CHECK OUT THE LATEST NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE:

Aside from the as-usual excellent photographs, the latest issue of Geographic, devoted wholly to Mexico, is worth looking at for its generally nonjudgemental and compassionate examination of contemporary Mexican life.

Geographic’s writers manage to impart a feel for the country that is both realistic and sympathetic. It is a very respectful and thoughtful piece, and I recommend it as a place to start thinking about some very complex issues regarding how a third-world country begins the trek to the first world.

Contrary to many xenophobic articles I have read (and perhaps one or two I have written), this one did not “boost” the United States, either as a villain or a savior. To its’ credit, it concentrated on the internal values and imperatives and realities of the Mexican people, and looked at their predicament as something that they can and will solve for themselves.

This is particularly valuable at a time when forces in the US congress and the Clinton administration are moving to increase pressures designed to make Mexico a more “reliable” client state, by beating the drums of “brown peril”, and “drug runner”.

The far-western border city of Tijuana, has often been portrayed as a jumping-off point for all that is evil and wants to destroy us. Geographic shows us a different Tijuana: a place where many who came for the border, stayed for the opportunity that they found there. As in many other places in this issue, the authors point out that given an opportunity to succeed in their own country, most Mexicans would rather stay home.

Clearly interested in the soul of Mexico as well as its statistics, the authors present a mostly well-balanced picture. Even so, there were some minor points which deserve comment.

*Geographic touts the opportunities of NAFTA, but gives scant attention to the downside of the “Mexican Economic Miracle”: the steep rise in cancers and birth defects in the Maquiladora areas of Brownsville / Matamoros and along the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), for instance. Nor does it mention the intense union activity in those areas, with the accompanying dismissals, death threats and beatings. Also missing is any mention of the fact that while individual workers may be better off with the wages they receive, the economy as a whole benefits but little, because there is no “added value” to be taxed. More’s the pity, because Geographic has covered these issues in the past: a simple reference to the previous articles would have sufficed.

*When dealing with the disastrous devaluation of the peso in 1994, the article implies that Zedillo had a choice in the matter. He didn’t. It was the last thing Zedillo wanted to do. The peso was devalued by Zedillo because Salinas didn’t have the guts to do it himself. Everyone I talked to in the early fall of 1994 expected Salinas to do it. It was accepted as common knowledge that the peso was much too overvalued.

It is almost traditional that the outgoing president bite the devaluation bullet, so that the incoming leader will be blameless. Salinas didn’t do it because he wanted to be head of the World Bank (or was it the GATT?), and Zedillo, forced to be the “bad guy”, retaliated by withdrawing his support of Salinas for the position.

The article cites the withdrawal of foreign investment as a key factor in the financial debacle that followed devaluation. In actuality, the withdrawal of foreign investment, while substantial, was nowhere near as significant as the shift of Mexican capital out of the country. Blaming the economic collapse on the Zapatistas and the Colosio assassination (pg .23) is like blaming the fever and the chills for the infection that causes the pneumonia: making the symptoms the cause of the disease. The Mexican ruling class, fearing the worst after years of ripping off the Mexican people, got out while the gettin’ was good.

*In their efforts to be upbeat (which efforts I applaud; I too am upbeat about Mexico’s future), the authors state: “Among all the poor people trying to make a living on the street, I had seen very few beggars. Rich or poor, the families of Mexico prefer to work”. That Mexicans prefer to work is undeniably true. Whether they have an opportunity is more problematical. I see beggars (often whole families) everywhere I go in Mexico. In Oaxaca, Sn Cristobal, and MexCity particularly. And they are noticeably increasing as the austerity programs forced on Mexico by the lending institutions transform the country from a mutually supportive economy to one that is increasingly inequitable.

*The authors, like almost all of us, fail to reach a proper understanding of the role of Subcomandante Marcos, the major spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Marcos is not the leader, and he is not free to say what he pleases. The EZLN is run by a council of elders, comprised of representatives from indigenous tribes, and known as the Central Command. Last year, when the media made him too much of a personality cult, the Central Command yanked his plug for several months. Commanders Tacho and Daniel attend the majority of the negotiations.

This is not to say that Marcos is not important, or respected, or better at his job than almost anyone in history (just look at the way he led Ed Bradley around by the nose in that 60 Minutes piece); merely that the movement in no way belongs to him.

Finally, let me compliment the authors on their understanding of the significance of the Barzonistas and their debt reform movement. I wonder what they would make of the recent pact that the Barzonistas signed with the Zapatistas (concluded after the article went to press).

EL CASO COLOSIO: BACK TO SQUARE ONE…

Two years of confused and confusing investigations (and some would say, noninvestigations) into the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, murdered in Tijuana while making a speech in his campaign for the presidency of Mexico, came to an end last week.

The man accused of being the “second gunman” was released from Almaloya High Security Prison, and declared innocent of the crime (remember, in Mexico the accused must prove his innocence — that is, that the prosecutor has no case whatsoever — in order to be released: Napoleonic code). Othon Cortes, after a high speed chase through Mexico City, made it to the protection of Jorge Medrazo, the national Human Rights head, and later disappeared from view for a vacation with his family at an undisclosed location.

President Zedillo, whose administration has been plagued by accusations of foot dragging and coverup, fired the special prosecutor in charge of the case, Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, and demoted him in the process.

Vowing to start over, and not quit until everything is clarified, Zedillo has asked the Congress to take a hand in the appointment of the next sucker. In this way, he hopes to quiet the vocal criticisms coming from the opposition as well as members of his own party.

I remind you of the old saw that in Mexico, when something happens, there are three occurrences: first, the act itself; second the confusing and contradictory rumors about the event; and third, the conclusion that since it is not possible to sort out the truth from the fancies, the event never happened at all.

Meanwhile, I would like to share with you a message from a Mexican, posted on August 8, the day that Cortez was freed, on the Amigo Interactive bbs. Written in Spanish by Jorge Rivera Reyes, it undoubtedly suffers from my poor translation.

“Every time a new item about Colosio appears, or on the anniversary of his death, whether monthly or annual, voices rise up demanding justice, jail for the guilty, and that proof be furnished for events which in most cases never occurred.

“Absolution has been granted to Othon Cortes, who supposedly shot Colosio in the abdomen. Thanks to his lawyer and multiple proofs he was able to prove his innocence in front of a judge, who ordered him liberated.

“This act, like all others, brought forth all sorts of reactions: in favor, opposed, or indifferent. But with words, we will not revive Colosio, nor will he have justice. On the contrary, the Mexico of Colosio’s vision was that which showed the proof of its maturity, a Mexico that defends its rights while defending those of others, a Mexico of rights.

“My opinion is that to produce justice for Colosio it is necessary to practice our philosophy. Bring into our practices the forces that he promoted. Respect the laws and demand our rights and do not believe false rumors, in order to satisfy the need for justice.

“The indignation caused by the assassination was great, but the indignacion over falsehood is greater. The indignation to know that the some people have not been awakened by the sound of the bullet, the indignation to know that some people stay asleep even though the music is loud.

“It should only come to pass that we will change this. Mexico needs to wake to the gentle music of democracy and not to be debased by gunshots and disorder.”

CIVIL WAR UPDATE:

The army has suffered casualties in ambushes in Guerrero (the EPR says 15, the Army denies it), there are new reports of armed uniformed guerrillas in the Huasteca region west of Vera Cruz, the EPR held a press conference in Tamaulipas. I mention these things so that in case a civil war develops, we won’t be surprised.

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST:

A few days ago, UPI carried a picture of some nurses, bleeding themselves in MexCity. You may recall that this was covered in the last issue of the Oaxaca Newsletter.