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Of coups and kooks

3 November 2019

This past week was the first time, in 20 years of writing about, and living in, Mexico, that Mexfiles has heard any serious mention (or, for that matter, any mention outside of far right US and fringe left Mexican media) of a military coup in this country.  There was one… sponsored by the U.S. Ambassador… in 1913, but historically considered one of the all-time worst “blowbacks” in U.S: foreign policy (don’t take my word for it:  here’s the CIA’s historical assesessment).  Huerta’s coup touch off the fratracidal popular uprising of the second phase of the Revolution, and led to the establishment by 1920 of what was generally called, in the United States and Britain, “Bolshevik Mexico”.

Although in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, I described the resulting government as a “democracy of Generals”, under Alvaro Obregon, civilian control …. backed by military muscle, true… was re-established.  Obregon, who had achieved peace and consolidated the revolution through, among other things, bribery (he was famous, or infamous, for once remarking “No Mexican general can withstand a barrage of gold pesos”), simply buying out his military rivals, for the last 100 years the government had a policy of isolating the generals from political roles.  One of the great heroes of the era, General Joaquin Amaro, As Secretary of War in the Calles Administration, he was unique among bureaucrats in demanding continual cuts to his own budget.  Naturally, having reinvented the country through a Revolution, the Presidents, and presidential candidates, continued to be men with high military rank among their attributes, but the last general to serve, Manuel Avila Camacho, was during the Second World War.. And, the need for a more professional fighting force, was Avila Camacho’s excuse for retiring those officers with political ambitions who might be tempted to turn to the troops to “save” the country from whatever course the civilian administration might pursue.

This is not to say that the military was not an instrument of control.  Pursuing dissidents, especially on the left, kept the military busy, and active duty generals and admirals continue to hold cabinet positions as Secretaries of the Army and Air Force, and the Navy.  The only mention of a coup during those years came, surprisingly, from the left:  when Cuauhtémoc Cardenas was denied the presidency in 1988 though obvious fraud, one faction in his coalition had been PARM (The Party of the Authentic Mexican Revolution), a small satellite of the then hegemonic PRI, which had split with the ruling party and whose leadership was largely made up of aging retired left wing officers.  Nothing came of that except talk (mostly in foreign media) given that the left had been the target for military action and the governing elites were rapidly turning towards a conservative neo-liberal agenda, and aligning themselves (and their military) towards supporting U.S. interests.

Over the past thirty years, while the political system evolved into a more multi-party state, the “war” on dissidents continued sub-rosa until the Calderón Administration, when… combining the war on dissent with a shift towards supporting U.S. interests turned what had been a minor, or relatively unimportant, role supressing narcotics exporters became the military’s central task.

The mounting reports of military atrocities, together with the casualty rate among soldiers and marines, coupled with the out of control financial excesses of the Calderón and Peña Nieto aministrations turned even the middle class, and much of the elites into dissidents themselves.  Donald Trump’s overt anti-Mexican racism certainly didn’t hurt in convincing even the apolitical citizens that a radical change was needed, both in economics and in security.  AMLO, an an avowed Christian pacifist and leftist, was overwhelmingly elected President.

The new paradigm, the so-called “Fourth Transformation” (from Independence, the LIberal reforms of Juarez, the Revolution), called for a less militant, less violent reaction to criminality and less interdependence with the United States for both economically and in setting policy.

While the changes have been broadly popular, there is dissent, of course.  There are those whose interests are threatened by the return to a more Socialist state, as well as those who reject a more “liberal” sense of personal and communal rights (for minority communities, for GLBT individuals, and relaxing the strict laws against abortion), and those ideologically committed to neo-liberalism.  And, of course, those would-be “progressives” like Enrique Krauze and Denise Dresser (both favorites of the New York Times) who automatically distrust any hugely popular national leader, especially one who doesn’t follow their own prescriptions of how to govern, or what priorities need to be addressed.

The cock-up in Culiacán,, the attempted arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, appears to have been more a set-back in a learnig curve during the transformation of the military and police structure, than … as the new dissenters would have it… a wholesale condemnation of the entire administration.  While more details are still forthcoming, it appears there was a break in the command and control structure, as well as inadequate intelligence before the operation against a figure wanted in the United States (but not, as of yet, facing any major criminal charges in Mexico) led to a wild, hours long shootout between gangsters and a combined police, National Guard, and Army operation that left several dead including one soldier, and more seriously wounded (one soldier lost a leg to a 50 caliber shell).

With plenty of off-the-cuff and irresponsible commentary, the speech by retired general (and former undersecretary of the Army and Air Force), Carlos Gaytán Ochoa (delivered to a breakfast meeting of high military officials, including the sitting Secretary) }. in which he complained about broad opposition to the changes in the security apparatus and how those changes are being implemented, touched off a reaction from the “influencers”, both those who support, and those who oppose, the transformation.

The military has traditionally enjoyed more respect (although you won’t find among the chattering classes anyone willing to serve) among institutions, more than that of the political classes, the Church, or business leaders.  But, as a conservative institution (even if the soldiers and sailors and airmen and women tend to be from the working class and tend to vote the same as their civilian peers), the military establishment has been seen as the scourge of the left. AMLO  shows the due deference to the military expected of the Commander in Chief, but aside from dignifying service men and women as “citizens in uniform”, but given both is pacifism and leftism, is …. as General Ochoa suggested, and other officers have said, faces strong opposition to the changes in progress, even among the rank and file.

The convergence of the General’s remarks, with the increasingly shrill reactions to the transformation including the expected U.S. sponsored support for far right opposition movements, and the equally expected outrage from the left, leads to heated rhetoric suggesting a coup, of the soft sort favored by the Obama administration towards any leftist Latin American government, or of the nontraditional Mexican, but common Latin American, military variety, is in the offing.

Given the tenor of reports in the “mainstream media”, both here and abroad, one suspects that the opposition will continue to glom on any misstep by the present administration to vilify the goals of a more equitable, post-liberal, pacifist state.  But, given the likelihood of a coup?  AMLO was forced to respond to the rumors and rhetoric, putting his trust in Mexican history and in the masses:

The conservatives and their hawks are wrong! They were able to commit the crime of overthrowing and killing Madero because this good man, this Apostle of Democracy, either did not know, or circumstances did not allow ihm to rely on a social base to protect him and back him up. 

Times are different.  Although the reality has change, and we should not simply make comparisons, the transformation I am leading has the support of a free and informed majority.  Fair minded people, lovers of the law and peace, which will not allow another coup.

There is not the slightest opportunity for Huertas, Hitlers, or Pinochets. Today’s Mexico is not fertile land for genocide or for scoundrels who bed for it.



Arreola, Federico, La mala: 10 ensayos golpistas. La buena: Andrés Manuel y la 4T ya descubrieron a sus autores y los van a neutralizar, SDPNoticias (2 November 2019)

Benbow, Mark E. Intelligence in Another Era, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (25 June 2008)

EU quiere mayor compromiso de México contra el narco, Jornada (23 October 2019)

Hiriat, Pablo, En el Ejército, agraviados, preocupados, ofendidos por el Presidente, El Fianciero (31 October 2019)

La extrema derecha intenta dar un golpe de Estado suave a AMLO. Jornada (15 July 2019)

Martinéz, Fabiola, Ciudadanía no permitiría golpe de Estado en México: AMLO, Jornada (2 November 2019)

Mayoría no permitiría golpe de Estado: AMLO, Reforma (2 November 2019) (no link)

Militares, “agraviados y ofendidos”: general Carlos Gaytán, Diario de Yucatan (3 November 2029)

National Endowment for Destabilization? CIA Funds for Latin America in 2018, Telesur (4 April 2019)

The usual talking heads on TV


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