The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thinking of Mexico

My wife and I have spent about three weeks at a time five different times in Mexico. We fly to the border, then take buses around Mexico. Incredible food, fantastic art museums, various indigenous handcrafts and beautiful collectibles, $25-a-night very nice hotels, open-air markets, and nearly unfailingly pleasant and helpful citizens. That was then; we haven't been there since 2007. What is essentially a civil war with several fronts being fought by several factions has swept over the country. I see place names in the news, usually accompanied by a recent body-count, that I can see in my memory. I ache for what I remember.

No matter how you feel immigration to the USA should be handled, you must agree that immigration from Mexico--maybe from everywhere--is being mishandled. Add to that the wars between various businessmen trying to establish their fair market share of the black tar, meth, coke and pot trade, also being mishandled by both the Mexican and US governments, and you have a convergence of two hugely mishandled issues of foreign and domestic policy.

A recent story in Mother Jones by Charles Bowden dissects and parses maybe not the policies but at least their effect in microcosm. You can read the story, "We Bring Fear," here. I have excerpted from it below:

CARLOS SPECTOR, Emilio's lawyer, is a man on fire. He is 55, red haired, big, El Paso born, a Mexican American Jew. He has built an immigration practice. His childhood was divided between El Paso and Juárez. In his 20s, he moved to Israel under the Law of Return and lived on a kibbutz. But eventually, the border claimed him. He has been looking for a case like Emilio's for years, a case of a clean Mexican reporter seeking political asylum from the government of the United States. Now he thinks he has it and that he can make American law face the reality of Mexico.

To gain political asylum, applicants must prove they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their political opinion or an "immutable characteristic" such as race, religion, or nationality. When it comes to people fleeing Mexico, the United States has quibbled with claims of immutability, telling Mexican cops running from the cartels that they should just stop being a cop, move to another part of Mexico, become a plumber. But Emilio can't hide from the Army. Those three stories he filed in 2005, the opinions therein, they created an immutable impression on the Army. After that he apologized. He ceased writing anything bad about the Army even when he witnessed them killing people in his town in February 2008. None of this helped. When the Army swept the area again a few months later, they came after him.


In the last 10 years, since the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, head of the Juárez cartel and first among equals in the drug world, the industry has fragmented into independent baronies and smaller outlaw bands. Since the collapse of the PRI, the ruling party that lasted more than 70 years, Mexico's civil society has also fragmented, with power leaving the capital and recombining with the narcogangs. The Army, the largest gang, is not attempting to seize the bankrupt and withering state, but grabbing market share in a place whose two largest industries are supplying American drug habits and exporting millions of people. Cartels once imposed constraint of trade. But like soda-pop CEOs, the generals now angle to increase their share of the skyrocketing domestic drug market. And of course, the United States finances this move, via the Mérida Initiative, in the delusion that it is shoring up a republic south of the Rio Grande.


But then memory can be a very short-term thing here. Within an hour or two of a killing, there is no one left to describe the murder. In a day, it is a dim memory. In a few days, it is beyond recall except when talking in private to the closest friends and family. This loss of memory is not because of cowardice. It is the wisdom that comes with survival. Emilio knows that the Mexican Army is the only force capable of carrying out a coordinated operation of this kind. In the story he mentions "armed commandos" sweeping the area, a term that to savvy readers means Army and to everyone else indicates a cartel action. That is how an honest reporter tries to avoid becoming a dead reporter. He puts it out of his mind.

Here is a link to list of Bowden stories.

I also recommend anything by Luis Alberto Urrea. Here is a link to a list of his books and articles. I particularly recommend The Devil's Highway, which deals with some of the same subject matter as Bowden's piece. The Hummingbird's Daughter is a terrific adventure story which weaves magical realism and Mexican history into the story of a late 19th-century family in Sinaloa, near the Gulf of California.


larry kurtz said...


This is from High Country News:

Cannabis is certainly a sure cure for boredom. While South Dakota ignores the paths that explore innovative funding for public broadcasting, education, and the arts in lieu of Stasi-inspired cannabis interdiction:
Montana's taxpayers debate business and zoning strategies for a budding new industry:

The patient-friendly application process: facilitates effective symptom management and streamlines a personal decision without enriching the stockholders of corporate pharma.

Could a dispensary be in the cards for Alzada?

Bill Fleming said...

Reminds me of Delores Huerta's quote, "We didn't cross the borders, the borders crossed us."

p.s. Bob, things are still pretty cool in Yelapa, if you can get there. Was just there end of Jan. this year.

Bill Fleming said...

Delores was a good friend when we worked for the UFW.