Free-trade globalization has produced some exceedingly strange phenomena: China, the last socialist power, is glad to provide slave labor to multinationals; a firm in India fills the tax forms of an American corporation that produces vodka in Peru and then sells it to Polish immigrants who are constructing a British-financed building in Madrid; an enterprise which specializes in biotechnology tries to copyright the DNA of an isolated tribe from the Amazon, and George Bush has become the worst Mexican president ever.
Globalization tends to blur or erase all economic, geographic, and cultural boundaries, leaving high technology to coexist with primitive forms of exploitation: Taiwan sells watches to the Swiss; Brazil exports technology to Germany; and all evidence suggests that George Bush has stolen his ruling style from old-fashioned Mexican politicians.
Mexican political culture has very defined features and the President of the United States has absorbed them all: The classical Mexican political boss usually inherits his power from his father. The typical Mexican cacique has a love for guns as well as an inclination toward violence and cruelty; he despises legality and intellectual activity, has a personal history of alcoholism and dissipation, lies systematically, and declares himself a faithful servant of God. (Did we miss anything?)
According to Mexican tradition, politicians always reach their positions thanks to a fraudulent electoral process and then surround themselves with a clique which uses its power to conduct “business” on a staggering scale while in office. The Florida electoral thievery and Halliburton’s Iraq contract are classic examples of Mexican corruption.
Based on a complex pyramid of political bosses, a totalitarian presidential regime flourished in Mexico. It was organized around a political party whose name remains a monument to paradox: the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). Names aside, the PRI model was so efficient (for the PRI, of course) that the party was able to hold power for more than seventy years. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa called it “the perfect dictatorship.”
This dictatorship was a mark of shame for all Mexicans. Only Mexico’s political cartoonists were able to benefit from it. The profuse manifestations of cynicism and obsequiousness it produced were a delight for us. In the Mexican court, dialogues like the following were not uncommon and completely irresistible:
The President asks: “What time is it?”
His minister replies: “Whatever time you say, Mister President.
Our presidents were almighty creatures, the voices of God on Earth. Not to be with them was to be against them. After them came the final flood or the atomic apocalypse.
In order to maintain its political control, this regime needed to restrain civil rights and limit freedom of the press. While others fell silent, Mexican political bosses, lacking any kind of legal or moral counterweight, spoke with an enviable freedom and without moral scruples, unbounded by reality. They used to say things like: “In the state of Guerrero, the only ones who complain are the poor,” referring of course to 98% of the population; or “I can’t say yes or no, but quite the opposite.”
Undoubtedly, George Bush had these wise men in mind when he insisted that the French weren’t able to understand the United States because they didn’t have a word for “entrepreneur.” Having learned such turns of phrase and so much more from Mexican politicians, he has now scaled the heights of Mexican political achievement, becoming the most notorious cacique of modern times, and he’s done this, without paying his predecessors a cent in royalties.
The creation of “free trade democracies” throughout Latin America has been one of the major political triumphs of globalization. It has been said that the election to the presidency of Vicente Fox, a free-trade globalizer if there ever was one, marked the beginning of a new era for Mexico. This put the fear of God into Mexican caricaturists who dreaded the possibility that the fall of the PRI might mean the end of our professional paradise. We shouldn’t have worried. Fox has held onto all the old vices of our former political bosses — except their authority. What he’s added to Mexico’s presidency has been a touch of marketing and plenty of unintentional humor. He’s been like a genetic experiment in which the DNA of an old-style Mexican president has been cloned with Dan Quayle and Jerry Lewis. Free-trade democrats love to find new ways of reducing the size and power of the state. Fox has proved an exemplar when it comes to this. Never has a Mexican government been so weak; never have Washington’s decisions carried such unprecedented weight in Mexican life.
Globalization favors chaos theory: a butterfly flaps its wings in the jungle and a hurricane is formed in the Caribbean; in Saudi Arabia, a baby is born with a silver spoon in its mouth, and two towers fall in Manhattan. An American politician acts like a Mexican cacique and war explodes on the other side of the planet.
The only visible advantage Mexican politicians ever offered the rest of us was their limited ability to damage the world. George Bush has overcome this obstacle. After all, he has access to the sort of technology and to an arsenal that Mexico’s local tyrants could only dream of. When he says he’s blessed, it’s because we’re damned.
Under the nuclear umbrella of his free-trade empire and incipient world government, his clique of petty political bosses can dictate the economic agendas of dozens of third-world countries. In recent years, the priorities of the Mexican economy have been defined by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street, and Washington; they establish our oil quota, the levels of our external debt payments, and the minimum wages we can offer. Vincente Fox acts as what he’s always been: a Coca Cola CEO, a multinational middleman, while the true president of Mexico is George Bush, that cacique of caciques.
According to Mexican tradition, politicians are judged depending on how they take care of their people and how they make them prosper… and by such standards, George Bush is the worst Mexican President ever.
We are told that American democracy still works, but if so, it’s the only aspect of the U.S. that’s not globalized; which means millions of citizens around the world won’t have the right to vote in this election, even though their futures too are at stake. For Mexicans this a particularly bitter pill to swallow. After all, shouldn’t we have a right to express our opinions on the last cacique?
Rafael Barajas (El Fisgón), political cartoonist for the Mexican daily La Jornada, is also the cofounder of two satirical magazines, a children’s book illustrator, a winner of Mexico’s National Journalism Prize, and the author of La Historia de un País en Caricatura, a book on the history of nineteenth century Mexican political cartoons. He has been dubbed the “dean of Mexico’s vigorous corps of political cartoonists” by the New York Times. His comic-book history of capitalism, How to Succeed at Globalization, A Primer for the Roadside Vendor, has just been published in English.
Copyright C2004 El Fisgón
This piece first appeared at Tomdispatch.com.