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Fidel in Mexico

29 November 2016

The history of the Cuban Revolution is also part of Mexican history.  I had planned to post this yesterday, but there were some glitches in the connection I had.  Thanks to Franc Contreras for getting this up on Youtube:

Writers welcome!

27 November 2016

English-language travel writing about Mexico goes back to the notorious Thomas Gage — the renegade monk turned Cromwellian propagandist, and has always been full of cliches and “ango-centric” views of the country.  Although mrs_alec_tweedie_002travel writing didn’t really take off with Gage, and had to wait until the late Victorian Age to find it’s genre, one of the pioneers of the art, Ethel Brilliana Tweedie (“Mrs. Alec Tweedie”) discovered something that still seems to surprise the English language writer:  Mexicans are delighted to have their country written about, but want to remind the author to keep us in perspective.

From Mexico As I Saw It (1901):

After luncheon, a short swarthy man stepped forward, bowing low, and addressing the Goveror in Aztec, he asked if he might say something to the English lady; his name was Florentino Ramirez, and he came from the village of Tetlama. Of course, permission was at once granted. He stood opposite to us, surrounded by all those Indians, and though only a young man — perhaps, twenty-two or three years of age — he spoke as to the manner born. He was neighter shy nor awkward: his voice was loud and clear, and the determined expression of his dark face denoted his descent from some great race. His words were more or less as follows:

Xochicalco, ca 1900

Xochicalco, ca 1900

“I am spokesman of the neighbouring villages. When we heard our beloved Governor was coming, accompanied by a lady from such a far-away land, we felt proud. We are honoured that anyone should come to see our ruins, and we thank you, Señora, from the bottom of our hearts, for you must have undertaken a long and tedious journey to come so ar to see our Xochicalco. That you are going to write a book about Mexico delights our hearts, and we have come from far and near, and done our best to bid you welcome and manifest our gratitude. We are only ‘the people,’ but we have hearts and sympathies, and both have been aroused today by the visit of Colonel Alarcón and the English authoress. You have come from a land of great civlisation to visit our wild country; but. Señora, you must remember that five thousand years ago, when England was unknown, our ancestors raised those ruins,” and he waved his hand with a theatrical air as he spoke, and pointed proudly to the fortress.

A rising wage lifts all boats?

24 November 2016

Joseph Stiglitz  was asked about the noises from the United States (mostly emanating from the soon to be whiner-in-chief) about renegotiating what the Nobel Economics Laureate has long considered a flawed agreement.  Stiglitz noted that a “free trade agreement” presupposes the free exchange not just of goods and capital, but of labor as well.  For NAFTA to actually have free trade when it comes to labor, one of two things would need to happen.  Either US and Canadian wages would need to fall to those in Mexico, or Mexican wages would need to rise dramatically.

indexI’m probably misquoting Stiglitz (I read today’s Jornada across the street from a fashion store which was blaring out loud hip-hop and old disco to attract customers, and annoy  unfashionable types like the people who read newspapers at cafes).  I expect US wages will be dropping, and I don’t see much support from the one percent for immediately raising them.  And, of course,  Mexican wages are hardly going to reach US levels any time in the foreseeable future.  If ever.

Which doesn’t mean raising the “salario minimo” isn’t recognized by the elites as a economic priority.  While the salario minimo (a daily, rather than hourly, rate) was once based on a “basket”… the market price for the bare essentials needed by a person working six days a week (and paid for seven) to support a family of four (which besides tortillas and beans, was calculated by the price of mangoes, cooking gas, bus fare, fish for Friday dinner, and other things)… the labor “reforms” of the present administration changed the formula, allowing for hourly pay.  This did raise the salario minimo, especially in rural areas (the old system had different rates reflecting the basket price in different areas of the country) but not enough to reflect the rising cost of living.

Business people at least understand that if people aren’t earning enough to meet the basics, they’re not buying.  So, the Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana (COPARMEX), basically, the Business Leader’s Union, has come out favoring a return to the old “basket” system, with an immediate raise in the wage to reflect inflation, and a stepped rise over the next year of between 13.02 and 13.20 pesos to reflect from state benefits that the “labor reforms” stripped away, but were essential to survival at the ridiculously low salario minimo.

$ 89.35 isn’t much (about 4.30 US$ today), and I’m not sure how anyone would survive on that (I allow myself more than that in daily pocket money, and am about as moderate a spender… some would say downright cheap… as you’d find), but one thing that has to be noted is that the salario minimo is a bottom rate, and the minimum rates for any sort task that can be defined as a work “type” (everything from field hand, to general assistant, to delivery person, to teacher, or doctor) has a higher rate, usually a multiple of the “salario minimo”.

In addition to calling on Congress to raise basic wages, COPARMEX is looking to lower the costs for some public programs.  When the salario minimo was de-indexed from the basket, a unit called the UMA (Unidad de Medida y Actualización) was invented, initially at the amount as the salario minimo, but indexed to inflation.  Where some payments to the government (like traffic fines) were in units of the salario minimo (say five salarios for an illegal left turn), as well as some “ability to pay” government programs (like INFONIVIT, which provides home mortgages, or FONICAT, which underwrites some costs for home appliances and furniture), the UMA replaced the salario minimo.

That gets confusing, but the UMA is set yearly by the inflation rate, and would be substantially less than the salario.  Clarifying that government benefits were based on UMA would qualify more people for various programs.

Still woefully low, but at least the one percenters recognize it.

Our security, and yours…

22 November 2016

I honestly didn’t have the time (or energy) for more than a rough translation of “Trump, ave de tempestades para México en materia de seguridad” in the latest issue of Proceso (Issue: 2090, 20 November 2016, pp 14-19) … on the newsstands today… but it was important to bring Jorge Carraso Araizaga’s reportage on the possible effects of the incoming Trump Administration’s effect on Mexico, in economic issue and our “war on  (some popular US consumer favored) narcotics” as seen by US experts out in English as soon as I could.

I skipped several paragraphs that were just detailed examples of various points, or paraphrased them (usually indicated in brackets:  [ ] ).

The Trump administration will be a hurricane for Mexico. It threatens to demolish our security. Its simplistic ideas – building a wall or deporting migrants – will translate into major problems for this country. Add to that the uncertainty and contractions of Trump’s discourse, and the Mexican goverment will need to reshuffle its own priorities and prepare for scenarios that might arise. U.S. experts agreee.

MEXICO CITY (Proceso) .- The Enrique Peña Nieto administration must prepare for the worst. Security experts agree that Donald Trump’s hard line towards Mexico has to be taken for granted.

At best, even if some of its measures are merely cosmetic, the profile of the new US administration may lead to greater militarization in the fight against drug trafficking – a strategy that at present has left about 200,000 people dead in Mexico.

In fact, the Mexican president and his security cabinet will have to consider retaliatory measures even if Trump and his collaborators – given their tilt to the radical right – are determined to foster a hostile relationship, diverging on questins of migration and drug trafficking.

We are likely to see a return to the situation of the 1980s, defined as that of “distant neighbors” by the American journalist Allan Riding in his book of the same name, documented mistrust and confrontation between governments of Miguel de la Madrid and Ronald Reagan.

Now it may be even worse, warns Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Insititute, one of Washington’s most influential think tanks.


Felbab-Brown has no doubt that the previous and present Mexican administrations been improvising and done very little to consolidate a long-term drug policy. She says the two presidents [Calderón and Peña Nieto] have put repression of “cartel” leaders over institutional reforms, With the Trump victory, things will get worse. Or at least, more uncertain, she said in a telephone interview.

The ties built during the decade of “Plan Merida” in cooperation in the areas of security, including military assistance and intelligence, could be undone by the arrival of white supremacists in the White House, according to Maureen Meyer, director of the Mexico Program at the non-governmental Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA).


“I dont know hw cooperation can continue,” says Meyer. Trump has in his view NAFTA as well as migration and border security. During the campaign, he said almost nothing about foreign policy, and even les about Latin America. He refered to narotics trafficking, specificially about Mexican heroin, but from the perspective that it wasn’t good for Mexico.

Felbab-Brown agrees: “It is very difficult to say what will happen. The president-elect has said so many contradictory things during the campaign, and gave few specifics… [other than] reiterating his wish to deport undocumented persons and stop drug trafficking, without mentioning the internal issues in Mexico, where various gangs struggle for control of the [business]”

imagesBut, “The only sure thing is that he will take a hard line with Mexico”. This could be cosmetic, or it could have real impact. The first might be something like constructing an extremely costly wall, which would then require more National Guard units, helped by better technology. Taking a hard line, but of little impact.

But, he would also be capable of … destroying NAFTA, imposing tariffs on the Mexican market, which would signficantly damage the country’s economy, raisie the levels of unemployment and underemployment, stimulate crime, and force more people to emigrate to the United States. That would be a contradictory policy, destroying NAFTA while making the border less secure.

[Two or three years of that and Trump’s contradictory policies would force] business and institutional interests to seek cooperation with Mexico. “I hope he applies the most cosmetic of measures, before he implements a policy that would be a disaster for both nations”.

[… Speaking about boreder security, an issue where Felbab-Brown thinks that Trump is particularly ill-informed, believing that a wall or fence, and not cooperative intelligence and legal work will resolve issues, she uses the phrase “distant neighbors”, the title of Alan Riding’s 1985 book about Mexican-US relations, during the de la Madrid (in Mexico) and Reagan (in the United States) era, one in which relations were] “hostile, or at least distant. It was a difficult time, but I imagine much of what went on then is applicable to this scenario.”

Should Trump adopt an agressive policy [towards Mexico] Peña Neito’s government — facing an election in 2018 — might respond: “If you’re not going to work on a joint security policy, nor focus on institutional development, nor intelligence agencies here, then thanks… but no thanks”.

That is, Mexico could lose interest in cooperation, especially if there is a border wall. Drugs would continue to flow north, by sea or air, although without collaboration between the two governments, it would also be more difficult to inspect trucks entering the United States as well.

If the Trump administration turned to an even more hostile policy, acting unilaterally in economic

matters, such as abrogating NAFTA, the Mexican government could take reprisals in several ways. For a start, it could terminate “Plan Merida” and cancel any security cooperation, or cooperation in controlling migration from Central America …


WOLA’s Maureen Meyer […] says that the United States could return to trying to erradicate and detect drugs, in place of the evolution [within Plan Merida towards institution and justice reforms, the focus would return to military activity. Whether the Department of Defense or the State Department has the upper hand in Latin American-US relations would be an open question. The Proceso article notes that spending by the Pentagon for training in America tripled between 2007 and 2014. Mexican forces have received training from the Green Berets, among others, recently].

Mexico needs to define what it wants from the United States, and negotiate on that basis. Meyer expects that Mexican anti-narcotics assistance would be cut to levels similar to that of other countries [which under Plan Merida was a focus of US spending: 2.5 Billion dollars between 2008 and 2015].

[… Next February, when the State Department prepares its foreign assistance budget, there will be some idea of how cooperation the Trump Administration is willing to provide for these types of programs. Asked about the possiblity of returning to the old “certification” programs … under which Mexico and other country’s were “certified” based on their own cooperation with US demands for narcotics control… Meyer answered that the anti-immigrant thrust of the Trump campaign could have an effect in Congress, which could make assistance funding conditional on other matters. But, in the short term] Mexico’s priority is NAFTA, whether renegotiated or abrogated.


But, also important is what the Peña Nieto adminstration will want to propose, when it comes to cooperation….

“We ope that it [the Mexican administration] decides to work on insitutional weaknesses, like in the police and judicial system, which require much more than mere equipment”

Regarding human rights, … the President elect was supprted by torture supporters, making it difficult to see him taking up the cause as one of his priorities.



Not a bad idea, really

20 November 2016

One assumes that with Morena and PRD in control of the district assembly, this will probably be shot down, but it seems perfectly reasonable to me. (My translation from NOTIMEX):

jamThe PAN faction in the Federal District Assembly (ALDF, for its initials in Spanish) has proposed retiring the “tenencia” (property tax) on  private vehicles, including those that cost more than 250 thousand pesos, that is, the so-called luxury cars.

In place of the tenencia, Local deputy Andrés Atayde Rubiolo suggests taxing private autos on the bases of two factors:  the amount of contaminants per unit, and yearly mileage.

This would be a proportional tax, with a rising rate:  those who use their cars more, and who pollute more, would pay a higher tax.  y.

Atayde added that the tax would be “corrective”, in that it compensates for the damage in the city caused by excessive use of private vehicles, said to be the largest contributor to pollution, as well as an incentive to reduce the use of private autos.

The chairman of the ALDF Finance Committee clarified that the tax would not be on cumulative mileage on the auto, but on mileage during the corresponding year.  That is, a car that has been in use for several years would not be taxed at a different rate than a new car with very low initial mileage.

The National Action Party (PAN) believes that putting a tax on the savings or investment of the city’s families distorts consumption, savings, and investment in the medium and long terms, Ayayde Rubiolo added, calling the tenencia a “distortion” in that ownership of an automobile was a investment.

Atayde Rubiolo also reported that according to his data, 50 percent of the tenencia in the capital comes from middle class and lower middle class taxpayers.

indexHe stated that the intention of the proposal is that families who, with effort and savings buy a car for mobility, will no longer pay this tax.  However, luxury and larger autos, which tend to pollute more, would pay a higher tax rate.

The proposal, as presented, would earmark revenue from the new tax primarily to the Fondo de Movilidad (“Mobility Fund), given that currently seven out of every 10 trips in the Federal District are made by public transport.

The Fondo de Movilidad presently spends seventy percent of its budget on roads for cars, and only thirty percent on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

While I think any proposal that encourages people to drive less (and stop hogging the road with large luxury vehicles) is worth considering, a few possible suggestions might be to give a lower annual mileage rate for electric or flex fuel autos; ignore the expected demands from luxury car services (like Über and the like); use some of the “Mobility Fund” for low-cost loans for buying more energy efficient taxis and alternative fuel autos; and earmarking a higher percentage of the fund to pedestrian and bicycle transportation needs.


Revolutionary Changes

20 November 2016

¡Feliz Día de la Revolución!

amelioIt isn’t unusual to find that veterans of the the ten-years of revolution ended their service in an army completely different than where they had started out. Besides those professional soldiers who defected from the old Federal Army (like the artillery expert, Felipe Angeles — ) and those whose ideological commitment led them to transfer their allegiance from one to another revolutionary faction (like the Constitutionalist turned Villista, Rafael Buelna), there were those whose motives might have been opportunistic, but who fought all the same, within what would later be dubbed the “Revolutionary family”.

But very few made the radical change Amelio Robles did.

Born in rural Guerrero state in 1889, Robles joined the Zapatistas in 1912 as an irregular messenger and forager, taking on more and more duties, promoted to Captain, and … upon joining the regular (Constitutionalist) Ejército Mexicano, was promoted to Colonel. A decorated war veteran, Colonel Robles would outlive several wives before dying in 1984 at the age of 95.

Did I mention that Amelio Robles was born Amelia?


(more here)

All in all, no way you’ll build a wall

15 November 2016

I’m still amazed at the number of people who think a wall… or even a fence… along the 3154 Km (1954 miles) of land border between the United States and Mexico is feasible. My best guess is they’ve seen photos of the less than half that’s a more or less straight line.