Mexico

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Short Video on the History of TV’s Panthermobile

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/02/2021 - 5:26am in

Okay, I know I haven’t been posting much recently. I’m afraid I’ve been somewhat busy with other projects, and the recent news really hasn’t inspired me. However, I did find this fascinating and fun little video on YouTube which amused me, and which I thought would interest other peeps of a certain age. It’s from the Little Car channel, and it’s about the Panthermobile, a 7 meter long bizarre pink contraption built for the titles of the Pink Panther cartoon show. This was a spin-off from the famous Pink Pather films starring the late, great Peter Sellers, and starring a panther who, in the words of the theme song, was ‘ever so pink’ and a cartoon version of Inspector Clouseau. The cartoon first aired in 1969, and the car cost the equivalent of £330,000 to build. It was designed by Jay Ohrberg and Ed Newton, and built by a number of engineers and mechanics including Ed Roth. The car followed the trend of other vehicles specially built for TV shows, such as the Batmobile and the Monkeemobile, the latter for the manufactured band and TV show, The Monkees. Roth had built a number of other, strange vehicles, such as the Orbitron, a car that had a clear perspex bubble over the driver’s position instead of the usual roof and windscreen.

The driver’s seat of the Panthermobile was in front of the two front wheels and the engine that drove them. This made the thing difficult to drive, as you can see from it swerving about the road slightly in the opening titles. The passenger section featured plush carpets, a carphone and minibar. Because there was no rear view mirror a black and white TV screen was used instead.

In the end the car ended up being used for only one year. In 1970 the cartoon’s titles were changed so that they didn’t feature it. As there was little use for a giant car that wasn’t street legal, it was left to languish until it was bought up by Galpin Autosports. Galpin had also rescued the Orbitron from its place in a Mexican side alley being used as a skip. The company now has the largest collection of Ed Roth cars in existence, some of which are shown in the video. These are quite bizarre and look like that era’s idea of what spacecraft would look like in the future. The video concludes by stating that the company’s engineers were huge fans of Roth, and made a complete restoration of the car, and that it was the product a group of southern Californian dreamers who dared to turn their ideas into reality.

The Panthermobile Story – YouTube

The Pink Panther cartoons haven’t been shown for a long time, but they were classics of their type. The Panther himself never spoke, and even when placed in the hilarious situations of cartoon comedy, like watching as the motorbike he’s riding falls apart, with one half overtaking him, always managed to look amazingly cool. The cartoon was so popular that there was even a Pink Panther chocolate bar, which was also very, very pink. And despite its absence from the TV screen, people still remember it fondly. There was a cartoon about the character a few years ago in Private Eye. This showed two panthers telling the pink one to get out with the caption, ‘Unfortunately the Pink Panther’s parents were homophobes’. It’s funny when applied to a cartoon character, but unfortunately is an experience which all too many gay children have suffered.

I also found this video of the show’s titles, featuring the Panthermobile, on The 1981 Club’s channel on YouTube, so everyone who watched it in the ’70s can relive it and everyone born after the decade can see what epic TV we had then.

The Pink Panther Show Original Opening HQ – YouTube

Revolution in Development

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/02/2021 - 7:00am in

Tags 

Blog, Mexico

In my new book, Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy, I trace patterns of Mexican advocacy for international economic reform to argue that Mexican experts played a surprising, and overlooked, role in shaping some of the twentieth century’s most important international agreements and institutions. From the creation of the League of Nations in 1919 to the declaration of a New International Economic Order in 1974, Mexican experts could be found repeatedly arguing for equitable representation in international organizations and the redistribution of capital through multilateral institutions. Often assuming a self-appointed leadership role among other Latin American and Global South states, Mexican officials were frequently at the forefront of key struggles for a fairer global economy.

But while Revolution in Development writes forgotten Mexican actors back into the history of global economic governance, it is not a triumphant story merely intended to celebrate Global South resistance—and it’s also not a story of unbroken continuity across time. In fact, the book shows, Mexican advocacy for reforming international trade and investment systems was structured by the country’s access to foreign capital: as that access changed, so did the Mexican stance toward reform. More than a decade of fighting during the Mexican revolution had resulted in the destruction of property, the repudiation of debts, and the expropriation of landholdings of foreign investors. As a result, Mexico became a pariah in international financial markets, unable to secure new loans or float new bonds. From the 1920s to the 1940s, therefore, Mexican officials campaigned vigorously for new institutions that would facilitate access to credit on equitable terms, redistributing the surplus capital of the rich countries for the productive development of the poorer ones.

While these Mexican officials did not achieve all of their goals, their demands did play a key role in defining the very project of international development—and in creating institutions for it, like the World Bank. The early chapters of the book detail these Mexican demands and the ways they shaped the institutions that were (and were not) created at midcentury. Although US business interests defeated deeper and more comprehensive Mexican proposals for an Inter-American Bank or a reformed International Trade Organization, by the late 1940s Mexican experts and their allies had managed to convince US officials of the utility of institutions that would foster development and industrialization in Latin America and other parts of the Third World.

But once Mexico had managed to finally negotiate its outstanding debts—for mere pennies on the dollar—and capital began to flow through the new institutions, Mexican fervor for changing the economic order diminished. As economist Víctor Urquidi put it looking back on the period known as the Mexican Miracle, “Bretton Woods fitted very nicely into Mexico’s needs.” He was right: Mexico was one of the earliest and largest recipients of World Bank loans, and by 1970 World Bank disbursements to Mexico reached a staggering 14.2 percent of the Bank’s global lending total. What’s more, over the 1950s and 1960s, Mexico would also receive sizeable loans from the US Export-Import Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and benefit from rapidly growing levels of foreign direct and portfolio investment. Mexico returned to the international bond market in 1963, and by 1965, it had the highest credit rating of all developing countries. The post-revolutionary state that four decades earlier was a financial pariah had finally achieved the access to capital it had long desired.

As a result, Mexican officials during the 1950s and 1960s took a much less confrontational stance within the international economic order.  They worked to blunt criticisms coming from more radical corners of the Third World, and sat out fights over the creation of new development institutions at the UN. When recently decolonized and socialist countries affiliated with the Non-Aligned Movement called for radically rethinking the international economic order in the 1960s, Mexican leaders worked to quietly maintain the status quo. At the crucial Conference on the Problems of Economic Development in Cairo in 1962, for example, the Mexican delegation was given instructions to “avoid any resolution critical of economic cooperation between the United States and Latin America.” By the beginning of the 1970s, Mexican officials defended the IMF from criticisms leveled by representatives of more radical governments in Chile and Peru. While the more radical countries argued for new institutions that would overturn established power structures, Mexican officials, wanting to keep investment capital flowing and creditors satisfied, advocated instead for working within them.

Mexico’s about-face on international economic reform during the 1950s and 1960s served to obscure its earlier history of contention, which has been largely forgotten. But it also structured the activism that would follow, when Mexican president Luis Echeverría introduced a wide-ranging response to the global economic crisis of the 1970s in the form of the UN Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States. As part of the broader struggle for what was then called the New International Economic Order, Echeverría’s Charter drew on the ideas that had animated Mexican advocacy during the 1930s and 1940s, when fairer access to global trade and investment capital was the goal. But the negotiations over the Charter were also deeply structured by the more conciliatory period that preceded them, when Mexican officials sought to protect their country’s reputation as a good credit risk. In the contentious negotiations over the Charter, Mexican officials attempted to mediate between more radical Third World demands and the imperatives of the United States, Mexico’s most important creditor and export market.

By analyzing the causes and consequences of this change over time, Revolution In Development uncovers the long and uneven history of Mexico’s advocacy of international economic and financial reform—and therefore elaborates not just the possibilities presented by Mexican officials, but, perhaps more importantly, the means by which the alternative futures they imagined were foreclosed. As scholars today seek to globalize the field of international political economy and understand the potential for South-South cooperation and new rounds of reform, the lessons offered by the Mexican case can be instructive.

The set image is of the forty-nation Working Group of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States that held its fourth session in Mexico City from 10 to 29 June. Left to right, at the presiding tables, during the plenary meeting: Mr. Jean Pierre Martin (UNCTAD Director in Charge of the IV Working Group Session); Mr. Gamani Corea (UNCTAD Secretary-General); and Ambassador Jorge Castañeda (President of UNCTAD IV Working Group). UN Photo archive, Unique Identifier UN7540795, Production Date June 10, 1974.

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

Trump and the Spectre of Mussolini

The big news today has been last night’s attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters. They had been fired up to make the assault by Trump’s continued insistence that he is the real winner of the election, but it has been stolen from him by vote-rigging from the Democrats. As Mike himself has pointed out, Trump himself has not been averse to trying to do this himself. Earlier this week it was revealed that Trump had tried to persuade Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, to find one more vote for him in the state more than those cast for Joe Biden. And a week or so ago it was also reported that he had also been considering calling in the army in order to defend his presidency. If he had done so, it would have been a coup attempt.

Microsoft News in a piece they published today about the attack state that among the mob were members of various far right groups, such as the Proud Boys, the Nationalist Social Club and supporters of the Qanon conspiracy theory. This is the bizarre belief that Trump has been secretly fighting a war against an evil covert group determined to take over and subvert America. Last night there had been various messages posted on right-wing websites urging ‘Revolution’ and ‘Civil War’. World leaders have expressed their disgust and condemnation of the attack, though as Mike also points out, there has been no condemnation of Trump himself from Boris or Priti Patel. The attack is ominous, as it shows just how fragile American democracy is.

Indeed. Way back in the 1990s there were fears of a similar attack with the emergence of militia movement. These are right-wing paramilitary organisations founded by people, who really believe that America is in danger of being taken over by the extreme left, or the forces of globalism and the one world Satanic conspiracy or whatever. Many of them were explicitly racist with the connections to the neo-Nazi right. At one point a woman claiming to be a senior officer in the movement appeared online urging the various militias to unite and march on Washington. Her call was ignored, largely, I think, because the other militia leaders didn’t trust her and were extremely suspicious of her motives. I got the distinct impression that they suspected her of being an agent provocateur and that the march was some kind of trap by the federal government. There was no armed paramilitary march, and so America dodged a coup attempt, or whatever it was, that time.

But the attack is also reminiscent of an assault on government even further back, almost one hundred years ago. This was the infamous ‘March on Rome’ of Mussolini’s Fascists. This succeeded in getting him appointed as the new Prime Minister by the Italian king, Emmanuel II, and began the process which saw him overturning Italian democracy to forge the Fascist one-party state and his personal dictatorship. Of course, for such coups to be successful, the armed forces, capital and the civil service must be willing to collaborate with the insurgents. Mussolini had the support of Italian industry and the big landowners, as he offered to protect capitalism from the forces of revolutionary socialism. The Fascists also included a number of ex-servicemen, the squadristi, and they had considerable support within the regular Italian armed forces. However, the head of the Italian police had absolute contempt for the Fascists and offered to defend the Italian government from the Fascists. But the king turned him down, and caved in to the future Duce.

There are similarities to last night’s events. Many right-wing Americans do seem to fear that Communism and anarchy are somehow about to overrun America with the violence of some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in America and the supposed ‘cultural Marxists’ that have allegedly taken over the American educational system. And the fears that there really is a secret conspiracy to overthrow American democracy and enslave its citizens has been around for decades. Bizarre conspiracy theories appeared in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission, claiming that these groups really ran the world. Then in the 1990s George Bush senior’s statement that he was going to create a ‘new world order’ prompted comparisons with the Nazis, as Hitler had also said the same about his regime. It was also linked to older conspiracy theories about the Freemasons because the Latin version of the phrase, ‘Novo Ordo Seculorum’, supposedly appears on American dollar bills along with various Masonic symbols. These theories claimed that America was being secretly run by a group of Masonic Satanists, who were planning turn America into a totalitarian, Communist state and send Christians to concentration camps. Even the collapse of Communism did not allay these fears. Many of those, who bought into these bizarre theories, thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union was all some kind of ruse. One variety of these myths claimed that the Russians had established secret military bases in Canada and Mexico, and at a given signal Soviet tanks would roll over the border into America. The 1990s were arguably the peak of such beliefs, as shown in the popularity of similar stories of covert government pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli and TV’s The X-Files. But such fears have certainly not gone away. There was a resurgence during Obama’s presidency, when America’s first Black president was accused by the bonkers elements on the American right of being a secret Muslim. or atheist. Or Communist. Or Nazi. Whatever, Obama was filled with rage against White Christians. One pair of pastors told the listeners of their church radio station that Obama was going to establish a dictatorship and would massacre even more people than Chairman Mao. Alex Jones was repeating and amplifying similar myths over on his internet radio and TV station. He claimed that Obama was going to invoke emergency legislation under the pretext of impending environmental disaster to force ordinary Americans into refugee camps. Militant feminists and gays were part of this conspiracy, in which humanity was to be transformed into a race of genderless cyborgs. Jones lost a considerable part of his audience when he was banned from various social media platforms thanks to his claims that a Boston pizza parlour was really a front for supplying children to be abused by members of the Democratic party and that several high school shootings had really been faked to provoke popular support for gun control laws. This caused real distress to the bereaved parents, who were accused of being ‘crisis actors’. Jones has nearly vanished from the public stage, though he still appears here and there. Even when he had an audience, many people still regarded him as a joke. But it looks like the conspiracy theories Jones promoted, and the underlying distrust of the government, still have a powerful hold on many Americans.

Fortunately, yesterday was different from 1920s Italy. America’s military has so far shown no interest in coming to Trump’s aid and overthrowing democracy. Black Lives Matter is extremely unpopular in certain areas, but the police, security forces and private industry aren’t backing armed paramilitary units to defend capitalism. American democracy is being shaken and tested, but so far it hasn’t cracked. The problem is, it’s not clear how long this will last. By calling for people to storm the capitol, Trump has struck a blow against democracy. He’s been unsuccessful, but this might inspire a future president with the same inclinations to try again. And they might be more successful.

And we’re not safe from such assaults over here. Mike in his article has warned that the Tories appear to be taking notes from Trump, while Zelo Street points out that the same people, who backed Trump also back the Tories and Brexit over here. He concludes with a warning of who the Brexiteers will blame when it all finally goes bad:

Many Brexiteers believe it’ll be someone else’s fault – Remainers, ethnic minorities, foreign nationals, multinational corporations, those of insufficiently patriotic intent – when it all goes bad. It won’t be Bozo, Ms Patel, Gove, or Nigel “Thirsty” Farage they will be going after.

There is a real danger of America becoming, if not a dictatorship, then a very authoritarian, Fascistic state. And Britain following.

See also: Four dead after Trump provokes US Capitol riot – and the UK Tories are taking notes | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Zelo Street: Trump Insurrection – Next Stop UK (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Archaeologists Find More Skulls in Aztec Tower in Mexico City.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/12/2020 - 10:49pm in

Yesterday’s I for the 14th December 2020 also carried the news that archaeologists had discovered even more skulls, which formed part of a tower built with the remains of the heads of victims sacrificed to the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. The article on page 33, titled ‘Tower of skulls found at Aztec dig’, runs

Dozen more skulls have been found by archaeologists digging at an Aztec temple beneath the centre of Mexico City.

The 119 skulls made up part of a tower of heads of sacrificed humans kept as a trophy by the pre-Columbian civilisation. A five-year dig beneath old buildings near the city’s Templo Mayor ruins has so far revealed 603 skulls.

The latest are thought to be part of a skull rack from a temple dedicated to teh Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice. Known as the Huey Tzompantli, it stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilophchtli, the patron of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs dominated large parts of central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

Their empire was overthrown by invaders led by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who captured Tenochtitlan in 1521.

The piece included this photo showing the skulls encased in the tower’s walls.

The Aztecs were one of the world’s great civilisations, no question, and its destruction by the Conquistadors and the decimation of the Amerindian peoples by slavery and disease is one of the great crimes of western imperialism. But they were aggressive, warlike and cruel. They believed that the sun god, Tezcatlipochtl, depended on a constant supply of human blood to sustain him. Hence, while other peoples made treaties with their neighbours trying to make peace, the Aztecs did the opposite. They made a treaty with two of their neighbouring civilisations for perpetual war in order to supply the sacrificial victims their religion required. Their architecture reflected the bloodthirstiness of their religion. Some of their great buildings have carvings of the flayed skins of their enemies, which were hung on poles and worn by the priests. So horrific are some of their monuments, that when the British Museum held a special exhibition on them, ‘Empire of Blood’ a few years ago, the Independent’s arts journo, Philip Hensher, compared them to Auschwitz and said he wanted nothing to do with it. It sounds like an overreaction, but as I’ve hard it said that about 30,000 people a year were sacrificed in their temples, and that these deaths were celebrated in their architecture and sculpture, which Hensher also found unattractive, describing it as ‘blocky’, you can see his point. Some western archaeologists have also said that the destruction of their religion was no loss to humanity. I was reading a book on the archaeology of death around the world, and the author described the horrors of the Aztec sacrificial cult. He said very clearly that no matter how bad Christianity was, it was far better than the religion it replaced.

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.

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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On the survival of non-capitalism: from nowhere to now here

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2016 - 8:45am in

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Blog, Mexico, Space

WoodMy latest article in Environment and Planning D examines the issue of non-capitalist space within the global political economy. Why is this important? A common starting point for radical critiques of our present society is to focus on the dynamics of capitalism. The rationale for this is simple: capitalism remains the dominant mode of production of our epoch and in order to move beyond this system you first have to get people to recognise the nature of its exploitation and contradictions. This argument is perhaps most eloquently framed by Ellen Meikins Wood who stressed that, ‘At a time when a critique of capitalism is more urgent than ever, the dominant theoretical trends on the left are busy conceptualising away the very idea of capitalism’.

However, an alternative view, associated largely with J.K Gibson-Graham and others linked to Rethinking Marxism, argues that focusing our attention solely on the dynamics of capitalism – what is termed ‘capitalocentrism’ – can become a highly disempowering political project. It is this type of thinking that I label ‘the assumption of subsumption’ whereby all forms of political economy, all other forms of cultural life, and all sites of socio-political activity are portrayed as being overwhelmed by – subsumed into – the dynamics of capitalism. No space is left (quite literally) for alternatives. Such capitalocentism elides the fact that multiple forms of economy – and therefore alternative development trajectories – JKGGexist contemporaneously with capitalism (and not just in a possible future). Gibson-Graham’s view holds that if theory is to play an emancipatory role in must ‘proliferate possibility, not foreclose it’.

Although recognising the structural power that capital is able to wield, the main focus of my recent article is therefore on the survival and re-creation of non-capitalist spaces within the global political economy.  The example of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is the primary basis for making these claims, linked to fieldwork that was carried out in 2008, 2009 and 2015. Rather than examining how it has been that capitalism has managed to survive, grow and prosper, the article explores how non-capitalist spaces remain and why they should be considered important for transformative activity. This is to ensure that capital does not become the main subject of our inquiry and that subsequently the human beings at the heart of our analysis are not rendered as people without history. Beyond the issue of their mere survival however, I argue that non-capitalist spaces persist and can be learned from. They are thus both figurative and prefigurative spaces offering sites of opening for enacting different kinds of political economy.

A key contention is that the survival and reinvention of non-capitalist social practices and spaces have created a barrier to the further expansion of capital, and are now providing inspiration for alternative developmental trajectories. This has presaged intensified forms of social conflict, notably between the Mexican state and indigenous peoples (as the state claims rights to the subsoil within indigenous territories).

An important intellectual inspiration for this work was Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui. He recognised that the driving force of Peru’s development had clearly come from colonisation and then global capitalism. Nevertheless, distinct spaces of economic activity, characterised by diverse social relations of production remained. Moreover, Mariátegui asserted that the survival of certain elements of the Indian communities could provide the basis for revolutionary transformation owing to the existence of what he called ‘practical socialism’. In similar fashion, it is asserted in my article that although Oaxaca is clearly enmeshed, or at least influenced by, the wider capitalist mode of production, distinct forms of non-capitalist social relations remain prevalent, especially within indigenous communities.

In a pamphlet issued by 3 prominent activist NGOsThen that form the basis of Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios, it is stated that ‘it is precisely in Oaxacan territory where one can observe and study the survival of ancient agrarian structures’. Unlike other regions of Mexico, haciendas never expanded to displace communal property with such force. Unpacking this further, if we examine patterns of land tenure in Oaxaca we can see that over 70% of land to this day remains non-privatised and instead is held as forms of collective property (both ejidos and tierras communales) according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). This matters considerably for the analysis for two interrelated reasons.  Not only does it provide the empirical backdrop of uneven development which capital seeks to exploit, by expanding into this ‘spatial target’ and thereby transforming space and social relations to further the accumulation process, but it also implies that the region has, and continues to maintain a set of alternative institutional arrangements that exist alongside capitalism and that are in the present conjuncture antithetical to capitalist expansion. These communal arrangements include community assemblies, tequios (collective work) and political obligations in the form of cargos (political posts) that community members are expected to participate it.

In recent years the community assembly has been recovered as a vital tool with which to enact a collective form of power over land and reject the advancement of capital. This has been most visibly manifested through opposition to wind farm projects and mining. To focus just on the latter, under the Presidency of Filipe Calderón, mining concessions increased by 53% in Mexico, and in Oaxaca 20% of the surface area of the state has been given over to mining concessions. These concessions have not simply been meekly accepted however. Rather, in numerous cases, the authority of the community assembly has been invoked to challenge not only the legitimacy of the concession (based on the legal appeal to ILO Convention 169) but furthermore the legitimacy of the Mexican state. Communities such as Capulalpam de Méndez and Magdalena Teitipac represent stories of success in restricting mining activities and demonstrating that other paths to development may be possible.

This obviously raises an important question about scale. Whilst we may applaud and support the resistance of a community against a powerful TNC, this alone does not challenge the structural power of capital. The conjuncture in 2006 in Oaxaca when the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) was formed in response to the repressive governorship of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, demonstrates the limits of action restricted to one particular locale. What I contend rather more modestly in the article, therefore, is that these sites demonstrate the starting points for action, and questions that we need to pose rather than end points in themselves. It would be easy to dismiss them as marginal, but what happens in the periphery does not have to stay peripheral. Highlighting the continuation of non-capitalism offers an opening to reimagining how alternative socio-economic models could develop.

In contrast to what is sometimes the dominant imagery, resistance and transformative action is thereby moved from nowhere to now here.

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