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Cuba, 1959… Mexico, 201?: Chronicle of a revolt mis-told

7 September 2015

If many Americans, including sections of the American liberal and radical left, saw casino gambling, the Mafia, and prostitution as defining characteristics of what was wrong with the Cuba of the 1950s, the Cuban opposition on the island had bigger fish to fry — dictatorship, widespread corruption of public officials, the evils of the one-crop economy and extreme rural poverty, high unemployment (particularly among young people, in both urban and rural Cuba), and in the case of the Communist opposition to Batista, US imperialism. (Fidel Castro made no public mention of imperialism until after the revolutionary victory.)

Samuel Farber, “Cuba Before the Revolution” (Jacobin, 6 September 2015)

CubaMuch as some foreigners were looking forward to a repeat of the 1810 and 1910 social revolutions in Mexico a few years back, I never expected any cataclysmic change, nor do I think those romantic wannabe revolutionary tourists had really looked at what happened as a result of those revolutions, nor … other than a vague idea that Mexicans see their history as circular (as on the Aztec and Mayan calendars), did they notice that the revolutions and major upheaveals in Mexico usually end in a compromise, and even then, take about 15 years to work out.  The 1810 Independence uprising ended in the Three Guarantees (equality under the law but preserving the existing social class structure, the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, and an independent monarchy), while the Revolution didn’t really end until the mid -1920s, with Obregón’s formulation of the Revolutionary Family:  incorporating — or coopting — every faction from anarchists to capitalists, peasant traditionalist to intellectuals, into a single “Revolutionary Party”.

More importantly, and something I couldn’t really put my finger on, was the sense that those foreign commentators (and they are legion) who expect a major upheaval in Mexico were looking at the wrong “ills”… as were and are those who read into the Cuban Revolution their own perceptions of the country’s needs and wants.

For “Casino gambling, the Mafia and prostitution”… read in “narcotics exports”:  for foreign observers, there is a belief from both the left and the right that absent narcotic exports, that much of the country’s ills would disappear.  The only difference among foreign observers is HOW to make that industry disappear.  However, as in 1950s Cuba, it’s not the vehicle for corruption (Casinos and the Mafia), but the corruption itself that is seen as undermining the country.

Mexico_2015While the problems perceived by the opposition are less blatant than those seen in Cuba (“…dictatorship, widespread corruption of public officials, the evils of the one-crop economy and extreme rural poverty, high unemployment […]  and … US imperialism) the Mexican left (and many on the right as well) are uneasy for those issues.  The “perfect dictatorship” is seen by the Mexican opposition as being maintained both through ballot manipulation and outright corruption.  Although Mexico’s has a much broader economy than Cuba, there is worry about the over-dependence on a few exports (notably oil and minerals) and a self-limited export destination (the NAFTA zone).  Extreme poverty (not just rural poverty) has risen during the Peña Nieto administration, and the high unemployment rate (particularly among young people, in both urban and rural Mexico), exacerbate the problems, and — much as one hates to admit it — often justify the “investments” in exactly what the outside commentators see as our root problem.  That is, narcotics exports at least provide employment and growing opium poppies and marijuana (as well as meth production) are almost justified (if not openly) as a way of relieving rural poverty and providing some opportunities to otherwise idle urban youth.

True, less is said (except by the extreme left and the nationalists) about U.S. imperialism, though over-penetration by US businesses in the Mexican market is mentioned as a growing problem.  So far, the veritable flood of gringos moving to Mexico to retire (and demand “special rights”) has only been a sporadic and local issue, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that raised as an “imperialist” provocation.

With traditional parties losing their appeal for the voters, and a wholesale rejection of party politics, whether the new parties (mostly on the left) and the traditional rightist opposition (PAN) can channel dissatisfaction into into a relatively pacific form I don’t pretend to know.  For now, repression seems to be the answer to calls for change outside the political system which itself seen as corrupted.  Treating the symptoms MAY be possible through legislation.  Treating the disease may require a more radical solution.

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