Apropos Mexico

Dafydd, at the inestimable Big Lizards, weighs in — intelligently, of course — on Mexico’s problems with narcoterrorism and its own military.  I think this is a perfect companion piece to my own post about Mexico.

What’s the matter with Mexico?

Up until two weeks ago, my contacts with Mexico had been very limited.  When I was four, my parents spent a day in Tijuana, at which time I allegedly stood in the middle of the mercado and cried out “I want to go back to my own civilization.”

Fast forward 20 years, and I went to Matamoros, Mexico, for a short visit.  I could not believe how seamy it was — or, at least, how seamy the quarter we visited was.  I was not surprised to learn that it later became notorious for murder.

Four years later, a friend and I went to a “luxury” resort south of Puerto Vallarta.  I use the scare quotes around the word luxury because, despite the price, there was nothing luxurious about it.  It was barely clean; the rooms were minimalist, not by trendy design, but by poverty; and the water (both drinking and swimming) was scary.  The towns we drove through from the airport were distinguished by dust and decay.

You can imagine then, that when my husband proposed a cruise to Mexico I was not enthusiastic.  I finally convinced myself to go, however, because the price was good, and the cruise ship would insulate me from the risks of contaminated food (to which I am unusually vulnerable), as well as ensuring a clean bed and bath every night.  I’m glad I made that decision.

The cruise we took was a far-reaching trip down Mexico’s west western coast.  We visit Cabo San Lucas, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, spending a day in each port.

Thumbnail sketches of each place don’t do them justice, but they are a start:  Cabo is nothing but a beach; Manzanillo is a bustling port city that is trying to generate buzz as a nature habitat (and that has, in the middle of the city, the most amazing tree filled with giant iguanas); Acapulco is a huge city of 2 million, that provides a graphic visualization of the rise, decline and rise again of the tourist trade over the past 40 years; Huatulco is an excellent example of the early stages of a planned eco city, interesting and sweet, both in terms of nature and archaeology; Puerto Vallarta is an almost generic arts and tourist destination; and Mazatlan is an old, interesting, quite decayed city.

As I said, those thumbnails are completely inadequate.  They reflect my impressions of those cities and towns based, not on intimate knowledge, but on a few hours in the areas most readily available to tourists.  Still, those few hours did leave me with some very strong overarching impressions about coastal Mexico generally, and I think these impressions are at least somewhat valid.

To begin with, Mexico has no middle.  This wasn’t just my impression; this was something I heard from several people, in many of the places we visited.  Mexico has a small number of very wealthy people at the top, a huge number of very poor people struggling along at the bottom, and almost no discernible middle class.

In other words, although ostensibly capitalist, Mexico doesn’t have a balanced capitalist economic structure.  Instead, its structure more closely reflects either a socialist structure (peons and party apparatchiks) or a rural aristocratic structure (nobles and laborers). Both models make sense, given Mexico’s overwhelming government (high taxes; massive, although often ignored, regulation; and a massive military presence) and its development under the Spanish aristocratic model (as opposed to the 18th Century British enlightenment model that gave America its initial social and economic structure).

Speaking of the military, Mexico doesn’t have anything equivalent to America’s posse comitatus.  The military is everywhere, a fact I remembered from my other visits to Mexico.  The constant military presence has an oppressive feel to it, at least to this American, who is used to the military being aimed at enemies foreign, not domestic.  Having said that, the people to whom I spoke felt that the military now serves a useful function because President Calderon is using it to combat the drug lords.  That is, rather than flexing its muscle against all citizens, the military is actively pursuing the bad actors.

President Calderon, by the way, appears to be popular with those paying attention.  In several of the towns we visited, people I spoke with said that they liked Calderon, and this was true even if their allegiance was to the opposition party.  The reason given, always, was the sense that he was sincere in his efforts to combat drugs.  Other presidents have postured, but Calderon actually seems to be doing something.  Even the recent increase in violent crimes is seen as something of a good thing, because it shows that the drug lords are feeling and reacting to Calderon’s pressure.  The killings are the broken eggs on the way to a drug-free Mexican omelet.  (How’s that for a strained metaphor?)

I keep mentioning “the people to whom I spoke,” so let me say something about the people we met in coastal Mexico.  Whether taxi drivers, or van drivers, or merchants, or waitresses, or anyone else, they were amazingly pleasant people.  Most spoke at least a little English, and all were anxious to be helpful.  They were kind to the children, honest in their business dealings, and incredibly hard working.  This last, incidentally, was almost sad — and it’s what leads me to repeat the question I asked in my post title:  What’s the matter with Mexico?

I saw a population of kind, honest, extremely hard-working people, and they’re going nowhere.  Although Mexico is swiftly Americanizing in many ways (Costco, American auto dealerships, Staples, Starbucks, Home Depot, and other like stores, are omnipresent in the big cities), the vast majority of people seem to live one step away from abysmal economic failure.  They’re hustling like crazy, but going nowhere fast.  They’re like people trying to swim through Jello:  no matter how fast they move their arms and legs, they’re still sinking.  Small wonder, then, that so many of them look to America, a land in which effort makes an actual difference to outcome.

The people to whom I spoke about this stagnant situation vaguely blamed government corruption.  They explained that taxes are enormously high, but little of the money seems to return to the citizens.  Government officials get paid enormously high wages, many supplement their incomes with drug money, no project can take place without bribery, and government funds are siphoned off into private pockets.

A perfect example of corrupt or inept government was a high rise in Acapulco.  It was about 16 stories tall, fairly new, and completely empty.  After the developer had built the entire framework, our driver told us, the government shut it down for failing to comply with building laws.  In America, that probably wouldn’t happen, because inspectors monitor every step of the project.  (I’ve seen this on both private and institutional projects.)  Under the corruption hypothesis, the fact that a building climbed 16 stories only to be abandoned suggests that someone in the government didn’t get paid and got his revenge.  The ineptitude possibility is that no one was paying attention to the building’s structural integrity until millions had already been sunk into a building too dangerous ever to be occupied.  Either way, it’s an expensive dead spot in Acapulco.

One can’t avoid the cultural problem, either.  The small number of coastal cities in Mexico that I saw were prone to what I would call an ad hoc or jury rig approach to things.  Nothing was done well if it could be done badly.  People hustled like crazy, but there was little evidence of Western style efficiency or organization.  This is self-imposed Jello swimming.  If you’re locked in a mentality that steers you to the lowest common denominator, you’re never going to get ahead.  I know that part of this is because of poverty, but a lot of the jury rigging I saw (in the way things were cleaned or constructed, for example) had nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with attitude.

I would like Mexico to do well.  Selfishly, I want a safe country on my southern border, one that doesn’t import drugs, terrorists and the poor onto my own land.  More altruistically, I want the Mexican people to prosper.  They’re good people and deserve better than they’re getting right now.  I cam away from my trip, however, convinced that it will take an enormous effort to bring Mexico up in the world.  Change will happen only under two circumstances, both uniquely difficult to achieve:  (1) Government must clean up and shrink down; and (2) the citizens have to become more organized and efficient.  As long as they’re spending at least as much time spinning their wheels as they are moving forward, they’re going to go nowhere fast.

Our next door neighbors

When I was five years old (so this would have been in the mid-1960s), as part of a trip to Southern California, my parents dipped us into Tijuana.  I still remember that trip.  We went to a large, crowded market place that smelled bad.  That’s all I remember.  But what my parents remember is me coming to a dead stop in the middle of the market and howling “I want to go back to my own civilization.”

Tijuana is still an uncivilized place, and continues as a reminder that Mexico is an unstable, crime-ridden society, and that good fences make good neighbors.

Even the earth is out to get Mexico

Questions swirl (a little bit) about whether the fatal swine flu plaguing Mexico is a “man-caused disaster” or just the run-of-the-mill Nature triumphs kind of thing.  There can be no doubt, however that the earthquake  that just struck is Nature’s little reminder that she is now, and always will be, in charge.
From Twitter’s breaking news:

  1. URGENT — People have been evacuated from buildings in Mexico City after a major 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck 100 miles away.


  3. A moderate and shallow earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 has struck Guerrero, Mexico. No word on damage or casualties.


  5. A spokeswoman for the United States Geological Survey says an earthquake has rocked central Mexico; news agencies say “powerful” quake.


If you masquerade as a US citizen, you’ll be treated as one

Back in 1989, Bay Area locals were stunned to learn of a horrific massacre up in Sonoma County:

[Ramon] Salcido, now 47, used a gun and knife to murder his wife, Angela Richards Salcido, 24; their daughters, 4-year-old Sofia and 22-month-old Teresa; his mother-in-law, Marion Richards, 47; her daughters, 12-year-old Ruth and 8-year-old Maria; and Tracey Toovey, 35, his supervisor at Grand Cru Winery in Glen Ellen.

He was also convicted of attempting to murder his 2-year-old daughter, Carmina, who survived a slashed throat, and another winery worker, Kenneth Butti, who was shot in the shoulder.

After these heinous murders, Salcido escaped to Mexico, where he was caught and returned to California for trial.  The jury convicted him and recommended the death penalty.  He’s been appealing ever since, a process that just resulted in an opinion from the California Supreme Court.

Almost surprisingly, given that it is a California Court, the judges ruled that the death penalty was valid.  They batted down his arguments about mental illness and information withheld from the jury, and all sorts of other stuff.

The argument that intrigued me was Salcido’s claim that, as a Mexican citizen, he could not be extradited from Mexico (which has no death penalty) to America.  This is a familiar argument, as we’ve seen it play out before, with Mexico refusing to turn suspected killers over to the US authorities.  This time, though, there was a twist.  In reading the following, you have to appreciate the unspoken concept behind all this, which is that Salcido was here in America, and committed all those horrible acts, as an illegal alien:

In his appeal, Salcido’s lawyer contended his client, who was a Mexican citizen, had been transferred to the United States in violation of a treaty that allows the Mexican government to block the extradition of one of its citizens unless U.S. authorities promise not to impose the death penalty, which does not exist in Mexico.

Salcido’s lawyer contended agents from Sonoma County and the federal government had induced Mexican officials to transfer Salcido by identifying him as a U.S. citizen.

But the court said law enforcement officials from both countries had believed Salcido was a U.S. citizen based on his own statements and on Salcido’s residence in California, where he had a Social Security card and a driver’s license.

In other words, the Supreme Court said that, if you’re going to go around pretending to be an American citizen, you can’t complain if you are then treated as one to your detriment.  In any event, the Court added, only the Mexican government gets to complain if one of its citizens is wrongfully taken from its borders.  Given Salcido’s appalling conduct, Mexico may feel that this is one citizenship error better left unremedied.

From the “now I’ve seen everything” file

I get emails from Kayak.com, a travel site. The most recent email offers this cutting edge travel opportunity:

Immigration and border patrol seems to be at the top of every political conversation. At Parque Eco Alberto, you can go on a pretend ‘Night Border Crossing Experience.’ The parque is owned by the Hnahnu Indians in Hidalgo, about three hours from Mexico City. The $18, four-hour night hike starts with the Mexico National Anthem. Your ‘coyote’ guide, Pancho, pulls off his black ski mask while actors gather around to scare you senseless along the way. Run from border control agents; dodge hidden actors shooting (blanks) at you, and make your way through barbed-wire fences. Survivors are blindfolded, led across a rickety bridge, and then set free to run across the border to freedom!

Believe it or not, this is not a joke. It’s the real deal, ready-made for those who want to feel the illegal immigrant’s pain. As the New York Times explained this past weekend (and how could I have missed it?):

Organizers say they opened the park about two and a half years ago, with financing from the Mexican government, and began the caminata as a way to offer tourists a taste of life as an illegal immigrant. (Emphasis mine.)

The Hñahñus are people who know something about that life. Of the approximately 2,200 Hñahñus from this area, 700 live in Mexico and 1,500 live “on the other side” — mostly in Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada, where they install drywall, drive trucks or work on farms, residents say. Many of the tour guides here have crossed the real border several times.

Illegal immigrants

No comment (’cause you can guess what I’m thinking):

The Mexican government reported the results of recent studies on Tuesday showing that 68 percent of Mexicans who migrate or try to migrate to the United States do so without documents and 55 percent of them hire immigrant smugglers.

The report, timed to coincide with the U.N. International Migrants Day, also noted that the Mexican-born population living in the United States increased from about 800,000 in 1970 to more than 11 million in 2006.

The majority of Mexicans now living in the United States — 6.2 million — are undocumented, according to the report, which was based on surveys of migrants and information from the government’s National Population Council.

Almost 30 million people in the United are direct descendants of Mexico migrants, the report stated.

In contrast, the report said the immigrant population in Mexico is quite small and has not experienced rapid growth.

The number of foreign residents in Mexico grew from 340,000 people en 1990, or about 0.42 percent of the population at the time, to about 493,000 in 2000, or about 0.5 percent, the last year for which data is available.

More than two-thirds of the foreign residents are from the United States, and many of those are of Mexican extraction.

All I ask is that, having read the above, you now read this.

Community building, Leftist style

San Francisco’s Mission District is, demographically, a primarily Hispanic district (about 50%), with the remainder of the population being White and Asian. Traditionally, it’s been a mixture of immigrants (legal and illegal), poor, working-class, and artsy-funky. It’s in the news today because the District used a $34,000 City-funded grant to paint a mural that shows joyful Palestinians overtaking Israel:

An emotional battle over a new mural in San Francisco’s Mission district that depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been squelched after the supporting organization had its funding stalled and agreed to alter the controversial image.

At issue is a large mural in a parking lot on the corner of 24th and Capp streets, designed by local artist Eric Norberg and painted during the summer by more than 200 Mission district community members with an overall theme of breaking down physical and social walls.

One panel of the 117-foot wide and 10-foot tall mural, depicting Palestinians breaking through a crack in the Israeli security barrier, angered members of San Francisco’s Jewish community who said the image only portrays one side of the centuries-old conflict. The crack in the barrier is also shaped like Israel, and one Palestinian busting through wears a headscarf covering her face.

“The imagery took a radical position on a complex geopolitical issue that was out of touch with the international community, San Francisco and the overwhelming majority of Jews,” said Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which raised the issue.

Frankly, this is the standard stuff one expects to come out of San Francisco and, while I’m disgusted, I’m too worn about this chronic bias to be incensed.

Something about this story, though, did pique my interest, because it’s a new twist on the whole pro-Palestinian view of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Apparently creating a pro-Palestinian mural is a “community building” activity in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood:

HOMEY, the organization that received a city grant to create two murals, said the mural was meant to unite the Mission district.

On its face, that it is an appalling statement — you unite a Hispanic neighborhood by showing approvingly a group of people bent on genocide (that would be the Palestinians, who are never coy about their ultimate goal) overrunning the nation that they intend to exterminate (Israel, of course).

But just so you’re really clear about HOMEY’s goal — and just so you understand that it is a Leftist group aimed at dethroning the two countries that are the most frequent targets of Leftist animus — the HOMEY representative keeps on talking:

“Our intention was to draw parallels between the issues at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Israeli-Palestinian security barrier,” said Nancy Hernandez, youth program coordinator at HOMEY. “We consider this section … to be a statement of solidarity between the residents of the San Francisco Mission district and global movements for oppressed peoples to gain self-determination.”

And that’s why the Left supports the Palestinians. It has nothing to do with history, morality, international law, decency, saving lives, preventing genocide, etc. Instead, just part of the ever-popular Leftist scenario in which anyone who feels, however justifiably or not, “oppressed” Israel or America, is your brother in arms. It’s the old class war, updated, and it goes a long way to explain the chronic immorality of these fellow travelers, who will support any regime or political group, no matter how grotesque, if that regime or group announces that it is the enemy of the United States and Israel.

And I just have to ask again, as I’ve asked for many years now, how can American Jews justify their apparently mindless decision to cling to the Lefter side of the political spectrum?

Weird times

I enjoyed this observation from Jay Nordlinger, so pass it on to you:

You know that Elvira Arellano, the famous deported Mexican lady, has become a hero in her home country. I have to ask: What kind of country makes a hero out of a person whose highest ambition is to live in another country?

These are weird times, y’all.

Whew! Calderon will be sworn in

Mexico’s Leftists took a page out of the post-election Democratic guidebook — protest, deny, accuse and whine — and ended with the same result: the candidate who was declared the victor will, in fact, win:

Mexico’s electoral court will name ruling party conservative Felipe Calderon president-elect on Tuesday, rejecting claims the fiercely disputed July 2 vote was unfair, sources said.

Losing left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has alleged widespread vote-rigging, but the seven electoral court judges tossed out his fraud claims last week and they are to deliver their final ruling on Tuesday.

Sources close to the court said on Monday the magistrates would declare the election process was clean, give a final vote count and confirm Calderon’s razor-thin victory.

“Everything appears to indicate the vote will be unanimous,” one of the sources told Reuters.

The election campaign and the fraud claims have split Mexico and posed a serious challenge to its young democracy just six years after President Vicente Fox’s historic victory ended seven decades of one-party rule.

Lopez Obrador, whose supporters have crippled central Mexico City with protests for the last month, says he will never recognize Calderon’s victory and will set up a parallel government to overhaul Mexico.

Now I have to admit — and here are my biases shining through loudly and clearly — that I would be less surprised to find widespread fraud in a Mexican election than in an American one. Nevertheless, given the terrorist security risk Mexico poses to America because of the porous border, and given Mexico’s abysmal economy, I can only say I’m pleased that, for whatever reason, a conservative won. One can only hope that the average Mexican’s probable yearning for normalcy and economic stability will have him or her treating Obrador’s “parallel government” with the contempt it deserves.

The right choice in Mexico

I didn’t blog about the Mexican elections, preferring to wait and see what happened.  I’m happy that I didn’t get my knickers in a twist, and I’m pleased that the Mexican voters, having looked into socialism’s abyss, opted for the Conservative candidate:

Mexico’s conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon declared victory on Monday in a bitterly contested election and official returns appeared to show his leftist rival could no longer catch him.

Calderon had a lead of almost 400,000 votes over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with returns in from 96.6 percent of polling stations and a senior election official said it was unlikely to change with a recount ordered for later this week.

A Calderon victory would ensure Mexico sticks to the free-market policies of outgoing President Vicente Fox and hold steady as a U.S. ally, bucking a trend of Latin American nations who have turned to the left and away from Washington in recent years.

I’m not optimistic that Calderon will turn Mexico into a less corrupt, highly functioning, prosperous Democracy.  I am certain, though, that he will be infinitely less bad than the alternative would have been.