics website.

Outside the Mexican Embassy in London,  2012 (Photo: Zapatista Solidarity Group, Essex)

Outside the Mexican Embassy in London, 2012 (Photo: Zapatista Solidarity Group, Essex)

The reviewer, Dan La Botz, questions the effectiveness of the Zapatista’s anti-politics and asks whether the Zapatistasreally are operating in the best interests of those they claim to represent  I’ve thought their “other campaign” … which sought more to discredit the State… accomplished nothing other than  assuing the election of Felipe Calderón and hastening the  downfall of the united left in Mexico.  While I support the contention that indigenous peoples are the ones who need to craft solutions to the challenges they face is a belief that it is perfectly legitimate to question.  At my crankiest, I often wonder whether those outsiders who come here to “learn” from the Zapatistas really have the interest of the Mayans (and rural communities in general) or are just buying into the “noble savage” myth, as La Botz hints at in his discussion of Zapatista health care.

The mythic idea held by some in the first days of the rebellion that the indigenous people were united in their opposition to the Mexican government and capitalism was, of course, never true. Many indigenous people had other stronger identifications: to their tribal group, to Catholicism or Evangelical Christianity, to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), or simply to the status quo, which, however bad, was “the devil they knew.” The Mexican PRI government in power at the time, as it deployed the army or mobilized party loyalists to harass the Zapatistas, played upon such divisions and worked to accentuate them. Indigenous communities became even more divided. To escape government attack, the Zapatistas fled to the mountain forests and established temporary villages there, even more poverty-stricken than their original homes.


The central issue that this book presents to the reader is the Zapatista strategy of building autonomous communities. What is meant by “autonomy”? Several of the chapters describe how the Zapatistas answer this question. They define autonomy as the creation of villages and ideally regions that are entirely separate from the government. They refuse to join or work for any political party, arguing that the parties are all corrupt, and they will have nothing to do with government social welfare or development programs, not wanting to become politically beholden. One has to say that their view of the political institutions is certainly correct and their fear of political manipulation well founded. So they have decided that they will not send their children to the government schools, arguing that the mestizo teachers who live in urban areas and drive automobiles to the school look down on the indigenous communities and their students. They will not go to the government hospitals and health clinics, except in extreme cases, arguing that the doctors there do not treat them well or provide them decent care. They refuse government material aid for the improvement of their homes and villages, arguing that if they take it they are expected to work for the ruling political party. Unlike the historic parties of the left, they do not fight through social movements, coalitions, and political parties to take control of these institutions and force them to serve them fairly. They reject dependency on government institutions for the alternative of community self-sufficiency.

Alternatively, then, the Zapatistas build their own homes and villages, run their own schools, and maintain their own health program. Several of the authors suggest that this is a good policy because it empowers the indigenous people, and especially women, allowing them to create their own institutions and run them democratically. Yet, in general, the authors refuse to ask what this choice means for the indigenous people in these communities. Raúl Zibechi, for example, describes the health system, explaining how each group of eight families chooses a team of three health workers who have been trained by the community, usually mostly women: a woman who prepares cures from medicinal plants, an indigenous “osteopath,” and what is described as a “wise woman.” Zibechi suggests that because women are generally the health workers, by taking on this responsibility they develop as stronger and more equal members of the community. That may be. But one would like to know, does this do anything for community health? Do autonomous community health workers keep their communities healthy? Are they able to prevent illness? Can they cure disease? Are they improving community health overall? Where is the epidemiology? How do Zapatista autonomous communities compare with non-autonomous communities in areas of inoculations, prevalence of contagious disease, chronic disease, infant mortality, and longevity? It does not even occur to [...] ask these questions, much less to answer them.


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