The first President Bush – George Herbert Walker Bush – declared at the 1988 Republican National Convention that if elected, he would veto any attempt to raise taxes. As Bush stumped across the country declaring his vigorous opposition to any federal revenue increase, time and again he told supporters: ”read my lips – no new taxes!” His words were immortalized as an effective way of saying, “listen to what I’m saying; don’t try to put your thoughts into my mouth.” As a matter of historical footnote, Bush was excoriated after winning the ’88 election but then later changing his mind about the need for a tax hike. That’s a story for another time, perhaps, but his famous – or infamous – words are very much a lesson for today.
I’m a journalist, not a blogger. But I fully understand and support the role of the latter, and indeed I access and read various blogs from time to time myself. Recently I landed on a local blog page well known to Meridans, especially to those of the English-speaking variety. A posting about Mexican constitutional changes caught my eye, probably since I’m an attorney by training and profession. The article said, among other things, that a noncitizen (expat, “foreigner” or whatever term you care to use) could be arrested and deported just for stopping to watch a protest or other demonstration. The article spoke of the recent violent events at the Glorieta de la Paz (July 4), where an underpass is being constructed, as an illustration of things to avoid. It also recounted the alleged 2008 arrest and deportation of a U.S. citizen who happened to be walking down the wrong street at the wrong time, where a similar event purportedly was underway. I question the latter story, by the way. There’s undoubtedly far more to it. As the late U.S. radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say in his magnificent baritone voice, “and now stand by, ladies and gentlemen, for the rest of the story.”
Back to the blog posting. Because I had covered the Glorieta protest as a reporter for The Yucatan Times, and because I believe the blog article seriously misrepresents what Mexican law actually says on expat restrictions, I decided to post a couple of thoughts of my own. I also did so because I believe that “we foreigners” should not treat and write about Mexico as if it were some Third World banana republic, which assuredly it is not. Those of us here live in an emerging, modern democracy, where freedom of thought and expression are very much alive and well. If you don’t already understand this, go downtown just about any morning and stand outside the Governor’s Palace or the Ayuntamiento. Plainly, we’re not in Havana.
In my brief postings I simply said that it is entirely lawful to have opinions in Mexico, and to express them. Yes, even political or quasi-political opinions. In other words, “to think thoughts and to speak words.” I did not say a noncitizen may vote, join a political party, lead or participate in a public protest or demonstration, or engage in any other form of obvious or overt political activity, any/all of which are indeed prohibited by Mexican law. I did not dispense, or purport to dispense, legal advice in any remote sense of the term. I simply summarized in plain English what the Mexican constitution really says and means. And what it does not say or mean.
My innocuous comments set off a firestorm, at least with some local readers on several different websites. I was one step away from deportation, some warned. I was encouraging expats to blatantly violate the law, responded another. You would have thought the federales were on their way to my house, perhaps mounted on horseback and carrying Winchester carbines as in earlier days.
My analysis of Mexican law is correct. The blog responders were incorrect. Not because I’m smarter than them, and certainly not because I’m a lawyer. I read and interpreted in a common sense, logical way the actual provisions of the Mexican Constitution, just as any Mexican licenciado en derecho is trained to do, and the way I was trained to do 35 years ago when I was in law school. No, my comments were not “off-base” (as one responder scolded me). Rather, they were right on base. By the way, when I asked him for his legal credentials, he quietly vanished.
People often let their fears, prejudices, superstitions and preconceived notions overcome even black and white evidence to the contrary. That’s what these blog responders did in this case. They believe I said what they want to believe I said. They likely have no idea what the Mexican Constitution itself says. In so doing they malign and do injustice to the freedoms for which the Mexican people have labored long and hard. Freedoms for which many died. I refuse to join my fellow expats in any attempt to rewrite facts, to change history, to play “spin doctor” with language.
Read my words. And just my words.© Edward V. Byrne 2011. This article may be briefly quoted but not reproduced in full without express permission of the author.