Mark in Mexico
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Before I start, let me tell you that I live in Mexico. The whys and hows as to my presence here are not too important (I'm not a fugitive from justice). I teach English. That's about it. But I live here. In Oaxaca City, Oaxaca State. I've been here for about 6 months and lived in Puebla City, Puebla State, for 8 years prior to moving to Oaxaca. I think I know Mexico much better than most anyone up North, including those who live along the border regions. I don't spend much time in the tourist hotspots like the Cabos, Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco and all the rest, except for the occasional vacation.
I avoid Mexico City like the plague because Mexico City is a plague. So is Tijuana, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas), Monterrey, Reynosa and Matamoros and just about all points in between. Oaxaca City itself would be included on this list if I were a Mexican. Since I'm a Gringo, I get along OK but I have to be ever vigilant and extra vigilant with my sons, aged 6 and 9.
Why is Mexico such a mess? It's the culture. Don't scoff. I live here, remember? Mexicans do not understand the very basics of Rule of Law. They don't understand them and I don't believe they ever will. The single missing ingredient here is accountability. You can steal just about whatever you want to steal here, and if you share the spoils with the political powers that be as well as local, state and federal law enforcement, you can get along quite nicely. Kind of like Chicago.
Mexican politicians believe that it is their right to enrich themselves at the expense of their constituents. It comes with the territory, so to speak. Mexicans as a whole are not capable of viewing society as a whole. They do not understand that what is injurious to society is injurious to the individual. My father used to tell me that one's rights end at the beginning of the other fellow's nose. Mexicans don't see it that way. A Mexican believes that his rights extend as far as he can push or bully his way. That the extension of his rights might be deleterious to society as a whole is a thought which never crosses his mind. A basic lack of civility abounds.
Mexico was born in treachery and corruption and has not changed much in 185 odd years. The Independence (the Revolution is altogether different) was lead by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (Hidalgo), a Catholic priest with at least two daughters fathered out-of-wedlock, Jose Morelos y Pavon (Morelos), another Catholic priest who fathered two sons and a daughter by different women in different cities, and Agustin de Iturbide, a mestizo (Spanish father and Indian mother) officer in the army of Spain, or rather, New Spain, as Mexico was called in those days. In order to get his military commission, Iturbide had to claim that he was creole (born in New Spain but of 100% Spanish blood). Iturbide, thinking that independence by the native Mexicans was the coming thing, joined Hidalgo's insurrection. When Hidalgo refused to make Iturbide commander of his forces, Iturbide switched sides in a snit. Kind of like Benedict Arnold. There were many others involved, like Allende and Guerrero, but these three were the principals.
The Mexican independence wars were not like that of America's. Hidalgo and Morelos lead two different forces in two different areas. The was no Continental Congress, no Declaration of Independence, no organized army under central command. And, also unlike the Continental Army under George Washington, the rebels greatly outnumbered the Spanish forces and met with almost instant success. At one time Hidalgo's army alone totaled 100,000 fighters. However, Catholic priests do not successful military commanders make. Hidalgo and Allende were betrayed, captured and shot by Spanish firing squad. Morelos was defeated by a daring cavalry charge by a greatly outnumbered Spanish cavalry lead by Iturbide. Remember him? He had been fighting for Hidalgo. Morelos met the same fate as Hidalgo.
Now, get this. Hidalgo, Allende and Morelos were not fighting for true Mexican Indian independence. They were fighting against the Spanish King Joseph, brother of Napoleon, who had been installed on the Spanish throne by the little guy himself, to the detriment of the deposed King Ferdinand VII. Hidalgo and the rest were fighting against Nappy/Joe and for Ferdy 7, supposedly. The independence fight was over with all the leaders shot dead until, in 1820, Spanish military officers in Mexico City revolted and overthrew the government of New Spain while hardly firing a shot. They were lead by, guess who? Iturbide, who was changing allegiances faster than JLo changes bed partners.
Iturbide declared himself Emperor Augustin I and ruled, for a short time, what was maybe the largest swath of territory under one man's rule in world history. Mexico stretched from what is now Oregon all the way south to Panama. That claim to land was a result of Spanish land claims, which Iturbide believed that the newly declared Mexican state now possessed. The fact that there were no "Mexicans", Indian, Spanish, creole, mestizo or otherwise, for thousands and thousands of miles, made no difference. It didn't make any difference, either, to Vicente Guerrero and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. They joined together to overthrow Iturbide, and after less than two years on his newly created throne, Emperor Iturbide was exiled to Paris. He later returned, landing on a beach, to regain his throne. The character of Zorro's antagonist in the Antonio Banderas movie was very loosely based on this incident. Iturbide was almost immediately captured, without the help of Zorro, and shot by firing squad. Mexican history goes basically downhill from there.
Let's talk about what the Mexicans call "The Revolution" for a moment. Again, treachery, betrayal, corruption and murder are the highlights of this sordid tale. It was lead by a diminutive fellow named Francisco Madero. Americans think of the revolution in Mexico as a years-long affair. It wasn't. The revolution began, officially, on November 20, 21 or 22, 1910 (depends on which book you read) when Madero, who had sought refuge in Texas, crossed the Rio Grande and took up the fight against the government of President Porfirio Diaz. Diaz had been elected some 5 or 6 consecutive times and had gotten himself named president-for-life, and had become, for all practical purposes, the emperor of Mexico. Madero, along with the fabled Zapata, Pancho Villa and many others, attacked Diaz and the revolution was over by May, 1911 when Diaz fled to Paris. Six months and Diaz was gone. Madero got himself elected president, and rightfully so. Then the typical Mexican games began. Because of what happened next, many consider that the Mexican revolution lasted from 1910-1920. Mexicans refer to the time after April, 1911 as Decada de Dolores, decade of pain. Madero didn't last long. He, along with his VP, Pino Suarez, were assassinated by an army general who fancied himself as emperor, one Victoriano Huerta. So, the fight was on, again. Over the next 9 years or so, Huerta was defeated and driven into exile, Zapata was assassinated by a former colleague at arms, Venustiano Carranza was elected president, then he was assassinated, Villa was assassinated, and basically everybody was killing everybody else, all in pursuit of the throne, presidential desk, or whatever. One poor guy was officially the president for, like, 45 minutes or so, before being unceremoniously relieved of command. I don't think he was shot. I think he wisely just signed over his office and got the hell out of Dodge.
Through all this agony of death by assassination, death by firing squad, death by hanging, death in battle, exile to Paris, corruption, betrayal and treachery, most of the wealthy landowners remained wealthy landowners and the poor just got poorer. In the United States, we name streets, cities, counties and states after our revolutionary heroes and other heroes who came down the pike in later years. Almost all of these heroes were successful at what they were trying to do ,from Washington to Houston to Bush, even if they died doing it (Crockett, Bowie, Travis, Lincoln). In Mexico, the streets, cities, municipalities and states are named after people and incidents that were, on the whole, failures. I say incidents, because many streets in Mexico carry names like "9 de Noviembre" or the like, to commemorate a massacre or some such incident. The city of Morelia, the state of Hidalgo, the Zapatista movement, etc. are all examples, also. I know of no street in the U.S. named "Saigon 1975".
That brings us to today, when the makeup of the Mexican government hasn't changed too much since 1821. Oh, they don't run around assassinating other government officials, the drug cartels and police do that. And no one has the temerity to declare himself emperor. It is more or less understood. I guess I should say that it was more or less understood. The election of Vicente Fox as president broke, at least temporarily, the rule of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) that had ruled Mexico since the 20's. Can you imagine what America would be like if one political party had ruled for so many years? See Detroit, Gary, DC for examples. And look at the name of that political party which is still the largest in Mexico and still controls most of the country. Institutionalized revolution? What the hell is that? How do you institutionalize a revolution and ever have any peace? You have a revolution, set things aright (provided that you win, of course), then forget the revolution business and get on with establishing good governance. Not here.
Today, 185 years of corruption at the national, state, municipal (municipalities are like U.S. counties) and city levels is so firmly entrenched that eliminating it would take a Herculean effort that the Mexican people are not capable of making. A Herculean effort over many years. The folks from Rudy Giuliani who were hired by the mayor of Mexico City to great fanfare, and later left town after not being paid, to research the security situation and make recommendations, estimated 30 years just to clean up the police forces. 30 years!! And what about the Departments of Tourism, Interior, Agriculture, Education, Internal Revenue, Environment, Immigration, Foreign Relations, all the sub-departments and under secretaries and tens of thousands of government programs that no one is quite sure who controls and then the powerful state governments and then the municipal governments and then the city governments with all of their respective departments, under-departments, sub departments, etc.? And then there is the federal Congress with its Chamber of Deputies and Senate plus all the various state congresses, each with its own two chambers, plus all the municipal governments and city, town and village governments, each with its own bureaucracy. Then there is the massive social security system, federal healthcare system, the army and the various federal and state and local judicial branches. All of them staffed by people, the majority of whom are desperately trying to get as much as they can as quickly as they can. Maybe in 300 years?
The U.S. Constitution was written once. Just once. It has been amended some 27 times, but these amendments are attachments to the original. Also, the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, were agreed to prior to the signing of the original document. If not, many of the signers wouldn't have signed the original. So the first 10 amendments could be considered as a part of the original, which means that, in effect, our Constitution is the original, amended 17 times in some 217 years. The U. S. Constitution can arguably be viewed as a document that describes the makeup of the central government and then tells that central government what it cannot do. The Mexican Constitution, on the other hand, well, see if you can follow me here.
The first constitution was drawn up in 1824. We'll call it the 1824 Constitution. It was modeled after our constitution and basically set up the Mexican government much the same way as our government. It was also basically ignored which made it basically irrelevant, basically. An example would be presidential succession. Between 1824 and 1857 only one president completed his term and handed over power to an elected successor. These guys weren't leaving office early for family reasons, I can assure you. They were forced out, shot, hung, assassinated, exiled, etc.
In 1833, Santa Anna - he of Alamo infamy and San Jacinto fame - dumped the 1824 constitution and instituted the Siete Leyes (7 laws). So you might call this the 1833 Constitution. You might.
In 1857, both the 1824 constitution and the 1833 constitution were dumped and a reformist constitution was written. This resulted in a 3 year civil war. This we shall call the 1857 Constitution.
Then, in 1917, in the midst of the decade of pain, another constitution was written, which is called the 1917 Constitution. This constitution is in effect today, more or less, and contains some 9 Titles with various Chapters under each Title and various Sections of each Chapter under each Title. And then there are 16 Transitory Articles at the end which were for the express purpose of governing the implementation of said 1917 Constitution. There are a gazillion amendments, but the Mexicans don't attach the amendments. They are incorporated into the body of the constitution so that one needs to have a history reference book or be a brilliant historian with a photographic memory to determine what the amendments are and when they were incorporated. Then there are some Additions to the constitution which are additions, not amendments. Pay attention. The 1917 Constitution was amended, as of 2002, in 1937, 1937, 1937, 1940, 1940, 1942, 1942, 1943, 1943, 1944, 1944, 1944, 1944, 1944, 1946, 1946, 1946, 1946, 1947, 1947, 1947, 1947, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1950, 1950, 1950, 1951, 1951, 1952, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1962, 1962, 1962, 1962, 1962, 1963, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966, 1966.
Then there were Additions to the constitution in 1940, 1942, 1942, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1960, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966. There were also some deletions (probably concerning clean water, clean air, clean streets, free elections and drug trafficking and border control), but they are listed as "Deletions by Amendment", so I included them as amendments. There were also a handful of "Additions by Amendment", some of which inadvertently may have been included on both the above lists. So sue me.
All of these various constitutions, decrees, plans, and treaties, with a myriad of amendments, additions, deletions and suspensions along with civil wars, revolutions, wars against foreign powers (including us, twice) as well as the attendant corruption, betrayals, treasons, assassinations, overthrows, hangings, firing squads, exiles, presidents, emperors, military rulers, presidents-for-life, etc. have brought Mexico to where it is today, a basket case. Out of control. Ungovernable, except by force and bribery.
Do Mexicans realize and understand the situation in which they find themselves? No. Can or will they fix it? No. So what keeps the country from exploding into anarchy and/or another "revolution" (read Civil War)? Two things; First, no weapons. Only the police, the army and the criminals have enough weaponry to fight anything other than a short-lived, doomed to failure insurrection. Firearms of any caliber greater than .22 or 20 gauge shot are illegal in the hands of private owners in Mexico. The Zapatista Liberation Army (ELZN), operating in Chiapas under the command of the masked comedian Commandante Marcos, is really a joke only allowed to survive through the good auspices of the federal government.
Second, there is a gigantic safety valve which is protected, encouraged, supported and maintained by the Mexican government. Guess where that is? Yep, it is the northern border through which some 10,000 Mexicans flee per day along with some 600 to 1500 others from likewise failed banana and narco republics further to the south. The recent survey which is causing all the tongues to wag on both sides of the American political aisle that shows that more than 40% of Mexican citizens from all income strata favor abandoning the country for the safe harbor of the United States should tell the Mexican government something. But it doesn't. The issue will never be raised in the Congress. Those people just go about their daily business of continuing to run the nation into the ground, blithely ignoring the disastrous condition that their antics have caused and continue to cause. They are not in the least embarrassed by this. They cannot be shamed into action. Why not?
Mexicans look upon the federal government differently than most of us do, at least the Republicans and Libertarians. While we generally would prefer that the central governments (I include federal, state, county - parish, for you coonasses - and municipal, here) would just stay the hell out of our business, Mexicans look to the central governments to help them get theirs. You can have yours if I get mine first. Kind of like AARP, the NAACP, La Raza, the DNC, etc.. The reason that the Mexican Constitution is so chock full of titles, chapters, sections, sub sections, amendments, additions and deletions is because it guarantees everything to everybody. Which means, of course, that nobody, except those who already have it, gets anything. Which is exactly what the politicians want because they know they can't deliver much of anything to anybody, anytime, all the time.
What would it take to fix it? I don't think that it can be fixed. But I do know this. Closing the border with Mexico would be the single most disastrous thing that the U. S. government or any state government could do . . . to ourselves. If we did such a thing, assuming such a thing could even be done, the resulting explosion as Mexican society collapsed would wound us severely. What would you propose that we do when the starving thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands began to back up on the other side of the border and then the crush began to force its way north? Shoot them? Hit them with artillery fire, napalm, bombing sorties? Nuclear weapons? Read the following very carefully, please. It Can't Be Stopped. People who have no food, no medicine, no clothes and no hope will die in the attempt to save themselves rather than die in squalor. Look at what happened a couple of days ago. 100 South Americans, men, women and children drowned in the Pacific Ocean trying to get here. Think about that repeated tenfold, a hundredfold, a thousandfold. Do you really want to see that? Do we want to be the ones to help them die? On our very doorstep?
Now, some may read what I have written and say, "It cannot be that bad." 10,000 people a day evacuating Mexico. 70,000 per week, 300,000 per month, 3.5 million per year. Already 10 million illegals in the United States and I don't know how many more in Canada. I rest my case.
Others may read what I have written and say, "If it is truly that bad, why don't they rise against their government?" See my comments on weaponry above. So what the hell are we supposed to do?
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The Last Word On Mexico