Saturday, 15 October 2011

New Concurrences and Observations about the Jorge Castañeda Book, Mañana Forever

This rare, full-scale follow-up is done for the benefit of the OROG.   It  helps round out why a leftist like Jorge is comfortable in the Old West Saloon, surrounded by old curmudgeon cowboys. While the Old Gringo has seen and hobnobbed a little with Mexican poobahs and potentates (but not much), he has never traded barbs, bottles, or bellyaches with this politically omnivorous intellectual.
     Jorge is a challenge.   To his credit, he has never delved into the pool with any guarantee of what the depth might be.  Nor has he ever been suspected, accused, or remotely associated with picking up shekels for giving favourable mentions in his of the common "fringe benefits"  of noteworthy reporters and major authors in Latin America.   He is as contradictory as his country.   He is a leftist, was a communist, gets along with conservatives, seems almost conservative in terms of his personal social orientation, and is said to be courteous...if a bit hurried and grumpy at times.   He, to my reconnaissance, has not practiced the haughtiness that sometimes afflicts Mexicans who have deep and wide international notoriety.

Illustration to go with the review of the book "Manana Forever" by Jorge Castaneda.
Illustration to go with the
review of the book "Manana
Forever".  Edel Rodriquez
for the Los Angeles Times
    In my opinion he is the new Octavio Paz....the legitimate bearer of the torch of Mexicanism Interpreted....and a person who can help both Gringos and Mexicans understand the enigmatic phenomena that is Mexico.

This Los Angeles Times review of the book, a review conducted by Reed Johnson was published in the Times in June of this year, 2011.
The actual review continues below.   The Old Gringo has entered parenthetical comments in blue within the text of the Review.
     Mexicans, like their Spanish forebears, love to quote proverbs as a way of underscoring eternal truths and imparting folk wisdom to younger generations.     Jorge Castañeda cites one of these popular adages not once, but twice, in his timely, perceptive new book, "Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans," to illustrate what he believes are some of the cynical, corrupt and backward-looking attitudes that are preventing his countrymen from living up to their vast potential. The saying is, "El que no transa no avanza" — "Whoever doesn't trick or cheat gets nowhere."
       And that's only the start of the damning evidence that this former foreign minister of Mexico, visiting college professor (Princeton, Berkeley) and senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace assembles in persuasively making his case that Mexico must shed a slew of historically ingrained, counterproductive practices in economics, politics and culture if it someday is to take its place among the world's leading nations.
       "This is not a book about the Mexican national character," Castañeda writes in his preface, disavowing the approach of such famous cryptologists of the Mexican "soul" as Graham Greene, D.H. Lawrence, Octavio Paz and Sergei Eisenstein. "It seeks to explain why the very national character that helped forge Mexico as a nation now dramatically hinders its search for a future and modernity."
        At a glance, greatness would seem to be the logical destiny of a country blessed with the world's 12th-largest economy, an abundance of natural and human resources, a rich ethnic history and close proximity to a gigantic trading partner north of the Rio Grande.  But, Castañeda says, for generations Mexico has squandered these advantages.
        It has done so, he asserts, by cultivating a political culture that shuns direct confrontation and the open, sometimes-bruising, free exchange of ideas and opinions that is democracy's lifeblood. Its ruling class, with a few notable exceptions, hides its true intentions, and its internal conflicts, behind an elaborate, ritualistic charade of outward courtesy and euphemistic rhetoric that mainly serves to preserve the status quo and postpone serious debate on pressing problems.
       Similarly, he writes, the country's business elites — with telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, perched atop the modern Aztec pyramid of crony capitalism — conspire with politicians to keep their iron grip over monopolies or quasi-monopolies in critical industries such as oil, media and telecommunications.
      "Risk aversion," he stresses, is the economic equivalent of the "conflict aversion" that taints Mexican politics, and it's causing Mexico to fall further behind rising powers such as China and India as well as regional rivals like Chile and Brazil.  (Perhaps Jorge does not notice that those countries are not bullet proof, and that much of their supposed advance and prosperity carry a bit of smoke and mirrors coupled with a world press that always sides with communists and socialists.  They purposefully shade their reportage to favour Lula over Calderon, for instance.   They laud the Argentine Presidette because she was once a bomb throwing commie terrorist.  "But now she's working within the system...(of course, still to enslave the people to the whims of an oligarchy of el
itists who want to run peoples' lives.).   This taking sides means Mexico sits in the audience with Chile and Colombia and never rises to the stage when the world press is writing the play.) Whenever foreign companies try to elbow their way in as potential competitors, Mexico's corporate denizens exploit old-time fears of the Other, playing up images of outside powers threatening to contaminate the fatherland and enslave its workers.
     Castañeda concedes that such anxieties, historically, have been understandable in a country that was founded on the conquistadors' brutal conquest of America's indigenous people, and later invaded by the French and the United States Army.   Here Jorge fails to point out that the most brutal of all rulers of Meso America were the hated and despised Aztecs. It is probable that the Aztecs killed 10 times more indigenous peoples of other tribes and nations and did so intentionally. The Spanish  brutalized, or infected simply by sneezing and coughing, and killed by accident many of their victims.   They also had a huge bureaucracy to save the Indians' souls and nurse them and teach them and to enslave them to a strange religion that did not require 3,000 hearts a day to be cut out and offered to the god shown below  pronounced Weet zeel oh PEATCH lee.

This nice fellow seemed to thrive
on his worshippers' massive numbers
of offertory beating hearts. He was in
charge of the Sun and Seasons, and
occupied first place among the gods.
        But today, he insists, these phobias have become a huge liability to ordinary Mexicans' improving their material lot. He cites public opinion polls to demonstrate that, for all the cross-border chatter about U.S. discrimination against Mexican immigrants, Mexicans themselves — despite their characteristic warmth and hospitality toward individual strangers — are collectively far more xenophobic toward immigrants than their U.S. counterparts and have largely opposed granting admittance or basic rights to foreign workers.   (This is very true.  It is also the law in Mexico.  It has loosened in the last few years.   Also loosened up have been setting up a small business and/or property ownership for small business and/or homes.  Tourists, both short and long term are treated and seen as something like troublesome, interesting, visiting Angels and are almost foot-washed by almost all Mexicans of any organized catechism and class.   They love "helping" with tires, car repairs, finding directions, translating, etc.)     The book's tough-love tone is supported by Castañeda's precise, systematic mustering of hard facts from scholarly studies, public opinion surveys and the like. His authorial manner suggests a lawyer arguing before an international tribunal, and the book sometimes reads more like an indictment than a native son's amicus brief.
       But if the tenor of "Mañana Forever?" occasionally veers toward the Inquisitorial, Castañeda, a frequent contributor to the L.A. Times' op-ed pages, also takes pains to brighten his dark narrative with considerable wit and humor, as in the title of his first chapter, "Why Mexicans Are Lousy at Soccer and Don't Like Skyscrapers." The answer, according to Castañeda, is that Mexican society emphasizes individual achievement and the familial unit over a broader-based collectivism and cooperation.
     The Gringo Viejo finds the review of the book by Jorge Castaneda by this reviewer, although an LA Times associate or employee, is fair and accurate.   The OROG will notice that it parallels the other review and serves to help those who might be disposed to buy the book since it is not simply a tank of pinko bilge, but rather a studious but personal assessment of the mental, intellectual, and emotional state of America's southern neighbour.

Thanks for your continued interest in this and the other musings of the Gringo Viejo!
El Gringo Viejo.