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, 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.