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Salvador: where no news is fit to print

8 April 2022

Try to bring up the best independent media site in Central America today, and this is what you get (original in Spanish):

No to Censorship.

For many years, in this space our readers have found critical journalism with a declared intention of understanding the political and social phenomena that determine the lives of Salvadorans and Central Americans.

Among them, we have also covered gangs, their origin and their excessive development in the north of Central America, how they subdued a huge part of the population and which politicians and governments they have had secret agreements for more than a decade. Without an independent press, citizens would never have known about these pacts. To continue explaining this, to continue revealing those pacts, is now a crime that can be punished with up to 15 years in prison in El Salvador.

The amendments to the Penal Code, approved this week by the Assembly of [President] Nayib Bukele, are a gag on freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But above all on the citizen’s right to be informed. What should Salvadorans know about gangs? Nothing, according to the regimen.

In a democracy it is not those in power that decide what is published and what is not. But this new law, at the express request of the President of the Republic, comes when democratic life has already been dismantled and the regime tries to hide its own negotiations with criminal groups and its corruption by all means. That is why today, in protest against this gag law, we have closed our front page. El Salvador paid a very high price to obtain our freedoms. We cannot allow them to be taken from us by a regime that seeks to keep citizens in the dark. Tomorrow you will find here what we have done and continue to do: journalism. Today we protest.

Cowboys v Nazis

7 April 2022

One of several incidents that convinced me to start writing Mexican history (and, once being labeled “Mexican Pravda” for my trouble) was talking to a British teacher one day on the bus when I was still new to the City, who … in all honesty… told me the Mexicans had always hated the British, and that’s the reason they backed the Germans in WWII. Uh….

Yes, there were Nazi sympathizers in Mexico… quite a few, though outside of some urban intellectuals, support was more for a Francoist type of Fascism — upholding traditional religion and a reaction against the Revolution — than any ideological formulation based on some mythical “pure” bloodline (and… in one of the weirder attempts to justify Nazi ideology, José Vasconcellos made the “Cosmic Race” … the mixture of the then prevalent racial groups (white, black, red, yellow) … the “master race” over the Nazi sub-category of Aryan. But, as it was, with the Mexican state having been openly opposed to the Fascist states throughout the 1930s, the last gasp of the Cristeros (Saturnino Cedillo’s German-financed attempt at a coup in 1939) and the influx of often technically or intellectually gifted refugees from Nazi regimes, and the election of a more pro-western president in 1940 did not bode well for the likelihood of Mexico siding with the Germans, and putting its declared neutrality in doubt. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, it was only a matter of time until Mexico … among other things, the main foreign source for oil for both the United States and Great Britain… would be forced to openly take a side.

That oil was also a matter of great interest to Berlin. Either obtaining it, or at least keeping it from their enemy. And, with attacks on Mexican oil shipments in May 1942, Mexico had a constitutional mandate to declare war (the Mexican Constitution limits war powers to defensive actions).

However, although the post-Revolutionary state had been run by military men, going back to Alvaro Obregon, who openly mused that the with Juarez having overthown the Church, and the Revolution overthrowing the old elites, someone would nee to overthrow the military. Since Calles, the military’s power had been scaled back year by year (his Secretary of War, Jesus Amaro, famous for being one of the few cabinet officers in history– anywhere — to continually complain his department’s budget was too large, and needed more cuts!), and whether Mexico was prepared for war was a genuine concern.
Uncovering a Nazi spy network, and a few incidents of sabotage, gave credence to the sense that Mexico, might indeed, be a target for attack and attempted occupation.

Even the remaining Cristeros, although politically Fascist, changed their tune… where their leader, Carlos Abascal, had been trying to sell the Cristero colony on the Baja Peninsula as a potential auxillary force against gringo invaders, he was quick to suggest his “holy warriors” could fend off a potential Japanese landing.

Enter the cowboys

Anatolin Jimenez Gamas, never felt he had particularly received the rewards he was due for his service to the revolution as a lieutenant colonel in Pancho Villa’s cavalry from 1910 to 1915. He’d managed to get himself elected to the Chamber of Deputies a couple times, but other than that, his political role was reduced to being the president of the Association of Charros… a trade group and social club for horse fanciers.

But… perhaps each according to his ability… were the Nazis to attempt an occupation, somebody would need to be ready to fight them. The Army would probably be beaten but, given his own experience with Villa (having been wounded three times, and blown up a few railways back in the day), and that horse mounted cavalry was still a thing at the time (especially in the less mechanized armies like that in the Soviet Union and Poland), AND… nobody knew the back of the beyond better than cowboys, why not organize a cowboy guerilla unit?

Which, while a little dubious, President Avila Camacho authorized. 150,000 horsemen signed up, received training in sabotage and guerilla fighting, issued pistols and machetes… and sent home. By the time they were prepared for possible battle, organized into 250 resistance units throughout the entire republic, the prospect of a German or Japanese invasion was over, if there had ever been a threat to begin with.
That, and ironically, Jimenez had a heart attack in 1944, and was ordered by his doctor to stay off his horse. He retired, honorably as anyone who did their part, taking up the more sedate role of a book publisher.

Mexico City contingent… the Nazis didn’t stand a chance

The short lived Legiòn de Guerrilleros Mexicanos may not have had the same impact on the war as Escuadron 281 .. the Mexican air unit that saw action in the Pacific, nor the importance to later history of the Braceros who kept the farms, factories and railroads in the United States functioning as their native workers went off to the front, or the Women Workers’ Corp that manned… or rather womaned… the overworked factories during the war, and formed the nucleus of the push for women’s suffrage and labor rights, the Legión has an honorable mention in Mexican military history… having stepped up … or, perhaps we should say saddled up… to do their part to defend the nation against outside aggression, and did it with style.

Revolution Day Parade… not the veterans (alas, all gone) but a historic unit and a popular favorite

Najar, Alberto, “El olviadado ejército charro creado para defender a México de los nazis” (BBC)

La historia del ejército charro que se preparó para combatir a Hitler” México Disconocido

Matria (film). Fernando Llanos, director and producer. 2016.

Edifice complexity…

4 April 2022

Even the most overlooked buildings can tell us a story… and in Mexico City, the story is often as complicated as the city itself. One always assumes (and you know what’s said about people who “assume”) that the city is “Indian” and “Spanish”. But… consider 33 calle Lopez.

It’s in the heart of the Barrio Chino, but… during a period when Chinese Mexicans were largely confined to that neighborhood, it wasn’t the Chinese who occupied the building, but the Club Alemán… originally a social club for German immigrants… and, in the late 1930s, a gathering spot for a group that, shall we say, took a rather dim view of multi-culturalism.

Three days after Mexico declared war on Germany in May 1942, it was seized by the city government… and what else should a German club in a Chinese neighborhood house… but a Mayan speaking Triquí community.

Which side are we on? Ukraine, Russia, Mexico

29 March 2022

Joel Hernández Santiago, writing in ElComunista (a Spanish site, which includes a lot of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and the Russian state, but often enough including insight on Latin American news and social movements) considers the question of not so much what “side” Mexico backs, but which, if either, it can.

Not a direct translation, but more a selected reworking:

In the midst of tangled interests, there are key countries … on one side, the European nations, and the United States, and NATO. so hated by Putin and invoked by those leaning towards the Russians.

Historically, the United States sees Mexico as its national security zone. The country to its south is constantly watched by its agents swarming through Mexico with or without government permission to guarantee the integrity and security of the United States and its inhabitants.

Not that Mexico is always an ally. During the First World War, the Zimmerman Telegram suggested pro-German leanings, although during the Second War, Mexico sided with the United States and, with the famous Squadron 201, took an active part in the fighting [although the author doesn’t mention it, during the First War, Mexico was in no position to side with anyone, in the middle of its own civil war/revolution, and in the Second, Mexican ships had been sunk by German U-boats].

One might expect Mexico to reflexively side with Ukraine* However, at this time, it has opted for ambiguity. On the one hand, from the National Palace, it denounced what it called a Russian invasion. In the UN Security Council, of which the Mexican government is a part, it has called fro peace, and aligned with those nations that reject Russian belligerence.

But at the same time, the Mexican federal government has demonstrated that it does not want to give Russia a cold shoulder, holding back from joining those nations criticizing Russia and any actions taken against the government of Vladimir Putin. In this, Mexico alligns itself with more pro-Russian countries in Latin America: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, etc.

But Mexico has a huge disadvantage: it is the neighboring country – border to border – of the US and this is a problem for everyone in Mexico. This is because the United States does not want and it seems that it will not allow its neighbor — a sovereign nation — to decide to support the Russian government. So in a sense, the United States has declared war on Mexico.

The Americans, from their Secretary of State, have expressed “concern” about the Mexican government’s proclivity towards the Russian government. A delicate situation:

On Thursday, March 24, Glen VanHerck, head of the US Northern Command, in a statement to the US Senate Armed Services Committee stated: “The Russian military espionage agency (GRU) currently has more intelligence officers deployed in Mexican territory than in any other country in the world with the ultimate goal of influencing decisions made by the United States.” He added that the Kremlin is seeking to gain access to the US from Mexico.

On 23 March, almost at the same time as General VanHerck was giving his testimony, Ken Salazar, the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, expressed strong condemnation of a meeting in the Chamber of Deputies of a Mexico-Russia friendship group promoted by the Labor Party (PT) and with the participation of some legislators from different parties, including Morena.

The US Ambassador presumed a Legislative event could not take place without at least the consent of the Executive, and questioned the presence of Russian diplomats a month into the invasion “We have to be in solidarity with Ukraine and against Russia,” Salazar claimed. “The Russian ambassador was there yesterday and said that Mexico and Russia are close, that can never happen,” he warned.

Of course, the Mexican government has the right to sympathize and support whoever it considers to be right or whoever it sees as an ally in defense of its own internal interests. Even so, the Mexican government must measure its own economic and political forces –and even military ones– when deciding its support in critical moments such as those the world is experiencing today.

The confrontation between the two powers: the US and Russia, see Mexico as a strategic part of their interests because it is a neighbor of the United States, which wants to maintain its own security at all costs in Mexico; the Russians want or will try to harm the United States through the south of that country.

Will Mexico be allowed to maintain neutrality? Most likely not. And that is a very high risk for Mexicans. But it is also true that what is happening outside of Mexico is a war that is not a Mexican war.

The Mexican government has to make extremely careful decisions in defense of national peace, integrity and security. It is a critical moment and the government of Mexico must act above all in Mexican interests and preserving its own security

* Some thoughts:

Given the present government’s return to the “Estrada Doctrine”(supporting neutrality and territorial integrity regardless of the type of government of any nation) and its constant reference to Benito Juarez’ “dictim” that “The respect of the rights of others is peace.”… it is somewhat surprising that Mexico has not been more active in condemning Russia’s territorial penetration into Ukraine. However, Mexico’s anti-invasion calls, especially in the build-up towards the Second World War, were favoring neutral nations… Ethiopia, Austria, Chechoslovakia… not those seeking to join some military alliance, as is (presumably) Ukraine.

And… considering Mexico’s own experience with having territory forcibly annexed (by the United States) one might assume open support for the Ukrainians would be the natural course.

HOWEVER… consider alternative, and equally traumatic… Mexican historical events. The Zimmerman Telegram was admittedly (by Zimmerman, and by British Intelligence) a provocation, meant to use Mexico as a pawn in a “Great Powers” game. One that would have either meant still more chaos (and possibly invasion and occupation) had it been taken seriously (I don’t think it ever was) by convincing the United States to preemptively invade Mexico, and/or keep its troops out of the French-British alliance. Or… as it turned out thanks to skillful spin by the British, to maneuver the United States into that alliance.

A more recent event, the long-standing Cuban Boycott and subsequent sanctions also comes to mind… Mexico was expected to automatically support the United States, despite 500 year old cultural and economic ties to the island nation. And… as throughout the previous century, the obvious abuse of Latin American independence and sovereignty by the United States, and the rather minimal “footprint” of Russia on the region.

Finally, the US is always going to find some “problem” with Mexico. That it wants to go hunting for “Russian agents” or is likely to “sanction” some Mexican politicians who see nothing wrong with maintaining friendly relations with a country that isn’t an existential threat, may be inevitable, but better than some historic alternatives.

Mister, you’re gonna have to answer to… Nasa Indians.

29 March 2022

The Nasa, a Colombia indigenous community markets “artisanal” products through their communal corporation, “Tierra de Indios”. Among their offerings, and one quite popular with the hipsters of Bogata and Medellin, is a coca-leaf based beer, dubbed in the Nasa language “Coca in the mouth”… Coca Pola.

It seems that a well-known Atlanta George based multinational has some objection to the name of that perfectly legal (in Colombia anyway) orange canned beverage labeled “Cerveza de Coca”.

If the US Corporation thinks the Nasa are gonna just roll over think again. As they (and their lawyers) aregue, “Coca” is a word long predating the US company, and is, like “Pola” words from their own language. And besides… who is gonna mistake something relatively healthy like alcoholic coca for what is known in Latin America as the “black sewage of gringo imperialism”

Source: Desinformémonos… which proudly claims it is “is freely accessible and reproducible. It is not funded by Nestlé or Monsanto.” Nor, for that matter, is MexFiles, though papal contributions are gratefully accepted.

As many questions as answers: the 43

29 March 2022

The disappearance of the 43 takes yet another turn… a mystery wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum. Or… simply… the state did it.

John Holman (Al Jazerra) presents an excellent explanation of the latest evidence to surface.

Clueless: the European Parliament

15 March 2022

Maybe they should have been reading MexFiles?

Violeta Vázquez-Rojas Maldonado in today’s (14 March 2022) Sin Embargo wonders what the F*** the European parliamentarians were talking about in blaming the Mexican administration for the high murder rate of environmentalists and reporters in this country. My translation:

The tone of the response to the [European Parliament’s “condemnation”] was so strange, most of us thought at first it was a joke. However, the statement was disseminated on the Mexican government’s own social networks, so the fake news hypothesis soon vanished, and we began to get used to the idea of ​​what the president would confirm in his morning conference the next day: yes, he had written that incendiary reply to the Europeans.

Predictably, groups opposed to the president — politicians, commentators and businessmen — found the statement confirming their notions about a quarrelsome, rowdy, authoritarian and unmannered López Obrador. On the other hand, some supporters of the president judged that the letter was correct in content, but wrong in form: lamenting only that the language wasn’t more diplomatic.

This is a story that has been read back to front… we learned of it first from the surprising Mexican response only after the fact. The resolution of the European Parliament on the situation of journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico, backed by 607 of its 705 members (with only two votes against and 73 abstentions), is a document that is not false, but certainly bogus.

On the one hand, it states undeniable truths, such as the fact that during the present administration several dozen journalists and human rights defenders have been victims of violence, making this country one of the most dangerous in the world to carry out these activities. And another undeniable truth: that Andrés Manuel López Obrador calls out certain journalists when they publish false news, and tension that exists between the Presidency and the press (without specifying that this tension only reaches the corporate press).

Which doesn’t add up to the conclusion… claiming the statements made by President López Obrador are the reason why journalists and activists are murdered in this country. The two unrelated premises (both true) does not end in their conclusion that the President must cease using his “bully pulpit” to denouce media hoaxes. Apparently, his actions bothered certain media to such an extent that they managed to lobby the European Parliament to demand that it cease.

If the resolution of Parliament addressed to the government of Mexico is annoying, listening to the oral interventions of the parliamentarians in the plenary session where it was approved requires stoicism. It is a litany of insidious and uninformed statements that make it clear why the president responded with undiplomatic phrases such as “we are no longer a colony” and “a mania for interfering”.

Some examples:

Romanian MEP Nicolae Ştefănuță, openly unaware of the framework of violence in Mexico, attributes all responsibility for this serious situation to an elusive entity. For him, the one who attacks journalists is the country itself and in its entirety, and he says: “Mexico is launching a war against the truth, killing journalists and human rights defenders.”

MEP Evin Incir, a social democrat from Sweden, was also clearly confused about the causes and perpetrators of this violence, calling on parliament to “strengthen support for these journalists and activists and all those who are currently suffering at the hands of the Mexican government ”.

The cartoonish opposition to AMLO from the corporate media in this country has seems to be replicated in Europe: with some accusing him of not being sufficiently leftist, others denouncing him for being too leftist.

Thus, Deputy Susana Ceccardi, of the Italian right-wing Lega Nord party, states: “All this can be attributed to the policies of Mexican socialist president Obrador, who was not very proactive in combating criminals, (because) he prefers to invest in socialist policies that block the development of the country, instead of repressing this violence”. Ceccardi takes advantage of the rostrum to introduce a tangential and malicious accusation: “his hallucinatory statements condemning Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are dangerously similar to the pro-Russian position of the communist dictators of Venezuela and Cuba.”

Ignorance and hyperbole are not exclusive to right-wing parliamentarians. Lefteris Nikolau-Alavanos of the Communist Party of Greece, was perhaps the most clueless of those who spoke in favor of the resolution, apparently unaware of what was on the table. “López Obrador applies harsh measures against the workers and increasingly represses popular mobilizations.”

The Spanish MEP María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, from the center-right Ciudadanos party, is frank and direct, her demand is that the president’s responses to the defamatory press end. “In this context, it is not acceptable for the government to create a government platform used by the president to stigmatize, criticize and ridicule journalists under the pretext of fighting false lies” (sic). [trans. note: “false lies” as opposed to “true lies”, perhaps?]

Perhaps the most revealing statement was that of Francisco José Millán Mon, of the right-wing Spanish Popular Party and one of the main promoters of the document. According to him, Mexico has a populist government that neglects institutions, so “there is no security for people, nor is there legal security for companies. This “institutional neglect, according to Millán is to the detriment of foreign investors in the electricity section, including Europen companies”

[Having what-all to do with crimes against mostly those who are fighting those “investment” this translator is flummoxed to figure out]

The only sensible speaking was Miguel Urbán Crespo, an anti-capitalist militant and founder of Podemos, who agrees: “Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for the press, a violence that also hits human rights defenders and, most worrisome, environmental defenders. All of these are real problems facing society. . . The problem is that some political groups in this chamber are using this situation as a weapon against the Mexican government with interests that have little to do with defending journalists and human rights defenders, or human rights and this is intolerable.”

Unfortunately, his speaking time limited to less than two minutes, did not allow him to expand upon this point. Only the Catalonian deputy, Antoni Comín y Oliveres, and Ireland’s Clare Daly, point to the involvement of European transnationals in the exacerbation of violence and neo-colonialism, but none manage to perceive what Urbán correctly pointedout: although the situation of journalists and activists in Mexico is alarming, the situation is used as a political weapon to put pressure on the Mexican government to defend other interests, such as those of energy companies, openly mentioned by Millán Mon.

The Mexican State must be required, and is obligated to guarantee life and protect those whose activities puts them at risk. No one denies this, but we can appreciate that the achievements are meager and not enough is being done. But what European parliamentarians do -surely egged on by power groups operating in Mexico- is a worn out recipe for manipulation: they take up just causes and — willingly or unwillingly — undermine the image of a legitimate government to promote the interests of business elites.

The tone of the Mexican government’s statement in response to the European Parliament resolution is much better understood after witnessing the uninformed, manipulative and frankly disrespectful interventions of the majority of parliamentarians. It is easy to deduce that many of them do not even know that they were played.

There was a coda to the story last Saturday afternoon. The president was greeted by a smiling crowd in the drizzle of Huimanguillo, Tabasco. Slowly passing by in his truck, collecting greetings, letting his photos be taken, receiving letters, one of the well-wishers shouted out: “Great response to the Europeans. I feel represented.”

MYOB: AMLO to European Parliament

13 March 2022

It’s no secret that journalism is a dangerous occupation in this country, what with 55 recorded murders of members of the fourth estate on record. Nothing like the slaughter of human and environmental rights activists (98), but still…

That the journalist murdered are overwhelmingly LOCAL reporters (a few from indigenous language radio stations with limited coverage) who got crosswise with the local “powers that be”… as likely mining or timber or big ag interests as the usual narcotics people (who are sometimes the same gang), and there is only so much the Federal government can do (not to say it can’t do more), but for the conservative media, it’s a “never let a disaster go to waste” opportunity.

One of the better reforms in recent years was the massive cuts to government propaganda budgets… what had been a soft form of censorship in the past (by controlling paper imports during the hay-day of print media) and, during the “neoliberal era” (from Salinas thru Peña Nieto) by advertising heavily in pro-government media, or by outright granting “stipends” to friendly journalists and “pundits”. The latter, notably Carlos Loret de Mola, the Krauzes (father and son) and Joaquín López-Dóriga, for some reason objected, and their coverage shows it. Loret de Mola (who lives in Miami, last I heard) went further, raising funds (somehow) to start a Spanish language on-line media company headquarted in Delaware.. supposedly to present Spanish language news to US residents, but focused more on every “scandal” in the Morena government… throwing everything up on the wall, and trying to see what sticks. (

Which… so far… ain’t been much. HOWEVER, like any politician in any government with a free press, the President has fought back, particularly when a non-scandal hits his family: his son who lives in Houston, has a high paying job with a Mexican developer, and his wife another high paying job with Baker-Hughes — which like other big Houston businesses is bound to do some business with Mexico — and they rent an expensive house, for about what anyone would pay for rent in that neighborhood. Hell, the semi-scandal with Biden’s son working as a consultant for a Ukrainian firm at some ridiculous salary (especially for Ukraine), or the many business ventures of the Trump children had more legs than that.

So, AMLO fought back… maybe a bit more fiercely than necessary, including a regular feature added to his morning press briefings, the “Fake News of the Week” presentation, and leaking what information is available about Loret de Mola’s income.

AMLO, being AMLO, is not always the most diplomatic of speakers, known for a cutting wit, and deadpan delivery. Although he has gone out of his way to not threaten any journalist, and those in question being high-profile figures, some living in the United States, the chances of them being targeted by gangsters or killers in the pay of corporate interests are nil… HELL, they practically represent those corporate interests (or, rather, the politicians who benefit from them).

The journalists who are in danger don’t have corporate media giants behind them (like the Krauzes’ regulars in the Washington Post ad the New York Times, or whoever is financing Latinus) but are those most likely to be read by “foreign correspondents” like The Guardian’s Tom Philips (who apparently covers all of Latin America, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, and has only been based in Mexico City since 2018 (gotta admit, I miss David Agren, who actually knew Mexican politics and the players) covered … from the European Union viewpoint (weird, considering The Guardian is in a country not part of that Union any more) — the latest chapter in the AMLO v media: “Mexican president lashes out at EU ‘lies’ over his media-bashing rhetoric“.

On a motion presented by Venezuelan fascist exile Leopoldo Lopez’ father, Spanish MEUP for the Popular Party (the post-Francoist right party), Leopoldo López Gil, a motion to “condemn” Mexico, and specifically it’s president, for his intemperate language. Adding that Mexico must “do more” to protect journalists (and no one disagrees with that), the European Parliament did manage to pass the motion.

While it has no force of… well… anything, given that the Spain’s relations with Mexico have not been all that smooth during this administration… mostly having to do with Spanish control of so much of the electrical generation industry, and support for the opposition parties from Spanish rightists (coupled, as things having to do with Spain always are, with it never having quite got over it’s former colonial mindset), AMLO got a little testy.

Perhaps in a pique of anger, he fired off a “fuck you” letter to the European Parliament. Well, maybe “intemperate” is a better word. Anyway, making the point that the present government inherited the problem of previous governments and there’s only so much that can be done to stop the murders seemingly condoned (or rather not investigated), by state or municipal authorities; that the Europeans aren’t in possession of all the facts when they briefly considered the resolution; that, unlike the European nations, Mexico is not a war-mongering state, nor engaged in any conflicts with anyone; and that the Europeans don’t have some God-given “colonial” authority over nations outside their own boundaries.

Before commenting, please note that naturally the federal government can, and should, do more to protect journalist, and I know very well that especially independent, regional, and local journalists are particularly at risk. For a time, I worked for a paper just across the border, where, covering the narcotics trade probably got one of our reporters murdered (the body was never found) and any stories about the trade were published without a by-line. And, although I’d basically ignored what just appeared another in a long line of anti-AMLO attacks from the right and didn’t see a lot to mention, of all things, it was an article in the odious US website, Breitbart, that convinced me to say something. Yeah, I do look at lunatic rightist sites in the US: opposition research.

Breitbart’s “border correspondent”, Ildefonso Ortiz, who admittedly does a decent job (though I really wish he’d find a better outlet for his reportage) of covering border region mayhem, wrote about the European Parliament issue, and… being one of those “at risk” reporters, can’t blame him for the anti-AMLO slant. Still, what got me going wasn’t the article itself, but the commentators, who generally like the idea of killing reporters and pundits. Naturally, those morons are speaking of their “favorite” US reporters… the ones presenting inconvenient news to them, or editorialize in a way that doesn’t fit their warped world-view. What’s so ironic is that in a way, they’re sticking up for the Mexican “socialists” against the big power neo-liberal states… and I was equally appalled and amused by them.

And… have said enough.

Zapatistas and Ukraine

12 March 2022

The Zapatistas are one of the few Latin American political groups to have not taken the side of either nation in the Ukrainian conflict. Not to say they haven’t take a side, but just not with either the Russian, nor Ukrainian states.

The communique, “No habrá paisaje después de la batalla” (2 March 2022) [roughly, “No land after the battle”] supports resistance not to Russian aggression as much as to capitalist nation-states dictating the terms of people’s lives. While decrying the Russian rationale that they are clearing out Nazis, the Zapatistas are not supporting Nazism, so much as denying it can be “defeated from above”. As it is, the Zapatistas — rejecting nations, states, borders altogether — see no reason to support either government, only those who resist any government with their “profit and loss” calculations when it comes to control over the people within a territory.

For the rest of us… it’s complicated. Rightists in Latin America naturally gravitate towards support for Ukraine, as one might expect. While a ridiculous knee-jerk anti-Communism comes into it (forgetting Russia is about as Capitalist a capitalist hell-hole as one can image), Ukraine also has the “advantage” in some quarters of being the more openly Fascist of the two. Yes, I know the Ukrainian president is Jewish (at least by ethnicity), but then too, it makes heroes of its Great Patriotic War (as it’s called over there) Nazi collaborators and includes fascist parties within its government and Nazi-inspired units within its military [see Ángel Guerra Cabrera, “Zelensky, los neonazis y la guerra olvidada” (Jornada, 10 March 2022)].

Fascist sympathizers are (one hopes) a minority, and perhaps those buying into the absurdly retro “better dead than red” memes are too (though, given the popularity of labeling anyone who questions the Ukrainian cause a “comrade” or “Boris” in comments on on-line discussions makes me wonder) and most forget this is just a fight between two oligarchy capitalist countries (neither particularly wealthy, though Russia has nukes an a much larger military… and is the aggressor) simply because the Ukrainian state is looking westward… towards NATO and the European Union. And, the Latin American right trusts the United States.

Which the left never does. Some on the left are just reversing the stupid “better dead than red” argument… “better red than dead” and nostalgic for the Soviet Union (forgetting that the formal Communist Parties around the world … including those in Russia and Ukraine … strenuously oppose the war), but more is just a simple fact. Russia was never an imperial power in this part of the world, nor over the last two centuries have the Russians been involved in any real sense with subverting and murdering leftist movements and leaders. The “west”… what’s now the NATO-EU-USA axis of annoyance has backed any number of coups, counter-revolutions, and even outright Fascist dictatorships in this part of the world. Other than the open support the Soviet Union gave Cuba , what support of leftist and progressive movements from the Soviets has largely just been indirect and aimed at groups looking to liberate states from oligarchies and oppressive regimes, rather than support them.

And, Russia … an oppressive oligarchy to be sure… is far, far away and not seeking all that much from anywhere here… the Americans, the Canadians, the British, the Spanish have been our exploiters, not the Ruskies.

So… while the Zapatistas no doubt have it right, the nation-states … which obviously aren’t going to support the ultimate Zapatista goal of going out of business… are taking the most logical path: staying out of the whole thing as much as possible.

Geography and destiny: Ukraine and Mexico

9 March 2022

I believe the author of the saying was either Tallyrand or Metternich, but what held true in Europe in the early 19th century still holds true today. A country can’t chose it’s neighbors, nor control its destiny. Mexico, like Ukraine, has had a “problematic” relationship with the imperial power on its borders… up to and including “border adjustments” usually involving invasions and occupations.

That said, when a relatively weak country’s existential threat is its next door neighbor, North America offers two alternatives. A country, can — like Canada — resign itself to being a satellite of the bigger power (easier when there is a common language — mostly — and the cultural baggage isn’t all that different). Or… like Mexico… avoid confronting the big power directly, building into its political structure the understanding that the imperialists will interfere and undermine any attempts to change the status quo, and working within limited options.

Mexico — cultural aliens to the United States — follows the latter path (though not always by choice). It’s one reason its foreign policy, vis-a-vis Ukraine seems … well… undefined.

On the one hand, within the United Nations (with Mexico … purely by accident… chairing the Security Council) steers clear of any military solutions, calling for more (and more) talks, even — as it was forced to do in 1848 — it means Ukraine might be forced into some territorial losses. If anything, the US invasion of 1846-48, seared into the brains of the country (especially when the president is a historian) has to factor into diplomatic thinking here.

On the other hand, there is that “don’t piss off the gringos”. And… just to complicate things further… a tradition of upholding the rights of neutral nations and what might be called an anti-imperialist bias.

So… it’s no wonder that former Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena — who has become a critic of Mexican foreign policy (or, rather of Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard) had this to say in Proceso last week about the present government (Morena) and its (non) reaction to what it admits was a Russian violation of international law.

“I think that dissonance is perceived; at least Mexico’s important partners perceive a desire to qualify [the government’s response to the invasion] when international law is violated. They are sending the wrong signals, which can sow doubt in the minds of many about Mexico’s commitment to international law and democracy,”

“The position of the Mexican government to reject the use of force, strongly condemn the invasion, demand the cessation of hostilities and protect the civilian population, co-sponsoring a resolution with France to allow humanitarian aid to enter Ukraine, is impeccable. ”

“Why were the first statements [about the invasion so lukewarm] … I don’t know, but we’ve been flirting with the dogmatic wing of Morena for the entire six-year term, ”

Bárcena observes a difference in the party founded by López Obrador between “those who are committed to democracy and respect for the principles of law, and those who are clouded by their anti-Americanism.

“I don’t understand how the president and the chancellor don’t talk to the dogmatic wing of their party to tell them: ‘Gentlemen, this is a position that attends to the history of Mexico; Mexico has been a country subject to invasions (…) Mexico’s main weapon in its foreign policy is its adherence to international law and that is a violation of international law’.”

Mathieu Tourliere, “Embajadora Martha Bárcena: Ante el conflicto Rusia-Ucrania, México envía “señales equivocadas” Proceso (7 March 2022)

That is to say, within Mexico… and especially within the party, both those who reject the United States and all its works (the United States being the devil we know) and those who hope law and morality will prevail, there is a needless conflict. That is, the Russians aren’t an existential threat to Mexico, although their threat to the Ukraine is a direct analogy to threats Mexico has faced (and paid a high price for) in the past.

Agnes zu Salm-Salm and others (revisited)

9 March 2022

(orignally published 29 June 2006, revised 28 Feb 2022)

I once read in a British travel guide the amazing information that this painting (hanging in the Puebla Ayuntamiento) purports to show “the daughter of Maximilian” pleading with Benito Juarez for her father’s life . Maximilian had no daughter, but the painting does show one of the more dramatic incidents (and the pleading woman was one of the more dramatic characters) in the doomed Emperor’s circle.

The artist was Manuel Ocaranza, a major figure in late 19th century Mexico. His work resembles French academic painting of the same era, but mostly forgotten today.

And, At any rate, the British travel guide was wrong.

Maximilian had no daughters. He had an illegitimate son … or rather there was a guy who claimed to be Max’s illegitimate son by “la bonita India”.  True or not, he followed in dear old dad’s footsteps (i.e., he was another romantic fool).   A German spy in France during the First World War — though how a indigenous Mexican was going to pass himself off as a Frenchman has never being quite clear to me — he ending up before a firing squad.

But back to the real family:  Max and Carlotta “adopted” Augustin Irtubide’s grandson to present a “Mexican” heir to the throne — hoping, in their deluded way, to legitimize their rule in the eyes of the Mexicans. The problem was they’d bought the kid from an aunt, who didn’t bother to tell his mother, an American citizen. Which made the new crown price…Washington D.C. born Augustín de Irtubide y Green, an American citizen.

Mom complained (and who can blame her) to the U.S. State Department — and, more importantly, to any reporter who would listen. And they did. “Euro-trash Kidnap American Boy” is too good a story to pass up. The British press picked up the story (though they couldn’t make him English, perfidious Austrians in the pay of the French kidnapping good Anglo-Saxons had resonance too): outraged mothers picketed the Mother of all Mothers, Queen Victoria … who — fond as she might be of her “reality-challenged” niece Carlotta — was a political realist. While Britain continued to recognize the Empire, its support was nominal at best.

Obviously, Iturbide y Green would never get a crack at ruling anything.  He’d command a few people as an Mexican army officer, until he had a falling out with  Porfirio Diaz.  His life was not a total waste, however.  He returned to his native city in his middle age, finding fulfillment (and passing the no-existent title to a step brother) as a professor of French and Spanish literature at Georgetown University.

No… no relation to the Hapsburgs at all.  The kneeling woman in Ocaranza’s 1873 “historical painting” is indeed a European princess, but not by birth, and much more intriguing that some boring aristocratic German.

The future Princess Salm-Salm was born in either Vermont or Baltimore (she was coy about her past — some biographers give the year of her birth as 1842, others as 1844, but I’d guess 1832 might be a more realistic guess) as Elizabeth Agnes Wynona Leclerq Joy.  Her past included stints as a circus trick horse rider and high-wire artist, acting on the Havana stage under the name Agnes Leclerq.

In 1861 Agnes parlayed a distant relationship (or alleged relationship) to Abraham Lincoln into a new career as a Washington debutante. In Washington, where she seems to have been a fixture at White House parties (whether invited or just showing up isn’t clear), she somehow met — and in 1862 married — a colonel in a German-speaking Union regiment, Felix zu Salm-Salm.

Make that Prinz Felix zu Salm-Salm. Prinz Felix, born in 1828, was a scapegrace younger son of a minor German ruler. Trained, like a good aristocrat should be for a military career, he was drummed out of the Austrian Army (supposedly for gambling debts), fled to the United States and — needing a job — ended up as a volunteer colonel in a New York City unit recruited among German speaking immigrants. Prinz Felix was an exemplary Union officer (eventually being promoted to Brevet Brigader-General).  The former circus performer. now Prinzessin Alice, reinvented herself as the ultimate military spouse, accompanying the Prince on campaign, and nearly drive General Grant to drink with her continuous demands for supplies and her imperious ways, but all while commanding the army’s respect for bravely and effectively organizing and administering a battlefield nursing unit.

The end of hostilities found the couple bored with Felix’s duties overseeing occupation forces in Georgia. Looking around for something to do, they headed for Mexico. Arriving in February 1866, just as the French occupation forces were preparing to “cut and run”.  Not a good career move.

Boneheaded Max, refusing to abdicate, sent his wife back to Europe to lobby Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX for assistance (Carlotta, as everyone remembers, went completely bonkers in the Vatican, forcing the Pope to spend a restless night telegraphing her family in Brussels who took her back to Belgium where they finally realized that there was no treatment for whatever her form of crazy was.  Possibly tertiary syphilis, if… Max… who we know to have been treated from syphilis at one point, passed it on to her). She stayed locked up in a family chateau until her death 60 years later. Max, who may not been all there (either from syphilis or alcoholism, both having been suggested), on top of his fine aristocratic disdain for reality, deluded himself into thinking that he could retain his “throne”. Abdication, he concluded would dishonor the Hapsburg family, and — of course — in his mind, his reign was selflessly serving the interests of the Mexican people (who did he think wanted him out?).

Max continued to hold his Imperial Court even when it was reduced to basically the chamberlain-slash-foreign minister (a renegade Jesuit run out of Texas), a misplaced doctor from Vienna, and a few younger sons of Austrian and German aristocrats, and a couple professional soldiers like our hero Felix, who — being one of the few genuine aristocrats around — held the imposing title of “Imperial Aide-de-Camp and Head of Household”.

Agnes… who was nothing if not flexible … hung around as “lady-in-waiting” to Carlotta, but for reasons never really made clear, was back in the United States when the Empire (basically, Max, the Imperial court and a few Mexican troops) surrendered at Queretero in May 1867.

When news of Maximilian’s arrest reached her, the Prinzessen grabbed the first steamer back to Veracruz, made it to Mexico City and begin to lobby European consulates for funds to bribe Mexican jailers into freeing the Emperor (and, oh yeah — Felix too) and pestering government officials for face time with President Juárez. She never got a peso from the consulates, but she did finally get her meeting.

The importance of the Manuel Ocaranza painting — such as it is — is not a meeting between a Princess and the “Indian” President. It’s a genre painting:  stern Republican virtues versus aristocratic privilege. Alice, falling back on her Havana stage days, put on a good show, going down on her knees to beg the President to spare poor Maximilian in the name of every King and Queen in Europe. In the painting, Benito Juárez is sadly telling Alice that “I’m sorry Madame to see you on your knees before me; but even if all the queens and kings of Europe were in your place, I still wouldn’t be able to save his life. I’m not the one who takes it, it’s the people that rule his life and mine.”

Happily for us — though not for poor, deluded Maximilian — Juárez (who was a shrewd country lawyer at heart) found a loophole to save Felix from the firing squad. He survived to write My Diary in Mexico in 1867, including the Last Days of the Emperor Maximilian, with Leaves from the Diary of the Princess Salm Salm (London, 1868), to join the Prussian Army Medical Corps and to get his head blown off by a cannonball at the start of the Franco-Prussian War. As one of Lincoln’s less known generals, he earned an entry in the “Virtual Americans Biography” .

Agnes also served on the Prussian side, again as a combat nurse, wrote a semi best-selling “tell some” (in decorous Victorian language, and no more untrue than most celebrity biographies) about the American Civil War and the Mexican adventure, Ten Years of My Life (London, 1876) . She later married a British diplomat, but maintained her German title, using her hard-won aristocratic respectability to raise funds for the American Red Cross and German hospitals (and to be admitted as an honorary member of the Daughters of the American Revolution). She died — like a proper elderly German aristocratic lady was supposed to do — at the spa in Baden, in December 1912.


Most of what has been written about her is in German, or scattered through other documents on 19th century American women. An admiring short biography, “Princess Salm-Salm, an American Princess” (originally part of an anonymous “A Victorian Lady’s Trip to Europe: Summer 1914”) is reprinted in a New Zealand based geneological researcher’s website.

Additional information was gleaned from C.M. Mayo’s well-researched historical novel, “The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire” (Unbridled Books, 2010) and the classic (though romanticized) “Phantom Crown” by Bertina Harding (Halcyon House, 1934). My speculations on Maximilian and Carlota’s mental health issues was explored both in my “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” (Editorial Mazatlan, 2008) and Joan Haslip’s “The Crown of Mexico” (Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1974).

Another state legalizes abortion

9 March 2022

Access to abortion, like same-sex marriage is in THEORY the law of the land, although states have been reluctant to pass the necessary legislation. Although the Supreme Court ruled that abortions cannot be criminally prosecuted, only six states (Mexico City, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Colima and Baja California) provide services, and then sometimes only on a limited basis. For example, in Oaxaca, there are two small clinics, both in the state capital, making it difficult for rural women to access services.

Ironically, the Supreme Court ruling came as a result of a suit against the abortion ban in the state of Sinaloa (overturned by unanimous decision), although it was only today that the Sinaloan legislature passed the required bills. Abortion is legal in the first 13 weeks, with only small fines after 13 weeks (exceptions being made when deemed medically necessary by two doctors… with the mother’s consent, of course), and with more serious punishments for forcing abortions without consent, or in the course of a criminal act.

For now, as with same-sex marriage in some remaining states, abortion is legal in the first 13 weeks, although in most states, one would still need to obtain a federal court order (or travel to the now seven states where it is legal.

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