Mexico

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Mexico to Redraw Drug War Relationship with the US After Mexican General’s Arrest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/11/2020 - 6:48am in

The arrest of Mexican General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda at LAX in October was the culmination of a secret operation carried out by the U.S. Justice Department and the DEA. The operation was not disclosed to the Mexican government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) before his general’s capture.

In one of his daily morning addresses after the fact, AMLO admitted that the news caught him by surprise – a statement he later retracted in an effort to save face and avoid scrutiny into the lack of any provision in Mexican law, or in bilateral drug war agreements signed with the U.S., to compel their powerful northern neighbor to disclose specific details of ongoing operations.

Such a bold attack on the sovereignty of another nation is not exceptional behavior for the only superpower on the block, which has historically bullied, blackmailed, and murdered leaders around the world. Nevertheless, the unilateral detention of a foreign military official to face a criminal proceeding in a United States court is a watershed moment in the forty years of the so-called “war on drugs”.

From the beginning of the disastrous policy, trying foreign nationals in American courts has been a permanent feature. Extradition has figured prominently in drug war tactics. The U.S. demands it as a condition for all of its partners in the ostensible fight against organized, multi-billion-dollar drug cartels, which since the late ‘90s has been led by U.S. Southern Command.

The issue nearly toppled the Colombian government during the violent clashes of the Pablo Escobar years, as the drug kingpin made extradition the center of his crusade against his state persecutors. The invasion of Panama just a few years earlier signaled Washington’s aggressive intentions to the rest of Latin America when it deployed Navy SEALS and other special forces to capture one of its oldest covert assets in Manuel Noriega.

The case of General Cienfuegos, who was apprehended at an airport without any prior arrangement with the Mexican government, reveals the flagrant contempt America’s federal law enforcement agencies have for the laws of other nations. At the same time, the absence of a formal extradition request on the part of the U.S. could be a clue about the true motivation behind the high-profile arrest, which has AMLO thinking twice about his relationship with the United States surrounding drug war policy.

In a recent interview with Proceso, Mexico’s Secretary of State, Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that a decision has been made to revisit all cooperation agreements with the DEA as a result of the General’s arrest. “Everything will have to change,” Ebrard said and warned that although there would be cooperation, it would be “on different terms.”

 

Operation Godfather

Six days after the DEA announced the results of a large, multi-agency operation targeting the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) called Project Python (which netted over 700 arrests and millions in cash, arms, and narcotics) the Mexican government requested information from the U.S. Justice Department about American drug cartels in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr in March.

Through the official missive, AMLO and his foreign minister asked the DoJ to provide more actionable details regarding American drug cartels. Among those mentioned in the letter to Barr are the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Gangster Disciples, and Calle 18, whose extensive links to Mexican cartels like CJNG demand that any relevant information on these organizations be shared with Mexico.

 
The request is based on revelations made a month before by Arizona’s DEA Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Polo Ruiz, who admitted in an interview with Proceso cited in the letter, that American drug cartels have established their own territories in the United States, and while they do work with Mexican cartels, operate independently.

The agent’s admission marks the first time an active DEA official has ever recognized the existence of these groups, spurring the Mexican government to bring it up directly in official state-to-state correspondence after the agency published a list of corporations identified in Project Python as money laundering outfits. All the companies named via Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) were Mexican and omitted any mention of American companies.

Barr’s response came about a month later in mid-April. America’s top cop assured AMLO that he had instructed representatives of the DEA in the U.S. Embassy to get together with their Mexican partners and counterparts as soon as the COVID-19 crisis permitted. As for the queries about American companies, Barr extended nothing more than hearsay from DEA agents who claimed to be working on the matter with the Mexican Treasury.

Operation “Godfather,” as the scheme to capture Cienfuegos was called, was executed without the knowledge of any of the multiple Mexican anti-narcotic agencies ostensibly working in concert with the DEA and came months after Barr’s deafening silence on the matter of shared intelligence with Mexico.

The former Mexican Secretary of National Defense is facing three counts of drug trafficking and one count of money laundering in a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, NY. His defense attorney – also Bill Cosby’s attorney – was the lead prosecutor for the largest money laundering case in U.S. history, known as Operation Casablanca, which targeted several Mexican banks and Mexican bank officials in 1998 just before Mexico lifted a ban on foreign banks, which were expelled from the country by President Lopez Portillo more than a decade earlier – a crucial turning point that preceded the exponential growth of drug cartels in Mexico and which I covered at length in part two of my documentary series, “Borderline: The Unhinged Truth About the Drug War.”

 

The soft invasion

According to J. Jesús Esquivel’s article in Proceso, Mexico has 54 DEA agents operating largely at their own discretion inside Mexican national territory. Douglas Valentine, interviewed by MintPress for this report, suggests there are likely hundreds of additional undercover agents roaming the country.

Valentine unpacked the secret history of federal drug law enforcement in the United States in two recently-published books that trace the involvement of American intelligence agency, military, and federal law enforcement personnel in the facilitation of world-wide drug trafficking operations. His earlier work on the Phoenix Program established Valentine as a leading investigative journalist working to shed light on some of the darkest activities of the U.S government.

On the arrest of General Cienfuegos, Valentine asserts that “it is exactly what it looks like,” meaning that the brazen affront to Mexico’s national sovereignty was a message to its leadership discouraging any further inquiries (like the one made in the letter to Barr) seeking information about American drug cartels in order to identify the real distribution networks and the flow of illicit gains through the American and international banking system, that ultimately make the drug trade possible.

“A Mexican can’t bring drugs into the United States, say 500kg of drugs, and do anything with it,” explains Valentine. “There has to be an infrastructure and people waiting to receive it. Motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels, Bandidos and other groups collectively referred to as the “Dixie Mafia,” mentioned in Mexico’s March request are used as “frontmen” by powerful American organized crime groups, says Valentine. But, points out that the major markets like New York, L.A., and others are controlled by the mob.

“The Hells Angels aren’t going to be able to New York City and distribute it,” says Valentine, and “to have those systems set up, you need the mafia, which has police protection, political protection”. Such are the networks that Bill Barr seems to be protecting by rebuffing Mexico’s request and pulling a mafia Don move on its southern neighbor by hanging its dirty laundry for the world to see.

“The CIA knows from its surveillance of communications and its agents inside the Mexican army who all the top people are,” and they can drag them out into the sunlight anytime they want to preserve the pretense of law enforcement, justify budget increases or send veiled warnings to other heads of states when they are asking too many questions.

The incredible reach of U.S. intelligence and agencies like the DEA, FBI, and ICE, to name just a few, into Mexico’s military and law enforcement establishment is a reality that began to take shape in the 1940s through a burgeoning relationship between Mexican law enforcement and American intelligence. These ties have grown exponentially since Reagan made the war on drugs a matter of national security and opened the door for the Defense Department to get in on the action through bi-lateral drug war treaties, like the Merida Initiative signed by George W. Bush and his then Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón in 2008.

Similar bilateral agreements exist all across Latin America and have given the United States a privileged position within the law enforcement and military operations of many countries throughout the region. Over the course of the war on drugs, American influence over the increased militarization of police in Mexico, Colombia, and other countries have allowed them to shape security policy to a large degree.

The results for Mexico have been catastrophic. Death tolls often surpass those of the wars in the Middle East and around the world. An especially gruesome incident in 2011 expertly covered by Ginger Thompson, exposed the sheer disdain by agencies like the DEA and the FBI for the lives of innocent people, who – in this particular case – were left at the mercy of a notoriously murderous cartel leader after the drug enforcement agency’s dubious handling of sensitive intelligence.

AMLO’s promise to take a different tack on confronting the cartel problem in Mexico by reducing its dependence on state violence might be raising alarm bells in Washington, motivating actions like Operation Godfather to put the fear of god in the leadership of America’s largest trading partner.

 

A shot in the dark

If AMLO’s desire to reshape the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico is sincere, then we could be looking at a real turning point in U.S.-Mexico relations and a return to an era when Mexico’s political class regarded its ‘distant neighbor’ – to borrow a phrase – with far more suspicion.

By all appearances, Mexico’s president seems to want to help his own people, which is more than generations of Mexicans can say about most former presidents. Compared to mega grifters like ex-president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who stole millions directly from pensioners and set the stage for the re-introduction of foreign global money-laundering outfits like HSBC into the country, AMLO is King Solomon.

Bill Barr AMLO

Barr, left, speaks with AMLO in Mexico City, Dec. 5, 2019 after Trump suggested the US would classify cartels as terrorist organizations. Photo | MPPO via AP

The Mexican president has been taking a lot of heat since taking office in 2018 from upper and middle-class sectors over what they consider his radical leftist policies. Large demonstrations have been taking place in Mexico City over the last several weeks calling for his resignation. But, the majority of Mexicans, who are not part of these economic brackets, support his presidency and appreciate his populist rhetoric.

At the very least, AMLO has stated unequivocally that the Mexican government has no plans to foot the bill for General Cienfuegos’ legal fees, which could hover between $800 and $1,000 per billable hour according to reports. The suggestion that Mexico should tap the federal budget to pay for the General’s high-priced defense team came from the opposition party (PRI) leader, who put forward a proposal to protect the Mexican armed forces from foreign law enforcement agencies.

The nature of such legislation might well be at the core of the issue surrounding the unilateral detention of a military general and goes to the heart of the transnational justice system, which the U.S. has been informally implementing through its drug war policies and which poses a fatal threat to the sovereignty and self-determination of any independent nation in Latin America and beyond.

 

Mexican standoff

It’s no secret that high-ranking members of the Mexican military have been vital cogs in drug trafficking operations carried out on Mexican soil. It is the only entity in the country with the capacity to move the narcotics “clandestinely from ports of entry in Mexico up to the American border,” according to Valentine. Cartel leaders often answer to one or another official at some level of the Mexican federal government, ranging from a hotshot federal police chief to the president of the Mexican republic itself.

The corruption of Mexico’s institutions is legendary among its own people, who rarely give politicians – or anyone in a position of authority –  the benefit of the doubt. Contempt of power is a cultural idiosyncrasy and no one who intends to hold any kind of office or rank in Mexico is above reproach in a country where impunity rules the day.

In the United States, however, the vast network of military, law enforcement, and intelligence operatives crawling all over the dark underbelly of the global drug trade are exempt from scrutiny. Their principal roles in the movement of illicit drugs all over the world runs contrary to the carefully-crafted do-gooder narratives churned out by Hollywood since the collapse of the American socio-political consciousness.

The corruption and impunity in America hides behind its own legal code and is jealously guarded behind a rhetorical veneer of exceptionalism that the Church committee, Vietnam, and the string of political assassinations had all but shattered in the 1960s. More recently, the seminal work of journalist Gary Webb exposed the nexus between the global drug trade and the American establishment, which has rebounded in remarkable fashion to conceal the extent of the corruption and impunity, once again.

William Barr, himself, was one of the very people directly involved in sweeping the sordid past and atrocious activities of programs like MKULTRA, COINTELPRO, and Iran-Contra under the rug. As U.S. Attorney General, he continues to do the same when uncomfortable questions arise about the role that American drug traffickers, corporations, and banks are really playing in the ostensible fight against drugs.

Feature photo | Then-Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, right, and Undersecretary Noe Sandoval Alcazar, left, gesture directions to soldiers marching past, during a review of the troops that will participate in the Independence Day parade, in Mexico City, Sept. 14, 2016. Rebecca Blackwell | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Mexico to Redraw Drug War Relationship with the US After Mexican General’s Arrest appeared first on MintPress News.

Mexico to Renationalize Oil Next Year If Current Laws Fail to Save Reeling PEMEX

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 6:32am in

Faced with thousands of conservative opposition demonstrators camping out in the streets of Mexico City since he took office, the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is under renewed pressure to come up with a strategy to address the nation’s tottering energy sector, which has reached a critical juncture in the historic and controversial privatization carried out by his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, which marked the ostensible end to a central tenet of modern-day Mexican self-determination and reintroduced foreign and U.S. oil interests into the core of Mexico’s socio-economic development.

Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), once a bastion of Mexican national sovereignty, threatens to become an “incurable cancer,” according to Bank of Mexico’s deputy governor, Jonathan Heath, as the ‘liberalized’ state oil company tops the list of the world’s most indebted, with a balance owed in excess of $100 Billion.

On Thursday, AMLO announced his intention to reverse Peña Nieto’s energy reform bill if he is unable to find structural solutions to the company’s severe financial problems, which have been further complicated by the downgrading of its stock to junk status in April of this year by credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch, triggering billions of dollars worth of bond sell-offs.

 

COVID economy

Mexico’s financial outlook has dimmed considerably due to the confluence of the energy company’s problems and the internationally-imposed COVID-19 economic lockdown protocols. AMLO has blamed foreign oil interests for constricting his plans to use PEMEX as a springboard to correcting the nation’s economic woes and, in 2018, suspended all international oil auctions for three years after successful bidders failed to actually invest in oil exploration or production.

Mr. Heath, who was appointed by Obrador to head Banxico, the country’s national bank, came to assume the role after serving as chief Latin American economist for HSBC; a bank deeply embroiled in laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.  According to him, if AMLO doesn’t limit the company’s tax obligations, it will eventually affect Mexico’s sovereign rating because a full 14% of GDP is contingent on PEMEX’s production.

AMLO first hinted at the prospect of re-nationalizing Mexico’s oil industry in August and doubled down on the idea during Thursday’s press conference, as well as leaving open the possibility of refinancing the energy sector’s enormous debt. In June, Obrador vowed to boost capacity at the country’s six refineries in order to achieve gasoline independence by 2023.

“López Obrador has the potential to be one of the best presidents,” Heath claimed in a 2018 interview. He also “has the potential to be one of the worst…,” Heath told the Financial Times. In May, the head of Banxico characterized AMLO’s approach to the country’s economic crisis as swapping one problem for another, referring to AMLO’s decision to avoid debt as a mechanism to escape the economic problems brought on by the pandemic and the energy sector’s systemic issues. “Instead of having a short recession and then an immense headache with an unplayable debt,” Heath observed, “[AMLO] is betting on having a more profound and complicated recession, but once we are out, we will not have the same headache that other countries will have.”

 

Historical returns

The history of how PEMEX came into existence and its significance in the geopolitical landscape between the U.S. and Mexico, in particular, cannot be overstated. In the throes of one of the world’s bloodiest revolutions at the turn of the twentieth century, foreign oil companies and their respective governments were intervening directly in the pivotal conflict more than a hundred years ago.

British, German, and American firms were fighting amongst each other to control the country’s oil and were contributing to the turmoil by financing the different factions vying for control of a nascent political system. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the conservative party that emerged out of that war and that would rule uninterrupted for the next seven decades, hinged nearly all of its power on the nationalization of the country’s oil, which served to not only to eject the deleterious influence of the burgeoning foreign energy cartels from Mexico but also to forge a national identity.

As the world undergoes a transformation on par with the one that marked the beginning of Western hegemony in the twentieth century, Mexico, once again stands at the threshold of a pivotal course of action that will determine if the nation survives into the second half of the twenty-first century.

Feature photo | Striking workers from Mexico’s state oil company, PEMEX, stand next to their encampment outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Sept. 15, 2020. Rebecca Blackwell | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Mexico to Renationalize Oil Next Year If Current Laws Fail to Save Reeling PEMEX appeared first on MintPress News.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 8:19am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

August 6, 2020 Edwin Ackerman on Mexican president AMLO • Marcia Chatelain, author of Franchise, on the impact and role of black McDonald’s franchisees

The Pallid Shadows of Revolution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/08/2020 - 8:00am in

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Mexico

Continuing my engagement with the novels of Paco Ignacio Taibo II (or PIT) on Mexico, my attention here turns to el monstruo, the monster, that is his book Retornamos como sombras (Returning as Shadows, 2001). Readers of my earlier blog post The Shadows of Revolution will recall that this book is the sequel to Sombra de la sombra (The Shadow of the Shadow, 1986). Across 400 pages, this follow-on is another mesmerising journey through the geopolitical economy and urban spaces of Mexico City by way of architecture, streets, images, and symbols. Yet it is more.

The book also delivers a much wider multi-scalar analysis of the geography of Mexico itself, covering the ‘peripheries’ of the Mexican state including the municipality of Tapachula in the far southwest of the state of Chiapas, alongside Mexico City, and Veracruz, the major port city and Gulf-of-Mexico-gateway. What boundaries between fiction and history is PIT transgressing in Returning as Shadows and how does he explore the spatial labyrinths of modern state and city-scape?

Picking up the narrative of this sequel, the book is a novel of Mexico crossing the winter of 1941 and the summer of 1942 that traces the Naziphilic modes of thought generally shaping the politics of Mexico at the time and specifically of Miguel Alemán Valdés, who served as Secretary of the Interior (1940-45) prior to becoming the President of Mexico (1946-1952). In the book Miguel Alemán is embroiled in an affair with the German actress Hilda Krüger who was also a spy for the German Abwehr network, the intelligence-gathering agency that reported to the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW or Wehrmacht).

As PIT states in a series of author’s notes at the end of the novel, ‘the social history of Alemán’s white-collar robbery is part of the collective memory of thousands of Mexicans’. This history is pieced together drawing from FBI archives along with some historical retouching. The author admits that ‘nothing contained in these pages is exactly as it was, although that does not mean it cannot be so now’. The Abwehr is thus at the centre of the novel in its attempt to establish operations in Mexico, which were headed by Georg Nicolaus working out of offices in Mexico City.


Gran Hotel Diligencias (Veracruz)

The spatial labyrinths of the modern Mexican state and its city-forms covered in the book include the port of Veracruz itself, aerially captured in the above set image depicting Fort San Juan de Ulúa on the left, with references in the novel to the Gran Hotel Diligencias while in the city of palaces that is Mexico City references to old favourites include the buildings of Banco de Londres y México, Estación Buenavista, and Palacio Negro (Lecumberri Prison) as well as to newcomers such as the National Lottery Building at the top of Paseo de la Reforma, ‘that glorious new example of national architecture’ designed by José A. Cuevas (the city’s main skyscraper, albeit in 1945). As PIT reflects on this capital city and this city of capital, ‘This is an unfinished city, but what city is not? What city that boasts of being complete does not show an indeterminate face?’

Against this historical and spatial backdrop are the four original characters from the earlier novel, namely the poet Fermín Valencia, recently a veteran of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) in which he lost an arm and now working for the Ministry of the Interior; the journalist Pioquinto Manterola who now receives communiqués from the president, Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940-46), and now working for Vicente Lombardo Toledano; Tomás Wong (alias La Iguana) who takes to hunting down patrols of Nazi brown-shirts in the jungles of Chiapas; and Alberto Verdugo, the lawyer, now struggling with mental health issues in the asylum known as the Lighthouse.


Edificio El Moro, Lotería Nacional (Mexico City)

Dispensing bones (dominoes) for decks (poker), there is a central gathering of the four protagonists in which they reflect on the brown-shirts patrolling the Soconusco jungle and the submarine bases thought to be nestled south of Veracruz – thereby spatially linking Veracruz back to the militarisation of Chiapas and also to the rightward lurch of Mexican politics in the capital city. In dialogue with Manterola, it is Fermín Valencia (the Poet) that states, “When we got together twenty years ago in that strange domino club, I think it was you who said that we were ‘the shadow of the shadow’, right?” As a Special Agent for the Ministry of Interior, he continues, “. . . I now have the distinct feeling that we are returning as shadows, as pallid shadows of our former selves . . . we are no longer what we once were”. In response, Manterola states: “Returning as shadows. I like it. And next time, after another twenty years, I’m going to remember it was you who said it”. Shortly thereafter, Fermín Valencia says to Tomás Wong and Manterola, “If the pattern continues, the next time we all see each other, we’ll be seventy”.

Politically, the novel is infused with a critique of the renovated and reborn post-Porfirian class society shaping Mexican politics in the 1940s and the turn away from the interventionist policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). ‘The powers that be have been affecting the wheel of fortune, turning it in the other direction, toward modernity’. As the character Manterola states of Miguel Alemán:

It’s a new thing in the government, something born of the Revolution. He’s no general; he’s a lawyer. The son of a general, yes, but with a law degree instead of an officer’s rank. He’s part of a new caste. A brief campaign, then the senator’s office, then three years as governor of Veracruz. Without leaving so much as a fingerprint on the office. And now it seems as if he’s teamed up with the president according to that damned pendulum theory: Cárdenas’ government swung to the left—damas and caballeros and good consciences undisturbed—but now it must return to the right.


Liga Pro Cultura Alemana / Leopoldo Méndez (1938)

Geopolitically, the attempts to quell the rise of Nazi propaganda and espionage are relayed alongside the attacks on several tankers that precipitated Mexico’s entry into the Second World War. As Monica Rankin details in her excellent book, ¡Mexico, la Patria! Propaganda and Production during World War II (2009), this was the era in which groups such as the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) and the Liga Pro-Cultura Alemana (involving artists Leopoldo Méndez and Jesús Escobedo) were formed to combat the spread of fascism in Mexico and to facilitate the dissemination of anti-Nazi propaganda. The torpedoing of the tankers Potrero de Llano, Las Chiopas, Faja de Oro, and the Oaxaca by German U-boats in 1942 ultimately breached the pendulum balancing act that characterised Mexican presidencies. The stances of Mexico’s politicians therefore shifted from complicitous neutrality and conspiring with the Germans to aggressive non-neutrality and conspiring with the Allies.

Linking the scalar relations of the geopolitical and the national is the political economy of Chiapas at the sub-state or regional scale. The humid tropics of the southwesternmost point in Mexico, the region of Soconusco, becomes a crucial backdrop to the novel – despite it being ‘forever condemned to be the periphery of the periphery’ – in terms of the political economy of its coffee plantations and as a place where the Nazi mobilisations unfold. PIT traces three distinct but overlapping landscapes surrounding the capital of the region, Tapachula: 1) the jungle, acrid and mysterious, full of spectres and serpents; 2) the ordered symmetrical zone of regular geometry in the terraced fields and interminable rows of coffee plantations; and 3) the alluvial town itself, on the border with Guatemala and known as the ‘pearl of the Soconusco’.

While Tapachula grew and prospered, with its air heavy from mining camps and its shores red with the fortunes of coffee beans, so did Bremen, with its art deco brick neighbourhoods owing to the genial architect Hoetger, the money of the founder of the Hag Corporation, and the inventor of decaffeinated coffee, Ludwig Roselius, who controlled the Mexican coffee network in Germany.


Liga Pro Cultura Alemana / Jesús Escobedo (1938)

It is the small red fruit grown in Chiapas and cultivated into coffee beans that connects the multiscalar spaces of Mexico by linking German plantations to the cosmopolitan town of Tapachula; by connecting the hacienda German property owners to the campesinos labouring under conditions never resolved by the Mexican Revolution; by tying the pharmaceutical companies such as I.G. Farben producing caffeine tablets and aspirin to their competitors in the United States; and by relating the coffee ranchers in Soconusco to the cupola of the Nazi party, attempting to secure bases in Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz. Although, subsequently, Miguel Alemán seizes and dismantles the Chiapas plantations he does not nationalise them. ‘In the end, the land will return to the same old owners’, notes PIT.

Running through Returning as Shadows is a thread connecting the Naziphilic coffee growers of Chiapas to the spaces and places of the political economy of Mexico and its emergence as a modern capitalist state. The local is constitutive of the geopolitical. The character Verdugo comments towards the end of the novel on the Mexico City he loves so much and the country that he sees through the imagination and memory of others. But he then states, ‘As I write, the Germans have reached as far as the Volga, looking down on Stalingrad from atop their ominous tanks’.

The geopolitical is constitutive of the local. After thwarting the plan to establish Nazi influence on the territorial space of Mexico, the co-conspirator Verdugo (or the Poet) is gunned down at his office door, killed by fellow officers within the Ministry of the Interior. The further entrenchment of the ruling party’s swing to the right is assured under Miguel Alemán’s rise to power across the spaces of the modern state, returning the coffee plantations to the landowners of German descent in Soconusco in 1946, and by commanding the spaces of the city and the urban expansion of capital.

The post The Pallid Shadows of Revolution appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Chasing Spaces and Shadows of Revolution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 7:55am in

Tags 

Mexico

Furthering my sometime theme on the representations of space in Mexico City, I want to continue my interest in the work of Paco Ignacio Taibo II (or PIT) and this time his novella De Paso (1986), published subsequently in English as Just Passing Through with Cinco Punto Press (2000). Readers may recall my earlier discussion of PIT’s preceding novel Sombra de la sombra (1986), or The Shadow of the Shadow. The subsequent novella Just Passing Through picks up the same theme of the earlier book by deciphering spaces of post-revolutionary Mexico in the 1920s. In this case it follows the exploits of Sebastián San Vicente (aka Pedro Sánchez or the Tampiqueño), a Spanish mechanic and boiler repairer, as well as anarcho-syndicalist, that arrives in Tampico in 1921.

As ever, PIT is blurring the boundaries between fiction and history in writing the biography of this historical figure through literature. He playfully notes that by drawing from original documents, police files, archival sources, newspapers, and secret service reports it would be difficult to describe the work as a novel. Yet, he also playfully notes that it would equally be difficult to describe the work as a documentary, given its reconstruction from the author’s imagination; hence it is obviously a novel. How is PIT chasing space and shadows of revolution in Mexico in Just Passing Through?

The narrator of the novella is PIT himself, 29 years before he is born, searching for intertextual references to Sebástian San Vicente, in FBI records during the Wilson era, in anarchist records, newspapers, and other documents. San Vicente was a founder of the Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT), a revolutionary syndicalist union, illusively organising labour strikes against the emerging bourgeois forces shaping the Mexican state. As PIT narrates about San Vicente, ‘There are not any streets around named after him. Even now he is just a blot, a piece of mist. “The Shadow of the Shadow”, I am going to call him and some other friends in a future novel’, explicitly referencing The Shadow of the Shadow. As PIT adds: ‘Why do I chase shadows? Is it so I can talk to them?’.

Later the same theme is narrated. ‘Maybe shadows have a certain density about them, but as for shadows of shadows—those elusive, misty and faint traces I find here and there—there is very little of the human warmth left that brought them about. Just scraps of news picked up from his friends over the years, mere scraps of scraps of scraps. Faint shadows’.

In chasing the shadows of Sebástian San Vicente, PIT’s aim is to review and extend the Left’s pantheon of heroes in Mexico, especially following the difficulties that the ’68 generation faced in appealing to wider referents (see ’68). But PIT is also chasing space in this literary work: trying to grapple with the interrelations, the multiplicity of trajectories, that shape the spatiality of Mexico and its capital city, thereby conceptualising space as multiple, relational, and unfinished in configuring the politics of the state.

Ricardo Flores Magón by Pete Yahnke Railand of the Justseeds Artists' Cooperative

Ricardo Flores Magón by Pete Railand

References throughout the novella are made to Mikhail Bakunin, Errico Malatesta, and Élisée Reclus and later also Peter Kropotkin, Jean Grave and Ricardo Flores Magón, as prominent anarchists, while the novella weaves in correspondence from Charles Phillips, a Marxist organiser (aka Manuel Gómez). In one letter, dated May 1921, the United States national reflects on how in his own country, after world revolution, ‘the skyscrapers must be preserved as they are monuments too, after all’.

In conversation with San Vicente, after their May 1921 arrest and during possible deportation, Charles Phillips (aka Manuel Gómez) reflects on the cause and process of revolution, an echo of similar reflections in The Shadow of the Shadow. He states: ‘The revolution is science, brother. As long as you don’t understand that simple idea, you won’t be able to put yourself in the right place, the right course . . .’ By contrast, San Vicente declares that: ‘The revolution is an act of will. What the bleedin’ hell has science got to do with it?’ He continues: ‘The main problem as I see it, getting down to brass tacks, has to do with this dictatorship of the proletariat business’, which he views as neither temporary nor to do with the proletariat but based on an eternal dictatorship of the Party. In response, Phillips states: ‘But the Party represents the best of the class’, and that the working class cannot take power without organisation. The two then consider the role of the soviets, granting room for all political organisations, from the grassroots, from the workers’ assemblies. But even in Russia, San Vicente concludes, the anarchists and social revolutionaries have been persecuted and excluded for acting against the Bolshevik dictatorship. Phillips’ rejoinder is that: ‘The revolution can only prevail with centralisation’. Coordination, not centralisation, is the key for San Vicente in realising the initiative of the producers in shaping the new society and not the strengthening of the state.

In a long passage constituting a single chapter, PIT again returns to the theme of the production of space constituting and reconstituting, creating and recreating Mexico City:

The city nowadays is not what it was back then. The city back then was not what it is now. Seventy-five years have not gone by for nothing. That is not the problem. It is nothing to do with trying to find the 1923 Mexico City in today’s monstrosity. Nor am I going to get caught up in nostalgia for things I never saw, things I can hardly imagine. It has all to do with a professional problem. Once you realise that that city is not this one, you are left with the problem of finding that city. Newspapers have etchings in them, they talk about tramlines, of open spaces with maize ripening in them with nothing but a narrow road cutting across with the odd Ford or Packard wheezing along. Newspapers can supply the décor, the scenery—two patches of wasteland here, a street there, a man selling birds carrying ten cages piled up on his back like a tall pillar, a colonial building, ten trams in a depot, two men on horseback halfway down the Paseo de la Reforma. It’s not that. It’s more, that’s just the danger—the temptation in believing the city is not the same as its décor. It’s me that needs the pulse, the heart of the city, that feeling in the air which the Sunday music just hides, those provincial smells the big city has yet to blot out. And so San Vicente moves around on a large stage set, a soulless city. And that is my problem, not his.

In chasing spaces and shadows, the process of revolution is regarded by PIT as part of a series of connective jigsaw puzzles that are lodged in many cities, moments, and organisations. The spaces of Mexico that are also shadows recounted are those of the Buenavista Railway Station (pictured), originally constructed by Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México but then first remodeled under President Adolfo López Mateos in 1961; the old San Lázaro railway station (featured in the set image to this post), once the main terminus for the Interoceanic Railway linking to the port of Veracruz and, since 1969, a metro station and Mexico City’s eastern bus station; and Colonia Hipódromo, an old horse racetrack of the 1920s created from the hacienda of the Countess of Miravalle that was redeveloped into La Condesa, a modern suburb of Mexico City, and now Parque México.

However, it is Sebastián San Vicente that exits these spaces, on the run he is eventually captured and transported to Veracruz where he is due for deportation. Eventually, leaving Mexico at border control in Veracruz, he is asked if he entered the country illegally. San Vicente indicates that he does not believe in legality or borders. ‘There was no difference between Mexico and Guatemala’, he states. ‘Just from one tree in the jungle to another. Trees don’t recognise borders either’. Thereafter, from 1923 onwards, San Vicente dissolves and vanishes into thin air, in that thing we call history and space with him possibly seen in La Coruña, Spain, and then Bordeaux, France.

After Just Passing Through, it is to the political economy of state space, geopolitics, and the labyrinths of the city form that PIT returns in Retornamos como sombras (Returning as Shadows, 2001), which will be picked up in my next blog post on chasing space in Mexico City.

The post Chasing Spaces and Shadows of Revolution appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Essential—and Expendable—Mexican Labor (Part 2)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 5:44am in

On both sides of the border, Mexican workers are now essential—to U.S. corporations.
By Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher (guest post)

This article is in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense.

Drafted to Serve: Mexican Workers under the Defense Production Act

In March, the nationwide cries for more medical equipment evoked calls from Washington, D.C. to essentially conscript medical supply firms under the Defense Production Act. This Act was implemented in 1950 to force and enable the private sector to prioritize production and delivery of strategic supplies in a time of national emergency. The president then demurred, while stating that such a policy would amount to “nationalizing our businesses,” then suggested that applying the act would be similar to steps taken in Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez (1999–2013).

According to President Trump, running out of crucial medical supplies during an unprecedented pandemic was not a sufficient reason to invoke the production authority of the state—failing market forces all along the medical supply chain could not be tampered with lest the United States slip into Venezuelan-style economic paralysis.

On the other hand, as the pandemic predictably arrived at the nation’s cramped and fetid slaughterhouses, discomforting the Big Four meatpackers (JBS with $39 billion in sales in 2017; Tyson, with $38 billion in sales; Cargill, the largest privately-owned firm in the United States, with $20 billion in sales; and Smithfield, with $15 billion in sales) and disrupting shoppers, these meatpacking behemoths did nothing. At their plants, the meatpackers could not be bothered to protect workers; and the spike of Covid-19 cases among meatpacking employees led to a slow-down in the slaughtering of animals, which led to shortages of meat. The president quickly swung 180° to apply the Act in late April. This mobilized a “critical infrastructure,” especially the Big Four’s infrastructure that very comfortably controls approximately 80% of the beef industry. (The top four in pork slaughterers controlled 64% of the market in 2011, while the top four in poultry producers controlled 56% of the market in 2019). Unlike meeting the demand for medical supplies during a pandemic, slaughtering animals was, apparently, too “critical” to be left to the “free” market.

In 2017 the United States exported 13% of the cattle slaughtered, along with 27% of pigs, and 17% of chickens to other countries. While the Defense Production Act’s powers could control foreign markets (exports and/or imports), U.S. slaughterhouses were left free to sell to the highest bidder.
In effect, U.S. slaughterhouse workers and all others involved in the meatpacking supply chain had been drafted to ensure that the flow of profits for the Big Four continued. Implementing the Act meant that workers could no longer receive unemployment benefits. They were now “free to choose” between zero income and near zero job prospects outside the meatpacking plants or work in one of the three most impacted job sectors (the other two being nursing homes, which mass deaths from Covid-19 have turned into veritable death camps, and prisons and jails, where infections have run rampant).

 

There’s No Business Like Agribusiness

Right behind the arms-contracting corporations and aerospace firms that swarm the Pentagon stands the mollycoddled U.S. agribusiness interests. Just as the Pentagon was long ago “captured” by the arms contractors who weave in and out of top positions in the Department of Defense in order to return to the contracting firms through Washington’s “revolving door,” so, too, do the corporate chieftains of agribusiness rotate through the Department of Agriculture and the many other federal and state agencies that work hard to ensure that profits stay high in the agricultural sector.

In this sector government assistance at the local, state, and federal level, has long been readily forthcoming to control the labor force and manage the surges in demand for seasonal tasks. Meatpacking, of course, can be undertaken without too much regard to the seasons. It is therefore rightly considered a manufacturing process that long ago adopted “continuous” production processes—often on a 24-hour basis. Like the seasonal-crop farm labor force, slaughterhouses long ago found that the best labor force is an immigrant labor force, documented or not. And, predictably enough, nearly 50% of this labor force consists of “Hispanics.” Since nearly two-thirds of all Hispanics (according to the U.S. Census) are Mexican-born, we find that the use of the Defense Production Act to keep the slaughterhouses open is part of the larger process now taking place in both Mexico and the United States to force poor Mexicans to risk pandemic death, or long-term decrepitude, in order to make vehicles and auto parts for the U.S. populace and to ensure that its meat-centric diet is maintained. Embodied Mexican labor—workers who were expelled from Mexico during the long night of neoliberalism (1986–2018)—is the key component of the meatpacking supply chain in the United States. Disembodied Mexican labor is the key labor-intensive input of the U.S. auto/auto parts supply chain, as we have explained above.

 

Werner Sombart’s “Free Lunch”

Famously, in Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?, Werner Sombart claimed (in 1906) that U.S. workers, unlike their counterparts in Europe, were loyal to “the promised land of capitalism” because it provided them with “reefs of roast beef.” Indeed, before Prohibition (1920–1933) a typical saloon in the United States provided an overflowing sideboard “free lunch” for the “thirsty” patrons—roast beef being a mainstay. Sated, workers could then proceed to “bring home the bacon.”

So, what would happen if “reefs” of roast beef disappeared from the food system, along with that defining metric, bacon? We have seen that exhausted health care workers have been made to wait for protective equipment until the “free market” got good and ready to sell them such equipment at whatever prices the market will bear. But could the general populace be made to wait for meat at prohibitive prices? Oh, no.

In a society where well-being has largely been defined by the ability to consume, it has long been taken as a given that meat, or any other food item, would be immediately available in any quantity desired, provided that the buyer had sufficient funds. When that turned out to not be the case, the Defense Production Act was immediately deployed to force an overwhelmingly immigrant labor force to make an ugly decision—go to the front and hope to dodge the pandemic’s bullets or face deportation, hunger, or both. Suddenly, from the long valleys of California to the largely Midwest slaughterhouses, Mexican workers who had risked arrest and deportation to get to the United States were carrying letters or cards showing that they were “essential.” The farmworkers were, as usual, forced to face a daily diet of poisonous pesticides and the risk of infection from the deadly pandemic. But slaughterhouse workers must spend their work shift in tight quarters, in a closed structure among hundreds of workers, usually with circulating air that will bring all possible viral pathogens right to them.

 

The Pandemic Behind the Pandemic: Neoliberalism

Behind the pandemic of 2020, which has left Latinos with nearly a six times higher infection rate than the average Iowan, lies a deeper pandemic which has spread despair across the United States for four decades. This pandemic—known well outside the United States as neoliberalism—transformed the once heavily unionized labor force in the meatpacking industry into low-wage, disposable drudges. Wages that were 15% above the national manufacturing average in the 1970s had, by the 1990s, fallen 20% below the median. Once subject to industry-wide bargaining agreements, plant unions now bargain weakly: in 2019 only 19% of the 292,000 meat processing workers were union members. In the 1980s and 1990s slaughterhouses were mostly shifted to “right-to-work” rural states to break the legacy of the large-city unions. These states allow workers a “free-ride”—they can have the benefits of a union contract without paying dues—and this feature makes it almost impossible to maintain a union shop. Doubling up, employers began recruiting immigrants, particularly from Mexico. Today, the labor force has a turnover rate ranging from 60–100%, and the meatpackers union has been largely silent as the pandemic has spread.

Just prior to the decision to impose a military-style command system in the slaughterhouses, the Big Four dominating the supply chain (and the many small operations), facing massive pandemic outbreaks, demanded that the federal government impose labor rules that would exempt them from any workplace liability for death or illness arising from the pandemic. Corporations are maneuvering to use the Defense Production Act as a “liability shield” in order to stave off an expected wave of lawsuits alleging workplace negligence—such a wave would raise their liability insurance rates. Under the new arrangement, proven “negligence” may not trigger a court award—workers would have to prove “gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct.” Operating under the Defense Production Act, the meatpacking plants have become the spearhead of big U.S. capital—if they can weaken workers’ rights to a demand a safe workplace, such new legal arrangements will be used by all sectors to weaken labor safety standards and drive down their operating costs.

Meanwhile, across the Midwest, the South, and the Rockies, where most plants are located, right-wing governors are working hand-in-glove with the meat barons, county health departments, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to hide any and all information with regard to infection rates and deaths from the pandemic. Only days after Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, data releases on the pandemic’s spread at the slaughterhouses all but ceased. Still, county-wide data showed that in Finney County, Kansas, home to a Tyson slaughterhouse, the infection rate on May 25, 2020 was one in every 26 people. This is nearly eight times the very high national average. The same results, as recorded by the New York Times map “Coronavirus in the United States,” could be found over and over again: Cargill’s plant in Ford County, Kansas produced an infection rate of one in every 21 people and Tyson’s giant plant in Dakota City—operating with 4,300 workers—left nearby Woodbury County, Iowa with an infection rate of one in 39.
In Mexico and the United States, millions of “essential” Mexican workers—essential to the profits of U.S. super-corporations—are pressed to toil on: they must ensure that the U.S. populace face an even larger oversupply of motor vehicles and whatever “reefs of roast beef” remain after the lucrative export market has been supplied.

In Mexico and the United States, millions of “essential” Mexican workers—essential to the profits of U.S. super-corporations—are pressed to toil on: they must ensure that the U.S. populace face an even larger oversupply of motor vehicles and whatever “reefs of roast beef” remain after the lucrative export market has been supplied.

MATEO CROSSA is a researcher based in Mexico City. He received a Ph.D. from the  doctoral program in Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico.

JAMES M. CYPHER is an emeritus professor of economics in the doctoral program in Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico.

Sources:  Shawn Fremstad, Hye Jin Rho and Hayley Brown, “Meatpacking Workers are a Diverse Group,” Center for Economic Policy Research, April 29, 2020 (cepr.net); Roger Horowitz, “The decline of unionism in America’s meatpacking industry,” Social Policy (32: 3, 2002); Union Stats, 2019 “Union Membership by Occupation: Standard Occupational Classification 7810–Butchers and Meat Processors,” 2019 (unionstats.com); Michael Corkery, David Yaffe-Bellany and Drek Kravitz, “Meat Workers Left in the Dark Under Pressure” New York Times, May 25, 2020 (nytimes.com); “Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak” New York Times, May 25, 2020 (nytimes.com).

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Essential—and Expendable—Mexican Labor (Part 1)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 6:19am in

On both sides of the border, Mexican workers are now essential—to U.S. corporations.
By Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher (guest post)

This article is in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense.

Lear Corporation—one of the world’s largest auto parts manufacturers—rose to position 148 on Fortune magazine’s famous list of the 500 largest firms in 2018. It operates with roughly 148,000 workers spread across 261 locations. Its largest presence is in Mexico, where approximately 40,000 low-paid workers make seats and labor-intensive electronic wiring systems to be used, primarily, by the U.S. auto giants in auto-assembly plants on both sides of the border. The largest share of these workers slog away in three huge Lear plants located in the notoriously dangerous border town of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

On April 10, 2020 a worker named Rigoberto Tafoya Maqueda died from Covid-19, which had swept in from the north. He had been diagnosed in Lear’s clinic with a mild allergy and was forced to continue working without a face mask, gloves, or hand sanitizer. A short time later, he went to the government’s Social Security hospital, on foot, where he died. Four days later, according to Lear, 13 more workers at the plant had died—but the workers’ labor union claimed that the actual number of work-related deaths from the pandemic was 30. Lear claimed it was not responsible in the least, while offering hollow condolences to surviving family members.

As of late May, no investigation of the workplace had been conducted and no legal charges of negligence had been raised against Lear or any of the other 320 maquiladoras—also known as maquilas, or more recently, by outraged workers, as “makilladoras”—that employ approximately 230,000 in Juárez where workers have been sickened. By early May, 104 of these workers had perished, by early June the estimated number of worker deaths was above 200. In all of Mexico, this city, with the largest concentration of low-wage assembly plants, had the highest incidence of pandemic deaths—a mortality rate 2.5 times the national average.

Tijuana is the city with the second largest number of maquilas in Mexico. There, one in four “formal” sector workers (workers with registered jobs and certain rights to health care) work as low-wage laborers producing components for automobiles and many other industries. Tijuana is located in the state of Baja California in Mexico, where the highest number of pandemic deaths—519—had been recorded as of May 15. Of those deceased, 432 were maquila workers. By June 4, Tijuana had the highest number of Covid-19 deaths, 671, of any city in Mexico.

 

U.S. Business, U.S. State Department Demand: The Maquilas Must Open

Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana are tangible symbols of the imposed power structures under which transnational corporations operate throughout the global South, most particularly in Mexico. In these two border cities, 1,000 miles apart, we find nearly one-fifth of the maquila workforce—500,000 out of a total of 2.6 million workers. Here, in response to corporations’ treatment of workers during the pandemic, the scene has included bitter strikes, social outrage, and numerous well-attended protests all aimed at imposing plant closures and paid leave. The plant owners have refused to assume any responsibility whatsoever for their negligence, insisting that the work must go on. Instead, they have pressured local and federal governmental agencies to ensure that, in spite of an unsanitary environment, no new safety and health regulations of the workplace will be imposed. After reopening in late May, the plants have taken some measures to reduce health risks among the workers, including the use of masks and plastic dividers at workstations (see photo of seat assembly) and in company lunchrooms.

At the same time, plants have increased the pace of production exponentially. Even with the measures taken, there have continued to be outbreaks of Covid-19 at the assembly plants. Indeed, the long-powerful U.S. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has used every opportunity to ensure that no sustained period of plant closures be implemented—including sending an unprecedented letter to Mexico’s president on April 22, signed by 327 corporate titans who enjoy the lucrative benefits of sweating Mexican workers. Signatories included the heads of 3M Corporation ($32 billion in sales in 2019), Arcelor/Mittal USA ($15 billion in sales 2019), and Caterpillar ($54 billion in sales 2019). Using a lot of imagination, and no small amount of chutzpah, these captains of industry demanded that President Andrés Manual Lopéz Obrador (or AMLO, as he is known)—who had declared at the start of his presidency that the neoliberal era that had defined Mexico’s economy since 1986 was over—declare that Mexican autoworkers were engaged in an “essential activity.” The letter demanded that the president assure that “all interruptions in the North American manufacturing supply chain would be minimized in these critical moments.” AMLO responded immediately by stating that Mexico and the United States would come to an agreement and that “there were exceptional questions” to resolve with the United States.

Has there ever been an occasion when a president of a sovereign nation has been told that its populace—beset by a vicious pandemic—would have to march into poisoned plants in order to maintain the profit margins of foreign-owned corporations?

If that was not enough, Christopher Landau, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, gave himself a pat on the back in late April by declaring via Twitter, “I’m doing all I can to save supply chains between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.” Immediately joining the fray, the employers’ and manufacturers’ “peak business organizations”—long the real rulers of Mexico—began to lobby and orchestrate political pressure to guarantee that maquila output would not be interrupted. The large owners associations included the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE), which is comprised of the largest Mexican firms, and the arch-conservative Mexican Employers Association (COPARMEX), which was formed in 1929 by the anti-union oligarchy based in industrial Monterrey, echoed the arguments presented by the NAM. Also joining in was the Association of the Mexican Auto Industry (which was founded in 1951 by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen, and lists no Mexican-owned companies as members).

 

A National Security Issue?

At this point, an unexpected actor entered the scene: The Undersecretary of Defense of the United States, Ellen Lord, declared to reporters in late April, “I think one of the key things we have found out are some international dependencies…” adding that “Mexico right now is somewhat problematic for us.” In her remarks, Lord said nothing about Mexican workers becoming deathly ill, or worse, that toil in the maquilas, now located throughout the country (not just on the U.S.-Mexican border). She also added the “National Security” argument to her framing of the pandemic’s impact on U.S.-Mexico supply chains: “these companies are especially important for our U.S. airframe production.” And, indeed, over the past 20 years the United States has outsourced a modest amount of aerospace production: in Mexico this consists of labor-intensive components that are used by the U.S. civilian aviation firms, along with some Pentagon military contractors, and are typically manufactured in maquilas. One example of this minor sideline of maquila manufacturing—and the conditions that workers face at these factories—is a Honeywell plant in Juaréz where, on April 22, workers engaged in a three-day wildcat strike after learning that Covid-19 had spread into the plant, killing at least one worker.
One protesting worker summarized the situation:
They do not want to give us [sick] days, we are worried because of the pandemic, management does not listen to us, they only tell us [to keep working] and they will give us a bonus of $18-$31.50 [dollars per week] but they will not respond to our demands, we have been on strike three days but the truth is that they are paying no attention to us.

 

Inaugurating the USMCA

The U.S. pressure game got quick results: on May 12 the Mexican government declared that the aerospace maquilas (which, as of 2020, had only 57,000 direct employees) and the very large auto parts and auto assembly industry—which employs nearly 960,000 workers and is a mainstay of the “export-at-all-costs” neoliberal model—were “essential” industries. With this decree the alarm bells ceased in the United States. Further, the Mexican government set June 1, 2020 as the date to return to full operation in the auto industry, which ensured that the beginning of the NAFTA-II Agreement (officially the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or the USMCA) was still on track for July 1, 2020. President Donald Trump will undoubtedly use the official launch of the USMCA to maximum effect as he hones his electoral strategy. AMLO supports this new agreement to “help stop the fall of the economy” and promote new foreign investments.

The list of transnational firms that are already in production—or will shortly resume— where Covid-19 has spread is a long one, and includes such companies as: Lear Corporation, Honeywell, Syncreon Borderland, Foxconn, Plantronics, Leoni, Rockwell, Mahle, Electrocomponentes de México, Electrolux, Hubbell, Commscope, Toro Company, Ethicon, Cordis, Syncreon, Flex, Keytronic, Optron, TPI, and APTIV. In April, shutdowns affected approximately 60% of all maquiladora workers in Juarez—a situation that was probably representative for the entire industry—suggesting that as many as 3,000 of the 5,162 maquiladora firms operating in April temporarily closed. The companies that are reopening are doing so without regard for the deaths of hundreds of their plant workers (some registered, some not). These firms have been the most enthusiastic advocates of restarting production as they have sought to drown out the resistance of their workers. On May 10, the maquila association (Index) reported 55% of the maquilas in operation. On May 19, as a great number of plants reopened, maquila workers in Jauréz and Matamoros marched to demand the closure of many plants, including those operated by Foxconn in Santa Teresa (where there were six Covid-19-related deaths, according to the workers), Electrocomponentes de México (10 deaths), Lear (30 deaths), Electrolux (seven deaths), Toro (two deaths), and Regal (13 deaths). The workers asserted that none of these operations—which make a range of products, from snow removal equipment to home appliances —were essential and that none of them had met the sanitation requirements as mandated two months earlier. In Juaréz, 66 maquilas that make neither auto parts nor aviation parts (i.e., those never categorized as “essential”) have remained in operation throughout the health crisis.

All across the borderland, from Tijuana (with an estimated 1,000 maquilas) through Mexicali in Baja California to Nogales, Sonora (with 70% of maquilas in operation on May 18), and on to Juaréz, Chihuahua, and then to Ciudad Acuña, Cohauila (where 23,000 workers returned to their plants on May 20) and to the other end of the border in Matamoros, Tamaulipas (where the hospitals were full of dying workers) these states, and 269 municipal governments, had capitulated to the pressure from the United States to reopen. Meanwhile, the Mexican federal government refused to impose its own hygienic measures.

 

NAFTA: Myth of Development, Reality of Deindustrialization

The destructive impact of the pandemic on Mexico reveals further the direct consequences of 26 years of neoliberalism under NAFTA, which exacerbated inequality and largely destroyed the nation’s public health system, while imposing a new regime of food precarity as once nationally-produced grains sold at controlled prices are now imported. This shift away from producing staple foods in Mexico has resulted in the displacement of millions of peasant cultivators—many of whom eventually migrated to the United States to work in the dirtiest, hardest, most unstable, and unrewarded jobs available.
What’s more, despite the increased prosperity that NAFTA promised, throughout the NAFTA era average workers’ wages—measured in terms of their purchasing power of basic goods—have generally declined. Over the past nearly three decades, exports have surged (especially in auto and auto parts manufacturing), and Mexico has been forced to de-industrialize as the domestic market has drowned in a sea of cheap imports. As a result, the industrial share of the GDP fell from 36.2% in 1993 (the last year before NAFTA took effect) to only 29.6% in 2017 as manufacturing ceased to be the driving force of the economy. In the period from 2003–2016, national content (with value originating in Mexico) across Mexico’s broad manufacturing export sector averaged only 41%. Using cheap labor to process imported inputs (59% of the value of manufacturing exports does not originate in Mexico) into goods that are largely exported to the United States now defines Mexico’s ever-plodding economy. A large portion of the millions of manufacturing sector jobs that were lost in the United States after 1993 were transferred to Mexico where an enormous army of impoverished wage workers crowded into the maquiladora firms—which, as mentioned, now directly employ 2.6 million throughout Mexico.

As was the case in 1992–1993, when the business and political elites of Mexico opened the road to NAFTA—portraying the agreement as a much-needed lever to promote development—these same forces are now eagerly awaiting the USMCA. This delusionary enthusiasm found its way into an essay written by AMLO and published by the office of the president on May 16, 2020:

To be the neighbor of the most powerful economy in the world under the current circumstances of global recession will help us to drive forward our productive activities and create new jobs. It is a fact that the agreement will attract more foreign investment to our industrial export sector.

But the rage of the maquila workers has further unmasked this myth of economic development, despite the fact that, after some attention received in April, the media has largely ceased coverage of labor strife on the border. On the first of May, International Workers Day, the streets of Ciudad Juárez woke up to graffiti proclaiming “STOP MAKILLAS.” In this manner a diverse collective of workers began a campaign to raise awareness about perilous workplace conditions—announcing that “el virus es la makilla” (the virus is the maKILLa) and that “la makilla te aniquila” (the maKILLa will annihilate you)—and to demand new protections centered on Salud, Trabajo y Dignidad (Health, Work, and Dignity). Through these protests, they were able to communicate to the nation the completely arbitrary and unaccountable manner in which the transnational firms were operating along the border and throughout the country. The current policy is for these firms to force workers into the plants (lest they literally starve) on the pretext that they are involved in “essential” activities. Firms expect workers to continue doing their jobs without sanitary protections, given that distancing in these factories is impossible. Indignant workers have drawn attention to those who have been summarily fired, without justification as required by the labor law, when they resisted being forced into the deadly plants. These workers were then denied their indemnification for losing their jobs. (The labor law requires that employers pay workers fired without cause three months of salary plus 20 days of pay for every year of service, and a number of other smaller payments.)
STOP MAKILLAS!” was also the cry heard on May 12, when the Mexican government declared that maquila workers in the aerospace and the auto industries were “essential” (essential to the United States) and had to be forced to work, regardless of the utter absence of health and safety protections for workers. The workers responded by demanding they be put on leave at full pay (as well as that all necessary sanitary measures be taken).

But workers’ concerns and their demands are clearly unimportant to the U.S. government and hundreds of U.S. companies operating in Mexico. U.S. Ambassador Landau was blunt in his advocacy of reopening in his widely circulated statement:

We have to protect [people’s] health without destroying the economy. It’s not impossible. … I’m here to look for win-win solutions. On both sides of the border, investment = employment = prosperity.

And so, only four weeks after shutting their doors, the maquilas were open without any clear information as to which, if any, measures had been taken to protect the returning workers. Most workers were forced back onto the shop floor (although some large export firms delayed until June 1). The agencies of the Mexican government (at all levels) and the company-controlled unions had fallen over backwards to ensure that the profits would soon again be flowing, primarily to the United States. In the border state of Chihuahua, for example, 93% of the 122 “essential” workplaces inspected were approved for operation by June 1. However, two weeks later, additional plant inspections resulted in the closure of 44 out of 208 maquiladoras for lack of compliance with sanitation requirements.

In Part 2, the authors examine how Mexican workers on the U.S. side of the border have been pressed into “essential” work in meatpacking plants through Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.

MATEO CROSSA is a researcher based in Mexico City. He received a Ph.D. from the  doctoral program in Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico.
JAMES M. CYPHER is an emeritus professor of economics in the doctoral program in Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico.

Sources: De la Redacción, “Industriales de EU piden a México reabrir fábricas” La Jornada, April 23, (journada.com.mx); Manuel Fuentes, “Maquiladoras, a laborar por órdenes del Norte,” La Silla Rota, May 20, 2020 (lasillarota.com); Joe Gould, “COVID closed Mexican factories that supply US defense industry. The Pentagon wants them opened” Defense News, April 21, 2020 (defensenews.com); Paola Gamboa, “Un bono de 700 pesos no vale más que mi vida” El Heraldo de Juárez, April 20 2020 (elheralddejuarez.com.mz); Patricia Mayorga, “Indiferencia gubernamental y empresarial expone a obreros de maquilas al COVID-19,” La Verdad, June 19, 2020 (laverdadjuarez.com); “Iztapalapa y Tijuana, cerca de los 700 muertos por COVID-19; ¿qué municipios registran más contagios?,” MedioTiempo, June 6, 2020 (mediotiemp.com); “Piden cerrar maquiladoras en frontera mexicana por la pandemia de COVID” INFOBE: México , May 19, 2020 (infobae.com); Marco Antonio López, “Empleados acusan que los obligan a trabajar pese a muertes por COVID en maquiladoras de Chihuahua” Animal Político, May 18, 2020 (animalpolitico.com); René Villareal, “Comercio exterior y el desarrollo de capacidades” Comercio Exterior, Oct.-Dec. 2018; Andrés Manual Lopéz Obrador, “The New Political Economy in the time of the Corona Virus,” Office of the President, May 16, 2020 (lopezobrador.org.mx); Alberto Morales, “AMLO comparte ensayo “la nueva política económica en los tiempos del coronavirus” El Universal, May 16, 2020 (eluniversal.com.mx).

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One Positive Feature of Black Lives Matter: It Doesn’t Include the Nation of Islam

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 1:28am in

Unlike Mike, I have grave reservations about the Black Lives Matter movement. It has excellent intentions, but I feel it is unintentionally divisive and open itself to criticism for its simplistic view of racial hatred. But flicking through some of the old newspaper cuttings I kept in my scrapbook, I really that it has made one positive step over the mass anti-racism protests following the murder of Stephen Lawrence over twenty years ago. No idiot has invited the National of Islam over here.

Stephen Lawrence, as older readers of this blog will remember, was a Black teenager murdered in a racist attack by a White gang. It became a national scandal due to the Met police’s complete lack of interest in prosecuting the crims responsible, who were all the sons of leading London gangsters. It was incompetence on a massive scale, with elements of corruption and showed the institutional racism in the capital’s police force. It resulted in mass anti-racism demonstrations across Britain.

And joining these demos were the racist extremists. Lawrence’s parents made appeals for their son’s death not to be exploited. The BNP were threatening to turn up at some these. They had been active spreading lies about the late teenager, falsely claiming that he had been a gang member, who terrorised his schoolmates in order to shake them down for their dinner and other money. And from the other side, ‘African radical’ Bernie Grant, the head of Brent council, took it upon himself to invite into the country the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and his legions from the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam has precious little to do with genuine Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’a. It’s a weird mixture of Sudanese Sufism, Black Freemasonry, and UFO space brothers contact ufology. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, who on his immigration papers was listed as ‘White’. It was while he working in a car factory that Fard was worshipped as another incarnation of the Almighty. This is incredibly heretical to orthodox Muslims. While Mohammed described Christ as ‘the purest of the Prophets’, conceived through divine action in the Virgin Mary, and that God poured out his spirit upon Him when He was a child in the cradle, they differ from Christians in that they strongly reject the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Nation of Islam naturally believe that Christ was also Black, a belief not confined to them, of course.

But there’s a large SF element to the religion as well. They also belief that Black people are the original human race, and arrived here millions of years ago from the Moon. They are superior to everyone else biologically, intellectually and spiritually. Eons ago they created a super-scientific civilisation. White people are albinistic mutants created by the evil Mekkan scientist Shaitan to destroy Blacks and their achievements. You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re also viciously anti-Semitic, wrongly blaming Jews for slavery. Farrakhan himself believed that he was taken aboard a UFO while meditating on the top of a Mexican mountain. He was transported to a giant Mother Wheel orbiting the Earth, which they conveyed him to Venus, where Fard and Jesus now reside, directing the war against Whites. Although their manifesto states that they believe in the dignity of all races and their right to self-determination, the National of Islam was are racial separatists. They demand that Blacks be given a separate country of their own, comprised of four states taken from the southern USA.

The Nation of Islam is also very strongly opposed to the welfare state, which they believe takes away Black people’s self-reliance. This alone should have had Grant thrown out of the Labour party, as it’s clearly incompatible with the core Labour doctrines of supporting the welfare state. And their separatism should have been incompatible with Labour’s ideas of anti-racism. Grant defended his invitation by saying that he had his views, and Farrakhan had his, and they didn’t always agree, but he regarded Farrakhan as ‘an elder statesman’. Well, he was, but chiefly in spreading more racist friction and especially anti-Semitism. He was a political liability, and effectively killed Jesse Jackson’s campaign to become America’s first Black president 15 years before Obama when Jackson started cosying up to him. Al sharpton was also trying to get into Britain at the same time. He’s still around, and seems to have quietened down somewhat with age. But in the ’80s and ’90s one of his tactics was to try to call attention to the terrible living conditions for Blacks in America by leading marches through White areas with highly racially charged chants. He claimed that by referring to them as his ‘troops’ he was only being metaphorical. May be so, but many feared that they would turn violent and they were deliberately provocative.

Farrakhan’s proposed visit to Blighty was opposed by a number of organisations, including Jewish groups, who had every right to be concerned. Racial extremists like him should never have been invited in the first place. The Black Lives Matter protests, although not without faults – there have been violent confrontations with the police – are mostly peaceful multiracial, including Whites and Asians as well as Blacks. They have been at pains to point out that they aren’t against Whites or trying to start a race war, just against anti-Black racism.

And in that they’re a definite improvement over the Stephen Lawrence protests and the way that Bernie Grant and the National of Islam tried to exploit them.

 

The Shadows of Revolution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 8:00am in

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Mexico

With a view to tracing representations of space in Mexico City my attention here turns to the work of Paco Ignacio Taibo II (or PIT) in his transgressions of story-history, starting with the novel Sombra de la sombra (1986) published in English as The Shadow of the Shadow with Cinco Puntos Press (1991). The book is both an exploration of social criticism as well as a work of historical crime fiction. The story is set in 1922 in Mexico City blurring the realms of fiction and history and is based around the secret Plan de Mata Redonda, a conspiracy of army colonels, U.S. senators, and oil company magnates, with the aim to separate the oil-rich Gulf Coast of Mexico from the rest of the country and turn it into an American protectorate. Where better to explore the spatial practices of Mexico City deciphered through historical fiction and the symbols of this city’s lived representational spaces?

The protagonists in this kaleidoscopic picture of Mexico City are four friends that play dominoes in the bar of the famous Hotel Majestic on the Zócalo in the Centro Histórico opposite the Plaza de la Constitución (as pictured in the set image). They are Fermin Valencia, a sometimes poet and veteran of Pancho Villa’s cavalry; Tomás Wong, a Chinese-Mexican union organiser; Alberto Verdugo, a lawyer; and Pioquinto Manterola, a journalist. The group’s domino club is like a “shadow’s shadow”, or the shadow of the shadow: it is indistinct, without any clear objective, until the characters become embroiled in defending the Republic against the Plan de Mata Redonda. This revolves around a military document, dated April 1920, which plans to instigate a revolt against the government orchestrated by oil barons, U.S. Senators, and military figures from Mexico and the United States. The members of the domino group were themselves forged in the shadow of the revolution, the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920, and have become its shadow debating and defending what they perceive to be its outcome and emerging legacy.

The Plan de Mata Retonda that they thwart has the aim of securing through military power the oil across the whole of Mexico, from the U.S. border down to the Tampico refineries and the Huasteca oil fields in the state of Veracruz amounting to some 30 per cent of the entire income of the Mexican treasury, acquired through taxes and drilling rights, from the production of 194 million barrels of crude oil a year. The domino group, in averting the coup and the Plan de Mata Redonda, really are the shadow of the shadows. As a result, the geopolitical economy of oil becomes refracted through their actions and the social spaces and lived representational spaces of Mexico City.

 

The adventure takes the reader through the streets and symbolism of Mexico City in the 1920s including the famous Hotel Regis that was part of a particular production of the tropicalisation of space in Mexico, meaning that it was complicit in imbuing the particular space and geography of Mexico with a set of traits, images, and values constructed through dominant Euro-American views about the country. The hotel was a famous luxury location for foreign visitors and tourists as well as the emerging Mexican bourgeoisie, which was itself consolidated after the Mexican Revolution.

Located on Avenida Juárez adjacent to the Parque Alameda, Hotel Regis stood as a project embedded in the spatial context of Mexico’s modernity. Down street would come to stand the Monumento a la Revolución (1936) and up street would later stand the Torre Latinoamericana (1956). However, the Hotel Regis would not survive as it was destroyed by the 1985 earthquake that devastated much of Mexico City, as famously captured in Enrique Metinides’ photograph of the crumpled hotel with the Torre Latinoamericana in the background.

Throughout the novel, Paco Ignacio Taibo II captures the history of space in Mexico City and beyond in terms set out by Henri Lefebvre by combining an account of both representational spaces (the lived) and representations of space (the conceived) and their links with social practice. How is this achieved? The domino group reflects at length on the outcome of the Mexican Revolution while moving through the geometry of Mexico City’s urban space.

In relation to urban space there are further references to landmark architectural forms in Mexico City, such as the Banco de Londres y México that was Mexico’s first commercial bank which opened in 1864 and still stands in the Centro Histórico of the city on Bolivar and 16 de Septiembre albeit with a different social function. Whereas former presidents Adolfo de la Huerta (1 June 1920 to 30 November 1920) and Álvaro Obregón (1920 to 1924) became no more than street names, the Banco de Londres y México can still be found in the same place, recounts PIT. He also relays the sprawling contours of Mexico City’s uneven development and its ‘proletarian world’ connected to the city by the thin umbilical cord of its tram system and its labyrinthine cobbled side streets leading to sweaty textile mills in the converted shells of old haciendas linked to French, English and Spanish capital.

With reference to the Revolution, Pioquinto Manterola questions: ‘After all, who were the real losers in this little Revolution of ours? The old Porfirian aristocracy? Hardly. They’re all busy marrying off their daughters to Obregón’s colonels. The outcasts, the pariahs, the real losers, same as always. The campesinos who made the Revolution in the first place’. Postrevolutionary politics in Mexico under General Álvaro Obregón (1920-24) is assessed as an amalgam of the old Porfirian aristocracy with the revolutionary generals and the rising bourgeoisie. Verdugo surmises that the problem with the new society is that ‘it spent so much time trying to be modern that it forgot where it had come from. The only ones they were fooling, however, were themselves’. Indeed, over a game of dominoes the four characters pursue an interrogation of the Mexican Revolution.

The poet Fermín Valencia talks to the others about ‘halfway revolutions’ with Pioquinto Manterola stating that: Obregón won in the end because, if you don’t count the time he was military governor in Mexico City and had the priests out sweeping the streets, he was always the most adaptable, he was always the one who could find himself a place inside the system . . . The Revolution was lost long before it was over. It was lost as soon as the generals decided it was better to get married to the landlords’ daughters than to rape them. Fermín Verdugo disagrees, stating: “Obregón and his officers would much rather have them as their whores and mistresses. That’s one of the great moral advances of the Revolution. The aristocracy has taught them how to do business, not how to sit at table. They’ve simply learned how to turn power into money, not into good manners”. “You really believe that the generals won the Revolution?”, asks Manterola. “Well, they didn’t. The licenciados, the professionals, lawyers and the like, were the ones who won it in the end”.

During the discussion, Verdugo then states: “A revolution’s fought with ideas and violence. We had plenty of violence but not too many ideas . . . Maybe it’s just that I didn’t really want to change things, I just wanted them to stay the way they were, only with different people running the show”. “Well, if that’s what you wanted, Verdugo, that’s what you got”, states Manterola. “All we have today is a sort of modernised version of the same things as before, full of words, and graves you’ve got to go visit every Sunday . . . Maybe what all those years of war were about was to just open the door a little bit, so the changes could start to happen. They’ve given land to the campesinos, haven’t they? We’ve got a new constitution, don’t we? They took the power away from the Church, they outlawed the tiendas de raya”.

In sum, my suggestion is that the novel can be read as a great work of historical crime fiction; a critique of what Paco Ignacio Taibo II calls Mexico’s ‘stolen revolution’ in which popular demands are partially fulfilled and displaced, defining the condition of passive revolution; and as a journey through the geopolitical economy and urban spaces of Mexico City by way of architecture, streets, images, and symbols. It will be fascinating to see how these elements play out in further works by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, not least the sequel novel Retornamos como sombras (Returning as Shadows, 2001).

The post The Shadows of Revolution appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

The City of Palaces: Mexico City and Carlos Fuentes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/07/2020 - 8:00am in

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Mexico

What role does the Monumento a la Revolución in Mexico City play in the literature of Mexico? Reflecting on this question, my assumption was that no better source to turn to would be Carlos Fuentes and his first novel La región más transparente [Where the Air is Clear, 1958]. The novel, set in Mexico City in 1951, carries a panoramic list of characters and traces the plight of the rising bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and the downtrodden working class. Against this backdrop, the real protagonist of the novel, however, is Mexico City itself that was once given the moniker of the City of Palaces by the geographer Alexander von Humboldt. So, what does the City of Palaces reveal to us in this work by Carlos Fuentes about the Monument to the Revolution? Surprisingly little. My re-reading of the book revealed not a single reference to this architectural landmark, which surprised me. Although the shadow of the Monument does appear in Carlos Fuentes’ La voluntad y la fortuna [Destiny and Desire, 2008], published exactly fifty years subsequently, this novel would be a very different book to rely on in terms of its literary economy. This is because ‘place’ in the latter novel is very much here a deliberately fictitious construct. My question in this post, then, became instead: how does La región más transparente offer a snapshot of the rise and rise of the monster that is Mexico City and the production of space?

The re-publication of the book in English by Dalkey Archive Press carries a fascinating new introduction by Ignacio Padilla who notes that La región más transparente has no main character in it but Mexico City itself. As a result, my commentary will be limited to just four characters that play a key role in representing what I recognise as the liminal condition of uneven development shaping the context of Mexico and its capital city. Of course, these issues are examined more fully in my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico, including a focus on the literary economy of Carlos Fuentes.

It is noteworthy that at the centre of the novel are the bourgeois characters whilst farther out on the periphery are representations of the suffering and toiling masses. The novel is a portrayal – as well as a critique – of the bourgeoisie and the nuevos ricos in Mexico but one significant character is Gladys García, a cabaret worker. On Puente de Nonoalco, a bridge frequently referenced throughout the novel and reproduced in the set image for this blog post entitled ‘Nonoalco 6’ by Octavio Olvera, she reflects on being the ‘lowest of the low, sister to peddlers of cheap tourist junk, vendors of lottery tickets, newspaper boys, beggars and cabbies, river of oil-stained undershirts, shawls, corduroy pants, broken sandals plodding the great street, wearing tracks in it’. For commentators such as Ryan Long, Gladys García is one of the ‘commoners’ – referred to elsewhere in the book in Nahuatl under the heading ‘Maceualli’ – that always remains outside the representative identities deemed constitutive of the nation. Gladys García is the ever-excluded marginal figure that is a representational microcosm of the much broader denigration of Mexico’s popular classes evident in the novel.

Contrasting with the Mexico City of anonymous sexworkers, such as those crossing Plaza Nezahualcóyotl with their knees wrapped and their heels muddy, or the newspaper boys who share ‘a skimpy evening meal’ before searching for a doorway bed, is the bourgeois parvenu Federico Robles. This revolutionary-cum-millionaire banker disdainfully surveys the wretched of the earth from his safely remote skyscraper environment and captures the disdain for the marginalised working class characters.

From Robles’s high window, Mexico City spread itself like a fanned deck of playing cards . . . the Ace of Spades at Calle Santo Domingo, the three of hearts in Polanco . . . from the dark tunnel of Mina, Canal del Norte, and Argentina, mouth open, searching for air and light while coughing up lottery tickets and gonorrhoea carriers, to the straight but not strait propriety of Reforma, indifferent to the crowded minor voices of Roma and Cuauhtémoc’s brittle-faced rising walls. From his office Robles looked down upon ungainly cluttered rooftops and thought about pointless awakenings: bleary-eyed tubs, rickety flowerpots. Robles liked to lean out his window and smell the flea circus hopping below without being bitten by all the necessary nobodies and all the nonentity weavers of life who passed oblivious to skyscrapers and to Federico Robles. Two worlds: clouds and excrement.

Yet, as much or more than some of the other characters, it is Robles that is caught between two worlds that refuse him, given that as a member of the rising bourgeoisie he persistently attempts to disguise the Indian within himself with cashmere and cologne.

The intellectual Manuel Zamacona contests the vision that Mexico simply has to follow the one truth of capitalist modernisation. In acerbic dialogue with Federico Robles, Zamacona declares, with reference to the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, that:

Díaz and his collaborators thought that for us to become European, all we had to do was wear clothing cut by Auguste Comte, live in a mansion designed by Haussmann. The Revolution made us aware that the whole past was present, and that if remembering it was painful, trying to forget it did not destroy its power . . . I can’t believe that the only concrete result of the Revolution had to be the rise of a new privileged class, economic domination by the United States, and the paralysing of all internal political life.

The liminal context of uneven development therefore comes to the fore, as a space betwixt-and-between advanced capitalist modernity and backward underdevelopment, as defined by Federico Robles. ‘For me’, Robles states, ‘Mexico is a backward impoverished country which has struggled to become progressive and to join the stream of civilised nations’.

This liminality marks also the ‘similar’ but unexpectedly ‘different’ urban landscape of Mexico City and its built environment. There is reference to the modelling of Paseo de la Reforma, at the suggestion of the Empress Carlotta, after Brussel’s Avenue Louise. Constant mention is made of the mansard roofs, notably on Calle Hamburgo, that evoke the four-sided gambrel style of François Mansard that became popular during the Second French Empire (1852-1870). And then the vertiginous references to the architectural forms marking Mexico City begin to flow: the Monument to Independence; El caballito on the corner of Paseo de la Reforma and Bucareli – the equestrian statue of Charles IV by Manuel Tolsá, which sat there from 1802 to 1979 and was subsequently replaced by Enrique Carbajal’s El caballito; Avenida Revolución; Calle Berlín in Colonia Juárez; Balderas and the Hotel del Prado; Avenida Juárez and its ‘canyon of prosperity’; the Palacio de Bellas Artes; the Palacio de Correos de Mexico in Venetian Gothic Revival style; and the Zócalo; la Merced; Lomas de Chapultepec; Colonia Roma; Coyoacán in addition to the endless chain of coloured neon lights and advertisements that tie Avenida Insurgentes together.

There is also reference to the wider geographic scale of Mexico, which is indicated throughout the novel. Places that are name checked include Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Celaya, Uruapan, Paracho, Tingambato, Parangaricutiro, Guerrero, and Coahuila. Indeed, the ‘body’ of Mexico is represented through reference to the armpit of Puerto Isabel, the toepoint of Catoche, the thigh of Cabo Corrientes, the teat of Panuco, the navel of Mexico City, and the ribs of Tarahumara. A transitory character, Enrique, arrives by bus with his family in Mexico City, the City of Palaces, via Piedras Negras in Coahuila and, also, Culiacán. Wearing a provincial northern sombrero, standing at the intersection of Reforma and Insurgentes he declares “This is my capital!”.

But at no stage is there reference to the Monument to the Revolution, one of the foremost commemorative spatial sites of state power in Mexico City, other than the casual mention of nearby Calle Edison.

Instead, the landscape of liminality in Mexico City is left to the illusive character Ixca Cienfuegos who is both surveyor (judge) as well as conveyor (narrator) of the Mexican lives communicated throughout the novel, from the panoramic to the quotidian.

December’s cold wind pulled him along the avenue, across the city, and his eyes, living and light, absorbed homes and sidewalks and men and rose to the centre of the night until he became, in his stone-eagle, air-serpent eyes, the city itself, its voices, sounds, memories, presentiments, the vast and anonymous city with its arms crossed from Copilco to Indios Verde, with its legs open from Peñon de los Baños to Cuatro Caminos, with its brown twisted belly button at the Zócalo; he became the tubs and roof tops and the dark pots, the glass skyscrapers and the mosaic domes and the stone walls and the mansard roofs and the huts of tin and adobe and residences of concrete and red tile and iron gates of the great heavy unbalanced valley, all tombstones, and above all, voices, voices.

Significantly, one of those voices to return at the end of the novel is Gladys García’s. She stops on the Puente de Nonoalco and lights the last night’s cigarette while letting the match drop on tin roofs to breath in the city’s dawn and the dust of the ghost of Ixca Cienfuegos. What is marginal becomes central as some of the exploited and impoverished are left to survive on the streets of Mexico City. But it is the streets of Mexico City and the everyday landmarks of Puente de Nonoalco (and not the Monument to the Revolution) that remain.

The post The City of Palaces: Mexico City and Carlos Fuentes appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

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