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.

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.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Weeping, Wailing, and Nashing of Bread

I tend to stay away from commercials and culture, but this tickled my funny bone. I watched the NBA final game between LA and Boston last night and I was suprised to see Steve Nash doing a Wonder Bread commercial - in Spanish. For me, it was a funny commercial on a lot of levels. A player for a team that opposes the Arizona laws, one of the few high performing white players in the NBA, a Canadian player selling a multinational brand (sold by Weston in Canada, Hostess in the US, and Grupo Bimbo in Mexico)and probably the largest corporate bakery in the world. That and it is truly athletic guy schilling some truly unhealthy bread. Anyway, it was a global bread experience.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Being Consistent, or, Taking Out the Garbage

A document in the state archive of Morelos shows a letter to railroad depots that norteamericanos had been taking pictures of the poor and indigent in the region and exhibiting the pictures in the US. As such, railroad depots were ordered to keep any indigents or other types of poor looking beggars off the platforms so US Americans couldn`t see them. Well, since passenger train service in central Mexico is involved, you know it was not all that recent that such an edict was issued... but this one was 1935.

In 1910, Porfirio Diaz cleanded up the streets of Mexico City for the big centennial bash. As a reward (for that and so many other order and progress actions), folks in Mexico purchased Don Porfirio a one way ticket to Paris. Gaenerous, no? Later, in 1947, the state of Morelos issued cards to tourists explaining that there were so many other nice things to take pictures of besides the beggars, while just a few years later Aleman and his tourist drive would simply toss the poor of Acapulco out on their ears. I understand that Rudy Giuliani and his plan for DF were rejected, but I noticed a real lack of beggars in the north of the city on Molino a few weeks ago, along with tamaleros and other mobile vendors. I suppose what I mean to say is that if nothing, we can give these progress and order types points for being consistent.

I woke up this morning in Cuernavaca to machine guns shooting (I lived in East LA in the early 1990s - I do know what machine gun fire is). I have no idea what happened, but the progress and order folks need to know that the folks that react against them have a pretty good track record of consistency as well. Be they narcos or revolutionaries, somebody who likes a little bit of chaos is going to crash the party. Then again, that is what hegemony is for, no?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Visions of Revolution

Antorchista protests on Tuesday and teacher protests by my glorieta today in Cuernavaca have sent me off to the archives a little bitter each day. The standard "Poor Mexico, betrayed by the revolutionary family" thing keeps running through the head. Then I ran on to a booklet from 1933. Say what you will about Calles, but he and Pani knew how to make a revolution look good. Besides, with all the construction work on the Monument to the Revolution going on right now (how much of a metaphor is that?), I thought this would be a fun reminder of what they hoped the revolution - and the monument - would be.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cuernavaca, 1940

In the folder of correspondence from the department of tourist development for the state of Morelos I found an interesting note. It seems that in 1940 a local doctor sent a note to the tourist board and the governor making a little suggestion. He seemed to feel that the production and export of marijuana and amapola (poppies) might be damaging to Mexico's international image and to tourism and suggested that the police be clued in to this fact and increase their restrictions on the production and distribution of said goods. Flash forward 70 years...