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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Baby War (or fetus war, or embryo war, or sperm and egg war...)

This week the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate Spanish politicians for their vote legalizing abortion in Spain up to 14 weeks. At the same time, back in Mexico the Archbishop of Acapulco, Felipe Aguirre Franco, has admitted to entering into agreements with the PRI to go after both abortion and contraception in Mexico.

Let's remember that just a generation ago under Echeverria the Catholic bishops tacitly supported the birth control option for the poor. Heck, the PRI even offered birth control in the CONASUPO subsidized markets for a time. For the nation that gave the world the birth control pill and pretty freely embraced it in the late '70s it is a real whiplash situation to see even the PRI working against contraception and abortion.

However, I was interested to see a study by a Columbia University public health professor (Jennifer Hirsch) in which she demonstrates that rural Mexican women (the group that was the most resistant or misinformed about contraception in the 1970s) is using contraception and finding that it meshes perfectly well for them and their Catholicism. If the PRI and the PAN are gunning to make this a big political issue in 2012 it may be more of a flop than a flyer if Hirsch's study holds true.

At any rate this seems like a full court push against contraception and abortion in Latin America, as one of my colleagues here in Texas got a full sermon on abortion and contraception in Mexico in his East Texas parish on Miguel Pro's feast day a couple weeks ago.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wisdom From the Mouth of the Parrot

No sense giving yourself a hard time or burning up your brains studying books. Study the course that your professor tells you, learn to handle the ergo by imitation, and spend a lot of time at the University, because the classes are important, my boy; the classes are more important than learning itself, because you have to get that grade. They know and we know that the most of us students don't go to the University to learn anything, but to pass the time jawing with eachother; the truth is, though, you've got to get a certificate saying you took classes for the amount of time fixed by statute, or you won't graduate even if you know more theology than St. Thomas... .
- Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi, The Mangy Parrot, 1816.
Just prepping a take-home exam on The Mangy Parrot and I ran across this old gem. As I've mentioned before, continuity over time, folks, continuity over time.

And yes, I understand it is not Pedro himself speaking in this passage, but the title was just a whole lot catchier with that instead of wisdom from the slacker priest.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Bring Out Your Dead... Bring Out Your Dead...

According to the Wall Street Journal
The End of Bolivian Democracy
Elections scheduled for December 6 will mark the official end of the Bolivian democracy.

A dictatorship that fosters the production and distribution of cocaine is not apt to enjoy a positive international image. But when that same government cloaks itself in the language of social justice, with a special emphasis on the enfranchisement of indigenous people, it wins world-wide acclaim.

This is Bolivia, which in two weeks will hold elections for president and both houses of congress. The government of President Evo Morales will spin the event as a great moment in South American democracy. In fact, it will mark the official end of what's left of Bolivian liberty after four years of Morales rule. Read more here.
With talk like this coming out of the world of business, Evo Morales is probably thanking his lucky stars every day for Afghanistan and Iraq. In the pre-9/11 world an article like that combined with lobbying and an unoccupied military would have spelled an invasion or at least a CIA supported coup. I suppose folks don't like it when the indigenous fight back.

At any rate, the Wall Street Journal reminds me of that scene in Holy Grail where they are trying to throw away the living man just by saying he is dead, then they crack him on the skull so that he really is dead.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oaxaca and the Origin of God (?)

It turns out that anthropologists have found the origin of God in Oaxaca, and they say his name is gene. So says the NY Times:
In the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, the archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery have gained a remarkable insight into the origin of religion.

The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state

For fear of divine punishment, people followed rules of self-restraint toward members of the community. Religion also emboldened them to give their lives in battle against outsiders. Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.

Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.
And, in what seems to be one of the great understaments of the season, the NY Times says:

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

Read the whole thing. Pray that there is no French connection (rim shot).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

18th Century Erotica? *sigh*

The San Antonio Current is covering an exhibit on Mission art from the norther frontier of the colonial period, of which the publication says: (Oh, use caution, there is erotic imagery that follows the quote.)
The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain: 1600-1821, installed in the museum’s forbiddingly dark special exhibitions space, is claustrophobic and oppressive — beginning as it does with lifesize paintings of wounded and bleeding missionaries, moving quickly into virgins, babes, and vicously mauled Jesuses, circling back to sainted martyrs, and ending with a sort of reification of submission — but also tragically beautiful and occasionally strangely erotic.
Read more of this new artsy twist on the black legend here.
Well, I can't imagine why the Spanish colonial period and Mexican national period are so ignored as part of American history. Violence and erotica? Sounds like a week at the movies to me, or even some presidencies.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Marijuana: $30 gram; Wholesale: $3000 pound; Having a Marijuana Debit Card: Priceless

There are some things you can't buy legally, but for everything else, there is the Medical Marijuana Debit Card.

The Credit Union Times reports that Commerce Online is launching a debit card that can be used at medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado.

"Being an established player within the merchant services sector and aligning ourselves with the strongest banking and technology partners within the space, we believe Commerce Online is uniquely positioned to offer the most reliable pre-paid debit and identification card to the medical marijuana industry, and roll out our pilot program immediately. Presently, most of these operations only accept cash, as well as pay cash to suppliers to the collectives, subjecting operators and collective members to theft, unregulated and potential criminal activity. There is no doubt that with new legislation for the operation of these facilities and potential legalization in select states, there will be tighter safeguards put into place by federal, state and local governments,” said Kyle Gotshalk, CEO of Commerce Online. Read More
With conservative Mormon, PANista, and FORMER assistant secretary of agriculture in Mexico Jeffrey Jones using the narcotics industry as an economic model for Mexican farmers and the US banking industry now using a legitimate debit card (excluding the illegal laundering done by banks), we might be looking at a new industry in the New World.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Continuity Over Time

I embrace a theory of history that includes a focus on continuity and change over time. The above tourist spot is interesting to me for the sort of continuity visible in the tourism of the Aleman years (post '46) and today. It appears that Miguel Aleman and his legacy of tourism may make him the fourth most important president of the "post" Revolution (in terms of income).
1) Calles (and the northern governors) for nursing along the early narcotics industry.
2) Avila Camacho for the Bracero program.
3) Cardenas for oil.
4) Aleman for his marketing of Mexico as a tourist destination.

And in terms of the over-the-top video, I have nothing beyond the obvious say about the skewed focus on who is and is not shown in the video. For the most part it is beautifully shot, and the colors are marvelous.

At any rate, pick up a copy of Dina Berger's Development of the Mexican Tourist Industry for some good details. (Palgrave, 2006)

All the below images are from 1950 to 1970. Some times the images are just pretty doggone overt in their message. Some times, like the last picture of the concha and machete, they are pretty Freudian.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

While the Hispanic Blogosphere rejoices at the resignation of Lou Dobbs, I'm fairly unhappy about the action. Why? A Dobbs quote as reported by the NY Times is why:
Sitting before an image of an American flag on his studio set, he said “some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to the great understanding of the issues of our day.”
Great. So, while on the leash of third-place ratings on a fairly moderate CNN Dobbs was predictable and controllable. Now the dog is off the leash, so to speak, and free to run the neighborhood of talk radio or, heaven help us, politics. Hispanics in America should probably put down the champagne until we see how far this old dog will run.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You Fire 16 Teachers And Whadya' Get...

... another day older and with a new teacher's union in the state of Mexico.

Back in 2006/07 teachers in EdoMex tried to organize a new teacher's union called Sindicato Unificado de Maestros y Académicos del Estado de México (SUMAEM). For their trouble scores of teachers were harassed and 16 of the organizers were fired. Now the education supervisory panel in Cholula, Puebla has reinstated the teachers and they are back at work with the added bonus that an EdoMex reconciliation panel has forced the Secretary of Education to recognize the new 900-strong union. See the Sol de Toluca story.

While Mexico's teacher's certainly need unions that are not co-opted by the parties, looking at the SUMAEM site doesn't seem to hold out much hope. The organization seems to be dripping with functionaries, and despite the snazzy web site and incredibly long fight song (here), there seems to be little in the way of specifics and documents offered by the group. Same himno, second verse, a whole lot longer, and probably just as poorly administered as many other Mexican labor unions.

For more, see here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthdays, All Around

Today marks the day that "Secret History" got up and running. November 13th marked the first posting. It so happens that SH shares the same birthday as the U.S. Marine Corps. So, to mark the occasion, I think it is fitting to hear from a U.S. Marine about Latin America:
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, War is a Racket, 1935.
Happy birthday Secret History... and happy birthday USMC.
"From the Halls of Montezuma... "

PS. Secret History also shares this birthday with Sesame Street. Vivas for Plaza Sesamo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

High Power Legal Firm - And Hugo Chavez

I'm about to blog about a lawyer, so I need to be VERY careful what I say here.

Not long ago I received a package from Amsterdam and Peroff, a high-profile legal outfit with offices in Toronto and London. They say they have a "... strong concentration in international trade and customs law, handling multi-jurisdictional commercial litigation. We also work extensively on international human rights cases." Under Amsterdam's biography it says he has represented clients such as PriceWaterhous and the Four Season's Hotel Group. His partner, Dean Peroff, is best known for his work in Canada on behalf of (drum roll) The People's Republic of China.

Clearly part of a mass mailing, it simply invited "Dear Professor" to consider the case of Eligio Cedeno. Titled Bolivarian Rule of Lawlessness, it was co-authored by Amsterdam & Peroff lawyer Robert Amsterdam, as well as Venezuelan lawyers Gonzalo Himiob Santome and Antonio Rosich. Himiob Santome is listed as one of the lawyers for the "Caracas Nine" and a partner in Rosich, Himiob, Romero & Associates. Antonio Rosich is a vocal anti-Chavista and has done some interesting interviews on Telemundo. Himiob has done interviews with Univision.

From what I can see this looks like one piece in a flood of press releases, interviews, and media hype.

Interesting law firm. Interesting partners. Interesting defendants. I'm talking about lawyers here, so all I dare say is that it is ... interesting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Liberation Theology Alive and Well in Paraguay?

After Paraguay elected a Catholic leftist-bishop (who, it turns out, you could call "father" for more than just his job description) they really dropped off the religious radar screen (and political radar screen) for many followers of Latin America. While that Catholic president is in a world of hot water with the congress (a whole other post), the Catholic Episcopate Conference of Uruguay has declared on the side of the ava guarani people of the Itakyry district in the department of Alto Parana (SE Paraguay).

It turns out department officials and land owners are jockeying to seize land owned by the state of Paraguay considered ancestral territory for the ava guarani, and the Paraguayan bishops consider it a violation of the "derechos de los pueblos indígenas" and would cause a massive migration to Paraguayan cities of landless indians.

A couple of years ago I got into a professional scrape with an "independent scholar" who claimed that liberation theology was dead and that its last academic proponent, Edward Cleary, was a deluded old Dominican whose scholarship needed ignoring because of his religious affiliation. I maintained that Cleary's studies demonstrated liberation theology alive and well in places like Bolivia, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. I still stand by Cleary (unless some great new piece of research points me in a new direction) and I would argue that the case of Paraguay demands some attention in terms of the persistence of the left-leaning church in Latin America.

And yes, the ava guarani are the ones displaced by the presa de jasyretä dam (called the monument to corruption in Paraguay) that is set to rise another several meters and displace another 80,000 people.

(Click on the picture to see some great flickr.com photos of the ava guarani and the Itykary area).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mexico: U.S. Totem

The United States desperately needs Mexico, and I'm NOT talking about trade and labor.

This week two things happened to get me thinking about this idea of Mexico as a sort of totem for the modern U.S.

1) My son came home with an Enrique Camarena Memorial Red Ribbon from the Texas Combined Armed Forces. My son has no idea who Camarena is/was or who the men are that tortured him. Yet there was my five-year-old with Camarena's ensign pinned to his chest and it came as a device for a discussion on drugs (putting aside that I have to talk to my kindergartener about drugs!!!). I decided that the United States needs a hyped-up sense of violence and narcotics in Mexico to simultaneously avoid the painful cultural upheaval that would happen if we truly addressed our narcotics problem as a health issue BUT STILL talk about an issue we might otherwise sweep under the collective carpet. With Mexico, we have some outlet for discussion.

2) Day of the Dead. Texas is far crazier about Day of the Dead than California was. Again, the hyped-up sense of openess about that "last step in life" in Mexico gives Americans that moment to think about death in a way that we don't usually do - and to confront our own fears about death.

And while it didn't happen to me this week, I consider the general U.S. obsession with Mexico as a place to get cheap and easy sex and booze as serving as something of the same function as Carnival serves in Latin America. Americans take a few days to blow off some steam before returning to the norms of society - at least in their minds. Once more, the pressence of an "outside" entity allows U.S. citizens to consider themselves more saintly at home than they really are, letting them address issues of consumption and sexuality they would otherwise be unwilling to address.

Of course there are exceptions (probably for most people) and just because I say "totem" it doesn't mean that it truly serves the long-term good of the society. It also doesn't mean that there aren't some deeply flawed notions of nationalism and racism involved. And finally, I haven't even started to address what sort of totem the U.S. is for Mexico... .