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MEXICO: Mexico barbaro

Elias Castillo confirms that in Mexico "bárbaro" is not used in the Spanish slang meaning of "superb," "splendid." It simply means "barbarous". Ed Jajko reports that between 1964 and 1985 no less than seven editions appeared in Mexico, all with the title México Bárbaro. This is an extraordinary phenomenon. Mexicans normally bristle at criticism from gringos, so why would John Kenneth Turner's attack on "barbarous" Mexico suddenly spring from oblivion and enjoy such success? I have seen no explanation of this, but here is my guess. Turner's book deals with the inhuman conditions of farm workers in southeast Mexico, the region where the Zapatistas and similar groups operate. It shows that suddenly, in 1964 educated Mexicans were willing to face the facts. Marcos came along at the right moment.

It may be something like the 1898 generation in Spain, which accepted foreign criticism of its sorry plight. Bullfights were a symptom of that "barbarity", against which Blasco Ibáñez protested in Blood and Sand. That barbarian Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway, who had no real understanding of Spain, set the clock back with his cult of bullfighting. Elias Castillo, proud of having found a copy of Barbarous Mexico in a Palo Alto bookstore, and a severe critic of bullfighting, will talk on the subject at the WAIS conference.

Perhaps it is time for a similar development in poor Colombia, where the elite under Eduardo Santos and El Tiempo conducted a modernization movement. It has had limited success as the barbarous fighting in the countryside testifies. The Colombia TV newscast via SCOLA comes from Cali. Today virtually the whole program was devoted to a bullfight in which the torero gave a display which thrilled the mob of spectators. Ernest Hemingway would have loved it, but I was dismayed.

Back to Mexico, Marcos and the Zapatistas. Elias Castillo is a great supporter of Fox and confident that he will succeed. I am inclined to agree, since Marcos seems to have overplayed his hand. After swearing that his army would remain in Mexico City as long as it took (even years) until pro-Indian legislation was passed, he suddenly announced that it would return to Chiapas within four days, on March 23 after a meeting in the Auditorio Nacional, a ceremony at the National University (UNAM), and a demonstration outside Congress (with ski-masks on). What was Marcos up to? What was Fox up to? While his PAN angrily refused to met let the Zapatistas address Congress with their ski-masks on, Fox confidently did not mention that condition. Fox, who had vowed to eradicate the drug trade, suddenly said he favored legalizing drugs.

Raúl Escalante has sent a long message from which a section is extracted here. It probably reflects the feeling of many Mexicans: "At the very least, the issue of increased welfare is on track thanks mostly to the EZLN. Most Mexicans sympathize with the idea of proactively improving the welfare of our indigenous people. As you are well aware, however, the devil is in the details and there is much debate as to the methods we should employ. These range from market-based, fully-globalized initiatives to a return to communal land-ownership. Despite my inherent belief in market-based systems as the most efficient, I am no longer sure that they are conducive to long-term progress (the risks of gross polarization of income and the resulting political/class strife are all too likely). In any event, the issue is moving at last an will keep on moving unless we fall into some medieval dictatorship.

As for Marcos, I believe he is a master marketing strategist, as well as extremely lucky (after all, he planned his uprising beofre the WWW came along and multiplied its impact). Unless, I am very mistaken - along with most people I know - the EZLN has never been a military threat. Marcos himself has declared that their military force could be wiped out summarily. Their strength (as well as Fox's) is clearly in public opinion which they can't afford to alienate. "

From Mexico, George Grayson, the sell-known specialist who will speak at the WAIS conference, sends a long report indicating that he is unimpressed by Marcos and thinks that Fox risks his standing by attempting to deal with him: "To diminish his mystique, the government unmasked the subcommander, who once described himself as "owner of the night, lord of the mountain, man without a face and with no tomorrow." They identified the guerrilla chief as Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, 43, a prize-winning sociology student, son of a well-heeled proprietor of furniture stores in Tampico, and a Marxist radical stridently opposed to free-market policies and economic globalization."

Tim Brown has sent two messages in which he expresses his disagreement with David Crow, Margaret Mackenzie, and presumably with Raúl Escalanat. Here is an extract: "David Crow appears to believe Marxism and Soviet ideological imperialism under the Marxist banner were synonyms, a perception the Soviet assiduously cultivated. They were not. To me, to argue that because the Cold War is over, therefore Marcos cannot be a Marxist is a logical fallacy. So is arguing that he cannot be a Marxist because he says he is not and always tells the truth. Castro and the Sandinistas said exactly the same thing, and were not telling the truth. Further, the end of the Cold War did not end Marxism which, with or without its internationalist aspects, has an abysmal track record as a system. It was not just under the Soviets that Marxism has meant totalitarian dictatorship. Ask the Chinese, North Koreans, or Vietnamese."

A footnote on Marcos' translator into sign language: Bernardo Naranjo rightly says that translating the speeches into sign language simply reflected the fact that Mexicans have become aware of the plight of the handicapped. Indeed, Mexican TV showed a great interest in the Special Olympics for the handicapped.

Ronald Hilton - 3/20/01