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Me and Fidel — or writing yesterday’s news

23 August 2010

The most negative review I received (actually, the only negative review I received) for Gods, Gachupines and Gringos came from an reader who carped there was “[l]ittle or nothing about the maquiladoras, the drug cartels, and the border issues.  Not as up-to-date as the publication date would suggest.”

Seeing the book started with the Ice Age, and only 450 pages, I’m afraid some recent history may have been slighted.   I’m not sure how the “drug cartels and the border issues” will play out in the long run (which is what history is all about) … or how much it will even mean by the time I get around to writing a second edition (if there is a second edition, that is).

At any rate, I had to cut off somewhere, and the 2006 Presidential Election was my stopping point.    And even then, I had to rely on records not hallowed by time… though I seem to have been right, at least having confirmation by a bona fide historical figure now.

Writing in late 2007, I believed (and still believe) that  López Obrador actually won, but many of the details surrounding the election weren’t accepted as fact, or — rather — didn’t have the patina of independent sourcing to back them up.  I wrote:

López Obrador was not campaigning on a simple anti-gringo platform, but he was looking to renegotiate NAFTA to correct imbalances in agricultural and industrial policy, for continued Mexican government ownership of PEMEX and for loosening economic ties to the United States in favor of closer ties to Latin America, the European Union and the Asian countries. In U.S. media, he was described as a “fiery leftist” or a “populist”. “Populism”—in mass media publications and even in military manuals—was described as a threat to the United States second only to foreign terrorism. Whether dispatched by the Bush administration or hired on their own, U.S. political consultants working for Calderón used every opportunity to describe López Obrador as a dangerous radical, a megalomaniac or simply a person wasteful of public resources. The charges stuck, and as election day neared, López Obrador’s polling numbers fell. His own political missteps—blaming a “plot” by Carlos Salinas for every attack on his administration —and his open disdain for rivals (at one point refusing to show up for a televised presidential debate) —cost him further support.

I noted that at least one “plot” was true — Carlos Salinas had conspired with Argentine-born businessman Carlos Ahumada to implicate López Obrador in a bribery scandal. Ahumada fled to Cuba (and stayed in a house owned by Salinas) until he was returned to Mexico on a Mexico City arrest warrant. That much was known … what remained speculative (and I couldn’t write about) was Fidel Castro’s role in all this… rather ironically, López Obrador’s defeat being as much in the interest of Cuba’s Communists as in that of the U.S. Republican Party.

The Grumpy Old Man of the Caribbean recently fessed up about this on his own blog (does any grumpy old man anywhere NOT blog these days?),  Refleciones de Fidel, to his own part (by omission) in the Mexican election, which led Raymunco Riva Palacios to write his own “reflection” on Cuba, López Obrador and the United States:

Castro may have had more reasons to be dissatisfied with López Obrador than with the other actors mentioned [in his reflections on the 2006 scandal]. The former presidential candidate and Castro may have shared some visions of social policy, but are far apart when it comes to ideological formation, religion and world-view.  Havana declined to insert itself in the  political game which would undermine Vicente Fox’s government and hurt Calderón’s campaign.  Castro refused to accept the reports of Cuban intelligence agents and their 40 hours of recorded interrogations of  businessman Carlos Ahumada, which gave the details, and the names of all the officials and businessmen who conspired to derail the López Obrador presidential campaign.  In short, it wasn’t in Havana’s interest.

Castro had – and has — a close relationship with former President Carlos Salinas, one of the main architects of the conspiracy:  a result not only of gratitude for Salinas’ help with oil and renegotiating Cuban’s foreign debt to Mexico, but also for acting as a go-between with U.S. President Bill Clinton in resolving a Cuban refugee problem.  And, perhaps most of all, for encouraging foreign investment on the island.   Salinas could not invest himself, Castro recalls, because it would interfere with various Anglo-Saxon investments he needed to steer to Cancún, but did acquire property in Cuba, where he spent his self-imposed exile during Ernesto Zedillo’s administration, and where his youngest son, Jerónimo, was born.  In Cuba, Salinas is warmly received as a friend.

… Castro’s reflections are those of an old man who survived the Cold War, and is by no means senile. His views though, show more opinion than information, coming as the do from a politician who – although no longer holding the reins of power – is still a power in his country.  However, it is a country now irrelevant to Mexico.  In geopolitical terms, Cuba needs Mexico much more than Mexico needs Cuba.  Not so with the United States, on which Mexico depends for 80 percent of its commerce and is the engine of its productivity. In this sense, Castro’s revelations are harmless, something that cannot be said about remarks by U.S. ambassador, Carlos Pascual, who proposed, without being asked, strategies for the Army, Federal Police, state governments and municipalities to  gradually reduced violence. Pascual openly dismissed the federal government’s strategy and interfered in the internal affairs – his undiplomatic excesses causing neither surprise nor outrage by the media, political parties or the government.

Of course, lèse majesté being the usual and expected action of a United States Ambassador to Mexico, it is only newsworthy when the Mexican government tells the Ambassador to mind his own business… and of historical interest when the government reacts upon that unwanted advisement.

Fidel, as Rivas Palacios said, is not senile… but given some of the Ambassador Pascual’s more recent comments feel free to question the mental competence of foreign entanglers.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jose Guadalupe Garcia Cavazos permalink
    23 August 2010 9:02 am

    I am surprised and dissapointed to find out that Fidel Castro is friends with Carlos Salinas. I guess everyone has a price.

  2. Maggie permalink
    23 August 2010 4:30 pm

    Awhile back we were hearing that the US was considering Cuba a potential ally in the “war against drugs”, this coincided with Castro’s remark that dealing dope was – and I’m paraphrasing – anti-revolutionary. Any current info on that?

    Also, here’s a weird one but you might know Richard,there have been rumors that Fidel actually assisted in giving the location of Che when he was in hiding, which led to his assasination. Anything on that?

    Oh forget about the critic. Right, like any of us really know every aspect of the drug war goings on, the deals being made and who all is involved. It’s a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, etc., etc.

    I’d still like to go to Cuba though.


  3. Rafael permalink
    23 August 2010 5:25 pm

    “rather ironically, López Obrador’s defeat being as much in the interest of Cuba’s Communists as in that of the U.S. Republican Party”

    Could you ellaborate on that, please? Other than Castro’s friendship with Salinas, what else could motivate him to oppose Obrador?
    After all, one would think that a non-PANista president would be of benefit for Cuba’s national interests.
    Recently I’ve passed by a review by Castro on a book by Obrador. The review is very enthusiastic, Castro says something about Obrador being the most authoritative voice in Mexico about that country’s social needs. Obrador responded warmly to Castro’s review.

    • 23 August 2010 8:13 pm

      I think Riva Palacio’s point (which may be valid… time will tell) is that Castro believed Cuba was better off with the “old guard” in Mexico to act as a go-between with the U.S. and López Obrador — not being considered “friendly” by the U.S. — wouldn’t be in a position to make the kinds of deals that benefited the Mexican elites AND Cuba.

      Maybe it’s my reading on this, but the other problem would be that AMLO would have to bend over backwards NOT to be seen as a Commie stooge, and any overt pro-Cuban policy would be fodder for his opponents. And, Carlos Salinas has more pull with Castro than a lot of the old boy’s admirers want to admit.

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