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The ghost of Buchot

19 January 2020

Today marks the 93rd anniversary of the death of the ex-Empress Carlota, after 60 years confined to Buchot Castle. Although called a “castle”, her asylum was nothing more than a large house in suburban Brussels, but then too, her earlier claim to be Empress of Mexico was also meant to give illusory glamour to mundane and often rather shabby reality.

Although Bertita Harding’s 1934 novel, “Phantom Crown, the 1939 Paul Muni and Bette Davis vehicle “Juarez” and similar works have presented a tragic tale of royal intrigue and romance, the whole story is … if not sordid… simply sad. Her father, being one of those spare royals floating around after the fall of Napoleon, was created “King of the Belgians” for the simple reason that the European elites carved out a country from what had been France, and that it needed a monarch. Leopold of Saxe-Coberg, the chosen candidate among the cadre of spare royals floating around took advantage of his position (and what monarch doesn’t?) less creating a fairy-tale kingdom than in getting down to the real work of furthering the family business. Mergers and acquisitions among European royalty being as much a matter of family connections as anything, marrying off his daughter Marie Charlotte Amélie Augustine Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine to the Maximilian, second in line to the Austrian-Hungarian throne in 1857

(Wedding photo 1857)

Leopold, being a king and all, had the wherewithal to gamble magnificently. Given the instability of the Austrian_Hungarian throne (it had been created in 1848 after revolutions throughout Europe led to the demise of the old Holy Roman Empire… which, as its own Prime Minister had said, was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”). there was a decent chance that Maximilian would become king of some wealthy territory, or… perhaps, he’d outlive his brother, assuming Franz-Joseph didn’t manage to — as he did the next year — father a male heir.

The 25-year-old Maximilian (Carlota was 17) is always described as “idealistic”… more or less meaning “not particularly suited to kinging”. Not really wanting him around the Austrian throne, he’d originally been palmed off on the Brazilian monarchy, engaged to Princess Maria-Amelia (who was not in the line of succession, and, for that matter, never was born in Portugal and never went anywhere near Brazil). But, Maria Amelia died during the engagement, which maybe should have been seen as a premonition that the guy was unlucky.

It’s not that Max was stupid particularly… he spoke four or five languages and had been broadly educated in several fields, showing some real interest in natural science, though expressed more in his hobby of butterfly collecting than in any rigorous research, just that he really didn’t seem to grasp the nuances of running a government. He showed some talent in naval affairs, and was put in command of the Austrian Navy, showing he wasn’t an incompetent and made viceroy of Trieste… , still second in line to the throne, the Austrians though it might not hurt to give Mex some experience at governance. A stint as Viceroy of Lombardy came to a quick end as the Lombards, being neither Austrian nor Hungarian saw annexation into the new Kingdom of Italy much more to their liking. Off then, to Trieste, another rump Italian province of the Empire, where Max and his bride did their best to market themselves a benign patron of art and culture… starting with building themselves an impressive palace. Which would presage their Mexican adventure, building a royal residence, no expense spared, and no thought given to the cost (Apparently, well-educated as he was, Max never learned to keep accounts), and for all intents and purposes, being the one thing royals should never be… financially embarrassed.

Carlota, still known as Marie Charlotte Amélie, etc., came into her own, proving herself her father’s daughter, someone who knew how to gamble and ruthless when it came to feathering the family nest. With Mexico in the throes of a civil war between conservatives and reformers, the United States tied up with its civil war, and France looking for both overseas financial opportunities (not just Mexican mineral resources, but access to US … or Confederate if it came to that… cotton) the idea of both settling the Mexican situation with an outside and .. theoretically neutral… monarch did have some appeal within conservative Mexican (mostly exile) circles. It also appealed to the Pope, seeking to undo the reformist changes that had not just separated church and state but had nationalized church properties as well.

Napoleon III, the inventor of “Latin America” (he rationalized that having a majority Catholic culture, and speaking a Romance language entitled the non-English parts of the Western Hemisphere the countries were “entitled” to the “protection” of the most powerful cultural Catholic, Romance language-speaking nation of the time) and Leopold, back in Belgium, both saw creating an American throne for Max as to their advantage. So, for that matter, did Franz-Joseph, giving him an honorable way of getting rid of his not-ready-for-Austria-Hungary-throne-time brother. If Mas, the idealist, was ready to sign up immediately, his wife was not just Leopold’s daughter, but had been an able student of the canny Belgian king. She read the contracts carefully, corresponded with her father about various financial and military arrangements, and otherwise trying to convince her husband that if they expected to be Emperor and Empress of Mexico, they needed to learn something about Mexico.

Max, having visited Brazil in the course of his naval career, figured he already had the information he needed. He’d picked up permission to marry his intended bride there, after all. He’d also picked up syphilis, which may have something to do with his increasingly erratic behavior. That, or possibly the mercury treatment then used to treat syphilis. Or, he started drinking heavily… as biographer Joan Haslip surmises. Despite Max’s naval background, it was Carlota … as she now styled herself, in preparation for her role as Empress of a Spanish-speaking nation… who concerned herself with the number of French troops that would be provided, the duration of their intervention, their payment and how much control the French would have over the Mexican Imperial government (and its treasury). She left Max the task of defining imperial court protocols (right down the color of socks to be worn by footmen when serving the imperial couple, as opposed to those footmen serving mere aristocrats… and how various aristocrats were to be addressed), and other equally pressing matters.

Max, throwing a temper tantrum at the last minute (that, of as Haslip details, an apparent breakdown following a long binge) delayed the couple’s departure, giving a little more time to Carlota to consider what would come next.

Whatever she thought might happen, and whatever it was she prepared for… nothing went right. Their landing, meant to be an imperial procession went terribly awry when Admiral Max… in command of the lighter bringing them into Veracruz… ended up not at the landing dock, but in an ad hoc French military cemetery on the beach. The impressive Imperial Carriage got stuck in the mud on the highway between Veracruz and Mexico City, forcing the couple to flag down a passing mail coach (ironically and conspicuously bearing the legend “Republica de México”) to complete their imperial procession. And so it went…

While defenders of the imperial adventure often point to the scientific and archeological research Maximilian fostered to justify his three-year reign, it might be argued that the Reformist government was equally interested in the latest in European intellectual trends, and would have welcomed the new thinking had they not been hampered by having to fight the interventionists. And, any claim that Maximilian was fostering intellectual thought was undermined by his decision (or perhaps that of Mexican General Bazaine) to close those hotbeds of both dissent and innovation, the universities.

Francois Achille Bazaine, French military commander in Mexico.

Maximilian may have been the one signing repressive decrees, but it was, according to Bazaine, Carlota who was holding things together. She, the French General, would later write, was the intelligent one, and the Empire might have had a chance, had the cold-blooded Carlota, not the dithering Maximilian, ruled the country. Which, they never really did despite Bazaine’s best efforts… other than the main highways and some of the major cities, it was the Reforma forces of Benito Juarez who always had the “hearts and minds” of the masses.

The dithering included not producing an heir. Getting into the imperial couple’s heads that they were not at all popular, they concluded that what Mexico needed was a Mexican born, “legitimate” male heir. But, whatever was going on in the imperial bedchamber, or not going on, Carlota could not get pregnant. Haslip suggested alcoholic impotence, but then, syphilis can also cause sterility, and it’s entirely likely that unless Maximilian was completely impotent (the later claims by various individuals to have been the Emperor’s illegitimate sons have always been easily dismissed) Carlota may have also been infected, and might account for her mental illness. On the other hand, C.M. Mayo has suggested that Carlota’s psychic break came about as a result of the understandable paranoia that any monarch’s wife would have if unable to produce her one and only real function… barren queens throughout European history having been quietly assassinated, locked away in convents, or… at the very least… divorced under one or another pretext. As it was, Carlota, then in her early 20s, already was looking at least 10 to fifteen years older in her photographs.

About 14 months into the Empire, Carlota looked closer to 40 than to 20

With the Empire, such as it was, hanging by a thread, Maximilian basically useless, and Carlota unwell, the expedient of buying an heir… the grandson of the one-year Emperor Agustín Iturbide (the wannabe Napoleon of Mexico) was one more good idea badly executed by the regime. Especially considering they bought the child from his aunt, and his parents were living. And the child had U.S. citizenship through his American-born mother. Coupled with the Emperor’s welcome to U.S. rebels, the defeated Confederates, as allies in his realm (conveniently forgetting the “liberal” sentiments Maximilian had cultivated, he held out the possibility of permitting the reintroduction of slavery in Mexico), the United States government began openly supporting the Reforma forces, and leaking intelligence from the Imperial government (the imperial embassy in Washington’s mail and telegrams were intercepted and turned over to Juarez’ agents).

The French, not only facing growing opposition at home to the Mexican adventure, were tired of subsidizing the forces for which Maximilian and Carlota were supposed to be paying… and might have, had they not blown the national budget on another castle. On top of which, Prussia was expanding its power within Europe, becoming an imminent threat to France, which could always go back to buying cotton from the United States, and had other sources for the minerals it hoped to export from Mexico.

Facing an immanent French withdrawal, the “Mexicanization” of the imperial army about as likely to succeed as “Vietnamization” would work when the United States attempted to withdraw from a later attempt to impose a tame regime on a fractious foreign state. the bald attempt to win over the public with a “native-born” royal heir a spectacular bust, and the imperial court a shabby collection of adventurers (like Prince Salm-Salm, a competent officer, who after having been thrown out of a few German armies found his niche as a medical officer in the Union Army, but moved to Mexico in search of new military adventures), rogues (like the court chaplain, a defrocked Lutheran pastor passing himself off as a Jesuit priest), and shady aristocrats like Countess Paula Kollonitz (whose memoirs detail her difficulties in finding decent coffee), Carota simply forgot about the heir and headed for France to shame Napoleon III into keeping his troops in Mexico.

Napoleon was shameless. Not even receiving Carlota, and already physically and mentally exhausted (and convinced Napoleon would simply dispose of her the old head fashioned way… assassination), she headed for Rome and her final psychic break. Unwelcome by other aristocrats, she was forced to move into a hotel, and … fearing assassination was living on chicken, bought live in the markets to be slaughtered and cooked in her rooms. Not something that endeared her to hotel keepers, who thinking the unthinkable for 19th-century people, had the temerity to try evicting her. Off to see the Pope… where things finally reached a head when she grabbed his Holiness’ morning hot chocolate out of his hands and simply refused to leave.

Whatever was going on (and I’m still convinced it was spirochetes whirling around her brain), she would never recover. The legend is that she was the only woman to spent the night in the Vatican apartments, although the Pope himself spent the night in the Vatican telegraph office, trying to get the Belgian royal family to come and take her off his hands.

Royals, being royal, don’t simply drop everything for a family emergency. It took a few days for her brother to arrive, and whisk her off to an Italian castle for observation by the finest alienists of Vienna (Sigmund Freud was only seven years old at the time, but already Viennese doctors were the go-to guys for mental illness). One reason I suspect she had tertiary syphilis is that there never was an official diagnosis on what ailed Carlota, and a sexually transmitted disease among the royals would have been too shameful, especially when protocol demanded she still be acknowledged as a reining Empress, a step about a mere Queen. Whatever the cause, at 26 she was hopelessly insane, was confined to Buchot Castle. Never told that Maximilian had been executed, nor that, being legally incompetent, her brother, Leopold II, had poured her personal funds into his Belgian Congo Company, financing a genocide beyond anything she could comprehend, she managed to outlive everyone connected to her sad story: Juarez, Bazaine, Franz-Joseph, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire itself (along with the Brazilian and Portuguese monarchies), Leopold II, Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX…

Rarely lucid, even more rarely seen in public, she spent the greater part of the next 60 years in her bedroom, playing with dolls, the end coming 19 January 1927.

Got Euros?

15 January 2020

Mexfiles has argued for years (and was glad it was a goal fo the AMLO presidential campaign) that the country needed to expand its trade to countries other than the US. Via Mexican radio and a couple European blogs:

Uncertainly in Mexico-US trade relations has opened the door to more European Union investments.
According to the Ministry of Economy, as of the third quarter of 2019, 43% of all Foreign Direct Investmentin Mexico came from Europe, this is the highest level of the decade. On the contrary, US capitals accounted for 45%, down from 61 percent a decade ago.


Luis Calderón Guerra/Secretaría de Economía

Mexico is considered one of the 10 strategic EU partners in the world.
In 2017, the EU exported 38,000 million euros in goods to Mexico and 10,000 million euros in services, while Mexico exported 24,000 million euros in goods and 5,000 million euros in services to EU countries, according to official EU data .
The EU invested 13,250 million euros annually in Mexico in 2017, being its second largest investor behind the United States, while Mexico invested 4,755 million euros in the EU countries.
In addition, in Mexico there are 28,000 companies with European capital, which generate thousands of jobs.

The narcos: saving them from us, or us from them?

11 January 2020

Not often a doctoral research project is the subject of broad media coverage, but Karina Garcia Reyes, having been forced to continue her academic career in England because of the “narco war” in northern Mexico, has focused on what makes a “narco”.  A rather uncomfortable question when the answer is likely to be “we do”.  While the entire article (here, here, and here, just for starters) on her basic research and findings is too long for a quick and dirty translation, here is a partial translation of the more salient points,

The study itself involved in-depth interviews with 33 “narcos”… the largest cohort ever interviewed.  While the majority (61%) of the interviewees are distributors, hitmen (27%), people smugglers (6%) transporters, and body guards were also interviewed.  All reported being abused, or witnessing abuse, as children, with 85% of them mentioning having had thoughts of murdering their parents.

That violence begets violence is a cliché, and something not unexpected.  What is unexpected is that these narcos do not claim to have entered the trade for lack of other opportunities, but rather because, being sent the message that they were worthless, and seen culturally as “disposable” people:

The narco’s discourse gives meaning to abject poverty. It is assumed that poor people have no future and therefore have nothing to lose. As one of my interviewees … said: “I knew that I would grow and die in poverty and just ask God: Why me?”. Poverty is naturalized, it is understood as an inevitable condition for which no one is responsible.  There is an assumption that “someone has to be poor” … and that “you cannot do anything to avoid it”.

This vision of poverty implies an individualistic vision of the world: individuals are responsible for their economic and social development. “I knew I was alone, if I wanted something I had to get it for myself”.

The logic of the narco’s discourse in terms of poverty is that individuals are alone and therefore “the law of the strongest” …

The narcotics trade is a violent, lawless one where the only law is the “law of the jungle”. Toss in our increasing acceptance of the maxim “he with the most toys wins” (not a phrase used in the original publication), and you can understand that the “toxic masculinity” of the narco is more a survival mechanism than it is a predictor of who will, and who won’t, become a gangster.

It was Machiavelli, not Dr. García, who wrote “It is better to be feared than to be loved”:

Participants referred to the slums as “the jungle” referring to the law of the strongest. Physical violence is essential to survive, literally.

The narco’s speech highlights a key aspect of violence: it is learned. Men are not born, they become violent. As Jorge explains: “When I was a child, the older children beat me, they took advantage of me because I was alone. I was not violent … but I had to become violent, more violent than they. You have to do it if you want to survive on the streets. ”

In “the jungle” men also survive by having a certain reputation. It is assumed that the “real man” is heterosexual, womanizer, “good for the party, drugs and alcohol” (Dávila).

This discourse also recognizes that, unlike women, the real man cannot show his fears, his emotions and weaknesses, and the best way to do so is to show strength and dominance in all territories: in the gang, in fights with rival gangs and in their homes, with their families.

And, so.. García discovers that narcos are poor, unwanted, and turn to violence. So far, our response has been to turn to state violence. Again, violence begets violence. nothing we didn’t think we knew already.

Although poverty is recognized as the mother of all evils, we do not know what it means to live in poverty. The problem of violence can only be minimized and avoided if it is understood and attacked locally. Each region, each neighborhood, has specific problems and needs. Mass designed public policies will not work. And perhaps this is the big problem, solving the problem at its root does not offer huge political rewards.

Similarly, the dominant views of masculinty in Latin America not only justifies, but encourages violence. The solution to the problems in the region invariably is aggression and militarized security policies. Non-violent policies are not an option so far given our institionalized machismo and violence.

García Reyes mentions that her study was in reaction to the frustration she had with the Calderón era “war on drugs” that spun out of control and forced her to work abroad. Her study, financed by the Mexican Council for Science and Technology (CONAYCT, for its acronym in Spanish) and the Mexican Secretariat of Education (SEP), is — one hopes — being read with policy making circle:

The key to attacking violence is to understand it: where does it come from? Who and how is it justified? How does it reproduce? How have you dealt with it? To answer them, we need an interdisciplinary approach and the willingness of our governments to listen.

What is most urgent is a paradigm shift: the military return to the barracks, we must begin to solve complex problem locally (even though that doesn’t bring rewards to politicians), and leave behind the binary discourse that justifies simply killing “them”, which only feeds their indifference towards “us”.

One hopes, the simplistic military solution to the “narco problem” is a thing of the past, despite criticism (especially in English-language media) of the new “abrazos no balazo” approach favored by AMLO’s government. Although mistranslated as “hugs not bullet” an abrazo is not just a hug, but a sign of welcome and acceptance. Of tolerance for the other. Of erasing the difference between “us” and “them”.

¡Capitán Silva, Presente!

11 January 2020

Mexican Air Force First Captain (Retired) Jesus Silva Reulas passed away late last night. Captain Silva was one of Mexico’s last surviving members of “Escuadron 201”, the Aztec Eagles, who conducted bombing raids in New Guinea and Formosa (modern Taiwan) during Mexico’s only foreign war, the 1942-45 Guerra contra los Nazi-Fascistas.

Legionnaires dis-ease

9 January 2020

I first wrote about about Marciel Maciel and the odious Legionnaires of Christ in 2006 when Pope Benedict ordered that the Mexican-born “86 year old priest retire to do penance for the rest of his life…” And added that the forced retirement “MAY be only a first step” in what has been 14 years of continuing revelations about the Fascist inspired order, and the perversity and financial shenanigans  of both the founder and of his minions (and they were Legion), coming out even before Maciel’s death in 2008 were horrifying.  Incidentally, my “obituary” earned me more “fuck you” comments from his minions than anything I ever wrote about anything.  Yeah, I’m proud of that.

Although, in 2010, references to Maciel were removed from Legionnaire literature, and the group was “refounded” it has yet to completely come clean.  Admitting, as it has, only in the last month to having “credible evidence” of 175 cases of pedophilia by 33 of its priests (going back to 1941) … and at least 60 instances of sexual abuse (including rape) by Maciel himself, it appears that pedophilia is only one of the Legion’s many sins.

CaptureLast Tuesday (7 January), Santiago Nieto Castillo, head of Mexico’s “Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera” (UIF)…  the Treasury Department’s auditors and investigators… announced that the Legionaries of Christ under investigation.  Nieto explained that the investigations are aimed at detecting possible irregularities in the management of public resources, and stressed that the entire organization is under investigation, including links to former lady Martha Sahagún’s, wife of former president Vicente Fox.

Although pedophilia and sexual abuse have grabbed the headlines, it may be that the financial irregularities may be the more damaging…. and not just to the Legion, nor just to the Catholic Church which allowed Maciel free-rein (especially during the papacy of John-Paul II, who favored Maciel as his Mexico adviser), but to the Mexican establishment as well.  Martha Sahgún’s “charity” during her time at Los Pinos, “Vamos México”, was widely derided for its extravagant overhead (infamously spending a fortune on sexy underpants for donors from an anti-abortion group of mostly rich fat guys who no one in their right mind would want to see in tangas), and more mundane financial irregularities.  What brings the UIF into the matter is that public funds were spent to protect Maciel, and the Legionnaries of Christ from scrutiny.

Considering that as “Primera Dama”, Sahugún had no official role in the government, it means officials of the Fox Administration… possibly including the then-President himself, were involved in illegal activities.  That the fallout will hit some of the biggest names (and fortunes) in Mexico is practically a given.

The photo that launched a thousand comments

6 January 2020

I’m in no position to speak for Mexican–Americans… obviously… nor for Mexicans, nor — for that matter — for American-Mexicans (assuming there is such a thing).  Given that, I have noticed for a very long time that Mexican and Mexican-American cultural attitudes often diverge, sometimes because it is the same attitude, just from a different perspective.

This was posted initially on a Mexican-American site, expressing pride in both ethnicity and origin and patriotism.  Or at least “wrap yourself in the flag” patriotism.  Reposted on Mexican (and foreigners living in Mexico) sites, it took on a completely different meaning.  A slap in the face to Mexican ethnicity and Mexican patriotism… suggesting Mexicans should not serve their own nation and support its interests (right or wrong), but that of the more powerful country.

The reaction could just be the iconography… the mother (Mexico) blessing the son (America). Or la Virgen confronting Juan Diego?  That may be reading too much into it, but suggesting Mexico, or the Mother of God (and all Mexicans) blesses US military actions is bound to rub some the wrong way.

Of course, Mexican citizens do serve in the US armed forces … for several reasons:  they wish to become US citizens, and feel more ties to the US than to Mexico; they need a job; or, they come form a military or warrior tradition and don’t see the Mexican forces as giving an opportunity to uphold their cultural ethos  All perfectly legitimate reasons, though one criticized and not just by those on the political left.

I might note that numerous commentators on Mexican-American sites also questioned whether by supporting the US military, they weren’t also support US anti-Mexican bigotry, although I couldn’t find any positive commentary on Mexican sites.  I can’t explain it, but the shared and divergent histories of the two north American republics offers some room for speculation.

Mexicans have served in the US military going back to when both were colonies, and Viceroy Galvez generously provided men, materiel, and money to George Washington’s Continental Army.  And the United States was (and still is) seen as the land of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. something Mexican had, and has, a difficult time finding a government that even pretends to have these worthy aspirations.  And, the United States military has done a much better job than any other sector of providing equal opportunity for minority people.  It has a lot going for it.

But, there is a sense among Mexicans that they are seen as despised outsiders in the United States (and they aren’t wrong), that the United States — never mind it having seized half the country a 150 years ago — takes Mexico for granted, or, more commonly, sees it as their dumping ground, when they aren’t trying to take its natural resources.  Mexico is defensive… never having fought an offensive war (nor, except for the 1942-45 “War Against Nazi-fascism”) one outside their own territory.  They have, however, had more than their share of civil wars.  And perhaps, see military activity, if it’s necessary, as something best done at home.

Most people do say home, and take little interest in the rest of the planet, but the  viewpoints of “official” Mexico and the United States look in different directions.  Mexico’s policy makers keep one eye on the United States, while if they look abroad, look southward.  They pivot north and south, while the United States, for the most part, looks east and west.  Mexico has no concern with events in the Middle East, and… especially with the new, and extremely popular, government returning to its non-aligned past, it’s even more understandable that many would object to its sons and daughters serving in the forces of a country in a part of the world not their own.


She’s coming here. I had to go there

4 January 2020


You can’t work here legally. You realize this is not some rich country that can afford to give foreigners temporary jobs when so many of its own citizens don’t earn enough to support themselves or their family. I don’t doubt travel of this sort is personally enlightening and useful, but I’m sorry, there are those here who have more basic, existential needs. Certainly, you can raise the 350 € you’d need to stay in an inexpensive room and explore the city.