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The solar grannies

15 August 2018

Norma Guerra Ramos really lit up the town when she showed up recently in Tres Marías Paso del Tigre, Oaxaca. The small Tehunatepec mountain town has never had electricity. That is, until Norma… a 52 year olf fisherwoman and housewife with a grade school education, traveled by canoe, horseback and on foot to the isolated community from her coastal home to install solar panels for every home and the village school.

Norma, and a handful of other woman, are graduates of the Barefoot University, an Indian based project that teaches rural woman the practical skills needed to install electrical systems and water pumps in under-served, and isolated communities. The “solar grannies” (abuelas solares) were trained as “solar engineers” back in 2014, mostly expecting to work in their own communities, but, as they are discovering, their skills are needed throughout rural Mexico.
That Tres Marías never had electricity never crossed anyone’s mind (that is, officially). People got along somehow (like every did until the last century) and no one seemed to particularly notice. That is, until a would-be charity showed up after last year’s earthquake, intending to assist with whatever reconstruction and relief projects might be required. The Tres Maríans had survived the quake without too much disruption, but …. uh… no, you can’t plug in your cell phones. Sorry. Oh, and the charity workers were told, if you want to plug in that power drill, the nearest outlet is an hour and half away. Hope you have a really long extension cord.

So… it appeared what Tres Marías really needed was some lights and maybe a way to plug in a cell phone now and again. With Norma supervising, the ten houses and village school have their won “off-the-grid” systems, an outlet or two for telephones (one woman in the village is pregnant, and they’d like to be able to call a midwife if they need to), kids can do their homework after dark and it’s possible to cook without spending half the day gathering firewood.

A feel-good story that shouldn’t be. Tres Marías is on the Isthmus of Tehunatepec, one of the major electrical producing centers in the Americas. It’s one of the best places on earth to site wind-power generators, and foreign investors, especially Spanish firms, have been falling over themselves (and riding roughshod over local land-owner’s rights) to install windmills. For industrial electrical users. Power to the people? For that, don’t look to corporations. Look for a solar granny.

(La Jornada)


On the bench…

14 August 2018

Colonia Tabacalera (Fidel lived in the neighborhood, Che was working as a stringer for an Argentinian wire service when they met in Mexico City).

Paying for justice…

14 August 2018

The Mexican Constitution is too often a “wish list” of things the state ought to do (or… when it comes to human rights, ought NOT to do), but includes provisions meant to correct specific problems which sometimes creates a new problem years later. One oddball provision in Article 123 of the 1917 Constitution absolutely forbids paying employees of other companies at a bar or cafe (I imagine it was to keep the workers from being “invited” to a friendly poker game set up by their employer). OK, I used to pay the teachers, when I was an administrator for a “business English” school at Sandborns… but not in the restaurant. Take it to the Supreme Court.

That court though, is getting itself knotted up in a constitutional issue related to their own paychecks. Benito Juárez — who had been a Supreme Court Justice himself — had known first-hand how easily it was for the executive branch to control the courts through the power of the purse. While it wouldn’t completely free the courts from executive meddling, by specifying in the constitution that “The remuneration received for their services by the ministers of the Supreme Court, by the circuit magistrates and by the district judges may not be reduced during their term of office” [Article 94],at least a judge ruling the “wrong way” couldn’t suddenly find himself (in Benito’s day… him or her self today) left with no income.

Perfectly reasonable in Juárez’ day, but the new administration came in on a platform promising “austerity” and reigning in the high salaries and perks enjoyed by high level public officials. The incoming president has promised to cut his own salary from 370,000 pesos a month (plus perks) to a moderate 108,000 … still, a very high salary for Mexico, but then… he is President of the Republic, and under Civil Service law, no public official can receive a salary higher than the President’s… cutting the President’s salary any further would make it next to impossible to lure the best and the brightest in the private sector to take up a public service position. Ah… but those judges. The Chief Justice earns about 400,000 pesos a month (more than the outgoing president), and the 10 other justices all earn over 300,000 … plus receive generous benefits.

Lopez Obrador’s “Chief of Staff”… and presumed Interior Minister, Olga Sánchez Cordero, is herself a retired Supreme Court justice. While I don’t think she’s a greed-head and just looking out for herself (and her hefty retirement pension… 80% of her former salary, for life), but the media is full of columns and cartoons deriding the “greedy” judges. While shaming them into taking a voluntary pay cut might work with some, one can expect the court will be discussing whether their generous perks (an army of clerks and assistants, cars and chauffeurs, full life and health insurance coverage beyond the national health plan, and on and on and on) count as “renumeration”. Then again, the clerks and chauffeurs and cooks are civil servants, not (technically… maybe) paid on behalf of the judges, so the number of assistants assigned to each judge could be cut (or the judges could hire their own assistants out of their salary) or… as I saw proposed today, just cutting the number of Supreme Court judges from eleven to seven… saving about 40% on salaries.

On the other hand, with justice reforms requiring more judges and courts… perhaps incoming judges could earn a lower salary and the remaining judges “persuaded” to retire.

Elba Esther … free at last

10 August 2018

Elba Esther Gordillo … her alleged embezzlement somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 billion pesos (2,000,000,000) from the teachers’ union might have been overlooked, despite her flamboyant lifestyle and the open ridicule of her penchant for cosmetic surgery, if it hadn’t been for her willingness, while a PRI leader (Senate Majority leader, and #2 in the party’s central committee) if it hadn’t been for two tactical errors. First, back in 2005, after having openly worked with the opposition PAN administration (collaborating with Martha Sahugún… Vicente Fox’s wife, and a power within the “piety wing” of PAN) on educational issues, she tried unsuccessfully to become party leader.

It wasn’t so much she was (allegedly) stealing from the union, as it was she mas a mistress at controlling the union, and her union’s voters, as it was when she was thrown out of the Party, she went rogue, setting up her own party, PANAL… which (again, allegedly) was instrumental in pulling enough votes from both PRI and from then PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to hand a narrow victory to PAN’s Felipe Calderón in 2006.

Given her “treason” to the PRI, and the PRI’s own need to at least pretend to be cleaning up corruption, coupled with PRI’s own neo’liberal turn towards anti-union economic policies, she was low-hanging fruit for the incoming Peña Neito Administration’s claim to be “saving Mexico”.

Everyone from the “good government” left to the “right to work” right indulged inn a campaign of villification, based as much on her (changeable) appearance as anything else. Sexist? You betcha, but seeing Elba Esther stripped of her make-up behind bars was an atavistic pleasure for all of us… myself included.

BUT… funny thing. No formal charges were every brought. Given her age (she’s in her 70s), she was released under house arrest… the house being a rather swanky one in Polanco… from which she (again, allegedly) still controlled her union votes. Or does she? Her party’s bizarro 2012 candidate (an obscure “green-washing” business consultant re-baptized as an environmentalist, best remembered for starting down the breast of the stage assistant at the unfortunate “game-show style” presidential debate), and her party’s inclusion in the PRI-led coalition in this year’s election… a disaster for the PRI, and a bigger one for her own party, which did so poorly it lost it is losing its registration, if she still is the mistress of the dark art of throwing elections, she’s doing a pretty poor job of it.

UNLESS… as some suspect, or want to suspect, she is secretly (or not so secretly) in cahoots with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. It’s quite possible she is, given that AMLO’s coalition managed to corral the votes of both Elba Esther’s SNTE and the dissident CNTE… the “democratic” (i.e. anti-Elba Esther) teachers’ union. Releasing her from custody now could also be an attempt to smear the incoming Lopez Obrador administration, with at least the appearance of a quid-pro-quo for corruption. That would make sense, given that public outrage over open corruption with the outgoing administration was a major factor in AMLO’s victory, and the downfall of the old major parties. In other words, the shattered opposition parties can, at the very least, say… “See, he tolerates corruption, too”.

Whatever the reason, Elba Esther was never formally charged, and the outgoing Peña Nieto administrion is doing with previous administrations have done before: bring charges against would-be political opponents, only to drop the charges and release the prisoner, once the election is over.

IN other words, though the heavens may fall for saying this, no criminal charges were ever proven, and a fair trial would have been impossible, so I have to accept that she was a political prisoner, and releasing her a matter of basic justice.

Porn … again.

2 August 2018

There is quite a stir in the Mexican media over claims that the Supreme Court (SCJN for its initials in Spanish) has outlawed all pornography. This in a country where not too long ago, gay porn magazines were sold openly in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral (in the pre-internet days… you can still buy Ché Guevara tee-shirts and Mao’s Little Red Book there, however) and internet access is pretty wide-spread, I’d wonder how such a ruling would even be possible.

Turns out that porn itself is not illegal, but in considering a challenge to the constitutionality of the “Ley General para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar los Delitos en Materia de Trata de Personas y para la Protección y Asistencia de las Víctimas” (the General law related to human trafficking)… specifically Paragraph three of Article 10 of that law (if you want to get that specific), the court upheld sanctions for those involved in exploitation. This has less to do with porn, per se, than with human trafficking, and what is defined as human trafficking.

What the court ruling does is define coercion… that it doesn’t have to be a direct threat, but could be an implied one (say, a threat to hold the passport of a foreign sex worker, or withholding narcotics from addicts), and acknowledgement (revenge porn and “hidden camera” porn) by all parties involved. In theory, watching a foreign produced porn video in which the performer was exploited would be a criminal act… but try proving it.

And, from the pundit class…

24 July 2018

… I’ll probably be out of commission for the next week or so (my leg never healed properly, and I picked up a nasty bacterial infection that will require hospitalization and pumping me full of nasty antibiotics).  The hospital really frowns on bringing in electronics (and from experience, I know the WiFi there is spotty), so will be just working on a book update and laying in bed.

In the meantime, here’s the view on the election from the Wilson Center:


Restart the migration and NAFTA talks?

23 July 2018

I’m feeling lazy today… I’ll let Reed Brundage do the heavy lifting and translation on this one as well:


Mexico-U.S. Relations: López Obrador Proposes to Trump Comprehensive

Agreements to Work Together on Trade, Migration, Regional Development and


La Jornada: Enrique Méndez

At a press conference held yesterday [Sunday, July 22] at noon, President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador [aka AMLO] made public the letter he sent to the U.S. President, Donald Trump, on July 12th. López Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard, his choice to be Secretary of Foreign Relations, said they decided to make the contents of the letter public once they were certain that Trump has it in his hands. Now, they said, they hope to receive an answer this Monday.

…In the letter, AMLO proposed making an effort to move forward in a comprehensive manner in four substantive areas: trade, migration, economic development and security. This would be done in the spirit of finding a common path regarding each of them. In this way, progress will be made on other issues in the bilateral relationship.

AMLO told Trump that his plans seek to start a new stage in the relationship between the two countries, as well as to reach a friendly understanding and mutual respect. The new understanding must lead to a dignified and respectful treatment of the Mexican community in the United States and of U.S. citizens who reside in Mexico.