Category: ~ Mexico’s Struggle for Democracy

Marcador Bookmark Violentómetro Violence Meter

Violentómetro, Violence Meter

Marcador, bookmark from the Museo de la Mujer in Mexico City, www.museumdelamujer.org.mx

Categoría 1, Category 1: Be careful, violence tends to increase

Ten Cuidado, la violencia aumentará.

Bromas hirientes, hurtful jokes

Chantagear, blackmail

Mentir, engañar, lying, cheating, betrayal

Ignorar, ley del hielo, ignoring you, freezing you out

Celar, being jealous

Culpabilizar, blaming

Descalificar, being dismissive

Ridiculizar, offender, ridiculing, being offensive

Humillar en public, humiliate in public

Categoría 2, category 2: Reacciona! No te deges destruir, take action, do not let yourself be destroyed

Intimidar, amenazar, intimidation, threats

Controlar, prohibir (amistades, familiares, dinero, lugares, vestimenta, apariencia, actividades, mails, cellular)

Controlling, prohibitions (friendships, family, money, movement, clothing, appearance, activities, mail, cell phone)

Destruir pertenencias, destroys belongings

Manosear, unwelcomed touching, groping

Caricias agresivas, aggressive caresses, touching

Gopear “jugando,” hitting “in fun”

Pellizcar, arañar, pinching, scratching

Empujar, jalonear, pushing, dragging, pulling

Cachetear, slapping in the face

Patear, kicking

Categoría 3, Category 3:

Encerrar, aislar, lock up, isolate

Amenazar con objetos o armas, threaten with objects or weapons

Amenazar de muerte, threaten with death

Forzar a una relación sexual, force sex on you

Abuso sexual, sexual abusiveness

Violación, rape

Mutilar, mutilation

Asesinar, murder

Mexico Still Mourns

I am sorry. I steal this as well, because the world needs to know.

Reforma: Guadalupe Loaeza*
Translated by Danielle M. Antonetti

As I do every year, last Sunday I took my grandchildren to see “The Nutcracker” at the National Theater. Once seated, I gave myself a task: to watch all the people filled with holiday cheer as they entered the theater to admire the last performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, the music of which is so familiar to us that even the most ignorant can recall a fragment. Most of the attendees were children and adolescents, bundled up and accompanied by their families. The atmosphere inside the enormous auditorium, with space for 10,000 people, was festive and Christmassy.

For my part, I was a deeply gratified grandmother surrounded by my six grandchildren, two of my sons, my daughter-in-law and Paloma Figueroa, the young professional dancer. With that same festive mindset, I watched young grandmothers wearing 100 percent wool coats with furs and carrying Coach or Marc Jacob purses. Many greeted and waved to each other from afar. The show was only minutes away from beginning.

Suddenly, the lights went down and at the stage’s illuminated center appeared a group of young people holding two banners, one with the hashtag #Yamecansé [Enough, I’m tired]** written on it and on the other could be read the words, “Stop impunity.” Daniel Castillo, in evening wear, spoke on behalf of his fellow members of the National Dance Company:

“Mexico is mourning the unsustainable and heartbreaking impunity that has become a daily story and that violates our citizenry.”

With perfect diction, his words echoed all across the auditorium.

A profound silence fell over us. No one moved in their seats, not the children and especially not the adults. The power of Castillo’s words and the audience’s silence united all of us. Castillo, whose image was projected in color on two enormous screens placed on either side of the stage, continued,

“Mexico, we are no longer just mourning the disappeared teacher college students, but those of Aguas Blancas, San Fernando and the children at the ABC nursery***,”

“I want to read a poem written by one of our company members, the ballerina Sonia Jiménez.”

At that moment, and despite my wearing a red sweater, I felt dressed in black from head to toe.

We are mourning,
We are the cry of our dead,
We are the blood shed on fertile land,
We are the silence on the verge of exploding.
Today we do not recognize the ground on which we stand,
The falling rain does not erase the mistakes,
Our eyes don’t wipe away the truth,
We live blindfolded, we have sold-out,
We speak with the breath of our bodies.
Turn off the lights. Mexico is mourning.

As if moved by an gigantic, invisible spring, the public rose to its feet,  “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…,” until it reached number 43, which they memorialized with their fists raised.
The applause was an enormous and deep expression of our condolences. Everyone was mourning. Everyone felt even more tired than Murillo Karam for all the corruption and impunity. And all of us represented “the cry of our dead.”

I envisioned backstage: 170 dancers of the National Dance Company and the students of the National School of Classical and Contemporary Dance, elegantly dressed as the characters of the ballet’s epoch, applauding. I was imagining the company’s five principal dancers—Agustina Galizzi, Ana Elisa Mena, Mayuko Nihei, Blanca Ríos and Erick Rodríguez—mourning. Those who appeared particularly sad were José Luis González, Mariana Garce and Sofía Villarreal, who that night were saying goodbye to the company, which was celebrating 50 years of putting on the Christmas ballet. Also, I imagined “Clara,” the protagonist of Hoffmann’s tale, the little rodents, the tin soldiers, and the Nutcracker himself mourning, applauding in honor of the 43 disappeared.

“Why did you get so sad all of a sudden, Mamá Lú?, one of my granddaughters asked me.

“Because Mexico continues to mourn,” I replied.

I have the impression that my granddaughter did not understand me. Then, the curtains opened and the show began.
Reforma only allows subscribers to access articles on its website.

*María Guadalupe Loaeza Tovar is a contemporary Mexican writer and author of many books, including Las Niñas Bien [The Good Girls], Las Reinas de Polanco [The Queens of Polanco (wealthy Mexico City neighborhood], Debo, Luego Sufro [I Owe, Therefore, I Suffer] and Compro, Luego Existo [I Shop, Therefore, I Exist], in which she writes ironically about the Mexican upper class. Twitter: @gloaeza
 
**Reference to offhand remark of Attorney General Murillo Karam at the end of the press conferece at which he announced that arrested members of the Warrriors United cartel confessed they had murdered the 43 Ayotzinapa students and burned their bodies. The remark was immediately turned against him on the social media and in the press.
 
***Aguas Blancas was the massacre by police of protesting farmers in Guerrero in 1995. San Fernando was the massacre, in 2010, of 72 Central American migrants by the Zetas cartel with the collusion of local police. The ABC nursery fire, in 2009, possibly the result of local officials’ attempt to destroy records in an adjoining store room, resulted in the deaths of 49 infants and young children and the injuring of 70 more.

Mexico in Crisis: Time for Bold Action

I am stealing this because it is too important not to:

Reforma: Eduardo R. Huchim*
Translated by Thomas Mosley

The recent survey by Reforma (12/13/14) on the dramatic decline in citizens’ trust in key institutions, including the president and the military, confirms that Mexico is in a national crisis because of what it is experiencing.

Unfortunately, the institutions have not responded effectively or soon enough, but this is due to their leaders’ inability and/or lack of ethics and commitment. Our institutions, though they can be improved upon, have strengths in their design and the necessary legal powers, but their proper operation requires their leaders to have effort, dedication, and strict adherence to ethics and law: virtues which rarely occur in Mexico.

Although responsibility for the crisis weighs most heavily on the Executive branch, the truth is that it does not exclude the other powers. As a preview, keep in mind three facts that were released just yesterday: the judge that exonerated Raúl Salinas de Gortari [brother of former president Carlos Salinas] of illicit gain, the PRI deputies who refused to allow the Superior Audit Office to audit them in real time, and the PRI and PAN Senators who forced the Senate session to be adjourned and close the [autumn] period due to a lack of quorum. This last left the appointments of electoral and anti-corruption prosecutors, the political reform of Mexico City, and the response to the parents of the disappeared Ayotzinapa teachers college students up in the air, among other issues.

No, the Executive branch is not solely responsible for the current crisis. However, it is they who should head up rescuing the institutions, a bailout which will only be possible if the three branches and autonomous bodies work vigorously. There are essential actions that the Head of State can undertake with a patriotic spirit, far from unhealthy appetites such as wealth and extravagance. The first would be to admit the mistakes and go forward with the public apology suggested by Enrique Krauze in The New York Times [What Mexico’s President Must Do].

The apology would be a good first step toward a horizon of bold actions (yes, those!) that would definitely move Mexico in the right direction, with a premise that the vice president of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, aptly put recently in an interview with Carmen Aristegui (CNN, 12/15/14):

“The government must tell the truth at any cost and sacrifice anyone necessary… if a lie about something important is left planted, in the future that lie will become a stamp on anything that the government says.”

Without claiming to be exhaustive, some such actions might include the following:

a) Clarifying what actually happened in the painful Ayotzinapa case, without consideration for the federal workers who took part in its genesis and development. Does the “official story” of incineration hold up against the objections that scientifically oppose this hypothesis? Did soldiers and federal police take part in the disappearance of the 43 students? These are questions that must be answered promptly with supporting evidence.

b) Based on current law, immediately fighting against any act of corruption at all levels, and the consequent prosecution when necessary.

c) Accepting the conflicts of implicit interest in the houses of the Lomas de Chapultepec [house of  Angélica Riverapresident’s wife] and Malinalco [house of Secretary of the Treasury, Luis Videgaray], followed by selling the property and donating the proceeds to projects which unquestionably benefit society. [MV Note: Angélica Rivera has announced that she will sell her “share” of ownership in the house being financed by the Higa construction company.]

d) Cancelling the contracts awarded to the Higa Group, of John Armando Hinojosa Cantú, in particular the Monterrey VI project [an aqueduct], which would cost at least 47 billion pesos [US$3.2 billion] and whose usefulness has been rightly questioned.

e) Cancelling the purchase of the luxurious presidential jet, or replacing it planes that are useful to society.

f) Implementing a public infomation policy that excludes all paid government propaganda in the electronic media. [MV Note: The government spends large amounts on paid advertising of its programs and accomplishments. This is seen as producing favorable coverage by the media.]

g) Substantially modifying the failed policy against drug trafficking by regulating the sale of drugs that are currently banned, coupled with prevention campaigns.

h) Reversing all the content of the energy reform that lacks public consent.

i) Correcting the erroneous tax policy [which raised taxes in the context of a stagnant economy] and granting real stimuli to companies. A rich government, an impoverished population, and a discouraged business sector do nothing for the nation.

These are times of crisis, and to deal with them, we must counter with a time of boldness. Will there be one?

Reforma only allows subscribers to access articles on its website.

*Eduardo R. Huchim is a journalist, writer and, from 1999 to 2006, member of the General Council of the Electoral Institute of Mexico City, where he presided over the Audit Commission. His books include The System Crashes (Grijalbo, 1996), The Plots (novel, Grijalbo, 1997), New Elections (Plaza y Janés, 1997), Media (Santillana, 2002) and What’s Up With the Vote (Terracotta, 2006).
 @EduardoRHuchim

Dissent, or Obedience?

It is strange to be living in a country that may be on the edge of another revolution. It is hard to measure the rage of the population. In fact, it is impossible. My more conservative friends would pooh-pooh the idea; and I think they would be right. They would say, cynically, that it won’t happen this time either; that the leaders will behave as before, the culture of corruption will continue, impunity will reign as it always has; and the media, two giant corporations tied closely to the interests of the ruling group—will continue saying whatever it takes to make our eyes glaze over with confusion and boredom. The focus on the 43 disappeared students in Guerrero has already weakened on Facebook. Soon, everyone will agree that it is old news, and that talking about it is simply a form of chronic whining.

But that still leaves plenty of dissenters—young Mexicans—who will continue to speak out. I do not know what course their rejection of the state’s behavior—the lack of the rule of law—will take.   This time, the context seems to have changed. The disappearance of the 43 has pulled the curtain aside and the nation saw their government trapped by the circumstances. The government lost either way, whether the 43 remained disappeared or whether their bodies were found. By tone or gestures, the leaders, many said, showed they did not really care, their deeds and words rang empty, investigations began late and appeared to look only for the missing but not for those responsible except at the lowest levels. For the government, it appeared to be a George Bush reading My Pet Goat to the kindergarten moment. The whole world saw this; and now there is support and a more broad understanding internationally of what is at play. But will that spur change; will it protect student demonstrators during the next demonstrations?

I have read about people hinting at taking up arms, but that would be a disaster, just as the Mexican Revolution was a prolonged disaster for so many. There is enough violence already. Instead, the leadership at the top must change its way of thinking. They would have to develop a sense of social responsibility. But it is hard to see how that can happen. There seems to some sort of missing gene—like the kind of gene that keeps the U.S. Congress from acting on global warming or from ridding itself of a deep, destructive racism and love of war.   The best that can be hoped for is that the ruling groups have learned something about the depth of the despair, disappointment and outrage among Mexico’s citizens. For things to change, they would have to examine their own roles in maintaining the structure that moves riches and privileges and authority into their hands and away from the vast majority of citizens who battle hunger, lack of a good education, jobs that pay a living wage, the lack of transparency and accountability in their government and a rampant lack of the kind of security that can guarantee life, limb and the pursuit of happiness.

A final question is why there isn’t another way to change the ruling order. There are plenty of studies that show that, sufficiently conditioned by fear and manipulation, people stop resisting, stop speaking out. Plus, is there perhaps some earlier conditioning from as much as a hundred years ago, when people were taught to learn to obey?

Here is one opinion on the subject—my translation—from Friedrich Katz’s book La Servidumbre agraria en México en la época porfiriana, 1980, 2013, Agrarian Servitude in the Era of Porfirio Díaz. These are the words of Manuel F. de la Hoz, at The Second Congress of Tulancingo in 1905, in Mexico—a gathering of hacienda owners, high Catholic dignitaries, and functionaries of the government, where Hoz was arguing that reforms were needed to prevent revolution.

“It must be understood that, if respect for authority is the key to conserving harmony and order among all human groups, then a attitude of subordination must be fomented in the worker toward his immediate superiors, i.e. those who represent (and act for) the patrón (hacienda owner) himself.

“One must note that often the superiors—majordomos, field assistants, apprentices, gang captains—being filled with a sense of their own superiority—often apply the rod (whip) of their command with a heavy hand against the unhappy farm worker. To correct these abuses the hacienda owner should approach, not only because that is required by the laws of justice but also because all power that is exercised tyrannically engenders rebellion and a predisposition toward hate and revenge. In contrast, once he (the hacienda owner) commands from the height of his mission, and once he (the farm worker) who obeys does so from the nobility of his sacrifice, order will resume its rule and there will be no disturbances that turn everything on its head.

“The doctrine imbued in the farm worker since childhood will teach him to support with resignation and happiness the hard law of his humble condition; will inform him of the importance of his obligations and those of his fellows; will teach him to recognize the authority that governs him and to respect, without whispers and rebelliousness, the difference between the classes which God has permitted for the splendor of His glory; (the doctrine) will make his (the worker’s) burden lighter and smooth his supporting obedience.”

Mexico on the Edge

A Summary and Expansion: The leaking Ship of State.

May 12, the newspaper La Jornada; John Ackerman:

If there is not a radical change in the authoritarian structure of the State, polarization of citizens against the State may have reached the point of no return. Because of the self-defense groups and the discussions among citizens that have arisen, the State—rather than restore the Rule of Law—strikes at the self-defense groups and their leader in order to confuse the discussion, distract and stop the discussion itself.

The bribe: The State, represented by Federal Commissioner for Michoacán, delivered a few arms to a dubious self-defense group in that state and pronounced that, henceforth, responsibility for citizen safety was in their hands—pretty much all cynical theater relying on old authoritarian strategies like “silver or lead, the bribe or the bullet,” to which “theater” should be added, all of it bathed in baffling cynicism and criminal failure by the federal government to enforce the Rule of Law of its own accord.

The bullet: the former spokesperson for all the self-defense groups, Dr. José Mireles, a voice I find convincing, becomes the recipient of the Government’s bullet, i.e. efforts to undermine his authority by accepting denunciations of him by groups that have taken favors from the Government, like the group mentioned above and who may be betraying the self-defense movement. In an old tactic, to divide and conquer, federal authorities are accusing Mireles of murder simply on the say-so of men with questionable ties. Because of the lingering effects of Napoleonic Law, the accusation leaves Mireles obliged to prove his innocence, hence leaving him judicially tainted, neutralizing him and exposing him at the same time.

As in the telecommunication and energy “reforms,” the federal government refuses to hold public discussion with the citizenry. PRI pragmatism includes dangerous trickery, calumny, betrayal of citizens’ safety (Mireles), and generally simply not responding to citizens’ cries for help and justice.

John Ackerman, U.S. born, is a researcher in the Institute of Judicial Review at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Editorial Director of the Mexican Law Review. He writes for La Jornada and Proceso.

May 13, 2014, the newspaper La Jornada, Pedro Miguel:

Dr. Mireles separated himself from the dubious federal commissioner Castillo of Michoacán; and the Mexican Government has betrayed him. This has brought sympathy from the whole country. In order to undermine this sympathy, the State attacks Mireles and his sympathizers, calling the latter naïve, easy followers of another “caudillo,” strong man or boss—a man, the say, who may be mentally ill. Mireles was quoted as saying, “I didn’t know that Alfredo Castillo or Smurf—Estanislao Beltrán (the new government-recognized leader of the self-defense forces)—are specialists in psychiatry.”

The result has been that Dr. Mireles appears as a straight talker, the government as compulsively mendacious and manipulative, hence manifesting questionable mental health. All of which make Mireles more respected and admired for his stance against corruption at all levels, including the federal.

May 13, 2014, Aristequi Noticias (News); Carmen Aristegui:

This is the contradiction that gives off an odor: The government that goes after Mireles has not been able to arrest and prosecute countless murderers among the Templars and other criminal groups. They have gone after him because he symbolized—and surely still does—the independence of the self-defense idea.

May 13, 2014, the newspaper La Jornada, Luis Hernández Navarro

Shadow Theater, “to give the impression of movement.” Or to make it appear that the government has legitimized the self-defense groups, by exchanging the latter’s symbolic AK-47’s (guerrilla movement) for AR-15’s (the citizen’s assault rifle), lighter pickups for the heavier more independent ones and limited ammunition.

The new self-defense spokesperson Smurf, known as Papa Smurf, the government’s chosen self-defense leader, exclaims, “With this, we now have a commitment. We are the government.”

One can see Dr. Mireles raising his eyebrows in wonder at this language.

At the shadow theater presentation, Commissioner Castillo proclaimed, “The unheard of phenomenon of this armed social movement is that the people have not risen against the State, rather to ask for the State’s presence. And today those who represent the State are you!”

The inept, and probably complicit, State was understandably worried about the “against” part. Now, it hopes to have co-opted the self-defense movement by taking away their indepence.

Of all the shadow plays possible, the one offering any real security has not been staged.

May 13, 2014, Aristegui Noticias (News), Carmen Aristequi:

The language of co-option sounds like this. Commissioner Castillo, talking as if Commander Smurf’s group represented the entire case of citizens bearing arms: “The self-defense groups simply felt not taken into account in the doctor’s statement and ceased to feel represented. They made a decision (to dismiss him) and we respect them…they choose their spokespersons and we talk to them.”—translated by Reed Brundage, Mexico Voices.

May 13, 2014, MVS News, Carmen Aristegui

The government has succeeded in co-opting the self-defense groups in Michoacán. One should probably add that it was “one part” of the groups, and that that group was “turned.”

The government cannot tolerate independent, let alone armed movements.

It is a political decision to accuse someone. Anyone can be the target. Its ultimate purpose is to get rid of the self-defense groups.

It is an old practice, especially of the PRI (the party that exercised near dictatorial control over Mexico for 71 years). All energy goes into divide, co-opt and control, rather than into solving a problem.

The indifference of the State permitted the existence of The Templars; the State is deeply complicit in a complex web of connections.

Denise Dresser: Co-opting the self-defense forces is not going to solve the underlying problem in regard to public security. The State prosecutes Mireles but is incapable of investigating other deaths, let alone the huge mafia that has breathed in rhythm with state, municipal and federal authorities. Her repeated question: “Where is the State?” Why has it not been meeting its responsibilities? Why can it not enforce the rule of law?

Mr. Peña Nieto’s Wonderous Energy Reform

Alfonso Cuarón, director and co-producer of “Gravity,” a space disaster film I haven’t seen, won Best Director at the 86th Academy Awards. He was also chosen as “Most Creative” on Forbes’s Mexico List in 2013. With these credentials that separate him from being a ninguneo, a nobody, the good citizen asked a Mexican president traditionally endowed with near imperial powers—in this case Mr. Peña Nieto—to answer ten questions on the Mexican energy reform that has probably been decided upon already, with Cheney-like disinterest in the opinion of citizens—which is to say, of those who are not in the Club or the upper 1%. One could also mention that Mr. Nieto is a member of the PRI, the political party that ruled Mexico for seventy-one years with near dictatorial powers.

Here are Cuarón’s ten questions—with my subtexts.

One: When will the price of natural gas, gasoline, diesel and electricity begin to fall? What other benefits can we expect from the reform? When can we expect them to occur? Subtext in my words, not Cuarón’s. The prices of things generally climb when they are privatized.

Two: What will the effects be for the environment in the face of massive oil extraction? What measures will be put in place to protect the environment and who will take responsibility in case of spill and other disaster? Subtext: No measures will be put into place. It is part of the local culture that no one takes responsibility for disasters.

Three: Hydrocarbons are non-renewable resources. Their impact on the environment, meaning on the whole globe, is massive. What plans are there for alternate energy? Subtext: There are no plans.

Four: Huge amounts of profits will be generated by this reform—in the billions. In a country where the rule of law is so weak, who will regulate these funds and protect them from corruption? Subtext: No one will regulate these funds. They will not be protected from corruption. Additionally, there will be none of the transparency that is necessary for any kind of accountability.

Five: Transnational companies in the world often wield as much power as many governments. What measures will be taken to protect our democracy from financial pressures by powerful international interests? Subtext: There will be some protections—just enough to protect the interests of those in the Club.

Six: What regulatory measures does the government have at its disposal to protect the country from the predatory pressures that private companies can exert on the energy sector? Subtext: The Club has a maze of maneuvers that it can employ to protect its own financial interests.

Seven: How can you assure that Pemex will show an increase in production if the government does not confront corruption in that is within Pemex and its union? Subtext: There will be no assurances. The union corruption will continue. The higher-level corruption—the taking more of the people’s profits—will flourish.

Eight: If Pemex, in the last seventy years, contributed to more than half of the country’s federal budget, including education and free health care, and if now the earnings of Pemex no longer flow directly to the country’s coffers, what will replace that half of the federal budget? Subtext: Any diminution would probably be called in IMF-ese a “structural adjustment,” whereby the people will have less and the Club more.

Nine: How will you assure us that the profits from the reform will not be channeled into bureaucratic expansion rather than to the original owners of the resources: the people of Mexico? Subtext: There will be plenty of assurances, but they will be mostly smoke. Bureaucratic expansion is a euphemism for the Club. Profits from the reform will be channeled to the Club.

A friend of mine wrote the following in reaction to what I am writing here. Since I don’t have his permission, I will not mention his name. But it gives another point of view: “Incidentally, foreign investment and foreign management rules saved the mining industry here making work safe for the miners (before that life expectancy was about 10 years or less in the mines!), improved efficiency (the 80% silver going to the “people” today is much more than the 100% before; and 100% gold still going to the Mexican Treasury), and rooted out the most egregious excesses of corruption (of course, it is still Mexico, in a way). No, I would LOVE to see a shake-up in PEMEX and the whole rotten oil structure. I SUPPORT REFORM, because it is needed and it is helpful to Mexico and its people!

Ten: Two disastrous experiences remain in the minds of Mexicans. 1) The crash of 1982 that followed the waste, ineptitude, corruption that characterized the management of oil in the Seventies; and 2) the arbitrary, opaque and privatizing reforms under President Salinas de Gortari, that were good for the private hands but of dubious value for consumers. What guarantees are there that the social misery created then will not be repeated now? You and your party  carry the responsibility for these reforms. Do you really believe that Mexico can carry out these reforms efficiently, for the social good and with transparency? Subtext: There will be guarantees of benefits, but they will mean nothing. None of the parties will assume responsibility for what turns out to not be good for the country. The last question is aimed right at the heart of the matter. Mr. Peña Nieto and others in the Club say things they do not believe, or worse, that they do believe (see below); any efficiency will appear mainly in the acquisition of private profit; acting for the social good will remain a distant possibility, given the Club’s lack of a sense of social responsibility; there is little transparency at any level of Mexican government—thus, offering little possibility of citizen accountability. Without a free press there would be no hope at all.

Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, has responded with some vague reassurances that there will be commissions to study this and that. It is probably a good thing that the government has bothered to respond. But words are not actions.

Other voices have asked how an “upstart” like Cuarón would have the gall to presume to talk directly to the President of Mexico, Mr. Nieto.

Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, writing for Reforma, quotes journalist and political analyst Ricardo Raphael as saying that the elite are the central problem in Mexico. Silva-Herzog writes, “(that) one of the problems of our democracy is precisely the depth of the authoritarian convictions of those small and satisfied circles that thumb their nose at the country while happily looking at themselves in magazines. Convinced they are more knowledgeable than others, they think they are the only ones that can argue and, especially, decide. The autocratic persuasion of the elite shows in this notion that public discussion belongs exclusively to experts. Only we have the elements to discuss the energy reform, they tell us. Others have to shut up and vote when the day comes; and that that, and that alone, is democracy. We will give you clear options so you are capable of making a sensible decision (they say).

Therein lies the immense service provided by Alfonso Cuarón’s questions. To show that the technician’s arrogance cannot suppress the people.”

Two Michoacáns

We went to Michoacán to see M, a dear old friend. And her daughter N, another dear old friend. Up here in Guanajuato, we think of Michoacán as a conflicted zone, a Mexican state ruled by narcos and other manifestations of organized crime—a state patrolled by Army, in green; Federal Police troops dressed in black with balaclavas hiding their identity; and Marines dressed in shades of tan and wearing a reputation as the only branch of law enforcement that actually captures anyone.

Everyone seems to have a heavy pickup truck with a shielded, mounted machine gun manned by a trooper of some kind. The Army has Hummers, and also brandishes machine guns, shielded or unshielded depending on the testosterone level of the commanding officer, I suppose, who would not actually be the one standing behind the weapon. I don’t know what the Marines drive, since I’ve never seen a Mexican combat Marine.

I went to Michoacán, expecting to see trouble, such as I saw in the Eighties in El Salvador: the countryside set ablaze to deny the guerrillas ambush cover; swaggering, semi-psychotic US-trained soldiers ready to kill anyone; and frightened (mostly death-squad annihilated) women health workers that had been trained to teach women’s rights and hygiene, and Liberation Theology-preaching priests, who were also menaced with extinction.

Just now, we stayed with our friends in the old idyllic compound in Erongarícuaro, where we lived for the year 1997–98, on a rise that looks out over Lake Pátzcuaro at the storm-blue volcanoes in the distance—an area we were told to avoid.

The Michoacán I found had some similarities with El Salvador in the Seventies and Eighties: women teaching women about health care and making it available—but without the violent repression. Instead, the activity here was taking place in a setting full of beauty, peace and security. Families (men supporting their wives) sat waiting for their appointments on benches in the shade of an overhang partially obscured by curtain reddish-orange Passion Flowers. They looked out over a lawn sprinkled with fallen light-blue Jacaranda blossoms. And beyond, over cattle grazing far out on the lake’s plane, where the water has receded, then farther across the lake toward the volcanoes in the distance.

The Eronga compound has found a new life, after various incarnations. Now it is a non-profit women’s clinic called Mujeres Aliadas: Organización pro Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos de la Mujer—Allied Women: An organization for women’s sexual and reproductive rights. And our younger old friend N, who is not even thirty, is its director. You can Google them. You can look them up at www.mujeresaliadas.mx and talk to them at mujeresaliadas.ac@gmail.com. You can even see at least one YouTube clip on what they do.

Mujeres Aliadas is an impressive operation. The sixty-five foot living room (with a primitive kitchen at the far end), where we wrote and lived during our year there, is now the office and lecture hall for women’s workshops. The row of guest rooms—we stayed in one that year—that makes up another shed-like building is now a row of consulting and treatment rooms, all renovated, clean and staffed with two trained midwives and an all-woman staff. The bed my love and I slept on that year has since had at least fifty babies born on it.

The clinic has office hours three days a week, but a sign at the gate says there is care available 7/24 if you are in trouble—a notice I find extremely moving. Plus, you can receive consultation and treatment in Spanish or Purépecha. The little clinic has 1,500 regular clients and serves forty marginalized communities in the Lake Pátzcuaro basin. Here, clients can approach without fear of the centuries-old racism toward marginalized women, for being Indian, lacking education, being poor, being unmarried, being uncomfortable speaking Spanish, being different from the light-skinned Mexicans on TV and on billboards. For being a woman.

The clients, from adolescents to adults, receive instruction in anatomy, contraception, prenatal care, the politics of sexuality (how to say no) and in postpartum care—both physical and psychological. For forty pesos, a woman receives both treatment and the needed medicine—roughly three dollars. The center also offers training in midwifery and nursing. There are plans to gradually establish other centers, in order to reduce infant and female mortality, a condition that has risen something like 30% in the last ten years—probably keeping pace with Mexico’s rise in poverty.

At the present, funding comes from Finish Embassy, the MacArthur Foundation and DFW (Dining for Women). But these grants, like most grants, have time limits and will eventually dry up. I cannot think of a better place to send financial support. The link for donating is:
http://www.mujeresaliadas.org/donate/default.html

The center makes me think of the scene in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In the midst of an a war-like hunt against a great swirling outer group of sperm whales, in the middle of the chaos and deep below, “There a sleek, pure calm reigns…(and) far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes, as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in these watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales….”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the women that visit the clinic to birthing whales, but I am saying that, for me, the clinic is sane, kind, luminescent center in a troubled sea. I had come to Michoacán hoping to see something of the autodefensas. What I mostly saw was the normal grinding poverty, the normal economic struggle, and the normal normal. In Uruapan, we did pass through a self-defense checkpoint, with two rows of rubber speed bumps laid across the road and a sandbag fort off to the right, with a tarp over it to keep off the sun. I was driving, so I could only glance. I could see that the men occupying the fort wore no uniforms, i.e. were not military, and I knew what that meant. I saw no AK-47’s, but those would have been held out of sight, so as not to provoke the police and military. My two companions—my love and my dear old friend—read the bed sheet banners hanging beside the fort and shouted, “Autodefensas!” That was what the banners were saying. But the clothing the men wore was too dark, the banner too much grafitti-like, I thought.

Since then, I have heard Dr. Mireles—the articulate and I think courageous spokesman for the self-defense groups— say Uruapan is yet to be liberated. I don’t know. There is a good chance the checkpoint was occupied by the Knights Templar or some other narco-criminal group.

None of which really interests me that much, now that I have seen Mujeres Aliadas—something positive and wonderful—something that serves as a metaphor for what Mexico can and does do in certain areas—behaving socially responsibly, meeting the people’s needs.

For more on the context in which the clinic exists and why it is so important in Mexico’s struggle for democracy, you can read two of my stories by writing their titles in the Search box in this blog’s front page. The two stories are “The Pátzcuaro Incision” and “Jorge and the Santa Muerte.” The Jorge of the latter story still stands at his place on the side of the road, not far from a church of Saint Death, up the road toward Pátzcuaro. He has grown up to be a quite handsome lad but is, like many parts of Mexico, still very much lost.

Swallowing Mexico’s Air Waves.

A summary and expansion of an article that appeared in our local newspaper, by one of my favorite Mexican thinkers: Political Science Professor Denise Dresser—with a editorial dusting of changing and possibly gently mixed metaphors by me.

How do I put this? When the corporate world and its selected leader—President Peña Nieto of Mexico—talk about and push through a telecommunications reform, it means they’re not going to steal just one more pig, but rather all of them.

A few days ago, in Mexico City, protesters linked hands and created a human chain that reached from Los Pinos—the equivalent of the White House—all the way to the offices of Televisa, one the two communications monopolies in Mexico.

That corporate giant and TVAzteca are Mexico’s Charybdis and Scylla, out of Greek myth, the one a great whirlpool, the other a monster, each capable of swallowing up Mexico’s freedom of expression whole.

If you had watched the last presidential election, the PRI candidate Peña Nieto was everywhere and opposition candidate Lopez Obrador hardly seen at all; and when seen, always cleverly painted as a friend of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, i.e. as a populist crazy that would destroy our treasured Mexican democracy.

The so-called reform is part of a pattern of cementing corporate control, in partnership with the PRI, the party that held dictatorial control for 71 years and is now in power again, thanks to the absence of independent agencies that can regulate the two media giants. The latter speak seamlessly in favor of the oligarchy and show little interest in the public’s right to a meaningful public debate.

Neither Televisa nor TVAzteca, for example, bothered to cover the human chain between Los Pinos and Televisa’s offices.

As in the United States, the major news media ignore, for the most part, dissenting and independent political and social voices. And those who appear as experts and pundits have long since been suborned by the subsidies available to the media monsters and their political and financial allies. The interests of investors and the ruling political class eclipse those of the vulnerable and unrepresented: Indians, women, children, farmers, the under-employed, under-fed and public needs like meaningful education, security reform and state support for the Rule of Law.

In a disturbing development in the telecommunications reform, the President and the Secretary of the Interior will have the power to censor Internet communications, including email, Twitter, Facebook messaging and others.

In this trend, censorship poses as modernization; and dictatorial control, as democracy.

The PRI and the two media monopolies Televisa and TVAzteca—Charybdis and Scylla.

Postscript: In the meantime, Denise Dresser has received threats for the article this summary is based on.

Seven Murdered Miners

Yesterday, April 22, 2014, I watched as many as 600 men in their thirties and forties march down the middle of Hidalgo, Guanajuato’s one road in the bottom of the canyon that holds the small city. They were robust young men, and for that reason I guessed they were miners. I remarked to my partner that what we were seeing meant there must be something like a general strike in the surrounding mines—at least for that day. My partner read a banner and said, “They are commemorating seven miners, from seventy-seven years ago,” and then I knew what it was about.

To explain, I have summarized an article by Alfonso Ochoa in the Guanajuato newspaper Correo, from April 22, 2013.

Seventy-seven years ago, on April 22, 1937, seven labor organizers left the Cubo mine—an area I have visited several times—drove across the treeless ridges toward Guanajuato and were stopped by another car. Gunmen got out and shot the organizers down, finishing them off with a single bullet to the head, un tiro de gracia, a coup de grace. The names of the murdered men were: Reynaldo Ordaz, J. Jesús Fonseca, Juan Anguiano, Antonio Vargas, Simón Soto and Antonio García y Luis Chávez. The official story was that roving bandits had done it. The miners’ companions said the mine manager, a Mr. Quinn, had ordered it.

One source repeated what his grandmother Jovita Salazar had told him: that a certain “El Cojo” Severiano was in her store with a group of rough-looking men, watching for the departure of the labor organizers. When “El Cojo” saw the organizers leave, he told her something like “Ahora sí ya nos vamos, yo creo que ya va a estar el mole,” something like “Things are going just the way we want them.” And then they left, too, following the organizers’ car.

While the organizers were being murdered, a truck with men, women and children drove by, witnessing everything. The mine management wanted to crush efforts at organizing, an activity that was necessary because conditions in the mine was terribly dangerous because of unnecessary cave-ins and the lack of ventilation—which meant miners suffered terribly from silicosis by breathing particles hanging in the air.

Some time later, a miner by the name of Vicente Uribe managed to murder Mr. Quinn at the Dolores Mine. The union whisked Uribe off to Mexico City and hid him there, protecting him from the authorities—who, it was said, accepted the murder of union organizers but not of American mine managers. As the story goes, American President Roosevelt complained to Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas that miners had murdered an American mine manager, and Lázaro Cárdenas had replied that the American-controlled mine had murdered seven Mexicans.

If you go to Cubo today, in the town’s modest plaza you can see the mounted seven bronze busts of the   murdered miners. Conditions have not changed a great deal in the intervening years. The new owners are Canadians, not Americans. Miners still work long hours with low pay. Ventilation has improved but miners still suffer from dust particle illnesses. They still wear soft-toed rubber boots that expose them to crushing injuries. The mine owners do not equip them with emergency breathing kits that should be hanging around their waists. One day a year, the Día de las Flores, the mine owners serve free ice cream to the miners’ children. And year after year, the miners march down Guanajuato’s main street, Hidalgo, refusing to forget what happened to their fathers and grandfathers seventy-seven years ago.

Update: My former Spanish teacher, the wonderful Carolina Rodriguez, told me yesterday what her cousin’s grandfather told her cousin: that the seventh man—who was not a miner—had hitched a ride in the doomed car and was murdered along with the rest of the men.

For more on Guanajuato’s mining culture, please read my short story “Underground Amphibians” on this blog. Simply go to the search box on the front page of the blog and write in that title.

Enrique, the Highway Bandit

We had been walking around San Miguel de Allende on Good Friday. Cars had been excluded, and the streets were filled with happy strollers. When we got back to the car, on the north side, near Vía Orgánica—a good organic restaurant and produce market—and got in, the car’s engine did not catch, even though the battery was strong and the Honda CR-V had shown no sign of ailing.

Something had happened that I could not explain.

I got out of the car and headed to a car shop not a hundred feet kitty corner from where the car stood. A man intercepted me.

“Puedo ayudar?” he asked. Can I help?

He was unshaven, wearing a soiled shirt, dirty shorts and worn out running shoes. A simple canvas bag hung over one shoulder. I dismissed him with a curt, probably classist “No, gracias.”

I continued on to the workshop. I explained that my car that had mysteriously decided it couldn’t start. The man in charge pointed behind me. I turned to see the raggedly man that had offered to help me.

“He’s a car electrician.”

I apologized to the man in the dirty shorts, and accepted his help and the mechanic’s implicit recommendation. We also have our own saying about Mexico: when you’re in trouble, especially with cars, help seems to materialize out of thin air.

I remembered the electrician had been sitting on the curb with his back against the corner building, when we returned to the car. Strange things happen in Mexico, so I accepted his position as within the range of normal or different.

I lifted the car’s hood. He took tools out of his satchel. He took the lid off the black casing that held all the Honda’s relay switches. He touched each relay with a current tester and the tester’s light lit up, except for one. He announced that there was a sensor problem. I had no idea what that was, but he seemed to be experienced, plus the shop had said he was a car electrician.

I asked whether he could fix the problem. He said he could, but he would need three hours. I asked whether he could get parts. He said he could. I said it was the first of three days of holiday. Would the parts store be open? He said it would. I accepted that, as well.

He had certain irregularities, limbs a little out of line. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. A neighbor came out of a door ten paces away to offer any advice that might be needed. Sotto voce I asked whether he knew Enrique. “Very reliable,” he said.

After poking at this and that, Enrique mumbled something about a sensor that impulsaba something. That was already too technical for me. Three hours is what he needed. We exchanged cell phone numbers and tested them, getting a reassuring ring out of his. We said our goodbyes. He assured us everything would be fine. We withdrew to Vía Orgánica, went up onto their azotea, their roof, and ordered soup and salad. Then it was the siesta hour and, in the shade of nearby trees, two of us stretched out on wooden benches and slept a wink or two.

Sitting up again, I remarked that we were conducting an experiment in trust. A complete stranger had our car keys and our phone number. We began to compare observations, and the questions that arose from them. Why, for example, had Enrique been sitting on the curb at the corner? I began to remember that he had already been sitting there before we set off on our stroll hours earlier. Why this satchel of tools? Worry began to override trust. I gave my mouth a final wipe for signs of soup and said I was going to go check.

The Mexican owner of Vía Orgánica was sitting at one of the tables downstairs with—I learned later—the store’s accountant. I said I was sorry to bother them but did they know a certain Enrique that appeared where cars mysteriously refused to start. They didn’t know Enrique, but they knew about other incidents. The owner got up and said she would go back to Enrique with me. He was sitting on the curb again, across from the car, enjoying the shadow cast by an east-facing wall. He saw us coming and got up and went to attend to the car again, as if there were still much to do.

The owner of the store asked him what was wrong with the car. She said there had been other incidents. She asked him whether it might be a good idea to call the police. I asked him where the new part was. He said it was coming.

“But why is it taking so long?” my new supporter asked.

He replied that the store was some distance away. Five blocks, she said. She brought up the topic of the police again.

I asked to see the old part. He showed it to me. It was a metal plug with a plastic hat that had broken off. He handed it to me in two pieces. Maybe a rock had done it, he said, because it came from an area under the engine supposedly exposed to the road.

There were three connector holes in it. The piece meant nothing to me, except for the fact that it could be plugged and unplugged into the car’s electrical system.

My supporter went off.

A couple and their two Swedish visitors came out of a door that was nine paces away. The woman in the couple was also Swedish. She and her American husband had lived there forever and swore by Enrique’s dependability. They had never heard anything negative about him. A representative from the car shop—that was now serving mainly as a parking area for the Easter weekend—approached. A short interrogation ensued. Enrique explained the problem. I watched the representative’s face. I could not read it.

The Swedes left, showering me with reassurances.

Enrique walked off and turned a corner, perhaps to meet the person that was bringing the new part.

I stayed and chatted with Jovani, who said he was Enrique’s son. He was a likeable kid of eighteen or twenty. He had turned up about when I began asking doubting questions. I wasn’t sure what his purpose was. My partner and a writer friend from California came to check on me. They had been talking with the owner of Vía Orgánica. They asked a few questions. I caught them up on what appeared to be happening or not happening. They went on a few doors and began talking with an American friend that runs a fine boutique for women’s clothing. I went to join them. For a moment of two I was out of sight of the car. When I emerged from that woman’s courtyard door, I saw movement around the car. I approached. Enrique was already under the car, clanking with a small wrench.

“I want to see the part before you put it in,” I said.

He continued clanking.

I repeated my request. “I have to see the new part first,” I said.

“Okay, just a moment,” he said.

I was looking down through the engine. He was bolting something to the engine. I repeated my request. This time it was more like a demand. I told him I couldn’t confide in him if he wasn’t going to show me the clean part. I may have mentioned the idea of calling the police, if that was the way it was going to be.

“Okay, you want to put it in yourself?” he said

“No,” I said. We needed to get home. There seemed to be no one else that was going to get the car going again at the beginning of a three-day holiday.

Again I said I needed to see the part. He started unbolting the same part—the one I wanted to see in its pristine state. It had a metal plug and a cap with wire leads. The metal plug was covered in oil, so that I could not tell whether it was new or not. I told him so. He tossed a small box out from under the car—presumably the box the part had come in. It box was dirty and battered, as if it had kicked around in his satchel for a year or two. The broken part he had given me earlier would not fit in it. I said as much. He said the plastic hat came off. I could not detach the plastic hat.

He asked Jovani to start the car. It sprang to life, as good as new. He crawled out from underneath. He asked Jovani to test the headlights and the turn signals—as if they might have been affected by the defective part. Inside, Enrique clipped the plastic cover back over the wiring behind the steering wheel, as if he had been trying to trace the problem there with his current meter.

He removed an old t-shirt he had been sitting on to protect the driver’s seat while he worked there. Just the way the dealership removes the paper protectors from the front seat of your car when they pass it over to you after servicing.

I asked him how much he wanted. He said one thousand one hundred pesos for the new part, four hundred pesos for his labor. I handed him fifteen hundred pesos, or roughly $120. He said I should call him if I had any problems in the future; that he was there for us if we needed him. I even shook his hand. His hand and arm were deformed by large swollen bumps, possibly from gout. He gripped my hand awkwardly.

He and Jovani left quickly. The owners of Vía Orgánica approached. They asked me how much Enrique had charged me. I told them. I also told them he had refused to show me the new part, the box hadn’t fit the broken part he had originally given me, the box was dirty and there was no receipt. I said I thought he had disconnected something and then simply reconnected it. They said I should come back to the store, they were going to reimburse me for the 1,500 and that we were good customers and that we shouldn’t have pay this kind of penalty for parking and shopping at Vía Orgánica. I said they weren’t responsible. They said, okay, how about we pay half. I said okay. They said they were going to do something about Enrique. They said they had learned that Enrique had been dismissed from the nearby automobile shop four months earlier—for irregularities.

There are three reasons a modern car doesn’t start, I have since found out through the world of Google.

First, if there is no spark. Enrique had had no access to the under-the hood part of the engine, hence to the spark plugs.

Second, no fuel is getting to the engine. The fuel pump has to be functioning. What I saw Enrique moving his wrench around was not a fuel pump.

Third, if the timing has been disabled. Enrique had had access underneath the engine to the Camshaft Position Sensor.

When he showed me the loosened the Camshaft Position Sensor, it was fairly dripping with dark engine oil. If the broken part he had originally given me had come from my engine, then there would have been at least the smell of fresh oil on it and perhaps traces of oil on the ground underneath the engine. There was neither. He had unbolted the real Camshaft Position Sensor probably for the first time when I asked to see the new part.

There had never been a new part, and the old part he handed me, I realized later, could not have come from my car, because it was badly damaged, with broken wire connections. The engine would have stopped running long before we arrived in San Miguel de Allende. Rather, what he had done was simply unplug Camshaft Position Sensor’s electrical connectors, a condition impossible to ascertain without a technical knowledge of cars and a clear view of what happens underneath the engine. It had never occurred to me to crawl under the car and get as soiled as Enrique.

Enrique had diagnosed the problem from the very start. He had said it was a sensor before even getting under the car. He had also correctly diagnosed me as the unwary traveler and technical idiot. Also as a man more privileged than he was. He had chosen the beginning of a three-day holiday when there would be no other recourse for getting the Honda going again, and had profited nicely. What is remarkable is how hard I had tried to believe that he was not lying to us, how hard I had tried to behave in a non-classist way and be respectful of his knowledge—and not as the suspicious type my partner sometimes accuses me of being.

Enrique is part of a long tradition of Mexican banditry and shows the bandit’s sense of entitlement to share some of what those with more money have. He had correctly chosen us as the people with more—people who were going to shop at an organic food market and restaurant where things are not cheap—and he had played me well the whole way. I had gotten away at half price, thanks to the impressive responsibility assumed by the owners of Vía Orgánica. In the end, I still felt grateful to be the victim of a bandit in Mexico, rather than, for example, in the U.S., because it seemed more culturally interesting and comprehensible to me here south of the border.

Well done, Enrique, but beware, my friend. The concerned people at the store are on to you—even if the rest of the street retains their unshakable faith in you.