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Pancho Villa, fat and happy

14 October 2019

This photo (made available by the general’s grandson, Francisco Villa Campa) was taken inn 1920 or 21, after his retirement to his ranch in Cantullo. Fat (though, always being ahead of his time, he took up jogging) and happy (raising his own large brood, and adopted children) he couldn’t stay out of politics and was assassinated in 1923,

Dear White People

11 October 2019

Certain announcements of some of this year’s celebrations conjured visions of hipsters drinking special holiday microbrews and listening to live music by white bands and eating white food in calavera facepaint and broken trails of marigolds. Don’t bother to build an altar because your celebration is an altar of death, a ceremony of killing culture by appropriation. Do you really not know how to sit at the table? To say thank you? To be a gracious guest?

From an essay by Aya de Leon on the cultural appropriation of the Day of the Dead. I’m bothered less that outsiders (and us insider outsiders) appreciate the tradition and sometimes adopt it ourselves (I do know gringos who build ofretas) as I am by the commodification of what is a traditional family event into a tourism extravaganza.

Not to be a bomb-thrower, but it was a specifically Nahuatl custom appropriated by the Catholic Church and other Latin American cultural groups (including “white people” in las Americas. That said, the author is right to object to the commodification of what is essentially a acceptance of death as part of the natural order of things, to create a “creepy” false tradition for tourists (here in Mexico City, the local administration invented a “traditional” parade for a James Bond movie) and others. It seems “traditions” lose their meaning not so much when they are appropriated as when they become a commodity to be measured in pesos and centavos.

All they are saying… is give violence a chance

4 October 2019

The annual Tlatelolco Massacre memorial march… usually the rationale for attacks against the state, state repression, a few deportations, and numerous arrests and property damages in the millions … was held this week, resulting in… a few broken windows, a handful of arrests, some grafitti washed off buildings within hours, a handful of arrests and three hospitalizations for minor injuries.  A relative success, all told.

But, given that the annual event is commemorating state repression, and on-going resistance to the state… when the state is on the side of the people, the opposition is forced to oppose… I don’t know what to call it… a failure to repress?

Provocateur not getting his way.

What kept the mayhem to a minimum was savvy planning by the Sheinbaum Administration, and a change in attitude towards public demonstrations.  Civil servants and volunteers made up a 12l strong “Peace belt” lining the streets.  Dressed in white tee-shirts, as official escorts, this sent a signal that the Administration was not opposed to the demonstration and, as “eyes and ears” probably discouraged the more opportunistic wannabe looters and vandals any large demonstration will attract, while also providing some security from the “black blocs”.

Whether, as governments in the past, and even now, contend, the “black blocs” are “anarchists” or… as seems to be the consensus (especially on the left) are anarchists being used (or paid) to provoke an confrontation. the purpose has always been to discredit the demonstration in the public sphere, and … if the anarchists do have a cause… it is to create more state repression, hoping to eventually cause a popular uprising against the state itself.

The “peace belt”, standing between the demonstrators and the police… the agents of state repression… for the most part thwarted any effort to provoke violence.  Grafittists were most ignored (with plywood or cheap metal barriers around public monuments and historic facades, and… I think brilliantly… the city had sprayed paint-resistant coatings on the most likely targets.  As it was, the marchers were followed by a continent of street cleaners, including trucks with power washers, there wasn’t much point in spray can walk-by messaging,

Not to say there weren’t SOME incidents… a few firecrackers and smoke bombs tossed, a couple of fist fights, and the like… but not enough violence it seems to meet the expectations… and HOPES… of the opposition.

The opposition parties (the former ruling parties) and much of the major media in this country, perhaps in retaliation for the cut in subsidies and advertising revenue under the new “austerity” programs) , has been desperately trying to paint the new administrations as abject failures, and their programs as wasteful and amateurish ventures into “feel good” populism.  Given the broad public outcry following the feminist demonstrations a few weeks back in which national monuments (like the Angel of Independence) were vandalized or “tagged”) and bystanders were injured, the opposition had hoped that another major incident would turn public opinion toward their contention that the “4th Transformation” is just as repressive as they were during their too long control of the country.  Or… that repression is needed to prevent the threat of… I donno… them losing whatever credibility they still have?

Although the media was able to play, seemingly in an endless loop, the same videos of the same couple of “troubling” incidents (a molotov cocktail being thrown… only reluctantly showing the peace-belters clearing marchers out of the trajectory of said molotov.. and the fireman standing at the ready with an extinguisher… a fist fight, a few taggings) my favorite complaint so far is that a million pesos (or, rather “almost” a million) was spent ot buy the white tees worn by the peace-belters.  Even adding in the cost of overtime for the civil servants, the investments in plywood and old laminate roofing around the monuments, and the 87 pesos (about US$4.50)  each for the very quickly ordered, printed and delivered peace-belt tee-shirts… avoiding damaged to public institutions, the public, and the right to assembly… it was a bargain.

Crazy AMLO! He’ll save you money!

1 October 2019

Socialists are supposed to be big spenders.  What are they doing wrong?

For the first six months of the year, despite major increases in Social Security, National Health, welfare programs and the military budget (mostly raises for soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen/women), the Mexican government UNDERSPENT its budget by 5.2%

Most of the savings were in discretionary budgets, led by 85% less spent by the Presidency.  Admittedly, 40% of the drop was dispensing with the “Estado Mayor”, the Presidential military guard (which included a whole military band, and ceremonial artillery battalion), but even so… along with a 75% cut in spending by the Secretary of Tourism..  The Home Secretary (Secretary of Governance) cut her spending by almost 35% and all cabinet level departments spent less than programmed.  The Legislature finally got serious about their ridiculous overhead, cutting their expenses by about a third, and even the judiciary, which fought tooth and nail to maintain their privileges spend six percent less than they could have.

Despite more funding going to what are now called “State Productive Enterprises”, PEMEX and the state electric company, CFE, also cut discretionary spending about  five percent.

Aside from discretionary spending, there was a budget increase to pay off the national debt, although spending more now will lead to savings in the future.

Show me the… body?

1 October 2019

It’s hard to say whether it is more a Mexican telenovela script, or the usual weirdness one expects to come out of Florida, but the case of the missing body (and death certificate) for José José makes for a welcome break from the usual run of the news.

Presumably, the master of the “slit your wrists” ballads did die last Saturday in Miami, where he was being treated for pancreatic cancer… and under the care of his youngest daughter, Sarita.  However, when the late crooners two older children from a previous marriage arrived from Mexico to view their father’s remains… they were nowhere to be found.  Although the matter was reported to the local police, and …. absent a death certificate… there is no indication that José José IS dead, with Sarita refusing to divulge further details, one is free to speculate about what’s going on.

Based on vast experience with the doings of the elites… i.e., watching a couple of Telenovelas over the years…. best guess is that, with his recordings still hugely profitable, and having (allegely) signed over his rights to Sarita, the details of the patriarch’s death had been covered up (a la the latest Netflix rich family with squabbling heir drama, “Monarcha”) …. not so much that dying from cancer is scandalous… but that the financial situation is not as cut and dried as we think.  Or, that he wasn’t as well cared for as one would expect, and the “dutiful” Sarita has something to hide.

OR…. less Telenovelesque, but certainly in the cut-throat traditions of Florida… José José body is being commodified.  His funeral will be a major event sure to draw in massive crowds, and probably televised…. with high priced ad revenues from throughout Latin America.  Given the near fanaticism of José José’s fan base, a Florida send-off is a sure money-maker. Videos of his “tributes” are bound to sell well.  Were the Mexican children to have custody of the body, the funeral would be one of those semi-state occasions (like María Felix, Carlos Monsiváis, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez — despite being a Colombian — merited).  Certainly over the top, with screaming fans cheering on the hearse as it made its way to wherever the remains were to be deposited, but nothing likely to bring in a quick financial return.

Or… maybe it will be an on-going saga, with a secret will, a plot twist, and an unexpected heir.  Stay tuned for the next episode.

Is the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance really reciprocal?

30 September 2019

The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, better know in Latin American than the United States, where it is generally referred to by its Spanish initials (TIAR) is one of those post-World War II, Cold War relics the present U.S: administration would like to dust off in their on-going … and so far fruitless… attempt to force though a “regime change” in Venezuela… and possibly elsewhere.

Signed on September 2, 1947 when the threat of pro-Nazi regimes taking over various American states was was still fresh in the minds of the various American leaders, it was a perfect “Cold War” pact… a weapon to be wielded against any country that stood in the way of U.S: dominance in the region.  In addition, the TIAR served as a mechanism for training and propagandizing Latin American military personnel.  It was first used in 1961, to justify the invasion of Cuba.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a spectacular bust, but it was the rationale for an economic blockade that has lasted to this day.  TIAR was ignored when pro-US dictators, such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile and several others tortured and murdered civilians.  A similar agreement with the Caribbean nations was used in 1983 to justify the US invasion of tiny Grenada.

That the United States is now turing to TIAR to justify moves (so far limited to sanctions) against Venezuela, and making references to TIAR when it comes to other left-leaning government like that of Bolivia, as well as other Latin American nations that are looking to China, India, or Russia for markets and military/economic ties, shouldn’t be a surprise.  Growing economic instability in the United States has led to a belief that the country is facing more and more internal and external threats.

But how much bite does TIAR have?  Mexico never signed on to the Cuban sanctions (due to long-standing economic and cultural ties to the island country) and withdrew officially on 6 October 2002, ostensibly in protest of the United States’ refusal to block an execution of a Mexican citizen in Texas, but also because of U.S. and British pressure on Mexico’s United Nations delegation during Mexico’s tenure on the Security Council during the build up to the US-British-Spanish-“coalition of the willing” invasion and occupation of Iraq.  By 2012, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Cuba had also abrogated the agreement.

If you read the agreement, you will see that the signatory members are obliged to inform the UN Security Council about possible threats to the area. But as is well known, the United Nations, and two of the five permanent member states of the Security Council has not recognized Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela… a country which abandoned the treaty years ago.

If there is a threat to the region, it is the arbitrary move by the Trump administration, and the Colombians, to encourage Colombian guerilla bands to break that country’s peace accords.  The United States, for its part, hoping to use TIAR as a rationale, hopes to provoke a war in Latin America without being accused of fomenting it.   In addition, the TIAR served as a mechanism, as training and training of US armies.

If the United States has not been able to dominate all of Latin America, perhaps we should not forget that this empire crashed against Vietnam and also with China in the Korean war, and could not avoid other wars in Asia and various parts of the World.

With the United States’ economic and political objectives so painfully obvious, Mexico is beginning to wake up to the danger it faces, with 80% of its exports depending on United States markets, and the US able to twist the arms of the Mexican administration to make decisions more favorable to US interest than to their own.

Although the present (evolving) Mexican immigration policy is widely and correctly seen as dictated from Washington, Foreign Minister Ebrard has been talking about the need for better relations with the rest of the world, and diversifying economic and political relations.  None too soon.

(Largely plagiarized from Antonio Gershenson, “El TIAR, hoy para Venezuela, como antes fue la OTAN para EU” Jornada, 29-Sept-2019)

The voices we need, not the voices we want

25 September 2019

Tú no puedes comprar el viento
Tú no puedes comprar el sol
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia
Tú no puedes comprar el calor

(Calle 13, “Latinoamérica)

The leadership of the broadly diverse movement against climate change should not depend on a single political actor. Partnerships with very different groups of politicized people are needed, but when it comes to decision making, often there is a tendency to heed only one type of speaker.

People fighting against the destruction of ecosystems and territorial dispossession have existed since the Conquest. In our time, dubbed “environmental defenders,” indigenous women and men who defend their territories in Latin America face a high likelihood of being crime and murder victims, as well as being at a disadvantage in resources and media attention. In the same UN forum where Greta spoke on Monday, only a single indigenous person, a Shuar leader from Ecuador, was allowed to speak… for two minutes. Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapo of Brazil was stopped by event security when he attempted to enter.

The necessary role of the indigenous in the climate movement is not simply a matter of superficial inclusion, but the introduction of such crucial demands for their collective rights to the land, as well their valuable contributions to discussions of alternative ways of thinking about our relationship to the natural world and systems of production. “Green” solutions can be so diverse that they veer into the danger of justifying territorial dispossession in the name of conservation… as has already happened.

The necessary meeting and joint work between the youth movement for climate change and organized indigenous peoples with a long history of territorial defense is a key part in the struggle.

(Orignal post, in Spanish, by Tania Daniela Gómez Perochena)