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Sunday Readings 7 February 2010

7 February 2010

Disunited Nations

Paul Roberts (Living and Working in Mexico) had a “relaxing” vacation in Peru, getting himself stranded at Machu Picchu during the recent flooding. and lived to tell the tale very well indeed:

Every nationality behaved in somewhat characteristic ways. The Brazilians and Uruguayans organized football matches with the local kids. The Argentinians almost rioted but also led the organizing process. The Chileans were super-super-organized with different people assigned to be responsible for food, accommodation and health. The English deigned to get themselves organized. The Mexicans left a big Mexican flag in the Plaza with a note for people to write their names. The names appeared but I never saw anyone there. The American government was said to be providing four small helicopters for just American folk. It was rumoured that when the committee of delegates from each nation were meeting and rejected the idea that these helicopters should only be for Americans, then the Americans never participated again in the meetings and did their own thing. The Australians celebrated Australia day on Monday 25th January and it was said there was no more beer left in the town the following day.

Distant neighbors

Esther (From Xico) has been more supportive of the U.S. President than I have, but even she has her limits:

There is no doubt in my mind that we are extremely fortunate that Obama, not John McCain is president. What we have in Obama, so far, is a president who is far from perfect but who lives in the real world. But I am no longer so favorably disposed to him. While his administration has done some really good things (see the FDA) he is a president who nonetheless deserves much criticism — what president wouldn’t under the current circumstances? What an impossible job! Nonetheless, no one told him he had to run for the office, so he should listen to the advice of others, especially when it comes to sources more informed than those who surround him.

The area of criticism that most interests me is how he and his administration are dealing with Mexico in three areas: e/immigrants, the trans-border drug situation, and trade. He is certainly showing no hint of enlightenment in these areas. I would be very interested to know if he is getting any information from his ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, a man who may know better than the people in Washington. I’m going to see if I can find any information on how Pascual has been doing his job.

Displaced persons

Clemens Höges (Speigel Online International) profiles Haitian seismologist Claude Prépetit, agronomist Bernard Etheart, who both independently see an opportunity coming with the latest tragedy:

“We cannot invest a cent in Port-au-Prince; it would be a waste of money,” says Bernard Etheart. “We can’t afford to lose everything once again. We must take advantage of the opportunity we have today.”

We cannot rebuild Port-au-Prince the way it was built before. We will have to resettle a lot of people, and we have to start thinking about other cities.” [Prépetit] wants to develop a new seismographic institute, but that will require prompt assistance from foreign experts. Prépetit cannot possibly accomplish this task alone.

At some point, the government and the parliament will have to decide whether to stay in Port-au-Prince. “We must consider the pros and cons,” says ¨[Public Works Minister Jacques Gabriel]. If the capital was in the interior of the country, he argues, “we would lose our direct contact with the port.”

Is it even possible to simply abandon a capital? Wouldn’t it be preferable to rebuild, using lighter materials and safer construction methods?

President René Préval is familiar with Etheart’s plan. The two men are old acquaintances, but the president is still skeptical. He calls the former professor “Dessalines,” a reference to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, once of Haiti’s liberators. In 1803, he defeated the French colonial masters with an army of escaped slaves, who eventually founded their own country. Dessalines made his capital at Marchand, a small town in the country’s interior.

Dessalines, who later proclaimed himself emperor of Haiti, using Napoleon as his role model, was murdered in 1806. Today, his statue stands in front of the ruins of the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, which his successor turned into the capital.

Of course, the earthquake could also help Etheart press forward with his dream of major land reforms. The government is already sending thousands of people to rural areas. Initially buses and trucks left the chaos of the capital on a daily basis, transporting passengers to the countryside at no cost. The only catch was that no one was given return tickets. But now very few city residents are taking the government up on its not-too-subtle resettlement offer.

Dis-sention in the Church

Jason Dormandy (Secret History) a standoff between the congregation and their priest in one Mexican parish:

Catholics living on the edge of Toluca in San Cristóbal Huichochitlán are upset. It seems that somebody has been missing their history lessons on the Catholic Church in Mexico, and the priest in the area tried to mess with the customs and traditions of the congregation: He wanted to appoint his own fiscales and sacristanes. To put it in twenty-first century terms: Doh!

El Sol de Toluca has been covering the story since December, and it looked like the conflict might be coming to an end at the start of January. However, the priest with the backing of the bishop of Toluca has closed the church and moved to another chapel entirely.

So who cares? Well, aside from the folks in San Cristóbal Huichochitlán, this a great reminder of why the population of Mexico has a tradition of being Catholic and anti-clerical…

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