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Return to normalcy? AMLO and the crises of the day

19 December 2018

Ever since AMLO was sworn in, the “mainstream media” has been fretting over Mexico’s “left-turn”, when it seems less a turn to the left, than a REturn to traditional governance. Never a military power, nor enough of an economic heavyweight to control affairs outside its borders, and always mindful of the economic and military power sitting just to the North, nevertheless, Mexico has played an important role in both regional and international affairs… mostly by sitting on the sidelines.

Despite what is sometimes still published as “fact” there is no evidence that Mexico had any intention of intervening in the First World War, for or against any side. It was it’s strict neutrality that led British and US sources to claim it leaned towards Germany, and gave the “Zimmerman Note” it’s seeming importance. The truth is, no one in the Mexican government ever took it seriously (it’s doubtful Carranza ever read the note) and Zimmerman himself admitted it was simply meant to confuse the Allies, and to block the United States from entering that bloodbath.

The first country in the Americas to recognize the Soviet Union (in 1924, when Alexandra Kollontai — the first woman to ever serve as an Ambassador arrived in Mexico City) despite US and British objections, and has maintained good relations with nations which are violently antagonistic to Mexican domestic policy or it’s more powerful neighbors and supposed allies throughout it’s post-Revolutionary history. The only exceptions would be the Spanish Civil War, when Mexico openly sided with the Republic, and when it later broke relations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy shortly before U-Boat attacks on Mexican shipping led to a declaration of war.

Traditional foreign policy. Emperor Haile Selasie may have been an absolute monarch of a dirt poor nation of no importance to Mexico, but Mexico was the only nation to stick up for Ethiopia against Italy in the League of Nations back in 1932. El Universal photo of the Emperor’s 1954 visit to Mexico.

Those exceptions, however, were in the same spirit of neutrality as were other policy decisions like opening relations with the Soviets, and, more recently (and better known), Mexico’s refusal to back the US blockade and subsequent embargo against Cuba. Mexico’s support for the Spanish Republic and its stand against the 1930s-40´s Axis nations was based on the simple precept that nations could run their own affairs without interference, and the Spanish Republic was under threat by Britain, the United States, and France… as well as Germany and Italy. Mexico led the futile efforts against the latter two to counter their aggressive actions towards other nations… Ethiopia and Austria… cobbling together what would, under the United Nations, become the “non-aligned movement”. The country enjoyed particularly close relations with India, and with Yugoslavia (which during the “Cold War” was a sort of inverse Mexico… geographically part of the Eastern Bloc, where Mexico was Western, somewhat limiting their ability to carve out an independent policy, but enough in sync with their bloc’s economic assumptions to keep the major powers from overt intervention).

Also from the 50s… Cuban dissidents in Mexico, including young Fidel Castro.

If nothing else, Mexico has always had an “open door” to political and other asylum seekers. They couldn’t change the governments of South America during the 1990s, any more than they could stop Nazi aggression against Austria, and the rest of Europe. But they could provide a haven, as they still do, not just to Central Americas displaced by years of US economic dominance and climate change, but to Congolese displaced by that country’s own internal issues (nothing to do with Mexico) even when those seeking asylum may not be amiable to Mexico’s historically leftist internal policies (like Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents).

Up until the turn to a “neo-liberal” government under Carlos Salinas… and ever increasing U.S. dominance of the economy — and, more importantly, the security and political structures needed to support that economy — Mexico’s foreign policy has become more and more an extension of U.S. policy. As evidenced by the supposedly “liberal” Tom Boggioni in RawStory a few weeks back.

Boggiono wrote that “US and Mexico military commanders are keeping the border calm by ignoring Donald Trump”. According to the story, there are reports that the U.S. Secretary of Defense… one of the so-called “adults in the room” in the Trump Administration, could be replaced by someone more likely to take Trumps’s tweets, rambling statements and bombast more seriously than Secretary Mattis is said to do. What is said is that Mattis just brushes the worst anti-Mexico statements aside, in the name of U.S. military cooperation with their Mexican counterparts. The assumption being, of course, that the Mexicans would follow the U.S. lead on military matters. as a matter of course.

A more recent change… armed US agents openly operating in Mexico 2014.

Laura Carlsen, on the 4 December 2018 (four days into what the new government calls the Fourth Transformation) Telesur-English program “Interview From Mexico” delved into the more important question of how the Mexican military ended up in a position where the assumption is that it “MUST” follow a U.S. lead, with Ted Lewis (Human Rights Director for Global Exchange). The half-hour exchange is posted here.

It appears Mexico’s “Transformational” administration will continue to rely on the military (as promoted by the United States) in domestic security, and the (unfortunately) traditionally authoritarian model of crime control will continue (although more lip service and hopefully action will be focused on human rights). HOWEVER, as Carlos Heras argues in Jacobin (“Capital Versus Peace in Mexico” 17 December 2018) organized crime in Mexico largely functions as a “service provider” for outside business interests… and changes in which criminals are pursued is likely to be less determined by outside interests and pressure, than by “neutrality”… that is, crimes like narcotics smuggling to the United States is more THEIR problem than Mexico’s whereas oil theft is Mexico’s problem and more likely to merit a military solution. That is, in the most widely reported Mexican “influence” on other nations (transshipping cocaine and opiate production) the government is taking a more neutral stand… looking out for its own interests and accepting that other nations have their own issues to deal with.

And a final sign. The United States administration has stepped up its provocations against Venezuela. Under the previous two administrations (both PAN’s Felipe Calderón Presidency, and that of PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto), Mexican diplomacy openly opposed the Venezuelan government, the AMLO government, from the moment it took possession, has signaled its desire for normal (non-interfering) relations with that country… and may again be in the position it found itself in the 1930s: opposing the bullies, but offering to act as the honest broker and a haven in an unsafe world, This clip, from “Russian Bombers Landing in Venezuela: A Reaction to US Threats” broadcast by Real News Network (14 December 2018), nicely argues that there what seems “radical” in this one policy is nothing of the sort, but a return to normalcy.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

16 December 2018

David Adler (Jacobin) on foreign media “pundit” and their reading of AMLO:

… the commentariat shows its cards. Their key concern is not the will of the people, but the will of the markets. When the Wall Street Journal warned of a “strain on the rule of law,” they were not referring to slaughtered students, disappeared women, or rampant corruption at all levels of Mexican government. They were worried primarily about property rights.

The Media Votes Against AMLO, December 2018

To beer, or not to beer.. that is the question

16 December 2018

… Constellation Brands would prefer no one was asked about.

The US-owned beer conglomerate Constellation Brands brews Mexican labeled beer (Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, VIctoria and a couple “artesanal” brands) not for the Mexican market, but for export to the United States.

Given the huge U.S. market for Mexican beers, a new brewery is the kind of “development project” any small town city government would would fall all over themselves to bring into their community, usually offering “incentives” in the way of tax breaks and infrastructure development to pave the way for those “job creators”:    Although… in Mexicali, Baja California, it seems, the citizens aren’t quite buying the usual arguments for “development”.

Given that it takes about thirty to forty liters of water to produce a gallon of beer and Mexicali is desperately short of water (it is, after all, in the desert), even in the best of times … and also has a sizeable agricultural industry, a brewery not really serving the community, but the interests of a foreign company, might not be in the citizen’s best interests.

Constellation Brands’ CEO, Daniel Baima, says he “understands” the concern, but his company cannot, and will not participate in a referendum (ordered by the state’s Electoral Institute (citizens can petition, and in Mexicali, did petition for a referendum… or rather a “consulta”… which is non-binding on the legislature or executive, but does reflect the sense of the electorate) on whether or not the company can build in their community. 

For Balma, and for the Mexicali Economic Development Council, it’s awfully cheeky of those citizens to question the wisdom of their betters, and they are trying to prevent the consulta from going through.  Democracy in the economy:  heresy!

 

Eje Central: Cervecera no quiere consulta sobre planta en Mexicali (16 December 2018)

Constellation Brands: Cervezas

 

Thou shalt take a salary cut…

15 December 2018

It’s a little hard for me to wrap my head around a new government which absolutely worships Benito Juarez… the “patron saint” of the separation of Church and State with a president whose inauguration held what might be construed as a religious ritual (the indigenous cleansing ceremony), but let brancthat pass. What is really a transformation is the Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Aguiar Retes not just coming out in favor of AMLO’s programs, but actively urging hold-outs to the salary reduction plan to rethink their positions… for the good of the country, and their soul.

While there are legal arguments to be made for defending the judiary’s rights to set their own compensation packages… based on various factors… when a Supreme Court justice receives a salary and benefits packing over five times that of the President, there is at least a perception of judges unjustly looking out for the good of themselves, not the good of all.

Incidentally, the Secretary of Public Finance also suggested yesterday that private business executives also could scale back their compensation packages, though her rationale is that otherwise, public sector executives will jump to the private sector.

But, as sayeth His Eminence… it’s a moral and ethical issue. By the way, his salary is about 900 US$ a month (the highest paid cleric in the country), but that doesn’t include benefits.

SinEmbargo, Once Noticas.

5774 federal employees can’t be wrong… or can they?

12 December 2018

What price justice?  For 5774 federal employees, mostly judges and magistrates, the cuts to salaries and benefits for government employees comes down to… depending on who you listen to… either feathering their own nests, or a high-spirited defense of judicial independence.  The 5774 amparos (injunctions) filed against the federal government’s attempts to cut salaries in the judiciary have led to the Supreme Court, this week, abrogating any cuts in judicial salaries, at least for right now.

As a constitutional matter, no federal officer can receive a higher salary than the President… who cut his own salary by 60%.  On the other hand, the Constitution also prevents judges from having their salaries cut during their tenure in office… a reasonable enough measure meant to protect the judges from being punished financially for decisions that might go against the wishes of the Executive branch.

But, it’s the Legislative branch that controls the budget… giving the whole country a classic civics lesson.

MORENA controls the legislature and the executive… both elected by a substantial margin over all the opposition parties.  The latter are left claiming they’re fighting for the independent judiciary, something at least the two former main parties (PRI and PAN) were quite willing to subvert when they were in the majority (everyone forgets President Zedillo simply fired the entire Supreme Court when it became an impediment to his own programs).  But, given that some justices, and not just the Supremes earn, on top of their salaries, bonus and benefits coming out to over 500,000 pesos a month, when the president’s salary tops out at a bit over 100,000 and the retired Supreme Court justice, Olga Sanchez Cordero gets almost twice that amount as pension payment (to her credit, she is donating her income as Interior Minister to a group home in Queretaro State), it is a hill I doubt the opposition parties are willing to die on.

And even the judges are starting to come around… realizing how greedy this makes them look in a country where half the people earn less that 4000 pesos a month.  And, where one of their own had the temerity to post Instagram and Facebook photos of his flashy cars, Rolexes and the fine imported cigars which he favors.

My guess… the constitutional issue, what with MORENA also controlling a majority of state legislatures will be resolved fairly quickly, and while sitting justices might still be entitled to their high income sinecures, going forward, judges will still not have their incomes cut during their tenure, but that income will be more reasonable.  Which is something the Supreme Court (for their own members) agreed to today… although only as a matter of policy, not of law.

I spy… an accounting error

6 December 2018

It’s like something I’d expect in a John Le Carre novel.  While the details are not forthcoming, the Mexican media reported yesterday on one victim of the new austerity push… what appears to have been an off-the-books spy operation here in Mexico City.

As part of the promised crack-down on fraud, some local accounts receivable clerk in the Mexico City government noticed rental payments for a house in the city without any indication of what the rental was for.  Checking further, the accountants found invoices (facturas) for the house rent from “Sterling Investments”.  A quick check of vendors to the government didn’t show any company by that name, nor does “Sterling Investments” appear to have any papers of incorporation, a website, or … well, any presence beyond facturas for this one rental.

So… the Public Minister sent someone down to check out the rental house.  Which had been hastily abandoned, leaving behind about 50 computer stations, and various electronic eavesdropping equipment.  What’s up with that?

All anyone is saying for now is that yes, people were being spied upon (and have been notified that they were under surveillance) but by whom, and for what purpose, still has not been disclosed.  Best guess is that this was that the previous administration was tracking potential political opponents, though whether this was just politicians, or “social activists” and journalists … or maybe, it was on behalf of the developers who wanted to track opponents to the mega-projects that have proven so problematic over the last administration… or… well, who knows?

Attn: spies.  Pay more attention to the paperwork next time.  Even George Smiley had to turn in his receipts.

Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos…

2 December 2018

Mexican history, as I said in my book, is like the Aztec Calendar, cyclical but changing form with every cycle… only  sometimes converging.  As yesterday, when we invoked the

 

Gods…

as the

Gachupines…

and

Gringos…

looked on, mere observers in the turning cycle!

 

¡Viva la 4° Transformation!