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The unquiet ghost of Benito Juárez

15 March 2015

benito-juarezAs if undoing the acts that defined the Mexican Revolution (rolling back labor rights, not-quite privatizing mineral and oil resources, giving up on public education other than as technical schooling, etc.) has not been enough, it appears the present government is now attempting to roll back the legacy of Don Benito.

Juárez (whose birthday we celebrate here on Monday, for the convenience of the tourism industry and corporate employers, rather than his actual birthday, 21 March), while imposing international standards on Mexico (the metric system, the Napoleonic Code, decimal currency), understood that the nation needed some protection from the outside, or … perhaps… that Mexico’s political culture depended on remaining aloof of the standards of others in some respects.

The hard-won battle for separating Church and State was a particularly bloody affair, culminating in the lynching of Melicor Ocampo (3 June 1861), who more than anyone is responsible for Mexico’s unique success among the American nations in keeping religion separate from politics.

While our constitutions (both the 1854 one and the much-amended 1916-17 one) were perhaps unfair to the Church, and perhaps went too far in denying civil rights to clerics, it has always been understood that one cannot serve both God and Caesar in this country.  But, without even a peep, Father Iván Bernal Zamora has registered as a pre-candidate for municipal president of Agua Prieta, Sonora, on the PAN ticket.  PAN, of course, is as close as we get to a clerical party in this country, but even they have always been careful to avoid claiming that they are the party of God… or the Church.  Admittedly, Padre Bernal has been suspended by his Bishop, but that is under Canon law, there being no restrictions (other than custom) on a clergyman holding public office.  (Proceso)

Juárez, like George Washington, warned against being involved in the affairs of other nations.  But, unlike the United States, Mexico has kept out of world conflicts, by design, though the simple expedient of taking Juárez at his word when he said, “Peace among neighbors, as among nations, is respect for the rights of others”,  which has been taken to mean to stay out of their business.  And, more importantly, to keep our military out of foreign affairs, and only for defensive purposes.  Now, Mexico is getting into their neighbor’s business… specifically in Haiti and the Western Sahara.  For the first time ever, Mexican troops will be serving in a U.N. “Peacekeeping Mission”.  Leaving aside the question of what the UN troops are doing in Haiti, besides propping up an unwanted political system in the name of “stability”, Mexico has never had a dog in the hunt when it comes to Haiti… let alone the Western Sahara… nor any other nation’s internal affairs.  Who exactly the Mexicans are expected to prop up in the Sahara (other than foreign mining corporations) and whose interest they are protecting in Haiti is beside the point.  Why should Mexico have to take sides, when they would resent Haitians or Western Saharans taking up sides in our own internal disputes?  (CNN México)

Neither of these are particularly “earth-shattering” changes, nor do they presage a roll-back of Mexican politics to the days of Santa Anna… but are small reminders that Mexico, like it or not, is erasing its cultural markers as it is absorbed into the borg of 21st century political hegemony, becoming not a Revolutionary model for the world (it hasn’t been one in years), nor an exception to the rule, but “just another country”.


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