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No more A-Biden this nonsense…

27 July 2021

With the ridiculous US “Cuban blockade” now in it’s 67th year, and Cuba still there… though having a hard time of late between an oil shortage and the pandemic, sometimes the grown-up countries have to step in.

Earlier today, the Mexican “multipurpose” Arm Libertador Bal-02 sailed from Veracruz to Havana loaded with medical supplies and basic food items. Also yesterday, the tanker José María Morelos II left port with 100,000 barrels of oil to provide fuel for Cuban hospitals.

Ironically enough, considering how much money, men, and effort the US has invested in keeping Cuban isolated, tomorrow’s relief ship … the amphibious warship Arm Papaloapan A-411 was originally the US navy’s Newport from 1992 to 2001.

DN-SC-82-08583

So, whatcha gonna do, Señor Biden?

Not so bad company

27 July 2021

Had they been alive today (and had they been alive at the time), Simon Bolivar’s parents might have been mighily concerned about the company their 16 year old son was keeping up there in Mexico City on his long layover headed for Madrid where he was expected to finish his education (and, incidentally, find a Spanish wife… the latter being a condition in his mother’s will if he was to inherit the family property).

While Bolivar was well-known in his own time for his … uh… amorous adventures… it also has to be said that, unlike other leaders of his era, he always took women, especially intelligent women, seriously. One wonders if, during his stay in Mexico City (at what is now the corner of Uruguay and (of course) Simon Bolivar, it wasn’t La Guera Rodriguez (aka, María Ignacia Rodríguez de Velasco de Osorio Barba y Bello Pereyra) who first introduced him not only to the charms of the female anatomy, but to the value of their brains, as well.

La Guera lived across the street from the house where Bolivar was staying. Married off at the age of 14, La Guera was already notorious for her affairs with the rich and famous (including, it is said, the Viceroy) by the time she was 21, when young Simon caught her eye. While a sexy adult may have been what first attracted Simon (and a pretty boy, what caught La Guera’s eye), it can’t be said that he didn’t learn more than a few positions from her… after managing to dispose of her pesky husband (even after she shot him, it was only when she theatened to prosecute him for sodomy that she was able to attain a divorce in 1802), she would become a leader in the independence movement (organzing an underground network of society ladies to smuggle arms, publish anti-Spanish newspapers, run a spy network… and find time to pose for a statue of the Virgin Mary!), later serving as adviser to a later paramour, Agustin Iturbide.

Simon, in his later career of Liberador, would have no problem with women officers in his armies (including a few generalas), and his must trusted political adviser would be his Peruvian companion, Manuela Saenz.

While it’s doubtful young Simon learned, or did anything that might have shocked his conventional parents (who anyway had both died by the time he was 12), or Hipollita — his “milk mother” (nursemaid) whom he always referred to as both his true mother and true father (and whom he emacipated as soon as he reached the age of majority, providing her a comfortable home and pension the rest of her life… and she outlived Simon by five years), but WHAT HE LEARNED!

That neighbor was the thirty year old Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt’s sexual preferences were hardly a secret, even then… to the end of his very long life (he lived to be 90) … surrounding himself with good-looking, young, and intelligent men. And, what was Humboldt seducing young Simon with? Why the surprising data proving the Americas did not need Spain, that Spain was a drag on development in the Americas… and besides, there was this radical theory called “Democracy” and “Republicanism” being tried out north of the border that looked very, very promising. Oh, and if Simon got the chance, yes, you could get across the Andes mountains.

So there you have it… money and looks and the luck of birth can only get you so far. Better yet to keep disreputable company.

Since you asked… or will

1 July 2021

Yes, the Supreme Court of Justice DID rule (in an 8 to 1 decision) that the laws preventing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes was unconstitutional, but that does ot mean “smoke ’em if you got ’em”.

Hot off the presses (ok, off the internet, and translated) from EFE:

With the prohibition on using marijuana lifted by the Supreme Court, Mexicans who request a permit will be able to consume legally,with certain restrictions. These measures will remain in force from the publicatin of the ruling in the DOF (the Official Gazette of the Federation) UNTIL Congress legislates on the matter. Madame Justice Norma Lucía Piña, detailed the scope of what was endorsed in the court.

Permission to grow and consume marijuana in Mexico: Permits must be processed by COFEPRIS (The Federal Commision for Sanitary Risk Protection), a department within the Ministery of Health. “With the general declaration of unconstitutionality of regulations against use and possessin, the legal obstacle is removed for the Ministry of Health, through a competent body [i.e., COFEPRIS] to authorize in the future activities related to the self-consumption of cannabis and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for recreational purposes, respecting the fundamental right to the free development of the personality recognized by Article 1 of the Constitution, “said Piña.

The permits may only be requested by adults, for the purpose of acquiring, planting, cultivating, harvesting, preparating, possessing and transportating marijuana.

Limitations on cannabis use in Mexico

Piña added that among the limitations are that adults do not consume marijuana in front of minors or in public spaces, that they do not drive or do dangerous activities under the influence of said drug.

It is not authorized, in any case, to import, trade or supply” marijuana,, For now, there is no recreational cannabis market in Mexico .

(no, I haven’t been indulging… I still haven’t figured out the $%&/(“!! editing function in the “new and (not in any way) improved” WordPress editor)

Turn the other tweet

17 June 2021

In the recent national elections (6 June) PES… “Solidarity Encounter Party”… had a very simple platform: “Just say no!”… No to abortion (so far, only available… at least legally… in two states, Mexico City and Oaxaca) and same-sex marriage.

The voters agreed: they just said no. Presented a choice of two coalitions and 11 separate parties, PES received only 2.68 of the vote, well below the 3 percent threshhold needed to retain it’s party registration, and even below the number of blank or intenionally spoiled ballots: 3.41 percent of the 490 cast ballots. As of this week, the party is being “liquidated”, not only losing its rights as a national party, but forced to liquidate its assets.

Although opposition to liberalizing abortion laws remains strong, opposition to same sex marriage is pretty much a thing of the past… available in Mexico City since 2007, and since 2010, anywhere in the republic… with a proviso. Opposition from state legislators to changing their state constitutions to reflect what has been recognized as a basic civil right has led to a weird and inconvient problem in the hold-out states. While the rights that come with marriage from any one state are the same in all states, several states still refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, who need to ask a federal judge for an injunction to receive a license. Since June 2015, thanks to a follow up Supreme Court ruling, every federal judge MUST grant such an injunction. While not terribly expensive to file with the court, it does involve extra fees and some legal saavy, so far restricting the rights of some couples in several states to those with money and education. Needless to say, not all LGBTQ+ people are rich, smart and beautiful nor are the majority of Mexicans … well… rich anyway.

All that aside, the hold out states have just been dragging their heels on making the necessary changes to their state constitutions and/or marriage laws that reflect the reality. Although there are still some objections from conservatives, even PAN — which includes among its founding fathers, not just traditioalist Catholics, but fascists (the real kind, 1930s style)– doesn’t put up much opposition. At most, as they did in Sinaloa the past weekend, abstain from voting, or make themselves scarce, when the state Assembly finally got around to changing the law (under a Supreme Court order to get it done). Baja California, one state where US style Evangelicals hold more sway, followed a few days later.

Which brings us back to the hapless PES-ers. Allegedly (and the facts, as they say, are disputed) the party somehow “forgot” to pay the network managers hired to run their campaign twitter account. ALLEGEDLY… said network manager posted the following tweet:

As George Takai migh say… “Oh, myyyyyyy”!. As one waggish commenter noted, the post received more likes than the number of votes PES managed to win. Not quite true, but certainly reflective of the senibilities of those who care enough to even follow the party’s twitter account.

Sources: INE posted election results, Forbes Mexico, (here and there), La Jornada Maya.

A footnote: PES is bizzaro. Under its previous incarnation “Social Encounter” it was part of the AMLO coalition in the 2018 presidential election. How they fit in with the Social Democratic Morena and the Socialist Workers Party was a mystery, although AMLO himself is know to be a socially conservative and a religious believer (whether a capital “C” Catholic, or small “c” Christian isn’t quite clear, though he’s more prone to quote Jesus than Karl Marx when he speaks… matter of fact, I’ve never heard him quote Karl, or even reference the guy). Many evangelicals in Mexico, while socially traditionalist, are also indigenous or poor.. and the coalition’s open appeal to both groups… might have made them appear a likely ally. As it was, in 2018, while they managed to win a few elections here and there (notably in Morelos, where the candidate toned down the religious appeal, and ran as what he was… a world-famous soccer star), they lost their registration. Even with the slightly changed name, their Second Coming was a bust, too. Amen to that!

What fun…

14 June 2021

With the hoopla of the June election still fresh, there’s another test of the “fourth transformation” coming up on the First of August which could show even more how thorough the changes in governmental style and the supposed mandate for a break with the past really is.

The First of August “consulta” (referendum) asks whether former presidents can be investigated and charged for crimes committed during their tenure. All or some of these guys may next be seen with a black band across their eyes next time you see their mugshots:

Watch this space: Kamala Harris and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

14 June 2021

AGAIN? Whether she knows it or not, Kamala Harris’ meeting with AMLO is only the latest iteration of an attempt to tie business interests and “national security” concerns to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, that go back to the James Buchanan administration.

Actually, a bit before that. It was one thing for the United States to “acquire” California, and quite another to administer it with the federal government on the other side of the continent, separated by a few thousand miles of still imperfectly mapped terrain, filled with “sovereign citizens” of their own nations, who weren’t too keen on outsiders tramping through the 2500 kilometers they had the temerity to regard as their own land. Exterminating the Indians was going to take a few years, and in the meantime, with immigrants pouring into California, not to mention the British still sniffing around looking to expand their empire, and the business opportunities not just from the gold rush, but in the Pacific trade beckoning… The United States (to say nothing of US business interests) had a problem after 1850 with a state dangling off there on the Pacific, with a government squarely a bit inland from the Atlantic.

Although instructions might be sent by telegraph (assuming the lines were open the whole way), ships, adminstrators, not to mention goods and services (and above all, MONEY) had to flow “back east” by one of three ways… directly by ship sailing around Cape Horn, crossing the Isthmus of Panama and running a high risk of contracting yellow fever, being eaten by jungle animals, or killed by Panamanians; or through mountainous Nicaragua (an expensive proposition, thanks to Commoder Vanderbuilt, who’d bought up the stagecoach and steamship lines that handled the passage). The Panama passage required some approval by the Colombian government (Colombia claimed Panama, but didn’t much care who was wandering through) and Vanderbuilt had simply bought the Nicaraguan government.

A better alternative… at least on paper… lay though the Isthmus of Tehuatepec…being flat, roads were easily built; and being windy, mosquitos were less problematic. The only drawback was that there were completing governments in Mexico throughout the 1850s (the Reform Wars) until 1857. So… in 1858, negotiations began on what became the “McLaine-Ocampo Treaty”, which — relativly standard for such treaties at the time when a foreign state wanted access across a territory — would have given the US the right to build a road across the isthmus, along with a “free trade” clause allowing goods going to and from US ports to pass without customs duties, and the right of the US to protect its citizens and interests along the passage (since, in return, the United States would have paid several million dollars up front, this latter has been used ever since by historian hostile to the Juarez administration to claim the treaty would have annexed the Isthmus to the United States, and to paint Juarez as a sell out to the gringos).

Whether or not this would have been a good or bad treaty for either side was moot. With the French invasion of Mexico, and US Civil War breaking out in 1860 leading to among other things, a massive “private-public partnership” to build railroads across the continent, the treaty was never ratified, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was more or less off the US radar.

But, not for long. Even in Colonial days, the Tehuantepec route had been seen as the best short-cut from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Money had always been short, and the early Republic had only made fits and starts on a trans-isthmus road. With British investors, however, having made some start on a rail-line across the Isthmus, the US… seeing British investors much the same way then as they see Chinese investors now, encoured the investor class to take another look at the Isthmus.

James Eads, the civil engineer who’d “miraculously” figured out how to build a bridge across the Mississippi, was surely the man to “reverse engineer” bringing ships across land, rather than land traffic across water. And, as a government contractor, he had the ear of both Washington and Wall Street. His plan was somewhat sci-fi… or rather, this being the 19th century, steam-punk. Eads envisined dry-docks on both oceans, capable of floating a ship onto a giant flatcar, and hauled the mere 200 Km from coast to coast. This would have required building giant flat-cars spanning five tracks, pulled by a team of steam-engines… to say nothing of the dry-docks and other facilities.

Eads drew up the plans, so tracks were laid and then… he died. Coupled with a series of economic depressions in the 1880s, the project was again forgotten. ALTHOUGH… not by the Mexicans. Less ambitious, and having to turn to Britian for the financial resources, a transoceanic railway was completed in 1893. And while not the fantastic construction envisioned by Eads, a relatively successful operation. And profitable.

The French, hoping to duplicate their success in building the Suez Canal, were distant threat with their plans for canals through either Panama or Nicaragua, but the mountains, the climate, and the political situations made it more costly, and difficult than they had expected. The United States, having gobbled up what remained of the Spanish Empire in 1898, and its investors having recovered from the depressions of the 1880s, were all in for a new attempt to find a shorter sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific… and one they (or the US government on their behalf) would control Panama, being available (helped along by a Frenchman… tired of waiting around to make a killing on the incomplete French canal project, then delayed by the Colombian government’s demand for a piece of the action… cut through the red tape by going to New York, typing out a Panamanian Declaration of Independence in his hotel room, and seeking the recognition for the new republic (which would happily grant the concessions needed by the United States) in 1904.

And, so… while the Transisthmus railroad was highly profitable for a few years… up thru the 1920s, as the Panama Canal was still being built and a bit after, it eventually became a minor secondary trasnport route, and the Isthmus … and the south in general… was all but forgotten. With the increasing importance of US trade, and the massive push for industrialization in the northern border region, the Isthmus, at most, has survived as a “quaint” touristy backwater, and a headache for conservative governments, bent on controlling dissent in the region (notably the uprisingings in Oasaca at the start of the Calderón Administration). That the Panama Canal has aged, and despite widening, is no longer as capable of handling larger and larger cargo ships, that Pacific ports are able to handle the cargo and distribute eastward more easily than before, did re-ignite interest in cosidering alternative routes from Asia to eastern North America. A new Nicaraguan Canal was proposed a few years back, but for political and economic reasons (the Nicaraguan government is unfriendly to the United States, besides which the project was poorly thought out, never popular with the Nicaraguans, and environmentally unsound).

HOWEVER, with the present Mexican administration (incidentally, headed by a native southerner), with owes much of its political strength outside of Mexico City to those “forgotten” southerners, and with AMLO’s team looking to “spread the wealth” of export manufacturing more evenly through the country, AND a promise to improve economic opportunity in the forgetten Isthmus… a reborn Trans-Isthmus project, which would not only include the railroad (although, alas, not like Eads’ that would cart entire ships, merely shipping containers) but manufacturing hubs (cheap Mexican manufacturing cutting the transportation costs of cheap Chinese manufacturing), the railroad project is again viable.

The devil is in the details:

Lack of economic opportunity being one of the main drivers of emigration, and immigration from the south being a hot button in the United States, the source of most manufacting employers being the same people who “contribute” (i.e. buy) the administration in the United States, it looks very much as if the colossus of the north is looking to reinvent not just the McClaine-Ocampo agreement, but in effect create a quasi-secondary US border, effectively cutting Mexico off from it’s more natural cultural and political ties to the south.

[U.S. Vice President Kamala] Harris made it clear in a tweet posted at the beginning of [last week’s] visit: “Our economies are tied and our security depends on each other.” Without a doubt, in public terms, the big issue is migration, where, in addition to humanitarian aspects, Vice President Harris was very explicit, both in Guatemala and in Mexico, that her country will strengthen security measures on its own border. […] And it demands support from Mexico.

… As different US authorities have been saying ever since General VanHerrk, of the US Northern Command, said in testimony before the U.S. Senate that he is greatly concerned about Russian and Chinese penetration into Mexico, and that “enemies” could take advantage of criminal activity in places where the Mexican government is relatively weak.

The statement speaks of US investments in different projects in the south of the country and, above all, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Remmber that Chinese companies have a vested interest in the interoceanic project for geopolitical reasons, something unacceptable to the United States. It’s worth recalling that the Torrijos-Carter agreements of 1999, which turned over administration of the Panama Canal to Panamanians, established that, in the event of a war or serious challenges to the national security of the United States, the US could take over control at any time. When the government of Daniel Ortega, in Nicaragua, proposed to build a new canal with Chinese companies that would cross from the Pacific to the Caribbean through that country, the United States transparently worked to prevent the project from proceding.

It is no different with the interoceanic that President López Obrador proposes. With an addition that is not new and that has been on the table for decades: the construction of that corridor, if it is implemented corrected, it would be, in fact, an artificial southern border that would allow immigration and security control […] Investing in this project, developing investments would especially benefit Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, with an efficient communication channel and with productive companies. In itself, the most important strategic project in terms of national and regional security, that the López Obrador administration, infinitely more important than the Mayan Train, Dos Bocas refinery, or the Felipe Ángeles airport. Will the magnitude be understood, what this actually implies and requires?

But, in the joint statement following the Harris-AMLO meeting should be read carefully, especially what it says about criminal organizations. The text says that: “The two countries agreed to establish an operational group specialized in combating trafficking and human trafficking through a methodology that seeks to share information and intelligence, in order to identify, interrupt and dismantle human smuggling networks in Mexico. They also agreed to hold a high-level meeting on security cooperation, with a date yet to be defined. ” This implies two things: first, that if you want to “identify, interrupt and dismantle human smuggling networks” you will have to take the same measures against organized crime groups in general, because human trafficking is a core part of criminal organizations in the country, and it is not a phenomenon alien to them.


Jorge Fernández Menéndez, “Harris y López Obrador: el componente estratégico” Excelsior, 9 Junio 2021 (my translation)

In other words… wait and see. Will the US expect to “embed” their own customs and border patrol agents in the region? The DEA, FBI, CIA, NSA…? Or will they, under some pretense of a “national security” threat to their own interests (or, more likely, their own inability to deal with their massive narcotics consumption problem) demand control over the corridor?

See also: Wendy Call, “Looking South: The Mexican Isthmus Through Gringo Glasses“, CommonPlace, the journal of early American life, July 2011.

Midterms: surprised?

8 June 2021

It’s a given in the US, that “midterm elections” (those for state and local offices falling between presidential elections)… espeically when the sitting president’s election had also swept in his (or her) party (the so-called “coattail effect”) will show some loss in support for the ruling party… how much of a loss said to reflect political trends, and acting as a sort of referendum on the presidency.

Although this makes some sense in a two party system, whether it proves anything here (with 11 national parties on various ballots, not counting a few state and regional parties) is debatable, but given that in THIS midterm, the pundits and politicos broadly defined only two camps… the Lopezobradista coaliton (Morena, Workers Party [Partido Trabadora, or PT) and its lesser ally, the Greens (PVEM, for its full initials in Spanish), faced off against a “Centerist-Right” coalition (the “traditional” main parties, PRI, PAN, and PRD). Or… as the Economist and Wall Street Journal (and much of the propaganda from those opposition party’s would have it) of Leftism vs. “Democracy”. And, with Morena — as expected — losing some seats, one expects the “friends of neoliberalism” will see this as a victory of some kind.

Maybe in the federal legislature, but maybe not. The leftist coalition will have fewer members (with a system of 300 first past the post seats, and 200 by proportional representation, and votes still to be counted, not to mention the always popular demands for a recount, or complaints by close losers that there was electoral chincanery, the exact numbers won’t be know for quite some time) … BUT will still have a majority. Just not the plurality (2/3rd, or 334 seats) that was always an unrealistic goal. And, if anything, the majority coalition will be further to the left. Morena loses seats, but the further left (originally Maoist) PT will have a much larger presence in the coalition. This will be tempered somewhat by the surprisingly strong showing of the PVEM (Greens) which is not particularly ideological, and pehaps support from the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC). The latter did extremely well in local and state elections (even winning the governorship in Chihuahua,

MC had been around for several years, under different names (Convergence for Democracy, then just plain Convergence) hard to pin down ideologically, athough claiming to be a “social democratic” party and much of its growth coming at the expense of the old PRD, which was the main leftist party in the country until it pulled itself apart in inter-party squabbles over how left it could really be… and never able to expand its base outside of Mexico City, and a few southern states. MC could side with the leftist coalition majority more than the opposition, and … if it has any seats at all, PES which was a odd appendage to Lopez Obrador’s presidential coalition, might provide a vote or two for the left — on occasion. PES is a “Christian” party, meant to appeal to the Evangelical Protestant and Mormon vote although it has provided a platform for candidates who can’t get on the ballot any other way, In Morelos, Cuauhtémoc Blanco who is primarily known as a legendary soccer star, ran successfully for the governorship under the PES label, despite not being particularly known for any Christian piety. In this round, Jorge Hank Rhon, not only a professed agnostic, but best known as a casino magnate and race track owner (and for eccentricities like keeping pet tigers, and drinking their pee as an alleged aphodisic) ran for the governorship (and lost) in Baja California as the PES candidate.

As said, none of this seems all that surprising when it comes to the national legislature. What has been a surprise, and what shows MORENA is more than just AMLO, has been in state races. Morena and Morena coalition candidates swept the open governor’s elections… capturing 11 of the 15 states where there were elections. And, in one, San Luis Potosí, the loss was to a Green-PT (“red-green”) running separately from MORENA rather than in a broad left coalition. With northern states like Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja California also electing governors running under the MORENA coalition, it’s impossible to claim that the party is a Mexico City/southern party.

If anything, the rather poor showing of Morena candidates for “alcaldes” in Mexico City (roughly equivalent to presidente municpal in other states, or borough president in large US cities like New York), might indicate it’s just seen as just another major party in some places… although in Mexico City, the recent collapse of a metro bridge (killing 20 odd people), being largely blamed on the present administration, and the Greens not in coalition with Morena within Mexico City (giving voters an option to vote left, but not for the party) may have played some role. As it was, PAN, the only relevant opposition party on the right did very well in those elections. With a rough demarcation between west and east, which those on the west side electing PANistas, and those further east going to MORENA, wags have already made jokes about building a wall, a la Berlin in the Cold War (and, after all, some silly travel writer once claimed the city was the “New Berlin”.. so maybe a “new Berlin Wall” is too good a meme not to exploit).

Finally… and these are just first thoughts… Tamalipas was a huge surprise. That’s the state where the governor was holed up, surrounded by armed state police, avoiding arrest warrants, and where the PAN state legislature had refused to impeach the governor, despite a federal congressional vote to impeach him, and those pesky criminal indictments on a number of charges awaiting him. The state legislative elections went overwhelmingly to MORENA, meaning… as soon as they sit… the governor is toast.

Of course, Lopez Obrador has lost SOME legislative support, but that was to be expected. However, it shows that MORENA is not some flash in the pan, populist organ for its founder, but a party that has established itself as the mainstream ruling party… and that new opposition, like PT and MC on the left and “liberal center” is shifting the “Overton window” away from the neoliberal opposition, which hasn’t faded away, not yet. Foreign observers in media like The Economist and the Wall Street Journal, may have tried to paid the midterms as a battle for democracy, but they defined democracy as support for the economic theories of their home countries. In reality, Democracy was the winner.

10,000 Years … 13 years later

2 June 2021

I realized, almost as soon as Gods, Gachupines and Gringos was first published, that it would need revised. Whatever intentions I might have had, through three moves, a marriage, dealing with having inherited by backrupt publisher, a crippling accident, a couple computers, a pandemic lock-down that’s run way, way too long … you know… “real life”, for some reason very little was ever accomplished. Although I’m not happy with, or comfortable with, this new WordPress platform (and still can’t figure out how to do anything more than drop in text),

Whether I see this as a completely different book, or just a revised edition, my first publisher and editor having died, I don’t expect any publisher is going to devote the time, effort and money that went into the original book. I haven’t really thought too much about submissions (not having done enough work to seriously consider looking for a publisher), and wonder if it may not be dump everything on some on-line platform, ask for donations, and hope for the best.

Anatole France wrote in “Le Jardin d’Epicure: “It is impossible to know the past; no one is able to read everything that one would be required to read.” Or, watch on videos, download, or rethink, either. But, one must start somewhere.

By way of an introduction:

10,000 Years… More or Less

Two things are very valuable in our country… our culture, and our cultures. Mexico was founded more than ten thosand years ago, and with all due respect, while buffalo still grazed in what is now New York, already Mexico had universities and printing presses. We have had earthquakes, familines, floods, files bad government, corruption and on it goes… [but our] culture always saves Mexico.

Andres Mánuel López Obrador

Said soon after his inaguaration in 2018, the new Mexican president was criticized for this remark, not only by his usual political rivals and those in the mass media who reflexibly picked apart the President’s fondness for hyperbole, but by many of his usual supporters among the intellectuals as well. For the intelletuals, the definition of “culture” and, specifically Mexican culture, was narrowly defined by what we see today… that modern country that did indeed have universities and printing presses while New York was still a grazing ground for buffalo. But they are thinking of “modern” Mexico, a geographic and political entity with a history going back only about 500 years, or at the most, to those advanced urban societies which have been identified, and imperfectly understood, dating back perhaps a mere thousand or so years earlier.

But then, in another sense, the President was absolutely correct. The Mexican cultures of today incorporate not only the native American societies which came before (about which we don’t know enough to say they don’t date back perhaps 10,000 years) but those which contributed to the cultures of modern Mexico. Not simply the Indigenous American peoples, but those of Iberia (Spain and Portugal), who are themselves heirs to Phoenician, Islamic, Jewish, Berber, Celtic, Roman, Greek, and Germanic cultural roots, but to the cultures of west Africa and east Asia, as well. To say nothing of more recent mainstream cultural additions from eastern Europe, the Middle East and, of course, from the United States.

The latter is the land of E pluribus unum (“One out of many”), which has only recently seen itself as multi-cultural. For most of its history, it has metaphorically considered itself a “melting pot”, in which various ethnicities and cultures are “melted” into one relatively homogenous people. That is not to say that African-Americans don’t enjoy pizza, or that Italian-Americans didn’t enjoy Motown music, but that Mexicans, unlike their neighbors to the north, recognize the different strains that make them who they are, and are much more likely to refer to their interwoven historical past than others.

It is nothing to hear or read in the political press, and even in general conversation , references to cultural traditions and history. “Pundits” think nothing of referencing Aztec history when making an argument for one or another political decision today. Politicians make historical references all the time, expecting their audience will understand them… which they do.

In a country where the past is very much part of the present—whether talking about the corn and chiles in pozole, or the lingering resentment over past invasions —misunderstanding this can be costly. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, a Mexican reporter one afternoon when we were joined by a foreign resident, who quite innocently voiced his opinion on his perceived shortcomings of the national oil company, PEMEX. The Mexican reporter barely contained his composure, as he patiently gave an overview of Mexican-U.S. relations with reference to the extractive industries from the 1880s to the late 1930s. Perhaps not coincidentally, the foreign visitor could not understand why he was having problems signing up customers for the business he was trying to conduct in Mexico. In 2003, Mexico sat on the United Nations Security Council at a time when the United States was seeking the council’s permission to invade Iraq. It naturally expected its friendly ally to the south to back the U.S: position, but Mexico refused. for reasons going back ten, thirty-five, sixty, one hundred fifty and five hundred years: Mexicans don’t consider five hundred years that long a time, nor do they consider history as something belonging only in a classroom. Street vendors and people just commuting on the same bus as I have, often will know, and generally know correctly, the historical significance of some local landmark, or of their community. The residents of La Merced, a down-and-out Mexico City neighborhood were delighted to pitch in to restore what was recently identified as the oldest standing building in the capital… which was a mere 490 years old, and still in daily use.

For Mexicans, history is simply part of who they are, their culture … or cultures. Whether one is trying to do business or just visiting the country, you will find Mexicans think about and react based on their history; more often than most people. But does that historical memory stretch back ten thousand years?

Yes…

Deer Park: a Shell game or good business?

1 June 2021

” [Oil] is the devil’s excrement!”


(Former Venezuelan Oil Minister, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, 1975)

From Drake’s first well in 1859 up through the present, it’s been debatable whether oil has been more a curse or a blessing to those who have it. Certainly, it’s been profitable to those who WANT IT, and MARKET it, but as to those whose “luck” it is to be sitting on it…cue bono ?

Within 10 years of the gusher in Titusville, prospectors were already working here in Mexico. There wasn’t much of a market for the stuff locally, but with the (foreign built) railways providing access to the US market, oil became a big business… for foreigners. “In 1889, the Veracruz legislature passed a law titled Ley sobre subdivision de la propiedad territorial, under which the state gave land titles to private owners. The privatization of land allowed state to declare any land that was not privatized to be public land. In 1883, the Mexican Congress passed the Ley de Colonización, which allowed private land companies to survey public lands for the purpose of subdivision and settlement.” (yeah… Wikipedia. But most of us already knew this). Of course, the land wasn’t just sitting there over a lake of oil… people had been living there and using it for other purposes. BUT… there was money to be made, and that’s that. Money to be made… by foreigner “investors” who never went near the place, in nearly all cases. And… as we all know… the resentment it caused was more than just another of a series of complaints lodged against the old regime, leading up to the Revolution of 1910-20.

Once the genie’s out of the bottle… or the gusher is out of the rock… there’s no do-over. Certainly the oil industry had a tremendous effect on Mexico, turning it from an agrian nation into a manufacuring one. The British decision (by First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Chuchill) to fuel it’s navy with oil, and not coal led to “complications” during our revolution, with Britian “demanding” that Mexico’s oil continue to supply their navy (the largest foreign oil company at the time was a British firm) even though what government the country had that could claim legitimacy had no stake it that squabble among the European imperial powers, and, frankly, preferred the Germans anyway.

Although the British might control the largest single oil company, by far United States businesses were the largest exporters… and despite having plenty of resources to plunder in their own country, by 1917 needed foreign imports to fuel their own growing consumption demands… which were also growing in Mexico (and everywhere else in the world by the 1920s). With the two imperial powers (or rather, the corporations to which the imperial governments answered) controlling a large part of the Mexican economy, it was forced, if for recognition by the United States as much as any other reason, into the humilating Bucarelli Agreement of 1923, extending leases on oil fields pre-dating the new Mexican constition which had clearly stated (Article 27) that the oil in the ground, like other natural resources, was Mexican property.

The oil producers basically ignored the Mexican government (even financing their own mercerary army, and functioning as a state within the state). Until (to quote Machete), they messed with the wrong Mexican… Lazaro Cardenas. The timing was perfect. Although the imperial governments could threaten Mexico in 1938, with their own need for oil to keep their ships and airplanes and tanks and truck running in the coming war, they couldn’t afford to alienate what had becoming one of the largest single oil companies in the world.

Whether PEMEX was a curse or a blessing (and more than a bit of both), it became a model for those countries who wanted control… or at least some control… over their own resources. And, those countries realized, a political weapon. Who needs a huge army, if the armies that depend on you can’t function? And.. with the profits staying at home… good business: at least for the managers.

PEMEX went into a tailspin after the first “OIl Crisis” of 1973, when producers (mostly the Islamic nations) played hardball by cutting production as a way of “punishing” the western powers for their support for Israel. Oil prices skyrocketed after the crisis, and in 1976, just after Mexican President Lopez Portillo bragged that “those countries with the oil have the money to spend” just as prices began to fall… and fall… and fall. Ironically, in part due to the discovery of new Mexican fields in the late 1970s.

And… even more to that “one neat trick” of continually pulling money out of PEMEX for more… uh… pressing needs (than, say, the PEMEX hospital system, the schools, the National Politechnical Institute set up by Cardenas to train professionals to manage the resource, the general fund), like buying votes and lining the pockets of PEMEX directors, tame union leaders and select politicians.

And… then came Carlos Salinas… a true believer in the neo-liberal economic theories taught at Harvard and elsewhere. Better the (mis) management of “private enterprise” than that of the state for some reason. While privatizing PEMEX would be close to impossible (the people, even the ones prone to sell their votes for a potty message, were unlikely to support that), but he could — and did — push through the idea that PEMEX was not a resource management service, but had to be run as a regular coporate business. That included, of course, as the thining in business circles was (and largely still is) assessing managers on their quarterly and annual statements and … the state being the shareholder… short term profit and loss.

Short-term being the key word here. Enamoured of neo-liberalism, and besotted with the thought of foreign investments once the NAFTA treaty was signed, it was only a matter of time before someone had the bright idea of … while on paper keeping PEMEX under state ownership, spinning off subsidiaries that could take on foreign “partners”. That part of managing the oil resources was to provide gasoline, rather than invest in the upkeep and renovation of existing refineries, partnering with SHELL ,,, and then reimporting the gasoline from Texas somehow made sense. After all, refineries cost money that could be better invested in… supporting the ruling party’s hold on power, or slipped into off-shore bank accounts of favored officials (or both). That PEMEX, being treated as a business, and not a state institution, allowed for it, at least in public, to be the state’s largest tax payer, though, running at a loss, the SHELL game (selling oil, at a discounted price to SHELL, paying them to refine it, and buying back the finished product to re-import to Mexico to sell at a subsidized price) was part of a larger shell game… benefiting a few politicians and their families, but no one else.

López Obrador has been criticized for being something of a throw-back to earlier Mexican politicians, and in a sense he is. Mexican politicians used to pride themselves on knowing national history, and alluding to events of the past in their campaigns, secure in their knowledge that the people understood the reference. With privatization losing much of its cachet among voters, and even the elites beginning to question the premises of neoliberalism, saving PEMEX, if for no other reason than as a historical artifact, Calderón promised… to great fanfare… to build six refineries, both on the premise that a “first world” Mexico would need more gasoline to feed the demand of a growing middle-class lifestyle (a car in every garage) and in small measure, to “save” PEMEX. After opening site bids (based it seems on what politicians had interests in what available properties)… exactly ONE spot was chosen, a wall built around the site and… left it for Enrique Peña Nieto to come up with something “new and different”: using funds channeled through PEMEX to bribe congress into approving another “reform” that would in theory make more gasoline at competitive prices available… allowing foreign companies to open their own gas stations. Which did nothing for gasoline prices, nor for PEMEX. On top of this, there ws a growing market for “black market” gasoline, and even those tasked by the Peña Nieto adminstration with safeguarding the devil’s excrament, turned “huachicolero”… gas thieves. An estimated 10% of the nation’s gasoline was being siphoned off from clandestine taps into pipelines and even hijacked fuel trucks. In 2018, during the run-up to the presidential election, that throwback, AMLO, reached back, not to the most recent event, but to Calderón’s six-refinery promise.

It was good politics: in Mexico, those who remember the past, are going to milk it for all it’s worth. Laying out the sins of omission by the previous administrations, among them the failure to build refineries, propelled AMLO to Los Pinos (which he promply closed, and moved into a more modest apartment in the Palacio Nacional). Beginning construction on at least one new refinery gave AMLO the cover to being phase two… cracking down on the huachicoleros (which caused a short-term gasoline shortage, mostly though panic buying), closing stations that were selling stolen gasoline… while the promise of at least one new refinery was publicized as evidence that — if not today, than soon — PEMEX oil, turned into PEMEX gasoline would be available, and assuaging national pride among those that saw the seeming inability of Mexico and PEMEX to handle its own resources as humiliating. Which it is.

With congressional elections in the offing (the voters go to the polls this coming Sunday, 6 June) likely to result in an increased presence of the opposition in congress, simply buying out SHELL’s majority share of the Deer Park refinery in Texas City was a dramatic move to bolster support for AMLO’s own Morena party. It’s perfectly true that six refineries haven’t been built (or even started)… YET. But where there was one, and a couple working at about 30%, now there is one being built (and producing at 50%) and a second… lo and behold… working at 100%.

Yes, PEMEX probably paid more than it should, and, yes, SHELL wanted to get rid of it anyway (or, had to… being a Dutch company, and under a Dutch court order to drastically reduce its output of fossil fuels) but the overpayment (about a quarter billion US dollars) can be made up by not having to pay SHELL that had to make a profit out of its refining costs… an overhead on top of the overhead that PEMEX would have doing the refining itself. And, it won’t be increasing any country’s carbon footprint of emissions overall. The gasoline that Deer Park wasn’t sending back to Mexico was going somewhere else, and Mexico won’t be burning more gasoline, just more of its own, with less from sources other than that PEMEX refines (another savings for the state run oil company). Win-win.

Except for the political opposition.

All in favor of corruption, say “Aye”

31 May 2021

From “La Opinion” (Los Angeles (my humble translation)

Wanting to destroy, attack or challenge the public opinion of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, The Economist , one of the most prestigious and historic English neoliberal defenders, says in an article published last week that the The Mexican president is honest, but it doesn’t matter, he must be opposed or removed.

“He is not personally corrupt,” says the article in the first paragraph; but immediately stressed that the president is a “danger” to Mexican democracy. In other words, the president of Mexico is a danger to the people because he is not corrupt; therefore, no one should vote for him. What a paradox.

Unfortunately for the magazine, López Obrador’s strength lies in honesty. That is why people follow him. The people know that there is much to do and correct, but they also know that the first step has been taken with him and, therefore, they continue supporting him. To a large extent, his honesty and his decades-long struggle for honest government is what brought him to power, something not understood by his critics. The Economist article emphasizes that the president speaks for the have-nots and and the disadvantaged. He is not homophobic or discriminatory. And, as the magazine admits, he has done good things, like increasing pensions, subsidizing youth educational and training programs, keeping debt under control, and maintaining the country’s strong credit rating. The magazine even suggests to the opposition learn from AMLO, since the governments of the past did a terrible job with the families that were left behind economically since the 1980s.

In its eagerness not to be so biased against the López Obrador administration, the article criticizes the country’s ruling class and calls it corrupt; but apparently it doesn’t matter, because the editorials calls on those who are corrupt to do whatever it takes to stop the President.

The importance of the June 6 elections is that the entire Chamber of Deputies, the body that controls the budget, is at stake. Currently the [Lopéz Obrador’s party (Morena)] has a simple majority, but with the allied parties it enjoys an absolute majority. The Economist and the opposition in Mexico want is for López Obrador to lose that majority to block any type of legislation that violates the economic interests of multinationals with advantageous contracts.

Three years into AMLO’s mandate, thousands of corporations have been paying taxes that they’d evaded before, unequal conract with the state have been modified, and the minimum wage has risen by 50%. There has also been changes to the laws on subcontracting, which has literally elmited workers’ rights.

The article, far from painting AMLO as , “The false messiah” claims he is a “danger” for democracy in the country. Rather, López Obrador is a danger for some corrupt corporations that evade taxes and exploit Mexico’s resources and workers. The only thing that the current administration is doing is insist businesses and individuals comply with the law. You can still make a profit, but you ca’t go looting.

Recently Mexico managed to be among the best 10 countries in the world for direct capital investors, and AMLO was classified as one of the first two leaders in the world with most support from his own people. Unfortunately, the main objective of this magazine, in conjunction with corporations and corrupt ruling classes, is to call for Mexico to return to the era of past six years, when these classes could take over natural resources, ignoring and impoverishing the people themselves. Needless to say, the looting of the past was done with the complicity of the political class of what is now known as “PRIAN” (Institutional Revolutionary Party-National Action Party).

On September 27, 1913, The Ecoomist published an article favorable to the coup against the democratically elected President Francisco I. Madero that brought the dictator, Victoriano Huerta, to power. On that occasion, it stressed that Madero was “a problem for Mexico.” In the same way, The Economist last week stated in its cover article that the Mexican president, also over-whelmingly elected in 2018 by democratic means, is a “danger to democracy”; the danger, according to the Economist being that he is not corrupt.

Rage, rage, against the dying of the right

27 May 2021

Carlos Mota may have said (and he did) that the cover story and (unsigned) lead editorial in The Economist would give the “members of the 4-T” (i.e., supporters of the “fourth transformation” … the various implemented, implementing, and proposed reforms and restructing of the government, the political structure, and reparation of the social contract) a heart attack.. though the reaction has hardly been a call for even smelling salts. More like the reaction one might have to an annoying Chihuahua nipping at your ankles.

Apparently, Mexicans are supposed to be appalled or ashamed that The Economist’s lead editorial is entitled “Voters should curb Mexico’s power-hungry president”. In English. Although the editorial, among its list of AMLO’s supposed “sins” included one that fits the bill (“Mr López Obrador divides Mexicans into two groups: “the people”, by which he means those who support him; and the elite, whom he denounces, often by name, as crooks and traitors who are to blame for all Mexico’s problems”), the first — and by large the largest — doesn’t include very many people who read English, English magazines, or for that matter, gives a crap what a mouthpiece for British neo-liberals think. As to those others, the elite, by and large, they have been exposed as crooks nd traitors.

For that matter, doesn’t every politician basically lump people into two groups… those with me, and those against me? I don’t think AMLO is much different from Joe Biden, or Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson in that. Ah, but here’s the difference. AMLO, as the cover “helpfully” tells us is “Mexio’s False Messiah”… Where have I heard the Messiah before (and I’m not talking about Handel)?

“Tropical Messiah” was a coinage of Enrique Krauze, the fearless defender of the status quo. The epithet was echoed several years ago by the late US media quote-whore George Greyson, whose 2007 Mexican Messiah was the to-to source for all commentary by fly-in pundits (and those who never commented on Mexico before, outside of maybe some “concern” over “illegal aliens” and alleged “terrorist crossing the southern border”). For both Krauze and Grayson, the Messianic hold AMLO held over the masses (presumably of the unwashed variety) was that he had a vision of what Mexico could be, one based in Mexican values (thus his continual references to both Mexican history and Mexican political thought… particularly Alfonso Reyes’ “Moral Primer” of 1946) and not, as “acceptable” (to the global north) politicians who were free to wander within Mexican values… as long as they didn’t cross any line laid down by the “Washington Consensus”, the neoliberal economic theories of Milton Fridman, or do anything really outrageous like follow in the footsteps of presidents like Lazaro Cardenas or Adolfo López Mateos and have the effrontery to see Mexican resources as possibly a benefit to Mexican citizens beyond a source for a meagre paycheck.

As to the particulars of the messianic sins (can a Messiah be a sinner?): First off, he’s “too democratic” (“He calls a lot of votes, but not always on topics that are best resolved by voting. For example, when legal objections are raised to one of his pet projects—moving an airport, building a pipeline, blocking a factory—he calls a referendum”. Is that bad? While The Economist notes that very few people turn out for these referenda on “pet projects” (as opposed to, say, the previous administration’s pet project of an airport in the middle of a swamp, or Calderon’s “Tower of Corruption”) it does mean more than the usual “stakeholders” (neoliberal speak for the people with money interests ast stake) to voice their opinion. Whether or not the people vote is no reflection on the democratic principle of giving a voice to the people affected by the decision.

And.. he supposedly is illegally extending the term of the outgoing (maybe outgoing) Chief Justice. He has had bills introduced to keep the justice on while the entire judicial system is being reformed… reforms that began under the Calderon administration, and require changes in court administration and structure. The Chief Justice wants to finish the job, the President and Congress (most of them) want to finish the job… and there’s no Constitutional bar to extending his term, so what’s the problem?

Well, the problem are the things left unsaid: taking back control of PEMEX, building railroads (although that’s apparently a sin as well), taxing the rich, and tossing the crooks into jail.

But then, again… The Economist, channeling the ghost of Woodrow Wilson, “must teach them to elect good (corrupt) men. Heck, that’s what they said about Peña Neito back in 2012.



Sources:

Voters should curb Mexico’s power-hungry president, The Economist

Mexico’s Moment, The Economist

México responde a The Economist por portada contra AMLO, SDPNoticias,

Así reaccionaron a la portada sobre “AMLO: El falso mesías” de The Economist, SDPNoticias.

El Falso Mesías: la dura portada de The Economist en contra de López Obrador, 24 Horas

The Economist tilda a AMLO de “falso mesías” y llama a EU poner atención en “su patio trasero”, Proceso

A bunch of right wing lunacy, and a lot more sane comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Peru: the commies are coming!

27 May 2021

Yeah, this is MEXfiles, not PERUfiles, but worth noting. Like here, and elsewhere, it’s the upstart leftist parties that are pushing the old establishment parties to the fringes. In Peru, it’s Peru Libre, a “Marxist-Leninist and Maríateguist” (Maríategue was a Peruvian Communist philospher, who argued that in Latin America, European theories of proletarian revolution needed to be adjusted to the realities of the culture here.) that surprised everyone when, with only 20% of the vote in the first round for the upcoming presidential election, it came in first (not too hard with 30 parties on the ballot), followed by the standard bearer of the old guard and establishment, the proto-fascist Keiko Fujamori, the daughter of disgraced former dictator, Alberto Fujamori.

Peru is the county where one-time presidential candidate (and world establishment favorite) Mario Vargas Llosa described a previous election (in which Fujimori fille also faced a “radical leftist”) as the choice between dying of cancer and dying of AIDS. Which disease is Fujimori’s and which is rural school teacher and union leader Pedro Castillo’s is best left to the Peruvian electorate. But the powers that be, among others, opt for not dying of whatever it is Castillo has.

Which, according to the not always accurate latest Peruvian poll, is what’s going to happen. An IPSOS/Ameríca Television poll has Castillo leading Fijimori by a comfortable 4 percent (52 to 48) with indications that his support is growing (and, taking into account that it’s difficult or nearly impossible to poll in some rural areas, where Castillo has the most support).

Fujimori polls much better when it comes to the nitty-gritty of politics (knowledge of the media, professional teams, etc.) and knowledge of the business community. On the other hand, for all his Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, it has to be remembered that Castillo’s rise in public affairs was as a union organizer and negotiator… suggesting a more pragmatic as opposed to ideological driven style, opposed to Fujimori … a “legacy” candidate’s background as a business owner.

What got Mexfiles thinking about Peru… besides noticing a rejection of “politics as usual” here and throughout Latin America (and the inevitable attemps to turn back the clock to “normal”… i.e. corrupt and elitist… political discourse) is that, despite having neither the money nor the knowledge to even risk a modest amount in mining stocks, Mexfiles is a huge fanboy of Inca Kola News, a mining investment newsletter and blog coming out of Lima.

Without any background or information on the issues involved, “Otto’s” two latest posts show why I expect Castillo will be the next president. Although he has been warning of a downturn in the value of Peruvian mining stocks (or, rather, investments that include Peruvian assets, especially in copper) and that investors are wise to consider their options, one company’s shares have been rising considerably… in good part for the simple reason they’re not dicks… they’re “responsible” miners (as responsible as is possible in a dirty, exploitative industry), playing by the rules set by the Peruvian state, not over-exploiting their labor force, and so on… while at the same time, another Canadian operation is pulling out of the country, and no one … neither the workers, nor the investors… would be sorry to see them go.

In short, the “good” miner (Element 29 Resources) “…wasn’t conceived by dirtbags as a way of ripping off idiots and turning director paper into dollars as quickly as possible.” And, something any investor (or “expat” with a business plan) should remember… governments change, the left is rising and… no matter who is in charge, or in what country:

“Once the shock of change is over, track records and [a history] as a good corporate or social citizen will matter most. Payback time for bad actors? Well yeah maybe, but this is less about upcoming acts of vengeance and more when national policies affect local stakeholders, companies with strong track records will be defended by locals, rather than attacked.”

Actualadad, IKN.