I was on the radio this morning (LBC) talking about the death of seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal Maquin in US border custody. The clip can be heard here.
Last month I wrote a blog post on Mexico’s 1968 for Verso. You can read it here:
From Clayton to Macron
On Saturday, a reporter from the Cote d’Ivoire asked Emmanuel Macron a perfectly reasonable question; drawing an analogy with the Marshall Plan, the reporter asked how much money Europe was willing to commit to Africa, and (as a secondary question) what France’s position would be. In answering the question – or, rather, challenging its logic – Macron rejected any idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa, effectively stating that had it been that simple, it would have happened already. This is a peculiarly teleological view of progress, particularly from someone who just faced a fascist in a two-way presidential run-off, but I’ll leave that to one side by noting that it fits fairly neatly with the idea of ‘sensible centrism’ which finds itself in vogue in particular circles in 2017.
I am no expert on France, but I have taught enough French history (and followed enough news stories) to get a sense of how successive French governments demonstrate a posture of enormous entitlement to ‘guide’ or ‘advise’ Africa (with a focus on its Francophone nations), an asymmetric a priori position which has led frequently to military intervention. This mentality crosses the ideological spectrum within the mainstream of French politics too – it pertains to Mitterand or Hollande as much as, say, Sarkozy. [Note in that Economist piece on Hollande, the insidious phrasing: ‘Africa has a way of intruding on French politics’. Good grief. How terribly inconvenient that must be.]
In some senses, La Françafrique seems to echo the relationship between the United States and Latin America. While most of the latter has avoided formal colonisation since independence, many countries – particularly in the circum-Caribbean region – have experienced threats, destabilisation, and/or military occupation by the US since 1898. Hearing Macron attempt to shift the conversation from one of aid and economic stimulus towards one of criticising African attitudes (to say nothing of his comment on family sizes) reminded me immediately of President Truman’s stern rebuke to Latin Americans demanding their own version of the Marshall Plan in the postwar period. On 15th August 1947, the New York Times reported that at a press conference the day before, Truman had stated bluntly: ‘there has been a Marshall Plan for the Western Hemisphere for a century and a half known as the Monroe Doctrine’.
“¡Agua, Jabón y Estropajo… el Plan Clayton, abajo!”
Like Macron, Truman’s view was – broadly – ‘our way is best’. And the prescriptions which flowed from that attitude strongly favoured trade and investment over aid or loans. On 3rd September 1947, he opined: ‘Here [in Latin America] the need is for long-term economic collaboration. This is a type of collaboration in which a much greater role falls to private citizens and groups than is the case in a program designed to aid European countries to recover from the destruction of war’. The effects of occupation in Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and elsewhere were passed over. And here, for comparison, is Macron: “It’s by a more rigorous governance, a fight against corruption, a fight for good governance, a successful demographic transition… As of today, spending billions of dollars outright would stabilize nothing”. He warns that any ‘plan’ must use “public private partnerships, and must be conducted on a regional and sometimes even national basis.” Markets, and self-improvement. Macron also raised security cooperation; it is notable that in 1947, US negotiators were successful in their attempts to de-couple security from economic cooperation, and deal comprehensively with the former first (at the 1947 Rio de Janeiro Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security). Thus, Latin American governments lost a bargaining chip ahead of any economic settlement.
Truman having ruled out the extension of Marshall Aid, Latin America was included in what became known locally as ‘Plan Clayton’, part of the haphazard confection of what William Cromwell has called “the Marshall Non-Plan”. It was Assistant Secretary of State William Clayton who lent his name to the Latin American part of the post-war trade-and-aid policy. He was already a target for populist denunciation in Mexico since he had “issued the first warning that Latin America should not count on postwar economic aid” at the Chapultepec Conference in 1945. Two years later, when – in place of aid – Clayton suggested a relaxation of intra-hemisphere trade restrictions and tariffs, his propositions were denounced as “aggression on the part of imperialist forces”. La Voz de México – the newspaper of the Mexican Communist Party – urged the formation of a “National Democratic Front to Oppose Plan Clayton.”
That was then, this is now
Speaking at the weekend, Macron set out the following interpretation of the Marshall Plan: “a reconstruction plan, a material plan in a region that already had its equilibria, its borders and its stability”. Quite striking given that many of those equilibria were maintained by enormous occupying forces, and that borders or stability could be talked of as constants when just a year and a half had passed since the war formally ended. This was followed by Macron’s suggestion that “the problems Africa face are completely different and… are ‘civilizational.’” Yet how does the description Macron decides to give Africa – particularly that of “failed states, complex democratic transitions and extremely difficult demographic transitions” – sound fundamentally different to Europe in the immediate post-war years? [The most glaring difference is the postcolonial relationship, something which the US is essentially trying to define in Iraq and Afghanistan today, but was not directly relevant in postwar Europe. If anything, the postcolonial obligation is surely greater.]
My research on Plan Clayton (which I will work up into an article next year) has focused on the reaction from the Mexican left. In brief, the PCM (Mexican Communist Party), PP (Popular Party) and ASU (Unified Socialist Action) opposed Plan Clayton from broadly similar positions, emphasising the threat to “we, the Mexicans” as a whole. The manner in which the story was reported by La Voz de México or addressed in public pronouncements from labour leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano and PCM head Dionisio Encina implies coalescence of interest between the constituencies of the Marxist left (i.e. the urban proletariat, urban intellectuals and, to a lesser extent, campesinos) and the government, the embodiment of the ‘national bourgeoisie’. In the public discourse of the left it remained inconceivable that, first, the ruling PRI did not serve the national interest and second, that the national interest of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ was not consonant with that of the Mexican working classes. The degree of subordination of class-based interest to nationalism here is highly significant, and something I have written about at length elsewhere. Only the ASU augmented this approach with a substantial appeal to class-specific concerns, yet they remained careful to cloak their pronouncements in broad, nationalist rhetoric.
I am therefore interested to see what sort of reactions emerge – particularly from African lefts – to Macron’s intervention. Because it was a set of comments during a question and answer session, there may be more leeway, less formal scrutiny. The implication, though, is clear. Any idea of responsibility for centuries of colonial (and decades of post-colonial) oppression, interference, or exploitation is shelved. Instead, two things emerge: first, a sense that Europe’s idealised economic mode – open, dynamic, neoliberal – must be embraced by external partners, Europe’s technocratic, asymmetrical and stultified inner-workings notwithstanding (some of these contradictions are noted in Perry Anderson’s recent piece on Macron’s meteoric rise); and second, that a degree of mass personal transformation must go hand in hand with this economic change. While the first fits very neatly with Truman and Clayton’s ideas of how best to ‘help’ Latin America (in practice, through fairly untrammelled extraction of surplus, one way or another, by the US), the second echoes broader civilising discourses which cross from formal imperial relationships (the ‘White Man’s Burden’) into informal empire and neo-colonial notions of ‘underdevelopment’. It is no surprise the most striking initial reactions to Macron’s statement came from those attuned to anti-colonial discourses; it will be fascinating to see if the current hero of liberalism loses any of his sheen with the broader polis.
A cartoon from La Voz de México, 23rd February 1947, urging President Alemán to stand up to President Truman, even if he must necessarily be courteous; Truman’s feet are muddied by his eponymous plan, that of Clayton, and imperialism generally.
 The New York Times, 15th August 1947, p.8. This ‘quote’ – reproduced in many books on the period – is not presented as direct speech by the Times. Instead it is reported as what Truman said, delivered without quotation marks. As such, there is a question as to whether it is in fact paraphrased.
 “Water, soap and scourer… down with Plan Clayton!” – a slogan from the campaign.
 Quoted by R. Trask, in “The Impact of the Cold War on United States-Latin American Relations, 1945-1949”, Diplomatic History, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1977, p.278
 W. Cromwell, “The Marshall Non-Plan, Congress and the Soviet Union” in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol.42, No.4 (1979)
 L. Bethell & I. Roxborough, “Latin America between the Second World War and the Cold War: Some Reflections on the 1945-8 Conjuncture” in Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol.20, No.1 (1988), p.181
 Plans for hemispheric defence cooperation were denounced just as furiously by the PCM. See, for example, “El Imperialismo Yanqui es Propiciador del Plan de Truman para la ‘Defensa Continental’”, La Voz de México, 9/6/1946, p.2.
 Tangentially, I think Mexico provides a good counter-example to Bresser-Pereira’s portrayal of Latin American ‘national bourgeoisies’ more generally. See Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, ‘From the National-Bourgeoisie to the Dependency Interpretation of Latin America’ in Latin American Perspectives, 38:3 (2011)
“Hegemonic Nationalism, Subordinate Marxism: The Mexican Left, 1945– 7”
Abstract: The most significant weakness of the Marxist Left in early Cold War Mexico was that it subordinated itself to post-revolutionary nationalism. Both the Mexican Communist Party and followers of Vicente Lombardo Toledano supported the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI), avoiding significant criticism before late 1947. Some dissident currents of Marxism did exist, but they were sparsely followed. Mexico provides an extreme case of Left subordination to popular-nationalist ideology, yet is indicative of trends visible elsewhere, e.g. among Marxist groups in post-war Cuba and the United States. Rather than promoting notions of communist political practice, the Mexican Marxist Left consistently advocated the elimination of class conflict and support for the ‘national bourgeoisie’. The Marxist Left held the Mexican government to different standards from those to which they held the governments of other countries. A near-consensus on the Mexican Left equated patriotism with progressive politics. The argument is illustrated with an important case study: the 1947 Marxist Round Table.
Some recent stories about/from Mexico:
The governor of Mexico’s central bank, Agustín Carstens, has announced he is quitting the role next year to take over at the Bank for International Settlements. He stresses it is not to do with the likely ‘Trump effect’ on Mexico’s economy, but many have expressed concern that he is leaving at this time. Trump has made it clear he will intervene personally – as with Carrier last week – to prevent US companies moving production sites to Mexico (and elsewhere). That said, the OECD aren’t too gloomy about Mexico’s short-term economic prospects. Over at La Jornada, Hernández looks forward to the restraining influence of James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Niall Ferguson is more sanguine.)
As anyone who has spent time in Mexico City knows, the city’s traffic and emissions management have been chronically ineffective for years. Now Mexico City is being heralded as one of four pioneering cities pledging to eliminate diesel vehicles from their streets by 2025. It would be great, in principle, to see this happen, but it is hard not to wonder whether the wealthy (and indeed others) of Mexico City will manage to get around this ban as they have so many other proscriptive initiatives.
Another chapter in the long-running battle between Mexico’s campesinos and multinational companies is covered by Hermann Bellinghausen, framed as the devouring of the land of Juan Rulfo. Meanwhile, as a missing dog went viral, David Agren asked: where is the concern for missing people?
Reactions to the death of Fidel Castro ran the full gamut in Mexico. López Obrador reportedly offered some rather fulsome praise, which Jorge Castañeda addressed here. In Proceso, Jorge Carrasco Araizaga casts a withering look at some of the tensions and contradictions in both Castro’s reputation in Mexico (not least the damaging support for Salinas) and in the wider Cuban-Mexican relationship.
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.
A Guardian piece on the anti-bullfighting protests in Mexico City:
A nice win for a very tidy and efficient Mexico side in the men’s football Olympic final over a disappointing Brazil side. ¡Un exito!
Mexico have reached the final of the Olympic football contest. They fancied their chances beforehand, and with a perennial crop of underachieving youngsters, they should do. They beat Japan 3-1 and will face either South Korea or Brazil on Friday night.
This morning I came across this piece, translated from an article in El Diario. It boils down to the fact that Mexican murder rates are woefully underreported, but there are a number of things which deserve a bit more close inspection. The statistics relate to the period of Calderón’s government, but stop at the end of 2011 so it’s about a five-year sample. Not all states submitted figures. Chiapas claimed 77 murders between 2009 to 2011, a laughably low figure. Jalisco only admitted the number of investigations, not the number of murders. More worryingly, four states refused to offer any figures: Morelos and Tlaxcala, close to Mexico City, and Durango and Coahuila in the north. I would bet that Morelos (where I have some personal experience of having seen decline in public safety over the last decade), Durango and Coahuila are among the more violent states. [Finger in the air, I would think all three would fall into the Tamaulipas/Michoacan range in the graphic below. I have little knowledge of Tlaxcala’s situation I’m afraid. These rough ideas are borne out somewhat by the 2010 single year figures, here.]
Here is a map I made based on the figures in the El Diario article. El Diario treats them in absolute terms – hence the alarmist emphasis on Edomex (Mexico State) – but I’ve converted those figures to per capita which gives a much more realistic picture. Unfortunately it also shows what an utter mess the north and the mountainous routes by which you get there are in.
[click on map to embiggen]
Guerrero is a bit of an outlier, with its own violent narrative, yet the worsening of the situation in Morelos in the last few years makes for a worrying coherence in the southwest. Quintana Roo is also unusual, and here the figures from El Diario don’t sit well with those linked to above at Geo-Mexico. One or two big shootouts can skew the figures a lot in less populous states, however.
For comparison with the numbers used in my graphic, New York would be around 0.30 murders per thousand population between 2006-11 (i.e. for the whole five years, not annually), and Chicago around 0.75. Both New Orleans and St. Louis would be between 2 and 2.5. Baltimore, Detroit and Newark would all be around 1.5 I think. Mexico’s rate as a whole for the five years is about 0.73 murders per thousand population (i.e. under conventional measure, about 15 per 100,000 per annum).* So murders are only half as common in Mexico as a whole as they are in Baltimore, Newark or Detroit. Like the U.S., the picture is very patchy. And for some more context, in both Jamaica and Guatemala murders are around three times as common per capita as in Mexico.
Yet the statistics for Mexico do concur with a significant part of the narrative of drug-war-related decline. Whole swathes of the country are now violent and beyond the reach of the state (the latter point is underlined by the manner in which the different narcotraficante cartels have nobbled various bits of the state apparatus, leading to absurd incidents like this). In Chihuahua, one in two hundred people was murdered in the last five years. That’s a similar proportion to those who died in London’s Blitz. Last year there was a heated debate between Ed Vulliamy and Professor Alan Knight over this issue, the crux of the matter being whether the drug-war-affected parts of Mexico were typical or exceptional – the future, or a controllable part of the present?
Knight, in this Guardian piece last year, was surely correct to stress Cuidad Juarez’s exceptionality. Even in the context of Chihuahua, it’s a horrifically lawless and brutal place. When crossing the border I wasn’t brave enough to go that way – I plumped for the relatively sedate Nuevo Laredo route. For now, Juarez remains, as Knight suggests, a “grotesque aberration”; but a brief look at that map shows it is the crux of a wider system. Its ripple effects have been getting closer and closer to Mexico City. I couldn’t have imagined in 2001 or 2003, my first two visits, that by 2010 the charming city of Cuernavaca would be cut off from Mexico City (only about 30 miles away) by an apparent hoax relating to a big narco threat, shutting down for three entire days. Now, two years later, Cuernavaca is the site of executions and shootouts on a regular basis. I’m not sure the causation necessarily flows from the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, but there is some temporal correlation there. The reason given by Morelos state for not providing the information on murder rates was disturbing: it claimed that “if made public [the information] puts at risk the state’s ability to govern, and the lives, health and safety of people”. In other words, they can’t afford to let their citizens know how little protection the state can offer them (at least that’s how I read it).
Knight is also correct to emphasise the importance of the legalisation/prohibition argument, where Vulliamy sets it to one side. However, having lived in Mexico for six months in 2010, I came more and more to see some merit in Vulliamy’s thesis that Juarez was likely to become more of a representative case. You don’t exactly get *used* to seeing headless corpses dangling from road bridges on the front cover of the newspapers, but such prevalence has a dulling effect. Bolaño in 2666 shows precisely this effect: the entire middle section of the book is taken up with hundreds of pages of atrocities committed outside the purview of the law in a fictionalised Juarez, and the effect becomes nauseatingly dulled. Clearly Vulliamy veers towards Bolaño’s world: he is somewhat sensationalist, and that is not helpful; he also works in broad brush strokes. But he sees the structural position, the vanguardism perhaps, of Juarez.
HSBC’s recent admission of grubby involvement in money laundering can hardly be exceptional – in fact, it may have been systemically crucial. The drugs trade is, depending on whose estimates you believe, among the most lucrative in the world. Mexico’s economy is too closely tied to that of the U.S. (as it has been since the Second World War) to take the heterodox routes out of global recession evidenced in South America. Hence, while drugs remain profitable and legal job opportunities contract, the reserve army of labour will continue to be tempted into the ranks of the narcos (or their uniformed allies). This situation will not go away, which is why I’m rather pessimistic for Mexico in the next ten or twenty years.
*Apologies for use of two scales
EDIT: For clarity, I’m including the figures standardised to annual per 100,000
|Estado de Mexico||11.3|
|San Luis Potosi||11.2|
|Baja California Sur||6.3|