Category Archives: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

Mexico on the Eve of AMLO: “So Far from God and So Close to the United States”

The full quote by Porfirio Díaz is: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Mexican President Díaz (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) got it at least half right. Mexico has suffered in the shadow of the Colossus of the North, but Mexico is not poor. Mexico is rich in many ways, yet it also has been impoverished. And Mexico has been greatly underappreciated by North Americans.

Mexico is bucking an international right-wing tide, shifting its government from right to left-of-center with the presidential inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on December 1. Speaking for international capital, The Economist is worried. The other 99% of humanity is hopeful. A cautionary history of this trice conquered land follows.

Pre-Colombian Mexico and the First Conquest

Prior to Europeans “discovering” the New World, Mexico was home to many great civilizations, which thrived for nearly four millennia: Aztec, Huastec, Izapa, Maya, Mixtec, Olmec, Purépecha, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Totonac, and Zapotec. History and Headlines rates the “10 great historical civilizations,” naming the Olmecs and Aztecs alongside the Romans, Persians, and Egyptians.

The popular image of the Aztec depicts savage men in loin clothes and feathers on top of stone pyramids making human sacrifices. But let’s put that into historical context. Historian James Cockcroft tells us that at the same time the barbarians in the New World were assuaging their pagan gods with human blood, more  people met their end  burned at the stake as “witches” by the civilized Europeans in the name of Jesus. Christian femicide is a forgotten legacy.

European contact in 1519 brought Christianity and disease to the then flourishing Mexican civilizations. While the Europeans and the indigenous Americans were roughly on the par technologically, the Europeans were far more adept at war and to them went victory and the spoils.

Geographer Jared Diamond estimates that 90% of the Native American population was obliterated by measles, small pox, flu, and the like for which the Europeans had developed relative immunities. Mexico did not regain its 1519 population until 1940, taking over 400 years to recover.

Although the official language of Mexico is now Spanish and Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking nation in the world, it is also home to the largest number of actively spoken indigenous languages in North America.

The Second Conquest of Mexico

The first conquest of Mexico was by the Spanish conquistadores. The second was by the Yankees and has received far less acknowledgement.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in the period 1810-21 and with it slavery was abolished, though not entirely until 1829. It wasn’t until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued followed by the Thirteenth Amendment two years later, that formal slavery was abolished in the US. However, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws continued to preserve the “peculiar institution” in the “land of the free.”

The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 established the border between the former Spanish colonial territories and the former British colony, now the US.

By 1836, the Republic of Texas succeeded from Mexico and was annexed to the US in 1845. The following year, the Mexican-American War was provoked by the US as a war of conquest.

Two years later, Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding nearly half its national territory. The US gained what would become parts or all of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added southern Arizona and New Mexico to the spoils of war.

In all, 55% of Mexico, over half of her sovereign territory, was taken from Mexico by the ever-expanding Colossus of the North. No wonder our Chicanx compatriots remind us “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Alta California

Gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill just a few days before the treaty was signed, which transferred Alta (upper) California from Mexico to the US. The discovery of gold was unknown to the signatories at the time.

Alta California was to become the Golden State. With a $2.7 trillion economy, the state now boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, larger than Mexico’s $2.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Were Alta California to rejoin Mexico, the new union’s GDP would be surpassed only by the mega-economies of China, US, India, and Japan.

The constitution for Alta California was drafted in both Spanish and English. Despite having a bilingual constitution, the Alta California voters passed the English-only Proposition 227 in 1998. Then in 2016 the voters passed Proposition 57, which repealed the more egregious English-only provisions of the earlier proposition.

The repeal of the English-only proposition reflected an influx of non-English speakers into the state. Alta California is today a truly multi-ethnic state with 43% of its inhabitants speaking a language other than English at home. The largest ethnic group is again Hispanic-Latinx, comprising 39% of the population and outnumbering what the Census Bureau calls “white alone.”

The Mexican Revolution

The bully to the north became revolution-adverse after concluding its own revolution. When Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, the US joined Napoleon’s empire to force the fledgling Haitian nation to pay debilitating reparations for freeing itself from slavery.

Nevertheless, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 was able to slip by. In those days the US empire was not as capable at multitasking as it is now and was preoccupied by World War I.

The Mexican Revolution stands in the pantheon of great 20th century revolutions, pioneering the way for Russia (1917), China (1949), Vietnam (1975), and the many Third World liberation struggles of the last century.

As the first of the major 20th century revolutions, the Mexican Revolution guaranteed labor rights, nationalized subsoil rights, secularized the state and curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave inalienable land rights to indigenous communities. Women’s rights were advanced, and women fought as soldiers and even commanders in General Emilio Zapata’s revolutionary army. Many of these gains have since been eroded.

The Revolution Institutionalized

After the tumultuous revolutionary period, politics in Mexico became consolidated under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). This single corporatist party brought together political factions representing the peasantry, labor, and urban professionals. As the revolutionary period receded, the PRI became politically centrist.

The one-party rule of the PRI was finally ended with the successful presidential election in 2000 of Coca Cola executive Vincente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party). The PAN won the subsequent presidential election as well. The PAN is a right-of-center Christian democratic party. It has strong backing among northern Mexican agri-business and international corporations and has a conservative social agenda.

The current Mexican president, Peña Nieto, is a member of the PRI. As the PRI moved to the right, more liberal forces within split in 1986 and formed the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The main stronghold of the PRD has been Mexico City and among organized labor.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the PRD standard bearer in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections. His losses in both elections are widely believed to be due to fraud.

NAFTA – the Third Conquest of Mexico

The third conquest of Mexico by North American finance capital came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar neoliberal arrangements. Neither free nor restricted to trade (e.g., it includes military cooperation), this stealth conquest facilitated the repatriation of foreign investment profits and the further integration of Mexico into the US economy.

NAFTA was ratified in 1994 among Mexico, the US, and Canada. The agreement remains controversial in the constituent counties. The Zapatistas in southern Mexico specifically chose the initiation date of their on-going rebellion to coincide with the day NAFTA started, presciently predicting the deleterious effects NAFTA would have.

By 2014, as many as a million US workers had lost their jobs due to NAFTA, which also had the effect of depressing wages.

NAFTA ended many Mexican government supports for agriculture, while encouraging entry of US and Canadian agricultural products. Consequently, peasant and most family farm agriculture in Mexico are less economically viable. The result has been a massive internal migration from the countryside into Mexican cities and an external emigration of people forced off the land to the US.

Neoliberalism’s Winners and Losers

A decade or two before the imposition of NAFTA, Mexico had appeared poised to transform from a developing to a developed country. New oil reserves had been discovered and a boom seemed imminent. Then instead of continuing a development model, Mexico bowed to international financial pressure and switched to a neoliberal model of deregulation and privatization.

Rather than lifting Mexico’s economy through its deeper integration with the US economy, as NAFTA’s proponents promised, Mexico has fallen even further behind. After NAFTA and the neoliberal “reforms,” poverty went up in Mexico while per capita economic growth lagged compared to the rest of Latin America.

Instead of wages becoming like those in the US, working wages became competitive with Guatemala. Mexico took its place in the international market economy as an export platform for low-wage maquiladoras, factories owned by foreigners and exporting to a foreign market.

Despite great national wealth, 46% of Mexicans live below the poverty line. The per capita income of Mexico is a third of the US, making the shared border the most income-unequal border in the world.

Neoliberalism has also had its winners. The government telephone monopoly Telmex was privatized in 1990, bought up by Carlos Slim Helú who became the richest man not only in Mexico but in the entire world by 2010. His ranking has now slipped to seventh, though he is still the top tycoon in Mexico owning 40% of the listings on the Mexican stock exchange. His net worth is equivalent to 6% of Mexico’s GDP, which is greater than the entire GDP of neighboring Guatemala and four times that of Nicaragua.

With a new strata of billionaires and deepening poverty, both spawned by neoliberalism, Mexico is among the more income unequal nations, with a Gini Index of 48.2. Carlos Slim and eight other international fat cats now have more wealth than half the world’s population.

Contemporary Mexico

Yet today Mexico as a nation is rich in many ways.

In terms of biodiversity, Mexico is way under-recognized. Mexico ranks fourth or fifth in the world, scoring high for the number of reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. The much more celebrated Costa Rica in comparison doesn’t make the top ten in any of these categories, although it has a far better public relations apparatus. Mexico encompasses vast rainforests, dry forests, mountains, deserts, and the second largest coral reef in the world.

In terms of conservation, Mexico has been a world leader in the protection of whales. Commercial whaling was banned in 1954. In contrast, the last US whaling station in the San Francisco Bay was closed in 1971, followed the next year by passage of the Mammal Protection Act. The world’s first whale refuge was established in 1972 by the Mexican government. In 2002, Mexico again exercised world leadership in designating all its territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zones as whale refuges.

Culinarily, Mexico’s cocina is considered among the great cuisines of the world; a lot more than taco trucks and cheap burrito stands. Amongst Mexico’s contributions to the world’s larder are avocado, chocolate, guava, tomato, vanilla, many varieties of beans and chiles, and most notably corn, which is now the world’s most important staple food.

Mexico has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the hemisphere. The three most influential modern muralists are the Mexicans Diego RiveraJosé Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros.

With 7.6 billion bbl of proven reserves, Mexico is a major crude oil producer. Ranking 12th in the world, it outproduces Nigeria, Qatar, and Libya.

Mexico’s economy ranks 11th in the world, placing it second in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s GDP is greater than that of Italy or Spain and just below France and the UK, making it one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

The 2018 Election

Left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for the Mexican presidency on July 1. Having broken from the PRD, this third run was the charm as he won decisively. Morena, his newly formed party, swept the national and state legislatures.

Mayor-elect of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, is also part of the winning coalition. She is the first woman and first Jew to be elected to the post. She is a scientist and was a joint winner of the 2007 Noble Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

After decades of right-wing governments in Mexico, López Obrador is being sworn in on December 1. The popular sectors in Mexico are expectant that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices will be addressed.

Mexico: Is the End of “Magic Imperialism” Approaching?

You all know how the saying goes: “Poor Mexico – too far from God, too close to the United States”.

This proud, beautiful and deep part of the world has been plundered, ravished and humiliated for many centuries, first by the Europeans (both the Spaniards and French), then by the Norteamericanos.

The vulgarity and brutality of the conquest had often been unbelievably grotesque, unreal, insane – to the point that I decided to name it a “magical imperialism” (or call it ‘magical colonialism’ if you wish).

Great cultures created by Mayas, Aztecs and other native people – cultures much more advanced than those of the Europeans, have been crushed, tricked, cheated, and finally forced into submission. Local gods were ‘sent to a permanent exile’ and Catholicism, under the threat of death or torture or both, was forced down the throat of everyone.

Yes, Western colonialism often takes truly bizarre, surreal, forms. What example should I provide, to illustrate ‘magic imperialism’? For example, this one: in Cholula, near the city of Puebla, Spaniards slammed their church on top of the biggest (by volume) pyramid on Earth – Tlachihualtepetl. It is still sitting there, even now as I write this essay: the church is sitting on top of the pyramid, unapologetically. Local authorities are even proud of its presence, promoting it as a ‘major tourist site’. I hope, one day, UNESCO includes it in the “memory of humanity” list, as a symbol of cultural vandalism.

Catholic church arrogantly slammed on top of the biggest pyramid in the world, outside Puebla

I summoned the curator at a local museum, Ms. Erica, asking her about this insanity. She explained, patiently:

We are strongly discouraged from speaking about brutality of the past. Mexico’s attitude towards its own history is truly schizophrenic. On one hand we know that our country was plundered, raped and abused, by the Spanish colonizers, by the French, and then by the U.S. But we, scholars, teachers, curators, are literally ordered to ignore it, to ‘be positive’; to ‘look for good things’ in what was done to us, and what we inherited.

Clearly, Ms. Erica has had enough. She speaks openly, passionately:

In the past, the church had been hit and damaged by lightning, on several occasions, and the local people believe that it happened because of the wrath of local gods, who were protesting against the desecration of their site and an architectural masterpiece – the pyramid. However, the structure was always quickly restored by the religious and state authorities. The church still dominates the landscape, visible from as far as the city of Puebla, while the grand pyramid looks humiliated and belittled, like nothing more than a forested hill.

*****

Mexico suffered for centuries, and it is suffering now.

It is one of the greatest countries on Earth. In fact, it is not just a country, but a universe, not unlike those ‘universes’ created by other great countries, like ‘universe China’, ‘universe India’ or ‘universe Russia’. Mexico is ancient and deep, and as mentioned above, it gave birth to some enormous civilizations, which were self-sufficient and much more advanced than the cultures of those who came to attack it, to plunder and enslave it.

These civilizations, however, were robbed of their identity by the invaders, forcefully Christianized, then reduced to the level of ‘minorities’ in their own land. Natives were forced into slave labor, and used to mine their own silver and other raw materials, which were quickly shipped far away, enriching first Europe and later North America.

Originally, all this was done by the colonists from abroad, and later, by the local elites on behalf of the West.

The same story could be traced to all corners of Latin America; and a similar story to so many parts of the world.

All this was done straight-faced. The West is never famous for soul-searching or spasms of guilt. No justification was provided. After all, there has been a Cross above the country named Mexico, and an imaginary ‘banner of civilization’ (Western one, naturally).

I call all of it a ‘magic imperialism’, because the whole destruction of this ancient and beautiful world was done in an almost ‘poetic’ way: built on faith-based dogmas, as well as on military and expansionist theories, and the myths of racial, cultural and religious supremacy.

All this took place during the colonial period, and it is taking place now, in the days of ‘free market fundamentalism’.

“Is all this good or bad for the Mexican people?” Who cares! Such questions are not allowed. Mexican people are supposed to listen, accept, and obey the West, simply because the West is the most enlightened part of the world, because ‘it knows better’. The word ‘superior’ is hardly used (as it is ‘politically incorrect’), but it is presumed.

*****

Now Mexico is boiling. It has had enough of being treated like a child, like a slave, like an inferior part of the world.

This time I travelled for three weeks all over the country, revisiting my ‘old places’. I wanted to hear what people think and say.

I used to live in this country, for an entire year, some 20 years ago. Deep in my heart, I never really left.

Now, everything looked both familiar, and at the same time, foreign. I spoke to people in Mexico City and Puebla, in Guadalajara, Tequila, Tlaxcala, Tijuana, Merida, Oaxaca, and I went deep into the countryside. Wherever I was, I felt fear. I detected anxiety, terrible anxiety.

Yes, there was fear, but also determination to change everything, and to start from scratch.

I was filming a documentary here, with the working title: “Mexico – Year Zero”. It was not a binding title, but I was getting used to it, it was somehow fitting.

Left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) won the Presidential Elections, securing great support in all but two states of the country.

This can mean total overhaul, true change, a new beginning, if Obrador fights, if he is determined, if he serves the interests of his people. Or it may mean nothing, almost zero, if he hesitates, loses guts and surrenders to inertia.

I spoke to at least a hundred people, in many parts of the country, perhaps many more. Not one, not a single one said, that his or her country is doing well! This, despite all sorts of positive economic indicators, despite a good position on the Human Development Index (HDI), and the fact that Mexico is, after all, an OECD country and the 15th largest economy in the world.

‘Magical imperialism’ brought this great nation to its knees.

Everything here is full of contradictions.

Mexico has much greater culture and lifestyle than the United States, but it is subservient to the North. 90% of its exports go straight to North America (U.S. and Canada). The Mexican view of the world is fully shaped by the brainwashing right-wing propaganda, literally flooding the country through such outlets like CNN en Español and FOX.

Outraged by North American behavior, Mexico is nevertheless forced to see the world through the eyes of its great tormentor. RT, CGTN, PressTV, or even Telesur, are only available through the internet.

This has to change. Everybody knows it has to, somehow. But how? So far, there is no plan. Is the President-elect going to come up with the one? And if he does, can he survive, or will he be harassed or even kicked out from his post or killed, as has happened to so many others, including Chavez and Dilma?

Can any Latin American country gain its true independence from the global dictatorship of the West? Cuba did! Or should I write: so far, only Cuba has. And Venezuela, to a great extent, but both are paying a horrendous price.

*****

All over Mexico, there are reminiscences of the Western ‘involvement’, or should I say ‘monuments of barbarity’. Often, one has to search for them, or even read between the lines, in order to identify them.

Spanish conquest, inquisition, massive theft of land, natural resources, and then massacres, massacres, torture…

On February 7, 2016, Telesur reported:

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being complicit in the killing of over 24 million Indigenous people.

Some 30 Indigenous communities of Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding Pope Francis apologize for the genocide committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church against their people during the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th century.

“For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted,” the Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan said in a statement.’

Well, Pope Francis, any comments; at least some desire to speak about justice?

The United States invasion, and the grab of enormous Mexican territory:

…The Mexican War was instrumental in shaping the geographical boundaries of the United States. At the conclusion of this conflict, the U.S. had added some one million square miles of territory, including what today are the states of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, as well as portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada…

Reading what it says above, one would believe that this account would be followed by the expression of horror at what took countless lives of the Mexican people, and resulted in the theft of tremendous territory. But no; of course, no! This quote is from the introduction written by John S. Brown, Chief of Military History, to a brochure (the Occupation of Mexico May 1846 – July 1848) described as being “produced by in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Stephen A. Carney.” Instead of apology and indignation, the further quote follows:

…The Mexican War lasted some twenty-six months from its first engagement through the withdrawal of American troops. Fighting took place over thousands of miles, from northern Mexico to Mexico City, and across New Mexico and California. During the conflict, the U.S. Army won a series of decisive conventional battles, all of which highlighted the value of U.S. Military Academy graduates who time and again paved the way for American victories. The Mexican War still has much to teach us about projecting force, conducting operations in hostile territory with a small force that is dwarfed by the local population, urban combat, the difficulties of occupation, and the courage and perseverance of individual soldiers…

The self-congratulatory, almost poetic language of both the brochure and the introduction to it sounds truly, as if it is trying to fit into a magic imperialist realism. But it is not: it is just how history is taught in the United States, in Europe, and unfortunately, in many schools in the formerly and presently colonized countries.

French intervention in Mexico

Then the French massacred people in Mexico City, as well as all over the territory that was left to the Mexicans after the 1846-1848 U.S. invasion. The French ‘intervened’ in Mexico on two occasions: from 1838 to 1839, and from 1862 to 1867, in which conflict, at least 12,000 Mexican people were killed. The French were killing, plundering and imposing their dictate, shamelessly and mercilessly, but that was not really ‘something exceptional’, as they were doing precisely the same, or worse, all over Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Caribbean and Oceania.

*****

Now, right at the northern part of the enormous city of Tijuana, the U.S. authorities and their contractors, are building an enormous wall. It does somehow not look unlike the ‘perimeter’ built by Israel, between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria proper. But then, many things look suspiciously similar, these days.

This used to be a great proud hacienda of Yucatan

This wall is a clear expression of a thorough imperialist madness. This entire land used to belong to Mexico, before the 1846 invasion, or call it ‘officially’ Mexican-American War. Both countries are part of one continent. Both sides of the border are inhabited by essentially the same people. There are millions of Mexicans living in California, and there are millions of North Americans who are seeking better life south of the border – in Mexico – either in the retirement colonies, or, for instance, as students at much cheaper and good Mexican universities, or as artists. North Americans travel to Mexico to get their teeth fixed, Mexicans go north to get better paid jobs; the border area is basically an integrated zone, with its own music, traditions, history and folklore. I know it well, and I know that it used to have its own magic and, yes, its realism too.

Now it is gone, thoroughly ruined.

Elites partying

But as if in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, even through all that dust and insanity, one can still feel the magic. Here, I am still in Latin America, at its edge, at the last inch. And, screw the wall!

I shout at a U.S. contractor, through the bars. I want to know what he thinks about all this, if he actually thinks at all. He replies honestly and phlegmatically: “I am not allowed to speak about this.”

I face a Mexican woman; whose back is against the U.S. constructed wall. Her house is just one meter from the perimeter. If she sticks her finger through the bars, she is technically in the United States. Her name is Leticia.

She doesn’t care about politics. Her biggest fear is that the creatures inhabiting this area will get hurt:

They are cutting the natural flow of water in this area. This will not end well. And the animals cannot migrate, anymore. This is so brutal. I am happy where I am, and so is my family. At this side, I am fine. But you know, the creatures are different – they need to move…

She almost brings tears to my eyes. A narco, a ‘small fish narco’ who is accompanying me to the wall, explaining ‘the reality of the border’ and how the drug cartels here work, suddenly produced one short and loud sob. He is a Latino, after all. He may be a gangster, but he has a heart.

I know, mostly it is not Mexicans who are trying to jump the fence. The majority of Mexicans are middle class, and the middle class lives a better life here than in the constantly stressed and overworked U.S. It is those desperate people from Central America who are risking their lives, crossing – from Guatemala, Honduras – people whose governments were overthrown by Washington, people whose countries were destroyed. People who are suffering from gangs and narco-mafias – direct consequences of the civil wars triggered by the West.

These people are traveling on the monstrous Mexican cargo trains called “La Bestia”, “the beast”; they are having their limbs cut off when they fall from the roofs down onto the tracks. I follow them, I film them, I talk to them. They are on the move, from the southern Mexican border towns all the way to the north; to the U.S. border. They have no choice. And Washington knows it. It took socialism away from them – in Honduras and Guatemala it did. Then it rewarded them with this damn wall.

Magic imperialism!

Central America is in ruins. Mexico, potentially one of the greatest nations on Earth, is stagnating, living in fear, suffering from corruption and crime, from servile and obedient (towards the West) elites. This entire mess has been triggered by neo-liberalism, as well as the selfish over-indulgence in the North.

Comes Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico is tired. It does not believe in itself, anymore, but it voted, clearly and proudly. It wants to hope. It wants to believe. It wants to live. It tries.

People spoke, people voted.

For them, Mexico has to change

They have no clue what will come next. Is the man they voted for really with them?

Radical intellectuals at UNAM do not think so, they told me. But the poor Mayan and Azteca villages, the core of this country, are with him. They trust him. They hope. He has no right to fail them.

“If he fails the poor, there will be a civil war. He is our last hope,” I was told in Tijuana.

Again, and again, I recall what I was told by one of the greatest South American writers and thinkers of all times, Eduardo Galeano:

Hope is all that poor people have. That is why, comrades, do never play with hope!

If Obrador succeeds, if he delivers even half of what he promised, Mexico will dramatically change. The entire Central America will change, perhaps the entire Latin America will. This is the most populous Spanish speaking country, a cultural and intellectual powerhouse that has been asleep for many long and painful decades.

This is where magic realism rubs shoulders with that magic imperialism imported and implemented by the West.

I landed here, symbolically on September 14, the night when Mexican Independence Day is, historically, celebrated. I did not sleep. I went to Zocalo, to see the people. Enormous fireworks illuminated the sky of the city where the Spanish cathedrals are built on top of the ruins of the great native civilizations. Poor and rich were standing, watching the colorful show, looking at an enormous flag.

Independence Day in Mexico City 2018 — new beginning?

The day after, I was filming at the splendid Bellas Artes, one of the most beautiful theatres on Earth. There, a Soviet-trained conductor was facing a brilliant ‘youth orchestra’, which consisted of once poor boys and girls from deprived communities. On the stage, the legendary Folkloric Ballet of Mexico was performing; with proud native themes, and with young women holding rifles, marching towards the redness of the revolution. The audience roared. People, strangers, were embracing, shaking hands. There were tears; tears of joy.

At Bellas Artes, Soviet-trained Mexican conductor evokes great pride in audience

Oh Mexico! 2018. Year Zero, I call it. Yes, this is how I will name my film.

Year Zero. The revolution, hopefully. The new beginning. The independence. Hopefully.

Yes, I wrote it, of course, I did: “People are reluctant, skeptical.” But they are both – reluctant and full of hope. I was told in Guadalajara, by an accountant who was forced by circumstances, to drive a taxi:

I did not vote for Obrador, because I do not believe that what he was promising during his campaign, could be achieved. But I hope that he is real. If I see that he is real, I will drop everything and dedicate my life to supporting him.

To save Mexico is to stop neo-liberalism, dependency on the West, and to join countries that are fighting against the global dictatorship. Can it be done? Will it be done?

I trust Obrador. I have no other choice. I travelled all the way here, to the country that I still love, profoundly; I travelled here in order to offer my help. I am not an ‘impartial spectator’. This is not the time for those…

In a few short months, the fate of those humble villages of Yucatan and Chiapas will be decided. The entire Latin America is watching.

To change Mexico looks like an impossible task. But it has to be performed. True revolution should put the Mexican people first, and put the final end to those terrible centuries of plunder, humiliation and terror.

To hell with magic imperialism. To hell with any imperialism, full stop.

Viva Mexico! Viva Patria Grande!

• Read Part One here:

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

 

Can President-elect Lopez Obrador pull Mexico out of slumber?

After decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the United States, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is considered by many ordinary people, as well as by intellectuals, to be the last chance for Mexico.

His only hope is Obrador

Two important news developments are circulating all over North America: US President Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of the Mexican left-wing President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). And, yes, despite all tensions and disagreements, the new deal to replace NAFTA has been reached. It is called the USMCA – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Paradoxically, if Obrador is to fulfill at least half of his electoral promises, it would inevitably lead to a clash between Mexico and both the United States and Canada. The US absorbs around 80 percent of Mexican exports. Various Mexican intellectuals believe that their country was, until now, nothing more than a colony of their ‘big brother’ in the north. Canadian mining companies are brutally exploiting Mexico’s natural resources, and united with local politicians and paramilitaries, are tormenting almost defenseless native people.

National Folcloric Ballet of Mexico marching, joining revolution

After decades of inertia and decay, Mexico is ready for dramatic, essential change which, many argue, will this time not arrive directly under red banners and through revolutionary songs, but with the carefully calculated, precise moves of a chess player.

Only a genius can break, without terrible casualties, the deadly embrace of the United States. And many believe that President-elect Obrador is precisely such leader.

‘Not a poker player, but a chess player’

Mexico is in a ‘bad mood’, despite the victory of a left-wing leader. Hope is in the air, but it is fragile hope, some even say ‘angry hope’. Decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the US, have had an extremely negative impact on the nation.

John Ackerman, US-born, Mexican naturalized legendary academic at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) explained during our encounter in Coyoacan:

This has been a long time coming. Throughout Latin America there has been great transformation, except in Mexico. Mexico has been the same since 1946 since PRI was created… Education, healthcare, serious commitment to social system, infrastructure; he promises to improve all this… in terms of working-class population, he expresses great interest in the union democracy, which could be a true vehicle of revolution … unions could be used to create democratic participation in the country.

We both agree that Obrador is not Fidel, or Chavez. He is pragmatic and he knows how dangerous the proximity of Mexico to the US is. Governments get overthrown from the north, and entire socialist systems get derailed, or liquidated.

Professor Ackerman points out:

Obrador is not a poker player, like Trump; Obrador is a chess player.

He is extremely well informed; on his own and through his wife, an accomplished Mexican academic from a prominent left-wing family, Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros. She will soon become Minister of Public Administration in the Obrador administration, which means she will fight against endemic Mexican corruption.  This will be, no doubt, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

The author and Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros

Among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. According to the government, about 53.4 million of Mexico’s 122 million people were poor in 2016.

Crime is out of control, and so is corruption. According to Seguridad Justicia y Paz, a citizen watch dog NGO in Mexico, five out of ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are located in Mexico: Los Cabos (1), Acapulco (3), Tijuana (5), La Paz (6), and Ciudad Victoria (8).

Gang land, Tijuana

Some 460,000 children have been recruited by the drug rings in Mexico, according to the incoming Minister of Public Security of the Obrador government. As bodies are piling up and insecurity grows (recently, at least 100 dead bodies have been found in the state of Jalisco), the Mexican police continues to be hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But it is now everywhere, ‘true reason for astronomic crime rate’, say many.

Misery everywhere

It is all elegance and style at one of an old hacienda, lost in time in the middle of jungle, in the State of Yucatan. Some twenty years ago I used to live very near this place, working on my novel, in self-imposed-exile. Even then, Yucatan was poor, conservative, and traditional. But there was pride and dignity even in the poorest of the villages.

Things changed dramatically, and not for the better. Now naked misery is everywhere. Just two kilometers from the hacienda Temozon, traditional rural houses have holes in the roofs, and many dwellings have already been abandoned. People are not starving; not yet, but that is mainly due to the fact that in Yucatan, there is still a great sense of community and solidarity.

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham and Dona Consuelo

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham lives in a village of Sihunchen. Half of the roof of his house is missing. He is blind in one eye. He is dirt poor. I asked him how things have been here, since I left. He just nodded his head, in despair:

You just saw my house, there… You can imagine how it is…I cannot fix anything. For years I did not have any work. And now I am old.

Senora Consuelo Rodriguez, his neighbor, jumps in. She is an outspoken, tough but good-hearted matron, always surrounded by a flock of chickens:

Look, he has really nothing! Here, we are trying to help those in need, but ourselves we have close to nothing. Few years ago, the government sent some people to help to fix our houses, but they never came back again.

In theory, Mexico has free education and health care, but in practice, it is just for those who hold government or good private jobs. President-elect AMLO  is promising to fix all that, but people all over the country are skeptical, including Senora Consuela.

If we get sick, we have to pay, unless we have insurance from our work. And most of us, here, don’t have any steady job.

Do people here have faith in the new government? She shrugs her shoulders:

We will see.

This is what I hear everywhere, from coast to coast of this enormous and potentially rich country, which is the 15th largest economy in the world. There is very little enthusiasm: the majority of people adopted a ‘wait and see strategy’.

Don Rudy Alvarez who has worked for more than 20 years at one of the luxury hotels in Yucatan, is only cautiously optimistic about the future.

Even we who have permanent jobs at the multi-national establishments, cannot dream very big. I can feed my family well, and I can send one son to study law at the university. But no bigger dreams. My family would never be able to afford a car or any other luxury. We hope that Obrador (AMLO) will change things. Here, many people feel that Yucatan has been sold to tourists as the ‘Mayan Disneyland’, with very little respect for our culture.

Mexico is the second most visited country in the Western hemisphere, right after the United States. But income from tourism very rarely brings a better life for local people.

Crime and drug wars are far from being the only concerns. In the center of the indigenous and historic city of Oaxaca, the armed forces are blocking the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Why? The graffiti protesting against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the activists, as well as forced evictions of indigenous people by the multinational companies.

Ms. Lisetta, who lives with many others, as a protest, in a tent right in front of the palace, explained:

For 9 years we have no home. Paramilitaries and the government forces came and threw us out of our dwellings, in San Juan Copala. Some people were killed, women raped, many disappeared. We are here to demand justice.

Recently, police came, broke my cell phone, and then injured my arm…

She showed me her bruises.

At night, live bands are playing old ballads, all over the city center. People are dancing, drinking and promenading. But displaced men, women and children living in the tents are brutal reminder of real Mexico, of true suffering of many poor and almost all native people.

Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State.

I found Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State. She spoke to me bravely, coherently and with passion:

In 2007, San Juan Copala declared autonomy and became autonomous municipality.  There was much peace and tranquility in our community. Then in 2009 the PRI-led government of Oaxaca started making noise as San Juan Copala is the ‘head’ of 32 communities of Trique District. The PRI-government did not want autonomy of San Juan Copala, thus unilaterally finished it in 2009. From 2010 we resisted for 10 months so that we could bring food to our children. They had blocked our roads. We didn’t have anything to eat anymore. They were killing our colleagues, but also children. Women were raped as they went looking for food and brought it back to their children. They cut off their hair as well. I am talking about the rape of a 65-year-old community member, for instance.  Another woman was gravely injured. The attackers and rapists all escaped.

For ten months we resisted with no water, no food, no electricity as the PRI-government had cut us off from everything. The date of 16 September 2010 was when PRI-backed paramilitaries entered our community, first to the municipality building, and used big microphone to tell us to leave our houses. We were not given any time at all to leave. Because they saw smoke come from houses, which was basically because we were cooking, they were shooting at our houses and us. We just had to escape with nothing and were forced to find a way to survive with our children, with nothing at all, not even our id cards. We needed to make sure to escape with our children because we were warned that if we didn’t, then they would burn alive our children. By 18 September 2010, PRI-backed paramilitaries started entering our houses, burning and destroying them.  We fled as by then they had killed another community member who had been resisting forced displacement. This is when a group of women started demanding the State Government to intervene in our community. The State nor Federal Government ever intervened.  We demanded that something is done, so that we could safely return to our community. Since September 2010, we have been here.  But they have never done anything to let us return, nor to get rid of those who displaced us because they were the accomplice of those paramilitaries who made us forcibly displaced.

I asked her why it happened? Were multi-national companies involved?

Yes, there are mineral resources. The government wants to take charge of this community. We have very futile lands. Lots of water, vegetables, fruits. The government wants to suck everything from our community.

I recalled massacres in Chiapas, that I covered some two decades ago and later described, under different name in my revolutionary political novel Point of No Return  (Point of No Return – ebook).

At the Center of Photography Manuel Alvarez Bravoin Oaxaca, Mr. Leo (who only gave his first name), confirmed:

It is terrible what happened to those people. Imagine that you are at home, and suddenly someone comes, with armed forces, and kicks you out. But in Mexico it’s normal, and not only in this area. Multinational companies, particularly Canadian ones, are controlling around 80 percent of the mining in this country. People, particularly indigenous ones, are treated brutally. Mexico suffered terribly from the Spanish colonialism, but it often feels that things didn’t change much. We are not in full control of our country!

And the new administration of Obrador? Leo and his colleagues are only moderately optimistic.

We are not sure he would dare to touch essential problems: the dependency of this country on the North, and the horrendous disparities between the rich and poor, between the descendants of the Europeans and the majority, which consists of the indigenous people. Until now you can see it everywhere: Westerners and their companies come and do what they want, while the native people are left with nothing.

But many others remain hopeful. AMLO’s left-wing Moreno Party will soon govern in a coalition with PT (Partido del Trabajo) and the conservative Social Encounter Party. Again, it is unlikely that Mexico will follow the path of Cuba or Venezuela, but the Bolivian model is very likely. It could be a silent revolution, a change based on an extremely progressive and truly socialist constitution of the country, remarkably dating back to 1916.

A Mexican academic, Dr. Ignacio Castuera who teaches at Claremont University in California, explains:

I believe Obrador has to bring several factions together to implement some of what he wants to achieve. No individual alone can solve the problems of a nation. I hope many rally around him, if that happens then significant changes can be brought about. The long shadow of the US policies and corporations will continue to exert major influence.

*****

Construction of US-Mexico wall

In Tijuana I witness absolute misery. I visit multinational maquiladoras that pay only an equivalent of $55 USD per week to their workers. I manage to enter gangland, and I see how the US is building a depressing wall between two countries.

Sra. Leticia facing the wall

I spend hours listening to stories of Sra. Leticia, who lives just one meter away from the wall.

They are cutting across our land, and it harms many creatures who live here. It also prevents water from circulating freely.

All this used to be Mexico. North Americans had stolen several states from us. Now they are building this wall. I visited their country on several occasions. And let me tell you: despite all our problems, I like where I am, at this side!

Then, late at night, I listen to a man who knows his country from north to south, from east to west. We are sitting in a small café; sirens are howling nearby, another murder has just taken place. He faces me squarely and speaks slowly:

Mexico has its back against the wall. This situation cannot continue. This is our last chance – Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We will rally behind him, we will help him. If he delivers what he promises, great; then Mexico will change and prosper. If not, I am afraid that our people will have no other choice but to take up arms.

From the revolutionary days

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• This is extended version. Essay was originally published by RT.

How the “Bernie of Mexico” Won the Presidency

This is Trump’s nightmare.I’m writing minutes after the victory of the Bernie Sanders of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Everyone calls him, “AMLO.” This is actually AMLO’s re-election: He first won the presidency in 2006. But back then the thieving, scheming, blood-stained criminal gang that rules Mexico (and I’m being polite), declared AMLO’s dissolute opponent the winner.

In 2006, rather than concede to vote thievery, lick his wounds and toddle off on a book tour, AMLO took his supporters into the streets, raised hell, blocked the capital’s central square for months, held a People’s Inaugural, and vowed to never, ever concede.

And tonight, twelve years later, AMLO has won a crushing, too-big-to-steal victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

And while the Good and Great told him he’d be finished if he kept protesting the stolen election, he made counting every vote the very first of his five-point campaign platform. He understands that even those with empty stomachs also hunger for democracy.

And there’s a lesson here. Are you listening, Al Gore? Mr. Kerry and Mrs. Clinton?

Bernie or Hugo?

And AMLO gave the people something to vote for. The rest of his platform included expanding free college education, raising the minimum wage, fighting income inequality and creating a massive infrastructure-fixing jobs program.

If that sounds like Bernie Sanders, that’s no accident. AMLO, like Bernie, said he is taking his program from that great Mexican hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, Mexican media blared apoplectic prophesies that AMLO would be the Second Coming of Hugo Chavez, with mass nationalizations to follow. (The hysteria was parroted in the New York Times, not coincidentally, owned by Mexico’s richest man.)

I can tell you, AMLO is way more Bernie Sanders than Hugo Chavez (and I’ve known all three).

Both AMLO and Sanders were mayors who ran their cities as what I’d call, “Pothole Populists.” It’s get-the-job-done socialism with the emphasis on social not –ism.

AMLO proved he could tamp down corruption, keep a stingy hold on budgets while increasing pensions and providing education grants. Mayor AMLO, unlike a certain Mr. Trump, completed major city infrastructure projects—all out of the savings from cutting waste and corruption.

But unlike Bernie, who did his good works in the mean streets of Burlington, Vermont, AMLO worked nothing less than a miracle in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York and ten times as ungovernable.

(And like Bernie, AMLO is a working class kid who worked in the social movement trenches: Sanders as a SNCC organizer in Chicago, while Lopez Obrador spent six years living with, sharing the lives of and fighting for the poorest Mayan families.)

But they are stealing it right now

Let’s not get carried away with our democracy high. This election is being stolen as I write.

Not the presidency. AMLO’s poll lead of 52% to 25% for his nearest competitor, is just too much to steal. But every seat of the Mexican Congress is up for grabs, and the Powers that Be, the laughably named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are fighting for their lives – and sometimes they fight with bullets.

So, far, 132 officials and candidates have been murdered in this election cycle. I spoke with voting rights activist (and movie star) Yareli Arizmendi in Mexico City, who told me that the old guard politicians were tied up with the Zetas and other drug gangs.

In all fairness, I should note that many victims were not just AMLO allies but also PRI, Green Party and independents who challenged the control of their cities and states by narco-traficantes.

Indeed, AMLO’s campaign gained fuel when, in 2014, the public learned of the disappearance of 43 students (and 3 investigating journalists). Evidence now indicates they were hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by the Guerreros Unidos gang – on orders from a politician connected to the ruling party.

Arizmendi reports that ballots have been burnt in gang- and ruling-party controlled districts. She sent me a video of a woman pre-marking a stack of ballots.

I saw this game up close in 2006 when I was sent by the Guardian and Democracy Now to investigate AMLO’s shock loss by just half a percent of the vote.

On election night, AMLO was way ahead when the official count was halted—then resumed with a massive reversal in the final count. Our investigators found massive ballot-box stuffing, ballot box dumping and intimidation of voters at gunpoint. There were games with electoral rolls apparently orchestrated by the Bush Administration which, I found, had used the same company that helped Katherine Harris rig the 2000 election in Florida, ChoicePoint, to steal Mexico’s entire voter roll! (Watch this Democracy Now! report, “Florida con Salsa,” from Mexico City.)

And this time, the incumbent PRI hired Cambridge Analytica. Trump’s social-media manipulators and data thieves were paid $7.2 million on their promise—I can’t make this up—to repeat a Mexican variant of their “Corrupt Hillary” campaign to smear AMLO.

It was a hard sell, especially as the wife of the current President, PRI man Enrique Peña Nieto, was caught taking a $7 million condo from a government contractor.

As I write, it looks like AMLO has crushed the second-highest candidate vote two-to-one and swept the House of Deputies. However, his coalition of parties is, as of the moment, showing poorly in the Senate race, way below pre-election polling data.

AMLO: Arrest Trump
Mexicans have had enough of the Trump-ito grifters who have held the Mexican presidency, usually by theft, for decades.

President Peña Nieto made his nation cringe with his invitation to Trump during the US Presidential campaign, boosting Trump’s candidacy. And he’s not had much to say about the caging of children on the border.

Although Trump’s child prisoners and their families detained at the border are not Mexican citizens (most come from Central America), AMLO has called for Trump’s arrest for the kidnappings as violating international law.

That’s just one indication AMLO’s victory is Trump’s nightmare. AMLO has shown he is not afraid of privileged pricks, even if they try to make themselves look fierce by staining themselves orange.

NAFTA
Weirdly, Lopez Obrador has also been called “The Trump of Mexico,” simply because they both speak to the desperation of their nation’s working classes. And both have few good words for NAFTA.

But Trump’s act, the billionaire turned class warrior, was always a fake. AMLO is for real.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has demanded that Mexico raise the wages of all auto workers so that the US can better compete within NAFTA.

AMLO is calling Trump’s bluff: he said, “yes” – which may come as a shock to Secretary Ross… Ross owns eight of those auto factories.

Hope and Danger

The slogan of AMLO’s coalition is, Juntos Haremos Historia. Together, we’ll make history. But history has a way of bleeding to death in Mexico.

In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio was on the cusp of winning Mexico’s presidency. But his political turn to the Left infuriated his PRI bosses. At a public rally where he supposedly had government protection, one assassin, and possibly a second, put two bullets in his head.

I hope AMLO’s story will have a happier ending.