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 bloodymurder 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!
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 monetarycompensation 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We loved the time we spent in Bogota and Cartegena, and in Baranquilla, Jassel’s hometown. But a funny – actually notfunny 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Are you wondering why I am in Bogota? Colombia is a country I never expected to visit. but I’m glad the fates have brought me here. Our nephew Raul is getting married next weekend in Barranquilla. We are close to him and his girlfriend, Jassel, so when the “group” that will sit on the groom’s side started forming, Jorge and I signed on.
There are 13 of us, and we all figured it would be silly to travel all this way and not see as much of the country as we can. Jorge and I opted to stay in Bogota for 5 days and Cartagena for 3 more before we travel to Barranquilla for the wedding.
Last Thursday’s non-stop flight from Cancun to Bogota was literally as easy as eating apple pie. Interjet took off on time, we had lots of legroom, a free checked bag – a sandwich and a cocktail too – all for about 7,000 pesos return. It felt like the “good old days” of air travel had returned.
Immigration and Customs in Colombia are extremely “thorough”, as are the foreign currency exchange and hotel check-in security. We had to fill out lengthy forms, allow our passports to be photocopied and even had our fingerprints taken. The government seems determined to know everyone’s business. But who can blame them? A decade ago the country faced dire crime-related challenges that are more or less under control now. And the citizens I’ve spoken with have opted to take the strict measures in stride. They don’t like to talk about the past but obviously, they feel that too much control is better than not enough. They do not want a return to the dark days.
However, the day we arrived, a crowd of about 1,000 students marched through town, causing havoc with the traffic. Much of the angst derives from the constant devaluation of the currency and sky-high Inflation. A cup of coffee costs about 10,000 Colombian pesos. (Mind you it is excellent coffee!)
The next day, Friday, no sign of the protestors could be seen. By noon, even the graffiti they sprayed on public buildings had been scrubbed off. When I looked at the recently cleaned walls, I saw clear evidence of earlier erasures. Obviously, the troubles of the past are not entirely in the past. But I can relate to that – all of Latin America is undergoing changes – for us all the sacrifices and the stakes are high.
And speaking of “high”; Bogota is the fourth-highest of the world’s capital cities (2,625 m / 8,612 feet). I spent a short time in the highest La Paz, Bolivia (3,640 m. /11,942 feet) during my youthful backpacking days. But I have never been to Quito, Ecuador the second-highest (2,850 m / 9,350 feet) or Thimphu in Bhutan, third at 2,648 m or 8,700 feet. In La Paz I never got sick – at 20, who does? – but on this trip, both Jorge and I felt queasy the first evening.
However we have picked up the pace since then. Our hotel is located in the colonial district and we’ve done plenty of walking through the narrow cobblestone streets. The architecture reminds me of other Latin American cities I love – San Cristobal de las Casas, Puebla, Mexico City and Lima. The atmosphere is lively and street vendors line the sidewalks. Although the rain has not let up for much of our stay, people don’t let a little foul weather deter them from gathering in the Main Plaza to play chess, feed the pigeons, listen to music, and mingle with friends.
The rain did hold off long enough on Saturday morning for us o go see the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrate perched atop one of the highest hills in Bogota. To get there we rode a sky tram and had fabulous views of the city below. We did not stay long though because we could see that our luck with the weather was not going to last much longer.
All our outrunning the rain built up an appetite and our first authentic Columbian meal took care of that. Very nicely I must say!
We would have liked a siesta, but instead we spent the better part of the afternoon at the Botero Museum. Up until now, I have not been a huge fan of the artist’s pudgy people, but seeing such a large body (no pun intended) of his work has changed my perception. His work is full of social commentary and irony — his technique is masterful. He is also generous with his art, in both Bogota and Medellin he has built museums and filled them with his own work, as well as his personal collection of other artists’ canvases, including – Chagall, Picasso, Renoir and Dali – admission is free of charge – and I plan to return there today.
But I also want to visit the Gold and Emerald museums. I have not been near the jewellery shops, but today my companions will not have to “force” me into a shopping foray.
In the next day or so, I will let you know how my restraint is holding out!
Despite the difficulties, the migrants keep moving north
The largest-ever Migrant Caravan has entered Mexico. More than 1,000 people have applied for political asylum in this country, and about 400 have returned to Honduras. Yet the number of those walking towards the USA is growing. Why is this?
Even though the initial group has reduced, others have taken their place. I read this morning that another 1,000 Guatemalans are preparing to cross the Mexican border and catch up to the Caravan. What drives them on?
In Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the four top reasons are corrupt government, inflation, unemployment, and organized crime. We can nod our heads in agreement; these sound like compelling reasons for leaving the country. But my gut twists when I think about what this harsh reality would feel like. I have never been subjected to anything that remotely resembles what the refugees have endured.
None of my loved ones has been gunned down in the street. No vicious gang member has ever tried to recruit my husband or my son by holding a knife to their throats. Neither my daughter nor I have been raped. No one in my family has worked 10 – 14 hours for $4 USD. None of us has been punched, thrown to the ground and kicked by a police officer because we refused to pay for “protection”. We have never been threatened with death for an outstanding extortion payment.
U.S. politicians claim that Central America’s plight is not their responsibility. But the truth is: American policies have contributed to such scenarios in Mexico, Central and South America. Roosevelt frequently referred to his foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, as “the big stick” (speak softly but let the threat of heavy retaliation hang in the air)
In the early and mid 20th century, countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were in their formative modern periods and could have progressed, but the United States supported military dictators and far-right parties who in turn kept wages low for the foreign companies that had established operations there. Progressive education was discouraged, and any insubordination was met with extreme violence.
Then in 1996, U.S. authorities approved the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act,” and in the early 2000s, tens of thousands of convicted criminals were deported to Central America. Soon we saw the expansion of gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18) – this gang originally born in the U.S. – spread like virus across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Additionally, the region’s civil wars left an unknown number of young people with no family. And that, combined with extreme inequality, incarceration of suspicious-looking youth, and weak judicial and security institutions brought the bitter brew to a hard boil..
Over the past 15 years, the gangs have taken over both rural and urban areas. Across the northern part of Central America, boys from 12 years up are prime targets for recruitment. Under-age girls can also become part of the gangs, either to be used sexually or as active members.
The struggling Caravan families tell stories of this abuse and more. They get no help from the authorities – there is nowhere to turn for help – so they are forced to leave.
But all the difficulties the Migrant Caravan has endured up to this point is like an “initiation”. As they get into higher elevation and colder terrain, they will need warmer clothing and more food. Where will it come from?
I ask myself – What will happen to these people IF they reach the US border?
The Trump administration swears they won’t let them cross the border. So what is Mexico expected to do with thousands of desperate people ready to storm the ramparts? The American president has threatened to send in the army. What will the soldiers’ orders be? Will they start shooting? Use tear gas? Will they gather everyone up and detain them for due process, as the UN has insists. The families will be separated. How will they deal with still more psychological trauma?
I feel quite sure that this Central American Caravan has started a tide that cannot be stopped. All the politicians on our continent had better stop creating policies that serve their interests and those of big business. They must look at the people’s needs. They have to stop posturing and work together to find an immediate solution that can be expanded over time.
The world has changed and will change still more. Those who are able to adapt will thrive. Those who grip on to the past with their toenails, and deny what’s happening will find the world more and more hostile.
Like it or not – Trump is in the hot seat. He would be well-advised to cool down.
Caravan of Central American migrants walking to the Guatemala – Mexico border
On Friday night, while watching the TV footage of approximately 3,000 men, women and children from Central America (mainly Honduras) heading en masse for the United States, I realised that embers – smouldering for so long – have burst into flame.
The migrants’ situation is absolutely tragic.
Why are they willing to risk their lives and their children’s lives by undertaking such a perilous journey – one of almost 3,000 miles – to a country where they know that they are not welcome. Those interviewed said they don’t want to leave their homes, but unemployment, the cost of living, gang violence, and scarcity of food have forced them to do so.
The precise number of migrants swells and trickles like the rivers they must navigate. When they come across kindness, food, and shelter, they stop to rest – but before long – they move on. The television screen showed parents pulling and coaxing their little children, and when I looked closer at the crowd, I saw more children struggling on their own. There seemed to be an inexplicable number of pre-adolescents with no adult watching out for them.
On Friday morning, the caravan arrived at the Suchiate River. (The river serves as the Guatemala-Mexico border) At the river, the migrants came upon a closed metal gate. Two military jeeps were parked to one side, and Guatemalan police in riot gear looked on silently.
The migrants called out: “We are not smugglers, we are immigrants.”
Faced with the locked gate, most of the migrants resigned themselves to follow established procedures, but a group of young men attacked the barrier and succeeded in tearing it down. In a flash, men, women and children rushed toward the bridge that spans the river. In response, the Mexican federal police deployed pepper spray. An officer used a loudspeaker:
“We need you to stop,” he begged the crowd.
The police eventually restored order on the bridge, and they closed the border gates again.
“One way or another, we will pass,” the migrants chanted.
The head officer told reporters that buses would take the women, children and the elderly to safety. But the migrants did not want to move. They regrouped and formed orderly lines but refused to board the buses. Obviously they fear deportation.
While the reporters summed up the events of the day, the television cameras took slow footage of the thousands of exhausted human beings on that bridge.
Then the station switched its information feed, and Trump’s countenance filled the screen. “The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. Won’t be. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places; we can’t allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch.”
Why couldn’t he have shown a little compassion – at least he could have expressed some sympathy – but he did not.
The trade talks of “the agreement formerly known as NAFTA” are sewn up. Our region is now a place where money and commodities will move freely over borders. But people? Ah, ah, ah – not so much.
The U.N. warned the Mexican and U.S. governments to respect the human rights of every person in the caravan and consider each case individually. This seems like the right procedure but the situation is so far from right.
I am reminded of the Spanish population fleeing Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War – or the Jews trying to escape the Nazis during WW II – or the massive exodus of Serbs from Croatia – or the starving Rwandans – or most recently, the Syrians.
But there is one big difference: This is not happening on another continent, nor is the Caravan an event of decades ago. The Honduran caravan is traveling across the American continent NOW. Are we going to turn our backs?
If you are a person who reads, researches and reasons, you probably realise that more caravans will form. There are frantic people struggling throughout Mexico, Central and South America. There is too much imbalance in our world. Something has to give.
Examining the historical and current causes for this imbalance is important if a fair solution is to be found; we can’t allow more Band-Aids to be slapped over gushing wounds. But finding a fair solution is the province of lawmakers. What can be done? How can this process start?
Well, the November midterm election is coming, and I feel that American voters have a responsibility – not only to themselves – but to everyone on the planet. The rest of us have no voice, no say with regards to American immigration policy. Only registered voters can help moderate the voices in the American Congress and Senate.
On Election Day, if you are feeling complacent, think of those migrants on the bridge, and think of your own grandchildren who will inherit either a more just world or a huge mess.
Then – get out and VOTE – please.
P.S: The Christian right support Trump and his team – they profess to follow the Bible – and what does it say?
Matthew 25:40-45 New International Version (NIV)
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
P.P.S: You will have to watch 30 second ads first, but then you’ll learn more about the Honduran tragedy at these links: