Huachicoleros

Huachicoleros

Security experts have praised López Obrador’s willingness to take on fuel theft, an issue that was largely ignored under previous administrations, even though the problem was spiralling out of control. But two nights ago, I watched a political commentary program on TV, and the order of the day for the anti-AMLO segment of Mexico’s population is to scream bloody murder because of the gas shortages. (The people, the people… the POOR people,lamented one of the panel members.)

Many Mexicans and international residents of this country do not understand how the gas is stolen and why there are such shortages now. Today I will  attempt to explain this calamity as best I can.

Those who physically carry out the theft are mostly the poor bottom-feeders of “illicit groups”. They are called, huachicoleros. The closest “translation” I can come up with is “moonshiners” (I suppose because they try to stay hidden while they “do what they do”)

They know exactly where to find the product they need because their employers and their “associates” bribe Pemex employees to tell them what kind of gasoline runs through which duct. (It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out who the “associates”are.) To avoid catastrophic explosions the huachicolros must also know the pressure ratio inside the oil duct (Blow-ups happen more regularly than is reported.) During the peak of the huachicolero operation, it is estimated that 60,000 barrels of gasoline were stolen every day.

Once the pressure and pumping specifics of the selected oil duct have been confirmed, the huachicoleros  locate an unguarded spot along the route. Their support vehicles get into place. And with armed guards watching the area, the “experts” quickly drill a hole most of the way through the pipe, and then, so as not to cause a spark, they used a rubber mallet to crack open the last bit. Quickly a valve is inserted into the opening. This in turn is connected to a hose, that is attached to a tanker truck.  Apparently, the average procedure takes about 20 minutes.

The stolen gasoline is then trucked to clandestine depositories, and from these places, sold to gas stations for purchase by the public, or to companies with large fleets who use the illegal gas to fuel their convoys, and keep their expenses down.

Pemex used to be the highest revenue producer in Mexico, but with progressively more and more privatization, income from “the people’s oil company” dropped  lower; and once the huachicoleros stepped up their activities, the earnings plummeted even further.

The blame lies with PEMEX big-shots and the politicians, who have actively ignored security and allowed wholesale theft. As well, in recent years, some of the country’s most dangerous drug cartels have become involved in fuel theft.

Just this week, the Army found a two kilometre “side duct” on a major pipeline, leading to a clandestine storage center. This gas was purchased at below market cost and without being taxed. Several hundred stations around the country, that purportedly bought the illegal product, have closed for lack of gas to sell. Some critics claim that although AMLO may have good intentions, he should have “done this differently”. But they never explain just “how” he might have done so.

It is estimated that $7.4 billion in fuel has been stolen since 2016. The cartels are unlikely to accept such a massive losses in revenue without responding.

However, this practise is robbing the nation on a massive scale, and thus cuts government funding for all the state expenses. Like health care, building highways, old-age pensions. It has to be stopped.

Yes, there is a gasoline shortage right now. It may last longer than initially anticipated, but in the end, it should reflect more revenue for the state, without much affecting the “regular” consumers’  cost for gasoline. The old guard can whine all they want, but I suspect that the complaints are more about the loss of income from their “side jobs” than from their concern about “the people of Mexico”.

And one final comment. I do feel sorry for the states without enough gas, but we need to support our president in his efforts to clean up the many messes in Mexico. The way the newscasters carry on seems like a plea to get themselves back in the limelight, and mostly supports their own interests.

Among the information sources for this post is: Mexfiles. The author usually proves to be spot-on. Well reported Richard!

Advertisements

An Ode to January Austerity

 

There’s an unhappy woman in town,

Who has trouble zipping her gown.

Did it shrink in the wash?

That thought, she must squash…

If she wants her weight to go down.

 

She knows that she is “in the dumps”.

But finds it hard to “take her lumps.”

And shed all the pounds she put on.

Ah, but they won’t ever be gone…

Until through the hoops, she jumps.

 

 Resigned, she gives away her sweets…

No sweat, they aren’t her favourite treats.

But life without pasta, is not fair,

It is really more than she can bear.

She’s in denial, and dragging both feet.

 

But the “naked truth” is something she knows

And do those extra pounds ever show!

She tries to avoid the full length mirror,

Especially that view of her posterior

It is a fact, to the stadium, she must go!

 

To walk and stretch her broadened hips,

Then come back home, and zip her lips.

For women who are “past their prime”.

Getting back in shape, does take time

But to not do so… is worse than having zits.

 

According to our world’s youthful society

We should look great, for all eternity.

While we cannot go along with that,

Our vanity refuses to accept the fat.

Goddess… grant us all… serenity!

 

Good luck to all readers who, like me, are paying the price for their Guadalupe-Reyes indulgence!

 

.

 

 

 

 

The 2018 Planet Rosado – van der Gracht Gazette

Before the Internet came along, communication with my far-away family and friends was spotty at best. For almost 30 years, my mother and I wrote long letters to each other. I’d run out to meet the mailman when I’d hear his motorcycle put-put-putting up the street. “Here comes your boyfriend,” Jorge would tease. Often I’d receive no mail for about 15 days, and then I’d get 3 or 4 envelopes at once. Finally the postman confessed, “I don’t deliver the mail to any part of my route, until there are enough pieces to make it worth my time – and with the price of gas being what it is – – – ”

I had not yet become familiar with the custom of extending monetary compensation to those I figured were just doing their job, but if receiving my mail was at risk, I would give the guy a tip.

At Christmas time, close to 100 cards would find their way to Merida, and my mailman had a field day. Some of the cards came with a hand-written or photcopied page or two – the sender’s “Family Highlights of the Year” – there were often photos too. Now-a-days we are inundated with photographs, but before the mid 90s, when digital cameras became common-place, receiving photos by long-distance post was a big deal.

This year I got several e-cards, and a single one by snail mail. It came from my friend who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Thanks so much Paul) And since I didn’t even manage to find time to write a Christmas post, I have decided to compose an old-time-newsletter (with a sappy title, photos and all)

The Planet Rosado – van der Gracht Gazette

Jorge and me in Cancun – Christmas 2017

Carlos and Emma on a picnic in Norway – Christmastime, 2017

In 2017, my son Carlos and my daughter, Maggie spent Christmas with Emma,  his daughter who lives in Norway – they got it into their heads to go on a picnic – in sub-zero weather. My teeth started chattering just looking at them. Meanwhile, Jorge and I basked in the sun at Cancun. I’d say these two scenarios are solid proof that with age, comes wisdom.

On Valentines Day, I posted this feathery heart card with a favourite Emily Dickinson quote. The poet is spot-on when she writes that hope is ever-enduring. I believe that when we have challenges, we can never stop hoping for the best outcome – and if we are patient enough – our wishes usually come true.

Three days later, we celebrated Jorge’s birthday with our first BIG party of the year.

“A promise made is a debt unpaid,” and for 3 years I’d carried one for Suzi,  my Canadian friend who lives in Mexico City. She told me on her eightieth birthday that the area of Mexico  she’d never seen was southern Quintana Roo and Campeche – I glibly said we would go, and finally in March 2018, with six others, I made good on my promise. We only had one problem, Suzi had broken her shoulder just a month before the trip. None-the-less, at 83, she soldiered on. I sure hope I’ll be a trooper like her when I get to be that age.

Also in March, my friend, Michael Schuessler came to Merida for the FILEY (a literary event) where he presented his book, La Undécima Musa – it is about Pita Amor – Pita was a poet and the eccentric aunt of Elena Poniatowska. Jorge took this photo of Michael and me while when we skipped a couple of conferences, and went birding. We saw about 20 mot-mots on that afternoon walk.

In May, I spent my 65th birthday in Vancouver. Maggie flew from Los  Angeles to join me and 18 female family and friends. I must say this birthday was a bit difficult to get my head around. I kept wondering HOW – so much time had passed – so quickly? But as Jorge says, “The alternative is worse!”

I stayed in Kamloops for the month of June and did quite a bit of painting. This one is my favourite. I used acrylic paint on vellum, and laid the piece over textured cardboard to get the unusual mottling. I would like to try this again.

I returned to Merida in time for Mexico’s federal election on July 1st. My candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador won by a gigantic margin. I know he won’t please all of the people, all of the time, but I believe he is our best hope. For some time I had stopped thinking that Mexico could escape the ever-escalating corruption and violence. Poverty is a grim reality (to some degree or another) for 80% of the population in Mexico. Everything that affects the people living here – immigration, energy, housing, agriculture, environment, health care, and education policies – are sorely in need of improvement.  These issues are still far from resolved, but since his inauguration, AMLO has made bold moves, and I feel so much more confident about the future of Mexico.

Carlos and Emma were reunited again in the summer when Carlos returned to Norway. Emma also got to see Auntie Maggie again and she met her Canadian cousins who live in Copenhagen. Now-a-days, families are so internationalised, and children have many opportunities to learn about the world.

Emma meets her Canadian family who live in Norway

In fact, over the summer in Merida, Jorge and I had our own cultural exchanges. Our nephew Pepe married Camila, a lovely woman he met while working in China. She is from Kazakhstan and the couple like to say, “Our daughter is descended from Nachi Cocom” – a XVI C. Maya rebel leader – “and Genghis Khan.” – the XII C. Mongol lord whose name needs no additional reference.  What fun, interesting times we had with this young family.

Making Pollo Pibil and Guacamole

Our friend, Marianne had her granddaughters visiting for a month, and we had some excellent adventures with them too. In this picture, the girls are making Pollo Pibil and Guacamole. Their natural talent shines in the kitchen, and in fact, they excell at whatever they take on.

Sadly, our idyllic summer ended on September 15th when I got a phone call telling me that my adored sister, Anne, had been killed instantly in a car crash. I travelled to Canada immediately, and Maggie joined me there. We drove to Kamloops where the family had gathered. I felt such relief to be with my sisters, but my daughter was the glue that kept me from falling apart. At one point I asked her, “Mags, when did you become the mother here?” She hugged me and said that women assume many roles for one another, as is needed. I am so grateful and proud to see the fine woman she has become.

Anne, Barb, Cathy and Joany, in Kamloops about 5 years ago.

Back in Merida with a horrible cold I picked up from one of the grandnieces (who is so sweet that I couldn’t resist hugging & kissing her at every opportunity) I found that Jorge and the rest of the men in my world had Thanksgiving dinner waiting, which brought on lots of emotion for me. Our friend Eduardo was in Merida because his sister had also just passed, and the two of us comforted each other. Thank you Guys for your loving support.

Maggie and Mike had let us know they would be coming to Merida to get married on November 6th. To tell a hectic story, in a short space, let me just say that Maggie’s friends, Mike’s mom and I had to go into hyper-drive to get everything ready on time. The happy couple looked gorgeous. And OMG! I almost forgot – that evening, both Carlos and Maggie completed their final exam for their Masters program in Translation Competencies – the result of two years of hard study.

Jorge at the fortress wall in Cartegena

And, that wasn’t the end of the excitement – months earlier, Jorge and I had made reservations to leave the next day for Colombia – to attend our nephew Raul’s marriage with Jassel, his long-time love. We were literally putting away the last of the china when Carlos came to take us to meet up with our group of 13.

Loretta, Susi and I pose wearing Colombian hair bands

We loved the time we spent in Bogota and Cartegena, and in Baranquilla, Jassel’s hometown. But a funny – actually not funny at all – incident happened on the way to the wedding reception. The van that was hired to deliver our group, dropped us off at the wrong place. And before we realised this, the driver had sped away. Abandoned at night, on the edge of a jungle in Colombia – you just KNOW what I was thinking – but before anyone could get too hysterical, a sweet taxi driver somehow showed up, called his buddies, loaded us all aboard, and we made it to the wedding celebration. Very wind-blown as you can see from the photo!

As soon as we got back in Merida, we were thrilled to have a visit from Susan Jones, an English friend who lived in Merida when I first arrived. Her husband, Charlie worked on an oil rig, and was out of town for 3 weeks at a stretch. With Jorge also away a lot on tours, Susan and I became great friends – and the forty years we’ve been apart has not changed that – we had an amazing reunion.

Once Susan returned to England, Jorge and I began preparations for December 2018 – or as we call it – Holidays on Steroids.  We decorated the house in time for the IWC’s (International Women’s Club) Christmas Tea – more than 100 guests came – and we loved every minute. We’ve held this party almost every December for about 35 years – seeing so many friends is our way of getting the festive season underway.

These are two of the young men who rode all the way to Mexico City and back…

On the Día de Guadalupe, we made our two-person pilgrimage to the Church of San Cristobal to see the hardier pilgrims come running or cycling into the atrium. What a show of devotion – one group of young men rode their bikes all the way to the Basilica in Mexico City and back – with 60 pound statues of  Guadalupe balanced on their bike racks.

The TTT Teachers’ Breakfast and Students’ Carolling were fun as always. Ou college is in its 28th year now.

What fun we had at Maggie’s shower.

Mid-month, we  a got a chance to see our friends, Lee and Paul, and have dinner with them at Michaela (five stars in my book!) And we were invited to a quiet dinner with them at the home of our mutual friend, Greg. Catered by Carlos Jimenez of “A Moveable Feast”, this was one of my favourite evenings of the whole year. Another night, I went with my great friend Jo to El Pich, a cute bar on 47th Street – not too loud –  On the 15th, I attended Maggie’s shower with her girl friends. Those young women all hold such a warm place in my heart.

Shopping, cooking and decorating took up all our  time the following week, as we prepared for Maggie and Mike’s wedding celebration. The actual wedding in Novemeber had been just for family, and was followed by a lunch. This party would be attended by more than 100 of their “closest” friends. They had dancing, a video arcade, tacos al pastor and cochinita. When a “Marquesita” truck pulled up to the party entrance door, it was a big hit. We finally crawled home at 5 am.

On Christmas Eve, Jorge and I joined a big bilingual crowd at Saint Luke’s for carols and a Eucharist celebration. Absolutely lovely – Padre José told an amusing story about “Our Lady of Plastic Surgery” – a light-weight lead in to his homily that centered on the plight of refugees and migrants. Jorge and I wholly agree with his sentiments. After all, did Mary and Joseph not share this plight?

And of course, we can’t forget our Christmas dinner. After so many times preparing “Traditional Turkey with all the Trimmings”, Jorge and I have nailed it down to an art. As usual, we sat outside with our guests. The weather was crisp by Merida’s yardstick, which only added to the festive ambiance.

Again, Carlos was not with us this year; he went to Norway to spend Christmas and New Year’s with Emma. We so hope 2019 will be the year that our beautiful granddaughter gets the chance to join us for a holiday here in Mexico.

And this week, it has been pretty low-key on “Planet Rosado–van der Gracht”. Jorge and I have caught up on Netflix recommendations, including “Roma” – such an amazing movie – but doing laundry and ferrying pots, pans, chairs and other borrowed / lent items to their rightful spots has kept us from settling in too deep in front of the TV screen.

And how do I feel after a year that has been full in every way? I must admit to a sense of satisfaction that my no-longer-young self seems to be able to hold up physically. And Jorge, 9 years older, is remarkable. Our curiosity is as stimulated as ever by the people and places we come in contact with. And our hearts beat just as passionately about all we care for. I must admit though to a desire to spend less time – at full tilt – which would allow me time to do more painting and writing.

Jorge and I will be spending New Year’s Eve at our favourite restaurant, Amaro. Our good friends, Allison and Cliff. will be celebrating their 40th anniversary. And THAT will be a great beginning to 2019.

We have a couple of fund-raising trips lined up for early in the year, and invitations have been received for two Canadian nephews’ weddings, as well as one for a niece. Yes Jillian is getting married in September, and we sure don’t want to miss her brothers’ weddings, or hers.

I feel frustration over having gained back half the weight I had managed to lose and keep off for a year. But THAT is the story of my life! I will be back on a low-carb eating plan, as soon as I can force my willpower to comply.

Summing it all up, in 2018, Jorge and I were happy most days, and sad on a few. Pretty much like everyone we know. We’ve worked hard and done the best we could every day – well – almost every day.

Happy New Year to All!

Guadalupe – Reyes

 

Many a confused northerner has asked: What is Guadalupe – Reyes?

Well, unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that Merida is an extremely social place – all year ‘round – but the revelry goes into hyper drive at the end of the outgoing year and the first week of the new one.

Guadalupe – Reyes, Mexico’s 26-day celebratory period has religious roots. It starts with the feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) on December 12th, and ends with the Día de los Tres Reyes (The Epiphany) on January 6th. And although there is still religious observance during Guadalupe-Reyes, it is overshadowed by mucha, mucha fiesta.

Many out-of-town family members come “Home for the Holidays”, and festivities are planned during the Guadalupe-Reyes season, so that the maximum number of loved ones can join in the fun.  In keeping with this, our daughter and son-in-law will throw a party to celebrate their marriage – there will be dancing, singing, eating and drinking ‘till dawn – for 180.

And in fact the fun has already begun. Saturday night Maggie’s friends and cousins threw a Bachelorette. At 15, these girls started going to the discos. They were too young to drive, so one of the mothers would take the girls there, and usually Jorge and I would drive them home at 2 or 3 am.  On most occasions, several stayed at our house for the night, and the next day, they’d watch movies and hang out. I got to know them well, and I grew to love them like daughters.

Fast forward 15+ years, and these “girls” are still Maggie’s best friends. They invited me to the Bachelorette, and I can vouch for one fact – although they have matured into accomplished young women – they have definitely not forgotten how to party!  We started out with dinner and drinks at the Sonoma Grill in Alta Brisa. The delicious food and plentiful libations got everyone into a girls-just-wanna-have fun frame of mind. So to off we went to the Honky-Tonk at City Center.

What happens at Honkey Tonk stays at Honky Tonk, and suffice to say we enjoyed a fabulous night.  I was the oldest person there (by at least 20 years) but I kept up with the girls – for a few hours – then toddled home to bed.

Even blurry photos are worth a thousand words…

Spain’s Camino de Santiago Compostela is a world famous pilgrimage. People from all over walk for hundreds of kilometers to renew their spiritual energy. And in Mexico, we have a similar tradition – the annual pilgrimage from every Mexican village, town and city, to one of the churches dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico – La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Last night Jorge and I joined thousands of our fellow citizens at San Cristobal, the Guadalupana church in Merida. We have been many times, and I am always humbled by this show of faith, hope and love. Nothing I write could adequately describe the sight of thousands gathered to honour the patron saint of Mexico.

We spoke with so many antorchistas – pilgrims – who ran in relays from their homes, to this church. The elderly ones rode in the back of pick-up trucks with the children, and fit young people took turns running, or riding bikes with their torches held high. A few of them rode their bicycles from their villages in Yucatan – all the way to Mexico City to the Basilica there – and back again.

One young man I spoke with, not only completed the journey – all the way  to Mexico City and back – but he carried a life-size statue of La Virgen strapped to the back of his bike!  I asked him why he wanted to do this.

“I wanted to test myself. And that long ride nearly beat me. It was so hard. Many times I almost quit but my friends who came with me kept me going. And I kept them going. Many strangers gave us food and a place to sleep. We experienced a big change in our hearts. We learned that our families are our greatest treasure. I want to keep working hard for my family and for Mexico – Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”

I am at a loss to explain how such shows of faith and determination inspire me, and give me hope for the future. When this young man returns to his daily life, his fervour will no doubt diminish, but It will live on in him. And when he is tested, he will remember what he’s capable of.

I believe all of Mexico is in a similar state. We are on the verge of possible change – possibly great change – I hope as a country we will stay strong. I hope we will remember what we are capable of, and have the courage ride on.

Here’s a slide show of some scenes from last night:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

La Virgen de Guadalupe

 

La Virgen de Guadalupe -Patron Saint of Mexico

In Mexico, many holidays are celebrated the night before the actual feast day. For example, the Independence of Mexico on September 16th is celebrated on the night of the 15th. Family fiestas to commemorate Christmas are held on Christmas Eve – a lot of people stay up until dawn – and then sleep most of the 25th.

December 12th is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – La Virgen de Guadalupe – the patron saint of the country. But it is on the night of December 11th that the most important festivities are held – Tuesday of this week. 

Every year, I attend the Guadalupana celebration at San Cristobal Church in Merida. I don’t get there until about 10 pm, so my arrival coincides with large groups of antorchistas – the pilgrims who come to this church from towns all over the peninsula – they always look exhausted, but elated.

Many Catholics believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe has the power to grant favours and intercede for them. They pray to Guadalupe for miracles and they often add promises they think will strengthen their pleas. The most common promise is to participate in a relay run from their neighbourhood, town or village to the nearest Basilica of Guadalupe – in Merida this is the Church of San Cristobal – located on the corner of Calle 50 and 69. The Basilica in Mexico City is the second most-visited Catholic shrine in the world. Only the Vatican attracts more of the faithful.

Most pray when a relative is ill, for the safe birth of a child, for the success of a job application, or a salary raise. They believe that public displays of faith and thanksgiving are pleasing to Guadalupe. Theirs is an uncomplicated faith – they do not ask a lot of theological questions – they simply believe.

Because of all the parked bicycles, walking around the atrium of San Cristobal is not easy, and getting into the church itself is next to impossible, except when one Mass lets out and the next has not yet begun. But everyone crowds in nonetheless, in order to leave a flower offering at the altar. I wedge myself in too, and sometimes I wish I possessed the faith of the antorchistas. How comforting it must be to believe with all your heart that the Mother of God is looking out for you.

I ask too many questions. I don’t agree with a host of Church rulings, and I do not make it to Mass every Sunday. I appreciate other religions and sacred congregations. Unlike many of the others who will be at San Cristobal on Tuesday night, I do not feel that the Roman Catholic Church is the one church that “saves souls”. But I was raised in that Church, and the biggest part of my religious allegiance will probably remain stubbornly faithful to it.

On Tuesday night as I place my bouquet with all the 1,000s of others, I will pray that Guadalupe hears our prayers, and bestows the strength to forge a better future for Mexico. La Virgen de Guadalupe is a constant source of peace in my life. She is more than a Catholic icon, she is “the heart of Mexico.”

It is very moving to witness the affirmation of Mexicans’ devotion to her, and the basic faith that sustains them through many hardships. I believe that a country full of people with such deep basic faith is indeed blessed. And keep in mind that faith moves mountains.

 

 

An Historic Day

AMLO’s celebration at the Zocalo on December 1, 2018

At the packed megastore, the day after Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador’s investiture as Mexico’s 68th President (65th if you don’t count the repeaters), I ran into several friends. With each of them I mentioned the TV coverage of yesterday’s historic event.

Some were optimistic like me, some were divided in their opinion, and I  told one of them I was excited to blog about this amazing occurrence. She is of the opinion that most people who read my blog are not very interested about what happens politically or socially in Mexico.

That took me aback, but she had still more to say: “And if your readers follow politics at all, they are mostly concerned about what is happening in the USA – there is much to be concerned about there.”

“But most of my readers of my blog live in Mexico – those who do not – would like to.”

“I need to be off,” she said as she patted my hand and headed for the vegetables & fruit aisle. I was left feeling a bit confused.

I do write sometimes about the political issues in Mexico because a lot of important changes are taking place.  This blog is all about change, and I think there are quite a few readers who like to read about Mexico’s socio-political transformation.

I am not an activist but I am a concerned citizen. I am excited to see that now Mexico has a fighting chance to get out of the mire it has sunk into – ever deeper and deeper – over the past 40 years. Our new President has vowed to tackle corruption and impunity head on. And that is music to my ears. So many of our resources have been squandered and sold off. So much of our tax money never reaches its proper recipients because it is unscrupulously diverted along the way. And when the culprits are discovered with their hands in the honey jar, they don’t get prosecuted because of the impunity laws. That has changed though – now corruption is considered to be a serious crime – isn’t it unbelievable to realise it was not before?

AMLO is promising to put the poor first. About time someone does. After the official ceremony at the legislative assembly,  and a lunch with dignitaries at “Palacio Nacional”, the President went to Mexico City’s Main Plaza to celebrate with his constituents. Every inch of space was occupied. There AMLO participated in an indigenous ceremony that would prepare and cleanse him for the many challenges he will face. He was given the “Baston de Mando”, a Sceptre of Authority, and he accepted it with humility. “I will not let you down,” he told the crowd.  At one point the shaman knelt before the new President to pay him homage.  Andrés Manuel also fell to his knees, paying the same honour to the other man. “The people are the sovereign ones,” he says.

Many public works have been announced and much breaking of tradition. The conventional parties are going nuts and I can see they will not be timid in their criticism. Our president needs us to be strong, and to help him make the country sound, safe and vital once again. There’s no point getting into shouting matches with his opponents – that will do no good – rather our actions must speak for themselves. What does that mean?

Well, if we are asked for a bribe to speed up the government process we are working on, or we are given substandard treatment at a government medical facility, or if problems in our city are not being dealt with by local authorities – we should refuse to accept shoddy service – and we should report the incident to the superior. The same goes for shake downs by police. We no longer need to fear reprisals, so let’s not allow the old ways to continue. Better public service is in the public’s hands.

I am not a combative person, but now that I can see policy changes coming, I will demand fair and equal treatment. And not every day, or every week – but whenever something needs to be reported – I will continue to blog about our country’s peaceful revolution – whether anyone reads or not.

 

 

Deciphering AMLO

My friend and colleague Richard Grabman, author of the (sometimes irreverent) Mexfiles ( http://mexfiles.net/2018/11/30/deciphering-amlo/  ) posted his translation of an editorial he read in yesterday’s La Jornada.. The original piece was written by David Brooks (New York)

https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/2018/11/29/eu-busca-descifrar-a-amlo-y-prepara-primera-crisis-bilateral-5780.html )

Saturday December 1, 2018 – Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be sworn in as President of Mexico. Whether you approve of his politics or not, no one can deny that this is an historic occasion. Richard readily agreed to my request to re-post. And so I give you:

Deciphering AMLO

Shortly before he assumes power, investors, analysts and politicians in the United States have sought to define who and what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be like.  For now, there is no consensus – he remains an enigma.

However, what is most worrying for many regarding bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico is not so much what the new Mexican government will do but the erratic and provocative policy of the Donald Trump regime, which already laid the groundwork for the crisis López Obrador must face.

Media reports here say AMLO is scaring investors (Wall Street Journal), while others offer a more positive outlook for investors, calculating that fears are exaggerated (Bloomberg) while still others are alarmed that a possible “enemy” is of democracy is coming (Financial Times).  All this, along with the usual claim that AMLO is “unpredictable”, “temperamental” and “you-do-not-know-which-version-of him-will-govern” (New York Times).  And still others fall back on the word of the day, the increasingly ambiguous term , “populist “(one headline sought to merge everything and call him “a pragmatic populist “).

Meanwhile, experts and former diplomats (including former ambassadors in Mexico) predict “a difficult path” and possibly even “explosive outbursts” between the two leaders — based on their personalities, or their divergent policies – They offer lists of recommendations of what the new government should do, from economic, energy and security policy, and center on anti-drug cooperation with the United States.

The first crisis:

Almost all indicate that the first bilateral crisis of the new president is already more than announced: asylum seekers in the border. In fact, perhaps as early as 24 hours after AMLO takes office, his chancellor Marcelo Ebrard is scheduled to fly to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to continue to address the issue.

Ebrard had already begun discreet negotiations with Pompeo in Houston a few days ago. News reports reported that an agreement had been reached, but that was denied, and Ebrard insisted that all that exists is a conversation for now on how to deal with the situation.

But Trump’s position does not leave much room. While talks were going on between the Americans and the elected government last week, Trump tweeted that asylum seekers would not be allowed into the United States until a court approves their petitions and that “everyone will remain in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. ”

In part, what is at stake are principals governing the relationship between the incoming Mexican government and the Trump regime.  The US government’s position is that Mexico should be a staging ground in the process of evaluating asylum requests, something that can last for months and even years.

According to José Pertierra, an expert lawyer in migration and asylum in Washington, what Trump asks is nothing less than that “Mexico become an accomplice in violating the international law on refugees” and violating the United States’ own asylum laws. that establish that anyone has the right to enter US territory to request it.

“What Trump is doing is dismantling the entire asylum system,” by increasingly restricting entry into the country and, with his former attorney Jeff Sessions, reducing  reasons for granting asylum until they are almost non-existent — for example, nullifying claims for asylum based on domestic violence, or gender violence, or criminal violence as he  explained in an interview with La Jornada.

“But for this to work, he (Trump) needs Mexico to accept and house all those people in its own territory, where the applicants do not know anyone or have access to the support infrastructure on the US side. Many come [to the United States] because they know someone here, “he explained. Therefore, Pertierra reiterated, Mexico is in danger of being subordinated to Trump’s anti-immigrant strategy.

In the coming days, the first impressions and reactions will spring up about the new president in the neighbouring country, including among the Mexicans and Latin Americans living in the United States who await AMLO’s response to the persecution they suffer from this regime and its allies.

 

Reflections after visiting Colombia

Colombian artist, Fernando Botero used this self-absorbed figure to represent the powerful elite who caused such violence in his country

 

As I write this post, Jorge and I riding the ADO Platino bus from Cancun to Merida. We are more comfortable than we would be on a plane – we have wide, fully-reclining seats, snacks and drinks, free movies, WIFI – and AC. Bus travel has come a long way, Baby.

Over the past 10 days, we’ve been visiting three cities in Colombia – Bogota, Cartagena and Barranquilla – we’ve had a variety of new experiences, excellent traveling companions and we also talked with Colombian people we met. By my yardstick, it doesn’t get much better than this. I feel grateful that Jorge and I could make this trip. Recently I read on facebook:

There are lots of wonderful books found in libraries, but the most interesting stories are found between the covers of your passport.

I could not agree more – and one more thing – travelling widens a person’s perspective. It makes us think. What an important activity this is, because nowadays, there is much that requires careful thought and the forming of judicious opinion.

While in Colombia, many told us how much they love Mexico’s music, food, TV productions (especially “Chavo del Ocho” and telenovelas). They say they’d love to see the Maya ruins and laze on the beaches of Cancun. They seem to admire so much about our country.

But they also expressed distress about the current situation we face. Big change is taking place and the Colombian news channels point out that many Mexicans are not rising to the occasion. It seems we feel afraid of losing what little we have left of our former status as the, “Paradise of Latin America”.

Colombians have more than a little experience with this. Ten years ago they had to overcome many of the same problems we are now grappling with, and they also faced others that we do not have. At great risk, they voted in new leadership and while the results are not altogether to their liking, the situation for most Colombians is much better than it was a decade ago.

On July 1st of this year, Mexico also voted for new leadership, and now that Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is poised to don the tri-colour presidential sash, the traditional media is making a last-minute pitch to weaken AMLO’s base of support.  This a typical move by the desperate “old boys’ club”; they use fear to get their way.

They say AMLO is risking our finances and future with his harebrained schemes like building a train through south-eastern Mexico (a promise made, but not carried through, by both PAN and PRI during past electoral campaigns). Our president-elect insists on scrapping construction of a new airport (that stands on sinking land owned by politicians and their cronies). He wants to build more oil refineries (most of the existing ones were constructed in the 1960s, or earlier). He wants to cut legislator’s salaries and the number of civil servants (anyone who has tried to get a permit or other document issued knows how inefficient the system is) He has already started selling off private presidential planes (more luxurious and expensive than those owned by the USA). And he plans to restructure Mexico’s centralist government (again, consider the current state of inefficiency). The powers-that-be want us to excuse the excesses of the political / business / religious leaders.

Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t. My time in Colombia was short, but it was long enough to strengthen my belief that change is a necessary and positive force.  Of course it must be responsible and I agree that some (not all) of AMLO’s proposals are “a bit out there”. But if his government can achieve even a quarter of what he wants to change, I feel our country will be a much fairer and more productive one at the end of his 6 year term than it is now.

Convincing readers to seriously consider our opinions is what writers aspire to. And like most of my colleagues, I am not always confident of my own abilities and skills. But I am not one to shy away from expressing (as best I can) what I believe to be true.  I know that change is scary, but I also feel we cannot continue as we are, and Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is our best hope.

Cartagena

Jorge and I arrived in Cartegena two nights ago.

Because of the tropical climate, beautifully maintained Spanish-colonial arquitecture,  colorful gardens, delicious seafood, and a well-developed tourism infrastructure – Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia – and indeed in all of South America.

After five days of wearing bulky cold-weather clothing, we happily slipped into our cooler cotton clothes, and soon felt the familiar sheen of sweat on our skin. I didn’t need a mirror to tell me that my bouncy Bogota hairstyle had wilted. I quickly put on my wide brimmed hat – a practical way to save time on hair maintenance – and avoid more sun damage to my skin.

A few minutes of walking around town made me wonder about other differences between this port city and the high-altitude capital of the country. I enjoyed visiting Bogota, but I often sensed tension there. I am used to a visibly-armed police presence, but the graffiti on almost every wall and the sullen student unrest made me feel uneasy.  In Cartagena, I notice that  most of the well-dressed patrons are Latinos or tourists – the servers are predominantly black.

A bit of historical background: In 1533, a Spanish conquistador named Pedro de Heredia took the village of Calamari by force, and founded the city of Cartagena. The “new city” was settled by the conquistadors, and in a relatively short time, it became one of the wealthiest ports in the Americas. One truth left out of the typical narrative for tourists is that this port’s biggest business was slave trade. The native population had been decimated by disease, and a new source of cheap labour was needed. It is estimated that over one million Africans were shipped to Cartagena.

Cartagena was also a major port for shipping the gold that was looted from the Inca Empire and that of the local indigenous Zenú people of the coast. The city was often filled with gold and precious stones and it quickly became a target for pirates in search of booty. The Spanish rulers built an 11 kilometer-long wall that managed to withstand most of the attacks, and in fact Cartagena was never completely under siege as was the case in other wealthy Spanish-American ports.

The British also attacked the city several times in an effort to take it from Spain, yet another painful and bloody episode in the history of colonization. Cartagena declared its independence from Spain in 1811, one of the first cities in Colombia to do so. Finally, in 1821, Simón Bolivar entered the city from the sea and re-named it – La Heroica – the Heroic City.

During this whole time, slavery continued, but many slaves escaped to create free villages, called palenques. In these communities, they could celebrate their African roots and culture. In 1851, Colombia abolished slavery, 14 years before the United States. The only surviving palenque is San Basilio de Palenque. It was the first free city in America dating its foundation to 1713. To this day, the people there speak a unique language, Palenquero, a combination of Spanish and languages from West Central Africa.

Walking along the fortified walls – touring San Felipe, a hill-top castle built by the Spanish – or visiting the Palace of the Inquisition are reminders of the contradicting perspectives and cultures, and Cartagena’s inequality.

Above all others, one sight caused me to contemplate the different “worlds” of Cartegena. I noticed many black women dressed in colourful Colombian dresses, selling fruit and posing for photos.

Did Jorge and I take pictures of these women? Yes – after being asked to do so by many of them – we did. The photo at the top of the post shows two of them modeling their splendid outfits. I suppose they feel that their work is easier than a lot of other jobs, but I felt uncomfortable holding up my phone for the quick photo shoot.  But as always, Jorge was complimentary and generous, bringing out genuine smiles and thanks from both. He can relate to everyone and I am grateful to be making this trip with him.

And we did spend money on another purchase – if you guessed that we bought something “green” – you guessed right. This is my new silver pinky ring – designed by a Columbian jeweller who told me he had lived for several years in Canada.

So yes indeed, cultural melding of many kinds are found in Cartagena.