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We will fight them FOR the beaches…

2 May 2019

Over the last thirty years, hundreds of beaches in Mexico have been “privatized” generally under the fiction of a concession to a hotel or development project that advertises “beachfront properties”.  This has always been technically illegal, but, the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress) has overwhelmingly passed a new bill which will clarify that ALL beaches in Mexico are public property, as Article 2 of the Constitution has always said.

Playacar… not private… in theory: “They do have hotel guest on them from the all inclusive resorts but don’t get many locals because it is more distant from public access. Even from within Playacar there is limited access to the beach if you are not staying at one of the all inclusive hotels. This does not mean you cannot use the beach, you just need to find access to it first.” (“”)

Passed by 406 in favor, 7 opposed and 20 abstaining, the bill ensures that beaches are open to the public, and where there is no public access, that private landowners are obliged to provide an easement for the public.  Blocking access or refusing entry to the beach will earn the “owner” a fine of between 3000 and 12,000 “UMA”s (UMA is an unit based on various economic references — including the daily minimum wage for year… used to calculate among other things, mortgage rates and court fines).  At today’s figure, that’s between about 250,000 and a million pesos per infraction.

The bill still needs to go to the Senate, and I expect a few minor changes, but… while tourism is important to the economy… tourists don’t vote.

(Source: Polimon, “Diputados aprueban ley que prohibe las playas privadas en México“, 30 April 2019)


The “Ten Tragic Day”, and the Venezuelan almost-coup

1 May 2019

The old chestnut, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes” is a recurrent theme in US-Latin American relations.  That, or the other popular saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over again, and expecting different results”.  I admit being obsessed with the news from Venezuela yesterday. in goof part because I had been trying to think of how I wanted to answer a query posted in the comment section of a recent post on the Mexican coup of 1913, the “Ten Tragic Days”.

The query, from a history class (somewhere) asked for my response to ten questions about the events of 9-19 February 1913… how was I personally affected? (well, it changed Mexican history for better or worse, and I live here): when did I first hear of the coup? (just shy of a century later); and how did it affect people at the time?  (there was five more years of civil war, and a completely different kind of state than the one intended).  Simple questions, but hard to answer.


Wilson meant to overthrow…


Madero’s revolution of 1910 was a relatively straight-forward affair.  While in no way the same scenario as yesterday’s attempted uprising in Caracas,  in 1910 there was widespread belief that the presidency had been “stolen” from the opposition.  While the rationale for violent opposition to the Venezuelan government is a claim that an election was stolen, in 1910 Mexico, it was the elites who wanted to preserve the status quo and locked out the opposition, whereas in Venezuela, it is the elites wanting to restore the status quo who are in rebellion.  As they were, or are, now.

Although Francisco Madero was from the Mexican “one-percent” himself (probably the “point oh-one percent”, coming from the family of the richest landowners in the country), his support came from the middle and lower classes, avid for more than a political change, but demanding a social and cultural one, more suited to the 20th century.  Alas, Madero was no Hugo Chavez (an elected leader), able to impose change.  Madero, for all his good intentions, was unable to meet either the demands from below, nor to satisfy those of his own social class who saw what moderate changes he sought in a positive light.

… popularly elected reformer, Francisco I. Madero, in favor of…

Nor to meet the demands of U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson.  For Wilson, it didn’t much matter who ran Mexico, as long as U.S. corporate interests were protected.  Wilson, a paranoid drunk (my description comes from the Ramon Prida, at the time a young foreign office official, later a respected expert on international law), bombarded Washington with stories of intended disaster should Madero come to office, and… once he did… of the absolute economic and political disaster that the popularly elected new President was making of the country.

Madero was no Hugo Chavez:  unwilling (or unable) to make the radical changes demanded by the lower classes, nor to control populist movements and insurgents like Emiliano Zapata, what mild reforms he was able to pass did change the relationship between the Mexican state and the extractive industry… that is, oil and

… safe General Bernado Reyes… but ended up with

mining interests, who objected to any reforms in their labor or tax structure whatsoever.  That proposed oil extraction tax was, to Henry Lane Wilson, and to his cronies in the oil industry, a bridge too far.  Like the US media and government today when it comes to Venezuela, Wilson misread discontent by the masses with the pace of reforms and a breakdown in some government services (in Madero’s Mexico, bandits and insurgents — and sometimes, groups that were a little of both — left over from the 1910 Revolution pursuing their own goals, disrupted rail service and food deliveries, among other things, while the country was in a wildly inflationary era) with those nostalgic for a return of the Porfirian “peace” and openly backed the 1913 coup.

— the monster, VIctoriano Huerta.. who incidentally, toughened the labor laws to the disadvantage of US interests (mostly to try and save his own skin).

It’s easy to overlook that the Mexican coup went wrong from the beginning.  The intention was to simply put Felix Díaz (Pofiriro’s nephew) or General Bernado Reyes in the Presidency.  Reyes, having been seen as Porfirio’s logical successor, willing to make some cosmetic political changes, without touching those “special rights” enjoyed by foreign businesses, he was killed on 9 February, when he showed up to take over the National Palace… wearing his dress uniform, making him an easy target for the teenaged military cadets manning the machine guns.  Convincing his fellow drunk Victoriano Huerta to switch loyalties, Wilson’s ad hoc “Plan B” was a simulated war for the Presidency between Diaz and the national government, which would end with Huerta as temporary president, and another Diaz back in control.

Even the C.I.A. sees the Ten Tragic Days that followed as the worst US covert action blunder in history , making me wonder who in the US government, if anyone, has studied history (even superficially), and why they lack the imagination to see the parallels between one event and another.

… another Reyes, in the guise of Madero?

Madero… the young, attractive, U.S. educated would-be reformer… is a tempting stand-in for Juan Guiadó, but I would assign that role to General Reyes. HE was the one receiving the blessing of both the Mexican elites and the US business interests. My sense, given how events unfolded yesterday in Caracas, was that Guiadó, like Reyes, was merely a temporary stand-in for a return to the old regime. Historical “what-ifs?” are fruitless, but it appears Henry Lane Wilson and his cronies had no intention of permitting even the mildest changes in the Mexican oil taxes, and … had Reyes not played ball… they already had Felix Díaz waiting in the wings. Likewise, it appears Guiadó, for all his talk about “social democracy” is merely a stand-in for Leopoldo López, a member of the old elite who has been presented to the global north as the would-be “reformist hope”, despite his criminal record fomenting violence, and a past as a neo-fascist agitator.

When Reyes was unceremoniously removed from the scene, Wilson turned to subverting Huerta. Here, the US seems to have thought ahead, the US having tried (unsuccessfully) to subvert several Venezuelan leaders, although it appears they did gain the support of the (now arrested) chief of military intelligence.

I don’t know what happens next, after the coup gone wrong. One hopes Venezuela is not in for their own ten tragic days, or ten tragic weeks, or ten tragic years. Certainly Maduro’s government is unpopular, but so was Madero’s. In itself, perhaps a reason for irregular change, but not change imposed from the outside, nor done with the interests of outsiders, masked by concern for the citizens, as the rationale for intervention.

We need to learn our history… when I read, as I do regularly, that the Lopez Obrador administration (which openly looks to Francisco Madero as a model reformer) that this or that intended reform isn’t quite working out as planned (after four months?) or that corruption and crime have not magically disappeared, or that some social indicators aren’t up to those of some points in the recent past (yes, we expected domestic growth to slow down some) one wonders if there isn’t an attempt in the United States to make it’s history in Venezuela rhyme with Mexico, as it made the Mexico of 1913 attempt to rhyme with that of Venezuela yesterday.


26 April 2019

Mexican folk legend Lila Downs has covered Manu Chao’s classic song “Clandestino” in protest of current U.S. immigration policies, and she has transformed Chao’s composition into something that’s completely her own.

Downs’ rendition preserves the original lyrics of the song, which focus on people renouncing their identities to look for something else, living like outlaws because of a lack of documentation. However, ad-libs like “if we’re not going to take care of our children, who will?” take on new meaning in the era of family separation, given the traumatic aftermath of the Trump administration’s cruel practice, which has left hundreds of Central American youth in limbo.

Like some of the best Lila Downs tracks, “Clandestino” isn’t a lament, but rather a celebration, and one in which social consciousness elevates the musical form to protest.

(Marcos Hassan, Remezcla)

Can we drop the word “machismo”?

21 April 2019

(a response to a query from a would-be migrant):

How is “machismo” different from plain old vanilla “sexism”? It is a racist term, as well, suggesting there is something particularly worse about Latin sexism compared to sexist behavior and attitudes among any other group of people.

I did some linguistic research, and — as far as I was able to discover — “machismo” wasn’t even a word in Spanish until about 1970, a “hispanicized” English word based on a misuse of the technical term used in bull-fighting and cattle breeding when referring to bulls: “machos”. Both Robert McAlmon and Ernest Hemingway, used “macho”not for the bull, but for the matador, and “machismo” for what they believed were the virtues of the bullfighter: an indifference to danger, masculine pride, athleticism, etc. Later writers, notably Normal Mailer, used it to “celebrate” masculine attitudes (or, in Mailer’s case, to justify his being a total asshole). The women’s movement here borrowed much of its rhetoric from English speaking women’s literature, and as far as I can tell, just won out over alternatives like “sexismo” or “chauvinsimo” for the same concept.

Shhhhhh! It happens…

21 April 2019

Outside a few of the geezer-oriented right wing nut sites (here’s looking at you, “Free Republic”), not much can be said about this, though of course geezers gotta geeze.

(CNN)Two US soldiers were questioned by Mexican troops earlier this month while conducting a surveillance operation on the US side of the southern border, two US defense officials tell CNN.

America’s first line of defense.

“On April 13, 2019, at approximately 2 p.m. CDT, five to six Mexican military personnel questioned two U.S. Army soldiers who were conducting border support operations in an unmarked (Customs and Border Protection) vehicle near the southwest border in the vicinity of Clint, Texas,” US Northern Command told CNN in a statement.

“The US soldiers were appropriately in US territory” during the encounter, the statement added.


The encounter took place south of the border fence in the area but north of the Rio Grande, the officials said.

However, the officials said the river in that area consists of brush-filled and dried-out riverbed, making it “very easy” for people to be confused as to what side of the border they are on.

I sure the fighting keyboard brigades will disagree, but it appears the U.S. has ceded the territory south of LA GRAN MURALLA™ to Mexico, as surely as Mexico ceded the land between the Rio Nueces and Rio Bravo del Norte to Texas when General Santa Anna withdrew below the Rio Bravo and the Texas called it the “Treaty [sic] of Velasco”.

And, are we sure that land below the wall in Clint IS in the United States? The border river changes, the original survey was done as inexpensively as possible and mistakes were made, and it really isn’t all that well marked.

Speaking of border incidents..

Still, I do enjoy (in a twisted way) reading the comments from people who are in no shape, condition, or have the least bit of familiarity with the area to say anything useful.  “Remember the Alamo”… besides being a bit of a cliché  really has nothing to do with United States history to begin with, and besides, it’s remembered as a battle won by the Mexicans.   “Where’s General Pershing when we need him?” shows a bit more insight, though the Pershingistas forget that the only battle during the Pershing Expedition ended with U.S. troops surrendering to the Mexican Army and Pershing being ordered by President Carranza to stop all movements South, East, or West of their present position, but to start moving the one direction that was left.

I’d ask where was Abe Lincoln, who famously lost his congressional seat in 1848 for continuing to ask exactly where, as President Polk had claimed to justify the invasion and occupation (and later annexation) of northern Mexico, “American blood was spilled on American soil”.

No blood was shed, it’s not all that clear this was US territory (though we’ll cede that point for now) and nothing really happened. So… that…. is ….. that.

Stupid politician tricks…

20 April 2019

When it comes to stupid politicians, something there is that loves a wall.  Although this one will never beat the one pulled by Raj Peter Bhakta … a Republican candidate for the 13th District U.S. House of Representatives seat in Eastern Pennsylvania who was running in 2006 on his “fame” as a a former star on the NBC show “The Apprentice,” (yeah, the show where some guy named Donald Trump would yell “You’re fired!” at people)… but it deserves an honorable mention.

Bhakta attempted to film a commercial with himself crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas on an elephant. Neither the elephant nor the border patrol was amused. 

Duncan Hunter, a Republican house member for the 50th California Congressional District, is apparently facing a serious challenge from his Democratic opponent.  Hunter, a ally of Donald Trump (Bhakta’s one time co-star?) has been running on an anti-immigration platform (and some other stupid ideas), so had the bright idea of having himself filmed crossing from Mexico into the United States.  One… teeny…. weeny… problem.  Hunter is out on bail, pending his trial on federal corruption charges, and — as a condition of his bail — cannot leave the confines of the continental United States.



Wrong foot forward

19 April 2019

An interesting thread on a facebook page for foreigners in Mexico City asked people what their biggest mistake was when they move to Mexico.  The original poster appears to be someone for whom English and Spanish are both acquired languages, and many of the responses dealt with personal problems (one woman posted that she should have checked out Mexican tax law before moving here, several people — whose names suggested they came from countries with a alphabet other than Roman lettering said they should have had documents translated and apostilled before coming here (though, for things like birth certificates, professional licenses and maybe diplomas, that’s not a bad idea, no matter what language other than Spanish they were originally in).  And, the #1 “mistake” mentioned was, unsurprisingly, not learning Spanish.

I agree, people SHOULD learn the language of the country to which they immigrate (ok… for most of them… “espatriate” themselves), but accept that it’s not always possible, especially for people from the US, where so many of us suffer from an otherwise excellent educational system, but are fortunate to have taken 2 years of French in high school.  And, while the query was in a Mexico City focused site (and Mexico City’s foreigners are less likely to be the stereotyped retiree looking for a cheap and sunny place) it’s understandable that older emigres are going to be less linguistically flexible.  And, of course, in every society people complain about immigrants not learning the majority language.

But even not being able to speak Spanish (let alone Nahuatl, or Otomí or one of the 30 Mayan languages, or any of the 60-odd national languages in Mexico), there are some common mistakes newcomers make… though I can’t speak for all foreigners, not even for all global northerners, people from the US, or even people raised in New York, long-time resident of Texas, and mid-life immigrant to Mexico,  I’m going to offer some “what we do wrong” observations anyway.

Lift up the brown man’s burden…

Yes, of course people WANT to move here, for all kinds of reasons.  Financial ones are nuts, in my opinion, and I can’t fault anyone for wanting to come here before they retire, but I see an assumption among some people that their particular job skill (or what they think is a job skill) will qualify them to work here, and that,,, being a “first worlder” …. Mexican employers are anxious to employ them. Sure, there are still those “Business English” schools that pay anyone live and breathing with an undergraduate degree to teach English… sort of (I did this for a few years, and whether I did more damage than good is something I wonder about).  Not that there aren’t openings for qualified ESL teachers or agronmists who speak Spanish, or geologists, but it’s not like Mexico doesn’t have nurses, and massage therapists and computer programmers and tax accounts and chefs and marketing placement specialists (whatever they are) and…

You get the idea.  Intentionally or otherwise, wannabe migrants too often suggest they deserve to be hired, because, well… they’re from the “advanced” world.  A little secret:  Mexican managers often have advanced degrees themselves (I had one student, looking just to polish her English, with both a law and accounting degree, and a masters’ in foreign policy to boot; another with a doctorate in psychology, who spoke German, Hebrew, Catalan, and Finnish… no idea why he learned Finnish):  people unlikely to be impressed with a bachelor of arts degree from East Texas Baptist Women’s College, or any prestigious university no one has ever heard of outside the English speaking world.

And, on the other hand, managers almost expect their foreign job seekers to try to pull the “white privilege card”, and are going to consider how well a prospect fits into the Mexican corporate structure.  Not to mention, outside of a few, mostly foreign owned and with a foreign clientele, companies, are employers likely to hire people without working papers.

Don’t, don’t you love me?

Yes, one generally does receive permission to stay in Mexico for 180 days, but not always.  And, that is no guarantee that a person will be able to stay after that time, or … if they’re a “border jumper”… that they’ll be able to return.  the immigration authorities are pretty relaxed about those “FMM” (Forma Migratoria Multiplé) and don’t normally care even if it has expired, but … given the uncertainty of the person’s status, is it at all strange that landlords are reluctant to sign a lease, or employers are willing to risk hiring people not legally permitted to work, or that banks don’t always accept them as customers?  Being a nice person is not enough, I’m afraid.  Having been an “illegal alien” for a time here myself (back before the FMM even existed), I can’t fault people for coming in without definite plans and just staying, or … not knowing that the FMM is not a visa or residency permit, just a generic entry card for everyone from tourists to asylum seekers to journalists covering a specific event, scientists meeting with colleagues, and business visitors, do try to establish themselves.  But, the experience can be frustrating, and the temptation to decide the Mexicans are anti-gringo, or just creating bureaucratic hurdles (unlike, say, those Mexicans moving to the United States face?) or assuming landladies just won’t rent to foreigners because they are bigots, is an easy first mistake to make.

My Mexican friend… 

Even those who come “the right way”… or more realistically, either have the bucks to get a residency permit based on their foreign income, or had arranged a job ahead of time, and went through the process of obtaining a working residency vista, or come as the spouse or dependent of a Mexican national… there’s the common mistake of assuming the one or two Mexicans you know are Mexico as a whole.  I saw this more when I lived in a beach town with a large “gringo ghetto” of retirees.  Perfectly nice people, but … their “Mexican friend” being either the neighbor who could also afford a condo in the same resort community, or the waiter who speaks  English (having been deported after 15 years in Los Angeles) or their cleaning woman.  One, or two, or three Mexicans does not a people make.  It’s not a crime, but it is something of a shame, when intelligent, interested people make their assumptions about a country based on limited information.

Just as it is when a foreigner moves to one location, and doesn’t at least venture out of their comfort (or slightly discomfortable, but tolerable) zone.  Oh, I know… I still see Mexico through the lens of “progressive” middle-class Mexico City… but I’ve been around, I watch the news, read the local media, talk to people.  I didn’t make the mistake (mostly by sheer luck) of not ending up in Condesa or Roma, unaware of anything outside my neighborhood, and my perception of the country that of a few square blocks of the metropolis.  I admit, I am bemused when I read queries looking for something like ingredients for Chinese cuisine … in Roma or nearby (Barrio Chino is only a short Metrobus ride away) or people excited to find some Canadian brand of coffee in a shop, or… complaints that U.S. Netflix programs aren’t available on their cable service here, and there’s nothing BAD about wanting Chinese herbs, or Canadian coffee or having a favorite TV show… just the mistake of missing out on what it’s like to live in a wildly multicultural and mixed-culture country.

And, of course, there two basic errors I hope no one here every makes:  not reading Mexican history, and not reading MexFiles!