Tag: Mexican corruption

The Paris Talks


Spring 2015

How many groups in exile have met in this city (or New York or Mexico City) to discuss the salvation of their countries of origin, or to simply write what they risked their life for by saying it at home? During different periods of history, they came from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile; from the Congo and Egypt; from Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Irak; from Palestine; from Germany, Cuba and The United States; from Vietnam, China, Russia and the Soviet Union. There is a long history of “Paris talks.”

I attend a daily two-hour conversation group for foreign students wanting to improve their French. All of us come in off the street, paying a small fee. I meet bright, kind, likeable young people, roughly 25 to 35 years old from some of these countries, and from many others. Some of them hate their governments for the oppression they exercise over their people. Some of these students will not being returning home, if they can help it, at the risk of living in exile.

Last night I attended a meeting at a private venue. There were perhaps twenty people, out of all of Paris, in the room. They were Mexicans. They had come to listen to a panel of Mexican scholars and writers discuss the political situation in Mexico. Mexico is where I live and, to a great extent, the subject of my novels and essays. I listened intently. What I heard was not new to me. What was new was being witness to a kind of exile group meeting to discuss what can be done to save their country from full-blown dictatorship.

They talked about what should resonate with almost everyone these days: living in a country where there is a long history of voter fraud, intense, unrelenting and reality-distorting propaganda, with essentially no outlet for massive grass roots discontent. Where the powerful in the country, elected or not, are disconnected from the base and answerable only to themselves and their allies and cronies. A great question looms, and that is whether, with the June 7, 2015 elections coming up, one should vote or annul one’s vote, rather than support a corrupt system. Because the voice of the people is blocked, the three speakers argued that that Mexico is essentially a dictatorship. What I thought they left out was the context: a country where there is no rule of law, where judges and prosecutors have no protection because all the police forces are corrupt; where journalists and labor leaders are murdered in great numbers (the most journalists of any country in the world); where a parallel narco government exists or merges with the regular government; where in two states at least (Michoacán and Jalisco) Army generals rule like war lords, committing more extrajudicial executions than the narcos; where auto-defense groups formed to protect their communities become the targets of Government, the narcos, the Army and other militarized groups.

During the meeting, the pendulum swung between despair, cynicism and hope. One speaker urge support for MORENA, a relatively new grassroots political group that grew out of the National Convergence and became the National Regeneration Movement (el Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), made up of many citizen initiative groups. MORENA is putting up civilian candidates: academics, writers, athletes and social activists in the up-coming congressional elections. Up to this point, in their brief history, they have won only about 2% of the national vote. But things may be changing if enough of the disenfranchised electorate can hear about them and act.

Of course, even if they could win in larger numbers, the citizen candidates would still have to contend with the reality of existing power: the separated, uninterested, entrenched, perpetually ruling political leaders (the PRI and the other parties) who have become the great masters of fraud; two television monopolies that are handmaidens to them; the Army (Marines, Navy); the corrupt police at all levels; the narco rule on the local and national level; and the legal vacuum which can offer them no protection to those who want and lobby for the rule of law.

One more Paris talk on how to save one’s home country from tyranny. Was it one of the seeds of a citizens’ non-violent revolution? We will have to wait and see.

Kaliman and the Madness of Writers

Kaliman is a walking wreck, with hair like a bush, swarthy from complexion, some of it dirt, and of this I’m sure, he has identified me as a writer—since he is one, too—and is trying to infect me with all his insanity. His eyes are squinty from too much thinking. My mother would have faulted him for his dirty ankles, more for his lack of socks. “Were you brought up in a barn?” she would have said with her gentle scold. I’ve known him for thirteen years. He was brought up on the street, and apart from cows.

Today he spoke to me for the first time. I was sitting in a local wreck of a café, sipping moras y yoghurt, blueberries and yogurt, a berry-like tea for Mexican yuppies. The window was open to the street, and I sat behind an iron railing, thank god, a little below the slanted callejón where he was standing. He brandished some writing at me and said some unwritten words. I ignored him, like a dessert we’re wise to decline. So little separates us from Kaliman and, as much as I would like to have broken our thirteen-year silence, I did not. There are traditions to uphold. Plus, dementia often waits for us down the line. A little preview baked by Kaliman might have been ahead-of-time contagious. One bite of him could have been enough. One glance at his scribbling bereft of words as we know them could have destroyed my own—all part of his plan to induct me into the Hall of Insane.

Clearly, someone had told him I was a writer like him. And now he wanted to change that as well, infect it, so that my words collapsed into kuneiformed rubble like his own? But, hold on. I could be just as devious and put an end to harassment of this sort. I stood up, collected my Apple things and beckoned with my index digit to coax him into a cyber café, where I plopped him down in front of a computer—not that I cared one way or another whether he knew what one was. I showed him how to touch the keys, my account, meaboutme@gmail.comto an old and unresponsive friend, and only inserted a few words of my own. Camel, Allah, NSA-Great Satan. The rest of it looked like rat droppings fonted in pungent rows.

Some time passed while the words flitted through Our Coaxial Who Art in Heaven, and then the FBI visited me—its Mexican cell. The snoop cartel.

“Did you write this?” they asked, at my mesquite door, showing me a stamped and dated official copy of the time-sensitive drivel.

“No, my friend Kaliman did,” I replied—as truthfully as truth allowed.

“Who is Kaliman?” they asked—taking notes.

I described Taliban—I mean Kaliman—and where to find him, near the Museo de Leyendas, description enough—little visited repository of legends. An institution I thought would list him eventually, once things had passed.

They returned.

“He’s not sane,” they said.

“Who is these days?” I answered, palms outstretched.

“He doesn’t understand the words camel, Allah, USA or Great Satan.”

They looked at me with suspicion, looking for guilt.

“That should be ‘NSA-Great Satan.’ Not ‘USA-Great Satan.’ And written together,” I said, precise from my training as unionized teacher-citizen, California.

“Whatever,” said the less amused of the two.

The seat of his pants was shiny. I could see he is on his way to being Kalimanized. I wondered whether I should tell him, or what.

“You need to be careful,” I say. “He can infect your thinking.”

“Perhaps you’ve infected his,” says Agent Less Amused. “Adding words to his.”

“I have never spoken with him,” I said.

At that moment, Kaliman showed up. Not surprisingly, he had found out where I lived. He brandished a scribble. We were all in danger.

“He’s a writer like me,” I said. “And doesn’t wear socks.”

They tried to examine the page, but Kaliman clutched it, like a raccoon with an egg, and looked at me for help. I smiled at him and told him—breaking my vow of silence—he could trust me and that I would read it for him, without cracking the egg. His eyes brightened, one of them wept a cleansing line down his cheek. I had won his confidence. That much was clear.

I struggle with the first word. “Ben—gha—zi,” I read. “Benghazi,” I said. translating from Kalimandarin to English. “Al…al….al…,” I read.

“Al Qaida?” barked Agent Grouch, with a professional tone and ready to pounce.

“Al—lah,” I completed, nodding and pleased at my code breaker talents.

“It’s clearer now,” I continued. “Allah…be praised…my camel…Benghazi…knows more…about…Libya…than…Obama’s whole Stasi.”

I looked up at them, their darkened Homeric brows.

“That’s what it says, the rest is gibberish,” I said. And then, “I appreciate your trouble….”

“What does it mean?” they asked.

“Who knows?” I said. “The man is mad, as mad as a hatter—without doubt it’s a thing of no substance—of little matter.”

I often rhyme when it’s least appropriate.

Just then, Kaliman did me a favor, plucked the page out of my hands and stuffed it into his gob and, with shark-like pressure of grinding enamel, re-encrypted the code beyond all reach. He picked at his tooth where a phrase had got suck, spit out a glob of something penciled and strutted away, I supposed to re-establish the silence that he had broken between us.

“His brain is limited,” I said, “unlike our own. He must read the paper, AM or Correo or Corazón—all reliable rags. He’s like a parrot and repeats whatever he’s told. Nothing to worry about. Thank god there’s surveillance. I’ll keep you informed if I learn any more. Things that begin with ‘al…’—and words of like clout.”

The FBI said I would be hearing from them, but I never did. It’s possible they read my blog and tap my everything Google or Apple—looking for things like “NSA-Great Satan” and equivalent babble.

As for Kaliman, he avoids me with care, I suspect smelling treachery. And all has returned to its former quiet. I am still un-demented, my writing as well, don’t you think? Everything is good, everything swell. And so, Happy New Year everywhere, there’s nothing more to this, as there wasn’t before. But should more come up, you’ll be able to tell.