Monday, August 25, 2003

Toney Yellow

In its inimitable affectation of magisterium, the Times has pronounced that it is disappointed and unhappy with Mexico’s President Fox who has -- tsk tsk -- failed in the high hopes he led others to have of him. Mexico remains mired in unaccountability and lawlessness, supporting tyrants like Castro, while potential statesmen like Carlos Castañeda are shunted to the side. When will Mexico ever join the ranks of civilized nations? -- It may be toney, it may be the Times, but the drumbeat of misleading and misinformative yellow journalism is unmistakable.

The ostensible point of the editorial is deferred to its concluding sentence in which the Times intones that : “If Mexico's people are to have a decent chance to prosper in the 21st century, they badly need the far-reaching economic, political and legal changes [Fox] promised but has yet to deliver.” That is predictably good enough as far as neo-liberal blandishments go, and anyone vaguely familiar with issues and events in Mexico would understand the editorial as calling for a reinvigorated push toward privatization and free trade. A person more particularly acquainted with current hot-button issues in Mexico might read the conclusion as code for opening up Mexico’s state-run energy sector to private investment and for quashing talk in Mexico about modifying NAFTA free-trade schedules until the U.S. ends its state-subsidized agricultural system.

Well, it’s a free world and anyone, even the Times, can trumpet its nostrums of choice. What was discreditable was how the Times digressed and meandered through a thicket of falsehoods and equivocations to get there.

Had the conclusion been stated up front as a thesis, one would expect the editorial to explain or at least touch upon what “far reaching economic” changes were necessary in order to bring about a decent chance at prosperity. The article might then go on to tie in what political and legal changes were needed to bring about, if not prosperity then at least an improved pursuit of happiness... or just more restless busy-ness without purpose, as for instance in California.

Instead the article began by decrying “seven decades of highhanded one-party rule.” Were this Wagner, the phrase would be known as the PRI -leitmotif. Or perhaps one should say, leidmotif ....because the import of the theme is always that the PRI was heavy-handed bordering on oppressive. Indeed, the Times’s devotees of this emotive figure can’t contain themselves and do in fact burst forth into yabber about decades of repressive iron handed one party domination....thus conjuring up images of a Stalinist Mexico.

But what exactly does “high-handedness” refer to? The sullen arrogance of a low level bureaucrat? Like a French post office perhaps? The epithet seems to imply that the PRI did what it wanted and ignored the Will of the People. -- another stock-in-trade from the propagandist’s barrel. But that is precisely what the PRI did not do, throughout at least 50 years of its rule. It is perfectly true that, for the greater part of the period in question, the duly cast and reported election results were a laughable fraud. But if they were laughable -- if people said with broad smiles that “You know, it was reported the PRI won 96.78.....” -- it was because the fraud was irrelevant. In actual social fact, beneath the forms of politics, the PRI did represent the will of the vast majority of Mexicans.

It did so because as of the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s the party represented the emergent or, perhaps better put, the exhausted net compromise between the conflicting class and ideological interests that had convulsed the country during the multi-sided “Revolution” that began in 1910. Precisely because it was a compromise, it could never satisfy all of the people all of the time; rather it trimmed and tacked between the tugs and pulls of irreconcilables, at different times “emphasizing” industrialization, or land distribution, or monetary stability or labor rights. That hardly seems “high-handed;” rather it would seem to be what most successful political systems do irrespective of whether they follow a two-party format.

It was rumored back in the early ‘60’s that the PRI had foot the bill for the opposition PAN to run a candidate. The National Action Party was as broke as it was disillusioned. Given the overwhelming and repetitive will of the people, it never won an election anyways, so what was the point? The PRI would have none of it. The word went out from the presidential palace: Thou shall front a candidate. Cheque under the table. The story may be apocryphal, but the sense of it is nonetheless true; and, when one considers the matter, it belies the falseness of the images worked up by the smear of “one party rule”

The PRI, as the one-man Porfiriato that ruled from 1875 to 1910, was a great respecter of formalities. Before resorting to high-toned huffiness, the Times would do well to take a glance at the substance of the matter. It can be conveniently forgotten what a disaster the so-called “Revolution” was. While portions of the country went unscathed, vast productive parts were left in ruins. Near 2 million out of a population of 12 were killed in a decade of warfare. The leaders of the Revolution: President Madero, Zapata, President Carranza, Pancho Villa, President Obregon were each of them shot in their turn, the last assassination serving as the opening salvo to a post-revolution conflict over land and religion in which 30,000 “priests and nuns” and an equal number of “atheist government operatives” were mutually murdered. There was ample reason the vast majority of people supported what the Times calls “high-handed one party rule.” What was needed was stability and recuperation with due regard for the formalities of that sort of two-party fol de rol that is America’s fetishistic obsession.

For all that, the PRI was open to all and afforded avenues of action for those who were seriously interested in politics. As in all parties, anywhere, there were groupings, alliances, cloakrooms and clubs; but the PRI was never the rule of a family or clan or Officer’s Club. It’s ideology was essentially European style social-democracy -- what, during the ‘50’s led likes of the Chicago Tribune to scream that “reds” had taken over south of the border.

Was it “high-handedness” that President Cardenas took control of Mexico’s gas and oil, the proceeds of which -- despite corruption -- are a major source of funds for the country’s social programs? What would one call the attitude of American oil companies that furiously lobbied FDR to invade Mexico because they were not satisfied with the amount or schedule for compensation offered?

Was it high handedness that presidents Cortinez and Mateos likewise nationalized telephones and electricity, as was policy in most social democracies at the time? Was it high handedness to distributes millions upon millions of hectares of land to dispossed peasants? Or to create a nation-wide grid of primary and secondary schools which together with night-class programs turned a country that was 80% illiterate in the 1940’s to being 95% literate by 1960? Was it high-handedness to bring maternity care, child care medical care and old age pensions to millions?

No one in Mexico would assert that all the PRI’s policies were infallibly well conceived or well implemented or unqualified successes. No one would claim that Mexico has not faced daunting problems not least of which is the catastrophic demographic explosion which threatens to cancel out the PRI’s successes even as it renders them more astonishing.

Neither would anyone claim that President Fox was not elected on a tide of disgust. But what the Times, along with virtually all the American media, studiously omit to report is that the revulsion was directed at the other PRI.

Other? Yes, other, because following the first 50 years of the “seven decades of one party rule” and beginning with the administration of president de la Madrid in the 1980’s the PRI was taken over neo-liberals who received their impulse and nihil obstat from the anti-regulationist, free-market, monetarist crowd in the United States. The coup within the PRI culminated and was consolidated with the presidency of Salinas, a devotee of privatization who had been cultured at Harvard Business School.

What with their penchant for privatisation, it is a mystery why the Reagan-Bush neo-liberals aren’t simply called privateers because grabbing it all up is what it’s all about once one puts aside the ideological pap served up as excuse. Be that as it may, it is hardly surprising that under privateur Salinas corruption in Mexico reached all time highs, as he sold off state assets to the lowest bidders among his buddies, while his brother cut deals with drug lords.

As the Salinas administration came to a close, social-democrat elements within the party sought to engineer a come back with the candidacy of Donaldo Colosio, who had hoodwinked Salinas into supporting him. The full story has yet to be told but what is known is that Salinas was furious and withdrew his support. Colosio was assassinated by the proverbial “deranged, lone gunman” and Erenesto Zedillo, a neo liberal technocrat assumed the mantel of office.

Zedillo was not as corrupt as Salinas, but the difficulty with neo-liberalism is that if your only economic plan is to let the invisible hand work miracles, there really isn’t much you can do when the invisible hand doesn’t. It also doesn’t help matters when the other hand is at work invisibly pilfering and “privatising”. The upward momentum that had begun in the 30’s and that had perdured up to the ‘80’s had levelled off and was spiralling down. Mexicans were indeed demoralized and disgusted. Taken in by a glitzy propaganda that misdirected attention away from economic realities and on to political forms -- the crying need for vigorous two party follies -- Mexicans voted for a change by electing a man whose free-privateer economic program was basically just more of the same.

Without doubt, the PRI came to reflect de la Madrid’s policy and the Salinas Brothers acted under the PRI name and used the party apparatus for their own ends; but to equate that with the party that had ruled for since the Revolution is pure sophistry. And it is a sophistry which allows one to talk spuriously about Fox’s “new” economic program when it has in fact been in place for 20 years.

But the Times editorial doesn’t talk about economics at all. In fact, it brushes away a hornets nest of cross-border trade, tariff, environmental, work-condition, safety regulation and migration issues under the rubric of “Washington's post 9/11 immigration fears.” Save it for Oprah.

But not to be outdone by tabloid journalism, the Times intones that harder to excuse than Fox’s failure to deal with Washi-fobias is his “diminished effort to follow through on crucially needed reforms.” As for instance? As for instance “establishing accountability and the rule of law” and investigating “serious human rights abuses” as well as “an army massacre of student protesters before the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.”

It is as if a Mexican newspaper were to sniff and huff that before tackling its health care crisis, or social security crisis, or infrastructural decay and faltering economy, the United States “urgently” needed to investigate the “army massacre” at Kent State. What were one to make of such studious and serious journalism? The only people who are in need of a clarifying investigation into the Tlatelolco massacre are those imbeciles who need to be un-lied to by the same subservient press that lied to them in the first place.

To add insult to inanity, the Times wraps up its reformist nostrums in one of the mainstays of Anglo-Saxon affectation and hypocrisy -- the notion that the natives need to be taught about accountability and the rule of law; or, as Wilson sniffed the need to “teach Latin Americans to elect good men”. Ah yes, as Harding’s ambassador sniffed, Mexicans needed “to be taken over and civilized by the sons of Mother Yale.”

Such righteous condescension all but begs to countered by a dollop of the shameful reality, the sum and substance of which is that the U.S. has plen’y of law, most of which serves as an elaborate Potemkin Village covering up endemic police bullying, brutality and lying, government bribery (aka “lobbying”) and corporate pilfering, pollution and every imaginable form of irresponsibility.

But even on the merits, the Times seems woefully ignorant of the investigations that have in fact taken place. Most importantly, Pemex and the PRI have both been the subject of intense judicial scrutiny and the PRI was fined millions upon millions of pesos for having engaged in illegal campaign financing.

Equally a-begging is the astonishing ignorance which spills into fitfull print, with: “Mr. Fox began boldly, ... [his] first foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda, turned Mexico into a champion of international human rights, challenging the behavior of tyrants it had long excused, like Fidel Castro.” Where does one begin in order to rectify the historical illiteracy which spawns such pontifications? With the refuge given my Mexico in the 1920’s to poets and dissidents who fled U.S. backed henchmen in Cuba? With the refuge given to the fleeing Spanish Republicans after their defeat and betrayal in that civil war? With, alone among the Western nations, Mexico’s absolute and unaltering refusal to recognize a fascist government imposed with the help of such paladins of human rights as the Hitler, Mussolini, the Condor Legion and the bombing of Guernica? With (if 1938 is too far back) Mexico’s condemnation of the assassination of a duly elected Salvador Allende and the imposition of a US backed ..... well, what exactly would the Times call Pinochet?

Mexico stands in no need of lessons on human rights from either the United States or its semi-official mouthpiece, the Times. Is it really necessary to remind the Times of multiple US invasions of Mexico, of discrimination against its citizens, of the fact that in this nation of “accountability” and “the rule of law” armed vigilantes are this moment “hunting down” (their words) impoverished Mexicans who come here to do work no one else in this country will do?

Mexico’s foreign policy is based on the principle of non-intervention. It recognized Fidel Castro’s Cuba because, for better or worse, his government was the result of an internal conflict in Cuba. It recognized Castro because it does not admit that the U.S. has the right to invade and topple whatever it doesn’t like anywhere in the hemisphere or in the world. It was and remains as simple as that. And the U.S. might do better if it renounced its imperious unilateralism and espoused a similar policy.

President Fox was the “man of the hour” for those fools and connivers who believed that political reform and “true democracy” consists in emulating the wretched dysfunctional circus that is U.S. two-party politics. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a game is worth the candle, Fox was not the man to bring it about. That his “high-hopes” election should have fallen flat within two years of his election can be of no surprise to anyone who has as much as a pea for a brain. He had virtually no political experience, he had no apparatus, no network of political alliances. He was quite literally a lone rider. The opposition PAN, which sort of backed him up, was itself more of a club than a true political party. The PRI had indeed “institutionalized” itself and what was required was a decade more of grassroots building, gaining control of local offices and building up a shadow government. For anyone who knows anything about how states are actually run, Fox could only be a candidate for those who wanted to bring about political chaos.

Now that the Times decides that it has been let down by its man of the hour, it apparently seeks to peddle its latest fair haired adoptee of Yale.... a hippie litterateur turned yuppie functionaire. Where did this Lohengrin come from? The splash of clinking martini glasses in some uptown townhouse? It is no secret that Castañeda wants to be president; but it is a fool’s reverie. He will never be president of Mexico. It would take another US led democracy crusade cum coup to seat Castañeda anywhere but at the café table where he belongs.

None of this is to deny the serious and multi-faceted shortcomings that imperil Mexico. What it is to say, is that the Times serves up no half serious considerations on any of them. From the start, it sweeps any complex issue to side while it spews forth a string of diversionary trivialities and sophistical ad hominems mired in ignorance. Of course, this being the Times, it is all very toney, but toney as it may be it remains yellow.

©WCG, 2003

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