Longtime MIT professor of linguistics and political historian Noam Chomsky has for decades written widely and polemically on Latin America as well as the Middle East. With the notable exception of interventions in the debates surrounding the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, Mexico hasn’t played a pivotal role in his corpus. Yet informed netizens looking for answers to vexed questions about contemporary Mexican public life and politics persist in seeking out Chomsky, whether for direct critique and commentary on Mexico, or analysis of other cases for possible extrapolation.
In one instance, Jose Martin Preciado – preciado1000 to his YouTube viewers – posted a clip under the title “Noam Chomsky on the Militarization of the Mexican Border.” While the video was first shared in January 2010, its content remains highly pertinent.
Under the auspices of Z Magazine and its blog site chomsky-must-read.blogspot.com, interviewer “Amauta” likewise encountered Chomsky in January 2010 and took the occasion to ask him about Mexico. The interview resonates powerfully a year later, not least through Chomsky’s observations on the media and the current state of Mexican society.
Amauta: So I wanted to start the conversation with your recent trip to Latin America. I just heard you were in Latin America and you were in Mexico this Monday and this weekend. How was it? Just a general statement.
Chomsky: I was in Mexico City. It’s a very pleasant city in many ways. It’s [a]vibrant, lively, pretty exciting society, but also depressing in other ways, and sometimes almost hopeless, you know. So it’s a combination of vibrancy and, I wouldn’t say despair, but hopelessness, you know. Doesn’t have to be, but it is. I mean, there is almost no economy.
Amauta: And you went there specifically for the anniversary of La Jornada?
Chomsky: La Jornada, which is, in my opinion, the one independent newspaper in the whole hemisphere.[…] And amazingly successful. So it is now the second largest newspaper in Mexico, and very close to the first. It is completely boycotted by advertisers, so when you read it…there are no ads. Not because they refuse them, but because business won’t advertise…. But nevertheless they survive and flourish.
A Twitter search of Chomsky’s name turns up a recent tweet from Luis (@LUT3RO) linking to the article “The hopes of Noam Chomsky and two postscripts.” This was retweeted by Ivan Oliver (@popochazCape), who appends “Great article by my idol Chomsky!”
The article, dated March 1, 2011, on the website Prodavinci [es] transcribes, in Spanish, an interview with Chomsky conducted by Boris Munoz. “The hopes of Noam Chomsky and two postscripts” is a wide-ranging exchange, but at two junctures the conversation turns to contemporary Mexico.
Pocas semanas atrás estuve en México y gente ligada al periódico La Jornada me comentó que hay grandes áreas al norte dedicadas a la producción, zonas incluso vigiladas por militares. El asunto de fondo es que, al parecer, un 25% de la economía mexicana depende de los narcos. Otro tanto depende de las remesas que llegan del exterior, lo que quiere decir que la economía productiva y funcional se ha reducido. Incluso las maquiladoras multinacionales, que no se ajustan a los patrones nacionales de la economía productiva, se están yendo del país debido a la competencia de China.A few weeks ago I was in Mexico, and people at La Jornada told me that there are large areas to the north dedicated to production [of opium], including areas controlled by the military. The bottom line is that, apparently, 25% of the Mexican economy depends on drug traffickers. The economy is likewise dependent on remittances sent from abroad, which means that the productive economy is functionally reduced. Even multinational maquiladoras, which do not meet national standards for a productive economy, are leaving the country due to competition from China.
He goes on to say,
Por otro lado, […] el declive de la calidad de vida con Calderón es terrible. No hablo solo de los niveles de nutrición, sino de la caída de los salarios. Eso también es crucial para entender el avance de la economía de las drogas. En el World Economic Forum se ha discutido otro fenómeno derivado: la paradoja de que en un país con ese tipo de violencia, la bolsa se encuentre por los cielos, alcanzando hace poco máximos históricos. En realidad, eso habla de dos Méxicos, uno rico y otro pobre. No hay nada paradójico al respecto. Es algo que viene sucediendo desde que las reformas neoliberales de los ochenta dividieron al país. El número de billonarios ha aumentado casi tan rápido como la tasa de pobreza. Así se explica el fenómeno de Carlos Slim, el hombre más rico del mundo, y se entiende que a la bolsa le esté yendo bien, porque los inversionistas estadounidenses asumen que a los sectores privatizados, a los billonarios y a los narcos les seguirá yendo bien. Mientras tanto la población colapsa.On the other hand […] the decline in quality of life under Calderon is terrible. I am not speaking only of the levels of nutrition, but of the fall in wages. That is also crucial to understand the progress of the drug economy. At the World Economic Forum another phenomenon has been discussed: the paradox that in a country with such violence, the stock market is skyrocketing, reaching record highs recently. Actually, that speaks of two Mexicos, one rich and one poor. There is nothing paradoxical about it. It’s something that has been happening since the eighties, when neoliberal reforms split the country. The number of billionaires has risen almost as fast as the rate of poverty. This explains the phenomenon of Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, and it is understood that he is succeeding because U.S. investors assume that a privatized sector, the billionaires and the narcos, will continue to do well. Meanwhile, the population collapses.
Encontrar soluciones para esos problemas exige reconocer que existen y eso no lo vemos. Así que tenemos por delante un largo camino por recorrer.Finding solutions to these problems requires recognizing their existence, and we don’t see this. So we have before us a long way to go.
Such observations and insights retain their force more than a year after they were first made public. This may explain, at least in part, why Chomsky continues to serve as a resource for Mexican netizens seeking thoughtful analysis of problems that appear, at times, intractable.