Home 603 Mesoamerica Cultures

Book List

Week 1-2 Carmack

Week 3 Whisnat

Week 4 Whisnat

Week 5 Whisnat

Week 6 Nash

Week 6 Essay 1 Question

Week 6 Essay

Week 7 Nash

Week 8 Manz

Week 9 Manz

Week 10 Binford

Week 11 Binford

Week 12 Oppenheimer

Week 12 Quinnones

Week 12 Essay 2 Question

Week 12 Essay 2

Week 13 Oppenheimer

Week 13 Quinnones

Week 14 Dow

Week 15 Dow

Final Paper


Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
November 17, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Bordering on Chaos Part I

Chapter 1 The Party Is Over
The PRI party, that is. This excellent tale starts out on Wall Street at Christmas time, that once a year when everyone feels generous in an expectant sort of way. Expectantly, Mexico was expected to make money for international stockholders as a decade of higher than normal profits had predicted to continue. Then on this day, December 20, 1994, the Mexican government announces the devaluation of the Mexican peso.

Flash back to the Mexican presidential New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1993. In this part of the story you get to know what President Salinas de Gortari is like, where he has been educated, what his tastes are, how he looks, what he does routinely such as jogging every morning. You get to know the party attendees superficially. Then we are privy to a series of events happening elsewhere in the country and leading up to this date in 1993. President Salinas gets the news at 2:00 am on January 1st 1994 in the midst of the New Year’s celebration that the Zapatistas had taken over the city of San Cristobal de las Casa and three other nearby towns. 

Chapter 2 The Scepter of the Seven Forces
Subcomandante Marcos accepted the ritually significant Scepter of the Seven Forces from Mayan guerilla officers making him the official leader of the revolution; a revolution that was supposed to be indigenous led. Marcos is Ladino from Mexico City, articulate and educated, and is referred to as white, presumably meaning of Spanish descent. 

In Chapter 3, Chiapas: Opera and Revolution, Oppenheimer begins his discussion about Chiapas by talking about the Tuxtla airport, how the airport was built, who benefited from building the airport in its particular location, the fact that it is a poor location for an air field, thereby exposing some of the problems and corruption of the Mexican government, who gets what and how much. President Salinas had chosen a successor in Luis Donaldo Colosio, while the Zapatista rebellion continued making making demands for democracy, liberty, and justice for the people, and also basic services.

US financial money manager, Josephine Jimenez, traveled to Chipas to check out what was happening, since she was in charge of a good sum of investments in Mexico at the time. Because of what she found happening there, on returning to the US she began pulling all her funds out of Mexican market.

Inequalities abounded too much there to go unnoticed. The government would put money into services for the Indian of Chiapas, but without the necessary thought and planning to make some of the projects of value to Indians. For instance the building of a 5.5 million dollar hospital in the Lacandon Jungle that was impossible to stock or staff due to its remoteness and inaccessibility. Another public works were the basketball courts that did not go over so well in Chiapas. The crowning public works project was the 11 million dollar opera house in San Cristobal de las Casas, built in an area mainly inhabited by impoverished workers who would not be using it, and again without the thought and planning necessary to make a good working opera house. Surely this was another case of a government contract going to a business that supported the PRI.   

Chapter 5 The Banquet: the 12 most-wealthy men of Mexico are invited to a banquet put on by the PRI party (and President Salinas). These men are asked to make pledges of 25 million each that they either collect or donate themselves to the PRI party in order to eliminate the government funding of the PRI party. The banquet is private and secret. In the course of events the story about the secret fund raising banquet gets out. The party is embarrassed and has to say that the fund they were trying to establish for the PRI to wean it of government dependency has been cancelled, it ceased to be. It is no more (the private pledges to the PRI that is).

Chapter 6: The Accidental Candidate after the assassination of presidential candidate Collosio, the candidate that was supposed to follow Salinas into office, Collosio’s campaign manager Ernesto Zedillo becomes nominated. He does not expect this nomination not does he believe himself qualified. He is deeply affected by the death of his friend Collosio and has barely begun the mourning process when his nomination for president is announced.

Chapter 7: The Cleanest Election this chapter makes me unsure that a clean election is possible in Mexico. The elections are promoted via television, the only media that reaches the major portion of the voting population. The Televisa network of stations in Mexico has a monopoly and chooses the campaign messages to run, how often and how edited in Michael Moore style (cutting and splicing to fit the message they want to present not what is true). So, even if the elections themselves are patrolled by neutral agencies, the propaganda the voters have been fed before the elections are not clean and intended to keep the PRI and the ruling elite in control of the government.

Ernesto Zedillo is one of the candidates running for president. He is the PRI candidate mentioned in the previous chapter. Televisa runs stories about major problems in other countries to instill fear in the Mexican voter’s minds that bad things could happen if the right man isn’t elected. A fear campaign, an unequally funded campaign, an unequally represented campaign, these do not add up to a clean campaign.

The government publishes campaign ads for their party candidate in almost all the Mexican newspapers. They are not labeled as ads, readers are usually unaware they are reading a government-sponsored ad. The public gets and altered truth paid for by the government. The PRI party seems to have an abundant supply of money. This is not a poor country; the wealth is just extremely unevenly divided. And the ruling class relies on a steady supply of cheap labor to maintain its status.

Also, it seems that even the Zapatistas got money from the government for their campaign against the government! $173,000.00 to put on a National Democratic Convention in the Lacandon Rainforest – and antigovernment meeting – paid for by President Salinas! Marcos knowingly accepted the government money to put on this campaign. How can this be helpful to the government? Will the government now say they support all candidates or something like that? 

Also, to guarantee their candidates election, public works are delayed until voting time, with the promise to complete them – if the town votes for the PRI candidate! Workers are controlled through unions. Workers do get benefits though, good ones, and they are expected to return the favor by showing support for the PRI candidate when called upon to do so. It is mandatory.

Andres Oppenheimer is a journalist. He goes in to get a story. He grabs the reader’s attention and makes the story readable. The sources are there, mostly interviews. The quotes are endnotes that are not numbered so you have to hunt through the chapter endnotes if you care to. His writing is extremely detailed, and laced throughout. I like how he tells a story.

So, both of our books for these two weeks are written by journalists. They use interviews, conversations, and observation. The language of journalism is such that one seldom needs a dictionary; the product of journalism is supposed to be read by the masses. In the treatment of the topics, Quinones focuses on marginal groups that have created a unique way of self identity, while the core of Oppenheimer’s writing deals with the ruling elite, and moneyed classes, how they think, what is true for them, how they insulate themselves from the rest of society.


Oppenheimer, Andres
1998    Bordering on Chaos: Mexico's Roller-Coaster Journey Toward Prosperity. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

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