Is Ken Salazar, ex-senator and now Biden’s ambassador to Mexico, a traitor to U.S. “interests”, as the New York Times alleges in a piece by Maria Abi-Habib published on July 5? Or is he a protagonist in a good cop-bad cop routine? It is true that Salazar constantly visits Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), but it would never have occurred to me that his motives were anything other than the usual motives of ambassadors: to pressure any foreign government to toe the U.S. line.
And so, given that Lies of Our Times, founded by Ellen Ray and with regular contributions from Noam Chomsky, stopped publishing in 1994, it’s up to amateurs like me to dissect the current crop of bad reporting. Here we go:
The article opens with this:
“Mexico’s election czar delivered a message to the American ambassador: The Mexican president was mounting an all-out assault on the national elections authority, sowing doubt about a pillar of the country’s democracy.
But instead of expressing alarm, America’s top diplomat in Mexico took up one of the president’s lines of attack, entertaining claims that an election long in the past, in 2006, had been stolen from the Mexican leader.
The ambassador, Ken Salazar, said in an interview that he was not convinced that the election was clean, challenging the stance of the United States at a time when democracy is under threat at home and across the hemisphere.
Mr. Salazar, who invited the election overseer to his residence, told The New York Times he wanted to know: “Was there fraud?”
The matter had long been settled — for Mexico’s judicial system, the European Union and the American government — until now.”
One of the problems here is that the U.S. government in 2006 was in the hands of George W. Bush, who was no stranger to accusations of electoral fraud and who was outraged that, unlike in the U.S. in 2000, people in Mexico took to the streets massively and blocked one of the most important avenues of Mexico City for about two months to protest what millions of people still believe to have been a fraud perpetrated by Felipe Calderón, his party, and other powerful interests. The film Fraude, directed by Luis Mandoki, documents theft of ballots, the discovery of thousands of ballots in landfills, cybernetic attacks coordinated by Calderón’s brother-in-law under contract to the electoral authority, and other interventions. And the film “Fahrenheit 911” by Michael Moore shows the docility of Democratic Party politicians and their liberal allies in the face of Bush’s fraud in 2000.
The “election czar” is Lorenzo Córdoba, president of the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE), who was not in office in 2006 but was in 2012, when the ruling class committed a similar fraud to keep López Obrador out (again) and to install Enrique Peña Nieto, currently in hiding in Spain and, as of July 7, under investigation for living beyond his means. López Obrador promised before the election to “accept the results” and even admitted that the blockades that he organized in 2006 were to keep his supporters from engaging in, for example, armed resistance or demands for deeper changes. The post-2006 AMLO is much cozier with a certain percentage of members of the executive class—the ones who are not trying to overthrow him. One aspect of the fraud in 2012 was that the PRI contracted with Monex, other banks, and supermarket chains like Walmart and Soriana to distribute gift cards or electronic wallets to tens of thousands of citizens with a certain balance and a stipulation that they would be activated upon a Peña Nieto victory. Shortly after election day, some of these stores had to close temporarily because there were too many of these interested voters and not enough goods. (A few years later, as president, Peña Nieto gave away big screen TVs to smooth the digital transition.)
This “pillar of the nation’s democracy”, the INE, benefits from a law that allows certain public authorities, like the INE and the Supreme Court, to function as “autonomous organs”, even to the extreme of setting their own salaries. When López Obrador tried to impose salary limits at the same time that he, in imitation of then-Bolivian president Evo Morales, cut his salary by about one half, and tried to prohibit other public officials from earning more than he did, the autonomous organs argued that they were not subject to that and the counselors of the INE continue to enjoy compensation more than seven times greater than the president’s, about 450,000 pesos per year plus two year-end bonuses that total about 600,000 per year on top of that. The president earns 143,000 pesos per year including benefits. The peso to dollar exchange rate is about 20 to one and the cost of living in Mexico is about one third of what it is in the U.S., less than that for housing. The minimum wage in Mexico is 172 pesos per day. This is less than five dollars per day. To paraphrase “The Banks are Made of Marble”, written by farmer Les Rice and sung by Pete Seeger: The pillars of democracy are made of marble (and gold).
“Hold the line on migration”
“When he took the job in September 2021, Mr. Salazar was told to prioritize building a strong relationship with Mr. López Obrador in hopes it would advance the White House’s agenda.
As the primary buffer between the United States and record-high flows of migrants, Mr. López Obrador holds enormous leverage over Mr. Biden and his presidency.
Preserving Mexico’s cooperation, administration officials said, meant avoiding conflict with a mercurial Mexican leader who had the power to damage Mr. Biden’s political future by refusing to hold the line on migration.”
Well, well. Here is the New York Times advocating “hold”(ing) “the line on migration”. This, of course, means maintaining most of the policies of Trump and perpetuating the historical violations of the human rights of refugees that the U.S. has committed since the 19th Century. And when the Biden government demands that its Mexico counterpart “hold the line”, it is really asking that López Obrador continue one of his most shameful policies, that of using tens of thousands of Mexican National Guard officers to enforce U.S. immigration policy on the U.S. Mexico border and on the Mexico-Guatemala border. On this issue, if not on others, López Obrador is happy to be submissive to the U.S., even when Trump openly brags about having “folded” him. The “mercurial Mexican leader” is a liberal populist like any other, with the limitations and eccentricities that that implies. But the coup makers in Washington are equal opportunity employers, and many of their targets are not very radical.
Making a moot point with statistics that are not flattering to any of these presidents:
“The economy is cratering, violence continues to rage and now Mexico — not Central America — has become the biggest source of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.”
Obviously, the success of the Trump/AMLO/Biden anti-immigration policy, with militarized borders in the north and southeast of Mexico, makes it harder for Central Americans to arrive, thus a higher percentage of those who can cross the border are Mexican.
Privatization vs. nationalization of energy resources
“The ambassador has caused a political storm by appearing to signal support for an energy overhaul the U.S. government opposed…The Mexican leader has pursued an energy agenda that threatens American companies.”
It is true that the current Mexican administration is attempting to roll back privatization schemes for the oil and electric industries, nationalized six and eight decades ago, respectively, and partially reprivatized in recent years. This puts Mexico in a league with such Stalinist societies as that of France, which has announced on July 6 a plan to nationalize its electricity, and San Antonio, Austin, Brownsville, Lubbock, New Braunfels, and 67 other Bolshevik-ridden cities in Texas that have municipal electric utilities. And does anybody remember Enron? The Biden administration’s open obsession with defending private utilities around the world is curious, coming from a regime that is so eager to contrast itself with Trump’s.
Those poor not-for-profit advocacy groups.
“The ambassador has…questioned the integrity of a U.S.-funded anticorruption nonprofit that had gone up against the president… The president had also assailed the U.S. government for funding the group, which was co-founded by a businessman who left the organization to form an opposition movement.”
The altruistic businessman in question is Claudio X. González, head of Kimberly Clark in Mexico and former executive of a chamber of commerce-type lobby group, Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción. (Interesting that the Times doesn’t identify the man or the organization clearly.) The part about his having “left the organization to form an opposition group” speaks for itself and it is logical to question why U.S. money—USAID? Endowment for Democracy? CIA? NSA?—goes to such an outfit. González and his son are like the Koch Brothers of Mexico.
This part of the story gets better. (“Ms. Casar” is the co-founder with the X. González clan of the anti-corruption organization):
“The ambassador told The Times he believed the opposition activism of the group’s founder “created the appearance of impropriety” and said he would “advocate for the funding to be cut” if he found charges of political activity to be credible.
At the meeting, Mr. Salazar grilled Ms. Casar, questioning whether her group was secretly involved in politics. Ms. Casar, shocked, said no, explaining that U.S. government auditors had determined over and over again that the group was not involved in politics.”
Toward the end of the movie, she added that she was “shocked, shocked, to discover that gambling” was taking place in this establishment.
“When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home, let him fight for those of his neighbor.”—Byron
“All of the political capital the ambassador has tried to build with Mexico’s president was not enough to stop him from delivering a humiliating rebuke to Mr. Biden last month.
In the lead up to a key regional summit hosted by the administration in June, the Mexican president repeatedly bashed the United States for not inviting Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela.
Mr. Salazar pleaded with him to attend, said a U.S. Embassy official who requested anonymity to avoid reprisal, but Mr. López Obrador kept threatening to boycott the event, and a wave of countries followed suit.
In a last-ditch effort at diplomacy, the ambassador paid a visit to Mexico’s most important religious site, a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the day before the summit was set to begin.
“I pray at the Basilica to the Patroness of the Americas to lift up our leaders to chart a new transformative era for the Americas and the US-Mexico relationship,” Mr. Salazar posted on Twitter.”
“…repeatedly bashed the U.S.” Wow. I will assume that this “Summit of the Americas”, heavily covered in Mexican media, went unnoticed in the United States, though it was held in Los Angeles, with Biden as host. López Obrador was one of many presidents who questioned why said host would reserve for himself the prerogative of deciding whom to invite, as if it were his party, or his empire´s party (which, of course, it was). Presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Honduras (with a new center-left president after thirteen years of right-wing presidents who thrived thanks to two coups co-sponsored by the U.S. under Obama and Trump), and even Guatemala, in addition to a majority of the 14 English-speaking Caribbean countries that are members of the CARICOM, like Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda, all announced that they would not go or would go in order to protest in person the exclusion of the three countries mentioned above. We can add Colombia to the list after the recent elections. López Obrador has also moved to abolish the Organization of American States and replace it with a more inclusive, less U.S.-dominated alternative. Mexican presidents, especially in the PRI era, tended to express support for revolutionary Cuba or for Chile under Allende for reasons that were not always principled and were to deflect attention from their own acts of repression (torture, disappearances) within Mexico that did not play second fiddle to the seventies-era right-wing governments of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Whether López Obrador’s motives are similarly impure is an open question, but U.S. hostility is not coming in reaction to his possible hypocrisy but to his expressing himself less submissively than his predecessors (except, for example, on immigration issues).
Gone, but not very far, are the days when Trump called Mexicans rapists, said that he had made the “socialist” AMLO “fold”, and offered/threatened to send U.S. troops to capture the murderers of members of a polygamous jack Mormon family from Sonora and Chihuahua. The pressure from the Biden administration is less visible, the language less bullying, but the effect is the same: Don’t accept Russian and Chinese vaccines, U.S. officials told their Mexican counterparts, they will only use them for public relations, to win influence in the region.
New York Times reporters in foreign bureaus continue to believe that their job is to be apologists and attack dogs for the interventionists in the upper echelons of the U.S. government. And the CIA doesn’t even need to pay them off.