Monday, August 30, 2010
I am going to miss Mexican Independence Day this year.
Unless there is a major change in my schedule, I will still be in Oregon on September 15 and 16. That means I will not be able to meet in the Melaque town plaza to shout out "¡Viva México!" along with my neighbors. I was there last year (time immemorial), and I would like to be there again. It is quite an event.
I will write more about the mythology surrounding Mexican Independence later in September. But two recent events in Mexico have caught my interest.
The first, I have told you about. The eviction of Mexicans and expatriates from land they thought they owned in the village of Tenacatita (tears on the sand). The police are still blocking access to the village, and the man who claims ownership is slowly removing buildings built on his property.
The second involves a dispute between a Mexican archbishop of the Catholic church and the mayor of Mexico City. Mexico City enacted a statute allowing homosexual couples to adopt children. The statute was challenged as unconstitutional, and the Mexican Supreme Court upheld the statute.
The ruling angered the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, who accused Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, of bribing the Supreme Court justices. The mayor has now sued the archbishop for defamation. In return, a church spokesman has urged Mexicans to vote against the mayor's party.
When Mexico won its independence from Mexico, several issues were left unresolved. Two of the biggest were land ownership and the role of the Catholic church in Mexican society.
Both would haunt Mexican governments for the next two centuries. (And before Americans get too haughty about that, we need to remember that the reluctance of the Founding Fathers to tackle the issue of slavery ended up in a Civil War and years of legal racial discrimination.)
Even the great reformer, Benito Juárez, was unsuccessful in breaking up large landholdings and taming the Catholic church's role in Mexican governance. Reform waited until the Revolution of 1910 -- a civil war that tarted up land reform and restrictions on the Catholic church to disguise its raw factional roots.
The reformers won. The Constitution of 1917 allowed the central government to seize private property and to divide it into smaller plots for the poor to operate communally -- the ejido system that still haunts land titles in Mexico.
The constitution also placed all religious institutions under the authority of the government, and prohibited religious leaders from any involvement in political activity. Criticism of governmental authorities was specifically prohibited.
The problem with constitutions is they cannot alter the rules of economics any more than they can change the effects of gravity. The ejidos were based on a humanitarian ideal. Give a group of poor men control over a piece of property, and they will have pride and the ability to earn a subsistence living. That was the theory.
If we have learned anything from the twentieth century, good intentions alone do not always lead to good results.
The ejidos were the worst of two worlds. They were too small to be economically viable. As a result, they fell into disuse. And without individual ownership interests, the "owners" of ejido land lost interest in it. Before long, much of it was lying fallow, and ejidos starting looking around for new owners. Even though selling the land was prohibited by the constitution.
The restrictions on the Catholic church turned out to be just as unenforceable. In the 1920s, civil war broke out again. This time between the anti-clerical government and Catholics who felt themselves persecuted.
The Cristero War lasted only three years, but it had a permanent effect on Mexican society. The government agreed to repeal most of its anti-clerical statutes, but the constitutional provisions would remain unchanged. In effect, the church could remain a sociable institution (as if any government was going to turn Mexico non-Catholic), but it would always have the threat of governmental authority over its head.
And that brings us to today. Land reform has generally turned out to be a failure. The fact that the courts and the government are siding with a large landowner against he claims of poorer Mexicans in Tenacatita is simply another piece of evidence that land ownership is uncertain -- especially on Mexico's Pacific coast.
The controversy swirling around Archbishop Sandoval's attack on a political figure and the church's opposition to the mayor's party may strike many Americans and Canadians as a bit over the top. After all, what about religious freedom? Well, there is none. At least, under the current constitution.
So, is all of this some sort of street theater conjured up by Mexico to let us all know what is being celebrated this year for the second centennial of Independence and the first centennial of living under the benefits of the great revolution? I doubt it.
But it is proof that Mexico has not yet come to terms with two of the big issues that were not resolved with the Grito de Dolores of the warrior-priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, in 1810.
I suspect Mexico may not have another 100 years to straighten out these two issues. Until it does, we will celebrate Independence Day in something less than a liberal democracy.