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Give up? (yesterday’s trivia question)

20 July 2016

Agustín Lara’s classic, Solemente un vez, became an international hit, when debuted by Mexican tenor José Mojica, in the 1941 film “Melodías de América“.  Born in 1896, Mojica emigrated to the United States in 1918 to launch a career as an opera singer.  One of the major stars of the 1920s (sales of his recordings rivaled those of Enrico Caruso), he was offered Hollywood contracts (being an extremely handsome guy helped, too), appearing mostly in Spanish-language jmojicamarket early talkies (singies?) and one or two forgotten English-language films, playing “exotics”.

Unsatisfied with the roles he was offered by Fox, he returning to Mexico in the late 30s.  A mega-star throughout Latin America, he lived well, bought properties and partied with friends like Dolores del Rio, María Felix, John Huston, and… of course… Agustín Lara.

Although known to be devout, it was a complete surprise to everyone when, in 1942, he decided to become a Franciscan friar, and gave away his material wealth … but held on to what he considered a “God-given gift”.

He continued to perform both religious music and Mexican popular ballads into the 1960s, made several tours of Latin America and even appeared in a few films, and on television specials doing duets with other stars of the time.  He was the one in the brown habit.

After he lost his hearing in the late 1960s, he spent his last years back at the monastery in Cusco, where he died in 1974.

Maybe it was foreshadowing, but in the 1935 Fox Film  La Cruz Y La Espada, the future singing monk plays Hermano Franciso… a singing monk.



Musical trivia time

18 July 2016

How did this Mexican friar come to inspire an Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash jam session?


“Mexico’s enemy”… on Claudio X. González

8 July 2016

For my U.S. readers, who, if they have heard of Claudio X. González at all, have only heard of him as a “educational reformr” (he’s guaranteed a quote in any foreign media report on Mexican education) it needs to be explained that he is the scion of one of the  most powerful business families in Mexico.  His father (Claudio X. González Laporte) was CEO of Kimberly-Clark, as well as the president of the Consejo Mexicano de Negocios (Mexican Business Council) , the main lobbying group for the largest Mexican corporations.  He was, until October 2014, on the Board of Directors of Televisa.  The younger Claudio (González Guajardo) also sits on the Televisa board, although his father’s retirement was in part due to an appearance of a conflict of interest, because another of the sons of González Laporte had a significant interest in America Movil (where the elder González was also on the board of directors).

Claudio X. González Guajardo, the alleged education expert, served in a number of high-level federal positions during the Zedillo Administration (1994 – 2000), none of which had anything to do with public education.  In addition to other business interests, he was a founder and president of Fundación Televisa.  The television giant’s foundation has been repeatedly criticized for what appears to be a naked attempt to turn public welfare programs into private charities, making small service providers “compete” for funding, and ignoring those in most need for the most “photogenic” of charity cases.

Like Texas billionaire James R. Leininger, Claudio X. González Guajardo seeks to impose a new model of education, one that appears to favor learning for employment over learning for life.  While it is unclear that Gonzaléz has immediate financial interest in a “reformed” educational system, nor does he — as does Leininger — have an overtly religious or nationalist agenda, both are seen as seeking to discredit public education as a way of creating the foundation for imposing neo-liberal “reforms”… privatizing many of the state functions now performed by state educational systems, and — especially in Mexico — of discrediting unions, the better to “reform” laws that allow workers to collectively bargain for rights and benefits.  After translating, and just before I posted this, I found an article from May 2015 in the Chihuahua-based Ahoramismo (which is the source of my photo of Claudio X, Jr.) in which that state’s Secretary of Education calls González “irresponsible” in his campaign to “reform” public education, and notes that the would-be reformer is a product of the most expensive private schools in the country (and in the United States) with absolutely no understanding of the issues involved in public education in the state of Chihuahua.

What follows is a translation from a blog post, El Enemigo de México by Erick Arturo González Garza, a Mexican teacher who writes regularly on education topics.  Because I needed to footnote a few items that would be unclear to readers outside Mexico, I incorporated the original footnotes into the text, and, in the few places I had to add detail to clarify the original, I used brackets [ ] to insert information that might also be confusing to foreign readers.  And, in a few places, I changed the verb tense to follow standard English language practice.


Media reports on the Mexican teachers’ movement say little about him. He comes out of the shadows only when it is strictly necesssary. When he speaks, he sounds at times as if he is saying the Federal Government has lost its role in society, especially in the field of education. He has been the represenative of private educational interests in Mexico for the last six years. The head of a related to educational issues in Mexico over the last 6 years. It is the head of a “business-social organization” — what in the U.S. would be called an “astoturf movement” or a business-supported citizen’s lobbying group — “concerned” about the direction of our nation. His name is Claudio X. Gonzalez Guajardo, president of Mexicanos Primero, an organization that says it promotes quality education in our country.

claudio-x-glez-695x336Claudio X. Gonzalez Guajardo, linked to the most powerful business groups in the country, also maintains close relationship with the de facto political powers. The scion of a major industrial fortune, his ideology is money. Since its inception, Mexicanos Primero has been on the attack to discredit public education: in 2012 they sold the new president, Peña Nieto, on a plan based on what employers wanted from education. To give the scheme social impact, companies, including television broadcasts, highlighted a documentary, De panzazo, said to expose the “reality” of the Mexican public educational system, meant to justify an urgent need for dramatic and rapid changes to “solve” the problems in the schools.

To Mexicanos Primero, Mexican public school teachers are poorly prepared; they are lazy, apathetic, indifferent to students and uncommitted to their work. In addition, they suggest that the Mexican teacher enjoys undeserved privileges; enjoying the workers’ benefits employers would sooner deny its employees. His speeches are peppered with examples and comparisons to foreign education systems; clearly, countries with a very different history and culture. Of course, in his ignorance on the subjecct of education, González ignores those factors. His training prevents a broader perspective of the educational phenomenon. A sample of his intellectual limitations, shows up in one of his ossified texts where using a comparison to food. “Teachers from other countries have the table set, while ours have to kill the chicken, pluck it, cook it, and then set the table. That’s why good Mexican teachers are still better than the good Finnish, Korean or Canadian teachers1 .

Claudio X. Gonzalez is the visible hand slapping around public education in Mexico. He personifies the type of Mexican businessman who profits from our poverty-stricken state, a shadowy figure that claim to generate jobs, but pays poverty wages under the worst conditions, often denying the workers any rights or benefits. He is of the class of Mexican businessmen who corrupt governments to benefit themselves economically, hogging public works. or seeking tax exemptions; predators that destroy ecosystems to build shopping centers, businesses or stadiums, without the slightest interest in ecological destruction they cause. Polluters.

Mexican businessmen work through Claudio X. Gonzalez to try to derail from the “legality” of reform, the rights and achievements of the teaching profession. For this they leave the dirty work to the Mexican government. As an example, consider Gonzalez’ meeting with n Enrique Peña Nieto on 21 June, two days after National Gendarmerie’s murders in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca. The topics of the meeting were twofold: to stop the “Ley 3de3” initiative by which employers [holding government contracts] would be forced to report their financial interest in the contract [and potential conflicts of interest] and the teachers’ conflict. Peña Nieto assured Gonzalez and other business leaders that the “Ley 3de3” would not pass, but that educational reforms would continue2.

For the elites of Mexican business, what was important was the reassurance that the Mexican government would not bow to the demands of Mexican teachers nor reverse labor rights reforms disguised as educational reform. Implementing the latter depends on the still nebulous reasons to intervene in public schools. It appears business seeks a monopoly over school construction and maintenance, as well as the human resources of the educational system… effectively becoming patrones, the teachers mere workers. To accomplish this, the government is needed to wipe out labor resistance, by repression or outright dismissal: entrepreneurs do not like that workers have rights.

Mexican business are the hand that pulls the strings of [Education Secretary] Aurelio Nuño, [Secretary of Governnance, “Home Secretary”]Osorio Chong and Peña Nieto. They are the true enemy of the Mexican teachers. Nothing could be clearer given González’ attack on the puppet Secretary of Public Education on 5 March this year. The Mexicanos Primero president claimed the Secretary had done nothing against the [wishes of the teachers’ union, SNTE, in order to further his own political ambition]3. Claudio X. Gonzalez apparently could not stand the announcement that the assessment tests of basic and secondary school teachers rated only 8% of the teachers as less than qualified. 92 percent had adequate or outstanding results… something they had already demonstrated on the job: facing a group of students in a classroom!

teacherThe Mexican teacher is a dedicated worker in the classroom. She or he takes work home to review and to evaluate their students. Mexican teachers study at the post-graduate level and attend continuing education classes every year. The Mexican teacher meets with parents and is called on to resolve conflicts unrelated tothe school.

Claudio X. Gonzalez has no idea what is is to stand in front of students in a public school, and shows his ignorance. Economic neoliberalism seeks to end the few remaining public aspects of national life. The business community should reconsider its approach, because it must understand that the educational community has awoken, and will not go back to sleep. The people understand that Mexican businessmen are not going after only teachers, but against the entire nation, and the rights painfully gained throughout our troubled history.

1Gonzales’ point is that Mexican teachers are often responsible not just for the classroom instruction, but for other duties, sometimes to the point of having to perform the maintenance on school buildings themselves. While the nuance doesn’t come through in the translation, the author is saying that while Gonzales is claiming SOME rare teachers are better than those in countries like Finland, most are, at best, fitted only for the more “menial” tasks needed in an educational system.

2News reports on the meeting at Reforma, El Informador (Jalisco) and La Jornada.

3Secretary Nuñez was accused of “emasculating” the reforms, having allegedly bowed to some demand by the union regarding standarized tests in return for support by the mostly teacher-supported Nuevo Alianza party, which is allied with Peña Nieto’s PRI.

Brexit and Mexit

1 July 2016

I have to admit that the attitudes of most lefty commentators on Latin America (including myself) about Brexit certainly are paradoxical. While we generally deplore the damages done to our own countries by various neo-liberal “trade agreements” and support nationalist movements, when it comes to British voters turning their backs on those trade agreements and turning nationalist, we immediately write off the “Leave” voters as a bunch of short-sighted racist yahoos.  Which, it appears, they are.


tierra-y-libertad-diego-rivera-7One could make the argument in both “developed” (once) Great Britain and “less developed” Mexico, it is the elites who benefit most from super-national bodies like the E.U. or trade agreements like NAFTA, and — when given a chance — the “proles” recognize that they are getting the short end of the deal, making the “Leave” vote in Great Britain appear a victory for the salt of the earth.  Or, I suppose, given the “neo-liberal” bent of these sort of organizations and agreements, we should cheer the Brits on the good sense to reject the false political choices we’re offered by modern “democracies” that are no choice at all, nor benefit the majority of us:

A few years ago the American writer Chris Hedges wrote a book he titled the Death of the Liberal Class. His argument was not so much that liberals had disappeared, but that they had become so coopted by the right wing and its goals – from the subversion of progressive economic and social ideals by neoliberalism, to the enthusiastic embrace of neoconservative doctrine in prosecuting aggressive and expansionist wars overseas in the guise of “humanitarian intervention” – that liberalism had been hollowed out of all substance.

Liberal pundits sensitively agonise over, but invariably end up backing, policies designed to benefit the bankers and arms manufacturers, and ones that wreak havoc domestically and abroad. They are the “useful idiots” of modern western societies.

(Cook, Jonathan, “Brexit and the Diseased Liberal Mind“, Common Dreams, 27 June 2016)

Cook seems to assume the “Leave” voters were thoughtful people, he was writing after the vote, and it appears he’s trying to make a case that “Leave” voters were making a logical decision based on the common good.  Others in Britain, while the campaign was going on, made the same argument, although also for a small audience:

For those of us who enjoy interacting with the people of countries other than our own, enriching ourselves by getting to know other cultures, and who identify with workers of other countries, it is extremely counterintuitive to stand against the European Union, which seems to be a vehicle for facilitating communication across international boundaries and bringing workers of different nationalities closer together.

CPGB-ML_PosterNevertheless, although the European Union undoubtedly does have its beneficial aspects, it remains the case that in essence it is an imperialist outfit, designed to enable the bourgeoisies of the various imperialist countries to be strong enough financially and militarily to safeguard their imperialist status as against (a) their imperialist rivals, (b) the oppressed countries that they exploit, and (c) the working classes of their own countries.


Unpleasant though it is to find on our side of the barricades not only progressive and honest people but also a load of brainless and malicious xenophobes, it is enjoyable to note that the British bourgeoisie has hoist itself with its own petard. It encourages xenophobia as a means of rallying mass support in favour of its own interests (eg, wars against those who resist imperialist superexploitation) and as a means of dividing the working class against itself. But then xenophobia takes on a life of its own and seeks to prevent the British bourgeoisie from pursuing its best interests when these happen to lie in securing international cooperation with other imperialist powers.

There is some chance that the votes of the xenophobes will be what is needed to pull Britain out of the EU come the referendum on 23 June this year – which will in all probability prove disastrous for British imperialism.

To what extent this is so has been well expressed by The Economist: “Europe’s links to America would become more tenuous. Above all, the loss of its biggest military power and most significant foreign-policy actor would seriously weaken the EU in the world.

(Communist Party of Great Britain [Marxist-Leninist], “Why British workers need a BrexitProletarian On-Line, April 2016)

In short, Britain’s loss is everyone’s gain:  the yobbos,  xenophobes, Communists, and old farts, and self-serving Conservative politicians should be praised for taking one for team world. At least, that’s the theory.

And  where, “unpleasant though it is”, we find ourselves hoping that maybe we can pull a Mexit of sorts.

Of course, a weakened United States would severely impact Mexico* — when the U.S. catches cold, Mexico contracts pneumonia as the saying goes.  We are dependent on trade with the United States (and Canada) for what economic prosperity and political security we enjoy.  Or that’s what we’ve been told (and sold).

In theory we don’t have to be dependent on commodities exports, or at least not on exports only to the U.S. and Canada.  We would obviously not have the cash on hand (or, rather, our government and major companies) wouldn’t have the cash if the goods we export now were sold internally (the market for new automobiles is more than saturated, we don’t have the refineries we need for our own oil products, and with agricultural policy favoring export crops, would have an excess of food we couldn’t afford, and a shortage of basics like corn), but we do have the resources to be mostly self-sufficient.  We’d survive.

indexAs to security, how much the U.S. provides, and whether it is in our interest or their interest (as with the so-called “drug war”) is an open question.  The small Mexican military (smallest per capita in the western hemisphere) seems to spend most of its time harassing people who are either a threat to the United States (narcos) or the elites (teachers, environmentalists, indigenous communities) and indirectly threaten foreign interests like mining firms or major corporations like Coca-Cola (the Yaqui nation’s fight over water rights is mostly because the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Hermosilla is sucking up most of the water).   And besides, the French are less likely to invade us again, than they are to buy our avocados and our oil (and maybe our cars).  China and Russia might want to gain influence here, but that’s more a problem for north of the border investors, and not us.  Money is money, whether it’s Yuans or Dollars.

While dissatisfaction with NAFTA and the Rio Treaty have been a commonplace of the Mexican left, and one could see a Mexit movement coming from the left, there is, as there is in Britain, a xenophobic element often overlooked.  Mexican nationalists though, range from the far right to the far left.  There are still old-fashioned fascists here, who see globalism as a “Masonic-Zionist plot”, as well as a Catholic right, which sees the United States as a decadent Protestant anti-culture.  And indigenous groups who want to be left alone.  And some people are just assholes.

As a populist cause, a Mexit would have to appeal to left and right.  And although nationalist, from far right to far left, there are “Bolivarians” who see Mexico in a pan-Latin context.  Considering Bolivarianism was originally a concept developed by the Mexican far right (based on perceived common “Iberian and Catholic” social  values) but extended to the left in recent years as a anti-Yanqui movement (or at least a mutual assistance one), the “nationalist” features of such a campaign would probably be more symbolic than overwhelming.

Not that xenophobia wouldn’t be likely to raise its ugly head.  Violence against Central American migrants is a regular occurrence here, but that seems to be more crimes of opportunity against vulnerable people than any genuinely organized hatred against Guatemalans or Hondurans.  And, were Mexico to stop cooperating with the United States in preventing migration through the Republic, much of the rationale for this violence would disappear, allowing it to be treated as common crime.  It is possible that, as in the U.S., migrants would be accused of “stealing jobs” from the Mexicans, but I can’t recall any time in our history where foreigners have been targeted for stealing jobs… only for being paid more than Mexicans.

gringos-go-home-expat-chronicles-407x280I could see the far right using nationalism as a rationale for attacking visible minorities like Koreans and the Catholic reactionaries attacking religious minorities and LGBTs, but whether it would be worse than now, I can’t say.  The only real minority who might suffer would be the white expats.  Having made ourselves the beneficiaries of imperialism, in a Mexit, we’d have to chose our sides, stay or leave.

I prefer to stay, Mexit or not.


* So does a weakened UK, and EU, at least in the short run.  The peso has been falling against the U.S. dollar at an alarming rate for the last year, and the latest fall (as well as some budget cuts to education and public health) is being blamed on the British pound’s drop in international exchanges.  And, U.S. dollars have been pouring into Mexico over the last week at an unprecedented rate.

A traditional grito

27 June 2016

Enrique Peña Nieto meets Justin Trudeau in Toronto.  BTW, does anyone else read anything into reports that the Primera Dama … who you would expect to put in an appearance at state functions like this… flew off to Miami with both her and EPN’s children (and a staff including hairdressers, cooks, and body guards) at a juncture when not only the left, but the Bishops and some of the business establishment are openly opposing the government?


No more tacos for you…

24 June 2016

Brexit is going to have some effect here.  The peso fell 7% against the dollar overnight, but that has more to do with market panic than anything else (I hope).  One unintended consequence for the British is that Mexico’s free trade agreements with the UK were based on it’s membership in the European Union, and may be nullified.  Mexican exports to Britain only account for 7.5 percent of Mexican trade with the European Union (and how much of that is into Scotland or Northern Ireland, I can’t say).  Mexico’s trade with the UK amounted to 7.5% of total trade within the EU. Mostly booze, gold, auto parts… and, naturally, narcotics.

The British haven’t been as active in the Mexican economy as they once were, but between banking (HSBC), oil field servicing (BP) and the liquor industry, investing about 8 US billion dollars here over the last 15 years, but that includes money just passing through British investment firms.

And that’s why the lady is a …

24 June 2016


“I’m glad the police went after those unruly Indians in the CNTE, I mean to get them to work because they do not love Mexico.”

Uh… the days of the reparamiento, when the colonial leaders could draft “Indians” for public (and private) works ended about 1650. Hard to believe Angelica Rivera is the first lady… with these kinds of remarks, she ain’t no lady!.


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