back to

e-flux conversations

Letters against Separation – Irmgard Emmelhainz in Mexico City

March 30th 2020

Today it’s been three weeks since women massively went on strike a day after having taken the streets. Called for by feminists to protest against gender violence and visibilize women’s role in the economy and society, women stayed at home and refused to work, shop, buy and perform any reproductive tasks for a whole day. The day prior, some 800,000 women marched on Reforma Avenue in Mexico City – although the vast majority failed to make it to the emblematic center of the protest, the Zócalo or the city’s main square. Authorities had subtly dissuaded access, as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had taken a hostile stand towards the march and strike. The feminist actions were reproduced in cities across the country and in Latin America, creating waves of green (the emblematic color of pro-abortion struggle originated in Argentina) and purple, which in Mexico City matched beautifully with the blooming jacaranda flowers that had arrived a month earlier than usual.

On March 13th, as news from the coronavirus pandemic and crisis mainly from New York City, Italy and Spain began to generate concern amongst the population in Mexico, the Secretary of Public Education (SEP) declared that spring break would begin two weeks earlier than planned and would last for a whole month, instead of two weeks. Private education institutions, however, officially shut down a week earlier than the SEP had prescribed. A meme began to circulate in WhatsApp groups: “Karma: From the creators of a day without women, there will be thirty days with children at home.” The dry misogynist cynicical tone of the meme hardly describes the hardship women are undergoing during lockdown: extra housework chores, productive work plus tutoring children through heavy school assignments sent by teachers for homeschooling.

Two weeks ago, the middle, upper middle class and the elite went into self-imposed social isolation. Perhaps because we are connected to the rest of the world through social media (a particular video from Italy recommending that we follow sanitary measures, lest end up like them), or because some of us were abroad and informed about what was going on elsewhere. Right before the SEP called for the official month-long education shut-down, a mythical flight coming to Mexico City from Colorado, US had brought well-to do Mexicans back from a skiing trip to Veil. A dozen or so tested positive for Coronavirus and one of the passengers, a relative of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, was reported dead from the illness in a Mexico City hospital. The coronavirus became immediately a class issue in political discourse: an illness that was brought in by those affluent enough to travel abroad. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador went as far as declaring that “the people are immune,” a declaration echoed by Puebla governor Miguel Barbosa, who declared “if you are rich, you run the risk (of falling ill), if you are poor, you do not. We the poor are immune.”

The neoliberal populist line of action had been denial of the crisis. Like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, President López Obrador’s stand towards the pandemic was in frank opposition to measures taken by state and municipal authorities across the country. On March 20th, Mexico City governor Claudia Sheimbaum called for the closure of public parks, museums, theaters, etc., and launched the “Susana Distancia” (Her-healthy Distance) campaign to promote keeping a healthy distance in public spaces. A group of civilians in Nogales, at the Sonora-Arizona border, blocked the border for hours on March 25th, demanding that Americans stay at home and that incomers to the country be tested for COVID-19. As a response, officials began taking the temparature of travelers, but the “Sonoras for Health and Life” group has threatened to block the border again as they don’t think the measure is enough to stop the coronavirus from propagating in Sonora.

That same day, thousands of companies across the country closed indefinitely. Restaurants began offering delivery-only services. Grupo Alsea, who owns the concessions in Mexico for Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, Burger King, Chili’s, P.F. Chang’s, Italianni’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Vips, amongst others, launched a 30-day program for “voluntary licensing” without pay. The reason why restaurants remain open with delivery service is because if they shut down, they’d be forced to pay their employees.

In the meantime, President López Obrador claimed that there was no cause for alarm, and was seen shaking hands and hugging admirers saying that there are no shortage of spaces in hospitals (there are about 2050 ventilator machines in the entire country in the public healthcare system). Finally, a week after he encouraged Mexicans to go out and live a normal life in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic (and civil society, governors and municipalities were clearly not listening), President López Obrador asked everyone this Friday to stay at home to prevent the propagation of the virus. Since March 29th, the call for national shutdown as a measure against the coronavirus pandemic is official.

What is behind the populist neoliberal line of denial? It is the millions of people who live by day to day, who cannot afford to stop working and keep on using public transportations to reach their work places. At this point, the health problem in Mexico is not so major as the economic problem. The shutdown is already affecting 40 million workers and according to experts, poverty could reach up to 48% of the country’s population in the month-long official shutdown. For many, the coming economic crisis and recession will be unprecedented in scale. In India, Modi demanded forgiveness from the poor for shutting the country down. Does this mean that our populist leaders will pay for the social cost of the pandemic? Whom will they bail out and how?

We are definitely at the verge of an extremely complex moment, when the majority will be more vulnerable than ever to failing to survive in a collapsed economic system. The immediate official response in Mexico to the crisis has been privatization, shifting responsibility of the COVID19 crisis away from the state and toward family structures (as if families, especially women, have not been shouldering the burden already). Early on, the President issued a machista decree stating that women should look after their elderly family members and that men have to be generous to those around them (like lending money to unemployed cousins or something, as if the norm in Mexico were different than a majority of families sustained by single-mothers’ income). López Obrador has also called for corporate solidarity, and apparently businessmen will be helping the government to strenghten a health plan to contain the propagation of COVID-19. The President announced in his daily morning address on March 25th that Coppel had donated 50 million pesos, Carlos Slim will donate a thousand million pesos for medical equipment, and Germán Larrea, owner of Grupo México, will offer a hospital his foundation built in Juchitán, Oaxaca, which will be operated by the army. The federal government, moreover, has set a fund of 25 thousand million pesos to offer up to a million credits of 25 thousand pesos to taxi drivers, food markets, and taco shops that can be repaid at an annual rate of 6.5 percent payable in three months. López Obrador also stated that there will be no tax exemptions or extensions and that he refuses to replicate the neoliberal rescue schemes that privileged banks and the private sector. These measures are clearly not enough to palliate the ravages of the crisis and the shortcomings of the public healthcare system.

Between March 26-29th, the whole country went officially into shutdown. This past weekend, the President finally demanded that people stay at home as a measure to contain the pandemic. Most of us are concerned about where our next paycheck will come from once our little savings fade out in rent, food, and basics. Banks have postponed credit and mortgage payments for four months, but that is as far as solidarity has gone right now. My efforts in social media to find about or share information about mutual aid networks have been ignored or met with scorn. According to some, the upcoming recession and economic crisis deriving from the COVID-19 epidemic means that the virus is inflicting a mortal blow against capitalism. But I think that governments and corporations will quickly find and implement measures to contain the impact of the virus on the economy to try to return to some sort of “economic normalcy.”

What will become flagrantly evident is the consequence of privatization and austerity measures in the public healthcare system. In Mexico, only a few will have access to ventilators and hospital beds; others will surely have to wait on the streets to receive treatment, as is already the case in New York, where outside a hospital in Queens people are standing in line sick, waiting for a bed which can only be freed if someone dies and the body is taken away. It goes without saying that we are living in a social and economic world in which we accept that some people have access to healthcare to save their lives and others cannot afford it or have no insurance and will die. For fear of falling ill, people have been willing to temporarily suspend normal life, work, friends, affects, political and religious conventions. Bifo has foreseen a long-term stasis, immobility, slowing down. A propagation of relational paralysis. This will not be the end of capitalism, but perhaps the end of our lives as we know them. Embracing uncertainty and precarity at a deeper level than we have embraced them until now, having lesser economic privileges and hardship. Under future conditions maybe we will begin to think and discuss more about the fact that social structures that sustain our lives are not designed to preserve the wellbeing of everyone.

Another issue that we will be no longer able to avoid is the fragility of the social, economic, and environmental structures upon which we lead our lives. COVID-19 has put global interdependency to the fore and that it is the first time that the effects of climate change are being lived at the global level, instead of locally. And yet the idea that the coronavirus will end capitalism is wishful thinking: the virus isolates and individualizes us, we are fearfully retreating further into our private lives, only concerned with self-survival.

News (perhaps fake news) has already begun to circulate about robberies and breaking and entering into supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the country. Some imagine an urban apocalypse of poor (obviously brown) people invading homes and stealing all the food that is left from the supermarkets. And solidarity now means keeping a 1.5 meter distance between others, staying home and socializing through Zoom, using sanitizing gel regularly and not hoarding toilet paper or other basics at the store. Eventually, capitalism will surely come back with a vengeance, tourism will expand, corporations will have profited from the pandemics.

In a way, the COVID-19 isolation measures represent continuity with our “normal,” which is living in a world in which we all have the right to retreat to our private worlds of meaning, tailored to our wants by the algorithms of digital interfaces that adapt to our individual needs. As I have already argued elsewhere, the possibility of the world in common was replaced by the explosion of myriad niches for the private consumption of digitalized content disseminated in the “world” and in the infosphere. The virtual isolation inherent to digital individual consumption has become our everyday reality.

Uncertainty, sudden curfews, inconsistent quarantines unpredictable in length and increasingly more desperate conditions for survival will ensue. Instead of hoping/fearing for the end of capitalism, we need to propagate the idea that a return to “normal” cannot be an option because the coronavirus is part of the climate crisis. And climate change is not a private but a collective crisis that can only be solved by collective decisions beyond the political theater and corporate greed. By now we know that coronavirus and other illnesses come from human contact with animals living in disturbed natural habitats, a consequence of the commodification of life. Understanding that the coronavirus and climate change are rooted in the current economic model, at the expense of the environment upon which our survival depends, because our ability to produce food is compromised in the short-term (the fertility of soils is diminishing, there are droughts, coastal innundations, bee extinctions, heatwaves and wildfires). If cultural producers were the harbingers of globalization and precarized neoliberal working conditions, perhaps we will become harbingers of a different future now. Sharing an understanding and unease with the fact that this society is no longer tenable. That the “life” that is trying to be saved by locking ourselves down has less to do with our personal lives and more to do with the commodification of life.

The jacarandas in full bloom three weeks ago during the women’s march are slowly withering, littering unkept streets across our neighborhood. Still, they offer a festive feeling and fill our afternoon walks of social isolation with joy, countering the paranoid and fearful vibe of the few neighbors we cross on the streets. We have been in social isolation for two weeks now. I work with my nine-year-old daughter daily for 3 hours on school assignments and make up activities for her to do. Dance, guitar, anime tutorials, and podcasts in English and French are the order of the day. My natural state is isolation for reading, writing, and preparing my classes, but having my daughter around and the extra chores has made the quarantine extremely stressful. My classes have moved online – and yes, they include punctuated interruptions in spite of nasty threats. My productivity seems to be increasing and not by choice. I can’t seem to keep up with writings about the crisis by Butler, Zizek, Byung-Chul Han, Preciado, Berardi on top of following the news on, Aljazeera, let alone local newspapers and their opinionists, my previous deadlines and the pile of books next to my bed staring at me. Thinking about the looming uncertainty of income after the crisis, I keep wondering if I can say no to teaching an extra seminar online? To a written commission about the crisis? To a podcast interview? To a Twitter challenge? Aside from daily walks and indoor exercise routines led by YouTube or Instagram live videos, we have been able to enjoy bike rides on the near-empty streets. We are well aware that it won’t be long before we have to face police or military checkpoints when going outside, which I find scarier than the virus. What “life” will we yearn for and desire and what will be the cost?


April 3, 2019 Day 18

During our first week of lockdown, I read a FB post by my friend Pablo Helguera who lives in New York and was offering anyone interested to read to them a story over the phone. I found his effort to stay connected and be present from afar, offering the gift of moments of contact to share meaning, incredibly touching. I took him up on his offer. When we spoke, New York had already been on lockdown for a week and he told me some personal observations about life there based on the new restrictions. Then he read to me a lovely story he had written in his youth about a vampire teenager who falls in love and approaches the girl at a party. The story unfolds in a far-away Mexico in time and space that came alive through Pablo’s voice. Our imaginations met in Polanco in the mid-1980s amidst teenage angst and quiet streets when life seemed to be much simpler. To Layla my daughter he sang a song accompanied by his guitar about a robot boy whose grandmother gets him ready to go to school by winding and oiling his machinery. She then sends him off kissing his polished steel forehead and his twisted wire curls, and sees him march away at the rhythm of a corrrido tune of “cha cha cha cha cha.” Two days ago Pablo reported having come down with a 103 F fever. The fever is not high enough to grant him COVID19 testing, let alone hospitalization. I sent him digital strength and love, while I reposted a story about 500 people being evicted from a Catholic shelter in Las Vegas. One of them tested positive for the virus, so to avoid contagion, all homeless cloistered there were promptly relocated to a parking lot in which a grid had been drawn to mark the mandatory 6 ft separation. The image of people lying down on sleeping bags with bottles of water, asleep or convalescing, is terrifying and keeps haunting my mind, foreboding and indicative of the current division of the world between privileged and redundant populations, or those who have a roof and money to go on lockdown and those who do not. How do we account for this deep difference? In Mexico as I mentioned on my previous post, COVID19 became a matter of class as the president announced that “the people are immune.” This statement has not only (populist) political but also (neoliberal) economic implications – to allow the self-exploited to keep on self-exploiting to buttress the lockdown. This has given way to a situation in which beyond the fact of lockdown being a privilege, a portion of the population is in actual disbelief of the pandemic and even in numerous areas in the city life is being lived as normal. A schizophrenic denial of economic precarity and social polarization are at the heart of the current regime’s management of the situation (municipalities and states keep on taking independent initiatives though, like the much criticized liquor ban in the state of Yucatán, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Sonora and Campeche).

I’ve been reading Brenda Lozano’s newest novel Brujas, which tells parallel stories about two pairs of sisters, one from the city (a photographer and a journalist) and another from the Oaxaca mountains who are healers, one of them a muxe (*muxes are persons in Zapotec cultures in Oaxaca who are assigned male at birth, but who dress and behave in manners associated with women, also a third gender). Each chapter interweaves the parallel worlds of the sisters who cross paths when Zoé the journalist decides to travel to Oaxaca to meet world-famous healer Feliciana and inquire about her sister Paloma’s murder. In the novel, the character of Feliciana is inspired by the figure of María Sabina (1894-1985), a Mazatec curandera who healed with sacred mushroom ceremonies. She achieved world renown and was visited by famous scientists and people like Aldus Huxley, Walt Disney, Alejandro Jodorowski, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Carlos Castañeda. The two realities interwoven in Lozano’s narrative could not be more different: oral vs. written language, worldviews, scenery, life circumstances, family and social relationships. What the narratives have in common though, is a special focus on how gender violence, maternity, homosexuality, and life stories are lived in both realms. All characters have witchery to help themselves and others, and the figure of the witch is the symbol for empowered women.

Lozano’s aim to give voice to indigenous literary characters has a precedent in Elena Poniatowska’s Hasta no verte Jesús mío. Written in 1969, it is based on interviews with a destitute woman from Oaxaca who fought along her husband during the Mexican Revolution and then decided to stay in Mexico City, getting by with many jobs. The character was inspired by Josefina Bohórquez, a woman that caught Poniatowska’s attention by her language, sharpness and political self-consciousness. Poniatowska visted her every Wednesday for many weeks for two hours to listen to her life-story. The result is a novel made up of a mix of anecdotes written to imitate Bohórquez’s oral language to give shape to the protagonist, Jesusa Palancares. Lozano makes a similar attempt with Feliciana and Paloma (although Paloma speaks like chilanga trans, punctuating all her declarations with a candid “¡Mi amor!”). The context in which Poniatowska wrote Hasta no verte Jesús mío is the peak (and the beginning of the demise) of Mexican communism, in an honest attempt to give voice to a politically conscious indigenous woman who challenged gender roles and was truly exceptional. The voice captured and transmitted by Poniatowska is an attempt to bridge class struggle to real-life subjects in struggle. Half a century later, that bridge has solidified as de-politicized cultural difference.

While half a century ago poor mestizos and originary peoples were the leaders of history in whose name the left fought, now they are (again) the cannon fodder for the coronavirus epidemic: not only are they being left to grapple on their own, but mestizos are filling the streets working, cleaning, cooking, delivering meals and groceries, trying to scrape by, remaining exposed and vulnerable, while the middle and upper middle classes are in lockdown. The irony behind the president’s declaration that “the people” are immune to the virus is that they are wanted to be, or have to be, immune to sustain themselves during the lockdown. Social distancing is just not possible for the majority of the population, and this is why any juxtaposition of life between the urban and the rural worlds needs to remain inconmmeasurable.

In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici recounts how before the witch hunt began at the end of the Middle Ages, women had been relatively in control of their own fertility and reproductive function, practices that would be criminalized during the witch hunt. Before that, the Church at the end of the 13th century saw this with certain indulgence and a right women had to put a limit to their pregnancies due to economic reasons. But things changed drastically when control over women’s reproduction began to be perceived as a threat to socio-economic stability, especially in the aftermath of the demographic catastrophe produced by the black plague that destroyed more than a third of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1352 changing deeply social and political life inaugurating a new era. Social hierarchies were turned upside down due to the leveling effect of generalized death. But most importantly, as labor hands were decimated, workers became extremely scarce and this strengthened the proletariat’s determination to break the ties of feudal dominion. In other words, power relations were modified favoring the lower classes, as land became largely available, as crops rotted and cattle wandered aimlessly, peasants and craftsmen suddenly took over the situation. There was a massive exodus from both land and the city, and tenants began to refuse to pay fines, taxes and rent. The aftermath of the black plague is known as a golden era of the European proletariat, but a counterrevolution followed, bringing about the capitalist reorganization of social and economic life that came together with the degradation of women’s status in society, misogyny, control of the reproductive function and the witch hunt. Contraceptives began to be called “maleficia.”

Apparently it has been newly found that the coronavirus seems to spread as an airborne aerosol and thus standing six feet apart is not enough or an effective measure to protect people from contagion. This has been known in Asia for months, and an effort to contain spreading of the virus has been to protect everyone with masks. Infected people can spread the virus by talking or breathing, and today only half of the ten people allowed at a time at my bank were wearing a mask.

Speaking endangering us is literal, while women have been talking for four decades, but no one has been listening. During the Mexico City Women’s March three weeks ago, there was no manifest direct repression. As I mentioned in the previous post, access to the Zócalo (the country’s symbolic center and seat of Catholic and state powers) was prevented by a barricade and police, causing the majority of protesters to turn around before getting there. The image of a half-empty Zócalo contrasted with a congested Reforma Avenue. Six people were detained for attacking protesters at the doors of the Palacio Nacional (National Palace, the seat of the Federal Government) which were heavily protected with metal doors. Bellas Artes Palace, hotels, restaurants and shops along Reforma and Alameda streets displayed the same kind of armored protection. And yet, the hundreds of riot squad female police with faces reddened by the sun stationed on the edges of the procession passively observed through their protective masks how the “morras” broke through the armoring and began to destroy windows, doors, security cameras. A few meters distance from me were a group of four morras shattering the window of a Starbucks by the Hilton with a long hammer and a thick wooden beam. I saw another group of morras throwing rockets that made loud banging noises and disolved into pretty colored gases. They also released rocks the size of soccer balls. To me, it was beautiful and I silently thanked them for risking their skins, lives, integrity, sanity for all of us. While these not at all sporadic episodes of vandalism occurred throughout the march, many of the other women present chanted “No violence, no violence.” Without knowing or understanding that those violent gestures indeed spoke on behalf women’s struggle. “The origin of women’s oppression is private property,” I said to a fellow marcher in my contingent, wishing to have a moment to discuss Engels and Federici with her, also to remind her of the Chilean hymn “El violador eres tú” (You are the rapist), which directly accuses the state of being founded on maintaining heteropatriarchy and thus gender violence. There is an urgent need for a popular feminist pedagogy to spread knowledge about the links between heteropatriarchy and state indifference to gender violence. After all, it is the state which grants aggressors impunity. By expressing paranoia and indifference towards the women’s march and strike, the president himself is demanding silence from the victims. This is why vandalism against official monuments (“patrimony”) is a direct expression of state impunity granted to male aggressors of women. In Federici’s account, during the transition from feudalism to capitalism at the beginning of the 14th century and in the aftermath of the black plague, as a means to co-opting young rebellious proletarians, the state (and Catholic church) granted them free or easy access to sex. This meant on the one hand that rape against working class women went unpunished (becoming a kind of sport), and on the other, prostitution was institutionalized and condoned by both state and church. This paved the way for misogyny and the witch hunt or “gynocide” that would last for the following three centuries. A symbolic gesture towards the Catholic Church’s complicity historically and in the present with women’s oppression on the March 8th protest took place as women “liberated” the Cathedral erected across from the Palacio Nacional by pulling away the shielding fences and leaving their bras hanging around the entrance gates.

The desire for connection and togetherness fueled by the uncertainty of the length of the social distancing to contain the pandemic only needs to crystalize in continuing where we left off at the March 9th Women’s Strike. Without a doubt, all toxicity is coming from the same source, the evidence is on the table.

Now, our stories are public. The global debate that arose after the #MeToo movement unleashed accusations of abuse across the world (with brackets in Hollywood and France) centered on men’s freedom to conquer women. #MeToo has been either dismissed as being prudish or as ignoring the quid pro quo behind certain forms of sexual behavior. But we need to be aware of the distinction between predation and abuse and pit abuse against debauchery. Last February, beautiful French actress Adèle Haenel left the Césars award ceremony in France outraged when Roman Polanski’s was awarded Best Director for his film An Officer and an a Spy. Only few cheered, perhaps seeing the irony behind the fact that Polanski had been given an award for a film about an unfair and prejudiced prosecution against a Jewish man (Dreyfus) in 19th century France. In an interview with Médiapart, Haenel told the story behind the accusation of abuse in November that she had undergone as a teenager by Christophe Ruggia, the director of her first film. She concludes that the difference between predation and debauchery lies on the fact that abuse inoculates self-hatred in women along with the drive for self-destruction. Because through abuse, men may derive pleasure from depredation and it can dangerously become the normative measure of behavior between men and women. But beyond that, the whole of society is built on depredation and violence against women: it is not about singular cases proliferating or coming to light: gender violence implicates the whole of society. We are speaking, making symbolic actions, going on strike. And everyone must listen, we have to continue to fight, although the virus has made speaking dangerous. But right now, it is nature itself speaking back.

Because our societies are not only erected on the depredation of women, but also of nature. We are seeing now across the world leaders reacting to the coronavirus crisis with extreme power grabs for ruling by decree with no end in sight (Urban, Netanyahu, Trump’s hint at postponing elections), the suspension of environmental regulations in the name of salvaging the economy (China and the US), attacks on our weakened democracies. In Mexico City, the government is grabbing for extra powers of surveillance, as cell phone companies are now granting the government access to cell antennae, while the president is pushing for debt schemes for small businesses as a solution to lack of salaries.

The power grab and depredation intensify as global capitalism once gain proves to be biologically unsustainable, while the coronavirus crisis signals a passage from the Anthropocene to an era in which humanity has lost its central role as the subject of history on earth. Nature is now taking over, viruses are rebelling against humans, causing the economy to collapse due to the seclusion, death, recession and desperation.

According to a recent interview with environmentalist journalist and ETC director Silvia Ribeiro, all infectious viruses that emerged this century are directly linked to industrialized animal farming, which are fertile grounds for the replication and mutation of viruses mainly because animals live in crowded conditions: chicken (bird flu) and pigs (AH1N1 and SARS) are bred in industrial farms where they can hardly move around and thus generate illnesses as they are fed pesticides, transgenic forage, antibiotics and anti-virals to prevent illnesses. These animals are in contact with human beings, as are animals displaced from their natural habitats, for instance by deforestation, which is also linked to the expansion of agriculture. In short, industrialized animal farming and agriculture are highly toxic; they not only create viruses, but produce food that causes diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cancer. Bayer, Monsanto, Singenta, Basf, Corteva, Cargill, Bunge, ADM are virus and death factories and paradoxically, as we all know, economic rescues will go to saving them along with pharmaceutical companies propelling further the vicious cycle that will reproduce similar pandemics.

Thus while we are on lockdown, we should be reminded everyday that global capitalism is biologically unsustainable and that the vicious cycle of always-returning viruses can only be broken if we actually manage to break the power of the for-profit healthcare and agroindustry.

Banks in Mexico have announced a four-month moratorium on mortgage and credit payments, while the government is offering credits for small and medium-sized companies to pay for employee salaries through the “Banco de desarrollo,” a government-supported fund, and demanding corporate support for the crisis. But clearly more radical measures need to be taken because thus far, these measures favor privatization and debt, fueling the neoliberal capitalist machine. For instance, the US states California, Washington and New York have also announced relief on mortgage payments and eviction moratoriums but many workers have lost their paychecks due to de pandemic and are unable to pay rent. And yet, no rent freezes have been ordered anywhere. In New York, people are demanding a similar approach to mortgages to renters who demand waving rent payment or reducing it at least to 50%. If not, they will call for rent strike like in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Radical measures like this will begin to be taken, like the Amazon workers strike to demand protection from the virus, or like the nationalization of private healthcare in Spain and Ireland, where public, private and military health have been subsumed under the command of the federal government, which has taken over sanitary material or private installations for the duration of the coronavirus crisis for the benefit of all the people. Right now we can allow no room for the public versus the private, and we need to be alert and plan the fight against further possible power grabs and depredation.

*Mental note: To find a way to excise the presidential media circus from my thinking and writing. For the most part, the circus is inconsequential (except for making people skeptical about the pandemic).


April 10, day 5 of the 4th week

This week I have been experiencing difficulty sleeping, anxiety and feeling pain on my limbs and neck. I have not been i n the greatest of moods, and our three-strong-headed-ladies-household interaction on lockdown has not been easy. Negative dynamics intensify and the need to take refuge from within the refuge is palpable. Diverging needs and capacity to fulfill them uneven out, and a fair redistribution of chores and house space is called for. It has been over a week since access to my anxiety animal has been fully restricted, and that makes all harder. Last night, Layla dreamt of being evicted from our home: “Some guys looking like Trump came and kicked me out of the house and I was forced to go on and live by myself on the streets.” The heat and dry air have added to general discomfort, but luckily we were able to enjoy a thunderstorm that seemed to arrive as a gift to enable everyone to breathe better. I am getting good at finding balance between productive and reproductive work. My daughter has two weeks off from school and I have a break from virtual teaching. I have been trying to take some time off from writing and to “forget myself,” as my friend Jimena Acosta suggests, to spend more time with Layla. Although keeping my mind sharp as well as my body are definitely my best way of coping so far. All the while, the secrets of tender chicken, the mysteries of the marriage between steak and wine and ginger and garlic, al dente pasta, the endless possibilities of quinoa, fideos reveal themselves to me (not really: my friend Miguel Ventura and my aunt Sonia Ortiz’s Cocina y comparte channel are helping a lot). Will the Easter Bunny arrive if COVID19 is on the air? I’d better prepare for a night sneak-out to go buy some chocolate to hide in the garden on Sunday.

Daily parentheses of our lives under lockdown had been walks and bike rides, but now it turns out that they can be dangerous because it has been demonstrated that the virus lingers on the air; crossing a jogger or cyclist in our paths less than 20 m away is now considered to be a haphazard. So life appears to be reduced to bodies and voices on screen telling me to stretch out previously unknown and unfelt joints and muscles on my torso, hips and shoulders; or me telling faces on my screen to think about this or other aspect of a film we saw. As faces and voices on screens appear to be our link to the world in a desperate search to ward off depression and panic, to get together and find meaning at Zoom parties, to exchange views, articles and news and hope on the situation on WhatsApp groups, it becomes clear that we take for granted so many things, like running water and soap, food availability, mobility, freedom of choice and contact with one another.

Our current lives in conditions of extreme alienation have not only redefined privilege as comfortably having the means not to come into close contact with the people upon whose labor, bodies and lives our lifestyles depend upon. It means that a new “virtual working class” has emerged. Zoom and similar platforms have become the matrix of a model of production instituted by the coronavirus. We have brought our productive lives to a partial halt to flatten the curve of the propagation of the virus, but have enabled minimal production and consumption to keep the system going. A new economy of lockdown has emerged in “the digital purity of connectivity,” in the space of disembodied communication, where knowledge is further subsumed to the rule of capital accumulation, the technological power over social life exacerbated.

One of the most worrying effects of the reduction of life and human contact to screens has been that society has fallen into disbelief of its own capability of governing itself. Civil society on lockdown now means daily shared automated panic and outrage triggered by the simulacral voice of our political leadership. As we are facing a near future of economic recession that inevitably comes with cultural devolution, further political regression and social impoverishment, we are turning to the “State,” the banks and the 1% for the solution to the crisis and to the private sphere to worry and solve problems that are collective. This is clearly a side effect of the alienation brought about by lockdown, of the shocking sudden awareness that the distinction between nature and culture is risible, that human beings and capitalist production are not separate from nature. Although nature is not centered on humans or human beings, nature has agency, insofar as it is a condition of states of affairs. We are now living under Coronavirus Capitalism: the virus has instituted a new discipline for production, surveillance, militarization and thus the movement of bodies, which has come with the intensification of racial, class and gender hierarchies as well as with the eradication – through great suffering – of a portion of the redundant population. A new perfect storm for the shock doctrine is brewing. The experience of “society” has never been lived at this level of abstraction before. Capitalism, for its part, is “the social” insofar as we depend on and profit from one another, having created and perpetuated social relationships that are disabled and unequipped to function toward the common good. Capitalism is not only anti-social, but also anti-life and toxic.
If nature is a condition of states of human affairs and production, foreign to human agency, the COVID-19 crisis is the expression of capitalist (and heteropatriarchal) toxicity. Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters (2019) is a fiction about an environmental lawyer (Robert Bilott) who puts together a class-action case against the chemical manufacturing corporation DuPont, accused of contaminating a town in West Virginia with unregulated dump chemicals on the town’s river. Specifically, DuPont dumped large amounts of PFOA, the unregulated chemical used to manufacture Teflon, which causes cancer and birth defects. It turns out that more than half a century after PFOA every human being and the environment carries traces of PFOA. In the light of this film, Haynes’ 1995 film, Safe, acquires a new dimension and contemporary relevance in helping us understand the role of all kinds of invisible toxicity surrounding us as well as the fact that our drive to safety and security drives us apart. Carol White is a Los Angeles housewife who falls ill and comes to believe that she suffers from environmental allergies. Haynes’ film is not only a commentary on self-help culture (again: collective problems understood as private), a metaphor for the AIDS crisis as well as class and social estrangement, but also about the environmental and social toxicity that we fail to see and account for.

The fetish word “community” in its romanticized version has seen a new life to draw a future horizon of building together lives as communities of shared affinities or communities of strangers (with plus points for that). But I think that before we are able to foresee a future of a socialized economy and interdependency (or communities grounded on responsibility towards others), we need to first acknowledge the social, environmental, emotional toxicity surrounding us grounded on capitalist relationship of power and debt. Second, we must find ways to rewire ourselves against Western Modernism’s inoculation of individualism and the fantasy of self-reliance. Only then perhaps, could the quarantine become be a “portal” as Arundathi Roy says, from our past lives toward a new post-capitalist world.

Without a doubt, we need to match up to the times, and resiliency means right now being clear about what is necessary for us to understand to be able to envision forms of action and movement encompassing what needs to be fought for. Most of what we are dealing with are feminist issues as class, gender and race divisions are being deepened by forced lockdown.

We must also acknowledge that in spite of our best efforts and intentions, our current lockdown conditions are hindering meaning as the result of ineffective communication amongst language agents and thus affecting our “shared view” of the situation. According to Bifo, meaning emerges in the dimension of affective conjunction, and meaningful exchange dissolves rapidly when the community of bodies disaggregates. As the community of congregated bodies is substituted by faces and voices on screens, sentience is numbed down. We tend to overlook the material infrastructures that surround and support us, like electrical wiring, elevators, heating and cooling systems, not to mention the oxygen in the atmosphere. Like we take these for granted, we take the possibility of having access to others through our screens for granted. Our reliance in technology is invisibilized as it becomes a proxy-space for mutual understanding and sharing meaning. But we are currently missing out on a sensuous consciousness for a shared imagination, which is key for political organization. Facing screens, we have cognition but our forms of shared imagination are being reduced to simplified expressions of outrage, irony, cynicism, depression, despair or hope.

On a live Instagram interview on April 7th, Jean-Luc Godard posits information as the virus and incommunication as the illness. He mentions his 1975 a video-film made in collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, Comment ça va?, in which they discuss the illness of information grounded on a critique of an image of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal published in the leftist newspaper Libération. As a genre in photography, photojournalistic images had become information and “Plato’s cave became fixed on paper/screen.” If we extrapolate this analogy to Coronavirus Capitalism, we could argue that we have moved from real life and human contact (which had been already partially shut down by various forms of alienation, amongst them digital communications) to the inside of Plato’s cave-screen, in which we are now exchanging information without sentience or shared meaning: that is the illness of incommunication, as Godard put it. To explain this, Godard brings up linguist Férnand de Saussure’s structuralist distinction between langage, langue and parole in French. Langage (language) is the capacity to use langue (language) as a tool, to communicate and interact with fellow humans, an organized system of sounds that carries content. Langue is a tool structured by rules that allows us to communicate and interact with fellow humans. Parole (word) is the concrete use of langue by every individual that expresses herself through singular forms of pronunciation, accent, rhythm, type of words and expressions. I would add here voice, which is the faculty of speaking and expressing sentiment, judgment, opinion, and écriture (writing). For Godard, images are langage and cinema is made up of writing and images (écriture and langage). So is information, but it has become an illness because it conveys solidified meanings from which complexity and ambiguity have been excised, expressed as mots d’ordre (orders of the day, slogans, mandates) as Deleuze and Guattari put it in Mille Plateaux, crystallizing states of affairs and hindering action. Another manifestation of the virus of communication is the simulation of the voice by political leaders (this has been called Neurototalitarianism, post-truth…)
Every morning since he came to power on December 1, 2018, our President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addresses a group of journalists and their recording machines; as he speaks out, the President receives feedback from them as a lonely mirror-image which finds a chamber of echoes in social media. The purpose of the daily morning address is to dominate the public sphere with a series of pre-determined topics and so the President’s voice has become the source of the nations’ daily outrage. On April 7th, our constitutionally-mandated secular president read in his morning address a Tweet by Pope Francisco quoting the Gospels: “… we will be judged according to our relationship to the poor…” the President read, and then declared: “We have to give preference to those who need help the most.” The President’s simulacrae of a voice in his daily morning addresses have become a self-enclosed and self-referring system of parole: “fake news” reproducing themselves like a virus in the chamber of echoes of social media and digital commentary.

In my previous post I gave myself the task (or challenge?) to no longer rant or complain about the President, but I think it is important to understand his voice as a “sinthome” in Lacan’s sense (I’m all vintage-post-structuralist today). The sinthome or symptom is not a call for interpretation or an address to the Other, but pure jouissance addressed to no one. In other words, the sinthome is a not symptom as a signifier, but the enjoyment of the unconscious which determines the subject, and it can be deciphered as a constitutive trace in the subject’s jouissance. In the Mexican particular case, the President’s voice as synthome is the machista moralistic unconscious of condescending capitalist heteropatriarchy upon which the Nation-State is grounded: on the exploitation of indigenous and originary peoples.

Sears controversial Spring 2020 campaign throughout Mexico City

At the end of last week, a meeting took place between the President and private enterprise leaders (the representatives of the 1%) who had come forward expressing solidarity with the government in palliating the current/forthcoming economic crisis. On Sunday, the President announced his proposal for economic measures, centered on amplifying social programs based on youth and elderly cash handouts, future plans to build public and housing infrastructure, to continue with the government’s policy of austerity and “the poor first” through government social aid. The President has repeatedly stated that a new FOBAPROA – a contingencies fund created in 1990 by the Mexican government to attempt to resolve liquidity problems of banks in the country before economic crises – is out of the question, and that COVID19 is the opportunity to bring crashing down the neoliberal economy. In order to do that, political parties now need to donate a portion of their elections budget, the President has come up with an extra 250 thousand million pesos, product of the dissolution of 283 trust deeds considered inessential in one blow, to pay public debt interest, to strengthen State social programs, to help economic reactivation by offering credits to small family businesses in the formal and informal sectors. A million credits will be handed out to micro and small family enterprises like car workshops, beauty parlors, convenience shops, small restaurants. The funds will also be used to buttress Pemex against the fall of oil prices and to invest in State infrastructure for fossil fuel extraction (a large portion of oil extraction infrastructure was subcontracted or privatized under President Enrique Peña Nieto). These measures make sense if we consider that about 50% of the workforce is informal, which means they do not have the right to social security, and that thousands of people have lost their jobs, and if they don’t die from COVID19 they could die of hunger or domestic violence (this is why for better or for worse in many States alcohol sales have been restricted).

For its part, the Private Initiative represented by the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (Corporate Coordinator Council) has requested the 100% deferral of social security contributions for hotels, aviation, tourism and restaurants, to increase the country’s debt in 4 GDP points (a total of a billion pesos to palliate the crisis), an infrastructure program with joint public and private funds assigned to every one of the 32 Mexican states; a Private Initiative opening to invest in the energy sector, that Mexico substitute China in some exports to the US, an accelerated depreciation to accelerate investment in Mexico, to support smaller business with advanced salaries and raw matter acquisition, and to avoid contractual penalizations amongst particulars.

The President’s disregard for the Corporate Coordinator Council’s proposal repeatedly stating that “the State will not bail them out again,” not only caused extreme polarization on the screens that comprise our public sphere, but as the 1%, believes that the President’s plan is a tragedy, they seem to be launching into a private crusade to save the country (which possibly means taking full advantage of the crisis, Shock Doctrine style). Mexico’s unbridgeable realities have been brought again to the fore. While the President speaks for the poor and seeks to ameliorate their living conditions, he does so without threatening the social order or private property – why else would he not propose to nationalize private hospitals, hotels, the aviation industry and restaurants? Many see his plan as mere populist subsidies geared at short-term consumption, and indebting the poor.

Again, the polarization upon which this debate has been constructed is the same as the President’s voice as sinthome, the source of unconscious enjoyment, the sadistic violence upon which our colonial society is erected.

From this point of view, the public discussion about the solution to the current/forthcoming crisis should not be centered on whether the President is nuts or the 1% abusive. The current discussion about the means to solve the current/future economic crisis should be centered on the unsustainability of the fossil fuel and megaprojects economy. What is denied in the ridiculous chairo/fifí dichotomy is the democratic control of the commons. This is why we need to fight for a more radical approach to the crisis.

Clearly, the virus affects everyone but not in the same ways: most live in overcrowded homes and neighborhoods which make social isolation difficult; others have no access to running water and soap, many are old and sick (diabetes and obesity being already national epidemics). Vulnerabilities are distributed differentially amongst the population. The question to a find a strategy to reduce economic and physical harm for everyone. The idiotic debate polarizing our screens is proof that the Nation-State is obsolete, especially when healthcare is treated like a commodity and nationalizing private healthcare, or impeding big pharma and securitization industries to take a big chunk of the Coronavirus Capitalism cake is not even on the table. Pitting “the poor” against the “1%” will take us nowhere; rather, we need to put the stark class divide at the center of the discussion. Indeed, a portion of the population has healthcare and can work from home and order groceries online, comfortably isolated; but the vast majority (informal workers, campesinos, indigenous peoples) are being left to their own devices; what will they do with the State cash handout if there is no medicine, no food to buy, no hospital beds? We also need to bring forth race as an issue: people on the frontlines are brown men and women (domestic workers, nurses, security guards, delivery pepole, factory workers) but also prisoners, refugees, immigrants in transit, destitute, homeless, misery belt dwellers who are the most vulnerable.

Bearing this in mind, we need to fight not for State cash handouts for the youth and elderly in the short-term, but for a universal income; for large-scale public ownership of major corporations to maintain vital services that cannot be run at a profit (private property seems to be untouchable in this country, in spite of the President’s war cry “Down with neoliberalism!”). This, along with State attempts to plan production – especially food. We should be concerned with maintaining not only the stability of food prices but food supplies. The current agricultural system in Mexico is not economically viable: it is environmentally and socially unsustainable as it depletes the soil and poisons aquifers, while it concentrates power in the hands of retail cartels who have driven prices so low that campesinos are obliged to sell below production costs. Perhaps this is an opportunity to regain food sovereignty, making our agricultural and food system greener and more efficient, making sure that the food that we are consuming is not produced by exploiting people and destroying the environment and our bodies with toxic chemicals.

Some other demands that we need to be articulating boldly are for free universal access to healthcare, food, energy, Internet and water. On the ground, we need to keep on organizing networks for aid – networks for food and sanitary equipment donations have been the order of the day in Mexico City – and mutual aid and for rent and mortgage strikes.


April 17, 2020 day 6, week 5 (just past the official “quarantine”)

Everyday I feel like I could, like things could sway either way: toward dystopia – a brutal class war is breeding, survivalists are already on their way to their bunkers or estates in New Zealand, the one percent are fearing a backlash – or toward a post-capitalist future that I ceaselessly try to conjure up during the day but that gives me nightmares at night. And so when I get up I feel guilty for wanting my old life back and that my attempts to interpret reality, draw a horizon of a future, give a critical assessment of the state of affairs, offer conceptual tools to think the present, share thoughts – which are supposedly the duties of writers and artists – are facetious at best. Intermittently immersed in the frenzy of content production and consumption, I accept that language is my means and that thinking through language is for me as vital as moving physically. It’s my way of battling anxiety and plus, the sensation of being informed adds to the illusion of being in control.

Today it was officially announced that the lockdown would extend until May 30th. In zones of low or non-contagion, it will end in a month. These are the last of my Spring Break days before I go back to teaching and homeschooling. By now we have sunk into a daily routine that involves serious cooking – and by this I mean cooking that produces considerable amounts of compost material – cleaning (laundry is done on Sundays), UNO and Siedler, LOL dolls going to the beach in a patch of garden, NPR’s podcast Molly of Denali and Peppa Pig in French. I have not been able to read much, and we have hardly been on the streets. We have ventured once or twice to the supermarket (which is always packed), or to walk around the block. The heat has not receded and neither have the withered jacaranda flowers trashing relentlessly the surroundings of the house. As the sun rises up throughout the day, the color of the sky intensifies to a metallic shine, seeming almost like an opaque mirror lit to the point of overflowing radiation. Right before this happened and our lives changed forever, the sky had been appearing like this. Perhaps I noticed in February? The sun rays felt more intense, I had been going to bed every night feeling that my body had absorbed the sun’s heat, nighttime becoming a reprieve from the menacing opaque mirror spewing heat the sky had become.

Solidarity efforts have emerged around me; not the “mutual aid” kind I had been hoping for (yet) but more like Coronavirus capitalist measures: hundreds of women are sewing masks at home either to sell or to give away. Techniques and materials abound, my favorite are acetate sheets with elastic bands stapled around them (we got a bunch this week as a gift and I will be trying on one as soon as I finish this to visit my nearest ATM). Fashion designer Carla Fernández has produced her own Mexican-neo-modern-folk designs, which can only be bought in bulk and promise safety, 25% revenue to artisans in rural areas, being collector’s items and ultimate chicness.

@Carla Fernández Instagram

In my “Mujeres Unidas” WhatsApp group of moms from Layla’s school, pastries, tacos, paella, psychological, and legal advice on domestic violence, CVs (many are losing their jobs) are being exchanged and shared. Today a mom will be delivering to our home cochinita tacos. Other people I know are handing out baskets with basic groceries to informal vendors on the streets. A young artist who graduated from the school where I teach, Ricardo Atl, together with two doctors, produced an aerosol box, a protective barrier that doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists can use when they intubate patients. They redesigned Taiwanese Lai Hsien-young’s box for the same purpose and liberated the blueprint so that anyone can build their own box. Doctors run the most risk of contagion when they intubate patients. Now a campaign has been launched to raise more funds to build boxes and donate them. I could also mention here that UNAM students have produced a COVID-19 test that yields results in 2 hours for 300 pesos (or 13 USD or less by the day).

In the face of the current regime’s generally perceived populist maladroitness in handling the COVID-19 economic, political, health and social crisis – to the point I’m conspiratorially thinking, a version of herd immunity-eugenics must be at work in Mexico – municipalities throughout the country have organized to impede access to visitors during the quarantine. The Italian village model (for agglomerations of 10,000 inhabitants or less) is being applied by cabildos, municipal councils, local government authorities, etc. who have taken action at the micro-local level (but unfortunately without the COVID-19 testing kits as they are scarce and expensive). Tepoztlán, a “magical town” in Morelos just beyond the fringes of Mexico City embedded in the skirts of a mystic rock agglomeration where many chilangos have weekend homes, shut down for Easter week like other villages across the state of Morelos. Colima and Nayarit, adjacent states on the Mexican Pacific North, closed their borders as well to visitors who fail to prove they have an essential activity there or that live elsewhere. Checkpoints now pepper highways and secondary roads, airports and non-essential commerce are closed, and US citizens coming home to visit or to stay for good are being isolated for 14 days. In deep Guerrero, in the zone known as “La Montaña,” community authorities and vigilantes installed checkpoints weeks ago to stop incomers from the north. That is to say, many immigrants returning from the US to their villages are not being admitted back for fear of contagion. This “communitarian encapsulating” is a drastic measure being taken but necessary, as indigenous communities are the most vulnerable peoples to the pandemic in Mexico.
Recosur, Jolom Mayetik Cooperative, Cefocam-K’inal Antsetik and K’inal Antsetik are indigenous women associations predominantly from Chiapas who have issued a communiqué on April 9 with conclusions about the economic, social and political impact on indigenous women by COVID-19. They fear for their health as in indigenous urban and rural zones there are no conditions to guarantee either information or the means to supply basic necessities for indigenous families. Some municipal authorities are subsidizing the costs of maize, beans, sugar and rice, but they declare that prices are escalating. They also state that the mandate to “Stay at home” is impossible for them because they need to go to work to guarantee the most essential things to reproduce life, even water and soap. They demand that municipal, state and federal authorities forbid alcohol sales in rural and urban areas because alcohol strengthens violence against women and children, and denounce the lack information about the pandemic, especially in their native languages. Men and women are also returning to indigenous zones unemployed and as they are possible sources of contagion they have no tests available and neither do they have access to healthcare. They are thus requesting mobile medical clinics with basic medicine and equipment and demanding that information about the epidemic in their native languages be spread in radio and local media. Finally, they highlight the fact that the epidemic has drawn a steep difference in how it is lived according to race and class, as some can afford to stay home and others cannot. They demand that the Mexican State guarantee economic and social rights for their communities.

Indeed, originary populations are already at a disadvantage: they are more vulnerable to the pandemic because they lack running water, healthcare access, a balanced diet and basic sanitation, on top of living under the threat of their lands and commons being expropriated, leading to permanent territorial conflicts. The pandemic will certainly exacerbate their situation. They will fight for maintaining some land, water and forests they can manage and have autonomy over. They are deeply concerned with maintaining collective life (not individual life). In a recent live interview with Raquel Gutiérrez and John Holloway with Firize Manji, Gutiérrez recalls how colonization five hundred years ago was intrinsically linked to the smallpox pandemic which decimated a third the pre-hispanic Mexican population. For Gutiérrez, now it is a time to observe and learn from indigenous communities whose fight for water, land, food and some energy to stay alive means organizing themselves and going beyond individualism. It is also crucial to understand that their means to survive represent a direct critique and alternative to capitalism’s way of relating to nature (destroying it), as clearly COVID-19 is directly linked to industrialization, deforestation and global warming. Never has it been so clear that capitalism actually destroys the preconditions of human existence.
And even more vulnerable than indigenous peoples in rural areas, are those living in refugee camps, precarious urban zones, detention camps or tent cities like the one in Matamoros, Mexico where people from Central America have been stranded since last Fall awaiting to hear back from their asylum petitions in the US – now less likely to be granted than before. Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2019 established that asylum seekers needed to return to Mexico for the duration of their asylum process; many families sent their kids to cross alone because the US has a policy of protecting unaccompanied minors. But even that door has been closed as on March 21, and stating the COVID-19 crisis as a reason, minors began to be expelled back to Mexico. While many asylum seekers have returned to their home countries, 1500 remain in the Matamoros tent city and now there are 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus amongst them.

Tent city in Matamoros, Mexico, November 2019

This clear differentiated distribution of vulnerabilities obeys the division of the world between privileged and redundant populations or degrees of mournability or citizenship of lives across the world. For instance, in Mexico City this distribution of vulnerabilities manifests in the fact that 35% of the population (only) is on lockdown, while 65% is going on about life as usual mostly trying to make a living by maintaining the quarantine of the rest as unprotected “trash workers” (or disposable workers; I’m thinking of how I read somewhere that a company in the US had given trash bags to its delivery workers as COVID-19 protection).

Approaches to palliate vulnerabilities are also differentiated across the socio-political field. While the Mexican Private Initiative is launching a crusade to save the country from bankruptcy, private and public institutions are acting independently of the central government’s declarations or policies. For instance, the CCE (Corporate Coordination Council) has signed an “Acuerdo nacional a favor de México” (National Agreement for Mexico) in association with unions, social and corporate organizations rejecting the president’s stand of “the poor first” which accepted no tax deferrals or exemptions for private companies, amongst other economic measures to palliate the economic crisis. From the CCE’s point of view, the president is failing to understand that when there is a problem with medium and small enterprises, there is a problem with the social base of the nation. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is being highly criticized moreover for having called for a decree to cancel all non-essential industrial production except for subcontractors like CEMEX which is providing cement for his megaprojects: the controversial Dos Bocas Refinery and the Mayan Train. And perhaps the fear I expressed weeks ago when this all started is justified. I was worried that when we came out of lockdown these megaprojects would have materialized and that was going to be the world the near future had for us to inhabit.
Other instances of autonomous measures taken by private and public organisms, in spite of the president’s declaration that the government will not bail out private corporations by any means, are the IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social or Mexican Institution for Social Health Insurance), a remaining representative fragment of what used to be the Mexican Welfare State, which has conceded a payment break to enterprises whose employees are affiliated with the Institute (I am, by the way). It has also been reported that drug, human trafficking and paramilitary cartel Los Zetas sicarios (hit men) are handing out basic groceries baskets to vulnerable families in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, where thousands are now unemployed. In the communities were mining tycoon Grupo Larrea operates, the company has donated cleansing and hygiene packages with antibacterial gel, soap, chlorine, face masks, and thermometers and is offering online yoga, music and fitness classes to employees and their families.

Perhaps they were moved by Tijuana nurse Silvia Rosas’ story: she works for the General Hospital at the COVID-19 ward and avoids going home after every shift for fear of putting her husband and children at risk. Silvia Rosas goes “home” to rest in her transformed 1994 Voyager van equipped with the essential blankets, pillows, shoes, and civilian clothes. Or maybe owners fear for an authoritarian call for nationalization. In any case, hotels in Mexico City (at least 175) have been “persuaded” (like private hospitals) to donate hotel rooms for healthcare workers to sleep in during the COVID-19 pandemic for free when they finish their working day at hospitals and medical centers. (Or are we talking altruism?) Across the country attacks, discrimination and threats against doctors and nurses have been reported because people fear being infected by them. In some cities across the country like Guadalajara, authorities have assigned special transportation for them, even with police escorts.

A total of 146 hospitals nationwide have also donated a portion of their facilities to treat patients with non-COVID-19 related illnesses like birth, appendicitis, gastric ulcers and abdominal emergencies, liberating 3500 beds in public hospitals devoted to the pandemic. I must mention the irony behind the makeshift hospital being currently built at the Convention Center Citibanamex in Mexico City. In collaboration with Carlos Slim, Telmex-Telcel and Imbursa Foundation which have donated half of the money for it, the other half being given by CIE, Walmart Mexico and Centroamérica, Bimbo, Barcel, Sertull Foundation, Citibanamex, Alfredo Harp Helú, Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation, Coca-Cola FEMSA, Goldman Sachs, Codere, HSBC and Coppel. All these companies will definitely not go into bankruptcy during the pandemic, especially those specializing in Internet and food production and distribution. I must mention the uncanny feeling I get when I see the image of the Citibanamex hospital, as the Center has been for the past 8 years or so the siege of the Zona Maco art fair, the biggest contemporary art fair in Latin America.


In parallel, we are beginning to get glimpses of the savagery of Coronavirus Capitalism: While Mexico’s private-public electricity company CFE increased its rate .23%, a worldwide ruthless facemask war is being waged. It seems like it began two weeks ago when Germany accused the US of appropriating a cargo carrying 200 thousand facemasks destined to Berlin in transit at the Bangkok airport. And while the French have accused US “pirates” of stealing face mask lots in Chinese runways (with suitcases full of dollars paying three times their price), Trump has caused outrage in Canada as he ordered the Minnesota-based 3M corporation to suspend face mask exports to Canada and Latin America and to arrange production to be solely distributed in the US. The war is also being waged within Europe, completely overriding European Union market laws, evidencing new global market rules specific to Coronavirus capitalism. Although some previous neoliberal structures remain or intensify, for instance, Mexico’s status as colonial outposts whose resources bleed into the world economy to create surplus value for foreign transnationals: in the state of Baja California, three US companies are fabricating artificial respirators and some of their components. The manufacturers refuse to sell the products to local authorities as Tijuana is one of the cities with highest COVID-19 contagion thus far.

In the meantime, in has been reported that obscene amounts of food are being wasted because of the pandemic. In Europe for example, crops are rotting in the fields because seasonal harvesters are usually migrants who are currently being denied access to the EU. In the US, tons of vegetables, eggs, milk and other perishables produced to be sold to restaurants, hotels and schools are being thrown out because in spite of donations, there appear to be logistical obstacles to distributing the food. It would require millions of dollars in investment to distribute it and none is willing to pay the price. To get an idea, according to an Aljazeera article (and I am sure this is ubiquitous across the Capitalist Global Industrialized Food Production Complex), we are talking about 3.7 million gallons of milk daily and 750,000 unhatched eggs a week produced in the US alone. But here the problem is definitely the economic model of “incrementalism,” which is geared at “economic and GDP growth,” which means producing for the most optimal logistics to maximize efficiency and profit. So the obscene waste is directly related to Coronavirus capitalism based on the subsumption of everything to market logic. As I mentioned above, one of the things that the Coronavirus crisis will hopefully make clear to everyone is that capitalism represents a war against life which brings dire consequences to the social fabric and the environment. Under neoliberal logic, they are usually understood as separate problems, when in truth, they are not.

In the current discussions around Coronavirus capitalism and the economic crisis that is ravaging the world, the “Doughnut” economic model designed by Kate Raworth is being much talked about. The premise of the model is to balance people’s needs without harming the environment considering that there are two two large-scale problems facing humanity: poverty and climate change. Raworth’s doughnut visualizes and measures the relationship between the two. According to the economist, it is critical that the economy account for the planetary boundaries which are: the freshwater and nitrogen cycles and climate regulation, which are critical for maintaining the planet stable and safe for humanity. Thus far, the economy has failed to recognize its environmental limits which are intrinsically tied to a social foundation in which ill health, income and energy poverty result from the excessive consumption levels of wealthy people. The challenge posed by this model is to translate these ideas into policies, as it impacts how we produce energy, how we make things, how we communicate and how we create shared knowledge. Food waste as a result of optimization prices would not be an option under this model, and instead of aiming at spreading massive oil rigs, we need to fight for a solar panel on everyone’s roof. Raworth envisions also a shift from mass production in factories owned by corporations to desktop manufacturing with 3D printers in an economy powered by sunlight, were production is distributed. Social justice and economic integrity, for example, are the two premises on which the US’s Green New Deal is based.

So optimists see in the current supposed “freeze” of the economy and state interventions at colossal scale as going against the free market creed of our time, almost to the point of killing it with “social solidarity policies,” rescue programs, cash assistance and defending workers’ rights. But as on the ground evidence suggests in Mexico and elsewhere, this feels like wishful thinking. How to educate people on the evident destruction of life by capitalism? How do we learn to change things, especially the relation between humans and nature? To understand interdependency amongst humans and the non-human world? How to bring the relevance of care work to the fore in the long term, now that it is so central? Raquel Gutiérrez suggests starting to organize to reject debt and to put the reproduction of life and care work at the center of political organization. To try to go beyond being trapped by capitalism, to organize other ways to resonate between each other and to fight for life together. In these times, we must question, not celebrate, Coronavirus capitalism’s expressions of altruism grounded on “earning to give” to strangers to prevent suffering and the death of others in precarious living conditions. Altruism is not reciprocity, as it is based on a principle of “life” as subject to control, management and betterment, it is non-reciprocal and disinterested. We must entice and seek for manifestations of reciprocal aid, not from an antagonistic point of view that would pit life against the economy, but precisely defetishizing capitalism. A form of “altruism” that would make sense to me would be corporations investing in the disinterested production of UNAM test kits and distributing them in “encapsulated” communities to keep them safe. I must mention again that originary peoples’ means to survive through reciprocity, interdependency and “communitarian encapsulation” are forms of empowerment to take control over their lives beyond the grip of the colonial nation-state. But I think the privileged populations have yet more lessons to learn, as this crisis will not have reformatted us completely. I would like to end here with a quote by Vinciane Despret from What would animals say if we asked the right questions? in which she tries to deconstruct the Westernized modern understanding of animals as having no autonomy, as being stupid or very stupid and always subject to anthropomorfization. Her understanding of relationships to animals and to each other as mutually affecting each other resonates with Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming, and they feel like a good start (but not quite enough yet):

“The body becomes the site of what can affect and be affected, a site of transformations. Above all, to underline the possibility of becoming not exactly the other through metamorphosis but with the other, not in the sense of feeling what the other is thinking or of feeling for the other like a burdensome empathizer but rather of receiving and creating the possibility to inscribe oneself in a relation of exchange and proximity that has nothing to do with identification. There is, in fact, a kind of ‘acting as if’ that leads to a transformation of self, a deliberate artifact that cannot and does not want to pretend toward authenticity or to some kind of romantic fusion that is often evoked in human-animal relations.”

1 Like

April 25, 2037
I started my day as usual: it was Friday so I did a digital 30 min. spinning class + 10 min abs routine, woke up my daughter, fed us breakfast, cleaned up, sat down for a few hours of homeschooling before green house duty. Last night it finally rained after many weeks of intense heat and drought. Every time I hear the rain outside I feel relieved, like not everything has been lost. There is nothing that gives me more anguish than feeling dryness in the insulated corridors and getting a warning on low water levels signaling drought. My daughter will be 12 next month and I’m ready with the ingredients for a cake. I have been saving packs of dehydrated powdered milk and eggs for weeks. The flour and sugar were a bit more difficult to get ahold of and I didn’t want to use a ready-made mix because the resulting cake is not as good. Jonas agreed to exchange them with me for the last of my CBD stash. The cannabis crops will not be harvested for another couple of weeks and the lab takes another week or so to process it and hand it out to residents. I plan on organizing a small party for Roberta with the other 5 resident children. As a gift, I will give her the pearl earrings I got from my mother when I was exactly her age. I was lucid enough to pack them when I first got here and had no idea what I was getting into. I met Jonas at a bar in San Francisco a couple of years before the COVID-19 pandemic. He worked for one of the big tech corporations and had it easy off. I taught art and film part time at the State University and to pay rent I had a gig translating a Netflix series from Spanish-English and French-English. When I was unable to round up the month, I’d do some sex-cam work on the Internet. When the pandemic crisis hit I lost all sources of income overnight and this is why moving to the bunker with Jonas did not seem like a bad idea. We had been together for a year and his boss, Ted, had offered him a spot on his plane and bunker in New Zealand for the duration of the pandemic.

When we first arrived I was endlessly impressed by the fortified structures equipped with power and water purification systems, blast valves, food supplies for many months, hydroponic gardens and a huge tank containing a tilapia fish farm. The bunker is 11 feet beneath the ground (I’m not sure exactly how wide though) and when we are able to open the skydomes lifting their huge iron covers, they let daylight in as well as the sound of rain falling above us. The humongous structure, flown in to New Zealand in parts from a factory in Texas, is self-sufficient and designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Our 1500 square feet unit within the bunker includes three bedrooms, kitchen, pantry, studio, storage and bathroom. There is a communal gym we share with the inhabitants of the other 19 units of Ted’s “staff.” Ted’s own complex features a pool, general store, theater, bar, library, underground garden and spa. The interior of his 10,000 square foot space reminded me of luxury yatchs I’de seen on TV; it also includes a humongous kitchen, pantry, gun room and shooting range, entrance/decontamination area, 9 bedrooms and a massive master bedroom, a surgery station, bathrooms, gym, and a spa.

The first couple of years or so, we didn’t have to worry about sustaining ourselves. There were enough food supplies for the 100 people or so who had been invited by Ted to wait out for the pandemic. A few months into lockdown, some thirty “staff” were let go; on the third year there were three suicides, another two the following year and the resident population of 75 (including births) has been stable for the past five years. I suspect there have been a couple of forced disappearances but we were all given credible explanations on how they had died in their attempts to escape the bunker. Who knows. I was never given a choice to leave. I mean I was, but the price would had been leaving my child behind. The plan they had for me and the six other members of Ted’s “personal staff” was not revealed until we didn’t have much of a choice but to stay and become members of his kind of harem as sexual slaves. Jonas and I had always used condoms but a couple of weeks into lockdown I suspect he took it off as I soon discovered was pregnant. This was part of Ted’s plan: with a young child it was harder to conceive escaping into the uncertainty the outside world had become.

Everyday I wonder about the world, how bad the climate crisis is, whether there are fires, floods, warming oceans, ecological breakdown, mass extinctions, epidemics. While for me protection has meant enslavement as well, I wonder if the rest of humanity is witnessing the beginning of the end. Only Ted has access to the outside. I know because when he requests my company (he calls us more or less for intervals that last 2-3 weeks, Roberta has always stayed with Jonas to my great despair, I always miss her so much), I have seen him lock himself in his studio every morning and talk to other people, maybe over a satellite phone? Or through the Internet over the computer. One of his friends came for a visit from outer New Zealand, I heard. We’d all thought he was going to stay but he left after a few months, he surely had news of the world outside to share with Ted.

I always believed that communal, interdependent living would be the result of effective civil disobedience, of the disruption of the normal functioning of cities and infrastructure for long periods until the state and corporations became completely irrelevant. This situation would lead to solidarity beyond idealism, grounded on bare necessity. Instead and against my will, I had become a member of a community of slaves in which everyone had a specific function to fulfill in order to maintain ourselves (but mostly Ted) alive, safe and healthy. There is a chemist, a biologist, a doctor, engineers of various kinds, farmers, tech specialists, a biologist, a dentist amongst us. But we aren’t really a community. For a while we tried to bond through gatherings, festivities, birthdays … but somehow things went sour and now we aren’t very friendly to each other. I suspect everyone’s self-absorption is related to a deep depression (and to Ted’s differential treatment of the “staff,” giving privileges to some and treating the rest like varying intensities of shit).

Sometimes I think that the situation outside can’t be any better. The dark rut politics had become after 40 years of neoliberalism could only offer endless opportunities for pseudo-participation and pseudo-debates, political correctness, cultural wars grounded on ethnic or family values, also for endlessly sharing memes making fun of politics on social media. Humanity was completely de-socialized. Around the time when we went underground, we no longer depended on government assistance programs but neither could anyone depend on neighbors or communities. Collective institutions had been eroded by market forces, collective agency had been lost as everyone was reduced to every woman for herself. The extreme individualization of risk (and of protection) was pretty much the principle of social life. And this is probably the logic behind which I ended up in this goddam bunker as a slave to a man who had enough power and money to build his own apocalypse refuge. The unexpected events unfolding as the COVID-19 epidemic spread around the globe made evident that our world did not offer safety of any kind: social, institutional, financial, physical. Not even familial. So there was no horizon of a viable alternative that could offer capitalist societies a new coherent regime of social regulation and prosperity. Politics was no longer able to make a difference in people’s lives because power, infrastructure and everyday life had become inseparable. The nation-state had become a hologram shielding complex corporate and state forms of governmentality. And the only shared experiences we used to have was the experience of consuming content in front of a screen.

In that sense, life in lockdown is not much different: in the bunker we enjoy an infinite database of all audiovisual content produced by humanity, including my digital spinning, fitness, yoga and dance classes. I think one of the hardest things about living in the bunker is finding meaning to our existence beyond tending to Ted’s needs and figuring out how to maintain ourselves fed and healthy and the bunker functioning. That part hasn’t been easy, the system has many mistakes and once we spent a whole month without clean water and had to boil on our stoves liters and liters of grey and rain water until Elizabeth, the Mexican engineer, figured out the water collection and treatment structure which had broken down. Water was actually the only element from the outside we had contact with.

Aside from our interactions as co-workers, which were sometimes functional or tense, we were unable to share anything at all, let alone a few meals. Jonas and I lived in the same unity but I was just too angry at him to be able to have any substantial communication, or a relationship with him beyond co-parenting Roberta (kind of: most of the responsibility of her care and education still fell upon me). I realized that to find a way to find meaning to our existence became pivotal to our survival, and that meant focusing on physical as well as mental health. Ted told us a post-apocalypse story of sorts: two years into lockdown he held down a meeting to tell us that we didn’t have a choice but to live there as the world had become uninhabitable for humans. Ted said we were heroes of sorts, bearing the last traces of human civilization and this is what we bred into our children (two of which were Ted’s although he did not care much for them). On the surface, we thought of ourselves as an incubator of future possibilities but in truth we were fighting depression, anxiety, neurosis, compulsion, addiction. Neurosis and compulsion are like a trailblazer that needs feeding at the instant when they explode and they carry down anything that comes across their way. Addiction was a widespread yet unspoken toxic element surrounding us, bred out of disconnection and distrust. I lived with the frustration and anxiety of being unable to provide for my daughter a proper education, access to a garden, friends, school, museums, an extended family. Living inside a puppet theater isolated from the rest of the world definitely had a heavy toll on our mental health. And yet it was hard to focus on mental health because we were used to putting value on physical health over mental health. Physical health is usually understood as a necessity while the latter is considered a luxury or an abstraction. There are no psychologists or psychiatrists amongst us, and the lockdown has taken a heavy toll. Angry at the situation, intimacy is impossible to sustain as there is just too much intrigue and resentment going around. We tend to isolate within our units, we don’t know each other at all beyond our functions and courteous (or not) brief interactions. I live with the feeling that our real lives have been suspended, that the world is waiting for us as it was before we were snatched to New Zealand. I dream that one day Roberta and I will go back and we will find it exactly as I left it before I was forced to go on lockdown.


May 4. Week 7 or 8 or 9 on lockdown

How will the pandemic affect culture? What is the role of art in these times? What will artists do, or what can they do, in the face of the pandemic? These were some of the broad questions that triggered the conversations commissioned for this blog. The answer to this question from Mexico City was unclear to me until now, as we are seeing with great worry the budget and infrastructure for culture and the culture industries be blown apparently by a single coup with a presidential decree of austerity measures issued a month ago due to the COVID-19 crisis. Trying to understand the consequences of the decree on the medium and long term and what we can do about it as a community has been extremely difficult, especially on lockdown. Trying to cope, discuss and get organized via zoom, whatsapp or email has been hard, especially in a community that is diverse, has proposed many solutions, many of them conflicting, but that is also characterized by fragmentation, lack of solidarity, and by the fact that some comrades haven fallen into the temptation of ego trips. If you, reader from elsewhere, have been to Mexico and know and have enjoyed or been part our cultural scene, stay put. And if you live in a country like Germany or England where COVID-19 salaries have been given to artists, or like Denmark, where, I heard, the state paid for a gallery’s staff salary during the entire lockdown, consider yourselves to be extremely privileged (there are degrees of privilege indeed).

By Montserrat Pazos and Jaime Ruiz

In Mexico, the relationship between the state, artists, and intellectuals has always been complex, contentious, at times tense or friendly. Since the legacy of Muralism was radically questioned in the 1950s, cultural producers have resisted serving or accompanying an official culture program. Our fight as cultural producers has been marked by a contradiction: on the one hand, we fight for the autonomy of art, and on the other, to convince politicians and technocrats of the relevance of state subsidies for the arts, the benefits culture offers to the people, the economy, the image of the country abroad, etc. in a country where only 20% of the population makes above 8000 pesos (400 USD) a month. In this context, culture is even defended as a universal right by the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1989, a generous system of grants and funds for the arts was established in Mexico, the FONCA (or National State Fund for Culture and the Arts) by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The system (similar to the Canadian or British Arts Councils or Scandinavian countries’ culture funding programs) granted autonomy to artistic creation in the sense that a jury of peers was established to allot the grants. Sure, the system was not perfect and it lent itself to practices of centralization, sexism, auteurism, nepotism, or corruption as well as official instrumentalization. In its thirty years of life, however, the community together with the FONCA’s administration have fought to establish institutional mechanisms to guarantee transparency and democracy within the system (to which I can personally can attest to, as a scholarship holder, jury member, and commissioner). The implementation of the system thirty years ago allowed arts and culture to bloom in Mexico, transforming Mexico City and Mexico into a main global contemporary art production center. For instance, Mexico was the most represented country in Documenta 13 in 2012. Another of the achievements has been a Mexican Pavillion in Venice since 2009. MACO, founded in 2002, not only became a leading art fair in Latin America and one of the most important ones in the world but has given way to a rich and diverse art week in Mexico City and two more art fairs, situating Mexico as a main player in the global art market. But aside from the art market, Mexico created theory tourism, as I have seen people come from all over the world especially to listen to the relevant debates that took place at the SITAC (or Contemporary Art Theory Symposium), which used to be held yearly since around 2000 and that has recently found a decentralized diversified format. Hoards of art students, moreover, come from all over the world every summer to attend seminars, residencies, workshops, to visit artist’s studios, to see major exhibitions, to meet with curators, to engage in dialogue with Mexican cultural producers or foreign peers based in Mexico. In parallel, there has been a boom in literature through the creation of corporate but also independent editing houses and bookshops, grants and prizes. One of the FONCA’s grants is devoted to literary translation including indigenous languages. The Mexican boom in literature in the past 20 years has granted Mexican women writers the rule of their guild. In the acknowledgment section of the contemporary literature books, the FONCA is most likely to have been thanked as facilitator of funds for the writing of those pages. Similar achievements can be found in theater, film (Ambulante, the documentary film festival as well as the Morelia Film Festival), dance… positioning Mexico and Mexicans as important figures in international venues, festivals, prizes – in brief, on major cultural stages across the world.

Indeed the FONCA has gone well beyond its original mission to both grant freedom of expression and artists’ autonomy as well as to transform Mexico’s cultural landscape. The FONCA was created at the eve of signing NAFTA, the free trade agreement with the US and Canada. In that regard, the progressive cultural politics furthered by the state represented by institutions like FONCA came hand in hand with major neoliberal reforms which implied a regressive political economy that created a redundant population, massive environmental devastation, endless waves of violence through military and paramilitary violence, the loss of labor rights and food sovereignty, the intensification of gender violence and femicide, amongst many other problems throughout the country. In this context, the FONCA’s position has always been perilous and every president following Salinas de Gortari has reformed, amended, and introduced budget cuts into cultural subsidies.

On April 2, the eve of the call for phase 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a decree eliminating an array of trust funds backing government programs, while calling for state austerity measures, which included cutting 75% of operating costs of all government institutions as well volunteer salary cuts up to 25% by government employees. In the context of culture, not to exercise 75% of the available budget means firing thousands of cultural workers and the pauperization of cultural creators. But not only was the FONCA and the culture sector in general (with Foprocine, Efiteatro, and other cultural funds that depended on the trusts) affected, but major postgraduate and research institutions like the CIDE (Economic Research and Teaching Center), the CIDA (Agrobiotechnology Research and Development Center), and the Instituto Mora (for Social Sciences) which are also on the brink of extinction, as money destined to scholarships and living stipends for students have been frozen. Because they have been forced to cut their operating budget, the CIDA has been unable to pay their electricity bill and thus the CFE (the State-Private electricity company in Mexico) has cut it off, causing that invaluable research biological material will be lost forever. Another worrisome effect of the austerity measures is the rendering inoperative through budget cuts of the Semarnat, or the Environmental and Natural Resources Institute, centered on the imposition of environmental regulations and subsidy distribution for environmental defense. The government has also ordered that the INAH (or National Institute for Anthropology and History) do a 50% budget cut with devastating consequences for the institution, affecting archeologists, researchers and base workers. We must note that the INAH has publicly pronounced itself against the Mayan Train project focusing their protest on the defense of the Calakmul Mayan archeological site.

The goal of the finalization of the trust funds, budget, and volunteer salary cuts and austerity measures together with tax collection enforcement (which has come with a campaign by the government to accuse corporations publicly of not paying) is to stop the country from going into further foreign debt and to put into place an emergency program to palliate the forthcoming economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the stimulus package, there is the “Programa de Bienestar” (or Well Being Program), which consists of cash handouts through cards issued by Banco Azteca, and a credit program to aid small and medium enterprises with 25,000 pesos (or 1000 USD) payable at 8% interest rate in three months’ time.

In this context, the decree eliminating the FONCA’s fund means that it has ceased to be an instrument financed by a trust fund that will be integrated as an entity (of uncertain administrative and legal structure) under the Secretaría de Cultura (Secretary of Culture) and that the funds allotted to the FONCA will go on to fund government programs to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis. The greatest challenge in the medium term, as some people see it, is not only to secure funding but to maintain the FONCA’s administrative transparency and agility, as well as the creative community’s autonomous role within it. As I type, a new legal and administrative figure for the FONCA is being created to try to address three challenges: to maintain art’s autonomy against the government’s official culture program, to keep the relationship between creators and institutions fluid as opposed to conditioned or prone to instrumentalization, and to allot grants via peer juries. In spite of the FONCA’s administrators’ repeatedly stated good intentions to secure the FONCA’s autonomy and budget under a new administrative and legally figure separate from the Secretary of Culture, many see in the dissolution of the trust fund, together with the 75% budget cuts (affecting museum programs, exhibitions, and employees), a shock-doctrine style measure that dismantled with a slash the cultural apparatus we have inherited from the eve of the neoliberal policies era (which is ongoing, do not be mistaken by the populist rhetoric).

It seems that, with the presidential decree, not only the livelihoods of thousands of people are at stake but so is the entire machinery of the Mexican culture industry. But not only that. There is widespread fear that the culture budget will be redistributed to nourish the government’s largely problematic Chapultepec Park Cultural Center (built in the old official Mexican president’s residence amidst a military base in the center of Mexico City), the Community Culture program (with outreach to rural and indigenous communities seen as propagandistic and pork-barrel politics), the extremely expensive, fully French-operated and thus colonial Georges Pompidou Center branch in Azcapozalco. There is also fear that the culture budget will be used to sustain the president’s personal understanding of culture based on folklore and indigenous culture as expressed in the 2019 Day of the Dead megaparade, whose imagery was inspired by a Mexico City-funded Hollywood movie and crafted by populations living in misery belts in the Mexico City for free.

For now, a request has been made to the Mexican Secretary of Finance to maintain the FONCA’s previous commitments. The request was approved and the organization has been incorporated into the Secretary of Culture (along with Foprocine). The FONCA’s administration has been given three months to revise the structure, patrimony, objectives, efficiency and efficacy of the program, to be analyzed by the Secretary of Finance, who will decide whether they will receive further federal public funds. They will issue a report that will be sent to the Deputies Chamber, where the destiny of the FONCA will finally be decided.

Before this situation, cultural producers have regrouped into different positions and movements, issuing an array of demands. Amongst the most visible ones, one group proposes a direct confrontation with the government demanding that cultural rights be respected, highlighting the economic and symbolic relevance of cultural production’s contribution to the country’s GDP and to progressive democratic politics; another group demands that after doing a census of cultural creators, half of the entire Secretary of Culture’s yearly budget be distributed amongst 100,000 cultural producers (15,000 pesos or 620 USD each in three months in exchange for a cultural project); a third group is diplomatically seeking to collaborate with the FONCA’s administration to lobby the Chamber of Deputies and public opinion to vouch for cultural production in Mexico.

In this complex moment, moreover, it is difficult to argue for cultural rights when the regime’s slogan is to “put the poor first.” It is hard not to see, however, how our current authoritarian government is using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to dispossess, steal, and suspend rights, and not only within the cultural and education sectors. Shock doctrine-style, a massive transfer of wealth from the state to corporations is taking place. I am referring to the acceleration of the construction of the regime’s controversial megaprojects: the Tren Maya (Mayan Train), the Corredor Transístmico (TransIstmic Industrial Corridor or SEZ in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Veracruz), the Santa Lucía Airport, and the Dos Bocas refinery in Tabasco. For instance, the companies that have specific government contracts to provide cement, glass, and steel, as well as Pemex and the CFE, are exempt from mandatory shutdowns during the quarantine (as are sweatshops at the Mexican-American border providing input to the US industry and market, following President Trump’s orders). All these businesses are deemed as “essential activities” in spite of being vulnerable to becoming (or having already become) centers of contagion.

From this perspective, the austerity measures geared at financing the stimulus package are clearly designed to further a market economy that benefits the ruling (albeit the corporate) class. This public policy favors the rich and social Darwinism, condemning the poor with altruism or populist measures that will forcefully incorporate them into the market system as consumers and debtors. This becomes even clearer if we understand that the credit and cash cards of the government’s Well Being Program are being distributed by Banco Azteca, owned by millionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, whose sister company is Elektra, a house appliances and technology chain store for the working class with branches in rural and peripheral urban zones. For many, moreover, the Mayan Train and the Dos Boca refinery are not considered priorities for the Mexican economy, and the resources to build the infrastructure projects could be used to reactivate regions of the country that will surely need it. Thousands of jobs will be lost and cannot be recovered in the construction of the train or the refinery. In addition to making no sense economically at this point, the regime’s megaprojects are harmful to the environment and they are premised on a false idea of “progress,” and on sustaining the country’s economy with fossil fuel extraction, slave labor in EPZs, and tourism. This, in conjunction with the Semarnat’s extinction, I might add, make of our president a climate change denier together with Donald Trump. For instance, the Mayan Train envisions 30 stations projecting urban subcenters with industrial, real estate, and tourism development built through occupying and dispossessing thousands and thousands of hectares of communal land sustaining the lives of millions of inhabitants in Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche Quintana Roo, and Yucatán. Agroindustrial businessman and head of the presidential office Alfonso Romo will benefit from the Mayan Train as the founder of Enerall, a company that exploits water resources for agroindustrial farming in the Yucatan Peninsula (he is known as the Yucatan water lord). Internet and phone services tycoon Carlos Slim will also make a profit with the Mayan Train, as his company CICSA has been subcontracted to build section 2 of the megaproject. So who is being helped by the stimulus package’s austerity cuts? Coronavirus capitalism is bringing to the fore social evils that have accumulated over decades of neoliberalism. Private profit maximization is not receding but intensifying. The government’s policy of “the poor first” really means a scheme to incorporate the redundant population into the market.

The pandemic has accelerated and exposed the fragility confronting us, the fact that there is no safety net to back us up. Mind-boggling wealth concentration is being facilitated for a few at the expense of millions and the environment. The march toward the abyss continues as political process and priorities determine the mortality rates of the population: it is a political decision not to apply restrictions on movement in certain areas, factories, sweatshops, poor zones with high mortality rates. Not to have bought COVID-19 test kits is a deliberate decision by the government, as is leaving workers exposed to the lethal virus and linking the survival of the rural and indigenous population to the market, many of whom live sustainable lives without having to sell their labor power in the labor market. The megaprojects will force the people into becoming proletarians, workers of capitalism, as well as into becoming consumers who need to secure goods and merchandise in order to survive. In this regard, the megaprojects are dispositives of capture and the subsumption of life to extractivism, at a time in which thinking about de-commodification or de-marketization is more than urgent. De-commodification occurs when what is needed in order to survive is obtained as a right, like a basic service provided by the government for free (as opposed to being purchased in the market). De-commodification also happens when people no longer depend on selling their labor-power on the market to survive. This logic is far beyond the welfare state: the decommodification of work implies not to have the need to sell our labor-power in order to survive; all evidence points toward the fact that this is where we need to go in order to secure our future.

On insomniac nights I fear that when the quarantine ends the West Bank will have been annexed by Israel and here in Mexico we will have these megaprojects up and running, leaving us impotent to organize against them from within cities, in solidarity with indigenous peoples and inhabitants of rural areas who are being affected. For this entry I had planned to discuss Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven (2019) and Lina Meruane’s novels Sistema nervioso and Sangre en el ojo, to ponder the meaning of human life on earth beyond nation-state, market, and culture-industry narratives. But the urgency to think and act upon defending the funding and administrative mechanisms behind our culture industry led me to focus on the FONCA ordeal instead. I have realized that not only is our state far behind any notion of progressive politics that could rise to the challenge of the current crises (COVID-19 in particular but global warming in general). We are truly far behind in being able to envision a “people’s bailout” coming from below beyond the neoliberal market economy. In this regard, indigenous communities are far more organized to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects: they have organized for food autonomy and have self-isolated, for instance, the Nahua, Otomí, and Tenek communities in the northern mountains of Veracruz and the Huasteca jungle (similar examples throughout the country abound). As no new healthcare clinics have been built there since 1981 and the extant ones are inoperative, the communities have taken measures to protect themselves from the virus. The people are connected via radio to keep each other informed. It seems like rural and indigenous communities are more adapted to survive the pandemic, as they know how to live isolated and to maintain themselves fed (although scarcity of food and drought are on the horizon).

State and capitalist structures will fail us in many ways and this becomes evident in the fact that responsibility to relieve the stress derived from the pandemic and its effects has been privatized. Right now, not only demarketization should be an explicit goal for our political projects, but also social solidarity and collective care. Unless everyone cooperates, the virus will keep on spreading exponentially; we need to make sure everyone can take time off work, have a home and enough food, water to wash their hands and be hydrated. In this panorama, I will not defend the right to culture and neither will I vouch for the social relevance of art as useful art, but I definitely can bet on the social relevance of artists to envision strategies of mutual aid and to survive the crisis. But before we do that, we need to move beyond the PTSD caused by the collapse of the idealized image of the regime we voted for and the losses it represents.

For instance, beyond lovingly sewing masks for our friends (which is nice and thoughtful and we could use a bunch!) or selling masks made by indigenous artisans who make 25% profit, there is Carlos Amorales’s project to ask collectors through his gallery to gather funds to subsidize a textile shop to keep on working to produce face masks for $10 pesos each. Three hundred workers have maintained their jobs and the facemasks that they are making are being distributed to vulnerable populations like street cleaners and market and informal vendors. With this aid project, Amorales created a structure to bridge two worlds that resulted in a win-win for everyone involved.

Art has gained relevance as a field or laboratory to envision futures and alternative life forms, and right now artists and cultural producers can and need to show solidarity outside our cultural structures in peril. For instance, designing structures for home gardens and orchards, scheming ideas to help get parents with young children, or single mothers, or neighbors, or partners through the quarantine. We can imagine moments of relief, structures for resilience (like Amorales’), means to temporarily reconvert cultural infrastructure into mutual aid infrastructure. For example, theaters, museums, and galleries could become shelters or food distribution centers, or means to channel social solidarity efforts. The possibilities are endless. All we have to do is imagine them.

May 11, two months on lockdown

Section I
Everything begins to interlink and will perhaps end up as a chain that could incite a massive cognitive and epistemological transition on how humans perceive themselves in relationship to their environment.
She waits for me everyday to come play with those dolls that copy toddlers forced to parade themselves in miniature beauty pageants simulating adult women attributes; with dolls that simulate the big hips and strident colors of Afroamerican pop stars; with those that copy white women’s anorexia. Her shameless mélange of plastic of all kinds, sizes and imaginaries figuring idealized humans, fairytale characters, exhibiting exotic animal traits, pets, mini-merchandizes and pieces that are meant to assemble things never ceases to surprise me. I was always a purist with my toys and it never occurred to me to mix them together to play. I am surprised by the infinity of possibilities that mixing toys up offers, and that we always end up constructing imaginaries denoting nostalgia marked by the moment: for school, for strolling around on a shopping mall or corporate coffee shops, for the country house, for the beach.
She patiently waits for me to surprise her spooning her for a siesta, to share with her serious or banal stories, anguishes or a bowl full of fried veggie sticks with Valentina hot sauce, memes or videos from her large collection of Ghanese funeral dancers, to come and exchange caresses in minutes stolen from hidden moments. Because the last time we locked the door for a while, she broke uncontrollably into tears and I almost interrupted us to go calm her down. I cook her delicious Hindu food hoping she won’t forget I love her, I make her snacks five times a day to help her keep her energy so she can finish her school work soon. The original receiver of the mango ice cream can be a matter of dispute but it doesn’t really matter because we all enjoyed it.
Between her and her there is me. And the dogs that look at us wrapped around our feet and that sometimes demand ham or to be patted. We walk carefully between the spaces carved up amongst us, while we closely observe each other, noting the traces of the passing of time on lockdown registered on our faces’: acne, wrinkles, a piece of skin now hanging here or there, excessive facial hair growth on eyebrows, bangs or white hair out of control, more or less bodily volume, sings of growth. We have helped time pass painting with watercolors, Siedler tournaments, being good quarantine archetypes taught how to make bread on a video call. Right at the beginning (I forget when, I have by now lost track of time, days succeed each other undifferentiated and accelerated), we made a video with a gummy bear crowd. We arranged carefully about 1.5 Kg of gummy bears into a public listening and singing along Fredy Mercury (a blueberry gummy bear) “I want to break free.” Freddy was trapped on stage inside a mezcal glass, and the strophe that he sings in chorus with the crowd still echoes the soup of sensations transported daily by our bodies. All of sudden someone collapses or explodes but by now we know more or less what to do when it happens.
I learned that Pop died in the midst of the pandemics on the island a few hours before daybreak as he coughed until exhaustion and Mili was unable to bring him back to life with her expert and tired hands. We are sad because the military funeral he dreamt of, with the stripped and starred flag covering his coffin in an homage to his life, leaving that his body feeds the earth was not possible. Mili and the Guadalupano nephew who admires via zoom his collection of paintings of the Lady received resigned the ashes that were present in the family video call to open up a parenthesis for mourning during the quarantine.
Outside, some walk around with their faces partially or completely covered depending on the intensity of their paranoia. Most of them out there are working and are not wearing facemasks, either because they don’t care or because they can’t afford it or because pharmacies have run out. A few days ago a gigantic band offering music paraded down our street. We ran out to look, we were both surprised and deceived when we saw that it was only a two-member band: a drum and a trombone. A third was there to collect the money none was coming out to give them. A marimba also passed through but we didn’t see it, we did see the humming birds that come out everyday to the garden because it is certainly theirs. From outside, we hear sounds and smells coming from the neighboring houses: someone practices the piano back here, across the street someone else is learning to play the guitar, the house to the left is empty except the dog who won’t stop barking. On the other side, Korean food is cooked every afternoon around seven PM when delicious smells begin to travel. Beetles, cockroaches, big ants, mosquitoes and chipmunks who are unwelcome pullulate at the interstices. The outsides ground us or embody us after hours of being captured by the absence machines. These machines are nothing other than screens that open windows to massive meetings or school, music, theater, feminism, yoga or dance classrooms. A good portion of the day is spent being bodily present but absent, evaporating in the voids sucked up by screens that transport us to different outsides to fill time.
Outside hospitals are overcrowded and over there, nurses are being attacked. The sky heavy with metal is an opaque mirror that intensifies the sunrays until late in the afternoon without a truce. The outside that is abstract is apparently collapsing at full speed, I read on the headlines, in 280 characters, in the shared news on WhatsApp groups. This outside is to me, unbelievable and foreign. I wish I’d smoke a cigarette right now.
When private property was created and the market invented as the only means to survive, people were expelled from the land and forced to sell their labor on the market. We have come to depend not on our own means, but on the effectiveness of the system of production, which in turn, became the grounds for social relations. Our societies are structured in market exchange, with the promise to elevate our living standards. The pandemic has forced us to put full stop in productivity and to suspend the passage of all social relation through the market. We don’t know what to do with our productivity. How hard is it to find unforeseen uses of our time beyond pandemic bread baking? Would we know how to exist outside of the market? Demercantilization occurs when we are no longer forced to sell our labor force in the market in order to survive. It implies establishing government aid programs like universal basic income. At the micro level, demercantilization can happen through solidarity measures such rent and mortgage strikes, mutual aid networks, establishing interdependent subsistence means. But the generalized response to the suspension of markets has been charity (as opposed to solidarity) and a puritan austerity to produce a populist shower of money and credit to keep select markets alive. In passing, the capture of what resists entering the market is intensified, destroying lives and forms of life supposedly seeking to elevate quality of life. The conservative fear that the country could fall into the hands of drug cartels due to government lack of action prevails. It is easy to blame the government for the death of thousands of people and why not? Of thousands of companies. Indeed, the government refuses to support the entrepreneurial class (owners of restaurants, hotels, factories, medium businesses) with fiscal relief or bailouts. This is why it is feared that the mafias will reach out and take over. Hope in the country shatters with the shock of massive redistribution of the State budget with uncertain destiny beyond cash handouts, and yet everyone is worried only about their small parcel. Indeed, What will become of culture and museums without a budget? Of independent editorial houses gone broke? But also, What are the destinies of fossil fuel? Industry and sweatshops? We are being unable to see a broader panorama, out there, of the unsustainability of the market economy. I wish I’d smoke a cigarette. We are also not used to joyously wasting time, to have time to read, to play cards, to take a siesta or sleep in, to get obsessed with cleaning and that indomitable paper archive, to learn how to cook (or to eat better, perhaps), to call an old friend, to get in shape, to try to look at oneself on the opaque mirror that the sky has become.
Let’s run get the shears, because this is only the beginning and we have no idea how things will turn out when we’re able to go outside.

Section II*
CORONA Beer (2) by Nina Zivanzevich

If I didn’t have to go every 10 to 15 minutes to the toilet, this quarantine would even be fun! However, every picture has its frame, every picture tells a story: there is a story where the most idiotic people call to ask me (they are « sweet » I guess) how I feel. I cough and sneeze and spit blood through my mouth and through nostrils-
The skin tissue ripped-open- is this THE one which Poe called « the Mask of Red Death » ?

I don’t know… have been through so many of them, even from the times when they changed DNA in my cells (2008) and I saw all people in the form of the angelic visions – in fact, they were very ordinary, all of them- except from an old witch. This prophetess à la Nostradamus, was actually giving a crystal ball clairvoyant session when Marc-Louis brought me to her spooky place.

As soon as I entered the room, the prophetess exclaimed: WHO is, or rather who was a Buddhist nun among you here ?

It’s me, it’s me, I yelled.

And who used to be a painter in her previous life? She continued.

It’s me, it’s me, I tweeted again.

I see you entirely burnt, she said, you are covered with ashes- but like a Phenix, she continued, YOU will rise from the ashes!

I was so grateful to hear her soothing bullshit. The chemotherapy had burnt all my cells and then, my DNA was changed entirely so that I could live like a bionic woman, and as far as i go–that was fine for me. That was 12 years ago.

This time around I appeared even more belligerent, as my trip to Kerala in 2014, when I’d caught malaria again, taught me that one could die and resurrect several times.

I will challenge this man-made virus, this lousy convention again invented by an even lousier scientist whose nose was dripping with coke and his own experiment-- so why burn my throat and my stomach so drastically now? NO ONE could convince me that this Batman was using bats- for his batty business ! There must had been something more powerful at his hand. And us humans -we were in this affair all alone- offered to the mercy of bad commerce and distant trade.

Several leaders were competing all over the world in their endeavor to open several V.I. markets, in order to erase the surplus of humans on Earth, as just VERY few computer educated jocks were supposed to work from home. I mean, to work. And the rest of us were not supposed to work- as we were duly supposed to die. Or just try to die, which was fine with me, but as usual, in my case that was a very very bad timing. (Do I really sound here like that scumbag Burroughs?)

*@Nina Zivanzevich thank you for letting me reproduce an entry of your diary here

May 27, 2020 (Forgot what life is like outside lockdown)

The title of a recent piece by Arundathi Roy is a harrowing: “Our task is to dismantle the engine.” As much as I agree with her, I wouldn’t know where to start even to describe, let alone to think about how to dismantle “the engine.” The more and more I think about it, everything appears to be so profoundly interlinked and tied to the logic of the market it’s overwhelming. What is more, everything on which contemporary human subsistence is grounded (or “the engine”) is fucked up: what we eat and how we produce and distribute food, healthcare and big pharma interests, environmental and human toxicity, extractivism and populist left-wing governments, privilege and redundant populations, the reproduction of life and the epidemics of anxiety and depression, how we consume and generate energy, how we produce, communicate, and share meaning. So when I think that our task is to “dismantle the engine,” I think about the fact that Peru’s development has been led by Chinese investment and that to repay its debt, the country has given to China 3 million of its 81 million acres of Amazon rainforest to exploit oil fields. Or how in India the government gave permission last month to convert large quantities of harvested rice into ethanol to make hand sanitizer and fuel, when people in India are falling ill and starving. The harrowing enormousness of the task to “dismantle the engine” might reside in the fact that “the engine” itself is not only what grounds a portion of humanity’s subsistence on earth, but also what gives meaning to modern human existence. Because, how else would we even conceive fossil fuel extraction, given the devastation it causes? And how is it possible that we let people starve? Is “the engine” the market, grounded on the denigration of life, outside of which we are at the moment incapable of surviving? What is behind the possibility of the denigration of life in all its possibilities in the first place?

So allow me to stumble as I try to articulate this. With modernity, man as opposed to god became the source of reason to overcome the chaos of the universe. The radical secularization of humankind put man, and eventually the individual, at the center of everything. The meaning of human life on earth thus became humanity’s struggle against death, decay, entropy: specifically, the dark matters of nature. Human effort came to be geared toward enhancing human beings through technology and science to expand life, to make it more comfortable, to eradicate disease, to achieve transcendence without god, to make it easier to reproduce and sustain life. Transcendence has been sought symbolically through art, but it was also accomplished via space travel: that solved the riddle of the ontological discontinuity between above and below. It became evident, though, that transcendence via space travel is limited: it is rather a reminder that the Earth will remain forever a finite monad and that humans, even as they are emancipated from the Earth, will always needed the inclusion of a sphere to sustain life and assure vital functions. This brings to mind Claire Denis’ film High Life (2017), which I consider to be a feminist take on the sci-fi genre of space travel films in which bodily needs or reproduction are never an issue. A group of criminals (who else would volunteer to travel on a mission toward a black hole?), facing either life imprisonment or the death penalty, have accepted this suicide mission as a form of redemption. All passengers are young adults except Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who looks after their health, well-being, and order inside the spacecraft (designed by Olafur Eliasson). Dibs (a convict also, for murdering her husband and children) is obsessed with reproduction. A “fuck box” is one of the features on board to alleviate the prohibition to have sex, so Dibs collects semen from it to implant in the women hoping to make a baby in space. One of the passengers indeed becomes pregnant, but through a series of conflicts that unfold between the crewmembers, everyone dies except Willow, the baby bred by Dibs, and her father, Monte. In the film, scenes of fatherhood and daily tasks needed to reproduce life and survive are interlinked with images that dwell on the physicality of bodily fluids and care and carnal existence. If the imaginary of transcendence via space travel means detachment from human biological needs and functions (premised on the philosophical abstraction of consciousness from the body), Claire Denis’ film confirms that in spite of humankind’s scientific and technological achievements, humans will always be dependent on the environment to survive.

The human dream of secular immortality against entropy through technology and science, moreover, has had dystopian manifestations in transhumanism, cryonics, rejuvenation, Silicon Valley’s ideology to download our brain into machines. In this imaginary, not only eugenics and social Darwinism have served to justify who gets left out from bodily transcendence, but the socio-political and environmental costs of the modernist fight against death and decay through technology and science have been invisibilized. This is one of the premises of DeLillo’s Zero K (2016), a vision of a future world where Westerners like Jeff and Ross can be members of a cult to eliminate death. Jeff travels to a hospice to say farewell to his stepmother, an archeologist who is dying of several diseases. The hospice is Convergence, a cryonic suspension facility where the dead are frozen in anticipation of the day when resuscitation is medically feasible. Ross is Jeff’s father and one of the main investors in and advocates of the Convergence project. Jeff is a skeptic and, opposing his father, remains rooted in the real world, a world which is ridden with natural and political disasters, in which the possibility of eternal life not only remains uncertain, but is an instrument of power and only for a few.

The technosphere is the material expression of the simplification or reduction of reproductive and life-functions to overcome biological barriers and entropy through technology. The technosphere is a supplement to help overcome the limits of “human nature” insofar as humans cannot self-energize or self-reproduce. In that regard, the technosphere has allowed humans to accomplish or increase production and reproduction with less human effort. The technosphere, moreover, is the main tool humans have to fight decay, entropy, and death, and it comprises all the structures humans have built to keep them alive on the planet: houses, factories, farms, computer systems, smartphones, CDs, waste in landfills, spoil heaps but also mines, roads, airports, shipping ports, computer systems. The mass of the technosphere amounts to 50 kilos for every square meter on Earth’s surface, a total of 30 trillion tons that coexist with the diminishing hydrosphere (water, cryosphere, frozen polar regions) and the biosphere (all of Earth’s living organisms). The prize for the technosphere is global warming and environmental devastation and the decimation of the biosphere and hydrosphere. This is because like humans, the technosphere needs external energy input, which at the moment is not sustainable as it comes from fossil fuels and will eventually deplete. The external energization of both the technosphere and of humans is subject to market forces, and this is how the engine exists as a market relationship.

The human “miracle” has been achieved at a heavy cost: deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion, pollution, mass extinction, slavery, and diet-related diseases are just some of the side effects of the technosphere and its dependence on the market to function. The benefits of the technosphere, moreover, are not distributed equally amongst humanity. The consequence is that the human body has become a geopolitical drama because public health infrastructure has been decimated in the past 30 years and is not enough to assure everyone’s well being. Pharmaceutical corporate interests, moreover, have become class interests, all exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Postcard from Nevada by María Campiglia, May 2020

The modernist ideals behind human-led transcendence manifest today in the “engine” that transformed healthcare, communication, the food that we eat, and the energy we consume into markets which are all interlinked. Take almonds for instance, now a popular nut and milk that is consumed all over the world. Eighty percent of the almonds consumed globally come from California’s Central Valley. Although the Valley is drought stricken, almond fields are expanding because they are making the corporate (not small farmers) rich. Technically a desert, the California almond fields rely on irrigation water guided from mountain ranges from the north and east. The Valley has been hit by drought in the past few years, but because the almond fields are making corporate farmers rich, the fields are nonetheless expanding. Bear in mind that a whole gallon of water is needed to produce a single almond, and in order to keep production going, farmers are tapping underground water. Experts worry that the combination of over pumping and drought could be catastrophic for the Central Valley, whose economy depends on being one of the world’s most productive farming areas. Across the Valley, moreover, the water pumping frenzy is causing severe strains: villagers have seen their wells dry up, there is arsenic in tab water, people even need to survive on bottled water provided by the county. As underground water depletes, the remaining water picks up higher concentration of minerals from deep in the earth, and when the orchards are watered with this hard water, salts build up in the soil, eventually killing the soil and the trees. As Huiying Ng argues, when earth’s metabolic rhythms are made to converge with anthropocentric needs -–as since modernity, humanity is at the center of everything –- the nutrient cycling process is disrupted, leading to environmental catastrophe. The drama behind the globalized production of almonds is illustrative of how our entire food system is based on industrial farming as a way to cheapen and mass-produce foods. This means that to sustain ourselves we are devaluing life, while killing ourselves and our planet. But there is no such thing as cheap food. Food is the substance that ties us directly to the world’s living (and dying) ecosystems as well as to one another: perhaps if we start by being able to value food properly, we could transform our lives, landscapes and societies.

Humans, moreover, not only need to be connected to a natural sphere that permanently assures their vital functions. We are members of the symbolic species and require a cultural sphere in which to thrive. It is known that Western modernity is premised on a march to progress (or human emancipation from its ties to earth) through technology breaking away from tradition to announce the future, or the new. In order to compensate for the loss of tradition, modernity invented ideological or historical grand narratives and implemented memorializing mechanisms. If the elimination of the past includes the destruction of humanity’s sacred link to the world as I mentioned above, the meaning of human existence on earth is humanity’s individualized transcendence. The meaning of life on earth, however, has become increasingly an abstraction, transforming all which signifies (language, symbols) into communication without community, abstract and thus easily manipulable. I can’t help but to think of the “palabrero” in Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s Birds of Passage (2018), a character or figure that functions as the medium/negotiator between two communities in dispute. Once the palabrero is murdered, everything goes to hell. In the film, the murdering of the carrier of meaning-in-common is the ultimate transgression that brings doom for all, highlighting the role of language and the production of meaning in sustaining communities. In addition, modernity/modernization has seen the gradual disappearance of rituals or symbolic actions that generate community. With the digitalization of communication, we are interconnected but without true closeness. Digital communication reinforces the place of the human ego at the center (we are invited to communicate our opinions, needs, and desires) while isolation and loneliness increase. Social reproduction has also migrated to digital media, especially now in the COVID-19 crisis. It has completely replaced physical closeness. All community experience is being lost, as tech companies are seeking to profit from isolation as laboratory for a permanent and highly profitable no-touch future. A future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal space but also our schools, doctors’ offices, gyms, and jail, premised on the integration of technology into every aspect of civic life, what Naomi Klein recently called the “Screen New Deal.”

In this COVID-19 times, not only technology companies (whose earnings have exponentially increased with the lockdown), but the health industry is seeking a potential bonanza. The market is flooded with garbage antibody tests for the virus. Even though the cure is a year away, we all know that big pharma companies are lobbying everywhere for certain state positions to allow for monopolies to distribute the cure, which is antithetical to public interest. These phenomena are all reminders of how our culture, our world is grounded on the denigration of life, highlighted by the pressure to reopen the economy too soon and to have to face the dilemma to either go to work and put food on the table while being vulnerable to COVID-19 or to starve. The “engine” itself is a threat to human survival: it can’t guarantee food security for humanity or create jobs or guarantee people’s income or a meaningful social role. The majority of the global population’s lives are currently not only unmournable, but unworthy of being lived.

Instead of protecting humans, the goal of the COVID-19 crisis policies in the US is to protect the markets. To an extent, this is the same case in Mexico: the government is allowing for unemployment to skyrocket, and small and medium businesses (PyMES) are racing toward bankruptcy because the government hasn’t called either for the national suspension of rent nor for paid sick leave, nor has it even given tax breaks. This under the ideological premise not to bail out the private sector. While leaving a significant portion of the private sector to its own devices (there are indeed companies favored by the current regime), the country’s leftist government is paradoxically working for capital: once the pandemic is over, it will be private equity firms or narcos who will have the capacity to bail out the broken businesses through cheap debt. The government is also working for capitalism by taking, shock doctrine style, regressive measures, like the agreement signed on April 29 to bring to a halt renewable energy production by transnational countries in Mexico, in which the SENER (Secretary of Energy) agrees to privilege fossil fuel energy and to make it difficult for transnational companies to connect and transmit energy through the CFE (Federal Electricity Commission) energy network. In 2013, an energy reform was approved in Mexico, enabling the participation of the private sector in electricity to produce solar and wind energy. Overall, renewable energies were welcomed as a step forward, but the way in which the corporations “entered” communities across the country violated their rights: they paid minimum to rent lands to exploit them, they failed to do consultation forums with the owners, in many cases the contracts were straightforward abusive, as no sanctions were stipulated if companies failed to pay ejidatarios rent for their lands or if ecosystems were destroyed. Thus in Mexico, clean energy (represented by the presence of at least 154 companies with permission to generate electricity with renewable energy) came with the cost of violating human rights in the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Nayarit, Guerrero, Jalisco, Puebla, Nuevo León, Baja California, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí, Mexico State, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Sonora, Chiapas, Coahuila, Durango, Yucatán, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Michoacán and Querétaro.

It obvious that the fight for renewable energy goes hand in hand with a struggle to protect the people affected by the implementation of such infrastructure and their lands. And clearly the problem with the agreement recently signed by the SENER is that the Mexican president has now officially joined the ranks of climate change deniers who are also country leaders. As the CFE is mandated to privilege fossil fuel energy, the environmental cost goes without saying. Energy will also become more expensive for consumers. The Central Thermoelectric plant in Tula, Veracruz, will revert to being the main source of impact on air quality and public health. The plant operates with the dirtiest fuel: fuel oil, and it is said that the government is seeking to expand the practice of the burning of oil fuels. The problem is that a structural problem: How to de-privatize (or reverse the neoliberal policy behind) the production of energy in Mexico and restore the rights of the communities which have been violated by renewable energy? This question is being given a regressive ideological solution at a heavy environmental and social cost.

The Mexican government’s policies are also ideological, grounded on the slongan “put the poor first.” “The poor” is a vague category that includes the redundant populations, the working class, precarious workers, farmers and campesinos, and originary populations. The government claims that its policies are geared at solving the gap of inequality in Mexico, to distribute wealth more equally to alleviate poverty. A document that circulated last week titled “La nueva normalidad” is a collective demand to stop megaprojects addressed to the Mexican president and to governors of the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Puebla, Morelos, and Veracruz. The public letter demands a halt to promoting an extractivist development model, and specifically, a cancellation of the construction of infrastructure for megaprojects like the Canal Interocéanico and the Mayan Train and to stop all mining activity in originary peoples’ territories. In the document, the signatories (or “the poor”) reject the militarization of their territories “to guard extractivist capital” or to repress them, and demand respect of the rights of originary peoples. A Mexican Standing Rock in Yucatán and elsewhere, along with massive mobilization of urban populations to join and support these demands, are urgent.

Although dressed in leftist discourse, moreover, the current government’s policies are aligned with protecting capital rather than humans and the environment, in line with the current mutation of neoliberal capitalism. The new system has been called “extractivism” or “primitive accumulation" (which we know are around 500 years old), but in a very convincing article, Jodi Dean describes how the current system is mutating toward “Neofeudalism.” This is a new social order of extreme inequality and mass serfdom in which the ones at the top have significantly more than the ones at the bottom. Following Dean, feudal relations are characterized by a fundamental inequality that enables the direct exploitation of peasants by lords. The lord is both the manager and master of the process of production and of the entire process of social life. A new regime in which a property-less underclass survives by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, neofeudalism could also describe the Mexican economic panorama: the state and its favored corporations as the energy lord or the tax lord or the culture lord. Under the neofeudal regime, the state is subjected to the market and accumulation occurs more than commodity production, through rent, debt and privatization (of energy, railroads, broadband) and sovereignty over natural resources. The grounds for this new regime were prepared by the neoliberal strategy of undermining the authority of the nation-state over its economy in the interest of advancing global trade. In the new schema, nation-states promote and protect specific private corporations (the list of AMLO’S cronies is well-known) and political power comes to be exercised as economic power applying not only taxes but also fines, asset seizures, licenses, patents, jurisdiction, and borders. In this system, technology acquires a key role under the model of extractivism: their owners are billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, their users and tax breaks. Companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet come to behave as sovereign states themselves as their impact is greater than nation-states.

One of the effects of feudalism is the loss of the capacity to reproduce the basic conditions of survival for the population. Far from a vision anchored in the emancipation of “the poor” or “the working class” or “the originary populations” through megaprojects, government policies incorporate “the poor” in the market as consumers, debtors, and cheap labor. According to Jodi Dean, capitalist relations of production and exploitation will continue under neofeudalism; vast fortunes will continue to be amassed at the cost of extreme inequality and the destruction of life and the Earth that sustains life. The task is, indeed, to dismantle the engine.