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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

PRD Saddles Up... Against Free Speech?

Milenio today reports that deputies from the PRD have asked the Secretary of Gobernacion to go after the Catholic Church for expressing its views on gay marriage in D.F. According to the PRD, the Catholic Church has violated the Ley de Asociaciones Religiosas y Culto Público (LARCP) which carves out a legal space for religious organizations in Mexican civil society.

The original reforms took place under the Salinas administration's very classical liberal drive to codify all segments of society, as well as their efforts to show the U.S. before and during NAFTA talks that Mexico could extend the rule of law to all areas of society. In short, it was Salinas de Gortari's way of signaling to the world (remember, he was gunning for UN or IMF positions at that point in time) that Mexico was "civilized" and that El Presidente was the grand reformer and modernizer of Mexico. Religious rights were human rights, as was argued at the time, and Mexico had a duty to protect those rights.

Move forward almost two decades, and we find ourselves in a conundrum. D.F. seeks to protect the civil rights of homosexuals to enter into the marriage contract (above all a civil act in Mexico - as thousands of dead liberals and conservatives can attest). The Catholic church seeks to excercise its rights to object without legal retribution - as laid out in the 2006 version of LARCP (Article 2, subparagraph e).

The PRD position is weak, but reforms in 2006 to the law could help their cause. Article 8 requires that churches "fomentar el diálogo, la tolerancia y la convivencia entre las distintas religiones y credos con presencia en el país." While you might argue that isn't the same as tolerance in general society, in combination with Article 14, it might have some punch. Article 14 states that "Tampoco podrán los ministros de culto asociarse con fines políticos ni realizar proselitismo a favor o en contra de candidato, partido o asociación política alguna." Taking a public stand against gay marriage might be seen as a violation of this portion of the law.

Finally, throughout the document the state reserves the right to protect the rights of third parties. Is it then the state's duty to mute the Catholic Church if the speech of the church could result in legislation that restricts the rights of a third party? My own U.S. history demonstrates that only the right of the central state is powerful enough to protect the rights of minorities - but the central state has also acted to protect the hateful language of those who would seek to terminate the rights of minorities. And the big gun, Article 29: "Convertir un acto religioso en reunión de carácter político." That statement is as loaded as Amy Winhouse.

I would tend to see the PRD as hunting flies with vinegar by taking this approach, and restricting speech to protect other rights seems counterproductive to civic society. I'd also point out that Mexico has "tolerated" plural marriage for the indigenous and quirky religious groups, as well as a mind-blowing amount of cohabitation for decades (well...centuries). The Catholic Church has complained the whole time, and those outside the reach of the Madre Iglesia continue on their way.

Monday, December 28, 2009

WSJ Strikes Again

PBS News Hour kicked around the murder of the family of Mexican Naval commando Melquisedet Angulo Cordova that participated in the assassination of Arturo Beltran Leyva. The "expert" that PBS cut to was WSJ correspondent David Luhnow. Among the gems from Luhnow we get:
Many Mexicans have become, unfortunately, very inured to the violence. Much like in Iraq, people became accustomed to the -- sort of the daily death toll from the bombings and the carnage there. Mexicans are really becoming sort of accustomed to the bloodshed.
Unfortunately, many Mexicans don't trust their government. This is mostly the result of 70 years of a single-party state, where the government was basically there to protect itself and its allies and enrich itself.
So, many Mexicans view anything that the government does, even if it's correct, with a lot -- with a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism. So, polls show that the majority of people sort of support the drug war. They know these drug gangs are pretty bad. But they are not really fully behind the government, in maybe the way that the U.S. public would be fully behind U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan or in Iraq.
So, Luhnow's portrait of Mexico is a land where people turn a blind eye to violence and distrust the government? Is he talking about Mexico or Republicans? Hmmm... back in November, David, you told us Mexicans were fighting back against violence - with violence. Now in one month they are just numb? Society moves at amazing speed in Mexico.

The item I wanted to comment on (beyond his total lack of evidence) was his pinning of supposed distrust on the PRI alone. The behavior of the PAN, particularly the Calderon administration's militarization of society and sock-puppet-for-the-US stance, has no influence on distrust? For the 50 years of Revolutionary government when the majority of Mexicans looked at the Revolutionary Family favorably there is no legacy - for Lopez Portillo (ok, maybe Echeverria) forward, every Mexican has grown up loathing government? I'm not going to sit here and defend the PRI system - perhaps politically stable but certainly violent. However, for the WSJ to ignore the shortcomings (pun intended) of their conservative Golden Boy is poor analysis at best. How about the problems of the PANista "get tough" legal system you reported on back in October? Oh, sorry, was there no discussion of the absence of meaningful legal reforms under the PAN of the judicial system in your story?

PRI, PAN, and (sorry Richard) PRD? If distrust exists, we're looking at the product of the poor of any party subject to the whims and lawlessness of the wealthy of any party for whom no rule of law exists. Class, not party, is the dividing factor between ruled and ruler in Mexico.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Caribbean?

Ok, final reflections on the semester spent with students and what was hardest to teach them about Latin America.

1) The Spaniards did not kill all the indigenous. Even the very Aymara girl sitting third row back could not convince some that the Spaniards did not "kill all the Indians." I'm here to report that the black legend is alive and well.

2) There were no Indians when the Spanish arrived. There were no Africans that came as slaves. The students expected total racial solidarity and a complete anti-white coalition coming out of the boats. Slaves and Indians, one insisted, where clearly just stupid because the didn't get together to overthrow the whites. *sigh*

3) The Caribbean is part of Latin America. Again, the Boricua sitting in the back saying how much more he understood Puerto Rico now that he had a Colonial course on Latin America didn't help one iota.

These were the hardest ideas to get across, but in the end, I think I had only one that came out thinking all the Indians were dumb, dead, and certainly not from the Caribbean. Out of eleven students, that's not a bad turn around.

So, in honor of Mr. Incredulous, here's a very merry Christmas ... 70's / 80's style.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Evo Morales: Ending Capitalism by Ending Luxury?

From Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: How would you do that? How would you end capitalism?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It’s changing economic policies, ending luxury, consumerism. It’s ending the struggle to—or this searching for living better. Living better is to exploit human beings. It’s plundering natural resources. It’s egoism and individualism. Therefore, in those promises of capitalism, there is no solidarity or complementarity. There’s no reciprocity. So that’s why we’re trying to think about other ways of living lives and living well, not living better. Not living better. Living better is always at someone else’s expense. Living better is at the expense of destroying the environment.
I've generally been a supporter of the Morales movement - a much needed retaking of Bolivia by the majority of the citizenry. However, Morales' climate summit speech and DN interview have me rolling my eyes? End luxury? End luxury and you end the entire export future of Bolivia, especially lithium. Define luxury, buck-o. Is luxury flying all the way to Copenhagen to complain about luxury for a few minutes? Pretty much. Come on, Evo, learn to ride the market and even moderate it ... don't try to put a bullet in its brain.

The export economies of South America demand a luxury market, and their subsequent failure to diversify the economy with the profits from those sales is glaring (cough cough - Chavez's Venezuela - cough cough). Text book after text book gives us enough single-export ppopulists to float a battleship. Diversify, democratize, distribute - the three words of the day for the Latin American economy.

Bolivia has potential to profit from "luxury" and use those profits for good. And the environment? If the market demands "green" then let the entrepeneurs of Bolivia profit from that demand.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peru to Iglesia Catolica: Massacre Was Your Fault

Yesterday the head of the Peruvian Bishops Conference rejected accusations from a commission set up to investigate the June 5 violence near Bagua (1,000 KM NE of Lima) that the Church and people associated with the Church precipitated the violence. A nun sitting on the investigative commission has refused to sign the document, and the Bishops as well as activist organizations have condemned the report for ignoring the actual violence from the police. Amazon Watch and Democracy Now discuss a number of disappeared as well. Hidden, no doubt, in a cloister some where (Snark).

What I find interesting is a paraphrase of the report written up in Noticias de Prensa Latina that says:
El documento sostiene que que los nativos fueron engañados y manipulados por intereses extranjeros y sectores opositores, religiosos y organizaciones no gubernamentales, que les hicieron creer que los decretos en cuestión iba a privarlos de sus tierras.
This sounds like a page out of the cold war from Guatemala and El Slavador to Brazil and Chile. I knew Alan Garcia was old school, but who knew he was going to use form letter reports from the Cold War. Are these in a surplus "Operation Condor" file drawer somewhere? Outside agitators tricked the peasantry into thinking the central state, logging companies, mines, and oil companies didn't have their best interests at heart? Wow, that must have been a really hard line to sell to the Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. (Extra snark).

The liberation Church is alive and well in the Andes, and that includes not only Ecuador and Bolivia, but it seems Peru as well. It sounds like Garcia is ready to engage in a PR war against the Catholic Church, but I wonder how far he will push it.

Death threats are already being leveled against the Amazonas persecutor involved in investigating the case, Marleny Luz Rojas Méndez, says LivinginPeru. Would it be to far-fetched to imagine that threats will start appearing for religious agitators next? This situation is going nowhere good, fast.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Celebrating the Virgin ... USA

It ain't just California and Texas any more, folks.

Fort Collins, Colorado

Miami Beach, Florida

Lombar, Illinois

Brooklyn, New York

La Pura Cotton Candy

Beyond religion I don't often make forays into Mexico and culture. There are a 101 Carlos Monsivais wannabes in the blogosphere to suffice any reader's desire. However, I did want to make a brief mention of the most recent Teleton in DF earlier this December in what seems to be my most Cotton Candy post (all fluff and sugar).

Fans in the capital "enjoyed" the appearance of a U.S. export named Selena. Not, unfortunately, the beautiful 23-year-old Texan that still makes many a young man from the nineties heart go bidi bidi bom bom, but the pre-pubescent American Girl doll (also from Texas) Selena Gomez who is (I am almost ashamed to admit I know this) named after the real Texas bomb shell, Selena Quintanilla. Perhaps my judgment is clouded by fond memories of sitting in papusarias and burrito places in El Monte, Baldwin Park, San Gabriel and East LA in the 90's slurping down horchatas and good food while listening to la reina - perhaps.

However, I submit for your comparison the two Selenas - and I think the South Texan wins.

The (mildly) Curious Case of The Judge and The Scholar

Mexican President Felipe Calderón appeared in Yucatan this week to assign awards to members of Mexican society important to that nation's development in science, art, and technology. On the list of award recipients was José Ramón Cossío Díaz, an associate justice of the Supreme court - the same supreme court that upheld the decriminalization of abortion in DF. While the wunderkind minister is a prodigious author as well as a known for allowing expert consultation in court matters, his prominence in the abortion decision is undeniable. The award was given for philosophy, history, and social sciences.

The other award winner in philosophy, history, and social sciences is yet another scholar in the thick of controversy - Enrique de la Garza Toledo. Not that Garza Toledo has been deeply involved with the electrical workers, but his work centeres on the sociology of labor. In particular, he asks about the nature of democracy within unions, their legitimacy, and the sort of systems of labor that exist in the "New" political Mexico of post-PRI domination. I do not know how influential he has been on Calderón policy in terms of labor. It is, however, a curious choice with curious timing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mexico and the Environment

Saturday in Chihuahua a cloud of smoke descended on the city of Cuauhetemoc, Chihuahua. Reports El Diario:
Una capa de contaminación y humo cubrió ayer la ciudad, luego de que se registraron dos incendios en campos menonitas en los que se realizaba quema de rastrojo, método prohibido por la Dirección de Ecología y autoridades de salud.

A pesar de advertencias y multas, es común la práctica de limpieza de predios por medio del fuego, y algunas veces se sale de control, como lo sucedido ayer en el Campo 22, donde las llamas cubrieron una larga extensión de terreno.

I've posted earlier on Mennonites and drilling for water before, with the upshot being that for the colonists it is easier and cheaper to punch wells wherever they want and pay the fines than it is to follow the rules on water rights and use. It appears to be the same with burning weeds and stubble. What seems to be the offense of the Mennonites? American-style agriculture, it seems to me. Potato farmers in Idaho have nearly sucked the Snake River aquifer dry (while simultaneously destroying drinking water sources with pesticides) while Montana looks like a Mordor scene out of LOTR come spring and the burning of stubble fields.

It seems to me that Mexico has the sensible environmental approach to water regulation and air quality while the U.S. falls short. One might be tempted to say that the United States better adheres to the rule of law in environmental matters, but when the rules are bent in the legislatures BEFORE they get to the application then it appears the rule of law is as moot an exercise in the U.S. as it is in Mexico. At least if the laws are on the books in Mexico the hope exists that one day adherence by the population will lead to a better environmental ethic in sensitive areas like Chihuahua.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Luz Del Mundo - Tragedy in Yucatan

On Sunday, Dec. 6 at least two were killed and twelve were wounded when followers of the LLDM church gathered to carry out construction work on a temple in Uman, Yucatan. LLDM prides itself on donated labor for work, and this time it had dangerous consequences.

Read more at: Diario de Yucatan and here as well. (The original news and stories of bad permits).

La Jornada is saying that the construction was carried out without the proper permits and had grave structural errors:
"...fue erigido por los dirigentes de la Iglesia La Luz del Mundo sin permisos de construcción ni de uso de suelo; funcionaba sin estar terminada, y además se detectaron fallas estructurales en el inmueble, dijeron autoridades locales y estatales." See more here.
Diario de Yucatan is saying that they didn't have the technical inspection necessary to go ahead with the work.

At least that is what La Jornada and Diario are saying now... but we need to see what the official report is. With a PANista gov't in place and many LLDM members being a fairly vocal opponent of the PAN (see Sara Pozos Bravo's essays, for instance), this may be the opening that the PAN will want to go after the evangelical church.

Then again, no PANista government in the church's home state of Jalisco would dare touch them... that would be like going pro-Castro in South Florida (political suicide).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Narco-Menonitas (Or So Says the PAN)

Rosa Maria Baray, a PANista state congress person from Chihuahua announced that the violence that is affecting the Mennonites in Chihuahua is something of their own doing. Says Baray:
"Así como en otros tiempos los menonitas se involucraron en delitos del fueron común, ahora también están tomando parte en actividades propias del narcotráfico." Read more here.
What she says, of course, has a some veracity. In the 1990s Mennonites were the largest transporters of marijuana into Canada, and the CBC has focused on the narcotics and violence present in the Anabaptists community in Canada and in Mexico (though melodramatically calling it the Mennonite Mafia). Indeed, Mennonites have certainly been involved in the black market economy of guns and drugs in not only growing and distribution, but also in using their mechanical skills to build automobile compartments for the transportation of contraband. On a personal note, in a visit to Chihuahua in 2007 with students our van driver suggested we not allow students to wander into the apple orchards surrounding our motel in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua as we might find people or items harmful to our "seguridad."

On the other hand... .
This sort of focus on the religion of the Mennonites allows everybody to get a little bit of exotic titilation (oooh...german speaking drug runners - isn't that for those dark Mexicans) while also satisfying the anti-religiuos bug (those pacifist hypocrites). It makes for good press in the same way a Protestant pastor that frequents male prostitutes gets attention: We like to see the sanctimonious cut down to size. However, would any activist of immigration approve of painting all Mexican Americans as illegal aliens who come to the U.S. with bales of Acapulco Gold strapped to their backs and leprosy in their blood? Painting the Mennonites with this broad-brush is inaccurate at best, and unfair to boot.

Again, while in Chihuahua in 2007 I had the chance to talk to the Mennonites about the detox center they've started in the campos to help the young people that have become involved with narcotics and alcohol. They are openly addressing a problem within society and are taking steps to correct the problems. Tobasco Hoy reports that Menonites have even created their own Guardia Civil (minus the guns) to patrol the campos and discourage not only outsiders but also members of the community from participating in crime. This is a long way from when Lazaro Cardenas authorized Mexican soldiers to apprehend and execute in the field criminals that harrassed Durango's Mennonites.

Anyway, the point being that Baray's comments allow Chihuahua to continue to try to marginalize a community that is one of the great legitimate economic engines of the state's economy based mostly on racial distrust and economic jealousy. If some Mennonites participate in narcotics, that doesn't make them less worthy of protection. Such logic applied to all Mexicans would eliminate whole cities and neighborhoods in Chihuahua - including many of the pueblos represented by Ms. Baray.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Caution: Two Way Street

Put aside the guns, and most U.S. Americans aren't thinking about smuggling from the United States in to Mexico. This news release from ICE:

LAREDO, Texas - Two businessmen from New Jersey and a California each pleaded guilty on Thursday for their roles in an illegal export scheme. The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Vahram Aynilian, 59, of New Jersey, and Fred Lukach, 50, of California, each pleaded guilty to one count of illegally exporting goods from the United States into Mexico. Both defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Saldana to enter their guilty pleas.

From 2005 to 2009, Aynilian received about $199,201 for providing and/or allowing fraudulent NAFTA Certificate of Origin documents and fraudulent U.S. invoices to be provided for 243 shipments. As part of his plea agreement, Aynilian agreed to forfeit and will pay to the United States at or before sentencing the $199,201.20 he profited from the scheme. During the same time period, Lukach paid for and obtained fraudulent NAFTA Certificate of Origin documents and fraudulent U.S. invoices from Aynilian for numerous textile shipments. Read more.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's Cold at the Top... ICE is Numero Uno

The TRAC Immigration project at Syracuse University reports:
The number of individuals held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the just-ended FY 2009 is now estimated to have reached 369,483 detainees, more than twice what the total was in FY 1999. According to a recent agency report, this growth means that ICE is now operating the largest detention system in the country. Read more here.
This detention also comes with arbitrary and confusing transfers from center to center. For example, the Houston Chronicle reports:

After Alejandro Sibaja was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Houston 15 months ago, he was transferred six times and finally ended up in Haskell, north of Abilene.

By the time an immigration judge in Dallas granted Sibaja a green card last Wednesday, his wife, Iris Lopez-Sibaja said she had spent countless hours trying to track him through the nation's troubled immigration detention network, which faced criticism on Wednesday from government auditors and immigrant rights advocates for resulting in haphazard detainee transfers.

“It was tough. It was harder on my kids, though,” Lopez-Sibaja said. “They were the ones always asking where their dad was.”

In separate reports released Wednesday, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security and the nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch criticized the controversial and increasingly common practice of transferring immigration detainees to detention centers far from their families and attorneys.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Deportation of Rigoberto Padilla

This came in the e-mail today. Thought I would pass it on:

Dear Colleagues-

Please help us. We only have 2 weeks left to act to prevent the deportation of our student and Latin American and Latino Studies major, Rigoberto Padilla.
The faculty of the Latin Amercan and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago is asking university faculty across the nation to join in a petition to halt the deportation of Rigoberto Padilla. Last winter, Rigo was arrested by the Chicago Police for a driving violation. While in police custody, his undocumented status was discovered by ICE officials, who charged him with entering the United States without authorization in 1994 as a six-year-old child. While his misdemeanor is not a deportable offense, his deportation is now set for December 16, 2009.

We are asking university faculty to sign an online petition requesting an administrative closure of his case. The online petition automatically sends faxes to the offices of Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), John Morton (Director of I.C.E.), Senator Richard Durbin and Senator Roland Burris.

In addition, we are asking university faculty to sign an individual petition to halt Rigo's deportation. This second petition can be signed by anyone so please forward the link to non-faculty. Links to both petitions are listed below.

To sign the university faculty petition, please click on the following link:

To sign an individual petition, please click on the following link:

For details on Rigo Padilla's case go to:
Please send this message to your colleagues. We urge you to act now as Rigo's deportation is quickly approaching. We truly appreciate your support.

The UIC Latin American and Latino Studies Faculty:
Frances Aparicio
Xochitl Bada
Christopher Boyer
Simone Buechler
Ralph Cintron
Nilda Flores-Gonzalez
Elena Gutierrez
Alejandro Madrid
Joel Palka
Amalia Pallares
Cristian Roa
Maria de los Angeles Torres
Javier Villa-Flores

Fun note: I found an anti-immigration site that lists Padilla's offenses against the United States. This includes: "
The guy is a race pushing activist. He has focused his college on attaining an Associates Degree in Arts with a Latin American and Latino Emphasis. He is the former president of the Organization of Latin American Students and a volunteer for the non profits Casa Aztlán and Erie Neighborhood House" (I hesitate to do it, but you can find the full quote here). Travel there at your own risk.

The emphasis is put in by the anti immigration site. Oh no! He has an emphasis on studying Latin America. I have a whole Ph.D. in Latin America and I teach red-blooded WASP kids about it almost every day. Wow, me and Whitey Bulger... dangers to society all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Satire or Parable? ET and the Other.

Every now and again The Onion accidentally spits out some offensive satire that goes beyond the silliness to get at the heart of U.S. culture. I'm not sure The Onion was shooting for a reflection on the U.S. perception of Latin Americans as less than human, but it certainly hit the mark. Satire or Parable?