How Mexican Novelist Carlos Fuentes Predicted Trump — And A Different Kind Of Wall

Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist who died in 2012, wrote more than a decade ago of a U.S. president who, through punitive measures, would almost shut Mexico down and accidentally revive the art of letter-writing.

Carlos Fuentes in Mexico City in December 2011
Carlos Fuentes in Mexico City in December 2011
Rosendo Fraga

BUENOS AIRES â€" In 2002, the late Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes wrote The Eagle's Seat (La Silla del Águila), a novel that depicted, with passion and precision, the problems of modern Mexican politics, in the setting of Mexico as he imagined it in the early 2020s. The story has a very radical, Republican president of the United States elected on November 8, 2016, though already involved in government in preceding years.

In Mexico meanwhile by mid 2018, yet another president is elected from PRI, the resilient, center-left Institutional Revolutionary Party that has survived both full-blown democratic politics and several conservative PAN (National Action Party) governments, and now ruling with some difficulty in alliance with other parties. The PRI president has been in power for two years, as the 2020s begin.

Literature generally feeds on history, but sometimes it anticipates it. Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges played at this on more than one occasion, as in his story of an Irish leader fighting British domination in the 19th century, and forced by circumstances or fate to assume the role written in a tale. Another Argentine writer, Manuel Mujica Láinez, anticipated the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in a story written in 1969, 20 years before it happened.

Fuentes's fictional president decides to stand up to the United States, partly due to a miscalculation but also seeking popularity with a bid to revive Mexican nationalism. He thus calls on the U.S. government to end its military interventions in the region and joins a pact with Russia and the OPEC cartel to raise crude oil prices.

The Republican president, a man with an impassioned temperament, responds by deciding not to invade, but isolate Mexico from the rest of the world. Fuentes imagines that by then all Mexico's communication systems, both internal and external, are worked by U.S. satellites, which allows the White House to order all the neighboring state's communications cut. Cellphones and land lines stop working. All broadcasting and the Internet, including all social networking, shut down.

The Mexican leader receives contradictory counsels from his team and entourage. Some advise him to retreat lest the country become ungovernable, and urge him to inform the public that this was actually the telecommunications shutdown that had been announced for 2000 but had failed to materialize that year! Others urge him to continue, because the fight with the United States is rooted in Mexican culture and history, and the episode would give "historical sense" to his presidency.

The novel has two interesting points for reflection concerning the immediate future. The first relates to the personalities of the two political leaders. These usually change ideologies in line with interests, ease and circumstances. But history shows they do not change personality. In this case, the U.S. president depicted, who wields power between November 20, 2017 and the same date in 2021, feels challenged and responds in a firm, decisive manner, though he himself is violating international norms and rules. Clearly the president Fuentes imagined has much more in common with Trump than with Barack Obama or as the case might have been, Hillary Clinton.

The second point concerns miscalculating in a crisis. The Mexican president depicted is, in contrast, indecisive and more inclined to intrigue and negotiation than to taking big decisions. He defies his American counterpart without properly calculating the consequences. There is no 19th-century-style invasion of Mexican territory nor a blockade like the one imposed on Cuba for more than half a century. Instead, a kind of shutdown of all communications almost makes Mexico ungovernable.

The crisis has an unforeseen effect. To communicate, people start writing again, and the collapse of modern communications imposed as a punishment prompts the return in 2020 of traditional correspondence. In the manner of Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, this novel takes the form of letters exchanged between its political protagonists â€" the president, his ministers and advisers and a beautiful woman who manipulates political destinies and brings in the erotic element present in Fuentes's novels.

Mexico's preeminent 20th century novelist foresaw 14 years ago strong continuity in Mexican political culture, which events have so far confirmed, a political phenomenon that strongly chimes with Trump's election and eventualities many now fear in Mexico. Markets have already begun anticipating a difficult situation.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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