Wednesday, August 22, 2007

romania 1.1.

I’m catching my breath.

Around me? Construction work, traffic, a setting sun, people hurrying, the sound of an emphatic language that allows for smiles on special occasions, warm heavy air.

Romania? Construction work, trains, free-roaming hens and roosters, waiting, creative line-ups (of varying widths with mysterious and ingenious ways of cutting in, complicity and rancour), waiting some more, mountains and forests that I’d once seen in a dream, trains with personality, corn and sunflower fields, broad skies, poverty and abundance looking at each other across the street.

From a socioeconomicpolitical point of view, Romania is trying to forget bad dreams of a grey socialism by drinking capitalism in abundance. Pepsi and coca-cola fight one another one corner store at a time. Youths in the city dream of Europe, sometimes as a fait-accompli.

From a human point of view, Romania is simply beautiful. It’s beautiful in the faces of the people on the street and in the fields: gypsies with sun on their skin and long and dark eyelashes - Slavic strong lines and clear irises. It’s beautiful in its cities with hurried movements. It’s beautiful in its forests of wind and green.

Today, I’m catching my breath.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Innovative poverty-reduction strategies

This 4th of July, the Americans could have one less thing to celebrate: the most powerful country in the world no longer has the richest man alive; Mexico's proud Carlos Slim* seems to have overtaken nerdy Bill Gates, at least according to a report that appeared on the Guardian: "Mexican tycoon overtakes Bill Gates as world's richest man".

This is indeed a triumph for Mexican society.

For those of you suspicious of the fact that something has gone terribly wrong when a poor country like Mexico has got the world's richest man, let me clear it all up.

Carlos Slim is really our pilot poverty-reduction strategy. Its motto is "fighting poverty one person at a time". The latest figures confirm that we've done fairly good with our man Carlos. . . well, perhaps we overdid it a little bit, but we are on the right track (after all, the Slim-man made his fortune by profiting from the privatizations of the 1990s, faithfully following the neoliberal doctrine in vogue).

In any case, one down, 104, 999, 999 people left to go. We're well on our way to eradicating poverty in Mexico . . .**

*do not be fooled by his last name, Mr. Slim suffers from neither anorexia nor bulimia . . . he's rather well-fed, in fact.

**never mind the fact that Mexico's one of the most unequal countries in the world where the poorest 10% account for 1.6% of income, while the richest 10% hog 39.4% - and the richest 20% amass an amazing 55.1% (UNDP, 2006 Human Development Report).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Human Development Reports and soccer matches

This past week, two transcendent events took place in Mexico's public life:

1. The launching of the 2006-2007 National [Mexico's] Human Development Report: migration and development by the United Nations Development Programme; and

2. The Gold Cup final (Mexico vs. the US!).

At first sight, they are totally unrelated: one was the presentation of a serious study on wellbeing as a function of social, economic and political variables in Mexico; the other was an excuse to sit in a cantina, get a corona or a tequila -depending on your budget- and put your brain on hold while giving free rein to the most unsophisticated impulses.

However, both share a leit motiv: migration (Bob Marley would sing "Exodus! Movement of the people").

The game, though physically played in Chicago (as could be asserted by the background of giant steel buildings), took place in a parallel dimension of Mexico. The spectators painted the stadium green (with the odd red and blue dot) and the cries of "¡México, México!" obliterated all other sounds and thoughts most of the game. When the Americans scored a majestic second goal -placing them ahead 2 to 1- silence reigned in the stadium.

The home team -that is, Mexico- lost.

In Chicago -a city that along with NY and LA project the image of urban America at home and all over the world- the Americans were the foreigners.

The eleven million Mexican-born individuals who -with and without legal documents- live in the States (according to the HDR), are just the tip of the iceberg, as any one who's travelled to any American city can observe. The phenomenon of migration is colossal and its momentum unstoppable. One of the conclusions of the HDR is that "policies of border tightening do not have the expected effect on the reduction of migratory flows", and that "in spite of the efforts to stop it, even of a coercive nature, migration will continue as long as inequalities prevail".

A scenario where the "locals" play as the visiting team in their own country could understandably be disturbing for many societies (Germans may think of Turks, the French of Algerians, and so forth). However, before turning to xenophobia and repressive measures (whether it be building walls or conducting selective raids), efforts must be made to bridge the huge gaps in opportunities between the haves and the have-nots.

We, the migrants, must also bear our share of the burden. Mexico, in particular, cannot live with the second richest man in the world while the state of Chiapas has a human development index just below that of Cape Verde's (0.718 vs. 0.722).

Migration has its pros (exercising the human right to free movement has value on its own), but it's not all its cracked up to be. Having millions of supporters over "on the other side" didn't save us from a humiliating loss against the US.


Over and out.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Walls are apartheid.

Yeah, I know. Apartheid is a strong word, but just like swearwords are justified in some contexts (e.g. a hammer falling on your big toe or as a way of primitive male-bonding while watching a soccer match in a stadium with songs, beer, peanuts, the works), strong political words also have a place in my vocabulary.

Although walls have served humanity as protection against the elements, they are mostly a symptom of distrust towards our neighbours and distrust towards ourselves. Walls are a way to keep us apart from others. Walls are a way to keep us from our own fears.

Since I was a child I've seen walls rise. In Mexico City, walls have been built high, mighty and harmful (cut glass, electrified wire, good ol' fashioned barbwire . . .) to preserve the inside from an outside world of crime, ugliness and poverty (three concepts often interpreted as synonyms). Just today, I saw a brand new wall (electrified at the top, as it is fashionable nowadays) built to divide/protect a section of the housing project where I grew up - la Unidad Independencia - . . . a housing project that was built as an avant-gardist socialist project in the sixties (complimented by John F. Kennedy, who was amazed by "how beautifully this project has been put together").

In the Arizona desert another wall has risen: a steel sheet that fractures ecosystems, cultures and peoples.

. . . And more recently, in Palestine another wall has been built, violating international law.

While structural solutions are needed to bring the walls down (politics have to be played, trials have to be won, and [gasp] uprisings have to take place - let's just remember the Berlin wall), in the meantime what we can do is turn walls into murals. . . be it through sponsored artistic projects or [gasp - again] through clandestine graffitis.

>> see more.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The luxury of not being hungry

Some of us have got the luxury of not being hungry (J.S. - más de cien palabras).

I can go and get ice cream whenever I want to. I can quit my job because I'm going through a delayed stage of teenage indecision.

I never worry about where I'm going to sleep.

I don't have to get my hands dirty to get food. I don't have to squat down, bend my back and sink my hands into brown soil to sow or to reap. If I ever decide to get my hands dirty it is out of a romantic urge to feel the land - to be able to say "you the bourgeoisie" and "we the people".

In the end, though, I am privileged. I can seriously contemplate buying a $1,000 usd plane ticket to half-way around the world - a plane ticket that represents significantly more than the yearly income of half the people living on this planet; a plane that will spew unconceivable amounts of CO2 into the air. I've even been privileged to have Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina explain climate change - its causes and effects - in a rather personal (though not exclusive) encounter.

Maybe my vegetarianism and my urban bike-riding are nothing but a fashionable façade. A cheap and chic way to buy myself a conscience. Like a skyscraper that destroyed a park but justifies its existence through a roof garden and "intelligent" energy use.

For all effects and purposes, I'm part of the "leisure class" as described by Thorstein Vebler. In my everyday life I need not get my hands soiled, nor worry about food (Stephen Morison has an interesting treaty on this). I get to sit in front of a computer and attend meetings and say that I'm saving the world.

Trying to justify myself, I can innocently shield myself in a dubious interpretation of John Rawls' Theory of Justice: what I truly wish for, is for everyone on this earth to have the same opportunities as me.

The base-line for humanity should be my lifestyle: we should all have the luxury of not being hungry.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


The rainy season has started here in Mexico. Last Monday it made the air smell sweet (a girl from the prairies once taught me to smell rain in the air through its sweetness). On Wednesday it turned Mexico City into a massive system of rivers and lakes (things in Mexico City have a tendency to be massive). On Thursday, the sky over the city of Morelia roared like a giant waking up from a century-long dream. Saturday, looking out the window on my way back to Mexico City, the landscape that used to be sun-coloured has exploded green. The sun set, and my eyes filled with green and golden shadows.

. . . and rain means birth, and with June rains, this my blog is being born.

Reasons why this blog was conceived (in freedom and love – “yo te quiero libre, libre y con amor”):

1. to comply with capitalism’s demand for efficiency. A blog saves time: you can excuse yourself for not writing proper e-mails to people from past lives and distant lands by directing them to your posts (hand-written letters and postcards were, of course, some of the first innocent victims of the unstoppable drive towards modernization);

2. to be part of a trend. My radicalism has led me to avoid social events carried out at Starsucks (missing out on everything from dates to secret and dreamy conspiracies to take over the country), and my uncertain standing among the petty bourgeoisie makes it economically hard to be fashionably hip. Blogging is a relatively cheap (I’m rich enough to own a computer and have Internet access) and intellectually justifiable way to be part of a trend (fostering the human right to free expression and claiming a piece of the Internet back from the evil rightwingcapitalistneoliberalfascistwrongdoers);

3. to have a one in a trillion chance of being spotted by some publishing agent who’ll pay me to write the rest of my life (we’re all allowed to daydream);

4. to provide surfers with an alternative destination when they’re killing time at work and have already read all their regular newspapers and gossip columns;

5. to make believe that there are people out there who are interested in what I’ve got to say: with e-mails you set yourself up for a disappointment if people don’t write back (no need to speak of hand-written letters or postcards – see reason no. 1), while with a blog you can always add a tag with some sort of sexual nuance and you’re bound to get hits (and then you fool yourself into thinking it’s your friends, past crushes and followers who’re checking out the blog);

6. to have a virtual platform all built and ready to go in case I get lured in by power and decide to run for some political post; and

7. to be like a girl who I might’ve once fallen in love with (she has yet to make up her mind).