Dr. Gary Mounce
Dr. Gary Mounce

EDINBURG, RGV – What’s been happening in Mexico? Lots. We just don’t pay much attention – as much attention as we should.

Some things are good, some are bad. But most things happening there happen to affect us in many ways. Two things of interest: 1. Drastically diminishing numbers of the fantastic Monarch butterflies that migrate to the woods of Michoacán state each winter; and 2. In that same state, increasing numbers of vigilantes—brave Mexicans banding together to fight drug cartels.

Michoacán is one of my favorite states. It is renowned for its beauty, for its industrious, stalwart people since colonial times; (see Gary Jennings, Aztec; what a great movie that book would make). It is famous for the wonderful white fish of Lake Patzcuaro. It is the center of the gleaming copper products of Santa Clara. The colonial capital of Morelia is an architectural gem. It is known for the famous guitars of the town of Paracho.

Michoacán has been, for generations, home to the fabulous Monarch butterflies migrating from Canada, wintering in the forests. The Purépecha, the indigenous peoples believed they were souls of the departed. They may serve as the “canaries in the mine,” warning us of declining quality of environment. They are now increasingly threatened. The state, unfortunately, also is known for its vicious drug cartels such as La Familia and the Knights Templar, with their trademark beheadings and their ghoulish goddess, La Santa Muerte, or “Holy Death.”

How do the two inter-relate? They tenuously co-exist in the same geographical areas. Government created refugios for the Monarchs (several large stands of giant trees), provide warmth. But in and among the trees small and larger fields of marijuana provide valuable resources for organized gangs that terrorize locals, demanding tribute. They then move and sell their products north of the border.

This is the bottom line: the U.S. ships guns to Mexico. The U.S. is the chief consumer of illegal drugs. The U.S. – through government policy and societal behavior – is behind the profits and violence (over 60,000 deaths in the last five years). Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott calls south Texas a “corrupt, third world country.” Enough, already, with deliberate harm to this area’s reputation and tourism. The canard about south Texas violence has already been refuted soundly. If Abbott is serious about lawlessness, let him propose major changes in U.S. drug and gun laws. He won’t. He would rather pander to his Republican followers and/or to racists for short-term partisan gain.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, “Monarch numbers drop amid fears migration may disappear” (Mark Stevenson, AP, Feb. 6, 3014). The “stunning” annual migration, experts say, is in danger of extinction. Reasons? Illegal logging in Mexico but also destruction of Milkweed in the U.S., one of the chief foods of the Monarchs. Incidentally, the Monarch was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.

What a shame for the symbol – and the reality – to face environmental destruction. Yet, a little good news: in the U.S., among those aware and concerned, thousands of private families are planting more Milkweed in their own butterfly gardens. If you want to help, get busy. But it is not enough. Wide-spread refuges are needed, with increased government protection—here, as well as in Mexico. But it is a start.

Yet, there is a little good news on another front. It is about more voluntarism. Hundreds of Mexicans have joined together to fight the cartels. Farmers and ranchers refuse to pay tribute. The astounding confrontation was reported here in the Rio Grande Guardian, from La Jornada, Feb. 7, 2014. They and other ordinary citizens, tired of what they see as government inaction, have armed themselves to confront the drug czars or capos. Equally remarkable, the Mexican government has been forced to legalize these unusual formations, needing all the help they can get in countering cartels.

Some experts are appalled. They oppose the action, calling it “fostering anarchy” (Alfredo Corchado, McClatchy-Tribune, Jan. 31, 2014). But President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican government need to show they are “doing something” and have decided to go with (temporary?) support of this local community movement.

This action is especially notable at this current, 20th anniversary of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). But it is a risk. There are even reports of trade and aid among the vigilantes and cartels. Perhaps persuasive on both sides is the age-old adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” It is a complicated and dangerous story.

Kudos to the reporters who brave the elements, physical and human, to continue to bring us updates on these stories. The information should be shared, as both the Monarchs and the Vigilantes are stories of environmental importance and human courage. I continue to work on my film script, based on Monarchs (the butterflies) but also on the “monarchs” of industry and politics. I do what I can. I hope to “teach” more broadly by seeing it up on the big screen one day.

I plead age and a bit of trepidation as excuses for not doing, as in the past, hands-on “field research” in Michoacán right now. I would love to return. I have many unforgettable memories of its people and paisajes (landscapes). I try, however, in my own way, through teaching and publishing, to share my knowledge and interpretations of the vitality of Mexico.

We need to learn more. We need to be more involved. We need to urge our government to do the same. We need to confront and refute our own officials (Abbott) when they spout scurrilous accusations about our Valley society. We need to believe that, together, pooling our knowledge and resources, we can surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles.