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Smell the fascism?

18 November 2019


Put it in perspective

18 November 2019

Hasekura Tsunenaga, Japanese Ambassador to the Spanish Empire.  He toured Mexico at a time when Shakespeare was still alive, and the English colonists in Virginia were reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Populism v Doña Florinda

16 November 2019

Doña Florinda, a recurring character in the Mexican sit-com “El chavo de ocho” had married above her class, a widow (her sea-captain husband having been eaten by a shark) with one son… whom she zealously watches over for any “contamination” by her lower class neighbors.

Although “El sindrome de Doña Florinda” (people have written academic papers on this) is one explanation of the whipsawing between progressive and conservative governments in Latin America, it id not the full story.  The Doña Florinda syndrome suggests that progressive governments seek to open the economy, growing the middle class.  Middle class interests and values — stability, “getting ahead”, maintaining social standards — are promoted by the right, and create the climate for a return to a conservative government.

Which returns to the economic theories that prevent the middle class from growing, and… like Doña Florinda’s lamentable encounter with the shark… leave the middle class in reduced circumstances, resentful, and more open to the progressive policies shared by the “lesser” neighbors.

But, as Ilán Serno wrote in today’s Jornada, it’s more complicated than that.  Whether progressive or reactionary, Latin American nations still operate under a few economic assumptions, going back in some cases to the colonial era.  Whether the left is nationalist (as with the Morena government in Mexico)or populist (in in-coming Peronists in Argentina), and whether the right is fascist (as in Brazil, and… so it seems… Bolivia) or neo-liberal (Chile and Ecuador), the economy is based largely on extractive industry (oil, lithium, coffee, etc,) and can only open up the middle class through expanded exploitation.

More to the point, to foster growth takes money… and more money spent on the have-nots during a progressive phase… leads either to debts or to more exploitation…. and a turn to conservativism.

Unspoken, though certainly a Doña Florinda-ismo, is the assumption that the “deserving middle class” are the victims of the undeserving beneficiaries of the growth period.  Doña Florinda certainly feels entitled to her (self-ordained) social status.  “Those people”…. the indigenous in Bolivia, or Brazil, the rural poor in Mexico, just about everybody in Guatemala (poor, rural,. and indigenous) are expendable.

Semo bemoans the fact that we haven’t found a way out… yet.  A new, and different economic system, something beyond the simple “capitalist v socialist” model.  So far, it appears the Morena government in Mexico is doing something different… cutting government spending while increasing benefits… but it is probably only a reprieve from the need for a new social and economic model.  There is only so much “waste, fraud, and abuse” of previous administrations that can be cut to free up spending for expanded benefits programs.  Presumably,or one hopes, the money extracted from corruptos is limited, and eventually, like the oil wells, the source will dry up.


Ivanka Trump behind the Bolivian coup?

15 November 2019

Mexfiles can’t vouch for this, but (Santa Fé, Argentina) had a long article on Ivanka Trump’s visit to Jujuy province (bordering Chile and Bolivia) last September to announced a 400 million US government investment in a “lithium route” to exploit (presumably, for U.S. corporate interests) growing demand for the metal.


Coincidentally, Bolivia was, at the time, considering changing its original plans for a joint venture with a German company to provide lithium (Bolivia having the world’s largest known reserve) for a better deal with the Chinese.  Under the new deal, the Bolivians would maintain control of their reserve, with the Chinese investing in manufacturing lithium batteries and other products within Bolivia itself.

Ms. Trump was accompanied by Undersecretary of State John J. Sullivan, Deputy Chief Management officer for the Pentagon, Lisa Hirschman, and Mark Green, Director of USAID: draw your own conclusions.

El trasfondo de la tensión entre Bolivia y Estados Unidos por el litio, 13 November 2019.

Is democracy a religion?

14 November 2019

Maybe because I’ve been watching the American soap opera “Greenleaf” … the trials and travails of a family of evangelical preachers and their megachurch… as well as following events in Bolivia… where it appears Evangelical Christians played a major role in planning and executing the coup… the question comes up.

Is it more or less democratic to simply follow the literal Word (of one’s constitution, or the BIble), or is it open to interpretation… and by whom?  Is the goal of a democratic society the “salvation” of everyone, or of the elect?  And what is “salvation”?  Traditionally, we’ve fallen back on either Bentham’s “most good for the most people”, but … like those who say “we are all God’s children”, there are those who say we say “all men (and women…. and intersex) are created equal and…. entitled to the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  Whatever salvation or happiness is?  And again… is it something we decide, or do we turn it over to our preachers, or to some sort of holy writ?

In the story, the Bishop is ailing, but the undisputed leader of his congregation and his family.  There is no clear line of succession, and while the Bishop and the pastors do more than their share of “unchristian” acts, they see themselves (and are seen) as justified.

While, in theory, there was a succession plan for the Bolivian head of state, he, like the fictional Calvary Church, had a long time leader who had created a thriving community that was identified with that leader.  Is it wrong that the rules (or strict Biblical interpretations) were sometimes stretched to meet the needs of the flock, or the citizens?

It seems that in discussing what happened (and is happening) in Bolivia is a matter of belief.  I wonder if those who defend the … “transition in power”… avoid using the word “coup” the way religious people avoid the word “sin” for acts they accept, though others see as anathema.  In the story, the gay choir director is fired, not for anything particular, but because for some, he’s a sinner.  Something not said, and certainly not a legal reason (the fictional church is trying to avoid a lawsuit for termination without cause).  A coup is not something we politely call a transition we support either.

Gimme Shelter: from Garibaldi to Evo

12 November 2019

Translated from Elías Camhaji and Georgina Zerega. “La vieja tradición de asilo que abre las puertas de México a Evo Morales“, El País (Madrid), 11 November 2019

Mexico has granted asylum to Evo Morales. The former Bolivian president has requested protection from the Mexican government, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced Monday. The Latin American country has a long tradition of asylum and refuge: a list that includes the Spanish Republican exiles, citizens who fled the South American dictatorships in the second half of the twentieth century and victims of the civil war in Central America during the eighties and nineties . Morales, who was forced to resign from the presidency last Sunday, is the latest to join a group of notables harbored in Mexico that has included Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, Cuban writer and politician José Martí, Soviet ideologue Leon Trotsky, Spanish film director Luis Buñuel, and the Guatemalan Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú.

The Mexican Government, restrained by being a neighbor of the United States and its own limited military power, has been characterized by legalistic diplomacy, that is, a reliance and adherance to international law, to the principles of non-intervention and to solidarity with the victims of authoritarian regimes and war . Asylum differs from the refuge in which applicants must demonstrate that their lives are threatened by political issues, such as government repression or attacks on their defense of political ideas by groups in power. “It is above all a humanitarian act, which should not be understood as a sign of approval or disapproval, much less hostility to any foreign government,” says Natalia Saltalamacchia, internationalist and professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.


“Mexico has had an open door policy, although with some restrictions,” explains Jorge Schiavon, an internationalist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching. In the case of giving protection to Latin American leaders, Mexican asylum policy has generally been conditioned to receive few people and has focused on ideological profiles close to the governments, Schiavon points out. That tradition was especially reflected during the Governments of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and has been recovered by the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, adds the researcher.

Along the same lines, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda (2000-2003) points out that the offer of asylum by the López Obrador Government could be related to the “his sympathy” for Morales. However, he argues that the offer runs hand in hand with the humanitarian tradition that Mexico has. “The only reason to deny it is that they have committed very harmful acts, human rights violations or crimes against humanity and that is not the case with Morales,” he says. In spite of that, the former foreign chief warns that the double play of condemning “the coup d’etat” on the one hand and not “electoral fraud or violations of the Constitution” on the other, could bring problems from the Organization of American States for the Mexican chief executive.

“Mexico is doing well to grant asylum to Evo Morales, but the focus of the discussion should not be there, but on the steps that follow to have a stable situation in Bolivia,” says Saltalamacchia. The Government has faced criticism after not weighing in on the political crisis in Venezuela and months later offering asylum to Morales, and the consequences of these foreign policy decisions can have.

“I do not see that contradiction, rather that López Obrador follows the doctrine of nonintervention to avoid getting into trouble and appealing to his humanitarian tradition, in the case of Morales,” says Schiavon.

Ebrard noted on Monday that his country’s great tradition of political asylum began in 1853, when the country jointly signed a non-extradition treaty for political crimes with Colombia. “Granting asylum is a sovereign right of the Mexican State that is consistent with its normative principles in foreign policy,” he said. Since then, Mexico has become one of the most important bastions in the continent for those fleeing their country. The dictatorships that ravaged Latin America, from the second half of the twentieth century, produced a large number of asylees in Mexico, in the seventies mainly from Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, and later, in the eighties, from El Salvador and Guatemala.

One of the great gestures in foreign policy at the time of the Latin American dictatorships, Castañeda recalls, was the attitude taken by the Government of Luis Echeverría in 1973, when following Augusto Pinochet’s coup, he sent a plane to search for the widow of ousted president Salvador Allende. The last case of high-profile asylum in Mexico was last October, granted to Ricardo Patiño, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister during the Rafael Correa Government, who accused the president, Lenín Moreno, of persecution.

Mexico has faced a growing number of asylum and refuge applications in recent months in the wake of the Venezuelan political crisis and migrant caravans. Requests went from 2,137 in 2014 to 29,631 in 2018, according to official data. Between January and October of this year, 62,299 people have requested permission to settle in Mexico.

Bolivia: A coup or not a coup? That’s not a question.

11 November 2019

Whether the “irregular change” in government in Bolivia was justified by a dubious rationale for a fourth term for Evo Morales seems a legitimate question, and whether or not Morales’ government was “good” or “bad” in any sense, whether it met the needs of various factions (including those of foreign multinationals) are more questions for historians to answer later. Was the run for a fourth term at all legitimate?  Were trade deals with China in the best interests of the people?  Were their corruptos in the party?  In other words, answering the immediate questions, “Was this a coup?” with rhetorical questions in an attempt to avoid the obvious.


Feel free to disagree.