Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

Sicario

November 17, 2015

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Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve, from a script by Taylor Sheridan, is a thriller set on the US-Mexican border.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent, who, along with her partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), is recruited to a special operations force, led by a Department of Defense adviser, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and by the mysterious Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). The ostensible purpose of the force is to combat a Mexican drug cartel that has been operating inside the US. However, Kate eventually discovers that the group has a more sinister aim.

Sicario is a powerful indictment of the futility and corruption of the “War on Drugs”. And I must say that after Zero Dark Thirty, it’s nice to see a film that shows the CIA in a bad light. My one quibble with this film is that the main character is too much of a Goodie Two Shoes. I find it hard to believe that an FBI agent would show as much outrage at what is going on as Kate does. After all, we’re talking about the people who gave us COINTELPRO, the Waco Massacre, the Leonard Peltier case, and Whitey Bulger. I guess the filmmakers felt they needed to give the film a moral center. Still, Sicario is a great film.

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Cartel Land

July 20, 2015

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The “War on Drugs’ continues to take a heavy toll not only on our country but on Mexico as well. The drug cartels that terrorize that country grew up to feed the underground US drug market. Matthew Heineman’s documentary, Cartel Land, examines this situation.

The film begins with a scene of Mexican cartel members cooking meth. One of them frankly informs us that most of their meth will go to the US. We are then shown a funeral for several members of a Mexican family. When the owner of a lime farm refused to pay money to the Knights Templar cartel, they responded by killing the workers on his farm, as well as their families. We are then introduced to Jose Mireles, a doctor, who has organized a vigilante group, Autodefensas, to fight the Knights Templar in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The go from town to town and drive away any cartel members that they find. In one scene, an army squadron shows up and tries to disarm the Autodensas. The people of the town come to the aid of the vigilantes, and the army is forced to back down. The Autodefensas grow rapidly in size and power. There are inevitably abuses, and in some cases outright criminality. Mireles tries to reassert control over the group, but one gets the impression that he is in over his head. He suspects that the Autodefensas have been infiltrated by the Viagra cartel, and it soon becomes clear that this is exactly what has happened. The Autodefensas become “legal” by joining the federal police, with cartel members in their ranks. Fearing for his life, Mireles goes into hiding. He is eventually arrested by the government for illegal firearms possession, and he is now in prison. We are shown members of the Viagra cartel, some of them wearing federal police uniforms, cooking meth.

This story is interspersed with another story about a US vigilante group, Arizona Border Recon, which claims to be “defending” the border. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified these people as a hate group.) Their leader is Tim “Nailer” Foley, who lives in Arizona’s Alta Valley. Foley claims that Mexican drug cartels have taken over this area, although he provides no evidence to prove this claim. We see Foley and his followers patrolling the desert, with nary a cartel member in sight. (This is marked contrast to the gun battles we see in some of the Michoacán scenes.) In one scene they come across some immigrants, and they promptly turn them over to the Border Patrol. That is all the “invasion” that we see. One gets the uncomfortable feeling that the people in ABR get their ideas from watching Fox News. This is clearly another situation that can’t end well.

This film is deeply disturbing to watch. Seeing the Autofefensas turned into their opposite shows just how powerful and corrupting the drug trade is. The only possible solution is to legalize and regulate the sale of “recreational” drugs.

From El Paso to Auschwitz

July 6, 2014

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On July 1, protesters in Murrieta, California blocked buses carrying Central American immigrants, many of them children, from overcrowded Border Patrol facilities in Texas to a facility in that town. According to CNN, the protesters chanted “Go back home!” and “USA” at the buses.

On June 29, the “alternative medicine” website, Natural News, carried an article by Mike Adams (aka “The Health Ranger”) entitled Unloading disease-carrying immigrants in large U.S. cities a ‘perfect storm’ for pandemic disease outbreak. I will spare you any quotes; the title says it all.

Beginning in 1917, and extending through the 1920’s and 1930’s:

    Mexican visitors were forced to strip naked and subjected to ‘screening’ (for homosexuality, low IQ, physical deformities like ‘clubbed fingers’) and to ‘disinfection’ with various toxic fumigants, including gasoline, kerosene, sulfuric acid, DDT and, after 1929, Zyklon-B (hydrocyanic acid) – the same gas used in the Holocaust’s death camps.

    The ostensible reason for the US fumigation was the fear of a typhus epidemic. Yet in 1916, the year before such ‘baths’ were enforced, only two cases of typhus had occurred in the poorest El Paso slum.

In 1924, Hitler wrote:

    The American union itself… has established scientific criteria for immigration… making an immigrant’s ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements on the one hand as well as a certain level of physical health of the individual himself.

It never ceases to amaze me how the same old rubbish keeps getting recycled over and over again.

Edward Abbey

June 3, 2013

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The latest issue of CounterPunch contains an article by Jeffrey St. Clair, in which he expresses his deep indignation that some people have actually dared to criticize something that appeared on his poorly edited and politically confused website. The article is mostly not very interesting, but my curiosity was piqued by the following passage in which St. Clair recounts a conversation he allegedly had with Joshua Frank:

    “Right, right. Are we Trots?”
    “Not that I know of.”
    “Doug Henwood just wrote that we were Edward Abbeyists.”
    “Sounds good to me.”
    “He didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
    “What does he know? He hasn’t left his apartment in the last 12 years.”

I have never met Doug Henwood, but I feel reasonably certain that he does leave his apartment sometimes, if only to buy groceries at the very least. That’s not what concerns me here, however. What interests me is that St. Clair and Frank apparently see themselves as “Edward Abbeyists”. (The correct term is “Abbeyists”. I know, I’m nitpicking.)

Edward Abbey was an American writer and environmentalist. I remember that his writings were very popular during the 1980’s. They influenced the radical environmentalist movement of that period, as well as some anarchists. However, I don’t hear his name mentioned often nowadays. When I lived in Oregon, the anarchists I met there mostly talked about Kropotkin and Bakunin. There may be any number of reasons for this, but I suspect that one of them may be that Abbey sometimes wrote things like this:

    This being so, it occurs to some of us that perhaps evercontinuing [sic] industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion, and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people. At least until we have brought our own affairs into order. Especially when these uninvited millions bring with them an alien mode of life which – let us be honest about this – is not appealing to the majority of Americans. Why not? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful–yes, beautiful!–society, for another. The alternative, in [sic] the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see. [Emphasis added.]

This is from an article that Abbey wrote for The New York Times. The Times, which has never been a huge defender of immigrants, refused to publish it.

How did Abbey propose to keep out these “culturally-morally-genetically impoverished” people? He tells us:

    Therefore-let us close our national borders to any further mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, as does every other nation on earth. The means are available, it’s a simple technical-military problem. Even our Pentagon should be able to handle it. We’ve got an army somewhere on this planet, let’s bring our soldiers home and station them where they can be of some actual and immediate benefit to the taxpayers who support them.

So, Abbey wanted to militarize the U.S.-Mexican border. Some environmentalist. Few things are more environmentally destructive than an army.

Elsewhere, Abbey wrote:

    Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.

One sympathetic article in The New York Times described him as as a “a melancholic naturalist who loved the land but did not care much for Indians, Hispanics or blacks.”

This melancholic naturalist is the man with whom the editors of CounterPunch politically identify.

Interesting.

Immigration

January 30, 2013

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A bipartisan group of Senators has called for legislation that would grant legal status to most of this country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. President Obama has also put forward a proposal for immigration reform. I hope that I’m not being too optimistic in hoping that this signal the beginning of the end to all the fear-mongering on the topic of immigration that has been going on.

Unfortunately, both the Senators’plan and the President’s plan call for “securing” the border. There needs to be a national recognition that the U.S.-Mexican border is a purely artificial construct. It is the result of a war that was regarded even by some people who carred it out as illegal and immoral. This arbitrary boundary has acquired a supra-historical – even mystical – significance in the eyes of many people. Ambitious proposals for building an enormous fence all along the border – tall enough to prevent people from climbing over it, while extending deep into the ground to prevent people from digging under it – have periodically been touted by various people. The border has often been portrayed as the source of all our ills. Stories of people with infectious diseases streaming over the border have been often been spouted by the Right. The Democrats have not always been better in this regard. One of the many low points in John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign came when he suggested that members of Al Quaida were coming across the Mexican border.

The economies of the U.S. and Mexico are deeply intertwined. California’s agribusiness largely depends on undocumented workers from Mexico and from Central America. The drug cartels that have been terrorizing Mexico buy most of their arms from U.S. gun dealers. Yet there are people who talk about Mexico as if it were another planet. This has to change.

John Carlos

November 3, 2011


l. to r., Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos.

We live to make history!
– John Carlos

John Carlos came to speak at the University of Oregon. He was one of two athletes – the other being Tommie Smith – who protested against racism in the U.S. at the 1968 Olympics by raising their fists during the playing of the national anthem. Carlos has recently published his autobiography, The John Carlos Story, co-written with Dave Zirin, who also spoke at this event.

Carlos started out by talking about his childhood. He grew up in Harlem. His mother worked as a nurse, his father owned a shoe shop. Carlos was offered a track and field scholarship to East Texas State University. It was there that he first encountered Jim Crow, finding segregated restrooms. “In Texas, my name suddenly became ‘Boy'”, he recalled. He eventually transferred to San Jose State University. The Olympics were coming up. Some people were organizing an Olympic boycott, to protest how the U.S. used the Olympics to create the false impression that Blacks are treated as equal citizens. Carlos was invited to meet with Martin Luther King, Jr., who told him that the boycott would be a great move. When Carlos expressed doubts, King used the metaphor of a lake: if you drop one rock in it, it creates ripples. During their conversation, King mentioned that he was going to Memphis to support a garbageman’s strike there. When Carlos asked him why he was doing that, King replied: “I have to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves.” Carlos recalled that when he looked in King’s eyes, he could see “no fear” in them. Ten days later, King was dead from an assassin’s bullet.

Carlos said that the lesson he learned from this is that one has to “make a total commitment.” At the Olympics, people began backing out of the boycott. It ended up with just him and Tommie Smith raising their fists during their medal ceremony. Peter Norman, the silver medal winner from Australia, wore an OPHR (Olympic Project for Human Righs) button as a sign of solidarity. Carlos said of Norman: “He is my blood brother, because he did the right thing.” Smith and Carlos were told to leave the Olympics early. They were both harshly criticized in the media, and they received death threats. Carlos also said that the Olympic committee put out the false story that their medals were taken away. He said they invented this story to intimidate any future athletes who might get out of line.


John Carlos today.

During the question and answer session, someone asked Carlos how he managed to have so much courage. He said, “I found me. Most people don’t know who they are.” In response to another question, he reminded the audience that 2,000 people were massacred by the Mexican government just before the Olympics. A student brought up the university’s recent plans to defund ethnic studies. “We need to know each other’s histories,” said Carlos. He also talked about the Occupy movement. He said that the movement is giving people courage to stand up for themselves. Another observation he made: “We’re going to have struggles for eternity.”

James Cockcroft

April 9, 2011

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.