AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Monday, June 23, 2008

So Where'd You Go to College, Presidente?

Robert Lansing, former Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, wrote in 1924 that "Mexico is an extraordinarily easy country to dominate, as it necessary to control only one man: the President. We must abandon the idea of installing an American citizen in the Mexican presidency, as that would only lead us, once again, to war. The solution requires more time: we must open the doors of our universities to young, ambitious Mexicans and make the effort to educate them in the American way of life, in our values, and in respect for the leadership of the United States. Mexico will need competent administrators, and over time, these young people will come to occupy important positions and will eventually take posession of the presidency itself. And without the United States having to spend a single cent or fire a single shot, they will do what we want, and do it better and more radically than we ourselves would have done."

Lansing's counsel, directly or indirectly, was well-taken: the United States did not subsquently place a puppet onto the Mexican presidential chair, as it did with a laundry list of Mexico's Latin neighbors, and over time, it did open its doors for Mexico's political elite to come and study at its illustrious centers of higher education. A simple look at its roster of Presidents over the last twenty-five years confirms the success of Lansing's prescient vision: Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988) - Master's in Public Administration, Harvard; Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) - Ph.D. in Economics, Harvard; Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) - Ph.D. in Economics, Yale, currently a Yale professor of International Economics and head of the Yale Center of Globalization; Vicente Fox (2000-2006) - supposedly studied at Harvard, but definitely sold a lot of Coca-Cola; and Felipe Calderon (2006-how much longer will he hold out?) - Master's in Public Administration, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. The year 1982, not coincidentally, marked a watershed in Mexican public policy, it being the year the country's leadership took advantage of the peso crisis to institute a neo-conservative, IMF-approved policy of economic shock therapy (see my previous post "Shocking and Awe-ing"), and has not looked back ever since. The results, as Hugo Carbajal Aguilar puts it (, "are on view for anyone who cares to look: rampant unemployment, drug trafficking on the increase with a consequent tsunami of insecurity, massive migration abroad - with all the risks that implies - disintegration of the family, lack of expectations for young people, students or not, deliquency in droves, ecocide..." As grandfathers around the world, eyebrows raised and brow furrowed, might ask in chorus: "What are they teaching you at that school of yours?"

Actually, that question is not at all hard to answer. Just as the proliferation of universities through the land-grant system were key in "winning the west" and just as the explosion of Latin-American studies programs in the 1960's was an instutional response to fears that we were "losing Latin America," US colleges and universities take in and groom future foreign leaders, no less than in Lansing's time, in "the American way of life, our values, and respect for the leadership of the United States." Said values entail massive privatizations, the scaling back of essential government services in the name of budgetary discpline, a hard-money, inflation-busting policy (note the Bank of Mexico raising interest rates lasty Friday in the face of a clearly-slowing economy) and the "opening" of the nation to foreign "investment" (or dumping, as the case may be). Anyone who opposes such obvious - and academically-tested measures - is a "protectionist," or worse, a "nationalist," as opposed to an internationist, cosmopolitan, English-speaking member of the trilateral world elite come home to be big fish. Father knows best: just check the framed diplomas on his wall. Whereas would-be dictators without an academic pedigree are simply sent to the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia to learn how to torture; those with 'more of a head on their shoulders' are sent to Harvard or Yale and taught to do regression analyses that demonstrate how cutting taxes raises revenues and other such - dare I say? - white man voodoo. The process is the same: the pimping of institutions to power. An austerity plan is one thing; an austerity plan by a Harvard-trained Ph.D. in a country which has been taught to fear and loathe itself is quite another. Didn't we learned from Kennedy's best-and-brightest Harvard-boy disasters in Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs not to trust those places once and for all?

Of course, educating the Latin-American elite is not all. Once their term of office is expired, or once the ignorant masses of their countries throw them out, the Ivy-League graduates usually wind up gravitating like magnets back to the source of their force. In a perverse form of retro-alimentation, Harvard, Yale and Stamford happily bestow their venerable names on the Salinises, Zedillos and Calderons, send them home to wreak havoc, and then welcome them back with open arms, padding out their faculty lists with an impressive line-up of former presidents and finance ministers to show off to the Alumni Board. Zedillo, as previously mentioned, schlepped right back to Yale to pimp globalization. Salinas and Calderon have been back to visit and gave stately talks. And most recently, Doctor Luis Carlos Ugalde (Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia), fresh from doctoring the 2006 election as head of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute and finding himself out of work ahead of time (wonder why....) found a comfortable sinecure in the Government deparement teaching Latin American Politics at Harvard. How a hack like that can lie into the camera before millions of Mexicans who saw their decades-postponed hopes of a genuine democratic transition dashed before their eyes, only to be allowed to lope across the lawns in professorial robes in Cambridge, Mass. is enough to make any honest person's blood boil. Lansing, however, would be proud: without spending a single cent or firing a single shot, America is getting what it wants out of Mexico, and then some.


George Salzman said...

Hi Kurt,
Just a quick initial comment -- Your analysis is first-rate, insightful, accurate, and with plenty of zest. The beautiful thing to watch here in Oaxaca, which I've labelled "La cara del fascismo mexicano", is the growing understanding among ordinary people that the institution of government is itself illegitimate when it operates as a highly centralized, remote power, as in nation-states.

Jason said...

For an excellent scholarly analysis of the role of both social networks and US education in transforming Latin American states, see Dezalay & Garth, "The internationalization of palace wars: lawyers, economists, and the contest to transform Latin American states", University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Lourdes Alvarez said...

Hi Kurt,
Look, is incredible! I’m a Mexican student at the UNAM, and I’m writing my master’s thesis in Political Studies about Mexico. I’ve been suffering because I can not find the original quotation you’ve just made. I refer to what Robert Lansing wrote in 1924. I want to use it myself -manly in the same way you did- in my thesis. You can’t imagine how much you could help me if you could lead me to that quotation. I’ve found several translations, but for the first time, in your comment, I read the English original version. Is it in the Lansing diaries, or in his personal papers, or is it quoted it elsewhere? Please help me; I will really appreciate it because I need the bibliographical reference. Thank you.

Kurt Hackbarth said...

Loudes -

Sorry to disappoint you, but I translated that quote myself from Spanish back into English! As I'm sure you know, the quote is very widespread on Spanish-language websites, but not (understandably, I suppose) on English-language ones. The most documentable source I have for the quote is the front page of the newspaper "La Jornada" from March 22, 2002, where it appears quoted in the "Rayuela." Perhaps they may be able to tell you where they got it. It must be noted, however, that there are two errors in the attribution as it appears in the Jornada: first, the name was Robert, not Richard Lansing, and second, by 1924, Lansing was the EX-Secretary of State, having served under Woodrow Wilson, who left office in 1920. Calvin Coolidge was President in 1924.

From what I read on the Spanish sites, Lansing's quote here was in the context of a response to the newspapers controlled by William Randolph Hearst, which were then advocating that the United States install an American by force directly into the Presidency of Mexico. Lansing's response then, was to effectively say "Why shed blood over it if there's a better way to do it?"

I hope this is of some help. Another reader of the blog who is working on his doctoral thesis in Miami has also been looking for the provenance of the quote. If you find it, please be so kind as to post it here on the site.



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