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.