About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Tuesday, 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....