AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oaxaca: Corruption and Impunity Without Limits (translation)

Instead of writing a piece of my own today, I'm including here my own translation of an op-ed piece by Gustavo Esteva in today's Jornada that describes recent events in Oaxaca better than I could have. For all of you living in Mexico, please join in the nationwide boycott of all Chedraui stores. I know that all corporations are doing something, and if we boycotted all of them we wouldn't be able to shop anywhere, etc...but what happened last week in the Colonia Reforma is happening now, under our noses - the late-night rape of a hectare of woodland, with the full collusion of the municipal government, that the neighborhood was trying to get converted into an ecological park. Read on...

Oaxaca: Corruption and Impunity Without Limits
by Gustavo Esteva, La Jornada July 14th, 2008
Translation by Kurt Hackbarth

“Yesterday at three in the morning, an army of para-police from the Chedrahui company, protected by actual police, entered into the Predio Sarmiento in the heart of the Colonia Reforma in Oaxaca City and destroyed, without the required permits but with the complicity of the PRIista [from the political party PRI] municipal authorities, an enormous ecosystem home to thousands of birds and squirrels. The destruction covered over a hectare of trees, including three, hundred-year-old huanacastles, dozens of jacarandas, pirules, willows, oaks and date palms. The clandestine tree-cutters chased out and macheted to death hundreds of squirrels – a truly pathetic image. Only the intervention of hundreds of neighbors managed to put a halt to the barbarity, but it was already too late to save this small urban woodland. The environmental damage caused is incalculable.”

I take this quote from the manifesto of the organization “Pueblo Jaguar” which, together with others, has been circulating through Oaxaca this week to denounce last Wednesday’s aggression, the goal of which, obviously, was to prevent the consolidation of a citizens’ movement that for weeks has been working to prevent the building of a shopping center on the site, seeking instead to turn the forest into an ecological park. And clearly, the action [taken by Chedraui] has proven counterproductive. The movement has taken on an uncommon strength, working to organize a national boycott against Chedraui, as well as demanding punishment for the guilty parties and a stop to the construction. It will surely spread to other regions. After the destruction of the most beautiful of squares, the Plaza de la República, which lost some of its own hundred-year-old trees in a “modernization” project that sought to turn it into a sort of subway station, the Alameda de León, adjacent to the Plaza, is next on the list for being torn apart.

This is the state of things. On July 2nd, the local leader of the Employer’s Confederation of Mexico described the prevailing climate in Oaxaca: “Here they can kill two young indigenous radio announcers, and nothing happens; they can kidnap, and nothing happens; they can break into a house and rob it, and nothing happens; they can commit any offense, and nothing happens.”

No one should be surprised. When the Mexican Supreme Court discussed how to contribute to reestablishing constitutional order in Oaxaca, creating an investigative commission for this purpose, it stated: “We cannot allow arbitrary detentions and tortures of prisoners to become ordinary and normal in our country…The Oaxacans have lived through, and are perhaps still living through, a state of emotional and legal uncertainty…It is logical that people are living in anxiety when faced with authorities that make limitless use of public force, to the point of ignoring the human rights that our legal framework recognizes (La Jornada, 14/6/07)”.

While the Court continues with its apparently interminable investigations, the arbitrary detentions and torture of prisoners have become ordinary and normal in our country. In León, the police receive training in torture practices…so as to refine them. In the first six months of 2008, the Attorney General’s Office for Human Rights in Guanajuato has opened fourteen cases for torture and degrading and inhuman acts. The secretary for human rights for the United Nations recently indicated that respect for human rights is not a priority of the Mexican government. The unlimited and illegal use of public force is a daily practice throughout the nation. For the president of Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission, in national public security policy and in the administration of justice “no controls are placed on the action of the police, and the message is sent that everything goes in order to fight crime” (Proceso 1652, 19/6/08). And it is a crime, for the authorities, to participate in social movements. Not only the Oaxacans are currently living through emotional and legal uncertainty.

The leader of Coparmex reacted in Oaxaca to the kidnapping of one his own, a prominent Spanish businessman, which provoked the local leader of the National Chamber of Small Commerce into making the elegant expression: “That’s a load of crap!” The leader of the National Chamber of Transformative Industry said: “We want zero tolerance for those who disrupt the peace of Oaxaca!” Legislators from the PAN party, for their part, demanded the immediate intervention of the army and federal police in order to apply a remedy clearly worse than the disease, as the Oaxacan experience demonstrates, one which has begun to spread throughout the entire country.

Practically a year ago, Carlos Monsiváis stated that the continuance of Ulises Ruiz in power was “a profound enigma and a very severe insult to republican logic.” Perhaps it has stopped being an enigma. The insult is now open to all: it defines national policy. In different ways and in different degrees, the entire nation is suffering the consequences of not having adequately reacted against the intolerable affront that the people of Oaxaca have suffered, and are suffering still.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Interests Behind the Interest Rates

Two weeks ago, in the face of a slumping economy, declining remittances from the United States, and a spate of regressive tax increases that are destined to further dampen consumer spending, the Stamford-educated President of the Bank of Mexico Willy Ortíz did the only logical thing to be done under such dire circumstances: he raised interest rates a quarter point to 7.75%. The ostensible reasoning for such an ass-backwards maneuver was to fight inflation; the underlying realities of such a decision, however, tell us a good deal more about both Mexico’s incestuous political-economic system and the equally-incestuous global system it has become so openly a part of.

Without going into too much detail of the finer points of economics, high interest rates tend to help creditors, who have money to lend, as well as people who live off investment incomes, both of which categories in Mexico are restricted to an elite, wealthy strata. Conversely, lower interest rates help debtors, who pay lower interest on money they owe, and entrepreneurs who seek to borrow money to start or expand businesses. When the economy is sluggish, lowering interest rates is one way to stimulate people to borrow and spend, and thus stimulate the economy; when it is “growing too fast” and the inflation monster appears again on the horizon, raising interest rates can tamp down excessive borrowing and spending. But here, all signs point to a substantial economic slowdown in Mexico, yet interest rates go even higher. Who gains, who loses?

For a generation now, governments the world over have held the Damocles sword of inflation over workers’ heads in order to force them to accept minimal pay raises that have essentially amounted to zero in real terms. Such a threat has been particularly effective in Mexico, where the painful memories of the devaluations of 1982 and 1994 are still fresh in people’s minds, and where unions have historically acted in collusion with the government in turn, often in direct opposition to the interests of their own members. One would at least expect that the reward for all this “good behavior” on the part of the working class would be lower interest rates in order to make it easier to borrow money and get credit. In fact, the only place in Mexico where interest is low (read: non-existent) is in bank accounts; everywhere else, interest rates are, and have remained, stratospherically high, enough to make the most die-hard usurer blush with embarrassment. The great unsung tragedy of this country, in fact, is the inability of the average person to get credit on anything resembling reasonable terms. Mortgage rates routinely run three to four times what they are in the States, with mountains of up-front costs loaded on, so practically no one ever gets one and houses remain half-finished until someone in the family can scoot back across the border and send some cash back down. Credit card rates shamelessly shoot up to sixty percent or more, and now that banks are peddling credit cards like water, ever more Mexicans are going to get the chance to get caught in sickening, American-style debt spirals at several times the interest rate. Feasbile small-business and first-time-homebuyer loans are practically non-existent. What you get back, however, pales in comparison: interest on “inversiones” (COD-like investments) often runs less than a half-percent a month, even on large sums; interest on “Afores” – the individual pension accounts Bush didn’t manage to turn Social Security into but Mexico has already been experimenting with for a decade – were running around 9% annual last time I checked mine, with more than 3% of that taken out for commissions; in six years of working at a job with benefits, I’d saved up the equivalent of about six months of salary. And who’s administering my Afore? Citibank, eh, Banamex, the National Bank of Mexico.

And therein lies the rub: the American and European banks who dominate Mexico’s banking system charge high commissions on everything and lend out money at usurious rates, not because Mexicans are such a credit risk, but simply because they no one is stopping them from doing so. This makes running a bank here extremely profitable, more so than in the bank owner’s home country – look at Bancomer’s surge in profits in Mexico profits in 2007 ( or Santander’s 208% leap in profits in the first trimester of 2008 ( Why else would Mexico’s banks have so quickly been gobbled up after being cleaned up at taxpayer expense (to the tune of 6,000 pesos per Mexican as of 2004, and growing) by the Fobaproa bank bailout? And the revolving door between government and bank board – witness Fox’s finance minister Gil Diaz’s quick leap to HSBC – ensures that government regulators will never lean very hard on what these banks do. Let’s face it: Citigroup, Santander, Bancomer Bilbao and HSBC are simply not interested in making sure Juan Pérez gets a home mortgage or a micro-credit to start a shoe store; as multi-national conglomerates, they’ve got much bigger fish to fry, like speculating in Asian futures and then crying to their governments of origin when they get burned. Giant, multi-national banks are not interested in making relationships with local (poor) clients or in becoming part of a (poor) community; they are much more like vultures, swooping down to suck in commissions, reap large profits and invest the money elsewhere. Meanwhile, Willy Ortiz at the B of M raises interest rates in the midst of imminent recession in order to fight the inflation caused by the government’s increasing, NAFTA-ized dependence on food imports and the rising prices for its own oil which, instead of using to its own advantage, said government is trying to sell off as fast as possible.

As for me, I’m pulling my money out of my local multi-national bank and opening an account at the Caja Popular Mexicana. The Caja Popular is a cooperative, and by opening an account you become a member of that cooperative, not just a client, with a right to participate in the cooperative’s decision-making. Plus, the Caja Popular offers – gasp! – savings accounts that pay interest, investment opportunities, loans for people who wouldn’t otherwise get them from banks, deposit protection, and – gasp again! – no commissions. To paraphrase Hemingway, what if the big banks were still there, but nobody went to them anymore?