September 30, 1997.


1 de septiembre Dr. Ernesto Zedillo de Ponce de Leon, President of the Republic of Mexico, gave his 3rd Informe. The Informe is the presidential state of the union speech. Dr. Zedillo is half way through his six-year term of office.

Presidential Palace Balcony:
Over looking
La Plaza de la Constitucion el presidente reparte su informe.

16 de septiembre was Independence Day: Republic of the United States of Mexico. There was public partying for three days, lots of decorations, and the army marched across the zocalo, through Centro Historico and along Paseo de la Reforma.

But first a little back ground: an out-line history of modern Mexico, and how Dr. Zedillo came to be where he is?

‘Por supuesto, estuvo Hernan Cortes y el conquista en 1521, entonces’: - an area from the northern borders of, approximately, southern California, New Mexico and Texas, USA to the present Guatemala border in the south became known as Nuevo Espana from about 1750 until 1821 - the colonial era. Until the leaves began to rustle:-

1809. Conspiracy of Valladolid, Morelia. Hidalgo, Allende, Morelos. Hidalgo, a priest, declares the Virgin of Guadeloupe patron saint of independence. Clearly, Spain is distracted by the peninsular wars and Napoleon.

1810. Queretaro. 16 de septiembre Hidalgo and Allende declare Mexico’s independence. Hidalgo, Allende, Morelos abolishes slavery. Nothing is clear-cut, mind you, and so far they have achieved nothing more than a conspiracy.

General Augustin Iturbide is at first loyal to Spain. Then: -

1822. 21 de Julio, Augustin Iturbide is crowned, Augustin I, first emperor of Imperial Mexico. The empire extends from Utah to Panama (then Columbia).

1824. 19 de marzo: Augustin I is deposed. During the Iturbide Empire Mexico gained and lost all its Central American provinces. Resentment still lingers among the Central American states because of Iturbide’s brief empirical ambitions.

1824. 19 de Julio total independence from Spain is declared.

1824. Annexation of Chiapas (at the request of that state), leaving Mexico’s southern border, approximately, where it is today.

1836- 55. General Santa Ana, loses Texas. During that period Santa Ana is president of the republic eleven times.

1838. Mexico defaults on international debt. French block port of Vera Cruz.

1847. Ninos heroes. ‘Gesta heroica de la defensa del Castillo de Chapultepec.’ Young cadets make a futile attempt to defend Chapultepec castle against the invading United States.

1848. US manifest destiny. The Monroe doctrine. Mexico’s northern border retreats to the Rio Grande. Mexico loses 51% of its territories to the U. S. A.

1854. Mesilla, a small area of land, now part of southern California and Arizona, is sold to the United States.

1855. Revolution of Ayutla.

1855. Santa Ana flees Mexico.

1858-60. War of reform. Benito Juarez.

1862 - 7. French intervention.

1862. Battle of Puebla. An unsuccessful attempt to repel the French.

1864. Maximillian and Carlota (Hapsburgs from Vienna) are installed by France as Emperor and Empress of Mexico.

1867. Maximillian is executed, in Queretaro, by firing squad.

1888. Diego Rivera born, Guanajuato.

1881 - 1911. Porfiriato. President Porfirio Diaz’s virtual dictatorship brings on the revolution.

1911. Francisco I. Madero enters Ciudad Mexico, becomes president of the republic.

1912. Zapata and Madero. Zapata has no interest in political power and fights only for social justice (hence the Zapatistas).

1913. President Madero assassinated.

1913. Plan de Guadeloupe: Manifestation of a Nation.
Pancho Villa and Obregon fight it out over revolutionary ideology.

1916. Don Venustiano Carranza composed a Constitution for the United States of Mexico.

1917. Constitution of the United States of Mexico was declared in Queretaro, the official end of the revolution: President of the Republic of Mexico Venustiano Carranza.
Pancho Villa continued fighting in the north.

1929. PRI (Independent Revolutionary Party: priistas) was established by revolutionary generals and held undisputed power, a dictatorial democracy, until 1997.

1957. Diego Rivera dies in Mexico City.

The PRI began digging its own grave in 1964 (Mexico City News, 19 de septiembre):

1968. President Diaz Ordaz ordered the army to fire on striking students, an episode known as the massacre of Tlateloloc.

1970. Luis Echeverria’s “six lost years”.

1976. President Jose Lopez Portillo gambled Mexico on the price of oil and lost.

1982. President Miguel de la Madrid spent his presidency struggling with the ensuing debt.

1988. Carlos Selinas de Gortari became president and was disgraced in 1994. Several assassinations, including the famous Colossio’s, broke the natural succession.

1994 Dr. Zedillo was the default candidate and subsequently became president.

Through deception, incompetence, nepotism, repression and violence the PRI has kept a very rich country in a state stupid poverty until the present day, until the ultimate political fraud: Salinas’s privatisation programme, handing over to friends lucrative government institutions.

Carlos Slim, (a good buddy of the pres.) became the fifth richest man in the world during the brief Salinas privatisation term. He got, among other things, Telmex. So, one of the poorest countries endures one of the world’s more copious organisms.

The original, once idealistic revolutionary families, who continued the long struggle probably felt they were owed! So, when things settled down, they got their faces in the trough with a vengeance and have been slurping and grunting ever since.

1997. The election, for governors, assemblymen etc., brought about, for the first time, a pluralistic democracy with genuine opposition parties elected to the assembly.

And that is where Dr. Zedillo is today. With the Zapatistas, and many more, on his case!

Sub-commandante Marcos says, the issue isn’t land it’s NAFTA.

12-de septiembre a delegation of one thousand one hundred and eleven Zapatistas, representing the number of towns held by the FZLN, arrived in Ciudad Mexico. They came to remind the government it has not lived up to the peace agreement of San Andres Larrainzar and to remove the army from Chiapas.

The Zapatistas, named after Emiliano Zapata, come from the Lacondon in Chiapas. Most are Lacondon ‘indigena.’ Great mahogany forests grow in the area and, of course, attract mahoganeros. Many great halls of Europe are paneled with mahogany from these forests, which extend into Quintana Roo, Guatemala and Belize. President Echeverria made the area into a reserve in the ‘70’s to little effect. The forests have been consistently logged since the beginning of the last century and are now all but depleted. I have seen the devastation in Quintana Roo and Belize: good reason to protest.

My first reaction to the Zapatist’s, probably because I relied too much on the local “belt-way press” was that they are a bunch of “indigena” led reluctantly by Ciudad Mexico intellectuals. Well, I was right and I was wrong. On their arrival in the city on 12 de septiembre they were greeted with hoards chanting, ‘no estan solo’ (you are not alone).

Then they staged a three day conference on the site of recently discovered ancient pyramids dated around 800 - 600 B.C. in Cuicuilco, to the south of the city. Their choice of venue was intentional. The ruins are being desecrated by the construction of a shopping centre by none other than, the dear friend of erstwhile president of the Republic Mexico Carlos Selinas, Carlos Slim.

Their leader, Claribel, announced, “‘. . . if Zedillo wants peace he should keep his word,’ . . . ‘This isn’t only a struggle for Chiapas, but it’s a fight for the poor in every state, for the entire nation,’ said Mexico City native Lucila Vasquez Bonilla.” (The News, 13 September 1997).

Not the least among those chanting, ‘no estan solo’ were the intellectual elites of Ciudad Mexico. Many ‘Capitolinos,’ many other ‘indigena’ and the ‘Huicholes’ joined the conference.

Still, a lot of their deliberations centred on UNAM. They even staged soccer games with the students. Sub-commandante Marcos is an erstwhile professor of graphic design at the university of, I believe? Cuernevaca.

The Zapatistas make a point of waving the National flag and singing the National Hymn. So it is safe to assume they do not intend to break up the country. ‘La solucion en Chiapas no puede ir en contra de la unidad del pais, advierte.’ reitera Emilio Chuayffet (secretary to the government). (La Jornada, 17 de septiembre).

On the other hand Bishop Ruiz’s ‘catechists,’ have not been heard from, at least not in the local press. The ‘catechists’ are tough: they demand autonomy for the dozens of ‘indigena’ communities they claim to represent.

Any one who has seen black and white movies of Nazi rallies at Nuremberg or the Stalinist May-Day parades in Red Square will be able to picture this.

It all begins days before. Decorations appear on the zocalo: a massive illuminated bell, light-bulb portraits of historical figures twenty metres tall. Bleachers, grand stands and band stands. The inevitable green, white and red, in light bulbs, cover every surrounding building: except the presidential palace and the cathedral.

Hundred metre office buildings are draped from roof to base with the green, white and red bandera of Mexico. Everything is sprayed green, white, red. People’s faces, not only kids, are stenciled with the colours and national logos: on their cheeks, on their foreheads. Chicas paint their lips to match the flag. Hair is sprayed to match the flag. Everywhere, green, white, red!

Banomobils (portable toilets) appear throughout Historico. Policia appear, surreptitiously in their armoured buses, in large numbers. Announcements appear to the effect that Historico will be closed to traffic.

Zapatistas arrive by the busload. That evening they stage a rally. The zocalo is full. Everyone is on their side. Speeches, music, ski masks, clenched fists, and helicopters overhead. You can hear them all over Historico.

Then there’s a big party, scheduled for the evening of septiembre 15: it starts mid-day. Centro Historico is gridlocked. Everyone, everything, totally festooned in the national colours, is moving in one direction: to the zocalo. It’s really incredible.

This party is for families and kids. There is no booze, no drugs and everyone is happy, including me. But there is foam, out of aerosol cans, and confetti, which after a few dousings, I am not happy. And as the band crunches out the beat - not much dancing - teenagers, adults alike seem to enjoy spraying each other. They throw the confetti, it sticks to the foam, yuck!

Independence Day is 16 de septiembre

By daylight the place is spotless. Literally thousands of ‘limpiadoros’ had descended on the zocalo to clean up the mess ready for the army. Yeah, ready for the army!

Now you’ve got to hold me down here. This is where Nuremberg and May Day comes in: porcine generals, pip-squeak privates and their sundry lethal twerps showing off out-of-date, but threatening nevertheless, toys. It went on for hours.

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the regalia. Are they bellhops? How does such a poor country afford such a display? Some of them were hanging around very close to me in outfits that would make Gilbert and Sullivan blush. The gold-braid, the polished armour, the shining weaponry. It all looked so very Napoleonic.

I had very good vantage points, starting on the zocalo, and then Avenida Francisco I. Madero and finally the zocalo again were I could see the Dr. taking the salute from the Presidential Palace.

How could the good intention of the revolution degenerate to this?

Anyway, the morning dragged-on: wave after wave of cold-blooded youth and hard-edged gadgetry. First came the traditionals: ‘soldados’ of the fighting before they were soldiers, dressed in the typical straw sombreros, black serapes and sandals. They were commemorating the battle of Puebla in 1862. Next came the Ninos heroes.

Then came, oh God, the army: in a sort of antediluvian-ly impressive show of might.

At first I thought the whole lot of ‘em must be here until I remembered, of course, the greater majority are off in the boonies, doing their job, slaughtering their own: unarmed women and kids.

The privates have a lean and hungry look. They gaze straight ahead, no waving to the crowd, no bouquets from the crowd, no smiles for the kids, no eye contact. Very well equipped as though they throw away their whole attire after one wearing, their insignia brightly catches the attention.

Oh no! They are wearing Tilley hats and doing the goose-step and fascist salutes . . . and . . .and . . .!

Their equipment is light: portable mortars, infantry carriers, light tanks, artillery, hummers, trucks loads of troops and ambulances taking-up the rear.

Military brass bands, interspersed between the various platoons, play-out the marching beat and seem to give off an air of authenticity as though to convey the idea that, hey, this is after all, only a morning of light entertainment. You’ll be able to catch it all on telly after supper.

This army hasn’t won a battle against a foreign foe since 1846. It hasn’t had to confront a foreign foe since General Pershing chased the ‘bandit’ Pancho Villa just before World War I. So, like Paris, Ciudad Mexico is designed with wide boulevards so its defeated armies can march victoriously, and with triumph, home.

Interestingly, though, although there were many happy faces in the crush, where I was, there was no display of enthusiasm! The odd desultory clap, a solitary ‘bravo’ from one or two kids. I saw one child throw confetti but she wasn’t throwing it for the soldiers so much as she was mindlessly emptying her bag!

And so to cap it all off, that night there was another massive party. Again no booze, drugs or ruff housing. But, good grief, the food? I’ve said before the street markets show a lot of selling but not much buying. Well, believe me there was a lot of eating and food throughout the whole of this three days epic: tacos, jugo, papa frites, nopal frites, pastels. People were eating all over, on the street, in the temporary stands, everywhere.

Finally to Dr. Zedillo’s 3rd. Informe. He was very positive and up beat. The great United States of Mexico has entered a golden age. ‘No conozco por que! Siempre hay una protesta en el zocalo. Hoy (25 de septiembre): Juventud combativamente por el futuro y el presente.’ He holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard: so I guess it figures!

His euphoria is, of course, contagious still it is hard to make the connection between what he said and what the news papers report and what we experience at ground level!

There was a wonderful Toronto Globe & Mail cartoon reproduced in the ‘belt-way’ press. It was in four graphic sections and went something like this: a reporter is plumbing public prognostications on the economy. He rhetorically tells Joe Public, “The government says consumer confidence is rising!” “Bull,” replies Joe P. “C. E. O.’s expect rising profits.” “Bull.” “Inflation is beaten, no more high interest rates.” Again, “Bull.” Finally the reporter announces his paper’s headline, “Joe Public is bullish on the economy!” It applied, of course, to Canada but evidently the editors felt its message is appropriate here.

Not everyone shares the Dr.’s enthusiasm. Indeed, many authoritative sources question his economic optimism: bank bail-outs and subsidies for road building contractors, of which billions have recently been handed-out, do not a healthy economy make. Still, the peso remains steady: Bancomer C$1.00 = M$5.51 (Sept. 17). So he’s right on something!

Interest on Cetes (T-bills) 18.75%. Peso valued too high, so exporter claim. Not enough for education and social programmes. UNAM up to its libraries in debt. Corruption! Well, that is on such a massive, entrenched scale no one is clean!

Every day another protest, another march. I wonder did the teachers, here in the thousands last May, get their 100% pay raise?

But the most vociferous criticism was directed towards a complete absence, in his Informe, of any reference to the Chiapas situation. What is the president going to do with the army?

Furthermore, he talks as if all this is new. Human rights? His people aren’t asking for much. Where the hell has he been all these years? Priistas have been in power for nearly seven decades. Zedillo isn’t exactly an ingenue. Where were they as these problems accumulated? If everything is so wonderful why are the rich so busy getting out of the country or at least depositing their wealth abroad?

There’s a continuing scandal going on, too, about crime. Not crime perpetrated by criminals but by police. And this isn’t an isolated instance. This is an issue of presidential proportions. The following is merely an example:-

One particular fracas started with a bunch of teenagers shooting-out passing cars in Colonia Doctores. The melee spread to Colonia Buenos Aires. Both are poor, notoriously crime infested areas.

Anyway the notorious policia de justicia swept in and did so with such violence the residents eventually chased them out. But not before six teenage boys disappeared: two tortured, mutilated bodies found and four still missing.

He also has the church to contend with. Arzobispo de Mexico Norberto Rivera Carrera’s bodyguards have been beating up reporters and the church itself is implicated in sanctioning drug-czars and receiving their money. “. . . the catholic church is becoming a destabilizing political factor,” because of obispo Ruiz’s ‘catechists,’ among other reasons, and “. . . the Mexican Catholic Church is nearer to earth than to heaven.” (Both quotes, The News, Sept. 23).

Still, statistical evidence claims Mexico’s crime rate to be reasonable for such a large city. That evidently doesn’t apply to the policia, for no one trusts them, except, evidently, Dr. Zedillo: nor the church, I suppose!

Oh and he also has the looming threat of PRD’s Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, mayor of Ciudad Mexico: evidently the second most powerful man in the country. Although Cuauhtemoc was elected July he wont take office officially until December. Presently his take-over team is burrowing into priista files. Cuauhtemoc has stated publicly he does not favour the, may the devil take the hind-most when it comes to social programmes, NAFTA agreement. And NAFTA is the jewel in the priista’s crown, the engine that will drive Mexico to the golden age!

Dr. Zedillo is betting on it!

On a trip to Queretaro a couple of weeks ago I saw the new Mexico emerging. Queretaro, that is the new Mexico, is, or was, a delightful colonial city. A complex of pedestrian plazas, connected by narrow streets, centres around the zocalo. All the buildings are painted brightly and signs are individually designed, with no obtrusive commercialism. Next to that, which is essentially the tourist centre, is the Alameda Park for the locals, replete with bustling mercado, taco stands, smells, noises and cries of the real Mexico.

A ha, but that is a minuscule part of this growing city. Free trade has arrived with its essential industries, PEPSI. And what else? Well, other than a very imaginative re-inforced concrete bus depot, and sprawl upon sprawl of condos lujos (luxury condominiums) spreading hither and yon, that’s it.

But on the way Cargill has the countryside pretty well sown-up. Cargill is, you will remember, that benevolent Canadian multi-national infamous for, among other things, genetic meddling.

It must be having a field day (literally) here, for as it is somewhat incognito in Canada, surprisingly it displays mile after mile of Cargill owned and advertised corn fields: corn, Cargill corn, as far as the eye can see.

Now, I don’t want to be churlish, for no doubt there is room for improvement in corn genetics. The problem, as I read in The Georgia Straight is that Cargill is reducing the diversity of nature in the interest of patenting its discoveries. And reducing diversity means mono-crops (i.e. on the way to Queretaro, corn as far as the eye can see). And mono-crops means disaster if that crop is attacked by decease.

Any day now, I suppose, we can expect Corn-cobs with rabbit ears: advertised, no doubt, for the benefit of man kind and, not advertised, for the profit of Cargill!

That’s NAFTA and that’s Mexico!

But after all the struggle, the suffering and to some extent the triumphs Mexicano’s are about to face their grimmest years.

Sub-commandante Marcos has it right, the issue is NAFTA. I don’t know anyone who voted for NAFTA: or even had a chance to vote for it! It wasn’t even on the agenda in Canada. Certainly no one here voted for it. I don’t know anyone who’d even heard of it ‘til it happened. I’ll bet Carlos Slim voted for it!

Mexicanos are about to suffer yet again: they are about to be tamed by the profligate, quasi-affluence of liberal consumer democracy. Never knowing if they are free or enslaved: house-trained by anxiety, mortgage payments, car payments; consuming subliminally imposed on naive minds; bespoke predator’s smiles.

Pigsty cities. Empty condos. Suburbs. Shopping malls. The inevitable negative equity. The long commute!

Land, air, water defiled by people they have never even heard of. An ennui of never knowing if up is down or down is up: self-serving unctuous politicians promising the moon and delivering a quick sand. A pureed past: courtesy Disney! The alienation of liberal individualism: delivered, so politely, smoothly, nicely packaged by televised bimbos.

Privatization, NAFTA, free trade. Every man, woman and child for themselves!

And their public spaces, ruinas, colonial past, gardens filled with families on a warm Domingo afternoon walking the kids: the crush of petty commerce on the street, everywhere the market, papa frites, even the handicraft junk. And with privatisation, NAFTA, free trade, they’ll lose all that. For who and for what?

Mexicanos should think more about where they are going instead of being so preoccupied with where they have been. As the Chinese say, be careful what you wish for, you may get it!

These people have already been dealt an almighty swipe from Adam Smith’s invisible hand! Do they really want more? I’ll bet if they knew what they are in for they’d prefer the shooting days any time!

Oh, I was intrigued by a promotional stunt put on by one of the stereo stores close-by. As I passed a crush of men blocked the street. Stores here are completely open: other than the inevitable “securidad,” totally accessible. Anyway, here is this crush of men sort of enshrouded by gaiety, noise (I hesitate to call it music), and festive balloons. They were watching a couple of sexy chicas flailing their legs to the refrain of, guess what, Achy-breaky-heart.

And I can only conclude Dr. Zedillo was in that crush of men watching, although I didn’t personally see him, for where else could he have of got such up-beat notions for his Informe no. 3?

Roger Kemble
Hotel Isabel
Centro Historico
La Ciudad de Mexico DF.