Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro RIP

Whatever one thinks of Fidel (demon or superhero, not much in between) his impact on Cuba, Latin America, and the United States places him on the highest rung of globally influential leaders in the latter half of the twentieth century.  On the Left, only Mao can rival the profundity of social and political transformations he brought about within his own society.  In Latin America various leaders, inspired by his example and assisted by Fidel himself, tried, but fell pathetically short of his achievements:  the Sandinista's, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales.  In Africa no leader rivals Fidel's stature.  In the rest of the developing world no name is as starkly embedded in our minds as that of the simple name Fidel.

Pope John XXIII qualifies as a rival to Fidel in ambition as a global force, but his leadership ignited a reactionary movement within Christianity, largely successful, to suppress his followers, especially in Latin America, where he had his strongest influence.  So his legacy was not as lasting as Fidel's.  Similarly, Lyndon Johnson, who tried to expand the New Deal and passed the Civil Rights Act in the United States, was crippled by failure in Viet Nam, enabling a strong counter-movement on the Right that lasted for many decades.  Lech Walesa in Poland, who led the labor union-driven Solidarity movement toward democracy and greater autonomy from the Soviet jackboot in the late 1970s, must be counted high in the rankings, but once elected president of Poland, his popularity waned and he failed to be re-elected in 1995.  Except for Mao, one is hard-pressed to think of a leader with as powerful and long-lasting influence.

Inside Cuba:  in 1960 Cuba ranked 43rd among nations in life expectancy, at 64.2 years.  The US ranked 16th that year at 69.8.  In 1980, after two decades of Fidel's rule, Cuba ranked above the U.S., at 15th (73.8 years), three places above the US (73.7years).  And in 2015 Cuba ranked 32 in the world in life expectancy, just behind the U.S., which ranked 31.  How did Cuba do this, without the world class medical infrastructure available to more developed countries?  By taking the best and brightest, putting them into medical schools, and emphasizing bread-and-butter no-cost preventive health care for everyone.  In 2016 infant mortality in Cuba placed it eleven places better than the US in global rankings (44 compared to 55).  In literacy, Cuba ranks 15th in the world, the US ranks 50th.  New Mexico, if a country, would rank 94th, lower than the global average among countries (yes, New Mexico ranks below the world average in literacy rate for adults!).  How did Cuba achieve high literacy?  In 1961 Fidel initiated a literacy campaign that reduced illiteracy dramatically, in an extremely short period of time, down from 25-40% to just 4% by sending a cadre of some 300,000 throughout the country to teach people to read.  Cuba has ranked among the most literate countries in the world ever since.  And while some might not like to live in a country in which there are only minimal salary differences between people, (top salaries are less than double the lowest), despite the economic embargo that has thwarted Cuban economic development, Cuba manages to rank 67th in the UN Human Development Index, well above Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and all Latin American countries except for Uruguay and Panama.  (The US ranks 5th on this index).

Outside Cuba:  Fidel's example inspired thousands of young persons to seek change through revolution.  In nearly every country in Latin America guerrilla movements modeled after Fidel's sprung up during the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s.  Books analyzing the Fidelista movement sold millions of copies worldwide.  Fidel's willingness to fall within the orbit of Soviet influence broke tacit rules of the game among dependent countries, causing the U.S. to adopt strategies specifically aimed at preventing  "another Cuba," including beefed up counterinsurgency strategies, heightened intelligence activity, and patterns of foreign assistance to small countries.  Fidel's successful defiance of the U.S., in the face of punitive economic policies, served as a constant source of encouragement and inspiration for nationalists in dozens of countries who were worried about the impact of U.S. global hegemony on their home countries as the U.S. expanded its global reach.
On the down side, the Cuban state under Fidel was not tolerant of dissent, and few people would like to have lived under his authoritarian rule.  Fidel did not hesitate to punish and, when expedient, to kill. This is as much a  part of his legacy as his most positive achievements.  And in a moment in which people in many developed countries seem to be turning toward authoritarian, intolerant, solutions, and when many leaders help themselves in the name of state security, with little dissent, to more and more arbitrary and unchecked executive power, it might be wise to take a sober look at the underbelly of Fidel's security apparatus, which has been well documented, and take heed.

Perhaps the most attractive and inspiring thing about Fidel is that he became a symbol, for millions of persons around the world, of what a single person can accomplish.  You don't have to wait for more favorable political conditions to arise or for huge financial support to come your way to compete for power.  Dramatic improvements in literacy can be made in a year or two; health care for an entire society can be elevated to world-class levels on a minimal budget.  You can, if you have the guts to do so and are willing to pay the price, maintain a nation's dignity, today, in the face of hostility from the most powerful country in the world. And here in New Mexico, where daily we are reminded of worsening levels of educational attainment, increasing rates of poverty, and growing public corruption, we should not be so proud as to think that nothing Cuba accomplished under Fidel is worthy of our attention.  No soy fidelista, pero adios, Fidel:  you kicked up a world class storm!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Santa Fe Dems Meet:  
Bernie-Hillary Supporters Not Yet Quite Chilled Out

Between 115-120 people, mainly Anglos and mainly middle-aged or older, showed up at what amounted to a post-election venting session at Democratic Party headquarters in Santa Fe last night (Wednesday).  One man, who expressed deep resentment over the insider mischief by Debbie Wasserman against the Bernie campaign, left the podium after someone shouted repeatedly he didn't want to "hear about that."  Several people then repeated their similar dismay about the wiki-leaks scandal, while several others spoke of their passionate support for Hillary.

But mostly people offered suggestions about what to do next or else ask for guidance on whether to focus on the local scene or the national scene.  Paul Gibson, who ran the Bernie campaign, announced a town hall meeting to be held on Sunday afternoon, November 20, for a new organization called "take back the roundhouse."  He said one effort will be to have people in place for every committee meeting at the legislature, to hold legislators accountable for their actions.

One man suggested creating a foundation like the Libertarian Rio Grande Foundation, to focus attention on statewide issues.  A woman wanted to see an effort to pass the industrial use for hemp products, vetoed by the Governor.  Several educators brought up education issues.  One man thought Democrats needed a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh.  Several expressed a need to listen to the young people who voted for Trump.

In Las Cruces after the Kerry campaign in 2004, which attracted many Anglo Democrats in the county, a group of Kerry supporters formed what they called the Progressive Voters Alliance, which began fielding candidates for local offices, with impressive victories in city elections.  Nathan Small was elected to the city council through this group, and last week he beat Andy Nunez (who has run as a Democrat, Independent, and Republican) for state rep.  But the group has been less than fully imaginative or ambitious about their project, focusing mainly on getting liberals into local elected positions, and spending time on local environmental issues of importance to some of the leadership.  Retake the Roundhouse ( has far stronger leadership, ambition, and ganas, than  the PVC.  At the moment that's where the most dynamic energy lies among Democratic voters in New Mexico.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cd Juarez After Trump

Zotoluco working with the bull yesterday evening

Buying pesos at an exchange cubicle on Juarez Avenue yesterday afternoon on my way to the bullfights I saw a note taped on the window:  "15 peso surcharge to pay for the wall."  It was just the kind of sardonic humor you would expect in Juarez, whose inhabitants have observed our electoral process with a mixture of amazement, disbelief, and, sometimes, deep dismay.  There have been calls to impeach President Pena Nieto for the toadying up to Trump during and after the campaign.  Some say his fawning over Trump will lead to the election of Lopez Obrador, a Bernie-like leftist, two years from now.

Eulalio Lopez, alias El Zotoluco, was making a farewell appearance in Juarez after a long and distinguished career as a matador.  He was fighting with two other outstanding matadors, Diego Silveti and the Spaniard Miguel Angel Perera, who fight regularly in the best rings in Spain and who maintain solid rankings.  Together they cut 8 ears (only 4 of them well deserved) in a memorable evening with the arena about 60% full.  It was the best afternoon of bullfights I've seen in Juarez since 16-year old novice El Juli astonished the crowd in 1998.  Good bulls, only one with serious weaknesses, and an obvious effort by the matadors to bid Zotoluco a fond farewell

The fans were grateful for the afternoon and honored the performance by carrying the matados on their shoulders after the event was over.  I didn't see any American tourists at the bullring, something unusual, but the lines at the Santa Fe bridge heading north were full (about an hour's wait time), so I was grateful I have my express lane card, and there was absolutely no traffic except for me on that lane.

Zotoluco cut an ear for his first bull

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez in Las Cruces
Sen. Finance Chair Smith says state finances under the Martinez Administration have been handled "more irresponsibly" than any Governorship since he was first elected in 1988

Sen. John Smith, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Sen. Michael Sanchez in Mesilla on Nov. 2

NM Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez appeared at a fundraiser luncheon in his honor this afternoon (Wed. Nov 2) at Salud! de Mesilla.  He gave an energetic and rousing defense of the relatively civil boundary lines that, he said, once characterized New Mexico politics prior to the take-no-prisoners hardball that began with the McClesky-Martinez partnership in the governor's office in 2011.  Sanchez has once again been targeted for defeat by McClesky, as he was four years ago, in what has been characterized as a $2 million smear campaign to beat him.  Sanchez survived the attack four years ago, but Sen. Tim Jennings, President Pro Tem of the Senate, did not.

At the event, Sen. John A. Smith expressed concern to me in private (but on the record) that the recent downgrading of the NM bond rating my Moody's may get worse before it gets better.  The question for the immediate financial future of the state, he said, is "how do we build up our reserves to a healthy level again" in the middle of an economic downturn?  In addition to labeling Governor Martinez's financial management of the state as the "most irresponsible" of any governor" he has known, Smith added that her record in job-creation is equally dismal.  "We (Democrats) should have been more forceful in labeling the mess that happened in mental health a few years ago for what it was--an exercise in needless job destruction," he said.

Seeing the three most powerful senators in the state--Papen, Sanchez, and Smith--mingling with guests at the event and with each other reminded me that Southern New Mexico at the moment is blessed with an abundance of political clout.  This raises the question:

Is Belen, home of Sen. Sanchez, in Southern NM or in the North?  Where does the North begin?  Nature, at least, tends to create its own boundary lines, shifting in response to environmental change..  Just as predicted by global warming science, the flora characteristic of the Chihuahua desert, has been moving northward for at least the last two decades and is expected eventually to engulf a good deal of Colorado.   Right now, at least along the freeway, the vegetation boundary area appears to be in a zone somewhere between Socorro and Los Lunas.