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You can fight city hall… in drag… for Jesus

17 February 2018

Since 1480, rural residents of Zitlala, Guerrero state have been at odds with the local government over, what else, tax rates. Back then, the tribute owed to the local government (and, in turn, to the Aztec overlords), included a set number of women. That year, the rural communes, owing a tad more than usual, objected strenously… i.e. they fought back, the woman of their community joining in the melee. Who actually won, the townies or the campesinos being lost in the mists of history, matters less than that the people of Zitlala discoved a novel way of dealing with municipal grievances.

Photo: Televisa

From three in the afternoon until seven at night… the townies and the bumpkins battle each other outside City Hall… some, in honor of their ancestors, in full pre-Colombian battle dress (minus the weapons), others in full or half drag in honor of their brave ancestral women, and others… however they want. The fights are refereed by “Capitáns” chosen from both communities. Last year, for the first time in modern history, somebody was killed, so… tradition must be respected… this year, the local army unit, the police, and the rural autodefensa (the neighborhood watch/milita that guards the rural population from the depredations of narcos and other organized crime figures) stood by, keeping a watchful eye for anyone who took things too seriously, or was became too enthused after the regular between-rounds mezcal breaks.

Honor satisfied at seven, the communities troop into the local church for their Ash Wednesday to repent of their sins and promise to do better… til the same time, next year.


A not so brighter, whiter campaign speech…

15 February 2018

“Race” and “raza” aren’t exactly synonoms, but the nuances of color in “la raza” has always been used in Mexican politics… usually ineffectively (I can remember when Lazaro Cárdenas Batal was running for Governor of Michaocán,
and his opponent took every opportunity to mention Cárdenas has an Afro-Cuban wife, as if that meant she practiced voodoo, or somehow “tainted” the candidate. Kelly Arthur Garrett with… uh… color commentary on the upcoming Presidential election.

A bitter twist in the campaign for Mexico’s next president was the work of Enrique Ochoa, the party president of the incumbent Institutional Revolution Party who last week decided to speak about the growing number of party members bolting to the opposition. Why he would want to call attention to this internal woe is anybody’s guess. Maybe it was just an excuse to make a play on words.

Superficially, what Ochoa said was that the defectors were party members who are no longer sticking. But instead of using the usual word for a member of his party  — priísta (PRI being the party’s acronym, pronounced “pree”) — he substituted prieto. He did it twice, in fact, to bring the joke home.

Read the whole piece here.

Helping Exxon-Mobil, or helping Venezuela?

11 February 2018

A drop of bleach in the gene pool

10 February 2018

A Redenção de Cam (The Redemption of Ham), Modesto Brocos y Gómez (1895)

Although this 1895 painting is by a Brazilian artist, it illustrates quite effectively the Latin American elites ideas about race and  national identity.  At the time, both in the Anglo north, and Latin south, Social Darwinism was accepted science and the assumption was that the more European the population (and, in the United States and Canada, the more north European at that), the better off the nation as a whole.

At the time of this painting,  the US had the “one-drop” theory.  Jim Crow laws, and the fashionable eugenics movement of the day, were meant to — if not eliminate –than at least isolate non-whites from the general population, while Latin Americans (overwhelming non-white) were trying the exact opposite aproach, encouraging white immigration, in hopes of “whitening” the population through what in the US was called “miscegination”, and here was called mestiaje (mixing).   Needless to say, the Social Darwinist thinking behind both approaches was caca, but with recent discussion of mestiaje here in Mexico, one interesting development has been both a political and social movement for people who were considered mestizo to”reclaim” their heritage as Afro-Mexican, Indigenous, or even Jewish, while at the same time, in the US, there’s a trend among people of multi-racial heritage to celebrate a mixed ancestry.

I’ve been wrestling on how to write about the “whitening” era in the late 19th and early 20th century here … when there was a concerted effort to attract European (or at least “white”) immigrants for my Gods, Gauchupines and Gringos 2.0, and I’m still stumped about what exactly to say about the whole, still maddening, question of racial identity in Mexico.

(An excellent critique of the painting by Barbara Weinstein:  How does the painting, ‘The Redemption of Ham’, by Modesto Brocos illustrate ideas of whitening?


Sombrero tip to Isaac Hunter for bringing this Brazilian painting to my attention.

(Narco) Peace be with you?

7 February 2018

Two priests, returning from a religous festival Taxco, Guerrero, were murdered last week.  The authorities were quick to blame the victims … not only had the priests been drinking (well, they were at a party, so that one didn’t fly), and — cue ominous music — were musicians, one of them was once photographed holding a firearm.  So far, the OFFICIAL STORY is that the priests were targeted by (out-of-state?) gangsters who mistook them for members of a rival gang.  Or maybe didn’t like their performance. Or anything, but what Bishop Salvador Rangel is telling anyone who will listen.

Guerrero, with a murder rate of 64.25 murders per 100,000 inhabitants IS a dangerous place, even for clerics.  While generally considered off-limits in the “drug war”, the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa finds itself in the middle of that war, with Bishop Rangel increasingly seen as an active participant.  Not that he, or his clerics, are packing heat, but that gangsters, poppy farmers, missing students (the 43 missing students were in his Diocese), and those caught up in the mayhem, are his flock.

While the state government released a photograph of the Bishop with three men and a helicopter (supposedly meaningful in some way) in an attempt to discredit him, Rangel openly admits he has met with gang leaders in hope of “opening a dialog” with at least one faction in the on-going violence.  Where he is facing opposition is from the State authorities, who, Rangel says, do not by any means, control Guerrero: “”All of Guerrero is in the hands of narcotics traffickers. … There’s an official government and another (authority) that gives orders.”

 So, he is talking to the authority that gives orders.  Who might be the same guys:
“I’ve said some politicians have narcotics traffickers as their godfathers, and they don’t like this because they also act this way, with impunity (and) with protection from the police.”
The political significance of this is that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to the scoffs of the other presidential candidates, proposed an amnesty for the narco-gangsters on Rangel’s turf. While the Bishop is not supposed to directly intervene in politics, he did say:
If the amnesty is for those people who want to amend their lives and correct themselves, I agree. He added that many times he offered his services as an intermediary and that Mexicans now have “a great weapon that is the vote” to support, more than a party, those people who want to pacify the country.

A good shepherd, or wooly-headed?



Agren, David.  “Two Mexican priests killed in ambush” National Catholic Reporter, 6 February 2018.
Obispo de Guerrero confiesa que dialoga con los jefe del narcotráfico” Reporte Indigo, 7 February 2018.

Not Lena Riefenstahl, but then why would it be?

6 February 2018

Alberto Isaac’s “Olimpiada en México”, the official 1968 Summer Games film.  English voice-over narration.

Yanqui go home (or at least, shut up!)

4 February 2018


Spain has fallen to the charms of Evita
She can do what she likes, it doesn’t matter much

Can’t say the same about Rex Tillerson’s Latin American Rainbow Tour…

Originally posted on Steve Ellner’s Blog on Venezuela, Latin America and Beyond


Never before has a top official in the U.S. government traveled throughout Latin America in such a well-publicized trip to gain support for measures against a nation in the region. Tillerson’s Latin American tour may be well received by reactionary and conservative heads of state (Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil) but it is particularly objectionable for Latin Americans for various reasons:

First, because it follows on the heels of an obviously rigged presidential election in Honduras. The Trump government refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process in Venezuela at the same time that it validates the elections in Honduras. Tillerson said in Colombia that there is no comparison between the elections in Honduras and the to-be held ones in Venezuela, without explaining why. Making no attempt to explain why the elections in Honduras were legitimate, in spite of the fact that even the OAS does not recognize the results, demonstrates a glaring aspect of the Trump administration: its complete contempt for the truth.

Second, Latinos fully agree that Trump’s blatantly racist remarks about Mexicans are not just insulting to the people of that nationality, but to all Latin Americans.

Third, because Latinos particularly object to members of the U.S. capitalist class telling them what to do. When Nelson Rockefeller undertook his 20-nation “Presidential Mission” in 1969 organized by the government of Richard Nixon, the trip turned into what a speech writer at the time called “Rocky Horror Road Show.” Anti-U.S. protests including violent confrontations with security forces followed Rockefeller throughout the continent. In Argentina 14 Rockefeller-owned supermarkets were bombed and in Venezuela, President Rafael Caldera told Rockefeller to cancel his stay in that nation. Tillerson is also a member of the capitalist class, not just a representative of it. For over 3 decades Tillerson worked for Exxon which was formerly the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil of New Jersey. For 10 years of those 3 decades, he was Exxon’s CEO.

Fourth, neither Tillerson nor Trump has made any effort to prove that the 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections are illegitimate. Washington’s position (as well as that of the conservative government’s of Spain and Great Britain) undermines the efforts at negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition. Many believe that an agreement between the opposition and the government is Venezuela’s best hope, as both sides lack the popular support necessary to ensure stability. Trump’s position also pressures the parties of the opposition to pull out of the presidential race, even though many, if not most, of the opposition parties are intent on participating in them.

Critics can point to aspects of the Venezuelan elections that do not accord to the spirit of democracy, such as the decision to hold them anticipatively. But there is a fundamental difference between objectionable electoral practices and rigged elections, such as those held in Honduras and the 2000 U.S. presidential elections (with regard to the decisive state of Florida). One can point to objectionable practices in many other nations as well, beginning with the U.S. In the U.S. over 6 million felons (that is, ex-prisoners who have served their prison time) are denied the right to vote; “voter suppression” affecting minority groups has been well documented: widespread gerrymandering is a well known fact; and two of the three presidents in the twenty-first century have been elected while receiving less votes than their rival for the office.

Washington’s position on Venezuela is comparable to the Trump administrations rejection of negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban in spite of the fact that the protracted civil war in that nation is at a deadlock with no end in sight. Both sides lack popular support and so it’s hard to imagine a best-case scenario of peace and stability. It would seem that Washington is not interested in peaceful resolutions of conflict anywhere in the world. Could it be that the arms industry which is a large part of the bedrock of the U.S.’s unhealthy economy has something to do with Washington’s tendency to block peaceful agreements throughout the world? In short, Venezuela is just one example of Washington’s efforts to foment discord and confrontation including armed confrontations. Just look at Syria, Afghanistan and Korea.