Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Artists, public victims of Franco-Mexican cross-cultural cockfight

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

Who's going to blink first?

Mexico or France?

The Franco-Mexican Cultural Clash of 2011 gives birth to my equally-coined, Nicolas Sarkozy domino effect, an ego gone wild, taking as its victims France's Year of Mexico (more than a year in planning), which theoretically started last  week but shows no sign of life, thanks to this cockfight between France and Mexico over the 11 Feb. Mexican appeals court decision, upholding the kidnapping conviction of French citizen Florence Cassez, age 36.

Some good news: the high court reduced her 98-year sentence to 60. She smells the fresh air of freedom at the rejuvinated age of 96, God willing.

A week in a Mexican jail or prison would be seven days too many. Sarkozy wants Cassez in  French custody, compassionate thinking.

Sarkozy's ego trumps common sense
But where Sarkozy gets it very wrong--crossing healthy diplomatic boundaries, using culture, artists and the arts consuming public as weapons in his diplomatic duel with Mexico.

The phrase, "Mexican stand-off," did not originate from French cultural mores.

Angered (understandably), as he sometimes becomes when he doesn't get his way, Sarkozy had a fit and decided to show the Mexicans the power of France's cultural iron fist.

Dedicate the Year of Mexico to the unjust incarceration and six-year plight of Cassez, declares Sarkozy.

(Cassez always asserted her innocence, and the case against her might well not pass jury muster in the United States or UK for justice in the Netherlands by tribunal.)

"Oh, no you don't," retorts Mexico.

On 15 Feb., Mexico decides to boycott its own 12-month fiesta of more than 300 planned events throughout France.

The same day, former Mexican ambassador to France and writer, Carlos Fuentes, goes on radio, declaring: "France's position in the Florence Cassez case is based on the strategy of its head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, to restore his popularity."

The word, "entrenchment," comes to mind.

A recent poll revealed about 59 percent of Mexicans thought Cassez guilty. The poll did not address her sentence or where it should be served.

The first casualties

As you may know, it is not healthy to abuse a French person's national pride or collective ego.

Regardless whether pro or anti-Sarkozy, the French remain ultimately, loyal to their cultural code of honour--French to the bone.

These are initial casualties of this diplomatic-arts trench warfare:

The Riveline exhibition of Maya Jade Masks, which should have opened 1 March, and the conference on 10 March featuring Mexican writer, Jose Emilio Pacheco, at the National Library in Paris--all cancelled;

The city of Toulouse in southern France became the first domino to topple.

By re-naming its Mexican arts fiesta, previously touted as, "Rio Loco" ("Crazy River"), it forfeit $165,000 in Mexican support, effectively cancelling itsYear of Mexico segment of its cultural calendar.

The reason given: Tolouse did not want its rich cultural heritage mired by this diplomatic-arts feud. Who could blame the city's mothers and fathers?

Unless quickly resolved, major exhibitions risk cancelation: The Musee d'Orsay's "Under the Volcano: Art in Mexico from Independence to Revolution, 1810 -1920," slated to open 5 October; on the same day, at the Musee de l'Orangerie, a much-anticipated display of works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahio, and on 29 September, at the Petit Palais, a retrospective of Mexican painter, Rufino Tamayo.

"Paisaje" by Rufino Tamayo, 481 x 420 cm.
"Luna y Sol" by Rufino Tamayo, 496 x 480 cm.
"Animales" (1941) by Rufino Tamayo, 340 x 260 cm.
"Hombre" by Rufino Tamayo, 320 x 400 cm.

It's time to pull in the horns

Sarkozy's cross-cultural chess game should fail.

But Mexico's response appears extreme, as extreme as the 60-year-sentence, if in fact she is guilty of being her boyfriend's gangland "Bonnie" (think "Bonnie & Clyde", infamous couple who terrorized much of America during the good ol' days).

The solution lies in quietly back-channeling a compromise, say, Cassez serves another six months in a Mexican prison (like 10 years in Sweden), the rest by international treaty, in France.

The Year of Mexico is revived, everyone gets tipsy on tequila, kisses, makes up and buries this nasty episode of diplomatic history, just as the US and Russia did in a classic spy-for-spy prisoner exchange last year--more fiasco than serious feud.

(Obama and Medvedev probably would still enjoy each other's company and while snarfing down burgers in an Arlington, Va. "greasy spoon," good ol' boys, both of them.)

Sarkozy should immediately rescind dedicating his country's Year of Mexico to the judicial plight of Cessez.

It's totally misguided, foolish and very macho, in a very Napoleonic sense.

Likewise, although Mexico has every right to defend its justice system, as corrupt and flawed and political as it may be, common sense should prevail, not boys being boys and having public macho temper tantrums.

Besides, you do about 8 years in the UK for a run-of-the-mill knife murder.

I would think in the UK, a serial killer would get no more than 40 years, unless specifically sentenced to what Brits call a "full life term." (I love the way the English torture words. It's like, when is a "public" school really "private?")

People sentenced to life in prison often get out in fewer than 10 years.

How about the infamous Libyan Lockerbie bomber, who just keeps on going and going and going like that certain iconic pink, battery operated bunny?

The legal hassle in a nutshell

Mexican police on 8 Dec. 2005 arrested Cassez at a ranch with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, suspected leader of "Los Zodiacos," a kidnap-for-ransom gang responsible for an estimated 1,870 people snatched for cash in 2010.

Three hostages were found alive and most happy to talk after the raid.

But their stories flip-flopped.

First, the trio said Cassez, while there at the ranch, which she also concedes, was not active in the gang.

She also claims she had no idea what her lover was up to harbouring three univited and thoroughly restrained guests.

Then, reportedly after the case became a cause celbre' (think money), the hostages' in-court testimony did a U-turn and Cassez was convicted.

What's particularly bizarre, though, is the police the day after her actual arrest, having prepped TV crews, soldiered back to the ranch, suspects in hand.

They then staged a polished re-enactment of the raid with Cassez being dragged out of the place looking every bit the criminal she was eventually convicted of being.

Another factor, politics.

The Mexican cop in charge of all these theatrics at the time is now President Felipe Calderon's
Secretary of Public Security. He no doubt eschews scandal.

There is something deeply imbedded in the Spanish-Latino psyche. They love living larger than life.  Theatrics like Guna's may come too naturally, but they poison and prejudice the judical process.

But one thing ua for sure, when pushed to the wall, they find it very hard to say, "Mia culpa."

In Spain, we call it "pundonor," point of honour. It probably comes from the French.

It won't be easy for either side to back down in this most tragic of cultural stand-offs, even though the solution cries out to them.

So, perhaps calling this something of a "cockfight" isn't far off the mark.

Rock on and practice peace and love,

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

You can see ArtTraveler videos on YouTube and follow in their daily blog the adventures of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost as they near Santiago de Compostela, the end of their 1,000-km. pilgramage, Via de la Plata, which started in Seville, Andalusia.

Competa valley, Andalusia. Photo by Liz Paris.
Considering an Andalusian walking vacation or sculpture or mosaics workshops? see: www.Spanjeanders.nl and www.competafinearts.com.

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