About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Davos....Everybody is Watching

The World Economic Forum (the same gathering that brought us the image of Carlos Salinas in a night shirt begging Jaime Serra Puche to contact Carla Hills and get NAFTA rolling) is underway in Switzerland. I see that YouTube has developed a sight with the WEF for people to vote on issues facing the world.

My initial reaction after seeing "Pablo," a goatee-sporting 20 something with messy euro-hair reporting on human rights in Gaza was a sense of excitement. We can see the technology of the world bringing us together on issues that matter, and not just using it to see pictures of the Nude Gay Mexican on the Mexfiles blog (thanks, Richard). ;-) Then the part of me that tells students to evaluate sources all day kicked in.

The internet, which has been an engine of guerilla resistance to dominant culture for so many people - from things as heavy as the anarchist bible to the light and pithy like Ask a Chola - is a great chain of "people power" around the globe. The World Economic Forum, a gathering that all should consider with some suspicion (hi, we're rich guys that meet now and again to carve up the world) is putting on a face of concern. I wonder if this grave economic crisis has them thinking that we could be seeing some grave political crises ahead. Putting a kinder and gentler face on the world economic forum, it seems, as the Times of London calls it, a "beanfeast of pomp and platitude." Now, mind you, I'm not lining up for a world revolution. I would, however, like to see real change in many of the areas that the meeting of Davos is supposed to be debating, but it seems to me that this celebrity show is more a smoke and mirrors trick to keep us looking away while the real economics is decided by others. Granted, real economists SHOULD make those decisions, but I like the idea that they might really be looking for solutions that jive with economic health. I think it can work together - are they really game for it?

And hey, despite the euro-hair comment I already know that Pablo is from Colombia.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Are Invited...To World History

Ok, so I've been around this blogging thing for a couple months, so I'm pretty new. But I have a few regulars that visit the site. Thanks! Just stopping to drop you an invitation to visit a new project my students are participating in. It is a blog about world history. You can visit us here. Feel free to interact with the students and their comments.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh, Man, This Chavez Guy...

The LA Times had its normal trashy coverage of Venezuela earlier this week, and I see the San Jose Mercury News has taken to printing smears instead of opinion columns. Granted, the original was a from the Washington Post, but I assume better of the SJMN.

While I'm of the mind it is time for Chavez to depart (for the sake of the program he started), I'm also of a mind that a serious document on US policy toward Latin America needs to be drafted by somebody who isn't part of the East Coast foreign policy club that does little more than re-hash Kennedy era approaches to Latin America.

1) Who in Venezuela is ready to take up the Chavista torch?

2) Who in the United States is ready to craft a quality policy assessment for the new administration?

3) Who in the new administration is going to listen?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Agriculture and Cardenas...Alberto, that is.

Sol de San Luis reports that the CNC is planning on organizing a large protest march on January 30th to demand more resources for Mexican agriculture. With Mexican agriculture continuing its growth during hard times (4.9% - better than the 1.8% growth the nation is showing) and a decline in ag exports from power house Argentina (Mexican grains and cattle?), Mexico may be in a position to help farmers - maybe. Secretary of Agriculture, Alberto Cardens Jimenez met last year at this time with Canadian minister Gerry Ritz and firmed up some resolve on the part of the Canadians to allow more Mexican products into Canada (there was a trade imbalance of about 200million CD). That might help him overcome the problem of importing US corn. Then again, he did go after US meat packers at the end of 2008, so he could certainly play the "I stood up to the US card if needed.

So, is the CNC move one that will allow Cardenas to swoop in, play the hero, and get set up for the 2012 race? Or, is the CNC move one that will work on the part of the PRI (which still has very strong ties to the union) to start picking off possible PAN replacements for Calderon? I lean toward the latter, but Beto was a shrewd player in Jalisco, and I'm betting that when all is said and done he'll still be the guy to watch in 2012. And since I'm not really convinced that Amlo is dead, the PAN may need as strong a rural candidate as it can get to balance the PRDista grip on DF.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Interpol in Mexico: Busted / Great Exhibit on Colombian Art in Tampico

Milenio.com reports that the current and former directors of Interpol in Mexico have been busted for being on the narco pay roll. Figures. If there was one place the international organizations and cooperation might be half useful it would be in the control of narcotics, both in health treatment and in fighting production and distribution.

On another note, the Milenio Tampico daily is reporting the opening of what looks to be an interesting exhibit of art in that city by the well known artist Fernando Botero. Glad Tampico could get on the circulation of a show that I think has been pretty well all over the place.

Glad to see more than coca linking Colombia and Mexico.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kidnap victims held for 350 big ones. Ack!

With an economy based on consumerism and Americans’ insatiable appetite for debt, it’s only natural that Treasury secretary Henry Paulson’s TARP gifts would exceed the actual amount in his $350 billion coin purse. The only question now is, by how much? And where did all those funds go? (Read More)
Great. Everyday I take a few minutes to browse the news in Mexico and the US, and the US papers are obsessed with the idea of kidnapping in Mexico (if Mexico gets a mention). Express kidnapping, the kidnapping of an anti-kidnapping consultant, kidnapping US citizens...and then I go a few pages down, and I see business extorting Americans (and the world, really) for huge amounts of cash. If I threatened to destroy a segment of the economy I'd be a radical terrorist. If I held people hostage for cash I'd be a kidnapper. Here we call it business men.

When I graduated from college with my BA in history, the commencement speaker stood up and said he only wanted to speak to tech and business graduates, because they were the only groups that mattered for the future of this country. He was trying to be prophetic, but it turns out he was a freakin' prophet of doom. They matter, all right, like Israel matters to Gaza, like Gaza matters to Israel, like the KKK matters to African Americans, like China matters to Tibet.

Help, help, I've been kidnapped. Ack, as Bill the Cat used to say.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Menonitas, Mormons, Water Rights, and Crime

Excelsior is reporting that the Mennonites in Chihuahua are starting to feel the pinch of security problems. The coverage is fairly pithy, but here is the video link. CBC carried out a fairly melodramatic mini series about Mennonites and crime (two years ago?) called The Mennonite Mafia. Of course Mennonites have been involved in drug smuggling and the like for some time (ahem, shameless self promotion of my chapter in Martin Nesvig's edited volume on religion in Modern Mexico).

Having been in Chihuahua in May, my larger concern with the Mennonites is more environmental. Seems that there are sections of Chihuahua where there is VERY strict control on drilling wells. Turns out the Mennonites punch wells anyway and then simply pay the fine: They make more on the crops than what the fine costs them.

Water has always been an issue in Chihuahua, but the tension is growing. Ejidatarios, so abusive of their own land, are spilling on to land held by the Mormon Colonists near Colonia Juraez. Last may I met one Mormon farmer who was set to give up his land until a narcotraficante neighbor decided that it was best to have a Mormon buffer between him and the ejidatarios. The squatters were paid a visit (no gun play) by the traficante and the next day the land claim was withdrawn and the squatters were gone.

Water, space, drug violence, religious colonists, etc.... Chihuahua was so much like the Montana that I grew up in I was completely won over by the idea of looking at areas in history according to watershed and rain similarity.

And incidently...the famous Mormon apple orchards are giving way to peaches, pecans and apricots. Climate change, baby.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ecuador and Correa . . . oh, We Forgot About Him

While Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales have been making a big splash with the protests and elections in their country, and while Chrissy K. has been ramping up the nationalism in Argentina (oooh - there's an original trick), Rafael Correa has been slipping under the radar of most news organizations. This is a guy to watch, and since the only news organizations that seem to be paying attention to him are Bloomberg or Lloyd's List, I'm betting he's going to play a part in South America's next great drama.

His 2007 refusal to renew a US lease in Manta at the Alfaro air base and instead offer it to China was dismissed as bluster at the time, but it appears he's still moving ahead with the deal, according to Dow Jones Newswire coverage by Katerine Erazo. Manta is the closest deep water port in South America to China, and a Hong Kong based company is currently expanding the port at a brisk pace (though not fast enough for Correa who is threatening to boot the company if they don't get it done faster). Meanwhile, China has grown its crude extraction in Latin America (much of it in Ecuador) by 24%.

I'm not sure what keeps the cameras away from Correa. Perhaps as a US trained economist he doesn't have the "Indian Sexy" feel that Evo does, or the "Third World Strongman" feel of Chavez. I'm pretty sure his vocal Catholicism is a major turn off for some on the left, though I'm pretty sure why the murder of an Ecuadorian citizen in New York failed to make much of a splash.

Correa is a mixed bag - probably something that will turn out to be a healthy decision for Ecuador. While Chavez, Morales, and Kirchner are all looking like figures we have seen come and go before, Correa looks like his more pragmatic approach might give him some staying power. Let's see if he can manage to put more of a leash on big oil (including China).

At any rate, I think this could be a guy to watch - and let's hope his low profile with the world public and his high profile with business doesn't earn him a visit from some of the mechanics that worked on Torrijos' plane.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The ABCs of DHS...All BS, or, Homeland Security - the Sitcom

ABC has what looks to be a perky little program about the Department of Homeland Security slated to air this week (fittingly, produced by the guy that brought us "Big Brother" on CBS). I'd like to see the what odds Vegas bet takers are laying down that the following get little air time:

1) Corruption by US border agents.

2) The US threat to Mexico via arms smuggling.

3) The internal US border points that suspend the US Constitution.
(Thanks to MexConnect for pointing that one out)

4) Firing whistle blowers from Border Patrol.

5) Suspending property rights for a border fence.

6) Homeland Security Child Rapists.

7) The general "waste, fraud, and abuse" found in DHS.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Reach for the Sky, Balthasar, You Dirty Rat

With Little Christmas on the way, Mexican politicians have taken to the street in Mexico City to urge the Reyes Magos to not bring guns or war toys this year, according to Excelsior. The hope is to encourage a society with less violence in Mexico. Sounds good ... I have a request that the three kings bring health care, education, loving parents, extended families, and community involvement to the United States, lowering our narcotics consumption and making sure some kids in Mexico have a less violent year.

As an added bonus, the article mentions the Ley de Cultura Cívica of DF and how it prohibits pointing a toy gun at folks. For grins and giggles, the whole thing (passed in 2004) is available on line (here). It reminds me of the time a buddy of mine was detained (justly and reasonably so) in Switzerland for spitting on a train platform.

a) Establecer reglas mínimas de comportamiento cívico;
b) Garantizar el respeto a las personas, los bienes públicos y privados y regular el
funcionamiento de la Administración Pública del Distrito Federal en su
preservación, y
c) Determinar las acciones para su cumplimento.

This smells of the nineteenth century, and I am certainly going to have fun going over these rules in the next few days.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Netherlands to Honduras: Here's Your Teeth Back

La Tribuna reports that Holland has repatriated a set of teeth that originate in Copan, and were inlaid with jade and pyrite. Two things struck me about this piece. First, I recently posted on the fake Tlaloc given as a "gift" to the people of San Miguel Coatlinchan in exchange for the real one taken 40 years ago. Second, I was intrigued about the place the story ran - the society pages.

Yep, the tiny and little picture of the teeth was passed up by four pictures of members of Tegucigalpa society present at the embassy party. Little to no information was provided about the teeth, but we do get a close up of Yeymi Avila. As lovely as she is, I was thinking the repatriation of Myan artifacts might come under arts or heritage - not the society pages above the wedding announcement of Armando and Ada.

Oh, and FYI, a quick look at Latin America Herald Tribune states that the teeth were returned anonymously to the Honduran embassy in Holland. No concrete info on how the teeth got to Holland, though I suspect Fritz on Spring Break '78 or some such.