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UNAM Strike: Poverty and Corruption



     The strike at the University of Mexico continues. Previous memos have explained it as a protest by the poor. That poverty is exacerbated by the corruption of the wealthy, including members of the governing PRI party.
     Insight magazine, which has ties to intelligence sources, has published some well-documented articles on Mexican corruption. The latest (3/29/99), headed "Family Affairs", deals with Carlos Hank González and his two sons, Carlos and Jorge Hank Rhon. It is devastating. Phone calls to the family went unanswered, a tacit admission that the charges are true. The old man once joked "Un político pobre es un pobre político"--"A politician who is poor is a poor politician."
     It is an amazing story. He was born in the village of Santiago Tianguistenco, which I found on a detailed map, some distance from the main highway between Toluca and Mexico City. He became mayor of Toluca and then of Mexico City. He built the highway between the two cities, thus providing a basis for his wealth. He has been an important part of the PRI power structure: a photograph shows him with former President Carlos Salinas, who is hiding in Dublin. The President and his brother Raúl, who had just been transferred to another jail, are in the news again. It is not clear what is cooking. Perhaps Hank González´ goose.
     By a divine coincidence, the same issue of Insight has also an article on Sir John Templeton, who rose to great wealth by the straight and narrow path; he describes himself as "an enthusiastic Presbyterian," an unusual combination. He was born in Winchester, Tennessee, probably the smallest of the seventeen U.S. towns named after the city where I grew up. It is not in any encyclopedia, but I found it on a detailed map, in tiny type just north of the Alabama border. He went to Yale and then to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. The record of his good works is impressive. "Let your light shine before the world..."
     Such is the story of two self-made men. It is an extreme case of odious comparisons. One stinks to high heavens, where justice is done. That stench will be offset by the roses (known in old parlance as the odor of sanctity) of the other.

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     Christine Bennett comments on the memo "Mexico: Poverty and corruption":
     "In reference to this subject above, I must mention a book which I am currently reading and immensely enjoying, and which you probably already know. But if you don't, it is: "Bordering on Chaos: Mexico's Roller Coaster Journey toward Prosperity" by the journalist Andres Oppenheimer (HB1996, Pb.1998) I haven't got that far yet, but it is a fascinating and damning foray into the Zapatistas, Comandante Marcos, corrupt State governors, etc."
     My comment: I must read it. Oppenheimer wrote prematurely a book entitled "Castro´s Final Hour" (1992). I would like to know more about him; the name "Andrés" suggests he may be Mexican. Incidentally, the ex-governor of Quintana Roo, who went into hiding when he was accused of drug-running, has now disappeared from the news. Quite a disappearance act!
     Incidentally, that state is named after Andrés Quintana Roo, a Mexican politician, "glorious because he proclaimed the independence of Mexico." The Mexican politicians of that period were an odd bunch. I wonder how honest he was?

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     More on "Mexico: Poverty and corruption" from Linda Nyquist:
     "Bordering on Chaos", mentioned by Professor Bennett, is indeed a good work; the biographical information regarding the Salinas Family is quite revealing. Now old, but still worth reading, is Alan Riding's "Distant Neighbors" (1985). As we quipped when he published it, "I don't think Mr.Riding will be vacationing in Mexico any time soon." Mr. Oppenheimer's politics seem to be somewhat more conservative than Riding´s.
     On political corruption, I am reminded of the last year of the sexenio being called "El año del hidalgo" --- which continues "*&^%$ tu madre, si deje algo." Of course, this is quite rude, but is well known throughout Mexico, and it is common knowledge that the corruption and outright theft escalates in the last year of an administration, as the opportunities for enrichment will soon be lost. It seems that this graft is so deeply ingrained that it is accepted, and I can't imagine that any real changes will take place soon.
     I participated in the student riots in 1968 and had just left Tlalteloco when the shooting began. At the time, I thought that all of this would change and we had visions of a new social order. Age has tempered this view considerably....
     Some years ago, the departing governor of Oaxaca was giving his final speech. And he said (and I am NOT making this up), "Yes, we stole, but not very much." And then he went on to extol the many good works he was leaving behind. "
     My footnote for gringos ignorant of Mexican punning: "hidalgo" (knight) is here used as a short form of "hijo de algo" (s.o.b). I am reminded of Franklin Roosevelt´s retort "Somoza may be an s.o.b., but he´s our s.o.b." That may be the justification of Mexican politicians.

Ronald Hilton - 04/27/99


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Anne Sorensen identifies Andrés Oppenheimer, author of books on Cuba and Mexico:
     "Andres Oppenheimer is Argentine and a friend of mine. He works for Miami Herald in Miami writing colomns and comments about Latin America."

Ronald Hilton - 04/27/99


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