(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)
Monday, October 15
When I returned from my trip to the States, I went over to the pineapple plants to harvest one since I knew they’d be really ripe. That’s when I realized someone had munched an entire pineapple, leaving only the nub still attached to the plant. My first suspect was that massive iguana who hangs out in the parking area.
I went down to open the gate for Gian, who was coming by to take me to refill the propane tank that fuels the stovetop and I saw a coatimundi bolt from the pineapple plants and bound over the fence. The raccoon-like bastard had started working on another ripe, delicious pineapple. So I picked two others that he hadn’t gotten to yet and then pulled the one he’d started working on, cut away the part closest to where he’d been munching and diced it up for myself. It briefly ran through my mind that maybe the critter had rabies or something, but screw it. I’ll teach him to mess with my pineapples, even if it leaves me foaming at the mouth and fearing water. I tossed what was left where the agouti hang out, and they were quick to find it and finish it off.
Overall, I took it easy yesterday. I’m going to return to my work on The Book this morning, but I wanted to take a day to decompress. Unfortunately, I started reading John Kenneth Turner’s Barbarous Mexico, which is thoroughly depressing. Turner was a socialist muckraker who traveled to Mexico several times in 1908 to report on conditions under the Porfiriato. He poses as a Gringo with millions to invest in the de facto slave plantations. Early in the book, he writes the following prophetic passage:
Mexicans of all classes and affiliations agree that their country is on the verge of a revolution in favor of democracy; if not a revolution in the time of (Porfirio) Diaz, for Diaz is old and is expected soon to pass, then a revolution after Diaz.
After reading his accounts of conditions on an agave plantation in the Yucatan and his reporting on conditions at the tobacco farms in Valle Nacional, it’s not hard to understand why the country exploded in bloody, chaotic civil war in 1910. A system was in place to funnel people into indentured servitude in both places, though this really was outright slavery, as Turner points out. Yaqui Indians, Mayans, petty criminals and working people who thought they were signing up for decent jobs and wages all were hoodwinked into signing contracts that put them on these plantations with no ability to escape. It was systemic, with government officials, the police and the owners of the reservations conspiring to work these people, literally, to death to keep costs low. People were little more than fodder for this capitalist nightmare. Turner writes the following about why the slave owners made women grind corn by hand to feed the other slaves rather than use machines:
I asked the presidente of Valle Nacional why the planters did not purchase cheap mills for grinding the corn, or why they did not combine and buy a mill among them, instead of breaking several hundred backs yearly in the work. ‘Women are cheaper than machines,’ was the reply.
His reporting was impressive, and he names names, quoting the perpetrators of these atrocities, who, in their insatiable greed, told him everything believing he was about to invest tons of money in their operations to make them even richer. We often look at the murderous rampages of Mao in China and Stalin in Russia to rightly condemn the horrors of communism. This book makes it clear capitalist economies were just as quick — and brutal — in grinding people under foot to attain their goals.
If you’re interested in the Mexican revolution, which is a fascinating story, Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast currently is focusing on it. It’s well done and Duncan is doing a solid job of following the myriad threads of the conflict in a way that’s easy to follow. It also points out yet another instance of American intervention in the Americas, largely to protect the interests of corporations that were benefitting greatly from the excesses of the Porfiriato. It’s a good reminder of why Mexicans are so leery of their neighbors to the north.