To Barry has written an excellent essay on not just US-México relations, but on the regional issues confronting the US, México AND Canada. It is MUST reading. Here is the link. Please take the time for it and pass it on. Also look at NACLA, the North America Congress on Latin America at https://nacla.org. Our world is depending on informed people.
Now that Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has died, it has finally become respectable in at least some quarters of the US to print favorable articles about him. This opinion piece by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former president of Brasil is one of them. Another excellent article by Jon Lee Anderson appeared in the New Yorker. Both described the genuine warmth and caring that Chavez embodied, his strengths as a leader for the very poor in his country, his real achievements and his dreams for Latin America. He was instrumental in bringing together countries of the continent.
In the US (and I might add also among some PAN people in Mexico) he was viewed with, at best, hostility. Often a bogeyman for US policies, the US really has no one to blame but itself for his turning on our country. What a shame. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the US has supported and supports far more villainous and far less humane leaders than Chavez. I don't know if our country is capable of opening its eyes by itself. Certainly Obama has not provided the hoped-for leadership in enlightening Americans, at least as far as Latin America is concerned. As a Latin American pointed out not long ago, Obama's neglectful attitude towards the south may turn out to be a blessing.
I pretty much agree with Richard Grabman's analysis of Obama in Latin America. He said:
I don't know what inspired this post [in which I said I thought Obama was doing fine], but from some of the e-mail I get from my readers/viewers, I can guess. While my Labrador Retriever would have been an improvement over the previous White House resident, Obama has done a better job than expected... EXCEPT in Latin American policy. And, those of use, like Esther, who write from Latin America can't be expected to overlook what is, in some ways, a reactionary and dangerous start to his presidency.
BUT I guess I think that, given the realities of Obama's situation, I don't think we can expect more at this moment. I don't think Obama has contact with anyone knowledgeable about Latin America in his administration that isn't a reactionary type. The Clinton connections are terrible, and they seem to be the main democratic input. His plate is overflowing with all kinds of rot. God only knows why he even wanted to be President, BUT the guy finds himself working with a right-wing, bloated, corporate-dominated octopus with its tentacles wrapped around stuff all over the world, not to mention the nuts on the right which have penetrated to the core of the government. He also probably finds himself with far less power than we think he has. He is, after all, a politician who learned how to operate in Chicago and is probably good at figuring out his odds for political survival and making changes -- and sees that as more important than idealism.
The Mexican connection....it seems on autopilot. Probably better than actively ramping stuff up, not good as any kind of positive activity.
I translated an interview for Americas Program between Laura Carlsen and Carlos Álvarez, the head of Mercosur conducted in April of this year. Carlsen asked if Álvarez expected any change under Obama in Latin American policy. Älvarez was not optimistic. He said, in fact, that he thought Latin America would do best if the US ignored it. (Here is a link ot Americas Program -- can't find article link right now: http://americas.irc-online.org )
So I guess this is all to say that I think Obama is doing fine, all things considered. I think our job is to find a way to hook into somebody in the administration with some new information.
Here is info on the nominee, Rajiv Shah, announced today. Shah appears to have plenty of good administrative experience at least in running large aid organizations and projects. I'm glad it's not Pascual. I wanted to keep watching him as Ambassador to Mexico.
An excellent and very important piece of investigative journalism by Laura Carlsen here at Americas MexicoBlog
Among the points:
FINALLY Fidel Herrera Beltrán, governor of the State of Veracruz, says he will order an independent investigation of the possible connection of the flu outbreak in La Gloria and Granjas Carroll. Carlsen got this information from, of all places, Al Jazeera English, not a Mexican or US news source.
Carlsen describes international failure, not just Mexican, to deal with early signs of a significant problem.
She addresses in detail the terrible potential of factory farms to spread disease, especially by means of uncovered lagoons and contaminaation of local water sources.
She describes how the priorities were geared to protect the corporation of Las Granjas Carroll, owned jointly by Smithfield Foods and Agroindustrias Unidas de Mexico, before the well-being of the people of La Gloria, or indeed of Mexico and the world.
She describes the inadequacies of Mexico's public health system and reveals that Mexico, in response to the economic aspects of the crisis is planning to CUT funding to IMSS, the major provider of healthcare in the country.
She shows how research continues to be geared to showing that Granjas Carroll is "innocent," not to answering the question, how did this epidemic start?
She talks about the swine-human connection and how critical it is.
She reveals that the vaccine production racket is already in gear, and that the first company at the starting gate is one that is under investigation in a number of countries.
She discusses (what I and many others know) how difficult it is to get any real information on the subject in Mexico, particularly as it relates to agroinustrial practices.
She addresses the failure of oversight on all international levels.
She raises critical issues relating to NAFTA and "the centrality of foreign investment in Mexico [which] creates a climate where transnational corporations with large investments can exercise coercive power over government agencies on all levels."
She condemns the Obama administration for its dreadful narrow focus on police/military/hardware assistance to Mexico in place of the actions which really might mitigate the control of organized crime AND the public health threats.
She describes the damage that a profit-driven system of medicine and vaccine production essentially ignores public health interests.
You need to read the article.
I would like to add that as in the case of global warming, in which the problem is undeniably real, but attention to which blinds us to other very serious environmental problem, the agroindustry-disease connection is very real, but it shouldn't blind us to other very serious problems presented by these companies, from dangerous overuse of antibiotics to loss of jobs to pollution of soil, air and water, to hideous mistreatment of animals to loss of income for local areas.
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that for one brief, shining moment, the world became aware of La Gloria in the municipality of Perote in the state of Veracruz in Mexico had the attention of the world. The bad news is that La Gloria, Veracruz, Mexico has had its fifteen minutes of fame, and for much of the world, it and and the agroindustrial giant Granjas Carroll have pretty much disappeared from view. In fact, the problems of La Gloria and the surrounding area are not very different from the problems of poor rural areas in the US in which agribusinesses have chosen to build their gigantic (hideous) animal farms. And they are serious problems. Granjas Carroll is unlikely to be the source of A/H1N1 flu. It is likely to be the source of several problems more serious for the area and for the water supply and for people and for the environment and for the pigs.
It's hard to find much information about Granjas Carroll that it doesn't provide itself in a very controlled fashion. But you can find a lot about the problems with industrial farms in the US. Recently, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health formed the Independent National Commission on Inudstrial Farm Animal Production. This commission undertook extensive investigations into industrial farms in the US and published a report on what it found. The report is called "Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Agriculture in America." You can see the executive summary here and the full report here. Certainly the situation in Mexico is no better.
In the US, according to the report, industrialized animal production is producing no more pigs than were produced on small farms in the 1950s, yet at considerably greater expense to the rest of us not fortunate enough to be profiting from them. Here is how the Pew report describes the shift:
Over the past fifty years, the production of farmanimals for food has shifted from the traditoinal, extensive, decetralized family farm system to a mre concentrated system with fewer producers, in which large numbers of animals are confined in enormous operations. While we are raising approximately the same number of swine as we did in 1950, for example, we are doing so on significantly fewer, far lager farms with dramatically fewer farm workers. This production model...is characterized by confining large numbers of animals of the same species in relatively small areas, generally in enclosed facilities thata restrict movement. In many cases, the waste produced by the animals is eliminated trough liequid sysems and dstored in open pit lagoons.
The production of anmals has been standardized in many ways to "create uniform meat products; an mechanizing of feeding, watering, and other husbandry activities...."
The results for the rest of us:
....[C]ontributing to the increase in the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of rivers, streams and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste; animal welfare problems, and significant shift in the social structure and economy of many farming regions throughout the country.
In addition to serious consequences directly tied to production,
The IFAP system as it exists today too often concentrates economic power in the hands of te large companies that process and sell the animal products, instead of the individuals who raise the animals. In many cases, the "open market" for animal products has completely disappeared, giving the farmer only one buyer to sell to and one price to be received." (p.1-3, Executive Summary)
In fact, the very activities that Granjas Carroll undertook to hide the possible presence of flu virus maintain its facilities as germ- and disease-causing virus-free may have contributed to a major problem caused by overuse of antibiotics.
Why does Obama feel so beholden to The Crazies in the US? It seems to me every time he takes a step forward, he feels compelled by The Crazies to take one or two steps back. Thus, the unwillingness to take on a ban on automatic weapons; thus backtracking on remaining neutral on Venezuelan elections. Thus allowing Janet Napolitano to talk tuff on God forgive me Criminal Aliens. Slow and steady or suffering from Nancy Pelositis? From here in Mexico, it seems bizarre that the politics of compromise mean the politics of compromising with extremists.
The US by the way is the only country in the hemisphere that doesn't recognize Cuba.
Anyway, another good article for y'all to check out. A bit of history on US imperialism in Latin America and how Roosevelt kinda overcame it here.
And if you think I'm just sounding like an old leftie, here is a very definitely accurate list of US troops appearing in Latin American countries. How do you think the US would feel if those Latin Americans had appeared on our shores?
There's been concern expressed in Mexico, that because Carlos Pascual, the new ambassador-designate to Mexico, has experience with states that have had big problems, the US really does think that Mexico is broken. I think this may be the prevailing view in the Administration even if they deny it. I think the Administration is way too incurious about Mexico, let alone other countries. The Obama government seems content to get its information the same old sources virtually all of whom, I would bet, have little or no direct experience with or much knowledge about Mexico.
On the other hand, I think, whether the Administration realizes it or not, Pascual may have quite a different perspective from theirs. I heard an interesting radio interview with Jorge Casteñeda yesterday regarding the choice of Pascual. Casteñeda foreign minister under Vicente Fox for three years, is a well-known Mexican politician, commentator and academic. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Caribbean and Latin American Studies at New York University. Discussing his work at Brookings, Casteneda said that while Pascual worked within the establishment and had to express himself carefully, nonetheless his writings offered hope for a more enlightened approach to Mexico. El Universal yesterday said the same. Pascual, both pointed out, does not see military solutions as good ones and emphasizes the need to redevelop US foreign policy and foreign aid from cross-discipline and international perspectives with an emphasize on addressing poverty and global warming and on the US taking responsibility for damage it has wrought. Not incidentally, Pascual spoke in 2008 to Congress as a very strong critic of the Iraq war.
I hope Pascual represents prevailing if unarticulated Administration views. But I am skeptical that he does. Obama seems oddly tone-deaf to Latin America in general, not just to Mexico. For instance, he doesn't seem to understand that Latin American countries are strengthening alliances among themselves and becoming increasingly independent and openly critical of the US. He doesn't get that it is embracing Cuba. American obliviousness was on view at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Santiago, Chile held in anticipation of the upcoming G-20 meeting in London.According to La Jornada, Vice President Joe Biden said there that Obama's government was not going to lift the Cuban embargo at this time and that Cuba was not at an immediate concern for the US or the hemisphere. He said this in spite of the fact that at the meeting of the Union of South American Nations two weeks earlier, some of those same nations, including Latin American power houses, stated that Washington should normalize relations with Cuba. In sounding so casual about Cuba, Biden and by implication the US government, seems insensitive at best to Latin American positions, and even worse, ignorant of the hardships the embargo continues to cause in Cuba. Of course no one can doubt its failure as policy. (At this same summit, President Lula of Brazil said, in reference to a discussion of causes for the economic crisis, "My dear Gordon Brown, My dear Biden, my Dear Zapatero [President of Spain], unfortunately you have the most responsibility for the crisis."]
I have the feeling (totally without any documentation) that Mexico is not completely tied to a military solution to the drug problem, that perhaps Calderón in his heart of hearts may believe he acted rashly, or at least that things aren't going as he had hoped; that he'd be interested in widening efforts to enhance the legal economies of drug-ridden areas, particularly addressing the needs of the poor; that he'd be interested in aid to schools; in police assistance; in money to pay cops enough to be honest. And Calderón is not Mexico. Calderón faces internal debate and discussion all the time. US efforts to prop him up may in fact do the opposite. The following seem to me the consequences of US failure to know enough about Mexico.
--The nature of US support for Calderón seems weird. The Administration keeps bolstering him up in ways that may very well be counterproductive. By not only not questioning them but by heaping praise on Calderón's military approaches, the US is blindly closing the door on other alternatives.
--If you ask me, the US Administration is treating Calderón as if he is a shaky leader of a very shaky state, the way Bush treated Musharaff of Pakistan, the way Obama appears to be treating Karzai of Aghanistan. But Calderón is not the shaky leader of a very shaky state. His election was close enough to be challengeable, but he is clearly now (except in the eyes of a few) functioning as the legitimate leader of a legitimate government. The government survives because it is fairly sturdy, for all its problems. It doesn't survive because the US props up Calderón. The coddling may in fact create hostility not only to Calderón but to the US itself because it shows the US to be deaf to the nature of politics and political opposition in Mexico.
--The US doesn't seem aware of the growing hostility to the Mexican army in areas where the army operates. The military approach is not stabilizing these areas from the perspective of stabilizing the society. It may be knocking off drug folks, but it is leaving other serious problems in its wake. Here is an excellent article on the effects on Colombia of the drug war and the military with stark warnings for the US. It is very important reading.
--Although Hillary Clinton accepted the large responsibility of US drug use in the growth of the narco problem, Obama himself has brushed off suggestions that drug prohibition be lifted. Here, from the COHA article, a statement on the IMmorality of drug prohibition, let alone the material consequences (you should read the whole article ).
Legalization will be Messy, but Prohibition is Immoral
Prohibition has failed in Colombia, just as it has failed in the rest
of the world. While the country has come a long way in reducing its
levels of violence, its progress will always be limited as long as
prohibition remains the international paradigm. Meanwhile the inherent
violence of prohibition continues to spread across the continent,
blighting an entire generation of young men in Mexico, El Salvador and
Venezuela, to name just a few of the affected countries. And all this,
because governments in developed countries have so little faith in
their own societies that they can´t bear the thought of accepting the
reality of drug consumption. Their prohibitionist arguments are
fundamentally unjust and small minded.
Although it is rarely stated, the commitment of the developed world
to the prohibition of cocaine and other drugs, and the enforcement of
this policy via schemes like Plan Colombia imply a fundamental
injustice: that the corruption, violence and impunity endured by drug
producing and intermediary countries in the developing world, are
prices worth paying to keep rich societies safe. If the
prohibition-related violence wrought on Latin American societies was
killing Americans or Europeans, cocaine and marijuana would have been
legalized years ago. UN drug czar Antonio Maria Acosta claims that
legalization would be an “emotional” reaction. He is wrong. As the Economist
has claimed, legalization would not be a panacea and would be fraught
with problems, but it would still be the most moral, rational response
to the blind narrow mindedness of prohibition. Rightly, the debate
should not be whether or not to legalize; rather, it should focus on
the best way to do so.
Now why is the analogy to Afghanistan relevant? Not because Afghanistan and Mexico are very similar, they aren't, though they are both entangled in narcotráfico (so are a growing number of other countries). They have in common that they seem to suffer from US Administration blindness to points of view outside the US establishment, views which are wedded to military solutions where they are not very effective.
In both countries, the US doesn't seem to "get" the nature of the president or his position in his country. For instance, they keep kind of acting like Karzai is The only person they should deal with. Karzai is much less the main actor these days than Calderón. The US doesn't seem to recognize that neither of them are their countries. Karzai, of course, has a great deal more to do with the problems in Afghanistan with drugs and corruption than does Calderón in Mexico. Calderón hasn't been mixed up as a participant in the very business that the US thinks it is working to defeat.
The US doesn't seem to "get" the nature of the countries. Afghanistan is much more "tribal" than unified; Mexico is much more unified than broken into fiefdoms by the drug trade or anything else.
The US doesn't seem to "get" that its solutions may be praised by folks in the US, and on the surface by Mexicans and Afghanistanis to some extent, but that outside of the US and in Afghanistan and Mexico there is much criticism. For instance, Obama seems to think he can talk to "moderate elements" in the Taliban. In Afghanistan, this is seen as questionable. In Mexico, it seems the US is supporting war against that amorphous group known as narcos without trying to deal with anyone involved in it. In Mexico, you probably could talk to lower level people out of the narcobusiness if you could offer alternatives. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is composed of shall we say the ideologically committed.
In both countries, the army is not seen as an agent of peace and positive change. In both countries, it is regarded with hostility. In Afghanistan, this means the US Army. As Carlos Pascual himself points out, people sent in by the US as agents of change are in no way prepared to act as such.
In both places, as is the case in Colombia, the US advocates destroying drug crops. Go read the COHA article on what a poor idea that is. In Afghanistan, there has been an off again on again effort to replace drugs with wheat. It hasn't been effective. In Colombia, as in Mexico, there has been little effort at all to replace the drug crops with something that pays decently. Furthermore, crop destruction causes damage to fields so they can't be used again and damage to the environment and damage to people who live in the areas.
In neither country can one find evidence that there are new ideas coming from the White House. Policies seem to be streamlined, silkier versions of the same old same old. Added to this, the White House still seems to overrate the reputation of the US in the world, and its authority. Without thorough self-examination and self-correction, the US diminishes its ability to act as a force for good.
According to El Universal, Obama will visit Mexico and meet with President Calderón to discuss bilateral concerns including the environment, the economy, security, social well being and migration [and not just narco junk]. Th e agenda will include discussions of issues affecting the hemisphere taking into account the involvement of both countries in international groups such as the Summit of the Americas, the G8, the G5 and the summit of leaders of APEC.
In La Jornada today, Sunday, March 15.(my translation) from Afp, Notimex and Reuters [no US news service mentioned]
Washington, March 14. The president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met today with his US counterpart, Barack Obama, as spokesman for Latin America. In his first meeting since the Democrat arrived at the White House on January 20, the Brazilian asked Obama to improve relations with Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia and urged that interregional relations not be reduced to combatting narcotrafico. He noted that the US has an historic opportunity to construct a new relationship with Latin American countries.
With only a month and three days until the Summit of the Americas is held -- at which Venezuela and Bolivia insist on the presence of Cuba--, Lula is the first leader of South America whom Obama has received in Washington, although Friday the US President had a phone conversaition with President Cristina Fernández e Kirchner in order to address multilateral matters ahead of the Group of 20 Summit in London on April 2.
"What I said to President Obama, and I hope it will happen, is that it is essential that there be a warming of relations with Venezuela, with Cuba and with Bolivia," said Lula during a press conference at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington.
"I think that we must construct in Latin America a new relationship (with the US), a relationship of trust, of not meddling, of getting together good things [compaginar las cosas buenas]," he added.
A few minues before at a press conference that he and Obama gave at the White House, the Brazilian affirmed that Obama has an historic opportunity to improve relations with Latin America. The US president made no direct reference to Lula's statements, but at another point he said that he admired the progressive leadership of Brazil in the region.
Brazil and the US have sought to strengthen their relationship through cooperation in the matter of energy resources, particularly of biocombustibles.
However, the two countries have been confrontational because of US policies which subsidize agricultural production and the taxes the US puts on the importation of Brazilian [sugar-cane-based] ethanol, which, as Obama acknowledged, is a source of tension which only will be fixed with the passage of time (the tariffs are not set to expire until 2010.) [And you thought we were champions of free trade.]
Lula, who spoke for a little more than an hour with Obama, reminded him that it was only a few days until the Summit of the Americas -- from the 17th to the 19th of April -- and that at that summit, we're going to find all of us -- all the presidents of the Americas."
The president made no reference to the Hugo Chávez's petition to invite his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, to the meetings. The Venezuelan said that he had talked about this matter with Bolivian President Evo Morales who took the same position.
[They said a bit more on this topic. Lula's mentioned that he talks frequently with Chavez and that Chavez et al have high hopes of a warming of relations with the US. Then more on various meetings, etc. and mention that Lula and Obama talked about the world economic crisis and what they could say at the Group of 20 meetings. And some pro forma stuff.]
Everyday Literacies This blog makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land...the writers are completely comfortable moving across the seas of cyberspace as if they were (and, actually, they are) just ordinary parts of our reality. And they move in the world more comfortable to me as well.
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