Thursday, November 30, 2006

Politics...Mexican Style.

Compared to Mexico, Canadian politics is downright sane and rational. This may sound like the wild-ramblings of someone who hasn't been paying attention to the current debate over "who's Québécois?", "who's most suited to lead the Liberal intellectual who lived most of his life abroad in ivory towers...a reformed New Democrat who is backed by the Liberal backroom boys...or perhaps a quiet francophone intellectual who named his dog Kyoto?" or "what costume will make Prime Minister Harper look uncomfortable and ill at ease?".

In contrast, consider what has taken place in Mexico over the past two weeks.

The loser of the popular vote in July, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO to friends and supporters), declared himself the president by Popular choice and appointed a cabinet on a national holiday celebrating the Mexican Revolution. He did this in Mexico City's main square (the Zocalo)— cheered on by tens of thousands of supporters — and while a parade of historically-outfitted revolutionary participants commemorating the civil war that killed millions of Mexicans converged on the capital from three directions. I didn't see any recent reports that there was a re-enactment of a famous meeting with Pancho Villa at the Bar Opera...but certainly there were gatherings in many bars saluting self-proclaimed Presidente AMLO with toasts.

Meanwhile, the location for elected legislators (San Lazaro) was encircled by newly placed security fences, and patrolled by both police and army in anticipation of potential trouble on Dec. 1st. This is the day that the actual winner of the election was to take an oath of office.

At the stroke of midnight on Thursday the 30th of November,Felipe Calderon Hinojosa became the new President and Mr. Vicente Fox Quesada became ex-Presidente Fox whose only concern was a retreat to his ranch in Guanajuato accompanied by his leading lady Doña Martita. It's uncertain whether Martha's sons will join their step-parents, or continue in their business pursuits that have made them incredibly rich during the presidency of their new father Vicente.

Aside from the fact that there is a new President, other facts were unclear as of November 30. By tradition, the former president presents a sash of office to the new president in the legislative assembly (San Lazaro). The incoming president then offers an oath of office before elected deputies in San Lazaro's Chamber of Deputies. Technically, none of this is constitutionally required, but the ritual is a long standing tradition emerging out of the Mexican Revolution.

Unfortunately, it seems that the new President was not really be welcome to enter the Chamber of Deputies...or at least wasn't invited with open arms by all of the elected members. And so, there was a rugby style scrum earlier in the week to "seize" the podium and carry out a strange version of a filibuster...except there no words and only pushing and shoving and a few punches...almost like the line-up here in Toronto last week among the people waiting to purchase X-boxes. The Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) managed to win this scrum and establish control over the podium, and their beefy presence physically kept the Partido Revolucionario Democratica (PRD) at bay.

As the deadline for transfer of power approached, PAN deputies continue to occupy the podium after a two-day sit–in and PRD members remained sitting like vultures in the chamber waiting to pounce on any weakness or open spot. PAN deputies were holding firm and save the podium for its leader, the new President and hoped that he would enter the chamber and swear his oath of office in the traditional spot...PRD remained on guard hoping that at least a few deputies would blink and let them take over the podium and thus prevent a new neo-liberal president from standing there to promise dedication to the constitution of 1917 and its revolutionary principles.

Pillows and Blankets were delivered to the PANistas occupying every inch of the podium, but apparently many preferred to remain awake all night singing traditional Mexican songs...probably the entire repertoire of José Alfredo Jimenez,Juan Gabriel and probably the sad and tragic songs of Miguel Aceves Maciel who died a couple of weeks ago. Apparently they serenaded the sunrise each day with a rousing version of las mañanitas — appropriate action for cock-of-the-walk roosters.

Foto is from Jornada, Nov. 30. credit to José Carlo González
More Fotos from El Universal are found here

No matter how this standoff ends, there will be a new president on December 1, even if no-one knows where he finally gave his allegiance to the country and democracy, or where he collected the sash of office from ex-Presidente Fox. He really wanted to go to San Lazaro and stand on the podium, but wiser counsel was arranging alternative locations and a plan B. It's also unclear whether Vicente Fox even thought about appearing in person beside Mr. Calderon, because a significant number of people in all parties are mad at Mr. Fox and his wife and believe that he spent the past few years of his sexenio in a world of his own imagination that they pejoratively call Foxilandia. It's sort of like Michael Jackson's Neverland!

And while this pillow fight continued, an incredibly violent teacher strike raged on in the beautiful city of Oaxaca. Teachers have been protesting for more than 6 months about a corrupt governor who refuses to resign. There have been many violent clashes and deaths, including that of an American photographer. Participants in the protest movement (APPO) are being arrested and dragged away from the protest lines and shipped to penal institutions in distant States. President Fox did not take the protest seriously when it began, and when he eventually acted he managed to create even more violence. Now, it's become the problem of the new President and a newly appointed "crack-down on dissent" minister of the interior.

The winner of the election, Felipe Calderon was busy appointing his new cabinet and presenting them to the press over the past few weeks. All are party loyalists, and stand for nothing new or visionary. His most controversial appointment was Francisco Ramírez Acuña who brings with him a hard-line, law-and-order, crack-em-on-the-head approach to protest and dissent. Even members of his own party warned him that this was an inflammatory choice and a dangerous move. Ironically, the appointment was announced on the same day that a warrant was re-issued for Luis Echeverria, another wealthy ex-presidente, and head of Gobernación under Presidente Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. Luis Echeverria was fingered in a lengthy and well documented report of being the trigger-man, or more correctly the intellectual author, of the so-called Dirty War of the 1960's and 1970's. Just last month, a massive report about the abuses and killings of the dirty war were published. I gather that Felipe Calderón has not had time to read this report because he's been too busy trying to find out where and how he can get the Presidential sash.

Meanwhile, on the northern border with the USA, there's real talk of building an actual impermeable wall to seal out Mexican immigrants. Ironically, the most concrete plans speculated that it would be possible to use Mexican immigrant labour to build this wall more cheaply. After all, there are an estimated 8 million of them working for slave labour in the United States. American nativists calling themselves the Minutemen, are patrolling areas where there is no wall with the hope that they can catch the illegal immigrants and turn them over to Border Patrol. Seriously, they have distributed T-shirts to some of their captives that say the equivalent of "I came to the USA and all I got was this lousy T-shirt telling me to leave".

A little further south, in the State of Sinaloa, an entire village of 21 homes was burned to the ground by narco-raiders, and a car carrying children was the target used for an "ajusticimiento de cuentas" (adjustment of accounts) by narco-competitors. The massacre of 3 children was a first in the extremely bloody drug-wars that have brutalized Mexico in the absence of strong government. But, what really upset the good citizens who voted for the President and the deputies who are in the pillow fight was a recent assasination of a Mexican narcocorrido singer Valentín Elizalde in Ciudad Reynoso this weak. His funeral attracted tens of thousands of adoring fans and overloaded with tributes. He has become the latest Mexican iconic hero overnight, and those fighting for the podium in San Lazaro have been reduced to insignificant status in the minds of the public.

Oh well, it's time to watch the Liberal Convention and feel rational.

P.S. The movie Babel by Mexican Director Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu is highly recommended. The confusion described beautifully in this film makes much more sense than the actual events in Mexico.

Frida Kahlo's Clothes

The Miami Herald/El Universal English Language paper in Mexico City printed a very interesting story about Frida Kahlo's clothing. The link to El Universal is posted here and should be credited if this story is forwarded or cited. But the story is reprinted below.

Clothing cache sheds light on artist’s life
Wire services
El Universal

Jueves 30 de noviembre de 2006

The trunk, discovered in the back of an old wardrobe that had been forgotten in an unused bathroom, was like stepping into the past

The trunk, discovered in the back of an old wardrobe that had been forgotten in an unused bathroom, was like stepping into the past.

Curators opened the lid to find hundreds of Frida Kahlo´s colorful skirts and blouses, many still infused with the late artist´s perfume and cigarette smoke.

It has taken two years to log and restore the nearly 300 articles of clothing. Next summer, the embroidered and sometimes paint- smeared pieces will be put on display at Kahlo´s family home- turned-museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the painter´s birth.

The exhibit will offer the public a new glimpse into Kahlo´s flamboyant and tortured life.

The wife of muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo is known as much for her outspoken and sometimes outrageous style as for her intensely personal paintings. She survived a horrible trolley car crash and polio as a child, was openly bisexual and had an affair with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Her tumultuous life has inspired several plays and films, including the 2002 movie "Frida," starring Salma Hayek.

Kahlo was known in part for her fashion leadership, and was featured on the cover of Vogue´s French edition.

While most women at that time were turning toward simple, elegant dresses, Kahlo was wearing long, full skirts that borrowed heavily from Mexico´s traditional indigenous dress. She often had her hair in braids, and refused to remove a mustache or trim her unibrow, both of which she exaggerated in her signature self-portraits.

The trunk of clothes was found in 2004 during a renovation of her family´s home, where she died in 1954 after a life of nearly constant pain and dozens of surgeries for broken bones she suffered in the trolley accident. Inside were dresses, tablecloths and a letter from Rivera.

The clothes were a window into Kahlo´s life. The curators of her museum were struck not only by the actual garments, but by the fact that they still smelled of Kahlo.

"There is still a trace of that very particular odor," said Magdalena Rosen Zweig, who helped restore the clothing. "It´s ... the smell of a person, cigarettes, perfume. It´s a very particular smell, something that makes the clothing come alive. It´s something that helps you understand a person."

Some of the skirts were stained by Kahlo´s oil paint, and one had a small, scorched hole from a cigarette.

"We respected that during the restoration process ... because it is part of history," Rosen Zweig said in an interview.

The clothing was fumigated, studied, logged and photographed for an exhibit catalog.

Besides providing a comprehensive look at Kahlo´s style, the clothes also reveal how tiny she was. Rivera, more than 6 feet tall and about 300 pounds, towered over the 5-foot-3 Kahlo, who weighed less than 100 pounds. The disparity prompted Kahlo´s mother to nickname the couple "the elephant and the dove."

"She has such a small waist," Rosen Zweig said. "You can´t find mannequins her size. She had a tiny waist and a very small back. Everything about her was tiny."

Her body, crippled by disease and the accident, was the main topic of many of her paintings - stark self-portraits that depicted her unending pain and inability to have children.

She noted that the clothes showed how Kahlo´s style evolved. As a young woman, she wore high-neck blouses and black gloves that may have belonged to her mother. Later, she mixed loose-fitting dresses with ornate necklaces, earrings, flowers and hair ribbons.

Rosen Zweig hopes the new exhibit will spark interest in native Mexican textiles and clothing. She said it was hard to calculate the value of the clothes.

"You can´t put a price on the rescue of this collection," she said.

© 2006 Copyright El Universal-El Universal Online

Friday, November 10, 2006

President Fox's Very Bad Week

The following post is from El Universal (English Language Daily published by Miami Herald)
Fox can´t hide from troubles as term ending
Wire services
El Universal

Viernes 10 de noviembre de 2006

The very bad week of lame duck President Vicente Fox began shortly after midnight Monday with a series of guerrilla bombings, and it´s been downhill from there.

On Tuesday, Fox was ordered by lawmakers not to leave Mexico on an overseas trip, and he has since been captured on TV making indiscreet statements and been sued by his own lawyers.

Nobody was hurt in Monday´s bombings of a bank building, the country´s highest electoral tribunal and a national party headquarters.

But the incidents caught the attention of international investors who until then had figured the country´s increasingly restless opposition movement was largely benign.

The drug war raging along the border and erupting on the Pacific Coast already has money people nervous about doing business here. Now add bomb-throwing radicals to the list.


Mexico´s lower house voted Tuesday to keep Fox from leaving next week for a trade mission to Vietnam and Australia.

They said that Fox, whose six- year term ends this month, ought to be home restoring order in Oaxaca´s capital city, where thousands of federal police and protesters have been battling for weeks.

Vietnam, maybe, said lawmakers, where the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation will hold a two-day summit. But the lawmakers weren´t buying a four-day stopover in Australia, Mexico´s 32nd largest trading partner and home to one of Fox´s daughters.

"It´s great that the daughter of President Fox went to study in another country," said federal lawmaker Erick López Barriga. "But maybe it would be better for him to make a working visit to Oaxaca; better to go to the border; better that he stay and try to resolve the security problems in our own country."

It was an old story for Fox, who lost his reform battles on taxes, energy and labor in Congress, and he reacted angrily to the humiliation.

"We can´t allow, in this time of democracy, the president to be kidnapped because of a few people," he said that night.


The next morning, Fox´s former attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging that he neglected to pay them US$3 million in legal bills he ran up to defend against charges of laundering money from U.S. donors in his 2000 presidential campaign.

A fear of U.S. interests buying a Mexican election makes it illegal to receive foreign donations or campaign abroad.

The case had been seen as a slam-dunk against Fox but attorney Arturo Quintero won it, with the only penalty being a fine paid instead by Fox´s National Action Party.

"I worked a long time and got very good results," Quintero said in a radio interview.

The president agreed personally to square the legal bill more than year ago, said Quintero, who added that he still hasn´t seen a dime. "It´s a private matter between them," said Fox spokesman Rubén Aguilar.


Fox again made headlines Thursday, when newspapers reported, and broadcasted, him telling a TV interviewer at Los Pinos, the presidential residence: "I can say whatever stupid thing I want. Really. I´m getting ready to leave."

Tall and strapping, even at 64, Fox is popular and engaging in a crowd. But his image has weakened.

The list of complaints against him is long, beginning with poor job growth, his failure to settle with angry Oaxacan protesters and his inability to stem the corruption, kidnappings, beheadings, dismemberment, body burnings and other grim fall-out of the country´s drug wars.

He also suffered the ignominy of the sabotage of his last State of the Nation by sympathizers of losing presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador,

As if things couldn´t get any worse, there´s a cumbia-style pop song, "Fox, Hand it Over and Leave," sharing the airwaves these days with his publicly funded touts.

The last verse of the Guillermo Zapata song, very roughly translated: "You´re going back to your ranch to milk a (cow) vaca, because you couldn´t fix Oaxaca."

Carlos Martínez and Cecilia Sánchez of the Times´ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

© 2006 Copyright El Universal-El Universal Online

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Giant Tamales: Zacahuiles

In parts of Hidalgo, giant tamales are made for fiestas. Here are two links to information about los tamales grandes de Hidalgo y la huasteca.

Mexico Desconocido: Zacahuil (English)

La Jornada: Lo Mas Grande de todos los Zacahuiles (Espanol)

The picture above is from the travel magazine Mexico Desconocido.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CIASP Diary: CIASP Diary: Revised reunion pictures

CIASP Diary: CIASP Diary: Revised reunion pictures

Modern Twist to Ancient Traditions

Celebrations of Day of the Dead are thriving in Mexico, and the great diaspora of Mexicans living across la linea (approximately 7-8 million) has increased in popularity throughout the American southwest. Las Calacas (skeletons, bones) now have an iconic status on the American side of the border!

Day of the Dead is rooted in ancient customs — both Aztec and Catholic — but, it's not immune to the impact of modernization and globalization. I've attached an internet link and a news report from the November 2 issue of La Jornada online: it describes research intended to genetically modify the golden flower placed on traditional ofrendas (home altars) and brought to the panteones (graveyards) for the Day of the Dead ceremonies on Nov. 1 and 2. The Mexican scientists hope to improve on natural brilliance.

Perhaps these Mexican scientists are motivated by the historical usurpation of another Mexican flower and they are doing this with the best intention. It is possible that they're simply establishling a Mexican proprietary claim to cempasúchil and to protect cultural claims to the Day of the Dead traditions. After all, the Christmas plant that we all place in our homes in December — the Poinsettia — was also a native Aztec plant that was also used in colonial Mexico for the cultural tradions of Christmas and las posadas. In Mexico, the Poinsettia is still called by its original name — La Flor de Noche Buena (the flower of holy night). It was an American, Joel Roberts Poinset, who introduced it into the US after he discovered it and issued a patent on it (see the history of Poinsettia) . The usurpation of custom was so thorough that the native Flor de Noche Buena was even banned from import into the US and supported by American patent law.

The matter of genetic modification is a thorny and significant — issue in Mexico. Natural variants of corn used for tortillas are gradually being replaced by genetically modified versions where the seeds are controlled by transnational groups— much to the dismay of Mexicans. They're not simply worried about the unknown long-term impacts on nutrition and flavour— they're genuinely concerned about long-term economic impact on agricultural production in Mexico. ¿Fijase?(would you believe)— the largest tortilla maker in Mexico has just opened a massive tortilla production plant in Shanghai China!

The following article is in Spanish...the original link is in La Jornada from Nov. 2, 2006

Modifican genéticamente la flor de cempasúchil; mejora pigmentos

Solecito Se usa como suplemento alimenticio de aves de corral y colorante de las yemas de huevo



Buena fuente de carotenoides, la flor de muertos tapiza con su amarillo intenso tumbas y ofrendas. La imagen, en el Panteón de Dolores este primero de noviembre Foto María Meléndrez Parada

La flor de cempasúchil, típica de esta época y que durante las tradicionales fiestas de Día de Muertos adorna con su clásico color amarillo intenso las ofrendas, los altares y panteones de todo México, ha sido modificada genéticamente por un grupo de científicos mexicanos para obtener mejores pigmentos de uso agropecuario e industrial.

La flor genéticamente mejorada por Octavio Paredes López, ex presidente de la Academia Mexicana de Ciencias y miembro del Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional (Cinvestav-IPN) Unidad Irapuato, junto con sus colaboradores, produce pigmentos más intensos obtenidos de compuestos llamados xantofilas, en especial uno de ellos, la luteína, contenida en la "flor de muertos".

Los científicos identificaron varios genes como los denominados Psy, Pds, Lcy-b y Lcy-e, que están presentes en las sustancias que conforman el pigmento principal que le da el típico color amarillo a las flores llamadas científicamente Erecta tapetes, y que es una buena fuente de carotenoides, producto nutracéutico (nutritivo y con propiedades medicinales) de gran interés mundial.

"Nativa de México, se ha utilizado desde hace siglos como planta ornamental y medicinal", señala Paredes López, quien recientemente entró a formar parte de la Junta de Gobierno de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). "Se cultiva comercialmente y los extractos de la flor se usan como suplementos alimenticios de aves de corral y como colorante de las yemas de huevo."

Los pigmentos de carotenoides son precursores de la vitamina A en el ser humano y en animales, y se les ha asociado con aspectos medicinales en la prevención de enfermedades como el cáncer y males cardiovasculares.

De acuerdo con estudios de la compañía BBCResearch, el mercado mundial de carotenoides llegará a cerca de mil millones de dólares al finalizar 2006, y se estima un crecimiento anual de 3 por ciento. En el caso específico de la luteína obtenida del cempasúchil por Paredes López, se estima que en este año el mercado superará los 150 millones de dólares.

Benéfico para los humanos

Además de la pigmentación de huevos y alimentación animal, se usa como colorante de la carne de pollo, y desde 2000 se ha empleado en suplementos alimenticios humanos, por sus efectos benéficos en la reducción de radicales libres y contra la enfermedad macular degenerativa (que daña la retina) relacionada con el envejecimiento.

Cempasúchil quiere decir "flor de veinte pétalos" en náhuatl, pero con el avance de Paredes López, publicado en varios artículos de revistas como Journal of Plant Physiology y Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, se obtuvo una planta con una mayor densidad de pétalos y una elevada concentración de pigmentos.

Paredes López, ganador del Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes en 1991, ha mejorado los métodos de extracción de las xantofilas obtenidas de las paredes de las células de los pétalos de cempasúchil, los procedimientos de propagación in vitro de las plantas, y la producción de harinas con alto contenido de xantofilas.

Disminuye la producción nacional

Aunque la flor de cempasúchil es nativa de nuestro país, donde hay 32 de las 55 especies conocidas, su producción nacional ha disminuido y el mercado internacional de carotenoides está siendo cubierto por países como China, Perú y la India, que buscan modificar genéticamente estas plantas para obtener mejores pigmentos.

De hecho, gran parte de la producción de cempasúchil en nuestro país está orientada al uso ornamental de las festividades de Día de Muertos, y se ha desestimado la investigación biotecnológica que le permitiría a México competir en el mercado de los pigmentos de origen vegetal, como la flor transgénica desarrollada por Paredes López.

"El gobierno y el sector agrícola no invierten en la investigación biotecnológica que permitiría incrementar los cultivos de cempasúchil mejorado ni de otras plantas tradicionales como la nochebuena y el amaranto", dijo Paredes López, uno de los biotecnólogos más importantes del país.

© Derechos Reservados 1996-2005 DEMOS, Desarrollo de Medios, S.A. de C.V.
Todos los Derechos Reservados.
Derechos de Autor 04-2005-011817321500-203.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flower of the Dead

Today is the day of the dead and Mexicans visit the grave site of their deceased loved ones and family. Extra police and traffic-control are assigned to patrol camposantos and grave-yards of all Mexican cities and towns. The streets and roads leading to the cemeteries are congested and it's often necessary to put up barricades to control the traffic.

"El dia de muertos" is celebrated according to timeless rituals and traditions rooted in Aztec cultural practice. One central tradition is a dominant display of the golden-yellow marigold-like flower named the cempasúchil or cempoalxóchitl. It's used to decorate specially constructed "ofrendas al difuntos (altars memorializing the deceased)" erected in homes for the occasion, and cempoalxóchitl petals are spread around tombs and along the paths winding through the cemeteries. Xóchitl means "flower" in the Nahuatl language and "cempoalli" means 20.

The number 20 is important and sacred in Aztec mythology. Aztec society relied on two calendars to mark the passage of days. A "secular" calendar (xiuhpohualli) used 18 months of 20 "lucky days" and an extra "5 unlucky days". A sacred calendar (tonalpohualli) – the book of days — has a more important divinatory role. There are 20 days and each is associated with a day sign and with a specific god: the twentieth day has the flower for a day sign (Xóchitl) and is associated with the god Xochiquetzal.

A short description of the cempoalxóchitl and its importance to Day of the Dead can read at the following link.

An excellent web-site that explains the Aztec Calendar is found at