Some recent articles on Mexico

A couple of fantastic pieces on Mexico in the Guardian recently, and certainly help to undermine the crass, simplistic view of the likes of Jim O’Neill and other MINTies. That said, as I have argued elsewhere, I don’t think decapitated torsos are unequivocally bad for business as they have allowed a constant pretext (taking over from the waning armed threat of Zapatismo) for the heavy militarisation of the Mexican state apparatus: not good for all business in a broad sense, granted, but certainly cementing the position of a particular part of Mexico’s capitalist class and its allies to the north.

The first piece is a brutally Bolano-esque roll-call of kidnappings, or rather ‘robberies’ as they are called, of young girls who are forced into working as prostitutes and often then end up in jail. Some have been lucky enough, as if one can use the word ‘lucky’ in this context without grimacing, to find some sort of shelter in convents. But this is clearly a deeply-rooted and widespread phenomenon and is happening with the implicit connivance of the state. It is an appalling, stomach-churning story.

The second piece takes as its starting point the recent arrest of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman (with a nice illustration of the cross-border military-industrial complex in action). Ben Smith gives a devastating account of the history of collusion and control of the drug trade by the Mexican state and – particularly – the PRI.

Oil, Revolution and Capital

Yesterday, in what will probably be seen as a fairly momentous vote, Mexico’s parliament approved the opening up of the national oil market (exploration and extraction) which had previously been under the sole charge of the nationalised company PEMEX. PEMEX (short for Petróleos Mexicanos) was created by the government of President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 in what many feel was the apogee of revolutionary nationalism. PEMEX has been a clunky, increasingly conservative and inefficient beast without doubt, but it is a huge employer and a source of around 2/5 of the government’s revenue. I fear this marketisation of oil will inevitably lead to a situation as in so many Latin American states historically (including Mexico prior to 1938) of extraction with minimum taxation. Aside from that, the employment situation could be another ticking time bomb as relative revenues fall. That said, this has been pretty much inevitable, certainly since the accession of the Salinas government in 1988 signifying the beginning of the end of state capitalism in Mexico. So I see this not as a major watershed, but as a stepping stone on a preordained path. As we are finding now in Britain, many will miss the hulking, inefficient yet public-owned behemoth once it has gone.

Call for Papers

Radical Americas

Radical Americas 2014, Institute of the Americas, University College London, 16-18th June

 “In fighting a just cause, in resisting oppression, there is dignity.” – Eslanda Goode Robeson

Following the success of the inaugural ‘Radical Americas’ symposium in January 2013, the Radical Americas Network welcomes paper and panel proposals for our 2014 symposium to be held at the UCL Institute of the Americas on the 16th, 17th and 18th June.

Download the Call for Papers

View original post

Exile and Asylum: Snowden in Historical Perspective

I’d just like to point out a few parallels and contrasts between the current case of whistleblowing CIA hacker Edward Snowden and some examples from my milieu of research, mid-C20 Mexico. Snowden is currently attempting to find a state which will offer him political asylum having had his passport suspended by the U.S. government following his leaking of revelations about the NSA’s spying activities (both domestic and foreign).

Snowden had, among his initial flurry of asylum applications, included Russia. Like many other examples from the list, this was curious since his asylum is a result of his (apparent) commitment to open, popular scrutiny of government, something Russia has very little of. Understandable, though – he is backed into a corner and cannot afford to be choosy at this point. This application was withdrawn by Snowden, however, when Vladimir Putin stipulated that his asylum would be dependent on his cessation of human rights-based campaigning. Incidentally, Henrik Hertzberg has written here about the brilliance of Putin’s multi-layered statement on the matter.

This condition of exile naturally brought to my mind that placed upon (first) Leon Trotsky and (later) Republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War in Mexico. In both cases, those negotiating on behalf of the asylum seeker conceded that they would not partake in political activity in their place of exile. This meant domestic political activity – for example, when Pablo Neruda arrived in post-WWII Mexico he was free to criticise the Chilean government. Similarly, Trotsky continued his life as an international revolutionary, but practically-speaking his international map suddenly had a Mexico-shaped hole in it. Hence, when his initial closest allies the LCI called for sabotage and direct action against businesses to protest against the high cost of living in 1937, Trotsky disowned them, describing their methods as “stupid”. (Note that this debate has barely evolved since 1937 and lives on in the Trotskyist and anarchist divergence in current methods to oppose the coalition government in the UK). Nor could Trotsky comment on the manner in which the railroads were (in all likelihood) handed over to workers’ control deliberately in order to fail in 1938.

When the Spanish exiles began to arrive fleeing the Francoist advance, they too were obliged to keep to non-Mexican affairs in their political discussion. In the case of the Republican government in exile this was not too taxing since they spent much of their time engaged in bitter personal recriminations. For those lower down the political hierarchy, though, the safety and opportunity Mexico afforded meant having to put their passions and energies into (usually) cultural – rather than political – affairs. When many of their children became involved in the 1968 student movement and more generalised opposition, the first generation of immigrants panicked, fearful that the political ‘sins’ of the children would be revisited upon them and all would find themselves once again without a home.

I suppose what I am trying to convey is that asylum is a tool for the state which offers it too. It can be used as a fig leaf for domestic authoritarianism, as it was in post-Revolutionary Mexico and (rather honestly, it seems) would have been in Putin’s Russia. Just as the Mexican government could trumpet its fraternal attitude to the Republican refugees while muting them politically, it would later proudly boast of a revolutionary brotherhood with Cuba while providing the U.S. government with lists of passengers travelling there from Mexico and supposedly allowing the C.I.A. to use the Mexican embassy in Havana as a listening post. While we ought to be appalled at the actions of the United States government in twisting arms across the globe to deny Snowden political asylum, we must not forget that states which receive exiles do so for their own politically-expedient reasons – even if they are nominally left-wing.