James Cockcroft

James Cockcroft, scholar, activist, and author of numerous books on Latin America; recently gave a talk on Mexico at the University of Oregon, to promote his new book, Mexico’s Revolution: Then and Now. He began by calling Mexico a “social volcano”. He pointed out that in the 2010 elections in that country, nearly half the eligible voters didn’t vote. There is a deep alienation from the government in that country. He said that after Felipe Calderón stole the 2006 presidential election from López Obrador, he launched a “reign of terror” in the name of the “war on drugs”. He put down the uprising in Oaxaca, and attacked political dissidents. Calderón claims to be fighting against the Mexican drug cartels, but what he has actually done is side with the Sinaloa cartel against the Juarez cartel. The leader of the Sinaloa cartel, who is known as “El Chapo”, is one of the richest men in the world. Every year, billions of dollars in Mexican drug money is laundered through U.S. banks.

Cockcroft argues that Mexico is not a failed state. Quite the contrary, it carries out all the tasks of neoliberalism. Rather, it is a state of failed law. Assassinations and kidnappings are common. The military controls whole regions of the country. 40,000 people are dead as a result of the “war on drugs”. Cockcroft believes that the formation of a civilian-military dictatorship is in progress. He also sees a U.S. occupation of Mexico as a real possibility. He pointed out the Mexican congress is considering a bill that would allow foreign troops to enter Mexican territory. And he claimed that U.S. drones are already flying over Mexico. Because Mexico is the third largest provider of oil to the U.S., as well as the U.S.’s largest trading partner, the U.S. has an interest in how the country is run.

Cockcroft sees three movements of resistance in Mexico: 1) the labor movement (non-corrupt labor unions), 2) the broad-based non-violent movement led by López Obrador, and 3) the Zapatistas. So far, these movements have been working independently. What is needed is for them to come together to challenge the government.

Cockcroft recalled that 105 years ago, the Mexican anarchist, Ricardo Flores Magón, predicted that if the Mexican Revolution were crushed, it would be a disaster for workers in the U.S. Corporations would move their factories south to exploit Mexican workers with no political rights. We saw this begin to happen with the ratification of NAFTA.

Cockcroft concluded by asking a question: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Madison, Mexico? He believes the seeds of revolt exist.

The day before his talk, I met Cockcroft at a dinner at a friend’s house. He told stories from his long career as a writer and activist. He recounted how when he was a student at Cornell in the 1950’s, he and some friends invited the black-listed writer, James T. Farrell, who wrote Studs Lonigan, to speak at their school. He arranged to have Farrell have dinner at his apartment, so he cooked some steaks To his amazement, Farrell ravenously devoured one steak after another. Cockcroft had to go out to buy some more, which Farrell duly wolfed down. “I’ve got nothing,” Farrell explained. “If you hadn’t invited me here, I don’t know what I would have done.” This was one of a number examples of he gave of the destructive effects of black-listing. He recounted something I had never heard before, which was that there was a wave of black-listing in the early 1970’s. Many left-wing academics lost their jobs and had to go to other countries to find work.

Cockcroft is a remarkable speaker, and if you get the chance to see him, I strongly urge doing so.

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