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, December 13, 2010

Pirates of Paraguay: Al Qaida in South America

The Guardian threw in its two cents on the topic of terrorists in South America. Their conclusion: We don't know, but maybe somebody ought to look into that. Gah. I suppose that is the best of newspaper journalism at work any more. The extent of their investigation was to read wikkileaks (who says the State Department looked into it), call anti-war activist Ben Dangl (who says no), and read Sebastian Junger (who says yes). Wow. I look forward to Guardian reporter Pratap Chatterjee's appearance on PBS or in the Wall Street Journal as an expert on Latin America. At any rate, if anybody knows of any journalists we could send to Paraguay... . *

The description of the countryside around Ciudad del Este as a possible location for all manner of international mafia and terrorist groups reminds me of Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker's The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Not a venture for casual reading, the book explores the spaces outside of domination by the British Empire where people were able to flourish with alternative "community" building societies based on equality and freedom. While I am NOT NOT NOT arguing mafia and all terrorist types have some pursuit of freedom in mind, I am reminded of the idea that the modern project of political and corporate empires is often less desirable among a certain set of the population: remember that the Mennonites went to Paraguay for that very reason. Is it possible that all sorts of global anarchists are hiding out in a jungle some place... history tells us it is possible. Is it the end of the "Western" world... I somehow doubt it, but I'm no Carnac.

*Yes, I have read the NY Times articles - and I would love confirmation that some of the people they were talking to really are up to what they say they are up to.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Consent, etc.: Part II

Marvelous conclusion to the discussion of Friedman and Chomsky. After reading selections from Friedman on Chile, free markets, and foreign aid, one student pointed out (correctly) that both Chomsky and Friedman are, in the end, after the same thing: a reduced government foot print and honesty in government and business. What the students and I have agreed is fascinating is that the discontent about the relationship about the government, business, and consumer/worker citizens is increasingly centered on the nature of the corporation - not the nature of man and by extent the nature and role of government: The power, influence, and global reach of the corporation has made the discussion as unavoidable as the discussion on the nature of man in 1790.

And, yes, considering Chomsky's focus on Chile and Mexico as well as Friedman's, I think this IS a pertinent post for the Reflections on Latin America.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Consent Without Consent: Part I

Students in my World History course told me today that 1) businesses have too much influences in foreign nations - that corporations should not be involved in things like Guatemala in 1954 or Chevron/Texaco in Ecuador over the last 50 years. They also told me that 2) a corporate CEO or business leader is the ideal leader of the United States because they "know how to run things." This discussion was in the context of having read Profit Over People by Noam Chomsky (and they are reading Milton Friedman for Thursday). They found Chomsky too nihilistic (and they blanched when I mentioned that the Maoists had the same critique) as well as too strident in his assertions that corporations are not democratic or "of the people." People, after all, are shareholders.

But what most surprised me was their agreement that the US and corporations "did Latin America wrong" via neocolonialism and neoliberalism but then followed up that point of view by saying that corporations did no such thing in the US. Moments like Homestead and the Ludlow Massacre were the fault of labor for getting greedy, labor contributions to corporations are "manipulating the system" while corporate contributions are an expression of free speech, and that 80% of campaign contributions come from one quarter of one percent of the richest Americans just shows that most Americans are too lazy to participate in politics - that is why the business people run things, they are the "go getters." Democracy, they argued, is a sure road to dictatorship, said one student. I look forward to part II of this conversation.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

GOP Goes for the Americano: Southern Strategy II?

NPR reported today regarding Newt Gingrich's meeting (the Americano forum) in Washington D.C. in search of the US Latin@ vote (no, I don't think the GOP is being ironic by calling it Americano). A forum, he declared, where the GOP can "win the argument" so they can then go out and win the Latin@ vote for the GOP. Would that be Newt "Kevin Phillips" Gingrich?

Kevin Phillips was a campaign advisor for Richard Nixon who reportedly told members of the GOP that:
"From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans."
Right now Republicans are pulling 40% of a Latin@ vote that is still only voting at about 8% of the electorate, and one has to wonder if there isn't a bit of Kevin Phillips revisited at work here. Republicans would be short sighted if they let the debate over immigration disappear. The more Latin@s who register as Democrats, the sooner the Latin@phobe whites, Asian-Americans and African-Americans will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.

Gingrich will need to start arguing that the base he stirred up in the 1980s (and that Nixon explicitly began gathering in with racial issues) will have to fundamentally change the sort of raging anger and offensive language that drives Latin@s from the party. As one attendee to the Americano summit said:
"When I hear members of the extreme right of the Republican Party speak in the language that they do about immigration, I, frankly, take offense — because there's something about me that they don't like."
The road to a close 2012 election may well be paved with Latin@ votes, but with the paralysis of both parties apparent on key issues of immigration, perhaps the Green Party would be as effective a vote as any for Latin@s (the Greens at least have a valid excuse for not being able to shape policy).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hungry for a Dream

Protesters on a hunger strike in San Antonio, Texas, were arrested this week (Nov. 29) on charges of criminal trespass for their sit-in and presence in the office of US Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison. UT San Antonio students, one professor, a Methodist minister, and a former San Antonio city council member occupied Hutchison's office to demand that she vote for the Dream Act. Hutchison has said she will not vote for the action because it goes too far beyond allowing high school and college students attain their "dream" of becoming an American citizen.

My (humble, of course) opinion of the legislation is that it sounds fairly conservative - especially in terms of funding that higher education - and seems to fit the bill of allowing citizens-in-all-but-papers to reach the logical conclusion of their presence in the US. You can read the text of the senate bill here. Should it move you can find it here by typing in S 729 for the bill number.

In a final note (and my last bit of parting snark), Senator Hutchison issued the following statement about the protesters, saying she, "appreciates these students' passion for their cause but hopes they can find safer and more peaceful ways to voice their opinions." I was pleased to hear that sit-ins and hunger strikes will now be the cut-off point for acceptable violence in this country.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexico - Happier Than You

This from the National Geographic study of the happiest places on earth:
We also looked at Nuevo León, the happiest region of Mexico, which was the happiest country in Latin America when we did this work--actually the happiest country in the American hemisphere. Something interesting's going on there.
Wait, I thought Mexico was a failed state - a pit of terror and a nightmare from which the continent could awaken.

Something interesting's going on there. Religion is very important: For more than 80 percent of the people in this part of Mexico, religious faith tops their list of values. We know worldwide that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

Their definition of family is about an order of magnitude bigger than a typical definition of family. Theirs includes no only kids and moms and dads, but also cousins and second cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents. And that does some helpful things.

Religious people with a focus on the family? Those crazy anarchist Mexicans.

De DF Hasta Denver - White Wall Blocks Dark Virgin

Some priests never learn. Apparently some curate from Denver stepped into Mr. Peabody's way-back machine and shot back to 1790 where he sat in on a focus group of Spanish clergy dispatched to the Americas. Upon returning to the 21st century, said priest built a giant white wall in front of a mural of La Virgen because she "detracted from the central focus of the Holy Presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the altar." *head smack*

The Mexican church has had angst about La Virgen and similar saint devotions since initial conversion until independence - with even groups like the Sinarquistas expressing dismay at the level of devotion offered to La Virgen de Guadalupe as late as the 1940s. Interestingly enough, for most Mexican curates La Virgen was considered so mainstream by the 40s she was used as a distraction to take attention away from local miraculous expressions in areas with holy devotions considered to "Indian" (for example, Morelos in the 1950s). I guess the folks in Denver and the American Catholics never got the memo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Domes of Evil: Arizona and Luz Del Mundo

A Phoenix area Luz del Mundo (LDM) church is under attack - for being a mosque. The evangelical christian group based in Guadalajara, Mexico, is essentially a neo-pentecostal movement (founded in 1926 they were neo-pentecostal before it was cool) that embraces biblical literalism, Jesus Christ as savior from sin through his grace and baptism in his name alone, and with a modern apostle on the earth today. In short, there is enough doctrinal similarity between Arizona's evangelicals and Mormons to make them fit in quite nicely in that religiously conservative state. Unfortunately, they have a dome on their church.
Since the distinctive dome shape went up, church leaders said they have received phone calls from concerned neighbors who’ve mistaken the building for an Islamic mosque. READ MORE HERE
The group has placed a banner up on the dome stating that they are "building a christian house of prayer." I'm not sure what disturbs me more - that a dome suddenly becomes an evil structure or the implication that if the group building the dome wasn't LDM it would be ok to be concerned.

See a related (but different) Phoenix News Times article here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The New Argentina

It turns out that Manitoba is angry about immigrants - mostly that they aren't getting enough. Taking a page (probably not consciously) from their hemispheric steppe-neighbor, Argentina, they have gone out of their way to craft policy that allows migrants to find a home on the pampas, er, prairie. It's not as sexy as Vancouver or Toronto... and certainly it is no Montreal, but for those willing to endure the prairie snow, Winnipeg is a new migrant labor destination. And then, of course, there is the nature of Canadian politics:
Another force is in play: immigrant voting strength. About 20 percent of Canadians are foreign born (compared with 12.5 percent in the United States), and they are quicker to acquire citizenship and voting rights. “It’s political suicide to be against immigration,” said Leslie Seidle of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a Montreal group. READ THE FULL STORY HERE
But there are some down sides I would mention.
1) Consider the visa restrictions that were placed on Mexicans and their entry into Canada. I think we might go too far if we see this story and start applying the stereotype of Canada as the "nice" country compared to the US. As one former Canadian official told the Times:
“The big difference between Canada and the U.S is that we don’t border Mexico,” said Naomi Alboim, a former immigration official who teaches at Queens University in Ontario.
It is an interesting concept. It sounds like British Canada is using the US as a buffer state with Spanish Mexico - essentially the purpose that the American mid-west, and Texas served as for centuries. Ahhh... borderlands history (or at least playing fast and loose with it).

2) Canada's points system often makes it harder for the poorest of immigrants to seek employment and refuge - exactly the population that might most need it.

Final note: Kudos to Jason DeParle and John Woods for this conversation starting piece of writing and photography. Good job.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wouldn't it Be Cheaper...

This from the Associated Press:
A jury has awarded $1.73 million to the family of an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who died of penile cancer that went undiagnosed for more than a year while he was in state and federal custody.

After he was convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2005, Castaneda spent more than a year in state and federal facilities, where he was repeatedly denied adequate care for painful lesions on his penis, his lawyer Conal Doyle said Thursday.

Doctors who examined Castaneda twice ordered a biopsy, but he never got one. The first time the procedure was ordered, it was denied by a prison's chief physician. The procedure was apparently forgotten the second time because a doctor failed to follow up. A third time, a federal physician ordered a biopsy but Castaneda was released before it could be done.

Castaneda was given only pain pills and clean boxer shorts every day, and his condition worsened until he had to have his penis amputated in 2007. He died shortly afterward at age 36.

Two things I might say about this:
1) Why was he in prison? Why wasn't he in a medical rehab facility? Medical rehab has proven - time and again by the Rand Corporation - to be far more effective in terms of cost and changing behavior.

2) Was he denied care because he was illegal? Would it not have been far more effective to provide care at the start rather than pay for incarceration and then the cost of legal bills. This decision doesn't even cover the federal law suit pending against the penal system in LA.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found

This just in from the folks at Stephen F. Austin State University:
After an intensive five-year search, a team of Texas Archeological Stewardship Network (TASN) members and professional archeologists have announced the discovery of the original location of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais, later, "de los Tejas," in western Nacogdoches County.

The mission is the oldest yet discovered from 18th-century Spanish Texas, predating the missions and presidio in San Antonio. Additionally, Mission Concepción is the earliest location yet discovered that bears the name "Tejas".

Read more here.
Granted, the missions and presidios of East Texas are failures in a failed colonial enterprise, generally only important for creating a buffer zone between the French and British Empires and their Indian allies - with all of the attending viral effects. Nevertheless, the discovery of what until now has been the stuff of no more than local legend and speculation could re-kindle an interest in what is probably the most interesting of Texas Spanish/French/Indian borderlands.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

THIS is an Expert

More than once I have ranted and raved about the use of journalists as experts on Latin America. Not content to write the news or their tired little books on drug violence (The Last Narco, Killing Pablo, etc.) they become the source for television news sources too lazy or too mired in sound bites to sit down with real experts in the field for an interview. Today, however, Huffington Post gets a rare huzzah from me for the column by Jeff Rubin of Boston University on Brazil. Balanced, level headed, full of specific examples and historical context, Rubin provides commentary on the region that we just don't see from the mainstream reporters with their sensationalist hyperbole limited knowledge. For more on Rubin, see here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scottish Muertos Y Los Tapatios

In a dusty corridor of Guadalajara's old Belen cemetery lie two graves that not only receive some special tokens of respect on Dia de Los Muertos, but also here and there throughout the year.

Joseph Johnston and his wife Jean Young came to Guadalajara as paupers where he practiced medicine, often for free. They supposedly won the lottery after praying for 12 nights at midnight and after that continued to practice medicine, still often never charging patrons for his services. Today these two Scots grant righteous desires for wealth and love - something of the anti-Santa Muerte, if you will.

Guadalajara is one of Mexico's most Catholic cities - and probably one of the least Baroque in worship. Folk saints and the like take a second chair to traditional saints and the "whiter" appearances of both Virgin and Lord tend to have more influence here than in Mexico. The Johnston's are something of an interesting compromise in the folk saint world - European in nature and training but thoroughly popular in devotion. D.E.P. Jean and Joseph.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mennonites in the Chaco... and Those @#!*& Brits

Sombrero tip to Richard at MexFiles (as he himself likes to say) for this heads up on Mennonites in the Chaco in Paraguay. Says a journalist/blogger at the Guardian of Paraguay's Mennonites:
It seems they have moved from Biblical exhortations for stewardship of the Earth to outright exploitation and dominion. They have bought up nearly 2m hectares, worth, these days, in the region of $600m (£382m), made themselves fabulously wealthy from a $100m-a-year meat and dairy business, and are now in danger of totally destroying an unique ecosystem, indigenous peoples and all.
If nothing, let's give the Mennonites a hand for being consistently controversial for 500 years (and you can take that any number of ways). While I would point to Durango and Chihuahua where Mennonite land practices are quickly stripping the aquifer and the grass that grows in the high desert, I also want to point out that the Mennonites are doing what people from the Afro-Eurasian complex have been doing for over 10,000 years: dramatically altering their landscape for agriculture. While I oppose the destruction of the Chaco, I also have to agree with one of the feedback comments on the blog:
Let me see if I have this straight. A "journalist" from a paper headquartered in the most environmentally backward country of Europe decides that a tiny group of Mennonites in Paraguay are the bad guys?

And Vidal, if you want to be a serious journalist, why don't you stick to the environmental damage being done by the Brit military in Afghanistan or the environmental ruin demanded by the greedheads in the City every day.
I see that soya is the leading agricultural export of Paraguay... with China and the US being the largest non-Latin American trading partners. I think we can all agree that the demand of soy beans is driving an explosion in that expansion, and that perhaps we're going after Mennonites when rather we need to be listening to liberation theologians: this has more to do with a structural sin.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Criminal by Any Other Name... Prop 19

National Public Radio ran an interesting piece this morning with interviews from pot growers (who do not want pot legalized via prop 19) and cops and mothers groups who do. It is worth a listen. I was struck by several things:
1) The focus of the story on market forces.
2) The angst of the pot growers about corporations and taxes.
3) The sense of nationalism... a sort of "smoke California first" approach combined with the "fight the cartels" discussion.
4) The faith and trust that law enforcement puts in big business to solve the narcotics problem.
5) The focus the police have on the racial imbalance regarding pot (see El Aguila's post at Cyber Hacienda).

Of those I found most disturbing the trust and faith that mother's groups and the police put in the hands of business. I'm not sure I see many social benefits aside from the monopoly of violence by the state from the legalized vice trade. I also wonder if we aren't seeing the corporate hegemony at work, with people turning to established business for safe shelter instead of the community or health care (though most of that, of course, is big business as well - but I'm not sure we think of it that way as a society).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mountain West Hispanics: Class... and Race.

In 2009 Stephen Harwood thought he had the perfect scapegoat. On their way to Montana from Yakima, Harwood was shot and his girlfriend murdered by, he claimed at the time, a "hispanic hitch hiker." However, in the ensuing investigation police realized his tale didn't quite hold water, and it turns out Harwood was the killer.

Tales of racial scapegoating in the United States are nothing new. In the American south and northeast blame has been laid on generic Puerto Rican, African American, and generally Afro-Caribbean immigrants for decades if not centuries. The southwest is no stranger to the imagined Hispanic killer trope, for sure. But the pacific north west and mountain west? I think we have here one example of the clear convergence of three factors: Mexico's image in the media and the associated political hysteria, increased migration to the northwest, and urban legend.

As the number of Hispanics in the northwest continues to grow (faster in Washington and Idaho than in Montana), the sensational hysteria of political media seems to be influencing perceptions of Hispanics in the area. As a teen, I recall migrant sugar beet pickers, cherry pickers, and potato pickers being seen as hard working individuals that made agricultural life affordable. Between we teenagers and migrant workers, farmers in Montana were able to keep labor costs low in a profession that has a 10% or less profit margin. By contrast, a recent Bozeman Chronicle article hints that things are changing.

Millions of immigrants are "changing the character of this country," said Paul Nachman, a Bozeman retired physicist and one of the most outspoken critics of migration in Gallatin County. "We are importing an underclass, importing poverty."

In California, where he lived for nine years, Nachman said illegal immigrants are a great burden on the state budget, schools, prisons, welfare system and emergency rooms. They have created large enclaves where Spanish is the main language. Many more jobs would be available, he said, if they went home.

I don't mean to say you could not find overt racism in the northwest - try being Native American in Spokane or Billings. But I do mean to say that increased migration has increased the problem - and I don't mean Hispanics, I mean folks from places with large Hispanic populations that come with discriminatory baggage in place (like Nachman). For example, see the current Christian Exodus movement. At any rate, it makes it possible - and I would add more frequent - for people to lay down ideas like the western tale of the killer hitchhiker on top of the tale of the violent Latina/o. Urban legend meets political hysteria.

And finally, the thing that really stood out for me from Nachman's comment was his shot at the "underclass" in his comment. Montana has the 17th highest poverty rate in the United States, and comments like Nachman's reek of the sort of elitist class divisions that can and do split the state. But I would also point out that it is easy for Nachman to ease into this division, not only coming from California, but also going to Montana. As I mentioned, discrimination against Native Americans in the state and region is at intolerable levels, and I should also add (no surprise to historians, economists and anthropologists) that Montana's reservations see 20% or higher poverty.

In the end, I would like to think that westerners are better than the sort of discrimination in both class and race we see in such pronounced ways in the south or east, but I think patterns established with Native Americans reveal that it is just not going to be the case - but I don't think it has to be the case. Certainly, I think there needs to be far greater outreach to Hispanics in states like Montana as well as to the Anglo population so that westerns can do what they do best - adjust and change. And frankly, considering the outward migration of the sons and daughters of the west's farmers, Hispanics may be the demographic future of the survival of agriculture in the west.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dia De Los Muertos, Maestra

Yep... it is mid-October and my sight is getting hammered by teachers looking for Day of the Dead resources. So, here are a few:

San Antonio, Texas, Festival and resources

Mexic Arte Museum

Build Your Own Altar

Oaxaca Altars

MexConnect - Day of the Dead from All Over

Papel Picado Resources

But most importantly, teachers, get your kids some pan del muerto.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ARCO's Sneeze: Thirty Years Ago in a Global Economy

Thirty years ago Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) announced the closing of the Anaconda copper mines in Butte, Montana, and the metals smelting facilities in Anaconda and Great Falls, Montana. The great Anaconda - the mighty copper company that was once a local company but became part of the Rockefeller Empire - it seems had reached too far. ARCO, of course, purchased the Anaconda company only in 1977 after it had experienced nationalization in Chile and Mexico. Unfamiliar with copper mining, it made bad investment after bad investment all while squeezing labor in its coils (which drove strike after strike). Indeed, my father's only claim to fame was being photographed by the local paper in 1979, the Great Falls Tribune, as he picketed ARCO leaning up against his 67 Buick Special.

And that, I think, is my point today. Globalized corporations have the power to reach across oceans and bring together markets and maximize profits, but they also tie together labor in a way the labor (outside of the internationals) has no idea about. Miners in Butte - especially in the increasingly conservative unions - had little understanding of how they fueled an empire that reached into the heart of South America and squeezed out the life blood of labor there with brutal practices. Workers in Chile had little understanding that their nationalization would create a spiral in prices and stocks that would pull the legs out from underneath a poor, extractive area on the other side of the globe. And of course, you can be sure that the owners in the middle weren't flipping burgers at Mickey D's when the smoke cleared. In fact, ARCO went on to become a subsidiary of BP, today dragging its feet on cleaning up the mining mess in Butte (the largest in the US) while simultaneously fixing oil prices in Russia, abusing human rights in Azerbaijan, dumping oil on the ground in Alaska, and paying paramilitaries to assault farmers in Colombia with weapons purchased for them by US tax dollars.

It is the industrial-sindical zen of globalization, I suppose. Link us all together and an angry doctor from Argentina, a greedy executive from New York or London, a slightly kooky Chilean socialist, and a broken family from Montana all fuel each other's dreams ... and nightmares.

Passing of Legend: DEP Friedrich Katz

The following obituary was distributed on the H-net service:
Friedrich Katz, 83 years old, of Chicago, died on October 16, 2010, in Philadelphia. Professor Katz was a distinguished scholar of Mexican history, whose major work on the Mexican revolution drew acute parallels with major trends in global historiography. His wide interests extended from the study of Aztec society to an account of Mexico's diplomatic role in World War I. Katz taught at the Humboldt University in Berlin before joining the Department of History at the University of Chicago, where he taught for 40 years. Katz was born in Vienna and raised in Berlin up to the age of six, when his family fled Nazi Germany for Paris. In 1938 the family had to flee again, this time to New York. Unable to gain permanent resident status in the U.S., they found refuge in Mexico, sparking Katz's lifelong interest.
Katz's epic and impressive work on Pancho Villa is quite a legacy to leave, and his Secret War in Mexico will be on reading lists about Mexico for more decades to come. This autumn has been hard on some of the biggest names in the field: First we saw the passing of David Weber, the tragic and shocking passing of Adrian Bantjes, and now the death of one of the greatest scholars of Modern Mexico, Dr. Katz. Of course I never knew any of them personally, but their scholarship has shaped not only my profession but my own personal academic path. D.E.P.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Santa Muerte: More about US (us)

Yesterday saw the site exploded with hits. Silly me, I thought folks might have developed an interest in Cuban urban agriculture. It turns out, however, that Hollywood and death are driving folks to the site.

Santa Muerte is back in the media, this time on the serial killer show Dexter from Showtime on US cable. It turns out that the show has introduced a character and a plot line dealing with some sort of Santa Muerte cult in Miami and decapitation. Great. Santa Muerte plays an interesting role in anglo society that I doubt it was intended to in Mexico: titillation. The adoration of St. Death in Mexico is an alternative worship for the marginalized whose lives feel the strain of life and recognize the ultimate equality in humanity via death. It creates an alternative divine space. In the United States, it gives us a cheap thrill and another way to show the barbarity of the other, often in the form of drug dealers and the generic term "immigrants" without recognizing the economic and social conditions that create drug use and immigration. Santa Muerte is being used here as a cheap thrill and a distraction when it should be used as a wake-up call.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Urban Agriculture in Cuba

Learned at LASA that 350,000 Cubans are engaged in urban agriculture in Cuba (on an Island of 10 or 11 million that is a good chunk of people). Certainly exploding urban environments in Latin America with good growing seasons (Rio, DF, Guatemala City, etc) could certainly expand on urban agricultural production to provide less expensive food (shipping costs), lower pollution (shipping period), and work. Agriculture is no slacker's game, and the agricultural intelligence of Latin America's universities might best be tilted toward sustainable urban agriculture, learning from the Cuban model.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Notes From LASA: Part 1

Brilliant. No other way to describe the presentations of panel 494: US-Latin American Relations in the Obama Era. Julia Sweig from the Council on Foreign Relations commented on presentations by Greg Grandin, Dan Hellinger (on Bolivarianism), Forrest Hylton (on Plan Colombia), Jennifer McCoy (Georgia State / Carter Center), and Julia Buxton (why the US CAN'T change). While Sweig - who has the ear of not only Hillary Clinton but also Fidel Castro - was fascinating with her insider discussion of the gap of what advisors on Latin America WANT to accomplish and what they CAN, the bombshell of the meeting was Julia Buxton with her explosive presentation on internal structural reasons for why the US simply cannot change its Latin America policy. Though Grandin, Sweig, Hellinger, and McCoy all tried to portray a rosy picture (as liberals from the US), Buxton, an activist from the UK, was fairly clear and specific in her analysis of the alliance between corporations, NGOs, and politicians that breeds stagnation in policy. I think that while the others want desperately to believe that there is indeed a relevant, effective left in the US of which they are a part, Buxton's indication that the absence of any major social innovation in the United States in over 50 years points to the similar stagnation in foreign policy.

Another great reason why LASA should be attended by more than the college professors.

Friday, October 1, 2010

FLASHBACK: Rafael Correa Coup

I'm telling you, if you want to know who is slated for a coup, just read the financial sheets. I gave you this column back in March, arguing that Correa was being set up for a fall. Sure enough, what do we see this week but an attempted coup. I'm told by friends with cable that Brazilian news is reporting that the head of the coup is a frequent visitor to a certain embassy....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Moving on Correa? Terrorism, Indians, and Oil

Wall Street Journal reported last week that the CONAIE organization is preparing to launch into demonstrations and protest against Rafael Correa. The article was careful to point out that Correa is "left-wing" and that Correa "is facing widespread discontent and protests against his policies, amid a deteriorating political and economic environment." Hmmm. What policies?

After two days of meetings, CONAIE heads blamed the government for the breakdown of the talks, which started in October, after the death of a member of the Shuar native in a clash between police and protesters amid demonstrations against a proposed law regulating water and mining and oil activity on their lands.

Delfin Tenesaca, head of the Ecuadorian Confederation of Kichwa Nationalities, or ECUARUNARI, a CONAIE arm, told Dow Jones Newswires that indigenous people "will start to implement a plurinational state with our own rules in each of our communities."

Ok, from reading the WSJ it sounds like the Indians are looking to use their resources as they will ala Milton Friedman and these commies from Quito are swooping in and regulating the heck out of their resources. No details, and just a small quote. Let's see another take on that... .

The Latin American Herald Tribune which appears to quote extensively from actual CONAIE members has a little different POV.
In the assembly, Conaie denounced the government “for not modifying the colonial state and continuing to strengthen the neo-liberal and capitalist system, betraying the Ecuadorian people,” Santi said. “Neo-liberal” is in Latin America a term used as a slur by leftists to describe advocates of free-market, laissez-faire economic policies.
That doesn't sound like what the WSJ says or at least intimates. The CONAIE are upset because Correa isn't EZLN enough. But Chevron and the WSJ are pretty sure he's the bad guy.

What else happened earlier in the month? Ecuador was placed on financial terrorist list by the French. And earlier this year? Ecuador deepened ties to both China and Iran and ended leases on US military bases. When the only reporting I really see in the mainstream on this supposed coming revolution in Ecuador is on the pages of the Wall Street Journal after Ecuador has decided to screw the US military and Chevron, I have to encourage Correa to not fly *cough*(Torrijos)*cough* or take any cigars from strangers.

PLEASE, follow the Chevron link to see what sort of power they are throwing behind a lawsuit in Ecuador. Not eye-opening, but certainly position affirming.

And for more in Mr. Peabody's way-back machine....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Travel Advisory: Texas

A travel advisory has been issued for Texas. Travelers are urged to use caution due to recent violent behavior in this border state - the largest known export point of weapons to Mexico and a major hub for human trafficking and narcotics consumption / production. Of particular concern are institutions of higher learning and military establishments in the state, though mothers and infants possibly possessed by demons may be strangled, bludgeoned to death, or drowned in mud puddles. Women married to men are at particular risk, both on military bases and in the region of East Texas. Cross burnings and white supremacist kidnapping / murder schemes also make travel in East Texas inadvisable. Travelers should be wary of all people and locations while in this former breakaway republic.

I'm so glad to hear UT Austin urged students to avoid travel in Mexico (and recalled many) for safety's sake. Why go get mugged while drunk and naked in Mexico when you can get shot at by perfectly good Texas criminals?

Friday, September 24, 2010

If You Happen To Be Lost in Texas...

... stop by and see us at the Stephen F. Austin State University Latin American Studies Conference on September 30th to October 2nd. In addition to a great conference program with the theme of "Latin American Borderlands," we'll also have a folk dance presentation from Panama and a showing of Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's film The Take.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nueva York, Gran Manzana

In the heart of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), the New York Historical Society in conjunction with El Museo del Barrio has opened a new exhibit called "Nueva York, 1613-1945" about the influence of the Spanish-speaking world on NYC.
In an unprecedented collaboration, the New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio will present Nueva York (1613-1945), the first museum exhibition to explore how New York’s long and deep involvement with Spain and Latin America has affected virtually every aspect of the city’s development, from commerce, manufacturing and transportation to communications, entertainment and the arts.

Organized by the two institutions, Nueva York will be on view from September 17, 2010, through January 9, 2011, at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), while the New-York Historical Society’s landmark building on Central Park West undergoes a $60 million architectural renovation. The project team has been directed by chief curator Marci Reaven of City Lore and chief historian Mike Wallace, Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York and Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of Gotham.

Bringing together the resources of New York’s oldest museum and its leading Latino cultural institution, this exhibition will span more than three centuries of history: from the founding of New Amsterdam in the 1600s as a foothold against the Spanish empire to the present day, as represented by a specially commissioned documentary by award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns. Nueva York will bring this story to life with hands-on interactive displays, listening stations, video experiences and some 200 rare and historic maps, letters, broadsides, paintings, drawings and other objects drawn from the collections of the two museums, as well as from many other distinguished institutions and private collections.
I would give my left arm to be in New York this fall to see the exhibit. At any rate, while the program promises to be Boricua heavy (isn't the NY Yankees baseball cap the official hat of Puerto Rico?), art will be on display by (who else) Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. There will also be some work by Uruguayan painter Jose Torres Garcia (like his Docks of New York, 1920, below).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oil, Lat Am, Dependency, and Baku.

My mother-in-law never knows what to get me for Christmas. I ask for nothing, she insists she has to send something, and I think we have made a nice compromise: a renewed subscription to National Geographic every year. It makes for good light reading and the kids like the pictures. However....

This issue (September) looks at the development of a railroad system across the Caucuses from Azerbaijan to Turkey. It reads, in short, like a cientificos lecture by Justo Sierra. A little tyranny (in Azerbaijan) brings development and order - all based on the development of a single market export - oil. This lines up nicely with the month's topics in my modern lat am course: Progress and Order... and the Popular Response to It. Students are reading Todd Diacon's great work on the building of the railway in Santa Catarina in Brazil and the social stress and upheaval that such a project brings. National Geographic, for all its progressive pretensions, paints the building of a rail system through a religiously sensative area as a possible antidote to the woes of the Caucuses. Once more, I would submit that a few minutes in a Latin America class would benefit many policy makers outside of the area. Building a railroad to export a single market item in an area prone to conflict... this is totally in our tool box.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Local Rag: The Interview and the Baptism

The local paper called today and asked me for an interview regarding Mexican Independence. I understand it is a local paper, but it certainly bolstered my disgust at the state of the semi to non-informed journalist asking shoddy questions in a brusque manner. The favorite moment of the interview came when Ms. Reporter asked: So, what about Texas? I mean, technically it was part of Mexico, I guess. Maybe my answers helped her a little, though I won't hold my breath - nor will I on the accuracy of my statements.

I'm reminded of a story told by a professor of Roman history to teaching assistants. He said when he was approached by a TA about apathetic students and their desire to coast through Western Civ he had said that you just had to look at it like being a missionary among the barbarians. He was a little chagrined to come into a training session a couple years later where this young woman, now an experienced TA, was drilling future teaching assistants about the glorious and almost divine mission they had to teach students Western Civ. The TAs must, at all cost, instill the importance of Western Civ on these students. She then pointed to professor X and said "It is like you said, we are missionaries to the barbarians." Chagrined, he shook his head and said, "I just meant that you go in there and throw a little water around and hope it sticks."

I threw a little water around today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interesting Resource: Chomsky on Latin America

Anti-Imperialist / anti-corporate capitalist Noam Chomsky makes for an interesting - it at times repetitive - read. And while he isn't quite the engaging speaker as Howard Zinn, he isn't half bad. This presentation by Chomsky discussing the US in Latin America is a little dated, but great for sharing with folks for a basic primer on the subject. I have mixed feelings about Chomsky who often thinks of issues in creative ways, but sometimes to the detriment of any sort of compromise in policy. At any rate... if you (you know, the two or three people that stop in here) have the time, watch this or pass it on to friends with questions.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Don't @#$&"*! With the Ref in Brazil

I know it is a little old... but I finally got around to putting up a note about it.

During an amateur football match in Brazil, a man died of stab wounds received by the referee, angry because he protested a foul. The victim’s brother, who came to his aid, was also injured.

It happened on Sunday afternoon in the city of Barreira, 72 kilometers away from Fortaleza. Read more here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

FTZ Expansion in Guatemala: Nightmare on Chapines Street

During the World Economic Forum in July, a "debate" about "how can Latin America become a more prosperous, democratic, integrated and globally relevant region over the next decade" between the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, the DR, and Paraguay produced few new statements. Panama argued that everybody throw their trade doors wide open and stop the backwards practice of trying to protect their own national industries and agriculture while Paraguay's Lugo stated that any integration in Latin America would have to go beyond just economics and into the cultural and political. What stood out to me was President Colom from Guatemala's excitement over increased Mexican and Colombian investment in Guatemala. With my focus on increased Chinese investment in the region, I haven't given much attention to the increase in regional trade beyond the Bolivarian experiment.

Sure enough, Guatemala is making a full push to remove legislation that slows down the creation and approval of Free Trade Zones. Essentially, by 2015, most trade barriers and protections will need to be removed from Guatemala so that they can be more competitive. And who is the big competitor that Guatemalan trade ministers and economists seem to be so worried about and mention time and again that they want to emulate: El Salvador. El Salvador, the economic, environmental, and demographic nightmare that never seems to find the dawn is Guatemala's new future. Good luck with that. Pop on over to CISPES and tell me how that is going to work out for you.

How long can people cry out about the history of these free trade zones in Latin America before someone starts to listen?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flashback: Mr. President and the Bull.. and the Free Market

In November of 1991, Mexican forces began pulling corpses from a mass grave in rural Veracruz near the small town of Ojo de Agua. Cartel graves? No... the handy work of a traditional local cacique named Toribio "el toro" Gargallo. Once a tool of the PRI in controlling votes in the region, Mr. Bull ran afoul of NAFTA. Not the treaty itself (there is no "liquidate the caciques" clause), but the move by the Salinas de Gortari administration to prove to the US and Canada that the application of the rule of law in Mexico made it THE place to do business. The gutting of article 27 on land reform, the normalization of relations with the catholic church, and the attack on labor union leaders formerly beholden to the PRI all fell in the same category.

In October of 1991, El Toro and his men were stopped at a check point by forty police officers in a "routine" roadblock... and in the following shoot out El Toro took seventeen shots to the body including, according to the LA Times, one at close range between the eyes. Not long after that authorities began exhuming dozens of human remains from El Toro's 7,500 acre plantation (er, ejidal land), resolving the disappearance of many locals.

According to The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America El Toro was an example of what happens when there are not strong and honest institutions at work in a nation. According to the authors of that 1997 Oxford U press book, Mexicans enter into a sort of competition with the criminal state and create what they call "the blocked society." What is a blocked society? According to freemarket reformers it is
"one in which markets are closed, regulated, or monopolized by the state, leaving little or no room for individual free enterprise and unhampered product and market innovation. Survival in the "blocked economy" requires connections; bribes; and payments of regulatory, licensing and various tax fees for access to markets, resources, capital, and a work environment undisturbed by strikes and regulatory harassment or confiscation." (Richard Ebeling review of The Capitalist Revolution in Freedom Daily, August 1997.)
What I find interesting is that for Mexico, The Capitalist Revolution argues that the legal basis of the corruption and murder of not only caciques and drug traffickers is the 1917 Mexican constitution. Because it "abrogates the rights of individuals" in favor of a powerful government that (because no entrepreneurial avenues are open) breeds corruption. Such corruption encourages competition from the populace in the form of caciques and cartels. Crime, it essentially argues, is the result of the welfare state. Wow. Mexico's entire history of plunder politics and foreign exploitation as well as the market demands from the US for a black market product all swept away in favor of free market ideology. For good fun, turn the book over and see that the book was endorsed by George Schultz, Jose Pinera (Pinochets minister of finance), Pedro Aspe (Salinas Minister of Finance), and an economist from the University of Chicago.

The rule of law, I think, is perhaps one of the most perplexing presences in the entire discussion of free markets ... and perhaps one of the least discussed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Really The Worst Mexico Can Do?

I understand some folks are still steamed at Calderon about the '06 election, under some delusion that the PRD's pedos no huelen. I was even there in California when the crowd gasped at Cuauhtemoc Cardenas when he suggested AMLO had lost the election and that folks needed to just get over it. At the time I was mildly amused by Cardenas... but now I find I probably agree with him. Why? La Barbie.

With the arrest of the fairly washed up former drug princepin known as "La Barbie," the blogosphere and the news folks are up in a fluster again about how "Calderon's" drug war / US proxy war in Mexico is destroying the country. Is it so long ago that the indie media (of which I am generally a fan), and the correspondents of the mainstream were all over one of Mexico's truly "bad guy" presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari for NOT doing enough to go after the cartel butchers? At the end of the day I am no big fan of the PAN or Calderon... not beyond their presence starting a little competition in the Mexican political market. However, Eddie Valdez (La Barbie) did some truly rotten things to both Mexican and US citizens for which he needs to do some serious (life) jail time. Until Mexico and the US either A) invent a time machine that goes back to 1930 and changes narcotics policy; B) they work out an economic system that legitimizes all narcotics and black market items while simultaneously creating a total global free market where everything is legal and offer amnesty for crimes committed in the past by "alternative economy" types; C) they go back to the 1970s model of ignoring narcotics trafficking THEN we have to deal with a reality where a president serious about law enforcement regarding a truly brutal sector of society needs to be engaged.

On both the right and the left the conversation about the rule of law in Latin America has been heated... and in one direction: that it is a cure for Latin American ills. But the slaughter we see in Mexico is a direct result of that transition to the rule of law. So I have to ask, do you really want it or not? And if your answer is to simply change the laws to fit the criminals (make narcotics legal), then is that really the rule of law? And if not narcotics, what is next? At the end of the day this war in Mexico is and will continue to be brutal and Calderon will continue to be mediocre president at best. And while we know he is not the best Mexico can do, is he really the worst?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Like it is Market Driven...

An extra dose of snark today.

So, Mexicans immigrate to the United States because Mexico stinks and they want to come to the US and simultaneously take jobs / live on unemployment while not having to live in Mexico while turning the US into Mexico. *sigh* Living in Texas I get to hear all sorts of perceptions about immigration.

Meanwhile, back in Montana, the Center for the Rocky Mountain West appeared in an article in the Missoulian and, shock of shocks, they point out that immigration is a product of supply and demand in the labor market. I am sure all Latin America specialists, business people, and workers are completely baffled by this concept. At any rate, it is a nice article from the Missoulian.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Northern Luz

The Anchorage Daily News reported last month that a Luz del Mundo temple in Anchorage made of corrugated tin has stalled. The church, at a cost of $1.7 million to the local congregation of 35, is designed to look like the church's central temple in Guadalajara's Hermosa Provincia colony. I was struck by a couple of thoughts.
1) the comments from the readers were overwhelmingly negative, with one commentator on a related story on the temple wondering if the building was a front for drug runners and illegal aliens. LDM is probably Mexico's closest approximation of the sort of Christianity you will find practiced by many in Alaska, such as Palin's former Wasila Assembly of God church. LDM are probably conservative Alaskans' greatest allies in terms of "issues" - but they certainly can't see beyond the racial profiling.
2) Not far from San Antonio the Luz del Mundo maintain a lavish exotic animal park and collection of vintage cars (see the San Antonio News Express story here) - an odd juxtaposition to the 4 year struggle of the Alaska congregation to finish its building. While I appreciate the interesting idea of Mexican wealth needing to prop up insufficient funds in the US, I am also struck by the lack of central planning in an otherwise very tightly controlled centralized church. Perhaps LDM is not the religious juggernaut that I and others have made it out to be. Apparently, according to the ADN story, this is not the only stalled church in the works. Perhaps, of course, I am just reading too much into a policy of asking local congregations to take control of the their own building facilities.

Monday, August 23, 2010

US Bullets Return to the Voyeur City

The lovely Himalayan campus of UT El Paso nestled just up the hill from downtown experienced some return migration from a US export this week:

A bullet that flew through a building at the University of Texas at El Paso may have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border during a shootout between drug traffickers and Mexican federal police, authorities said.

University President Diana Natalicio said Sunday a bullet struck Bell Hall sometime Saturday evening. No injuries were reported at the building.

That same evening, a "major gun battle" between drug traffickers and Mexican authorities broke out in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just 30 yards from the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman said. Read more here.

Of course, El Paso seems to be simultaneously fulfilling its historical role while missing out on much of the tourist money that could be made from that role. If you ever get a chance to take the self-guided walking tour of El Paso, TX - you MUST do it. It isn't my favorite town, but it is my favorite town in Texas. At any rate, you can still see some buildings where various revolutionary figures drank soda pop, played espionage games, or plotted coups. Most memorable are the hotels that proudly proclaim to the be the places where US Americans lounged about on the roof and watched the revolution. The US voyeurism of violence in Mexico still seems to be a popular pastime.

"A safe and comfortable place to view a Mexican Revolution." The roof garden of the El Paso del Norte Hotel was just one of the many buildings which provided a ringside seat to the Mexican Revolution (El Paso County Historical Society.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Argentine Bishops: Too Much Insecurity

Catholic Bishops in Argentina issued a statement yesterday (17 August) that they fear for the security of Argentine citizens because of the increase in street crime. The episcopal conference called for greater security in the face of "so much violence in the streets."

Under a military dictatorship with people plucked out of their homes and tortured we got nary a peep from the Argentine pastors, but now, under a leftist government and a society embracing abortion and gay marriage, the Argentine Bishops are suddenly all abuzz with the fear of street crime.

The Archbishop / Jesuit / Cardinal Bergoglio (son of Italian Argentine rail workers) is a fairly conservative fellow and probably the closest competition Ratzinger had in the elevation to pope - but essentially just two opposing peas in the same very conservative pod. At any rate, Bergoglio's sudden concern for security as an issue is most likely a ploy to get involved with Argentine politics after the July name calling / mud slinging between himself and Presidente Fernandez de Kirchner (he said gay marriage was from Satan, she called him medieval, etc).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mormons Take a Stand on Immigration ...

... and it is sort of a non-stand. Sort of. Here it is:

The complex issues surrounding immigration are a matter of increasing concern and debate for all in this country.

Elected individuals have the primary responsibility to find solutions in the best interests of all whose lives will be impacted by their actions.

We repeat our appeal for careful reflection and civil discourse when addressing immigration issues. Finding a successful resolution will require the best thinking and goodwill of all across the political spectrum, the highest levels of statesmanship, and the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God’s children.

According to KSL, the Mormon owned media group in Salt Lake, the statement was greeted with thumbs up from both Proyecto Latino de Utah and the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration. In the context of the illegal and just mean spirited release of so-called illegals in Utah earlier this summer, perhaps a weak statement just to stay classy becomes a more powerful statement. At any rate, according to my cousins in Idaho the statement was greeted with incredible anger by conservative Mormons in SE Idaho (Holly, you really should have stayed in Montana).

Utah's Latino population - like the US South - has seen an explosion of mostly Latino immigration from outside the US. As Utah's families have become more affluent, teens and adults have abandoned service and agricultural work which are two of the driving forces in the state. And, yes, most of those immigrants remain Catholic or at least non-Mormon (sorry, Lou Dobbs). At any rate, Utah's governor has convened a round table that has generated little results (that I could find) at this point, but two big thumbs up to Luz Robles and Mark Shurtleff for these two comments:

"Reactive legislation, enforcing outside our state purview is not good public policy," said Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City.

"In 1869, this country was joined together in this state, and the two groups that came together to drive that spike were the Chinese and Irish workers," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. "Immigrants who were not legal at the time."
Why should we care? Considering the wealth and power that the LDS community wields in Arizona, California, Nevada, and the rest of the Mountain West, proponents of a a civil discourse need support from US Mormons in the West.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back From the Great Northern Frontier

Secret History fell silent for a few weeks while I attended to some family business and recreation in the north. Issues of Latin America were never far, however.

I spent some time chatting with a cousin who works with Latino students in the heart of spud country about the ridiculousness of Idaho's English only position as well as the excellent performance of her Mexican-American students. As Idaho children increasingly take their two week "spud picking" break from school to go on trips to Disney Land and (yes) Cabo, Mexicans have filled in the gaps - and have kept rural Idaho from depopulating as its children flee for more cosmopolitan climes.

I see that West Yellowstone has increasingly become a seasonal place of work for African American and Latino workers and less and less High School and College Students of the Montana / Idaho white middle class. Given ten years I think we will see Montana following the pattern of Colorado and South Dakota and teen farm labor will be replaced by Latino farm labor. A short visit to the Blackfoot rez will bear that out, where hip-hop Pikuni teens with names like Garcia and Gomez participate in drum circles and other cultural celebrations.

As it has always been, the hope of the population of the US west relies on cheap labor. From the time the hydraulic drill was introduced into hard-rock mining to today, the US West is a colonial endeavor in need of labor to fuel the extractive profit of its existence - be it the extraction of minerals and ag products or the inexpensive service of tourist industries.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

As Lat Am Goes Left, Catholic Church Charges Corruption

Catholic.net quoting Zenit.org reports that when CELAM hosted a meeting at the end of June of civil and religious leaders from Latin America in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the bishops took a stand on corruption in Latin America, arguing that:

"Although corruption has existed in different moments of the continent's history, we could say that we are witnessing a 'geometric' progression in the recent period," a final statement from the seminar asserts. "We see it in the growth of organized drug trafficking networks and frequently in electoral contests, especially in re-election processes that deteriorate the institutions of democracy." see the article here.

Read: "We don't really like the outcome of elections in Latin America these days, constitutional empowerment of the indigenous and poor, and being pressured to stop taking cash from drug cartels. And we really hate Chavez." Calling Cardinal Urosa a troglodyte probably has not improved the relationship with Rome.

It is hard for me to fathom that the bishops honestly feel that Argentina is more corrupt now than in 1950 or that Chile is more corrupt now than in 1980. Really? Because Colombia was a bastion of law and safety in 1928? El Salvador the playground of the Rule of Law in 1981? This is a disappointing performance by CELAM who appear to have succumbed to the complete influence of el Pastor Aleman.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gang-cation: Yellowstone Getaway for Los Surenos

Local papers in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are reporting the arrest and pending deportation of 10 members of the Sureno gang (exact neighborhood affiliation not included) from the resort town of West Yellowstone, MT and the university town of Bozeman, MT. Says ICE:

"criminal gangs, such as the Surenos and others, are becoming increasingly involved in Montana with smuggling and distributing narcotics, laundering illicit drug proceeds, and other illegal activities."

In other words, where there is a market, there are entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind I like the idea better that they just wanted a short vacation trip to Yellowstone before returning to LA.

ICE set out a press release on the arrests and deportations on their web site. I fear, however, that this will only raise the ire of a simmering anti-migrant movement in Montana and get it to grow in a state that that for all intents and purposes is "purple" and turn it bright red. Having grown up in Montana I can say that what the press should be reporting is a story of Mexicans taking jobs from Montanans ... because narcotics smuggling and other such illegal pursuits are hardly new to my native state. The difference is that now bigots can capitalize on the case.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shall We Have the Boers to Tea?

Listening to the ... um ... discourse of the Tea Bag Brigade over the last while increasingly reminded me of something, but I couldn't put my finger on it until some department colleagues and I started discussing blood and earth nationalism and the Tea Baggers. And then I remembered. No wonder ... this southern-drive lost cause drivel has a twin in Africa.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Muere Torre Cantù y La Fachada de Democracia

For those not fully convinced that the Calderon election was a good sign that functional democracy in Mexico was still in the NICU of development (and if press killings, Guererro, Oaxaca, and Quintana Roo still didn't do it), today's ambush of PRIsta Toree Cantù should finish the job. Be the killers Narcos, business, or political assassins, the message that candidates in Mexico will walk el camino Colosio is fairly clear. Look, I am fairly pro-Mexico in almost everything, but this is certainly an area where Mexico needs to find a way to wake up and join the civilized world of letting corporations buy your elections for you. Seriously, though, as I read about the governor's races in Morelos in the 1940s here in Cuernavaca, I am convinced that the names of the players may have changed, but the danger of participating in politics in Mexico has reduced only a very little.

I might add that it is always possible that the target was diputado Enrique Blackmore Smer ... a popular and increasingly powerful mover and shaker in Tamaulipas. At any rate, perhaps Smer more than Torre Cantù provides the human side to this. A lovely wife and three cute kids, his Facebook page contains messages from relatives asking if he survived ... if he was safe.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brewer Sampling Sinaloa's Best?

Arizona governor Jan Brewer claims most migrants crossing the border are drug mules. Hmmm. Kudos to U of A prof. Oscar Martinez, famed author of Border People, for stepping up and calling Brewer's bluff in public.
"If she has no data and is just mouthing off for political reasons, as I believe she is doing, then she must apologize to the people of Arizona for lying to them so blatantly."
Similar thumbs up to Mexico for stepping up immediately to reject Brewer.
Sen. Jesus Ramon Valdes, a member of the Mexican Senate's northern border affairs commission, called Brewer's comments racist and irresponsible.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Resource: US Contractors and Narcotics in South America

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has been poking into the funding and function of contractors and sub-contractors in the many US foreign adventures currently under way. This includes the nearly 6 billion dollar adventure in counter narcotics in South and Central America. Documents with testimony, facts, figures, etc. are available HERE (scroll down a little bit to see the May 20th hearing documents). I am sure we are all releived to hear that the State Department's point person on counter narcotics is a guy with a BA from Emory whose last posting was in London. Bully. The department of defense point man is a guy with a masters from Columbia in, ahem, Public Administration and who worked as an "advisor" to an undisclosed financial services business. Good to know we have people who know the region well working on $5.9 billion dollar project that affects millions of people's lives.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Am Better Than You (Said the Lady to the Tramp)

Lady selling meatballs and tortillas at the puesto in Teplacingo, Morelos (Lady).
Friend and Chofer de Cuernavaca (Amigo)
Me (Me)

Lady: Where are you two from?
Amigo: I'm from Cuernavaca. This guy is a historian from Texas.
Lady: Wow... so far away. Well, you are welcome here, even if you don't want us there. You are always welcom here.
Me: ***slightly choking on a really good chorizo meatball and turning red out of shame for a lack of hospitality on the part of my patria.***

Sub-text: Yeah, we're not all that wealthy, but we have hospitality. It must suck to have so much and still have so little. Caray.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Arizona... At It Again

Arizona lawmakers are going after children, now. The children of illegal aliens born in the United States are set to be denied birth certificates in Arizona if a bill going into the Arizona fall session makes it through. Republicans are calling these children "anchor babies" - way to stay classy and professional, GOP.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mexico Greets Copa with Giant Shrug - Larger Symptom?

The optimism of "si se puede" appears to be in need of a muertos altar this coming autumn. During the South Africa game I was up to my eyeballs in documents at the Cuernavaca state archive when Mexico scored a goal. One of the archivists looked up from his magazine and said "See, I knew we would end up behind" (my translation of his fairly, um, colorful statement). His colleagues had to correct him and tell him that the GOOOOOOOL he heard being screamed was for Mexico, not South Africa. The archivist said Mexico would screw it up by the end of the game - everybody nodded in agreement. The pesero driver, the grounds guys, my landlord ... everybody shrugged off the tie: we'll screw it up somehow, they all commented. Even generally upbeat MexFiles predicts disappointment, or at least says it is the same old disappointing garbage. At least they haven't behaved like Nigeria in front of Greece.

A politician here in Cuernavaca is running a television commercial these days saying that he wants to help change Mexico of Si Se Puede to Si Se Pudo. It seems the general pessimism of the early and mid 80s has crept back into Mexico as democratic reforms (come on, it is better than 1976, no?), urban renewal, and freemarket moves have failed to provide the benefits promised by elites and foreigners. A great manifestation of the national temperature, fùtbol seems to get a shrug as Mexicans have slipped into a general funk of pessimism. How will this play out on July 8, and how will it play out in 2012? Will it mean general reluctance to participate (like the 80s) or to increased particpation out of frustration?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

News From Ciudad Juarez

This just in from the Conference of Latin American Historians mailing list:


The following Human rights groups: Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez y SIN VIOLENCIA A.C;

DENOUNCE the following:

On 9 June, 14 heavily armed men broke into a secret safe house in Ciudad Juárez, the only one of its kind in the state of Chihuahua for women under situations of extreme violence. The refuge, Sin Violencia, A.C., was founded by the late Esther Chávez Cano. The leader of the squad was a public servant from the judiciary branch, named Román García, who refused to identify himself and only presented the women with a legal document signed by First Judge in Family Matters for the Bravos Judicial District, Guadalupe Manuel de Santiago Aguayo, who authorized the use of public force to break and enter the premises, as part of a procedure concerning family matters, "consistent with the immediate turnover of the minor Lesly Itzel Muñoz González."

The legal order did not state an address to carry out said judicial procedure, nor was it directed at Sin Violencia, a legally-registered Civil Association. Given the anomaly of the circumstances, the staff opposed the violent entry of the armed men into the refuge, and demanded that the judiciary officer present them with a search warrant, which he did not have.

The all-female staff explained that this was the only high-security REFUGE of its kind in Chihuahua and that some of the victims were wives or romantic partners of police officers, sicarios, or criminals linked to organized crime, so that for obvious security reasons they could not grant the men access to the premises. They explained that protocol banned entry to all men (not to mentioned armed men).

The women of Sin Violencia were threatened with 2-3 years of prison, and one of the armed men said, textually, "I urge you to cooperate, or I will be forced to act," at which point he gestured with his weapon. They then asked the executive coordinator to hand over her identification. One of the officers took her ID and said that he now had more information about the person refusing them entry, and said, "You're going to regret this, you'll be in trouble, it's better if you cooperate or we will break the locks and knock the doors down." Faced with the perceived threat of losing their lives in the hands of armed men who seemed willing to do anything; fearing the loss of their liberty and the further trauma that could be caused to the victims of violence who were inside, under their responsibility, and; threatened as they were by a group of armed men in a city of total impunity that is Ciudad Juárez currently, they felt forced to allow the armed men entry.

Once inside, the men acted violently, overturning furniture and looking under the beds of the victims, who went into a state of collective psychosis with their young children -- having considered the refuge to be a safe haven up until that moment.

The men did not find the minor in question, as the staff of Sin Violencia had forewarned the judicial officer in charge.


The immediate dismissal from office of the judicial public servant and the police officers who participated in this action, as well as the required security to allow for the continuity of our human rights work.

Send your letters to:
Lic. Rodolfo Acosta Muñoz
Magistrado Presidente del Supremo Tribunal de Justicia
Del Estado de Chihuahua
Tel ( 52 614 ) 1 800 700

Lic. José Reyes Baeza
Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Chihuahua
Palacio de Gobierno
Calle Aldama # 901 Col Centro C.P. 31000
Tel ( 52 614) 4 29 33 00 ext 11123

Send a copy to: Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres correo electrónico: acción@cedehm.org.mx

Call For Papers: Deadline Approaches

The annual SFA conference of Latin American Studies deadline for paper submissions is fast approaching. We have some great proposals so far, but we would love to have a few more. Click here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Transforming Arizona

While I am pretty happy to be enjoying my World Cup by day and NBA playoffs by night (go team USA, go Celtics), a friend sent me a link to the latest Latino Comedy Project video to add some laughs to my day (well, almost as many laughs as Green from England and his handling of the Dempsey goal and the look on Beckham's face).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Associated Press: At War in Cuernavaca

At the end of April Olga Rodriguez and the Associated Press issued a report that Cuernavaca was being torn to pieces by cartel violence. Bodies in the street, hanging from overpasses, etc. Today, according to the English language report called The News, Rodriguez was doing less than than reporting and more than playing to the Hollywood of news:

... according to AP’s Latin America Editor, Niko Price, he had sent her and her colleague, Oswald Olonso, not to write an in-depth analysis of drug trafficking in this fair city, but to write about “fear.
The News argues that the AP report was not exactly, well, accurate, and that it cherry-picked evidence for the story (though nobody should be surprised about the press doing that).

Of course The News caters to the American ExPat community in Mexico and certainly plays to its own readership base - though I do not discount the accuracy of the report. Because business in Cuernavaca has certainly suffered because of the AP report, it looks like Rodriguez and the AP have found a war of their own.