how the world sees america

February 2008 Archives



February 1, 2008 12:00 AM

Guest Voice: Why Calderon Didn't Meet Bush

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Guest Post By Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez

Last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón made his first visit to the United States, and broke a long-standing diplomatic tradition between the two countries that usually includes a presidential dinner and a speech to Congress for the visiting head of state. This time, Calderon didn’t even see President Bush. Why? In part, because of Bush’s political toxicity and the intensity of the ongoing U.S. presidential campaign. And in part for another less obvious reason: despite what people think, the Mexican right harbors a deep, historical mistrust for their northern neighbor.

The commonplace says that Mexican conservatives are enthusiastic supporters of the United States. While the Left rallies against McDonalds, the Right is often caricatured as the typical panista (the member National Action Party, Calderón’s party), a fat guy with a black hat and a Big Mac in his hand.

Yet the Mexican conservative soul has been traditionally distant, if not openly hostile, to the U.S.

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February 1, 2008 1:33 PM

General Fortifies Venezuela Against the U.S.

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CARACAS - In 2002, President Hugo Chavez left it to his comrade and friend, General Raul Baduel, to defend Venezuela against external threats – especially threats from the United States.

General Baduel did just that: he achieved legendary status within Chavez's administration in April of that year for thwarting an attempted coup, which both men claim the U.S. government had a hand in (though the U.S. denies this). Baduel says while the coup unfolded, American boats entered Venezuela's waters and U.S. helicopters ran routes in its airspace. He could monitor them "with the same radars the U.S. used to monitor drug trafficking." Baduel’s actions saved Chavez’s regime and kept him in power.

Five years later, Baduel turned against Chavez and his administration. He retired last year from his post as Defense Minister and shocked Venezuela by publicly denouncing Chavez's constitutional referendum, dubbing it another "coup" to consolidate his power and undermine democracy. But even out of military uniform and away from official rhetoric, Baduel still harbors suspicions about the role of the U.S. government in his country.

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February 4, 2008 3:39 PM

Student Leader Says Back Off, Bush

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CARACAS -- Meet Freddy Guevara. He’s twenty-one years old, studies Social Communications at the Catholic University of Venezuela, talks fast, and wears Quicksilver gear. He’s also one of the handful of young leaders to rally 40,000 students across the country to protest the Venezuelan government’s 2007 constitutional referendum.

Entering politics hasn’t been easy for Freddy. He’s been shot by water cannons and tear-gassed ad nauseum. Last week his mother received yet another anonymous phone call telling her that her son will die in a mysterious car crash. And on Venezolana de Televisión, the host of “La Hojilla” (“The Blade”), which President Hugo Chavez calls his favorite TV show, accused Freddy of conspiring with America’s Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the president.

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February 6, 2008 11:46 AM

The Hyphenated American

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CARACAS - In the parlance of hyphenated identities, Nelson Agelvis would be an 'American-Venezuelan'. He was born in Venezuela, grew up in Kansas City, speaks with an American Midwest twang, and now teaches media studies in Caracas. But he says such labels, and hyphenated identities in general, are "uniquely American."

We listen together to Super Tuesday coverage on the radio of his Ford Explorer. As American pundits ponder the possibility of the "first female president", or "the first African-American president," Nelson wonders aloud if such distinctions cause the U.S. more harm than good.

"In Venezuela," he says, "the media doesn't mention the race or origins" of its subjects, whether they’re Carnaval dancers packing clubs now, or foreign politicians running for president.

"[My students and I] don't fixate on Obama as the first black candidate….And we're really puzzled by the way Americans do,” he says. “It seems to us like a form of racism. Americans don't realize how racist they are….By always discussing race, they just perpetuate their problem."

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February 8, 2008 3:38 PM

U.S. Soccer Lacks 'Sacred Fire'

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MEXICO CITY - "Now it's time for revenge," Erubiel says as the national soccer teams of Mexico and the United States jog onto the field at Houston's Reliant stadium. Revenge for what? I ask. Seizing California in 1848? Their answer is more modest: "We haven't beaten the U.S. [in an away match] in nine years." (At home, altitude gives Mexico the advantage, since they're accustomed to thinner air.)

"Mexico faces a mental hurdle," says PostGlobal panelist Leon Krauze, when it comes to defeating the U.S. Leon greeted me here in Mexico after my too-short press visa to Venezuela expired the other day. "Football (soccer) is the only thing left that Mexico is better at than the Americans, and it devastated this country when the U.S. beat us in the 2002 World Cup."

I head to the Salon Corona, the spot to watch soccer downtown, wondering if this is the year that "Mexico's psychological anxiety of losing" will be overcome.

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February 12, 2008 11:35 AM

Mexico Better Off Without U.S.?

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MEXICO CITY - "If the U.S. didn't exist, would Mexico be better off, exactly the same, or worse?" Leon Krauze asks his national radio audience of three million Mexicans. Jump to a commercial break, and calls start coming in. A lone woman in the adjacent office begins fielding the four dozen phone calls that will stream in over the next hour. She writes down replies at a frenetic pace, and hands them to Leon. He likes what he reads.

He expected knee-jerk anti-Americanism from his audience -- vague calls for Mexican sovereignty. Three months ago his station, W Radio, lost Carmen Aristegui, a prominent host of what Leon calls "The Populist Left"; she accused the station of effectively censoring her. Leon, who sees himself as a pragmatic progressive, began broadcasting from the same station on a show with the same name, Hoy Por Hoy (Today for Today), but with a very different view of the U.S.

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February 14, 2008 3:47 PM

Migrant Longing for Bimbo Bread

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MEXICO CITY - Let's call it de-Bimbofication -- the process by which, over successive generations, Mexican Americans lose their nostalgia for Bimbo-brand-breads and start buying American brands instead. This phenomenon is one of the many challenges facing Daniel Servijte, CEO of Bimbo, the largest bread company in Mexico, as he tries to expand to American, and especially Mexican American consumers.

Daniel sees the gradual process of Mexican American assimilation, coupled with mounting anti-immigrant sentiment, a U.S. recession, and renewed emphasis on border controls as drags on his consumer base's readiness to go for Bimbo bread.

Take, for example, Daniel's recent experience in Texas, where he drove around in an unmarked white van between small Mexican marts asking consumers and vendors about their intake habits. After a few hours, word got out these mysterious vans were from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and then every mart he pulled up to next would evacuate immediately, illegal Mexicans sprinting out the door before him.

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February 19, 2008 11:15 AM

Mexico Wages Cartoon Wars Over U.S.

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MEXICO CITY - "They call me the cartoonist from the right, the pro-American cartoonist," says Francisco "Paco" Calderon, with a bemused look on his long, bearded face. "They call me a U.S. Pig." Hands on his belly, he stops suddenly to ponder his own words. Then he leans back in his chair, widens his eyes, and bellows at his critics: "You idiots, open your eyes! You are getting comfy in your coffin! "

This catches me a bit off guard. We're sitting in his cozy studio looking at the thousands of cartoons he's drawn over the years. They've morphed from rotund black and white figures in his youth to the sharp, toxic-colored panoramas of now. About one in five cartoons is about the U.S.

"I try to educate Mexicans a bit about the United States," he says, "to fight the caricature that the Left depicts of the United States as a blood-sucking vampire," he says, referring specifically to cartoonists in the socialist daily La Jornada, an ideological counterpart to his paper called Reforma - a publication that current President Felipe Calderon (no relation) once wrote for.

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February 20, 2008 3:23 PM

Americans Love Blood

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MEXICO CITY - Arena Mexico is bustling. Men wearing glittering masks hold their wives in one arm and their children in the other, jockeying for a view of the stage. Their favorite sport, Lucha Libre, Mexico's eighty-year-old form of wrestling, is about to begin.

I squeeze in beside a family of four and ask their opinion of the game. "Lucha Libre is a sport," they say, "it's acrobatic." They prefer it to the American version, which they say is "just entertainment." A round-faced teenage girl pipes up. Americans prefer wrestling that looks more like actual violence, she says. In the U.S., she says, "there is blood."

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February 25, 2008 11:30 AM

Don't Know Much About NAFTA

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PACHUCA - Few of the tiny cornfields surrounding Pachuca, the capital of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, are larger than five square acres. Most lack irrigation systems and are worked by hand -- often by the farmer’s many children -- resulting in a harvest of mini-sized maize that pulls in under US$1000 per year. The farming families here find themselves no better off, harvest after harvest. The years go by and the competition stiffens.

So the farmers make bricks, work construction jobs, and collect money from migrant relatives who move to the U.S. to keep afloat. They say they don't know much about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but remain certain it hasn't done them any good. Yet they blame the Mexican government, not America, for their suffering.

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February 26, 2008 10:34 AM

Hector, Father Turned Drug-Runner - Part I

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Hector Salinas

HIDALGO - At age 18, Hector Salinas's girlfriend became pregnant unexpectedly. The pair promptly married, she bore their son, and the new father found himself unable to buy diapers and milk for his baby boy on the US$200 per month he earned working for the local water authority of the state of Hidalgo. So Hector headed north to the United States, alone.

Three years later, he was running drugs along the California coast, pocketing six thousand untaxed dollars per month, and sending his family at least US$800 per week. Hector says he fell deep into an underworld and ended up an unwitting witness to a murder.

That’s when he decided to escape the snares of his drug boss. He stole home to Hidalgo and met his baby boy for the first time in three years, vowing to keep him from a similar fate.

Over a long Friday afternoon, the affable Hector, now a spiky-haired office-worker in Mexico City, recounts his migration story systematically, in minute detail, as if chronicling its moments for his son’s generation. His speaks terse, matter-of-fact Spanish, his emotions always controlled. He refuses to pass judgment on any of the actors in his tale, including himself. He simply warns fellow Mexicans against rushing north, and urges them to temper their dreams of America.

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February 29, 2008 12:20 PM

The View From the Border

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TIJUANA - This is my final post before signing off. I'm at the border separating the United States from Mexico. Over the past year, I've written 150,000 words and conversed with all of you through another 3 million or so. But standing here, at this border and at this moment, I'm at a loss for words.

Here is where video comes in handy. Watch men and women, young and old, interact with the U.S. across its border fence, and share what you're thinking.

And, finally, here are the many thank yous I owe to journalists, friends, and readers who made this project possible and worthwhile. Thank you for making this the most enlightening and exhilarating year of my life.


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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.