Monday, April 25, 2011
A year after minimum wage hikes in Honduras, owners of maquiladoras are making their case for "more incentives" to bring back the nearly 16,000 jobs they say they have lost to El Salvador and Nicaragua where wages are lower. Says La Prensa, business leaders are appealing to the state for various mechanisms to help them weather salary adjustments. Minister of Labor, Felicito Avila, said the most important thing Honduras has to offer business is a nation of law and order (unless you are a democratically elected president). I would point out that back in December the maquila organizations were trumpeting their ability to create 20,000 new jobs for 2011 in Honduras. Looks like the only folks that have been able to tell the future here are the activists that started saying back in the late 1980s that maquilas / Free Trade Zones would create a dog-eat-dog situation in Central America where wages spiraled into a downward trend.
Check out the National Labour Committee's look at "slavery" in Central America. The twenty-four cent per hour DROP in wages in Honduras is telling (from .57 to .33).
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
This is not a simple game of numbers, as the Charismatic movement within Catholicism successfully lures back the converts as well as maintains the attention of the youth. Even the use of technology is an effective arrow in the quiver of the Roman Catholic Church and their youth. For example, last summer I was doing research in Tepalcingo, Morelos - as remote a municipio as it gets in Morelos. What kept the youth organized? Facebook. Conversion to Protestantism (and to no religion at all) may be growing in Mexico, but the idea that Catholicism will dip below a majority in the country is unthinkable.
Check out this clip of youth who describe themselves as the "escuadron hormiga of the army of Maria" (the ant squadron from Maria's Army) from the media operation out of Guadalajara Radio Maria.
The ant reference is interesting. Those in tune with modern Mexican politics should immediately catch the use of hormiga as similar to that being used by Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN: the "small" folks working together can accomplish incredible tasks - so watch out. Considering the grassroots politics mobilizing across ever since 1985 and the Mexico City earthquake, I certainly think Mexico has something to teach us about the power of the ants - from every political and religious persuasion.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Read the whole story here.
Monday, April 18, 2011
After retrieving only a few of our 10 or so Rubbermaid bins from storage at my brother’s attic, it quickly became apparent that we have too much stuff. This is after selling half our stuff at yard sales and on eBay prior to leaving on our trip. During our travels over the last year we have lived out of large backpacks, nothing more. The experience made us realize we don’t need all this stuff and it’s rather frustrating to own it now. We admit, we wouldn’t have realized how little we really needed if we didn’t spend the last year backpacking.True enough. And this is their final philosophical reflection:
We aren’t shocked, but we are more aware of the culture in the United States and it’s quite different from those living in Central and South America. We are grateful for the opportunities this country has given us, but we aren’t so proud of the way we live in it. Now is the time to change and live with a little less, actually much less. Less stuff and less stress, we believe.But let's "unpack" this for a moment (my students hate me when I say that). These folks have been living out of a backpack for months. Is their new conversion to simplicity to be found suddenly in the magic of the lives of Latin Americans? I would pretty much argue that their conversion comes from their own lifestyle, and not from some perception of Latin America as the pristine native-child, a land of noble savages and Chief Seattle's waiting for daily communion with Gaia. Backpack across the Unites States and Canada and you're going to make that conversion to simplicity as well.
Admiring the genius of Latin Americans that do a lot with a little and create miracles under difficult circumstances is an understandable approach. I would urge some caution, however, if the next stop on that train is to say that the wealthy and the leadership in Latin America don't need to undertake any sort of reforms for the general welfare of the population. Sure, you might say, Hugo Chavez can run around wasting the petroleum wealth of his country on strange schemes while the urban poor experience massive housing shortages in Caracas - because those Latin Americans just don't need that much. Hallelujah for Calderon for his money-pit war on narcotics in Mexico, because focusing on the welfare issues of citizens that DON'T directly affect the suburban youth of the United States is a waste of time - those Mexicans can do so much with so little. I once had a conversation with a retired norte americano that had stables as part of his sprawling complex. He sure would like to pay the stable hands more, he said, but to do so would just drive the cost of living up for the workers because then they would expect more out of life. "They are so good at doing without - I'd hate to ruin that for them." That, and his other retired friends would lynch him for driving up the cost of labor. It is an interesting dynamic. It reminds me of Gilbert Osofsky's arguments about the Harlem Renaissance: there was no need to carry out reforms in Harlem or improve the lives of working class African Americans because, after all, they were a "singin' race" - they could just sing and dance their cares away.
In sum, emulating the resourceful creativity to do more with less of the working, middle, and poor classes of Latin America is a good idea, but don't lose track of the point that if a family could stop using their chest of drawers (found in a local dump) as a baby bed, a dinner table, and a work bench that they would do it in a heart beat.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Oil companies blazing a trail across the mid-western United States to build an oil pipeline are threatening private land owners with eminent domain to force the sale of land. And who is doing the bullying? TransCanada - the Canadian oil giant that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. Caray. Up the road in Montana the legislature is trying to pry federal land out of the hands of the US government so that they can offer the property up for the use of mining and oil companies. I suppose that during this 100 year celebration of the Mexican Revolution that US land owners get a firsthand exposure to the bullying that brought about the rebellion of their southern neighbors.
The stripping of community land as well as private land from the hands of small agriculturalists and the public is no new story. I suggest to readers in Montana and Nebraska the fine titles of Thread of Blood, by Ana Maria Alonso, We Come to Object by Arturo Warman, and David Correia in the Radical History Review on the Gorras Blancas of New Mexico and the loss of land in that state (Issue 108, Fall 2010). I guess they'll have something to read after they've been kicked off their farms - well, during that fifteen minute break at the Motel 6 where they'll work making beds for the pipeline workers passing through town.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Today’s civilized people do not use such words. They come from hierarchal [sic] assumptions based on the European empires, particularly the English, who used stigma to control their subject countries. But contemporary Native American people must still emphasize their professional, educated, and meticulously conventional qualities in order to get respect. Even the school children respond to the advertising-driven obsession with cleanliness, not smelling, “proper” clothes and other appearance markers that are meant to prevent disgust.I like Mary's blog because it does a great job of reminding me of the similarities between Latin America and the United States. And while the ideas are there, you get a bit of Foucault in Mary's post without having to put up with his language - a real bonus! At any rate, the following passage certainly reminds me of the situation for the indigenous in Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas:
In the practical world, a stigmatized person is thought to deserve punishment for the original sin of being dark-skinned or poor. A couple of decades ago an enrolled Blackfeet drunk (oh, disgusting!) pestered around a bar until the bar owner simply shot him dead. The tribal people started out being indignant but pretty soon they drifted back to the bar, saying that the drunk asked for it with his disgusting behavior. Times have changed. Not long ago three brothers who liked violence picked out what they thought was a likely victim in the parking lot of a bar at quitting time: a drunk Indian ranch hand. But in the middle of their melee, another Indian -- a tribal council member and his wife -- tried to stop it, so the fun-lovers turned their fists and boots on them. The interveners were not powerless. They knew how to use the law. The brothers are serving jail time. But even the tribal council member was accused of the disgusting practice of hanging around in a bar until closing time.I blogged about this incident of Mexican brothers beating Montana Indians and using the phrase "dirty Indian" while doing it in 2009.
Much of the infrastructure currently in place in northern Chihuahua was put in place originally by Mennonites who donated thousands of dollars and labor for the construction of roads, schools, water, etc., after their 1921 arrival. The Plaza of Cuauhtémoc, the largest seat of the Mennonites in Mexico, contains not only the standard array of the busts of Mexican heroes like Benito Juarez or Ignacio Allende, but also busts of Mennonite settlers and Chinese Chihuahuans. In short, it is a town that recognizes the truly international construction of this agro-industrial border region.
Never fear, however, that this exodus of the Altkolonier marks a departure of Mennonites from the area in general. Since the 1940s the Mennonites have been gradually modernizing in the area, and the vast plantations of wheat and apples in the area - fed on the illegally punched wells deep into the aquifers of the altiplano - are owned by Mennonites that use electricity and drive motorized vehicles. While the departure of the Altkolonier is a strain, I think we'll see a number of ejidal groups that abut their property make a play for the ground as well as moves by the liberal Mennonites to buy up the property - if the Altkolonier will well to them. The division between the two groups is fairly ugly (the conservatives are convinced that a drug re-hab facility owned by modernists is a brainwashing facility), with the liberals making the following statement about the conservatives:
"Ellos por ignorancia no aceptan muchas cosas, como la luz y los carros, pero tampoco permiten que sus hijos menores de 12 años acudan a misa, no utilizan métodos anticonceptivos y no les enseñan español a sus hijos como una manera de evitar que salgan de su comunidad y se relacionen con otras personas"The above photo is one of Larry Towell's on the Mennonites. Buy his book.
(Because of ignorance those people don't accept a number of things, like light and motorized vehicles, and they even deny children under twelve the right to attend church meetings, they don't use contraception, and they don't teach their children Spanish as a way to avoid leaving the community and forming relationships with other people.)
Monday, April 11, 2011
Both the United States (1787) and Mexico (1824, 1857, 1917) drew more heavily on Locke and Montesquieu than Hobbes in their creation of liberal constitutions. As a result, both created systems whereby the equality of humanity was established and where people were considered participants working together to protect each other rather than miscreant children in need of a good ear-boxing by an all-powerful state. Explicit in these systems is the rule of law – the equal application of the law to all parties, regardless of political power, sex, religion, geographic location, or economic status.
However, as Greg Grandin masterfully points out in his heart-breaking Empire’s Workshop, Hobbes is the new vogue among the pseudo-free market set and, I might add, the rule of law is a pretext for Leviathan to pound the populace into submission. While I accept the sincerity of Milton Friedman’s vision that man’s greed can be harnessed in some ways to drive them to create a better society as well as his emphasis on freedom, I object to the death of Montesquieu as a result. I also object to the application of Locke to the wealthy (they are good, kind, social beings that need freedom of choice) with the simultaneous application of Hobbes to the poor (the really are too stupid to make their own choices and must be beaten into submission). While that transition in the United States has been gradual over a long period of time, Mexico shows us well how this transition has played out over a short period of time.
Mexico’s decidedly Roman-style legal system allows a great deal of flexibility in the power of the judge to make decisions based on the situation rather than on a flat application of the law. While this might not be the legal Utopia of the rule of law, it is an interesting nod to the concept of mercy tempering justice, and at the end of the day has the potential for creating a humane legal system. Law exists to protect, not to “send a message” or intimidate. In Mexico, the general repercussion of this has been the creation of a society that focuses on the humane interaction between vecinos (in the non-legal sense) and the realistic view of the law where the rich and poor alike have access to legal flexibility. Not all crimes may be solved, but society existed with less anxiety, and contributes to those lovely indexes of Mexican happiness versus US happiness. Add to that a state that recognizes the legal right of corporate bodies (particularly in labor and religion) to organize, and you have a system that allows the individual to find the protection of their equality as Montesquieu envisioned. What about bribery? I would echo the thoughts of others that rightly point out that bribery, greasing the wheels of the local level to the highest perches of governance, is also something of an equalizer. In the United States, where only the rich can legally play the bribery game, the poor are at a decided disadvantage.
Starting with the technocrats of the 80s and running through the PANistas of today, Mexico has sought to follow the advice of economists and business owners to improve the rule of law to increase investment in the country. This is an attractive idea with the potential to protect the rights of all – if that is what it really meant. Unfortunately, what is passing as the application of the rule of law is really a philosophical change in the concept of governing Mexico. Starting with Salinas de Gortari, the flexibility surrounding the 1917 Constitution was eliminated – at least for the poor – and the Mexican state became not the guarantor of rights for all, but the Hobbesian enforcer, working to guarantee rights – for corporations. While American and Mexican businesses are considered rational and thinking entities capable of making their own choice and, therefore, legitimate in their shaping of society, Mexican citizens are considered irrational in their choice to regulate the actions of corporations and the effect those companies have on their lives (consider the assaults on those that cry for protection of water quality in maquila zones). They are also increasingly denied the ability to effectively organize to protect their interests (see the example of workers in maquilas), while corporations are certainly not denied that ability (see the Salinas mining interests in northern Mexico). When presented in an interview for the documentary One Percent with the data on poverty and the problems people face as the wealthier grow wealthier, Milton Friedman said “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”
I agree with Milton Friedman that choice is important. I agree with Milton Friedman when he said that the wealthy grow wealthy because they do offer something for the population that the public wants. What I disagree with is the protection of that offering at the expense of other goods and services, such as a real protection from crime, equal access to the mechanisms of capitalism that allow for a measure of upward mobility (such as quality education or equal protection of private property), and equal access to the freedoms of political participation. If breaking eggs to make omelets is an acceptable practice, then those in power should be prepared to find that one day the majority is going to order a different style of omelet. Hopefully, in the Mexico of the upcoming elections in 2012, Mexicans will have the huevos to return to a state that protects the rights of all, demilitarizes the society, and makes the United States pay for their own drug “war.”
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
My interest in Latin America developed while I was living in the San Gabriel Valley of LA and East LA, fresh out of Montana and a year of college. Sure, some people take time off of school and go to Europe to find themselves. I ended up in LA.
At first my new neighbors represented the exotic other: the plucked and plucky cholas, the vatos with the shaved heads and the dickies, the old men that talked about Chihuahua and tried to teach me norteño swears, and, of course, the food. It was Edward Said writ small, mestizo style. Then I met a guy from El Salvador with screwed up thumbs - from where he had been hung up all night after breaking a curfew. I may have been from Montana, but I had never had my head in the ground. I knew my country sponsored what went on in his, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to throw up or scream. I guess I did nothing, which is what most of us do.
After that, the similarities came fast and furious. Plates of barbacoa and tacos de chivo drew out conversations about the goats I had raised for milk and meat on our small farm in Montana. Small, for Montana, at almost 200 acres; a respectable rancho for some of the folks I met from Oaxaca and Guerrero. Growing up I'd worked packing mules, bucking hay, building fence, janitorial, car part sales ... all the jobs that helped keep me in St. Vincent DePaul's (and at times K-Mart's) finest, and ones that connected me to the rural people I met turned urban service workers. Conversations with Chileans about mining and smelting connected them to the mines and smelters of my own state - the home of the great Anaconda that had strangled both our families and had led us all to new homes. At the end of the day, I found myself having more in common with the migrants from Latin America than I did with the middle-class Anglo families that I rented rooms from.
When I returned to Montana I couldn't shake the memories of the people I'd met. I connected to classes on Latin America, solidarity groups and movements - the usual suspects. Frankly, I've never been sure if all of those activities to try and "save" Latin America ever did much for Latin America, or if it did more for our own consciences. I knew that we were programmed to a particular response to "save" the other when one solidarity group brought campesinos and free trade zone workers - yes, real campesinos - for us to talk to. For good reason it felt like a zoo or a circus, and I certainly had to question all that we were up to. Latin American Ishis on display - trying desperately not to share his fate. I grew up a campesino. My father lost his job to free trade. Did I need to see these brown faces to avoid looking at my own story?
And so before me, I thought, were two paths: one to look at Latin America as the kitschy exotic playground for my escape from anglolandia or, the destitute child of poverty crying for my saving graces. Ever at the periphery - first as escape or second as pleading subaltern - I had come to an inability to see two continents as human.
With time and travel, I learned to drop both of those paths. Mexico, and Latin America in general, have become something of a home. I know I don't "get" everything that goes on, and I know better now that the region needs nothing from me except to be a good neighbor - a thing that we all need from each other. At times that might mean I need to get involved with a cause (neighbors help each other out), and at times it might mean I need to keep my yap shut. But at the end of the day, there are no pretexts or fantasies about our co-existence.
I've found that probably the best thing I could do was to try and help other folks in the United States develop an appreciation of Latin America (an understanding might be too tall of an order for the class room), not as a place that needed saving or as a place to play out escapist fantasy, but as a region of "carne y hueso" with creative and intelligent ways of navigating the vagaries of this world. So, students, the next time you ask me why, I'll invite you to know more, and then you'll understand - but only for yourself.
Monday, April 4, 2011
I respectfully disagree with two aspects of his analysis. First, he claims that the Catholic church needs liberating influences to retain the flock... but where are Catholics going? The three largest non-Catholic groups in Mexico are the Luz del Mundo, the Jehova's Witnesses, and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons): all three of which are far more conservative than Catholicism (and, frankly, their services aren't exactly rock concerts of entertainment is a factor). They are also religions that maintain a fair amount of rigid and predictable ceremony in their worship. I would suggest that the madre iglesia is losing members that find the social doctrine of Catholicism too liberal - let alone the few remnants of liberation theology still bouncing around out there. In terms of sex, however, he may be spot on regarding contraception and new concepts of marital conjugal relations as beneficial instead of cause for shame.
Second, I think his failure to mention the politics and scandals of the Catholic church is an important oversight. If people feel their contributions will be misused or their sense of sexual identity assaulted, they will vote with their feet. As Max Weber points out, patriarchy is only functional when the patriarch wields power from a position of higher moral ground... as soon as that erodes the followers either do away with the patriarch or they go find a new one.
I would also point out that research from Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti has all shown that while you can see mass conversion, retention of that conversion is only around 40%. Most of the rest will drift back to Catholicism. However, one thing I liked about Blancarte's analysis is that it does rightly show that 5% of Mexicans profess no religion - but that does not necessarily mean atheism. As the Catholics have feared for years, many leave the church, try out another religion (or several), and eventually drift out of organized religion completely.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Last night, Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program came to campus at SFA to speak on the effects of the war on drugs in Mexico.
This morning I read Rich Grabman's post at Mexfiles on the hullabaloo about the idea of narcotraficantes as terrorists.
I'd like to put all three together and see if there is an "up" side to having Texas designate narcos as terrorists (considering the down side is a possible US invasion of Mexico or at least the usurpation of Mexican sovereignty).
1) The children of the middle class would be considered funders of terrorism every time they get caught with a bag, and instead of getting a warning - as is the norm with white offenders - they might be carted off to Guantanamo (well, at least a federal pen). Maybe faced with the same realities of the incarceration of youth that affects the Latino and African American community you might see some move toward dealing with narcotics as a health issue.
Among young people incarcerated in juvenile facilities for the first time on a drug charge, the rate of commitment among Black youth is 48 times that of Whites, while the rate for Latino youth is 13 times that of Whites. www.drugpolicy.org2) Citibank, Wachovia, and other banks might not be able to weasel out of scrutiny if the charges are funding terrorists.
3) The NRA becomes not just an advocate for the right to own weapons (which I happen to agree with), but their policy on limitless purchase of weapons (which I happen to disagree with) will tag them as supporters of terrorism and break their lobby power (another thing I happen to disagree with). As long as the NRA pushes for fewer controls on guns ownership or at least good registration, weapons will fuel terror in Mexico. At this point, of course, I have to mention the CBS story on the ATF intentionally letting guns cross the border.
Carlsen mentioned that before she came to Nacogdoches she had been at the UT campus down in McAllen, TX. There, the students are the victims of the border violence, often subjected to kidnapping, extortion, and random shootings and so suffering from PTSD at incredible rates. On our campus, students are not the victims of the situation, but the perpetrators, feeding the hard drugs market, advocating for no controls on weapons, and actively supporting the politicians that keep the US from recognizing its responsibility. This is no vague and general implication of participation by being guilty of association (the tired "all yankees are bad garbage), but the real instance of actively funding the deaths of Mexicans and supporting the policies that make it possible.