Zócalo Public SquareMexico – Zócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Thu, 23 Nov 2017 01:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Mexico’s ’85 Earthquake Didn’t Start a Revolutionhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/29/mexicos-85-earthquake-didnt-start-revolution/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/29/mexicos-85-earthquake-didnt-start-revolution/ideas/nexus/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 07:01:14 +0000 By Alan Riding http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88223 Can the shaking of earthquakes upend political power?

This question often has been answered by referencing Mexico. Political scientists often link Mexico City’s devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake on September 19, 1985, to the end of the PRI’s seven-decades-long rule of the country 15 years later. Their argument is not that the party was responsible for the loss of some 10,000 lives, but rather that the disaster exposed the incompetence and corruption of a regime that until then seemed to control everything. While the government of President Miguel de la Madrid looked hopeless, if not helpless, ordinary citizens took the lead in rescuing survivors and helping the injured. It was this unexpected bottom-up movement of people that presaged the eventual demise of the then-ruling PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional).

Today, the question of earthquakes and politics is again alive, with two new terremotos, including a 7.1-magnitude quake on the 32nd anniversary

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Can the shaking of earthquakes upend political power?

This question often has been answered by referencing Mexico. Political scientists often link Mexico City’s devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake on September 19, 1985, to the end of the PRI’s seven-decades-long rule of the country 15 years later. Their argument is not that the party was responsible for the loss of some 10,000 lives, but rather that the disaster exposed the incompetence and corruption of a regime that until then seemed to control everything. While the government of President Miguel de la Madrid looked hopeless, if not helpless, ordinary citizens took the lead in rescuing survivors and helping the injured. It was this unexpected bottom-up movement of people that presaged the eventual demise of the then-ruling PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional).

Today, the question of earthquakes and politics is again alive, with two new terremotos, including a 7.1-magnitude quake on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 disaster, devastating Mexico as the PRI again clings to power. The response of ordinary citizens has been reminiscent of the 1985 quake: Tens of hundreds of young people in hard hats spontaneously joined the rescue operation, digging into rubble with bare hands and forming long lines to carry away pieces of concrete and mortar from collapsed buildings.

Despite the parallels, however, predictions of a political earthquake are overblown. Mexico’s quakes may shake the earth, but their political power has long been overestimated. The story of Mexico City quakes, past and present, reminds us that such events make slow impacts, and only damage political orders that were already weak and cracked. And for all the civic action that a tragedy may produce, the impact is temporary.

As a longtime resident and observer of Mexico, I have waited in vain for decades for an autonomous civil society to emerge there. The 1985 earthquake certainly didn’t produce it—nor was the quake the main catalyst for the end of the PRI’s rule.

The unraveling of Mexico’s one-party system really began with the economic crisis of 1982, which shook the country far more than any movement of the earth. The collapse of the peso was followed by high inflation, a deep recession, and a widespread sense of despair. There had been a lesser crisis and currency devaluation in 1976, but it was soon hidden by important off-shore oil discoveries and massive foreign borrowing. After 1982, there were no such band-aids. It was this moment that broke the unwritten contract between the PRI and Mexico’s middle classes.

This contract was simple. A broad political class, which controlled the peasantry, labor unions, and civil servants through the PRI, had brought the country three decades of steady economic growth nicknamed the Mexican “miracle.” In exchange, the growing urban middle classes spent more time vacationing in Acapulco than engaging in politics. Occasionally dissident groups appeared, even armed guerrillas in the mid-1970s, but they were either crushed or co-opted by the system.

The lack of economic growth was far more unsettling. Without it, the ruling political elite was unmasked as self-serving and corrupt and the middle classes began demanding a voice in the country’s affairs.

The demands grew in 1988 when the PRI resorted to fraud to insure the victory of its presidential candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, over his left-leaning opponent, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Ignoring pressure for greater political freedom, Salinas instead chose economic reform, which included privatization of major state-owned companies and utilities and, later, negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada.

Darker days followed. When an armed group known as the Zapatistas took up arms in the southern state of Chiapas on January 1, 1994, the rebellion won popular sympathy simply for daring to defy the regime. Three months later, Salinas’s hand-picked successor, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was murdered. Weeks after his PRI replacement, Ernesto Zedillo, took office, a new economic crisis erupted and, with it, fresh middle-class anger at the regime.

As a longtime resident and observer of Mexico, I have waited in vain for decades for an autonomous civil society to emerge there. The 1985 earthquake certainly didn’t produce it—nor was the quake the main catalyst for the end of the PRI’s rule.

With his back to the wall, Zedillo sought to release political pressure by permitting genuinely free elections, with the result that in mid-term elections in 1997 the PRI for the first time ever lost control of the Chamber of Deputies. Then in 2000, to the fury of PRI party dinosaurs, Zedillo refused to step in to block the victory of the conservative National Action Party’s presidential candidate, Vicente Fox Quesada. The impossible had happened: the PRI had been ousted peacefully. The earthquake was merely one small part of a generation-long transformation.

Fox occupied the National Palace in Mexico City’s Zócalo, but he did not inherit the near-absolute power enjoyed by PRI presidents since the 1930s. His party did not control Congress and, as the traditional vertical structure of government fell apart, state governors exercised greater independence and labor unions slipped from central control. The coherence of PRI rule, however perverted it may have seemed to many Mexicans, vanished. As new centers of power emerged, powerful drug cartels which controlled the traffic of cocaine from Colombia to the United States posed a growing threat to the nation’s security.

In the 2006 presidential election, Fox’s party candidate, Felipe Calderón, was the narrow victor, but his leftist opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, claimed fraud and his supporters blocked Mexico City’s streets for months. To assert his power, Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, with disastrous consequences. The estimates of the number of people killed or disappeared during his six-year term range between 60,000 and 100,000, most of them as a result of territorial wars between rival cartels. These gangs also set out to terrorize the population, bombing nightclubs, hanging bodies from highway bridges, and even leaving the heads of victims outside some schools.

The perception of a breakdown in law and order was one explanation for the PRI’s return to power in 2012: The PRI may have been corrupt, the saying went, but it knew how to govern. It also benefitted from the undisguised support of Mexico’s dominant television group, Televisa. Even then, its presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, was hardly given a national mandate. Because Mexico has only one round of presidential elections (unlike, say, Brazil), Peña Nieto won with just 38.2 percent of the vote, with López Obrador again in second place and Calderón’s own party candidate trailing in third.

At first, Peña Nieto’s boast that he was leading a “new PRI” seemed to carry some weight, above all when he dared to break the exploration monopoly of the country’s oil giant, Pemex, and to challenge the near-monopoly of the telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim. But while a different approach to the drug war resulted in the capture of several leading capos, including the infamous Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the number of cartels has multiplied. Further, the old ogre of corruption returned: Peña Nieto’s wife bought a mansion with the help of a prominent businessman, and several PRI governors were caught enriching themselves. For many Mexicans, there was nothing new about this PRI.

Then Donald Trump appeared, with his insults toward Mexicans and his threat to build a wall along the common border. Peña Nieto tried appeasement, inviting Trump for hombre talks in Mexico City, only to find Trump resuming his flailing of Mexico immediately upon his return home. Given blossoming anti-American sentiments, Peña Nieto had no choice but to refuse to pay for any border wall, but he did persuade Trump to engage in talks to renew NAFTA rather than denounce the treaty.

On the eve of this September’s earthquakes, polls showed Peña Nieto’s approval rating at well below 20 percent, lower than any Mexican leader on record.

Will the seismic tremors push Mexico into another political earthquake? There’s reason for skepticism. This Mexico City earthquake, and the earlier major quake in southern Mexico, were less devastating than the 1985 quake, with the number of dead in the low hundreds, not the thousands. While some 40 buildings collapsed in the capital, including the wing of a packed primary school, the city as a whole remained intact, and Mexican authorities were better prepared than in 1985.

Once life returns to normal for all but the earthquakes’ victims, the issue consuming most Mexicans will be next July’s presidential elections. The political earth may again move because the current front-runner is the perennial leftist candidate López Obrador, known throughout Mexico by his initials of AMLO. Because his promises of sweeping economic and social reforms have alarmed the private sector and middle classes, the other three main parties are determined to stop him. But can parties of left, center and right agree on a “unity” candidate? If they fail, as seems likely, López Obrador could win with an even smaller percentage of votes than Peña Nieto won in 2012.

If the actual earthquakes and their aftermath reinforce public disenchantment with the political establishment, AMLO, with his cultivated image of the political outsider, could benefit. But even if by next July the disaster has been largely forgotten, and even if most Mexicans oppose him, enough voters may still opt for the unknown variable of a populist with a radical new message to elect him. And at that point, a new cycle of Mexican political instability will unavoidably begin.

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How Mexico and India Fused in My L.A. Kitchenhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/21/mexico-india-fused-l-kitchen/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/21/mexico-india-fused-l-kitchen/ideas/nexus/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 07:01:47 +0000 By Moira Shourie http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88092 It’s a paradox, both of our globalized culture and of Los Angeles: My mother’s quest to cook authentic Indian food when she visits here has taught me a lot about Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.

I’m not the only one benefiting from this lesson. When my mother, Alicia Mayer, flies in from India and stays with us at our home in West L.A., my friends invite themselves over for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast, because she is incapable of cooking small servings and hates to see leftovers. My kitchen is then filled with simmering pots, intoxicating smells, and hungry people.

Her desire to feed and nourish stems from her life’s calling as a teacher. The school she runs in Dehra Dun—a small town in the foothills on the Indian side of the Himalayas—caters to children with learning disabilities, and those who have fallen between the cracks in a sprawling mass education

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It’s a paradox, both of our globalized culture and of Los Angeles: My mother’s quest to cook authentic Indian food when she visits here has taught me a lot about Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.

I’m not the only one benefiting from this lesson. When my mother, Alicia Mayer, flies in from India and stays with us at our home in West L.A., my friends invite themselves over for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast, because she is incapable of cooking small servings and hates to see leftovers. My kitchen is then filled with simmering pots, intoxicating smells, and hungry people.

Her desire to feed and nourish stems from her life’s calling as a teacher. The school she runs in Dehra Dun—a small town in the foothills on the Indian side of the Himalayas—caters to children with learning disabilities, and those who have fallen between the cracks in a sprawling mass education system that misses children with alternative learning styles. On a recent visit to Los Angeles, she was eyeing my sons’ old laptops, and when I offered to buy her new ones for her school, she said that her students would feel intimidated by shiny new computers.

It’s this ability to see true value in the slightly tarnished that also makes her such an ace in the kitchen.

Her town in northern India is known for producing the highest quality basmati rice, unmistakable in its fragrance and long-grained fluffiness. Rice is the canvas on which the intricate flavors of Indian food are painted. However, even the most complex curry has a humble beginning in chopped onions and tomatoes.

Make that a very humble beginning. When I took her to Gelson’s, as part of a daughter’s attempt to impress her with L.A.’s high-quality grocery produce, she looked at the beautifully ripe and polished tomatoes and said that she would feel bad cutting them up for a curry. The neat, well-lit aisles felt more like museum installations than a grocery store to her. So I took her to Whole Foods instead—after all, their produce is laid out in a more rustic décor. But there she complained that they didn’t even have “basic” ingredients like curry leaves and bitter gourds. (Sorry Amazon/Whole Foods, you’re going to have to ramp up your world food offerings to impress my mother!)

Enter Leticia Lara, our energetic home cook, who specializes in Mexican food. She took my mother to the mercados of East L.A., which turn out to be a paradise for Indian cooks. My mother joyfully picked out fruits and vegetables from the rejected produce areas, because those make the best ingredients for curry. Unripe mangoes can be turned into a savory-tangy chutney. Slightly moldy eggplants are smoked and tossed with fried onions into a bharta. And discarded flour tortillas are transformed into casings for spicy samosas.

Indian and Mexican food share several basic ingredients. Rice is a standard side dish for a curry or mole; tortillas or roti can be rolled up or broken off and used in place of silverware; boiled or refried beans and lentils cut the spiciness of a kabab or fajita. Cumin adds earthy goodness to protein, turmeric gives rice a golden glow, and cilantro is liberally used as garnishing in both cuisines. And what’s a good tortilla chip or poppadum without a dash of red chilies sprinkled on top?

Leticia and my mother have ventured into homespun Indian-Mexican fusion dishes, much to the delight of my children. We eagerly dine on sopes topped with shredded Tandoori chicken, burritos filled with flavorful vegetable pulao, and black beans seasoned with dried red chilies and mustard seeds.

Indian and Mexican food share several basic ingredients. Rice is a standard side dish for a curry or mole; … boiled or refried beans and lentils cut the spiciness of a kabab or fajita.

Their collaborative efforts in the kitchen spring out of each woman’s need to, quite literally, bring something to the table. When Alicia drizzled her mint-cilantro chutney atop Leticia’s Mexican street tacos, we reeled with the burst of unexpected flavor and spice.

That got them started on their wonderful collaboration. They soon realized their mutual preference for starting every recipe from scratch without the shortcuts of the average home cook, like using frozen chopped vegetables or a pre-mixed marinade. And most specially, they both share the hallmark of a great cook, whose aromas draw people into the kitchen like a magnet.

There were some hurdles to overcome, like incredibly different accents and the difficulty of translating names of vegetables from Hindi into Spanish. Papita is potato in Spanish, but it means papaya in Hindi. Trust me, you don’t want to eat a samosa stuffed with papaya!

Now that they are several years into their collaboration, they have worked out most of the kinks. Though it’s still hilarious to hear my mother giving Leticia directions to the Indian store. Their friendship runs so deep that I’m often put on hold when I call my mother in India, because she is face-timing with Leticia about a new dish they want to try out.

My feelings of India-Mexico connection go beyond my taste buds. As I make my way around Southern California, I am often mistaken for being Mexican—so often that I decided to delve deeper into the historic yet underreported relationship these two countries share.

Mexico, it turns out, was the first Latin American country to recognize India’s independence in August 1947. And, according to to Deborah Oropeza Keresey’s history The Asian Slavery in the Viceroyalty Of the New Spain, 1565-1673, the earliest person known have to traveled from India to Mexico was a slave girl from Calicut, in southern India, who arrived with Juan de Umbrage, the Franciscan Bishop of Mexico, in the mid-16th century.

And guess what? She was a cook!

South Indian cuisine is rich in pepper, coconut, and ginger. Its recipes entail marinades and slow-cooking in earthen pots to draw out the complex spices. Preparing a mole sauce is very similar to preparing a rich curry. It is likely that hundreds of years ago, Spanish colonial trade ships carried not just slaves from India but also its flavors, seasonings, and cooking styles, and eventually brought them to the New World.

The present-day culinary collaborations of my mother and Leticia convince me that these two countries, separated by two oceans, are home to the same people—just different shades of brown.

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How This Journalist Is Surviving Mexico’s Drug Warshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/07/26/journalist-surviving-mexicos-drug-wars/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/07/26/journalist-surviving-mexicos-drug-wars/ideas/nexus/#comments Wed, 26 Jul 2017 07:01:41 +0000 By Diego Enrique Osorno http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87014 In early 2007 I lost a plane ticket that I had purchased to travel to Africa. My plan was to arrive in Nairobi and stay two months, since the World Social Forum was scheduled to be held there in February of that year. I hoped to obtain some interesting insights, as well as personal contacts that would let me take the first steps toward becoming a war correspondent on that continent.

But just as that year began, Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderón, feeling pressured politically, declared a war on drug trafficking. So when I least expected it, instead of wandering around in Kenya, I abandoned my planned trip to Africa and instead found myself riding in a Mexican army assault vehicle, wearing a military helmet and a bullet-proof vest, crisscrossing the Tierra Caliente (Hot Lands) region of the south-central Mexican state of Michoacán.

A correspondent is one who sends news from

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In early 2007 I lost a plane ticket that I had purchased to travel to Africa. My plan was to arrive in Nairobi and stay two months, since the World Social Forum was scheduled to be held there in February of that year. I hoped to obtain some interesting insights, as well as personal contacts that would let me take the first steps toward becoming a war correspondent on that continent.

But just as that year began, Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderón, feeling pressured politically, declared a war on drug trafficking. So when I least expected it, instead of wandering around in Kenya, I abandoned my planned trip to Africa and instead found myself riding in a Mexican army assault vehicle, wearing a military helmet and a bullet-proof vest, crisscrossing the Tierra Caliente (Hot Lands) region of the south-central Mexican state of Michoacán.

A correspondent is one who sends news from somewhere far away from his own previous reality, or from the reality of others. I became a correspondent, filing dispatches about an outbreak of barbarism—but in my own country.

Ten years later, the statistics show that, since Mexico’s drug war exploded in 2006, nearly 200,000 people have been violently killed, 30,000 more have disappeared, and another 35,000 have been displaced. Mexico is by no means a dictatorship, but so far in the 21st century it has recorded a greater number of human rights violations than occurred under any Latin American dictatorship in the last hundred years. Many of us Mexican journalists leave our homes every day to seek out and tell others about the barbarity that coexists here with democracy.

Faced with such a peculiar situation, it is impossible to do our job with one set of skills. After this grueling decade’s experience, I believe that anyone who covers drug trafficking in Mexico must have the attributes of a military correspondent, a private detective, and a poet.

At times I have felt like a war reporter. I remember flyovers of military planes in Oaxaca that preceded a shootout lasting about two hours, during which I helped carry an injured photographer colleague out of the line of fire and witnessed the murder of the U.S. independent journalist Bradley Roland Will at the hands of paramilitary groups whose existence the authorities denied. As in any war, you cannot rely on official sources.

At other times, I have had to carry out my investigations with the cautious precision of a detective. The monitoring and tracking of people, covert infiltration, and the compiling of judicial and criminal profiles are necessary resources in the face of the challenges of our present situation, where you have to protect not only your own integrity, but also the lives of your contacts and sources. It wasn’t until this year, after taking a course at a U.S. detective academy, that I discovered the similarity between the two professions.

But it has been poetry that has saved me from losing my mind during these trips to the abysses of reality. Thanks to poetry, I have been able to take care of my loved ones, despite my frenetic and at times neurotic work process. If at the end of the day there was not a poem by César Vallejo, or by Samuel Noyola, I never would have escaped the deep emotional chasms I have known during these years of keeping company with capos, generals, assassins, governors, businessmen, and other members of the savage wilderness. Without poetry, I could not do journalism.

Mexico is by no means a dictatorship, but so far in the 21st century it has recorded a greater number of human rights violations than occurred under any Latin American dictatorship in the last hundred years. 

“Worn, ragged, empty, words have become skeletons of words, phantom words; everyone chews them up and belches their sound,” wrote Arthur Adamov during World War II. Seeing that same distortion of language in my daily work—the inadequacy of words to describe what is happening in Mexico—in 2011 I wrote a manifesto of infrarrealist journalism. Infrarrealist journalism, in short, is a herd of solitary wolves.

The desire for survival also unites solitary wolves, and I am not speaking metaphorically: In 2016 there were 11 murders of journalists in Mexico, and in total there were 426 attacks. During the current government of Enrique Peña Nieto, 32 comrades have been killed. On average, every 20 days a Mexican journalist dies violently for completing his or her job. Only this year, so far, Carlos García has died in Colima; Cecilio Pineda in Guerrero; Ricardo Monlui in Veracruz; Mirosalva Breach in Chihuahua; Max Rodríguez in Baja California; Javier Valdez in Sinaloa; and right now, just as I am writing this, I read that they have found the oxidized remains of Salvador Adame, a journalist kidnapped and disappeared a few weeks ago in Michoacán.

Taking into account that I am an independent journalist—the lowest species on the media food chain, but probably the most joyful—the current situation has caused me to take more personal security measures, because I don’t have a big media company to back me up, or anyone else to watch out for me. These measures include keeping several backups of key documents, compartmentalizing sensitive information among friends and collaborators, avoiding certain subjects in emails, WhatsApps, and phone calls, and even now and then writing a kind of confidential will, where I register what I am doing so that in case of an extraordinary situation that information can be used against whoever is responsible.

Otherwise, I’m a Stone Age reporter, doing things the old-school way. So I record everything I can while doing field work. In fact, I fill up two notebooks: one where I put hard data, and another where I write down sensations or ramblings. I also take photos, to help me remember later, and I try to make video. I like to stay as long as possible in places. I return two or three times, if possible.

When I arrive for the first time, I look for a local colleague, but also for a local school teacher and a priest. When I am lucky I meet a poet, and I am very happy. Journalists, priests, teachers, and poets are often my gurus in the immersion process that is needed in order to write the chronicle of a dangerous and unknown location.

When I am not reporting, I get up early to drop off my child at school, and then lock myself away to write from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. I almost always have too many things accumulated in my notebooks and in my memory, so I have to structure my texts. Then I write them out several times, and usually review them in order to prepare a risk analysis in the event that they are published. Almost all my books and long-form pieces are reviewed by lawyers.

Being a correspondent in your own home compels you to be creative—in your ways of devising a story, and of investigating, structuring, writing, and publishing it, but above all in your ways of surviving it. I am happy with the life that has fallen to me, and I wish to die of old age, writing in front of a computer. I have no vocation as a martyr. I am a person with more hopes than fears.

However, over these 10 years I have learned that each story has to take a risk. There should be no cowardice when writing in times like these. It is probable that I have written some failed texts, but I do not allow myself to write cowardly texts. When you are a correspondent of barbarism in your own home, your main duty is to take risks. In this way, I think, we can decipher one day this atrocious mystery into which we fell as a country, just when it seemed that democracy was going to save us.

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Trump’s Border Wall Sidelined by Major League Sportshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/08/trumps-border-wall-sidelined-major-league-sports/inquiries/trade-winds/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/08/trumps-border-wall-sidelined-major-league-sports/inquiries/trade-winds/#respond Thu, 08 Dec 2016 08:01:30 +0000 By Andrés Martinez http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=81959 Last week I asked Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, whether he fears that a Trump presidency will revive the anti-Americanism that was once a staple of Mexican life but receded to negligible levels over the past two decades.

Surprisingly, his answer was all about a Monday Night Football game played less than two weeks after the election. Namely, the first-ever regular season Monday night game played outside the United States, in Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca. The Oakland Raiders beat the Houston Texans before a sellout crowd of nearly 80,000 fans, but what Guajardo found most telling was the moment before the game when the anthems of both countries were played.

Guajardo explained that the NFL hesitated before playing the U.S. anthem in the Azteca for fear of how the crowd might respond, live on ESPN, but at the end of the day the league went ahead. And

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Last week I asked Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, whether he fears that a Trump presidency will revive the anti-Americanism that was once a staple of Mexican life but receded to negligible levels over the past two decades.

Surprisingly, his answer was all about a Monday Night Football game played less than two weeks after the election. Namely, the first-ever regular season Monday night game played outside the United States, in Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca. The Oakland Raiders beat the Houston Texans before a sellout crowd of nearly 80,000 fans, but what Guajardo found most telling was the moment before the game when the anthems of both countries were played.

Guajardo explained that the NFL hesitated before playing the U.S. anthem in the Azteca for fear of how the crowd might respond, live on ESPN, but at the end of the day the league went ahead. And with the exception of a few scattered boos, the Mexican crowd’s response was gracious and respectful. Guajardo said this was a hopeful moment—that positive attitudes toward people on the other side of the border, often acquired through first-hand experience, can transcend political differences or efforts by demagogues to distort the essential truth of our mutually beneficial North American partnership.

One can only hope. The stark reality is that Donald Trump won the presidency by running against Mexico. For a candidate with a short attention span and malleable policy stances, his views on Mexico throughout the long presidential campaign were remarkably consistent and sustained. Mexican immigrants are rapists who must be deported; the North American Free Trade Agreement is a disaster that must be torn up; U.S. companies opening plants in that country are treasonous; indeed, Mexico is so dodgy, we need to build a massive wall along the 2,000-mile border. And guess who’s going to pay for it?

He’s so glad you asked.

Forgive Mexicans if they end up taking it all a bit personally. Mexico has become a far more accommodating and friendlier neighbor —more of the middle class, democratic, open-to-the-world country Washington always wanted—in the two decades since NAFTA went into effect. But you hardly ever see this acknowledged in the U.S. media, or politics. Instead, in the Trump campaign narrative, Mexico was portrayed as the leading villain standing in the way of making America great again.

One big question is whether Trump really believes his own anti-Mexico vitriol and is determined to act upon it, or whether he simply peddled it as part of a convincing “enraged populist on campaign trail” TV performance. On the other side of the border, a related big question is whether the damage has already been done, whether the mere act of electing such an anti-Mexican president will tarnish the United States in Mexican eyes for a generation to come. Keep in mind there are plenty of populist Mexicans politicians eager to match Trump’s xenophobic nationalism for their own gain, especially as Mexico gears up for its 2018 presidential election.

One big question is whether Trump really believes his own anti-Mexico vitriol and is determined to act upon it, or whether he simply peddled it as part of a convincing “enraged populist on campaign trail” TV performance.

In the meantime, I take heart at the outbreak of sports diplomacy like the Monday Night Football game.

On the Friday night of election week, the U.S. and Mexican national soccer teams met in Columbus, Ohio for a World Cup qualifying match. This has become one of the most heated regional rivalries in the world’s leading sport, and a World Cup qualifier doesn’t require a seismic political event to ratchet up the level of intensity.

Still, on this occasion it was for the American sportsmen to worry that politics (and Trumpian-style invective about our southern neighbor) might rear their ugly head in a U.S.-Mexico showdown coming three days after the election. Michael Bradley, the U.S. captain, eloquently said before the game: “I would hope our fans do what they always do, which is support our team in the best, most passionate way possible. I would hope they give every person in that stadium the respect they deserve, whether they are American, Mexican, neutral, men, women, children. I hope every person that comes to the stadium comes ready to enjoy what we all want to be a beautiful game between two sporting rivals that have a lot of respect for each other, and hope that it’s a special night in every way.”

It ended up being a more special night for Mexico, which won 2-1. Politics was a subtext of the match (I know of Mexican-Americans who usually root for the U.S. who couldn’t help but root for Mexico in post-electoral solidarity), but there were no chants about building a wall or mass deportations.

In January, the Phoenix Suns are playing regular-season NBA games against the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City. Much like the NFL, with its estimated 20 million avid fans in Mexico and talk of a possible franchise there, the NBA doesn’t see America’s neighbor to the south as the poor, conniving disaster of a country depicted in the recent election. Instead, American pro basketball is treating Mexico as a venue for future growth: a dynamic market with an expanding middle class and an appetite for American goods, culture, and entertainment. As do the U.S. cities these NBA teams represent, all of whom are organizing events alongside the games to try to attract more Mexican investment, trade, and tourism.

Mexico is the second largest buyer of U.S. goods in the world, a market whose importance to most Fortune 500 companies cannot be overstated. These companies increasingly see North America as one integrated manufacturing platform too, a manufacturer that is more competitive with other parts of the world as a cohesive unit. Politicians bash companies like Ford for opening plants in Mexico, but 40 percent of the components of the goods imported from these plants are produced in the U.S., demonstrating how porous the border has become as an economic matter, and just how seamless the back-and-forth is within North American supply chains.

One underappreciated danger for both American and Mexican workers is that companies will be spooked by populist protectionism and take more of their global manufacturing out of North America altogether.

Back in the realm of sports diplomacy, one way for North Americans to transcend the ugliness of politics and assert a shared identity would be by hosting a World Cup together. The 2026 World Cup is the next one to be awarded, and the North American region is a strong contender, given the tournament’s traditional rotation among continents. Both Mexico and the U.S. are expected to submit compelling bids.

There has also been talk throughout the year of a potential joint U.S.-Mexico bid; World Cups are typically played in eight host cities, and there’s the precedent of Japan and South Korea sharing the 2002 Cup. But that talk was followed by speculation that Trump’s election makes a joint bid less likely.

It would be a shame to abandon the idea on account of politics. Quite the contrary: A shared North American World Cup (can we include Toronto too?) is needed, now more than ever.

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Created to Appeal to Nostalgia, Faux Plazas Serve a Traditional Purposehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/07/07/created-to-appeal-to-nostalgia-faux-plazas-serve-a-traditional-purpose/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/07/07/created-to-appeal-to-nostalgia-faux-plazas-serve-a-traditional-purpose/ideas/nexus/#respond Thu, 07 Jul 2016 07:01:20 +0000 By Jorge N. Leal http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=74825 The area of Los Angeles south of the 10 Freeway is not generally known for its shopping or dining destinations, nor for its great public spaces. But the region is home to an important shopping mall that has demonstrated the hunger in South L.A. for grand places where people can meet and make memories.

That mall, Plaza Mexico, sits just outside the Los Angeles city limits (as is the case with many retailers trying to avoid L.A. taxes and regulation) in the smaller city of Lynwood, overlooking the 105 Freeway. But it relies heavily on the people of South L.A., and thus attests to the transformations that have occurred there in the past 50 years.

Plaza Mexico was originally built as the Lynwood Marketplace and financed in part by a development incentive program set up to deter white flight in the 1970s. Lynwood, like South L.A. to the north, was

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southLAbug2.aThe area of Los Angeles south of the 10 Freeway is not generally known for its shopping or dining destinations, nor for its great public spaces. But the region is home to an important shopping mall that has demonstrated the hunger in South L.A. for grand places where people can meet and make memories.

That mall, Plaza Mexico, sits just outside the Los Angeles city limits (as is the case with many retailers trying to avoid L.A. taxes and regulation) in the smaller city of Lynwood, overlooking the 105 Freeway. But it relies heavily on the people of South L.A., and thus attests to the transformations that have occurred there in the past 50 years.

Plaza Mexico was originally built as the Lynwood Marketplace and financed in part by a development incentive program set up to deter white flight in the 1970s. Lynwood, like South L.A. to the north, was white (“Lily-white Lynwood”), then majority black, and by the late 1980s, predominantly Latinos.

By the 1990s, all the department chains that anchored the mall had shut their doors. For a time, the Lynwood Marketplace turned into a vendor-driven swap meet, offering bargain-priced clothes and electronics and frequented by local residents, mostly African-American or Latino.

But early in the 2000s, the mall was transformed into Plaza Mexico, to tap two trends. First, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in South L.A. and in nearby communities were buying homes and gaining purchasing power. And many felt nostalgia for their home country, or the yearning to reconnect with the home country of their parents or grandparents.

Plaza Mexico was an ambitious Mexican-style plaza featuring replicas of iconic buildings and monuments from several Mexican states. The old mall, now a newly remade plaza, could not attract a major national department store as an anchor tenant. But it didn’t need to. Plaza Mexico played a different role, offering a remarkable diversity of goods and services and even office space, while retaining the swap meet and food court sections that had attracted previous generations of customers, many of them African-American.

In this way, the plaza set a new standard for retail and public space for the south side of greater Los Angeles. It’s reflected in the mix of stores in smaller shopping centers all over South L.A.

… these shopping centers have made good on their title claims to la plaza, the public square, becoming fixtures in the social, public, and civic life of the communities that surround them.

One example of an effort to emulate Plaza Mexico is Plaza La Alameda, opened in 2008 in Walnut Park, an unincorporated area south of Huntington Park and north of Watts. Its location, just east of Alameda Street, resonates because the Alameda corridor was long considered “the wall of hate”—rigidly separating South L.A.’s communities of color from the white, working-class cities to the east of the thoroughfare well into the 1970s. By the 1990s, most white residents had moved out of Huntington Park, South Gate, and other southeast L.A. suburbs, which then became majority Latino. And now, the plaza connects rather than separates neighborhoods in all directions.

Plaza Mexico and Plaza La Alameda share architecture that deliberately recalls the Spanish and Latin American tradition of the plaza as a central space. Unlike the car-centered architecture of the suburban mall, the plazas are pedestrian-accessible and located near public transit centers. Plaza Mexico and Plaza La Alameda both feature kiosks and fountains that serve as central gathering areas. While there is no government or church on these plazas, as you would find in some Latin American central urban plazas, the focus on pedestrians makes it a site of gathering and consumption for nearby residents.

Plaza Mexico and its imitators have given greater South L.A. locations for celebrations ranging from Mexican Independence Day festivities in September to religious holidays such as the feast for the Virgin of Guadalupe in December. And the plazas have become the go-to spots for impromptu celebrations like those occasioned by the few and far between World Cup victories of the Mexican national soccer team. In this way, these shopping centers have made good on their title claims to la plaza, the public square, becoming fixtures in the social, public, and civic life of the communities that surround them.

Yes, both shopping centers are also utilizing their customers’ fondness of Mexican plazas as a marketing tool, but it has been a very successful effort, allowing the centers to thrive in economically challenged communities. Indeed, Plaza Mexico has had success in reaching beyond the immediate area and attracting other residents of Southern California.

Plaza Mexico is what the urban planner James Rojas calls an “enacted environment,” a term describing exterior spaces between buildings that people can use as they please. In such places, a store sign becomes a work of art, and a walkway—or the plaza of a mall—becomes a place for social interactions and encounters with new people and new experiences. Plaza Mexico is thus a model for the kind of destinations that are needed more in South L.A. and in Southern California.

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How Latin America’s Left Could Lose Their Scapegoathttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/28/how-latin-americas-left-could-lose-their-scapegoat/inquiries/trade-winds/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/28/how-latin-americas-left-could-lose-their-scapegoat/inquiries/trade-winds/#respond Mon, 28 Mar 2016 07:01:11 +0000 By Andrés Martinez http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=71559 Barack Obama took a deserved victory lap in Latin America last week.

Critics of the president’s opening to Cuba accuse Obama of appeasing the Castro regime, but they missed the historic significance of the trip.

When Obama went on Cuban TV and radio to say that he’d made the visit to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” he might as well have been burying the nation’s virulently anti-American regime, not just Washington’s outdated policies.

Obama’s visit did more to spotlight the truly heinous nature of the Castro regime than a half-century of non-engagement ever did. It was moving to watch the American president, at the head of a willing and eager trade delegation, tell Cuba’s trapped youth he hopes they become more connected to the outside world. It was moving to watch how the American president deftly shamed the grumpy elderly Cuban dictator Raúl Castro

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Barack Obama took a deserved victory lap in Latin America last week.

Critics of the president’s opening to Cuba accuse Obama of appeasing the Castro regime, but they missed the historic significance of the trip.

When Obama went on Cuban TV and radio to say that he’d made the visit to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” he might as well have been burying the nation’s virulently anti-American regime, not just Washington’s outdated policies.

Obama’s visit did more to spotlight the truly heinous nature of the Castro regime than a half-century of non-engagement ever did. It was moving to watch the American president, at the head of a willing and eager trade delegation, tell Cuba’s trapped youth he hopes they become more connected to the outside world. It was moving to watch how the American president deftly shamed the grumpy elderly Cuban dictator Raúl Castro into addressing reporters’ questions about human rights at what Cuban officials had planned to be a stilted and scripted press conference.

Obama’s words and his very presence in Havana spoke loud and clear to the Cuban people: America is not your enemy, or your problem. But you-know-who is.

For decades, the Castros, along with the right-wing exiles who’ve long insisted on a U.S. embargo, made Washington out to be the perfect scapegoat for the regime’s brutality and poor governance. Obama has said “no más” to that tired script. If Congress follows the president’s lead and lifts the embargo (a failed and foolish departure from America’s belief in the subversive power of engaging other dictatorships around the world), the Communist regime will be deprived of its entire self-justifying narrative.

Obama’s trip to Havana, the historical capital of Latin America’s anti-Americanism, came at a poignant time when that revolutionary leftist worldview is in full retreat across the hemisphere. Venezuela is fast becoming a failed petrostate, where people are turning towards the anti-Chavista opposition and away from dreams of an anti-U.S. Bolivarian South American order. In Bolivia and Ecuador, too, the left is losing its grip on power. And Brazil’s Labor Party is engulfed in an existential political crisis.

Obama’s second stop on his Latin victory lap last week, Buenos Aires, was a full-on celebration of the fact that Argentina voted its leftist Peronists out of office. At his press conference with the new conservative Argentine President Mauricio Macri (a man quite comfortable with taking questions from reporters), Obama could not have been more effusive about the shift in that nation’s orientation. He said Argentina’s historic transition was seeing the country “reassume its historic leadership role in the region,” implicitly bashing the previous Peronist governments that aligned themselves with Cuba and Venezuela and against Washington and free markets. Obama also addressed a Cold War remnant by acknowledging some U.S. complicity in the human rights abuses committed by that nation’s 1970s military dictatorship, and pledging to declassify more U.S. government documents from that era.

What’s most satisfying about this weakening of the destructive Cold War left in Latin America is that it is accompanied, if not enabled, by a widespread rejection of the idea that the United States is the enemy. The levels of distrust and hostility towards the “empire” to the north are at historical lows across the region.

The decline of anti-Americanism is notable in the most important Latin American partner to the United States, the nation across our southern border. Anti-Americanism used to be a staple of Mexican political discourse. But at a recent conference in Mexico City, Gerardo Maldonado of the think tank CIDE cited polls from 2014 in which 49 percent of Mexicans say they “admire” the U.S.; 32 percent are “indifferent”; and only 14 percent view us poorly. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey in 2015, for its part, found that 66 percent of Mexicans had a favorable view of the U.S., compared to 65 percent of respondents in the U.K.

Andrew Paxman, a historian at CIDE, explained that what he calls traditional “gringofobia” in Mexico—a form of xenophobia that demonizes Americans, especially its political and business leaders, as culturally inferior imperialists who can be blamed for most of Mexico’s woes—dates to the 19th century, but has been surprisingly absent from Mexican politics of late. Paxman credits greater cross-border engagement as the demystifying balm. The explosion in bilateral trade post-NAFTA and the constant movement of millions of Mexican workers back and forth across the border, spreading word of what the U.S. is really like, have helped strengthen feelings of trust, understanding, and friendship.

There is a specter clouding this triumphant moment in U.S.-Latin relations, of course, and that is Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Trump’s xenophobic and bombastic rhetoric is a dream come true for the beleaguered anti-American left in Latin America, whose leaders see in the candidate a fellow authoritarian populist with a recognizable style. Trump’s rambling rallies—with their mix of picaresque humor, vague promises of great things to come, and menacing bullying of media and opponents—are reminiscent of Hugo Chávez at his most entertaining.

For Mexicans, Trump’s hateful anti-Mexican rhetoric poses a real test of their newfound trust in the U.S. Paxman says he is starting to see an uptick in gringophobic language in Internet memes and opinion columns. A couple of weeks ago there was an editorial in Excélsior, a major Mexican daily, entitled “That’s How They See Us in the United States,” which falsely claimed that Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric was shared by most of the candidates.

And Paxman says that it’s already typical among cartoonists to draw Trump with a swastika: “If he’s elected, a common reaction here will be ‘Americans can’t be trusted—they elected a Nazi.’” And that could have a spillover effect in Mexican politics, according to Paxman, giving the leftist perennial presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador an opening in the 2018 elections to attack the current governing consensus for pro-American openness and pro-market reforms. His message, Paxman believes, could well become: “Why are we aligning ourselves with a country that hates us? Why are we letting those who hate us control our oil?”

That would be an appealing message for the desperate left throughout Latin America. Indeed, if Donald Trump wins the election next November, it will be a time for anti-American leaders in the region to take a victory lap, and to thank their lucky stars for their improbable reversal of fortune.

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Is China the Next Mexico?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/11/02/is-china-the-next-mexico/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/11/02/is-china-the-next-mexico/ideas/nexus/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 08:01:39 +0000 By Jorge Guajardo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=66077 When I served as Mexico’s ambassador to China, I was often asked the wrong question: Is Mexico the next China? The better question is whether China is becoming the next Mexico.

Of course, it is hard to compare anywhere else to China given the sheer scale of the People’s Republic and its transformation. And yet, much like Mexico in the 1990s, China has long been ruled by a one-party dictatorship that has outgrown its ideological purity (all lip service aside) in favor of a widely acclaimed technocratic pragmatism. If there is a social contract in China, it boils down to the government telling its people: You all pretend to be communists, and so will we; but we’ll actually allow you to become wealthier by not being real communists, so long as you don’t rock the boat and play along.

It’s all very reminiscent of Mexico’s seven-decade rule by the Institutional

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When I served as Mexico’s ambassador to China, I was often asked the wrong question: Is Mexico the next China? The better question is whether China is becoming the next Mexico.

Of course, it is hard to compare anywhere else to China given the sheer scale of the People’s Republic and its transformation. And yet, much like Mexico in the 1990s, China has long been ruled by a one-party dictatorship that has outgrown its ideological purity (all lip service aside) in favor of a widely acclaimed technocratic pragmatism. If there is a social contract in China, it boils down to the government telling its people: You all pretend to be communists, and so will we; but we’ll actually allow you to become wealthier by not being real communists, so long as you don’t rock the boat and play along.

It’s all very reminiscent of Mexico’s seven-decade rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called the PRI’s run “the perfect dictatorship” because of the regime’s institutionalized nature, which transcended any one individual leader and its original revolutionary ideology, and ensured a peaceful succession of a new president every six years, or “sexenio.”

And like China in recent years, Mexico in the early 1990s was widely praised for having a highly capable team of technocrats running its economic policymaking and promising growth, stability, and a rising standard of living.

Mexico’s ruling technocracy was much admired outside the country. Many of the gushing news articles about Mexico written in the early 1990s, around the time of the North American Free Trade Agreement, sound very much like those written about China in the past decade. Forbes gushed, in typical fashion: “You can’t any longer think of Mexico as the Third World.” (In the 1960s, there had been a similar bubble in commentary about Mexico, at a time when the country did post China-like growth rates.)

Lost in all the rosy pronouncements about Mexico’s economy was any serious analysis of how people’s rising living standards and expectations would affect their nation’s political evolution. Indeed, there was very little acknowledgment that there may be a political and democratic evolution—as opposed to a merely economic one.

The same void exists now with China—even though the trend lines are remarkably similar to what Mexico went through leading up to its transformation in 2000 to a multiparty democracy. Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev launched his ill-fated glasnost policy for greater transparency and openness in the late 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party has been obsessively studying the fall of the USSR in order to escape the same fate. At his first meeting as president at Beidaihe, Xi Jinping made a point of referring to the errors of the Soviet Communist Party, and those of Gorbachev in particular, as examples to avoid.

President Xi might do well to study the Mexican case instead, given that today’s Chinese Communist Party has much more in common with the PRI than it did with the Soviet Communist Party. Where the Chinese Communist Party has its Three Represents, the PRI extolled its three sectores: labor, business chambers, and peasants. In both cases, the governments strived to maintain control, order, and stability on behalf of drama-wary societies that had experienced too much tumult throughout history.

In the six years I lived in China, I would very often have a feeling of déjà-vu: Life in China was exhilarating, mind-boggling, frustrating at times. But amidst the sense of novelty, there was a frequent sense of having seen it all before.

Life in China was exhilarating, mind-boggling, frustrating at times. But amidst the sense of novelty, there was a frequent sense of having seen it all before.

The regulations forbidding foreign words on billboards in China reminded me of the TV ads that used to air in Mexico, making fun of people who used Anglicisms and exhorting us to defend the Spanish tongue. The driving restrictions to reduce pollution in Beijing brought to mind Mexico City’s program of Hoy No Circula, which bans your car from the road one day of the week.

Price, foreign exchange, and press controls were also familiar, surreal contradictions in a country stuck between its revolutionary heritage and its opening to the capitalist world. So, too, were all its huge and inefficient state-owned enterprises.

A smattering of tiny, state-sanctioned opposition parties in China give the impression of political plurality, much like they did in the PRI’s heyday in Mexico. Growing up in Mexico, it was hard to keep up with the various small parties sponsored by the PRI to give the appearance of democracy: the Green Party, the Labor Party, two different Socialist Parties, the Democratic Party, even a Communist Party and several parties with the word revolutionary in their name. China’s roster of parties includes no fewer than five with the word democratic or democracy in their names, all of them of course subservient to the Communist Party.

In both societies, I was struck, too, by the cocky rhetoric toward the United States—including claims of holding the upper hand in the bilateral relationship. In the eyes of the PRI, the U.S. was supposedly beholden to Mexico because of our deep oil reserves, as if we really had a choice about exporting our oil; Chinese leaders like to boast about their trillions in U.S. treasury bonds, as if they had any other options for where to sanitize their currency. Both governments also had a foreign policy based on complicity with rogue states—Mexico and Cuba, China and North Korea.

And in both today’s China and the Mexico of two decades ago, small outbursts of organized dissension—in Chiapas and in China’s far western provinces—are treated as existential threats to the overriding narrative. And high-profile arrests carried out in the name of cracking down on corruption are a preferred manner of taking down political adversaries.

There were three seminal events in Mexico’s transition to democracy that have had recent echoes in China, and should thus keep Beijing’s leaders awake at night.

One was the earthquake that devastated Mexico City in 1985, killing thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The tragedy marked the beginning of the end for the PRI, laying bare the party’s corruption, lack of transparency and inefficiency. Mexicans, disenchanted with their government’s inability to enforce safer building codes or respond more forcefully to the calamitous aftermath of the disaster, began organizing themselves to take care of their neighbors and their capital city.

The horrible Sichuan earthquake of 2008 may come to be seen as a similar watershed in modern Chinese history. As was the case in Mexico, the tragedy evidenced a clear shift in the Chinese public’s expectations of their government, in the way they voiced their dissatisfaction and demanded accountability. If anything, the effect in China was perhaps more swift and more pronounced, probably because we did not have social media in 1985, and citizens had less immediate channels for criticism and debate. What was remarkable in both cases was how people long accustomed to a strong state control assumed responsibility for rescue efforts. Volunteers rushed to Sichuan to help, whether by train or car or bicycle, ahead of the government, following their own lead instead of waiting for official direction.

A second key event in the democratic transition of Mexico was the splintering within the PRI led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of Lázaro Cárdenas, the revered president famous for nationalizing the Mexican oil industry in 1938. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas led the left wing of the PRI, the faction that believed the party had lost sight of its revolutionary roots. Cárdenas founded his own party in 1987 after having been passed over as presidential candidate in favor of Carlos Salinas. Although the actual end of one-party rule did not happen in Mexico until 2000 with the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN), it was in effect a postponed transition, one that should have taken place in 1988 when Cárdenas ran against Salinas and by most accounts won the presidential vote—at least before some election-night chicanery threw the election in the PRI’s favor.

You can discern a similar turn of events in China. A princeling of the party, Bo Xilai, challenged Xi, the appointed successor of the state, and was purged for corruption. That purge, in turn, has touched off more anti-corruption purges against competing party leaders—effectively splitting the party. In Mexico, it was the division within the ruling party itself that paved the way for the democratic transition: With the internal political strife, the unions and vested interests that were the traditional backbone of the PRI’s support started hedging, just as in China there emerged strong dissenting factions within the Politburo. This is why Bo Xilai and his ally and former security chief Zhou Yongkang, were such a threat, and why they are both now in prison.

The third event that hastened the fall of the PRI in Mexico was a devaluation of the nation’s currency and a spectacular failure of its banks in a non-performing loans crisis, which required a massive government bailout that drove the last nail in the coffin of the PRI’s pretensions of technocratic excellence. If you are going to ask people to surrender some, or all, democratic niceties in exchange for stability and prosperity, nothing undermines that social contract as much as economic mismanagement and incompetence, especially once people have adopted middle- class expectations and are more connected to the outside world.

There is, of course, disagreement about whether China’s slowing growth, slumping stock market, and indebted companies and banks amount yet to a full-blown crisis. But it’s starting to look awfully familiar to this Mexican, and if Chinese leaders or their opponents want to look for a model or cautionary tale, they might be well-advised to visit Mexico to study what might come next.

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Arizona Could Become the Gateway to the Americashttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/06/05/arizona-could-become-the-gateway-to-the-americas/events/the-takeaway/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/06/05/arizona-could-become-the-gateway-to-the-americas/events/the-takeaway/#respond Fri, 05 Jun 2015 10:30:44 +0000 by Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=60835 Arizona and Mexico, separated at birth? Panelists at a Zócalo/Azteca event at the Heard Museum in Phoenix didn’t go that far. But in a wide-ranging conversation about Mexico’s economic rise and the opportunities it creates for Arizona and the U.S. Southwest, it became apparent that Arizona and Mexico have a lot in common—including bad reputations that represent significant barriers to achieving greater prosperity together.

The moderator, New York Times Phoenix bureau chief Fernanda Santos, took particular note of the reputational problems. And the three panelists—two from Arizona (Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and former Arizona-Mexico Commission executive director Margie A. Emmermann) and one from Mexico (Signum Research CEO and economist Héctor Romero)—took pains to dispel those reputations.

“When I was coming here, a friend of mine told me you shouldn’t go to Phoenix or Arizona because you may get arrested,” Romero said. “People in the U.S. sometimes believe they should not

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Arizona and Mexico, separated at birth? Panelists at a Zócalo/Azteca event at the Heard Museum in Phoenix didn’t go that far. But in a wide-ranging conversation about Mexico’s economic rise and the opportunities it creates for Arizona and the U.S. Southwest, it became apparent that Arizona and Mexico have a lot in common—including bad reputations that represent significant barriers to achieving greater prosperity together.

The moderator, New York Times Phoenix bureau chief Fernanda Santos, took particular note of the reputational problems. And the three panelists—two from Arizona (Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and former Arizona-Mexico Commission executive director Margie A. Emmermann) and one from Mexico (Signum Research CEO and economist Héctor Romero)—took pains to dispel those reputations.

“When I was coming here, a friend of mine told me you shouldn’t go to Phoenix or Arizona because you may get arrested,” Romero said. “People in the U.S. sometimes believe they should not go to Mexico because they could get killed.” But Romero pointed out that he is always warmly welcomed in Phoenix, and that, despite issues with violence on the border in some states, Mexico is one of the most secure countries in Latin America.

Stanton, the Phoenix mayor, said several times that he had used the bully pulpit to distinguish himself from Arizona politicians whose actions and rhetoric have given the state an international reputation for being anti-immigrant, and anti-Mexican. He has made 12 trips to Mexico and opened a trade office in Mexico City to deepen economic, cultural, and educational partnerships between his city and “the growing economic giant that is Mexico.”

“If we don’t take advantage of that here, shame on us,” Stanton said of Mexico’s growing middle class. He noted that Arizona had lagged behind the rest of the country in exports, and he wanted to double exports from Phoenix to Mexico in the next five years. “We don’t have a choice,” the mayor said. “We have to build that stronger relationship.”

Indeed, all three panelists said that economic ties between Arizona and Mexico already run much deeper than is commonly understood. Emmermann, the former Arizona-Mexico Commission director, said that interests in trade, education, and energy were converging on both sides of the border.

Noting that people still associate Mexico with low-wage and low-skilled jobs, Emmermann, now vice president of Molera Alvarez LLC, said: “That’s the Mexico of the past … You’ll find we’re talking less and less about differences, and more about similarities.”

“Some of my best friends are gringos,” quipped Romero, in agreement. “We are very similar.”

Romero said that commerce between the countries was five times greater than 20 years ago, when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Still, he said, “the U.S. economy is much more important to Mexico than we are to the U.S.—but this importance is growing very, very fast.” He argued that, in the U.S. economic competition with China, “the U.S. should see Mexico as a partner. In fact, we already are a partner.”

Stanton spoke with some envy about how export-oriented the Mexican economy is, and suggested it was a model for Arizona. “We can learn a lot from Mexico,” he said, pointing to Mexico’s free trade agreements with 42 countries around the world.

The panelists all took note of energy reform in Mexico and a commitment to renewal of infrastructure, and all three said those changes provided significant openings for companies from Arizona (and around the U.S.) to do more business in Mexico.

Education is also an important area for improvement—both in terms of its quality in both places, and in the need for exchanges. “One area where Mexico and the U.S. have not done a good job is student exchanges,” said Stanton.

Added Romero: “Only 15,000 Mexican students are at U.S. universities, which is a very, very small number. It should be around 60,000 students, maybe around 100,000 students.”

During the question and answer session with the audience, the panelists cited Texas—which provides in-state tuition to Mexican students—as a leader in exchanges that Arizona should emulate.

And Stanton made a point of saying the Lone Star State is better integrated with Mexico in other ways. “Texas is way ahead of Arizona when it comes to trade relations” with Mexico, he said. “Texas is way ahead of Arizona when it comes to tourism”—attracting Mexican tourists.

The audience questions also covered tomatoes and agriculture in Mexico, and the potential of the Port of Guaymas in the state of Sonora, which borders Arizona. The panelists predicted that Guaymas could grow into Arizona’s seaport, given its proximity.

Emmermann also noted the strong business and investment ties between Arizona and Canada, and said that Phoenix needed to think of itself as a crucial North American city, linking the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and eventually Central America. “We need to think bigger,” she said. “We need to be a trading bloc, a large trading bloc.”

“Phoenix connects the Americas,” Stanton said.

The post Arizona Could Become the Gateway to the Americas appeared first on Zócalo Public Square.

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The U.S.-Mexico Border Is Boominghttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/06/04/the-u-s-mexico-border-is-booming/ideas/up-for-discussion/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/06/04/the-u-s-mexico-border-is-booming/ideas/up-for-discussion/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 07:01:39 +0000 zocaloadmin http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=60782 Mexico is becoming a vibrant middle-class nation. Already, it is the largest trading partner of California, Texas and Arizona, and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the Southwest.

And that might be just the beginning. With economic and educational reforms underway, Mexico’s rise could accelerate. By one estimate, Mexico will be the world’s fifth largest economy by 2050.

Yes, Mexico faces serious problems of corruption and violence at home. But the country is also investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and transportation near the border. That is already resulting in closer ties between Mexico and the Southwest, with economic, social, and cultural impacts

In advance of the Zócalo/Azteca event, “What Does Mexico’s Economic Rise Mean for the Southwest?”, we asked journalists, scholars, and other experts: What will the emergence of a First World Mexico mean for the Southwest?

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Mexico is becoming a vibrant middle-class nation. Already, it is the largest trading partner of California, Texas and Arizona, and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the Southwest.

And that might be just the beginning. With economic and educational reforms underway, Mexico’s rise could accelerate. By one estimate, Mexico will be the world’s fifth largest economy by 2050.

Yes, Mexico faces serious problems of corruption and violence at home. But the country is also investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and transportation near the border. That is already resulting in closer ties between Mexico and the Southwest, with economic, social, and cultural impacts

In advance of the Zócalo/Azteca event, “What Does Mexico’s Economic Rise Mean for the Southwest?”, we asked journalists, scholars, and other experts: What will the emergence of a First World Mexico mean for the Southwest?

The post The U.S.-Mexico Border Is Booming appeared first on Zócalo Public Square.

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Who Invented the Chimichanga?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/05/01/who-invented-the-chimichanga/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2015/05/01/who-invented-the-chimichanga/ideas/nexus/#respond Fri, 01 May 2015 07:00:45 +0000 by Cary Kelly http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=59945 One afternoon while I was navigating the clogged freeways of Phoenix, a fierce argument erupted in the back of my car.

“Of course the chimichanga was invented in Tucson!” yelled one Tucsonan.

“No way,” replied the Phoenix native. “I am positive it’s from south Phoenix.”

“Perhaps it’s from Mexico?” chimed in an ever-neutral Illinois transplant in the front passenger seat.

I sat behind the driver’s wheel lost in thought, stumped by our chimichanga standoff. What is essentially a fried burrito was a staple of the restaurants I grew up with in Tucson. If not listed as a direct menu item, you could always request that your “bean and cheese” or “carne asada” be deep-fried. I had always assumed that, like tacos, enchiladas, or any other heralded tortilla-based platter, the chimichanga came from south of the border. However, my fellow Tucsonan adamantly claimed otherwise: The chimichanga was an American creation, boasting

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One afternoon while I was navigating the clogged freeways of Phoenix, a fierce argument erupted in the back of my car.

What It Means to Be American

“Of course the chimichanga was invented in Tucson!” yelled one Tucsonan.

“No way,” replied the Phoenix native. “I am positive it’s from south Phoenix.”

“Perhaps it’s from Mexico?” chimed in an ever-neutral Illinois transplant in the front passenger seat.

I sat behind the driver’s wheel lost in thought, stumped by our chimichanga standoff. What is essentially a fried burrito was a staple of the restaurants I grew up with in Tucson. If not listed as a direct menu item, you could always request that your “bean and cheese” or “carne asada” be deep-fried. I had always assumed that, like tacos, enchiladas, or any other heralded tortilla-based platter, the chimichanga came from south of the border. However, my fellow Tucsonan adamantly claimed otherwise: The chimichanga was an American creation, boasting the best of both nations—the eclectic fixings and convenient shape of the Mexican burrito and the deep-fried exterior of American comfort foods. In her telling, the chimichanga was our state’s answer to Tex-Mex and New Mexican cuisine next door—another example of borderlands fusion.

The more I contemplated the chimichanga, the more it came to symbolize my home city. First a Spanish missionary outpost and later an outright Mexican town, Tucson has never forgotten its Hispanic core. Spanish words are found in street names, billboards, and food menus across the city. Tucson is even home to the longest-running mariachi festival outside of Mexico. From the outside, the fried burrito that is Tucson has the appearance of many other southwest American cities; however, its insides are more Mexican than most.

Even though I grew up in a thoroughly “gringo” household, I, like all the Tucsonans I know, feel a deep kinship with America’s southern neighbor. As long as I can remember, chips and salsa were the de facto snack at our place; Mexican food was the only cuisine that all family members would agree to eat. It was no coincidence that, in a family of runners, our favorite annual bonding event was the Tucson Cinco de Mayo 10K road race, which boasts an all-you-can-eat spread of five different burritos at the finish line. And so, the thought of the chimichanga being a Tucson original, a testament to the genius of the American culinary melting pot, was exciting. I set out to investigate.

Being a tech-savvy and lazy millennial, I started, naturally, with Wikipedia. The first line of the webpage regarding the history of the food mirrored the argument from my car: “Debate over the origins of the chimichanga is ongoing.” My heart sank. Numerous Mexican and Mexican-American grandparents were trying to take credit for the original recipe. One section asserted that the chimichanga was invented in Phoenix in 1946, following a cooking experiment by Woody Johnson, founder of the still-thriving Macayo’s restaurants.

chimichanga, Mexican, food, Tucson

The chimichanga at El Charro Café

Multiple other sources attributed the origin of the chimichanga to Tucson’s El Charro Café, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in operation by the same family. As the El Charro nativity tale goes, the chimichanga and its curious name were born shortly after Monica Flin opened the restaurant in 1922. One afternoon, Tia Monica was frying taco shells and accidentally knocked a nearby burrito into the hot oil. When the burning liquid splashed onto her body, Tia Monica let out a common Spanish expletive that she barely managed to censor in the presence of her nephews to “Chi … michanga.” (Think back to when your mother would burn her hand on the stove and yell “Fuuuuu … dge!”) One accidentally crisped burrito and one cleverly curtailed cuss word later, the chimichanga became a new favorite in Tia Monica’s culinary arsenal.

I decided to do some sleuthing of my own on a trip to visit my family in Tucson. I dragged my parents and sister into the heart of south Tucson to visit one of the city’s star Mexican establishments: Mi Nidito. On its walls, Mi Nidito proudly displays signed photographs of visits from President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and celebrities like William Shatner, Linda Ronstadt, and Enrique Iglesias. Sadly, the Saturday night we went out, Mi Nidito’s wait line wrapped around the block. With our stomachs grumbling, we settled for dinner at a lesser-known but nonetheless stellar establishment down the street, Los Portales. After a bountiful dinner with many rounds of chips and margaritas, I spoke to the restaurant’s night manager, Celia Gongora, who was born and raised in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. Regarding the legacy of the fried burrito, she said that chimichangas are undoubtedly from Mexico.

“I grew up eating chimichangas as a young girl in Sonora,” she recalled. “The chimichangas in Mexico are smaller than the ones here, but they have definitely been around longer.”

Later conversations I had with other Mexico natives backed up the manager’s assertion, but the claims seemed more emotional than evidence-based.

“There is no way any American could create something as tasty as the chimichanga,” one Mexican friend stated, as if to end the discussion.

Confused and desperate for an authoritative opinion on at least the national ancestry of chimichangas, I called the Mexican consulate in Tucson. I spoke with a Mexican diplomat, Jonathan Granados Muñoz, whose job presumably entails more than fielding random phone queries from Anglo Mexicophiles. When I asked him about the food’s origin, he responded rather diplomatically, “I think it is a Mexican-American fusion dish.” He continued to explain that, while he thought the first chimichanga probably came from northern Mexico, he believed that the dish had risen to fame through its American variants.

So even Mexican diplomats posted in Arizona were willing to concede that, though the dish likely originated in Mexico, it was the U.S. that had most vocally adopted the food as its own, in a fashion not unlike America’s enthusiastic embrace of the Cinco de Mayo holiday. Regardless of its original Mexican sourcing, the chimichanga has become emblematic of the blending of cultural traditions that marks American food as a distinctly fusion cuisine.

And if “El Norte” seems most enthusiastic about claiming parentage of the chimichanga, no city wants to be more associated with it than Tucson. The city’s tourism office even went as far as publishing an ad in the nationally circulated Food & Wine magazine, inviting Americans to visit Tucson, “home of the chimichanga.”

I ended my exhausted pursuit of chimichanga truth with a pilgrimage to the food’s most likely birthplace: the El Charro Café in downtown Tucson. Relishing the sharp crunch of my knife slicing through the burrito’s crispy outer shell, I quickly forgot about its contested origins. The most important thing in that moment was that the chimichanga existed, and that it would soon find a new home—inside my stomach.

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