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John Ross Speaks to Grand Rapids Crowd

March 25, 2010

Last night about 60 people came out to hear radical journalist and author John Ross speak as he travels the country on his current book tour. Ross just published the book El Monstruo: True Tales of Dread and Redemption in Mexico City.

Ross began the talk by reading a poem from Subcommandante Marcos entitled Hasta Cuando – Until When, which speaks about the cry from the oppressed who ask the question “until when, will we have justice and freedom?”

The author was asked to address two aspects of US policy as it relates to Mexico, immigration and the drug war. Ross harkened back to May of 2006, when millions marched in the US for immigration rights. Ross mentions the significance of May 1 by discussing what happened to immigrant workers at the Haymarket incident in 1886. Immigrant workers were striking for an 8-hour workday in Chicago when a bomb went off killing several policemen. Labor organizers were accused of killing the cops and were executed. Around the world workers have since the Haymarket killings have marched on May 1 to commemorate worker struggles everywhere.

Ross then mentions that 200,000 people marched in DC last Sunday for immigrant rights to show that there is some continuity between the mass protests on May 1, 2006 and what kind of organizing is taking place today. Ross said that the Bush administration attacked immigrant rights by using Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to threaten, detain, arrest, and deport immigrant workers after the 2006 demonstrations, which have kept many immigrants in the shadows politically.

Ross said people need to find a way to have some of the same kind of organizing and mobilizing this year, especially for immigrant rights and real immigration reform. However, Ross was critical of the proposed legislation that is being put forth on Immigration Reform, particularly by Senator Charles Schumer. For a good analysis of that legislation see a recent article from long time immigration activist David Bacon.

Anti-immigrant commentary in the US, Ross said, is really just a form of Mexico bashing. “It is a mechanism to avoid talking about what is really going on in the US.” He also said that whatever agreements the US makes about immigration always comes with some demand on Mexico that will ultimately benefit the US. Ross said that the NAFTA negotiations were in part a deal that the US made some concessions on immigration in order to have greater access to the Mexican economy.

The journalist/author made the same point about the so-called war on drugs in Mexico, in that whenever the US has become involved there have been trade offs. Ross said he hates to talk about the drug war because it gives a negative image about Mexico that prevents us from talking about how civil society is engaged in social change. But the drug war plays well in US media, since headlines about the violence associated with the drug trade sells papers.

Ross noted that there have been numerous campaigns against drug trafficking in Mexico with the most recent drug war beginning when Mexican President Calderon was sworn-in in 2006. Many people believed that Calderon won that election by fraud. In fact, the election was so contested that the day when he was sworn-in Calderon had to be escorted by the military, because the opposition was trying to actually prevent him from making his first address to the Mexican government. Six days later Calderon began his war on drug by sending 30,000 troops to Michoacán, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

Ross said that all Mexican presidents have gone after specific drug lords as a way of winning political points, particularly with the US. When US President Clinton bailed out Mexico in 2005, Clinton demanded a drug lord in return. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo complied and then the Juarez cartel took over as the main drug gang in the late 90s. It was during this time that several Mexican Generals were arrested and implicated in the drug trade, which raised more questions about the effectiveness of the drug war. The drug cartel doesn’t use the military anymore because they are so corrupt.

A man by the name of El Chapo Guzman is now the lead narco-lord in Mexico, according to Ross and Guzman hasn’t been seen since 2001, which suggests that the Mexican government is not really interesting in shutting down his operation. To illustrate this point Ross mentioned a recent study that looked at 50,000 drug arrests in Mexico and virtually none of those arrested were Chapo’s people. Ross believes that President Calderon may be collaborating with Chapo, so as to have some negotiating power with the drug lord when it comes to rival drug gangs.

At this point Ross made the distinction between the drug war and the drug problem in Mexico. It used to be kids were sniffing glue or paint thinner from Sherman Williams. Now kids are on the street using crack.

The violence from the drug trade, according to Ross, is turf wars between local drug gangs. He says what you see in Mexico is like what is depicted on the HBO show The Wire, in terms of the kinds of violence associated with the drug trade. However, Ross pointed out that when 4 out of 10 Mexican workers who had jobs are out of a job, you have a serious problem, which makes the drug trade very inviting.

Add to the problems associated with the drug war and increased poverty and unemployment the fact that people can’t get out of the country because of increased border patrol. “So the country is a powder keg with the lid ready to blow off,”

Ross concluded his comments by making mention of the visit that Hillary Clinton and other high ranking US officials made to Mexico the other day. During this visit it was announced that there would be a joint US/Mexican control center in Mexico City, which will allow the US greater influence in Mexican politics. The DEA, FBI, ICE and US military are all involved in Mexican agencies, which threatens national sovereignty, according to Ross. This infiltration of the Mexican security apparatus is an attempt by the US to regain control over Mexican, and potentially other Latin American countries, that have shifted left in recent years.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. skippy permalink
    January 19, 2011 7:28 pm

    Dear Reader;

    Mr. Ross has passed. John Ross was a great man.

    Mr. Ross’ life and times were a keen awareness of the impermanence and suffering inherent in this world, a subject he frequently wrote of. Many owe much to this man. He drew on wells of compassion, generosity, intuition, and justice, often camouflaged by the more complicated, bristly, and prickly parts of his personality. Yes, he could be difficult, intolerant, touchy, and loud. Nonetheless, he inspired profound feelings of connection and gratitude in many people and his generosity and writing touched many more. He was legendary in Arcata, Ca., perfecting his craft and sense of humanity and injustice before moving to the Bay Area and the larger world beyond.

    There’s far more to Mr. Ross. I encourage you, the dear reader, to please view the local Humboldt County, CA. link, below. It contains an excellent article he authored on a pertinent subject of racism here in 1982.

    You may leave a personal comment if you like about John; I humbly encourage you to do so. Mr. Ross, our traveling Humboldt ‘investigative poet’ and first rate journalist, would have liked that.

    peace, Mr. Ross. skips

  2. skippy permalink
    January 26, 2011 1:06 am

    Finding a quiet place to study in Nelson Hall at Humboldt State University in the early 80′s, yours truly was nearly booted out by an out-of-the-area special interest group coming in to lecture– but allowed to stay “as long as I was quiet.”

    The group encompassed a small gathering of 40-50 year olds, looking very conservative in their attire and outlook. This national group, Accuracy in Media (AIM), led by chief-fat-cat Reed Irvine suspiciously dressed in a tailored three piece suit and looking rather out of place, was here not only to collect his hefty salary and per diem expenses but to present their premise: setting the record straight on important news and media issues that have received biased, slanted coverage. Mr. Irvine and AIM called onto citizens to contact newsmakers, reporters and news corporations to end perceived and deliberate liberal media bias, giving a few examples.

    A voice from the back of the room immediately questioned their intent and agenda.

    “Who are you, Pilgrim?” Mr. Reed asked.

    “I’m John Ross,” the voice answered.

    “And, Pilgrim, what do you do?”

    “I’m an Investigative Poet and Journalist!” came the reply.

    “Oh, do you write Letters to the Editor, Pilgrim?” Mr. Reed condescendingly asked.

    John Ross boldly stood up. He wasn’t about to take this sitting down. Nor be referred to as ‘pilgrim.’ His voice thundering, John laid down his qualifications. Without missing a beat, he then thoroughly peppered AIMs connections to its own bias and slants in the media, questioned their funding from right wing conservative groups ranging from the Republican Party to John Birchers, having unfavorable editors fired and forced retractions made, and AIMs deliberate role in massacre cover-ups in El Salvador and other incidents leading all the way up the ranks to the Reagan Administration. John Ross knew his details, facts, and questions… and his direction.

    Like a train wreck, AIMs meeting came to a grinding halt. Mr. Irvine was at a flabbergasting loss to shut Mr. Ross, Investigative Journalist, up. John continued until Mr. Irvine threw down his ace card in final exasperation.

    “I’ll have you arrested!” Mr. Irvine roared, “for disturbing the peace! Call the police! Call the police now!”

    Mr. Ross roared back, “Call the police. I’ll have you arrested– for violating civil liberties, freedom of speech, the press, and of assembly! AIM is a sham, a front group for propaganda, and you’re deceptively telling lies to everyone! You’re not revealing your right wing ties and agenda to our citizens here, even when asked! AIM won’t– and doesn’t– allow free speech! What kind of fairness and accuracy in media is this? Go ahead, call the police and have me arrested!”

    The campus police came all right. They refused to arrest Mr. Ross once both sides were explained, or, vociferously argued and yelled over. AIM and Mr. Reed, his three piece suit and his supporters, promptly packed up and left town unceremoniously. They’ve never returned. After that kind of welcome, would you?

    Pleasantly amazed and shocked over this drama unfolding before my very eyes and ears, Mr. Ross stood up for a righteous and just cause; he wasn’t merely our local poet-journalist, he was a complete fire-breathing tiger– as thin and diminutive as he initially appeared.

    At that moment I knew Arcata was a very special and unique place– and this wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of Mr. John Ross.

    Rest in peace, my friend. Many owe much to you.


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