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Oiling the big guns aimed at Mexico

10 March 2020

According to Reuters, there was a meeting at the U.S. Embassy Friday morning (6 March), attended by diplomats from the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands where the various representatives “expressed their concern” that the Lopez Obrador seeks to change contracts signed with the Peña Neito administration, which would “erode” their legal standing.

While no one would confirm anything about the meeting, Reuters was able to report that the diplomats are not sure how to frame their complaints that, in returning PEMEX to Mexican control, the government is renegotiating contracts that in its view favored the foreign investors over the Mexican owners (i.e, the Mexican people).

What it all comes down to really is one oilfield:

A notable discussion has been who has the right to operate an important discovery of offshore oil, the Zama megafield, whose deposit would be shared between Pemex and a consortium of private investors led by the US Talos Energy.

Uh… it’s in Mexican waters, it’s Mexican oil, and the answer is…


8 March 2020

Heaven hath no fury… at my neighborhood church, Santos Cosme y Damián, the Virgin and women saints have joined the strike.

Coronavirus cumbia…

7 March 2020

Hey, it’s Mexico.  Public health you can dance to…


Doctor Mora.. and Santa Anna… and Joe Biden?

6 March 2020

I doubt the talking heads you see on television before and after every election (or, in the US, party primary), yakking on with great authority about why candidate X did better than candidate Y ever heard of José María Servín de la Mora Díaz Madrid, aka “Dr. Mora”… but the early 19th century Mexican priest — without the aid of computer simulations, demographic breakdowns, or splashy graphics — was doing much the same thing.

Born in Guanajuato in 1794, Moro was one of any number of priests, who had joined the Church as much for its educational opportunities as any other reason. Not exactly a stickler for clerical niceties, he was a regular at local Masonic lodge meetings, and, during the War of Independence, found his role as a shepherd to his flock outside the pulpit. Unlike Morelos or Matamoros, he was a less active participant, mostly as an intellectual advisor and commentator (perhaps he was an early pundit as well… but unlike today’s pundits, usually knew what he was talking about, and had some experience in whatever he was commenting on), writing especially on the need for separating Church and State and secular education.

One forgets how “radical” a concept it was back in the 1820s, but Mexico had universal manhood suffrage at a time when even the thought of extending voting rights in the United States to all white males was considered dangerous. Stating with the 1828 Presidential election, Mora began keeping statistical data on election returns, and in two books (almost never read, or even known, today), México y sus revoluciones (1836) and Obras sueltas (1838), and in later, posthumously published papers, laid out the basics for studying or predicting any election.

Mora, although he didn’t use the terms, understood that election outcomes depend on two groups: “influencers” and “low information voters” determine outcomes. What Moro noted about the electoral successes of a General Santa Anna is applicable even day, as perhaps illustrated by the results of the recent “Super Tuesday” Democratic Primary.

Much to the amusement of all, Michael Bloomberg spent a lot of money for very little in return. Mora noted that rich people are not much concerned with which party or platform is elected… as long as they maintain their wealth and power. Of course in our day, with the expensive adverting and campaign budgets, the rich have more influence, nothing there has changed. Given the unexpectedly poor showing of Sanders and Warren, they have some say in who doesn’t win, but rich people, just running as rich people, representing the rich, go nowhere.

Even when a candidate, like Sanders or Warren, offers a program that might be of more benefit to the masses (our “low information voter” in modern “punditese”, the likely winner has to appeal to the “Influencers”. For Mora, in a mostly agrarian country where the rich were seldom see by anyone but their own peers. They might make a show, a progress to the various estates and mines, but how many voters saw them, let alone expected anything from them, compared to the “betters” they would meet daily… the village shopkeeper, the priest, the big hacienda manager, or the small hacienda owner? These were the better educated people likely to have read a newspaper and intepreted it for their illiterate neighbors, or at least seen as the people with some worldly experience.

In Santa Anna’s day, the BIG ISSUES might have been the fight over whether Mexico should be a centralized or federal republic, and the power of the Catholic Church. Mora generally favored Santa Anna, whether he was presenting himself as a Centralist or Federalist, Liberal or Conservative for the same reason the “influencers” did. As ut was, the issues of Centralism or Federalism, Secularism or Clericalism were about as exciting to SOME people as our issues of Neoliberalism or Democratic Socialism — i.e. esoteric issues of the role of government that didn’t appear to much affect the daily lives of the people. Where his rivals were often, like Valentín Gómez Farías were ideolgically “pure”. Gomez Farias has been Santa Anna’s running mate in the 1833 election, but Santa Anna retired “for health reasons” before taking office, allowing Gómez Farías time to introduce unpopular (with the Church) measures that justified Santa Anna coming out of retirement to overthrow the ideologue.

Santa Anna, who switched his political allegiances more often than most of us change our underwear, was consistent in one thing… the basic needs of those “influencers”. In his time, what the small town elites wanted was more educational opportunity for their children. Santa Anna stood for Lancasterian education, a rather inexpensive (and taxpayer friendly) was of bringing schools to rural communities*. Coupled with his reputation as a relatively enlightened landlord (if one didn’t look too closely at where he acquired the funds to expand his small holdings into one of the largest haciendas in Mexico). In other words, being a military hero was secondary: it gave him a name nationally, but it was his appeal to the modest demands of the “indluencers” that served to win him elections.

One might argue that Sanders and Warren were the “ideologues” in the recent primary… or at least perceived as such, Bloomberg as the candidate of the rich, leaving BIden to pick up the pieces by not scaring the (relatively conservative) middle class influencers of our time.. not just the so-called “mainstream media” but, as in Santa ANna’s day, the clergy. That is not saying that what are now called “low information voters” are stupid, or easily swayed, but only that they aren’t likely to have the time or money to be pouring through small circulation magazines, academic journals, statistical analysis of various proposals,etc. and are smart enough to listen to those they know, who may have a better education or interest in the outside world than they do

Dr. Mora may not have been able to predict by what percentage a candidate would win, but he probably would have understood US elections, and those of just about anywhere, as well as anyone living today.

* In the long run, his education program was his downfall. The Lancastrian system put the star pupils to work teaching the rest of the students (freeing the often single schoolmaster to oversee larger student bodies), but also meant peasants got a decent education, and became the next generations’ “community organizers” who would overthrow not only Santa ANna, but the entire political system … “Indians” like Benito Juarez, Porfirio Dias, and Ignacio Manuel ALtamirano who got their start as outstanding pupils and teaching assistants.

Remembering the Alamo

5 March 2020

All of the combatants inside the Alamo during the 1836 battle knew that they were fighting for the institution of slavery, as surely as they knew they were fighting for Mexican land. James Bowie, a slave trader and smuggler who William C. Davis says was “easily the largest land swindler of his era,” had arrived in Texas in 1830 with 109 enslaved people. Bowie married well and quickly amassed claims on enormous amounts of Mexican land. His desire to keep Texan forces in San Antonio prevailed, though it was distant from the precious East Texas cotton fields, and of much less strategic value than other garrisons. General Sam Houston thought the Alamo should have been blown up and abandoned. Not surprisingly, the Alamo garrison received few reinforcements or supplies from their rebel compatriots.

Ruben Cordova, bravely posting this from San Antonio (Rivard Repot)

Marijuana and Walmart: too bad, so sad…

15 February 2020

If the investment prospects aren’t as rosy in Mexico as some might have hoped, the blame (or… maybe the credit) goes to the new administration’s policies favoring the poor and disadvantaged.

According to Reuters, “Walmart, Mexico’s biggest retailer, reported on Thursday its slowest revenue growth in three quarters, with its core supermarket chain hit by competition after the government altered a welfare spending programme.”

Walmart’s problem is their “Bodega” stores (with a slightly larger selection of goods than a convenience store, but limited selections) now have to compete with the mom-n-pop aborrotes, traditional markets, and even independent farmers selling off the backs of their trucks.  Entitlement payments formerly were doled out through various social service agencies, or were through something like EBT cards in the US, limiting the user to stores that could afford the higher costs of maintaining phone lines and computer equipment.

It seemed counterintuitive for the new government to budget more for social payments (and expand payments for groups like students and indigenous people), but by cutting out the “middle men” and eliminating overlapping programs, not to mention the frauds associated with programs that enrolled clients who never existed (especially for things like day care centers, that just padded their rolls with ghosts), there was more money to spend… and more spending money for consumers.  The benefit checks go directly to the recipient to spend however they want.  Food assistance is most likely to be spent on food… one assumes, though just putting money into circulation isn’t a bad thing.

At any rate, as far as Walmart is concerned, how dare the poor consumer have consumer choice!  How dare small Mexican government put money in the hands of Mexicans who are going to buy from Mexicans and invest what little they make in Mexico, rather than repatriate profits back to Walmart headquarters.  Will no one think of the Walton family?

And… Motley Fool, the investment website… writes that while marijuana legalization is a done deal (or will be by the end of April), despite Mexico’s large marijuana industry, its not likely to be the investment opportunity foreigners had hoped.  Again, blame those durn lefties.  Although the Supreme Court ruling that mandated creating a legal market was based on the rights of users, the government’s rationale for simply accepting the ruling was that the growers themselves… generally small subsistence farmers… need a cash crop — a legal cash crop that is — beyond corn and beans.

When it comes to export crops, small farmers have not been able to compete, and, despite what one may think after watching a show like “Narcos”, the major foreign suoplers are not running secret giant plantations (although there have been a few), but are buying from independent growers and sharecroppers,  Those growers and sharecroppers, no longer harassed by the government, still need to make a living.  If foreign companies come into the trade, the fear is they would turn to giant marijuana plantations, driving out small farmers and simply creating a rural proletariat, rather than peasants… that is, underpaid and exploited workers, rather than farmers with some control over their land and over crop sales.

The upshot being that the big ag corps (and big marijuana investors) are not going to get what they want… but then, the only difference between them and the cartels has always just been where they are located.

To dub or not to dub… aye, there’s the rub

30 January 2020

Morena Senator Martí Batres has introduced a bill that would require all foreign films shown in Mexico to be available in dubbed versions…. in Spanish and in whatever the most widely spoken indigenous language in the local community.

The proposed changes to the Federal Cinematography Law would specify that movies originally in a language other than Spanish MUST be shown in the same number of theater viewing rooms as those in the orginal language, and that at least one version dubbed into the local indigenous language had to be presented during the days when the film was being aired.

While this might seem a progressive measure, there are warnings that with all foreign films dubbed in Spanish, while in creates more jobs for voice-over actors, it also puts domestic Mexican films at a disadvantage, with viewers finding the better financed (and marketed) foreign.. i.e. Hollywood … films more accessible. And, there are artistic concerns, the original language and actor’s voices considered integral to the work.

(El Economista)