The Mexicans

“The 10 per cent growth rate that the economists say that the oil will bring is meaningless while children work at the age of six, while their parents have no work at all, while millions live beside open sewers, while people are kidnapped for seeking their rights under the law.”

With The Mexicans, featuring a part of the world he then knew little about, John Pilger contrasts the beginnings of an oil bonanza being enjoyed by the rich and powerful of that country with the poverty of most of its people – and makes the case for ensuring that those in power help to relieve it with their new-found wealth. Here is a rapidly developing country presented with the opportunity to climb out of its poverty.

Pilger shares with viewers his awakening to Mexican history, of the abandoned country discovered by the Aztec Indians and occupied by the Spanish until the two races merged, and the United States’s invasion of 1847, when it took half of Mexico’s territory. French intervention was followed by dictatorship and a bloody revolution that started in 1910.

Film of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s breathtaking mural depicting the struggle provides a backdrop to the story of the failed popular uprisings led by Emilio Zapata and Pancho Villa. With generals and despots assuming control, says Pilger, the country is ruled by the Party of the Institutionalised Revolution and vast areas of land are owned by big families, although Mexico is relatively “stable”. Nevertheless, children as young as six are put to work in the fields and extreme poverty lives side by side with extreme wealth in the capital.

Pilger joins an American border patrol on the lookout for Mexicans trying to escape this poverty and find a new life in the United States. Back on Mexico’s side of the border, in Tijuana, he observes the hovels spilling down the hillside overlooking the country’s rich neighbour.

The Mexicans was the second documentary made by Pilger with director David Munro, early in 1979, but it was not screened for more than a year, having been overtaken by the urgency of Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia.

The Mexicans (ATV), ITV, 4 June 1980

Producer-director: David Munro (53 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library