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:
If you’ve heard the reports of student unrest at the National Autonomous University of Mexico – UNAM – it may be unclear to you which students are involved in the protests, and what complaints they have.
Some background information will hopefully help to resolve this confusion… In Mexico the educational system’s levels have different names than in some other countries. The level called Secundaria in Mexico, is called Junior High school in the USA and Canada. Preparatoria in Mexico is the equivalent to Senior High school. Many preparatorias follow curriculum and internal policy established by principal universities in the county’s major cities. And even though the students who study at the preparatorias are not yet of the age or academic level to be enrolled in university’s faculties, they are on the academic track; and once they have finished their “preparatory studies”, they aspire to acceptance in a university faculty. To get more federal funding, for curricular and other (vague) purposes, the universities consider these preparatoria students as part of their system’s general student body. The CCH Azcapotzalco, where the recent unrest began is one of the many high schools affiliated with the UNAM. So, the majority of students in question, range between 15 and 17 years of age. They are minors.
The students at CCH Azcapotzalco have many complaints, but some seem absolutely justified:
Although classes began a month ago – teachers and schedules have not yet been confirmed. This is no doubt due to political and budget-related issues, BUT when it comes time for the students to write their all-important faculty entrance exams, they will be at a severe disadvantage if they have not received the necessary hours of instruction
Following the kidnapping of a female student, Miranda Mendoza, the students are demanding better safety conditions,
The students would not budge from their position and the “authorities” lost patience.
For decades, los porros – anti-protest thugs – have reputedly been used by politicians and university authorities, to break up student protests.
Earlier in the week, it seems certain that one of the groups of porros provoked a violent exchange with students from the CCH Azcapotzalco. The attack left 14 students badly injured.
The aggression provoked solidarity from the extended student, family and neighbourhood communities; and it grew into mobilization.
On Wednesday September 5, 2018, thousands marched to the UNAM’s main campus, a massive demonstration, demanding an end to the violence and danger within educational institutions. The students insist that the authorities must expel los porros.
The university temporarily suspended its internal transportation systems in an effort to prevent students from different education centers from joining the march.
But the students are mostly young – they can walk long distances with no problem – and at 1 p.m., they set out on foot from the Political and Social Sciences Faculty, and continued all the way to the main administrative building. The news source I watched, reported that the line of marchers was 4 kilometres long.
In other cities of Mexico, more marches were held. A group of students studying at the Merida UNAM campus marched down Calle 50 to the Main Plaza at the same time as their fellow students were marching in Mexico City.
Everywhere the participants were orderly and non-violent, and in Mexico City, they dispersed after the student spokespersons read their pronouncement. Their main point is:
¡Educación publica, laica, gratuita y sin violencia! ¡Fuera porros de la UNAM! (sic)
Education should be public, secular, free and non-violent.
Get the thugs out of the UNAM.
2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the student massacre at Tlatelolco. On October 2, 1968, thousands of university students gathered at the Plaza of Three Cultures, a broad space in the heart of a public housing development close to downtown Mexico City. The army “received orders” to open fire on the crowd. Afterwards, many students were arrested. They were held in jail and tortured, or simply disappeared – and NO responsibility was ever accepted for the thousands who were wounded or killed. The repercussions changed the social fabric of the Mexico.
Violence against students has NOT stopped, and obviously, this is an especially sensitive issue this year.
President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his support for the students’ cause. He says the violence must end, but he stressed that resolution should be negotiated between the students and the university administration.
Since yesterday, several of the faculties of the UNAM are on strike in support of the students. Today the UNAM issued a document that is currently being studied,
The common phrase – The more things change, the more they stay the same – MUST NOT continue to be a commentary on the students’ struggle.
PS: If you want to read about the 1968 student protest, I recommend, Massacre in Mexico, the English-language version of Elena Poniatowska’s iconic accout of the protest and its aftermath:
One of Donald Trump’s former aides, Omarosa Manigault Newman, has just published , Unhinged, a book that purportedly reveals the president’s secrets. And apparently, there are many of them. She questions the physical and mental health of the president, and makes both personal and political allegations and comments on his life.
Because she wrote her book, Trump called her, “a dog”. Surely he wanted to insult her, but he revealed more than he intended. Real dogs are honest and loyal to a fault; they rarely turn on their owners. But if they do, it usually follows years of cruelty and abuse. So when he called her a dog – we get some idea of how his bullying pushed her to publish her tell-all tale – and the bar lowered still further.
The US president may be a serious candidate for the 5-star “most-vulgar-leader-ever-award”, but he is NOT the only crude contender.
“We have good reason to believe now that profanity is in the brain, that even if it’s not necessary to language, it’s part of human language as it’s developed. We can curb the impulse to swear, just as we can curb fight or flight responses, but it is part of our make-up, so when it seems useful to us, we use it, even in the workplace.” explains Michael Adams, Professor of English Language and Literature, Indiana University and author of In Praise Of Profanity.
I’m troubled with the pervasiveness of this attitude. President Trump revealed more than he planned when he insulted his former aide. And I believe the rise of public profanity reveals a lack of concern about where this behaviour is taking us. Our global society has sunk us to yet a lower level – now we also see a decline of civility and manners – and we just accept it. The same can be said about invasions of privacy and bullying. They have both become so commonplace, that most of us have endured soul-destroying attacks in one way or another. We get little sympathy and are told: Deal with it and get on with your life.
On internet forums, F-bombs and similar expletives are more common all the time. We giggle at video clips of children using profanity. Sometimes I have found myself punching LIKE after LIKE, until I stop and think a minute. Then I go back and punch UNLIKE. I do not LIKE profanity used when suitable adjectives and adverbs would suffice. Besides – LIKE and UNLIKE – there should be a third option: WASH THAT BIG MOUTH OUT WITH SOAP.
I can’t say I never swear, I often use “soft-swear-words”, but rarely do I bring out the F word, and never N, or C. In Spanish I don’t use the CH, I or C words – I can’t say them naturally – and I don’t want to get to the point where I can.
Have you ever thought: Why did I say / show that? Why didn’t I keep THAT to myself? Well, I sure have. Perhaps I will regret writing this post, but this is how I feel (and I am choosing my words with care). If your opinion is different; let me know. I like the openness of the times we’re living. But hey, I would like to see some self-restraint and decorum coming from the mouths and tweets of our leaders.
Leaders are supposed to – ugh, ugh, ugh – lead. Lead by their thoughts, words and deeds. It would be nice if we had that kind of leader to follow. But let’s not dump all the blame on world leaders. There are others who look to us for leadership. Maybe we need to curb our tongues, our strutting and our aggressiveness with our kids, our grandchildren, our employees, our parents, other family members, friends and strangers. Pretty-much everyone appreciates getting respect.
When I get stressed, angry or emotional, I think about people of substance – people I truly admire – I try to mirror some of their behaviours – it helps me.
Since July 1st, the day of the national election, Mexico has experienced profound changes, and I anticipate this will continue for the next six years (the length of the presidential term). Some international reidents in Merida have told me they feel confused by the conflicting opinions they hear about President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). They wonder if he will be able to fulfill the promises he has made.
During the months leading up to the national election, the traditional political parties did their damndest to demonize López Obrador, a long-time activist, aspiring to the presidency. Their propaganda within, and outside Mexico, described him as an “upstart”, “leftist”, and “unreliable.” They predicted an AMLO victory at the polls, would cause foreign investment to immediately flee, and that he’d steer Mexico towards a fate similar to that of Venezuela, under Chavez. Because he unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 2006 and 2012, many called him an “old loser”.
López Obrador did not give up; he tried to work with the established parties, but he found that many elected members were more interested in their own advancement than in the needs of the citizens they presumably serve. He could not go along with this, and so he launched, the National Regeneration Movement. In Spanish the new political party is called – Movimiento Regeneración Nacional – commonly known as MORENA. No small accomplishment, and for that new party to win the election with 53% of the vote is unheard of.
One has to ask why the citizens of Mexico abandoned their traditional party loyalties to vote for an almost unknown entity. Truthfully, the level of corruption, insecurity, and economic instability had surpassed what the majority of Mexicans could tolerate. Everyone knew that a vote for the traditional parties would mean more of the same old – same old. With AMLO and MORENA, at least they could hope the situation would improve.
Many people also wonder how the lives of everyday citizens will change under Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s leadership.
I am not shy about expressing my opinions, but I think it is important for readers to know what AMLO’s supporters from Merida’s business community, social service providers, educators and artists have to say. So for the next few weeks, I will interview such people and publish what I learn. Today I’d like to start with:
Olga Moguel Pereya
Olga Moguel Pereya
Many know Olga Moguel Pereya as the owner-manager of Amaro Restaurant and Cultural Center. Dining at Amaro, under the leafy canopy of a huge orchid tree, always makes for a wonderful evening. And attending presentations, exhibitions, lectures, and roundtable discussions, organised by Olga in her on-site auditorium is always thought-provoking.
Olga’s father was a career diplomat with Mexico’s Foreign Service; her mother was from Argentina, where Olga spent much of her childhood. She grew up listening to conversations between her parents and their friends from the Embassies of other countries. “Through my association with people from all over the world, I learned to respect cultural, religious and political differences,” says Olga, “and I developed strong opinions of my own.”
Civil and indigenous rights, diversity of all kinds, mental health issues and women’s equality are some of her passionate causes. “It hurts me to see people suffering with no hope that their situation will improve.”
She believes that the governments of the past four decades are responsible for the erosion of social, cultural, and family values in Mexico. “Because they have mismanaged the public treasury to such an extent, the economy is in a deplorable state. There are not enough jobs, and people are so preoccupied with making enough money to provide the basic necessities for their families, they have little time, energy, or other available resources to ensure that wholesome values are passed to their children.”
Olga feels that the example set by the government authorities, their abuse of power, and their arrogance has weakened the spirit of the general population. “When people know that their elected officials are corrupt, what incentive is there for them to follow the rules,” she asks.
“The repressive tactics of the government have only served to create more crime,” she adds.
Olga and I agreed that many people have lost their trust in the conventional parties, and so this is why they decided to elect the candidate who seemed to want change as badly as they do.
“And what will change if there is less corruption? How will this affect people’s day-to-day life?” I asked.
“It will affect everything,” said Olga, “Currently, at least 30% of the country’s budget is diverted from where it should go. This happens in all areas of health, education, and other social services. When this money is back working for the population, there will be better services; the circulation of more money will boost production and create the need for more employment.” In Olga’s opinion, most members of the traditional parties have lost touch with the citizens who are not part of their socio-economic class.
Having said that, Olga threw her hands up in the air – “These politicians were elected to serve the country, not to “serve themselves” – When she calmed down, she added, “López Obrador has always walked with the people. He visits even the smallest villages, and he knows what their needs are.”
She says that AMLO has the loyalty of the majority of Mexicans. She is confident that when they see strong, exemplary leadership, fiscal austerity, and a responsible government, not only will their incomes improve, but so will the national attitude and confidence for the future.“When the people feel more secure, they will shed some of the aggressiveness and the rage that we see in the traffic and in their inclination towards cynicism.”
“But all on his own, AMLO cannot make change happen,” Olga cautions, “It is up to us to follow his lead and adjust our ways too. We need to stop paying bribes, we need to recover our manners, and treat one another with respect – and we need to take care of our children – they are the future.”
Olga reminded me that this year she registered as an independent candidate to represent Yucatan in the House of Representatives. She did not win a seat but she added that she is willing to help the new administration in any way she can.
And through AMARO’s cultural center Olga says she will continue to offer a space for those who wish to voice their ideas. She has defined her role.
To summarize, I would say we all need to do as Olga does. We need to determine our role, and do what we can to contribute to the betterment of the country we live in.
What can members of the international community do? They are not supposed to get involved in political acts. However – supporting people in need is not a political act – it is an act of solidarity.
50 austerity measures that will be applied by Mexico’s new President
Last week, Mexico’s President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), published a document that lists 50 austerity measures he feels must be applied in Mexico. He also details how he’ll carry out his plan, and according to him, the money that returns to Mexico’s coffers will fund many of his government’s ambitious goals.
Some of the reforms AMLO proposes will take effect as soon as he assumes office on December 1, 2018. Others will need the approval of Mexico’s Congress and Senate before they can become Law. It should be noted though – AMLO’s political party, MORENA, holds a virtual majority in both houses – so passage and implementation of all 50 points are likely.
My family lives on a peso-based income and we have certainly taken some financial hits because of the corruption and ineptitude of recent Administrations. I have NO sympathy for “the old boys’ club”, and I’m ecstatic that for the next half-dozen years, Mexico will have a markedly different roster in the Congress and Senate.
Many members of Merida’s international community have expressed confusion about AMLO. Immediately following this paragraph, those who read Spanish will find AMLO’s words (in black text) And for those who have less Spanish skills, I follow each of the 50 points with a synopsis (in bold) I know it is a l-o-n-g read – but if you keep going – you will gain a better understanding of the changes coming to this country..
“Los 50 puntos que se aplicarán para llevar a cabo medidas de austeridad”
“50 austerity measures that will be applied by AMLO”
Se reformará el Artículo 108 de la Constitución para agregar que el presidente de la República en funciones puede ser juzgado por delitos de violación a las libertades electorales y por delitos de corrupción.
As it stands, Article 108 of Mexico’s Constitution exempts the President from prosecution for violations of electoral liberties and for corruption. This immunity will be stricken, and from now on the President of Mexico will be answerable to the same laws as all other citizens of the country.
Se suspenderán por completo fueros y privilegios para funcionarios publicos
Government functionaries, including the President will no longer be above the law, nor receive excessive perks and privileges.
Se reformará la ley para considerar delitos graves el tráfico de influencia, la corrupción, la asociación entre funcionarios y particulares para cometer fraudes a la hacienda pública, el robo de combustibles y el fraude electoral en cualquiera de sus modalidades; las penas no permitirán al inculpado la obtención de la libertad bajo fianza.
Laws will be reformed so that – peddling of influence, corruption, tax fraud, siphoning from the gas-ducts and electoral fraud – will all be classified as first degree felonies. While investigations ensue, those accused will not have the right for release on bail.
La Fiscalía General contará, en los hechos, con absoluta autonomía; no recibirá consigna del presidente de la República y sus prácticas se apegarán al principio del derecho liberal, según el cual, “al margen de la ley nada y por encima de la ley nadie”.
The Prosecutor General will have complete autonomy to prosecute; there will be no interference from the presidential or other governmental organisms. There should be no act outside the law, and no person above it
La Fiscalía Electoral estará encargada de garantizar que las elecciones sean limpias y libres; a evitar la compra del voto, la coacción, la amenaza, el uso del presupuesto público y de bienes para favorecer a partidos o candidatos y castigar cualquier tipo de fraude electoral. Su distintivo será la imparcialidad y su misión la de establecer en México una auténtica democracia.
The Electoral Prosecutor will be charged with providing clean and free elections – without attempts to buy votes, threaten or coerce the public to choose a particular party or candidate – and will punish any form of electoral fraud. The Electoral Prosecutor will be impartial and will establish an authentic democracy in Mexico.
La Fiscalía Anticorrupción será garante para evitar este mal que tanto ha dañado a México y no permitir bajo ninguna consideración, el predominio de la impunidad. El mandato que recibimos del pueblo en las elecciones del 1º de julio de 2018, consistió, básicamente, en confiarnos la apremiante tarea de acabar con la corrupción y la impunidad.
La Fiscalía Anticorrupción podrá actuar con absoluta libertad y castigar a cualquier persona que cometa un delito de esa naturaleza, tratase de quien se trate, incluidos compañeros de lucha, funcionarios, amigos y familiares. Un buen juez, por la casa empieza.
The Anticorruption Prosecutor will be the authority who will see this practice eliminated. For far too long, the progress of Mexico has been hindered by corruption, and the citizens have been victims of the inequality it sustains. It must stop. On July 1, 2018, the people of Mexico placed their trust in us – and we understand that above all – they want to see an end to the widespread corruption and impunity.
The Anticorruption Prosecutor will have absolute liberty to act and prosecute those who continue these practices, no matter who they may be. This includes coworkers, party members, public functionaries, friends or family. A good judge cleans his own house first.
Todo funcionario deberá presentar su declaración de bienes patrimoniales; así como la de sus familiares cercanos y será publica y transparente en todos los casos.
All those who hold public office, and their families, will be obliged to make a public declaration of their material assets and properties.
El presidente de la República ganará menos de la mitad de lo que recibe el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto, sin ningún tipo de compensaciones.
As President of the Republic, AMLO will earn less than one half of Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto’s salary, and will not receive other compensations.
No se comprarán vehículos nuevos para funcionarios.
New cars will not be bought for government authorities
No se comprarán sistemas de cómputo en el primer año del
No new computer systems will be purchased in the first year of AMLO’s government
No habrá más de cinco asesores por secretaría.
There will not be more than 5 consultants for each Secretariat
Solo tendrán secretarios particulares los secretarios o equivalentes.
Only the first officers of each Secretariat will have their own assistants.
No habrá bonos ni otras canonjías, el salario será integral, según la Constitución que a la letra dice: “Se considera remuneración o retribución toda percepción en efectivo o en especie, incluyendo dietas, aguinaldos, gratificaciones, premios, recompensas, bonos, estímulos comisiones, compensaciones y cualquier otra, con excepción de los apoyos y los gastos sujetos a comprobación que sean propios del desarrollo del trabajo y los gastos de viaje en actividades oficiales.”
There will be no preferential bonuses or other enticements. According to the Constitution, the salary received by the public sector (monetary or in kind), including allowances, bonuses, stimulus packages, commissions, travel expenses, and compensations of every description will be transparent. Appropriate reimbursement will only be made for work-related expenses.
Se limitarán los viáticos al mínimo.
Work-related travel will be kept to a minimum.
No habrá partida para gastos médicos privados.
There will be no more private medical benefits for government employees.
No habrá caja de ahorro especial; es decir, dejará de existir la partida conocida como “seguro de separación individualizada”.
There will be no withholding funds from the budget, to be distributed amongst the employees of government institutions.
No se viajará al extranjero sin autorización del secretario y la partida se reducirá al mínimo.
No travel to foreign countries will be authorized, except by the head official of each Secretariat.
Se cancelarán fideicomisos o cualquier otro mecanismo utilizado para ocultar fondos públicos y evadir la legalidad y la transparencia.
All trust funds and other mechanisms to withhold public funds for government employees’ personal use will be abolished.
Nadie tendrá guardaespaldas, solo los encargados de la seguridad.
The government will not pay for personal body guards. The contracted security personnel and the army will ensure the safety of government officials and personnel.
Se suprimen todas las estructuras y programas duplicados (oficialías mayores, oficinas de prensa, publicaciones, defensorías jurídicas, compras, contraloría interna y otras) y estas funciones o programas se centralizarán en una sola unidad o coordinación, dependiente de la secretaría relacionada con los asuntos en cuestión. Se reduce toda la estructura de confianza en un 70 por ciento de personal y del gasto de operación.
All duplicated structures and programs will be eliminated and these functions or programs will be centralized and coordinated by the appropriate Secretariat. The reduction of extra-official infrastructure and personnel will be reduced by 70%.
Se reduce toda la estructura de trabajadores, empleados de confianza, en un 70 por ciento.
The number of public service employees and extra-official workers will be reduced by 70%, and the same percentage of savings will be had.
22. Se bajan los sueldos de los altos funcionarios públicos a la mitad de quienes ganan más de un millón de pesos anuales, de manera progresiva; pero lo ahorrado debe significar el 50 por ciento del gasto actual.
High ranking officials who earn more than one million pesos a year will progressively see their salaries cut in half. This saving will signify a 50% reduction of the current budget.
Nadie podrá utilizar aviones o helicópteros privados. Se venderá la flotilla de aviones y helicópteros. Solo quedarán los destinados a la seguridad, la protección civil y los que se ocupen para enfermos.
No one will have use of private planes and helicopters. The fleet will be sold, except those necessary for national security purposes, national emergency response, and for medical transfers.
Se cancelarán las pensiones a los expresidentes de la República.
The pensions given to ex-presidents will be cancelled.
No se utilizarán vehículos y otros bienes públicos para asuntos particulares.
Government issued vehicles will not be lent for personal use.
No podrá contratarse a familiares.
Family members of government officials will not be eligible for hire in other government positions
Los trabajadores de confianza laborarán de lunes a sábado y, cuando menos, 8 horas diarias.
Personnel in extra-official positions, within the Secreariats, will work Monday to Saturday for at least 8 hours a day.
No se puede asistir al trabajo en estado de ebriedad, ni tomar en las oficinas públicas.
No one is permitted to arrive at their government work place in an inebriated state, nor drink alcohol on the job.
Se reducirá en 50 por ciento el gasto de publicidad del gobierno.
The government’s publicity budget will be reduced by 50%.
Los funcionarios de Hacienda, Comunicaciones, de Energía y de otras dependencias, no podrán convivir en fiestas, comidas, juegos deportivos o viajar con contratistas, grandes contribuyentes, proveedores o inversionistas vinculados a la función pública.
The employees of the Secretariats of Communications, Energy Taxation, and other Secretariats in a position to extend favours cannot fraternize – at parties, at sporting events, or travel – with persons who are service providers or investors, or who have an interest in winning contracts with relevant Secretariats.
Ningún funcionario público podrá ocupar en su domicilio a trabajadores al servicio del Estado, si no lo tiene permitido o no cuenta con autorización para ello.
No government employees may ask other subordinate employees to work in their home or other properties, without authorization to request this service.
Ningún funcionario, sin causa de emergencia, podrá ordenar cerrar calles, detener el tráfico o pasarse los altos o estacionarse en lugares prohibidos.
No government employees may ask for streets to be closed, park in restricted areas, or drive through red stop lights, except in the case of national emergency.
No se comprará ninguna mercancía que exista en los almacenes públicos en cantidad suficiente.
No unnecessary purchases will be authorized, if and when the items in question can be found in government storage facilities.
No se remodelarán oficinas, ni se comprará mobiliario de lujo.
No government offices will be remodelled; nor will luxurious furnishings be bought for government offices.
Sólo tendrán apoyo de choferes los secretarios y subsecretarios.
Only the highest ranking and second-highest ranking officials of a Secretariat will be assigned a chauffeur.
Los policías y militares de las distintas corporaciones no estarán al servicio de funcionarios o particulares sin plena justificación.
The police and military personnel will not be used by government officials without authorization.
El Estado Mayor Presidencial se incorporará por completo a la Secretaría de la Defensa y se ocupará de tareas de protección de espacios públicos, instalaciones estratégicas y de la seguridad de los mexicanos.
The Presidential Guard will be reincorporated into the Secretariat of Defense and will be assigned to cover the protection of public places and events.
La residencia oficial de Los Pinos pasará a formar parte del Bosque de Chapultepec y se convertirá en un espacio para el arte y la cultura.
“Los Pinos”, the official presidential residence will be sold, and will be converted into a space for Arts & Culture in the Chapultepec Forest.
Desaparecerán las partidas para vestuario o cualquier gasto de protocolo y ceremonial dedicado al Presidente, a sus colaboradores cercanos y a familiares.
The President’s clothing allowance and money for ceremonial protocol, as well as those of his family and advisors will be suspended.
Se cancelará toda labor de espionaje o intervención telefónica que afecte el derecho a la privacidad de las personas; el sistema de inteligencia del gobierno estará sólo dedicado a la prevención de delitos y al combate a la delincuencia.
All Espionage and listening in on private conversations will stop. Intelligence operations will fall to the Secretariat of Defence. The government’s system of intelligence will only be used for crime prevention and combating delinquency
41 Se cuidarán los bienes de la oficina a disposición de servidores públicos para proteger el patrimonio colectivo.
Government offices and the contents therein will be cared for; they are part of the Nation’s patrimony.
42. Se evitarán gastos de oficinas innecesarios y se ahorrará energía eléctrica, agua, servicios telefónicos, de internet, gasolinas y otros insumos pagados por el erario.
Government office expenditures will be cut back. Unnecessary use of energy, water, telephones and internet will be identified and eliminated.
Se tratará con amabilidad a los ciudadanos en las oficinas públicas y en cualquier lugar, aceptando con humildad que ellos son, los ciudadanos, los mandantes de los servidores públicos.
Citizens will be treated pleasantly by the personnel in public offices. The personnel will accept with humility that they are in their positions so as to serve the public
Las compras del gobierno se harán de manera consolidada; mediante convocatoria, con observación ciudadana y de la oficina de transparencia de la ONU.
The Government’s purchases will be made with the approval of the citizens, with their observance, and with the transparency of the United Nations.
Los contratos de obra de Gobierno se llevarán a cabo mediante licitación pública con la participación de ciudadanos y de observadores de la ONU.
Government contracts will be awarded to the applicant who makes the most favourable offer. The postings will be supervised by the citizens and overseen by the United Nations
No habrá partidas en el presupuesto a disposición de diputados y senadores, se acabará la vergonzosa práctica de los sobornos o de los llamados “moches”.
There will not be any special allotments from the budget for Deputies and Senators. The shameful practice of bribes and favours will stop once and for all.
Ningún funcionario público podrá recibir regalos cuyo valor exceda de cinco mil pesos.
No public official will have the right to accept gifts that are valued at more than 5,000 pesos.
No se autorizará la contratación de despachos para elaborar proyectos de ley, planes de desarrollo o cualquier tipo de análisis y recomendaciones que puedan hacerse con el trabajo y la capacidad profesional de los servidores públicos.
If enough capable professionals are working in the government sector, outside “experts” will not be contracted and authorized to analyze and design programs for development of the country.
En las relaciones comerciales o financieras con empresas internacionales se dará preferencia a las empresas originarias de países cuyos gobiernos se caractericen por su honestidad y castiguen y no toleren las prácticas de sobornos o de corrupción.
In our country’s dealings with foreign financial and commercial entities, we will give preferences to those who are known for their honesty; we will not tolerate corruption by taking bribes.
50. Se revisarán los contratos suscritos con empresas nacionales o extranjeras que se hayan otorgado mediante el influyentismo, la corrupción, y que causen daño a la Hacienda Pública. En caso de anomalías que afecten el interés nacional se acudirá al Congreso de la Unión, a tribunales nacionales e internacionales; es decir, siempre nos conduciremos por la vía legal, no actuaremos de manera arbitraria, ni habrá confiscación o expropiación de bienes.
Existing government contracts with national and international businesses will be revised. If anormalities are discovered, the case will be brought before Congress. The government will not behave arbitrarily. There will not be confiscations or expropriations
It is mid July, and the Merida English Library’s two fundraising tours are filling fast. A few people (who have never traveled with Jorge and me) worry that the itinerary allows for too much free time. We like to include group activities, but we also encourage individual exploration. Upon our arrival in each city, we provide a map, and Sergio takes us on a walking tour so that everyone gets their bearings right away. During the time we are in each place, we visit the highlights as a group. When we gather for breakfast in the morning, or for a glass of wine in the evening, we enjoy hearing enthusiastic stories of discoveries that participants made on their own.
There will be an orientation session in January (date to be announced soon) when Jorge and I will outline optional sightseeing, dining and other attractions that can also be part of your travel experience. Those who cannot attend the pre-departure seminar will receive the info kit by email.
On the Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende trip (January 31 – February 7, 2019) we’ll see topography, architecture, and vegetation that is strikingly different from Yucatan – the music, food, shops and atmosphere are also a world away from what we see in this corner of the country. Although Jorge and I have visited both places multiple times, we always feel excited to go again. We know we’ll have unexpected encounters, eat at restaurants we haven’t tried before – and much to Jorge’s frustration – in at least one of the quaint shops or lively markets, I will find “something” I can’t live without.
We look forward to re-visiting all the places that are part of the itinerary. Dolores Hidalgo was the birthplace of Mexico’s Independence movement; it is also famous for its pottery and amazing ice-cream. Atotonilco, a world heritage site features indigenous art and a marketplace that always makes our eyes pop out. In Queretaro, more Mexican colonial history comes alive.
The day trip to San Luis Potosi will be new for Jorge and me. This city’s wealth came from the silver mines in the surrounding hills, not from sisal growing in the flat fields as we see in Yucatan. We’ll take in the newly-opened Leonora Carrington Museum, but unfortunately the home and gardens of her compatriot and fellow surrealist, Edward James (Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin who moved to Mexico in 1947) is too far away to see this time – a good reason to return yet again!
A painting by Leonard Brooks who went to live in San Miguel after WWII
In Guanajuato and San Miguel, art is everywhere. Many painters, sculptors, musicians and writers from all over the world have moved to these cities and become part of the creative community there. If anyone in the group would like to spend a few hours painting, sketching, talking about books or doing some spontaneous writing; I’ll be your enthusiastic companion.
Jorge, Sergio and I will always be nearby, and full of suggestions if you find yourself looking for something else to do.
Don’t worry – this is NOT the bus we’ll be on.
The second trip ( February 28 – March 7, 2019) all by bus from Merida to San Cristobal de las Casas and back again, is for women only. It will be different kind of experience than the first tour. Many of the women who previously traveled with me to Chiapas say it is as much an internal journey as it is an outward one. Everything about Chiapas is special – you will see majestic places – and you will be touched by the people who live there.
You can’t help but be impressed by the women working in the market and for me, a glimpse into their religious observance is humbling. On our last day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we’ll visit children’s home. The shelter was established about seven years ago in the middle of the night. Two brothers from San Cristobal de las Casas heard a knock at their door – a small boy stood outside, and in Tzozil Maya (he spoke no Spanish) he told them he was hungry and had nowhere to go – they fed him, and then they fed the next child who came along. Now there are more than eighty kids.
The two men knew nothing about looking after children. But they found a solution close by. In homes all around theirs, lived many women with their own children. They had no reliable way to feed their families, so in exchange for food and other necessities, they cook and help the brothers with childcare.
The installations are as basic as they come. The children sleep wrapped in blankets, on woven mats laying on the floor – and it is cold in San Cristobal de las Casas. If you think this communal arrangement sounds disorganized and in need of structure, you would be right. But the brothers and the neighbourhood ladies are doing the best they can.
Our group will take them an assortment of useful and fun gifts. Sweaters, knit hats, warm blankets and towels are much needed – they also love any kind of toys or balls – crayons, paints, drawing paper and other craft items. The first two women who signed up for the tour are taking paper and instructions in Spanish on how to make origami cranes. They will help the children make a colorful mobile for the communal living /dining/playing room. If you have an activity to share, you are most encouraged to do so.
Our BIG bus has room for each participant to bring two suitcases. The idea is to use one of them for Children’s Home donations. The items need not be new. On the first night, we will collect the donated items to sort and distribute later. The participants will then have an empty suitcase where they can put anything they buy along the way.
And it is easy to fill a suitcase. When I was in Canada, I went to a thrift store and told the manager about what we plan to do in Chiapas. She said I could go through the store and take anything I wanted – for free – she even gave me a suitcase to put it in. As well, Westjet allows their passengers to bring a free “humanitarian” suitcase. If you live in Mexico, it is not difficult to get people to help you donate, and you’ll find stores downtown where you can purchase inexpensive items. If you have house-wares you no longer use (pots, pans, bedding, etc) these too will be most welcome.
During your free time, you can be as busy or contemplative as you wish. Optional trips to other nearby towns are easy to arrange. You can have a massage; attend a performance at the local theater; visit the amber museum; or come with me to paint.
As I say, space is filling fast, so let the Merida English Library know if you want to come along.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO): President-elect of Mexico
Unless you have been in a coma or participating in a contemplative retreat on some remote mountaintop, you probably know that on Sunday July 1st, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won the Mexican national election.
He will be instated as president of Mexico on December 1, 2018. There is much speculation about AMLO’s “true agenda”, and in fact rumours are already spreading like wildfire through the national and foreign press.
What are we supposed to think? Who should we believe? Who is Andrés Manuel López Obrador?
He was born on November 13, 1953 in Macuspana, Tabasco, Mexico. Like 80% of the Mexican population – he is mestizo – his forefathers include Europeans, indigenous Americans, and Africans. He attended the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); and entered the political arena while still a young man. Social justice coupled with responsible stewardship has always been his hallmark. Prior to his federal aspirations he held many political offices, including Mayor of Mexico City; where his approval rating reached 85%. He is a well educated, experienced politician.
Nonetheless, the first label usually attached to AMLO, is “leftist”, which raises the fear factor in the minds of many nationals and foreigners.
The philosophies of the right and left factions differ substantially with regards to resources and distribution of wealth. Perhaps the major conflicts between these ideologies are about the concept of “fairness”. Both the right and the left factions agree that basic human rights must be upheld; but how do they agree on what is “fair”? Should one country accept the unemployed that its neighbours cannot support? Or is it possible for nations to work together and create conditions that will promote prosperity in both countries?
This is a complex question and yet solutions must be found because human migration will not stop until people feel safe and able to provide for their families. Hopefully Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be the strong Mexican president who will gain the respect of his American counterpart, and both will understand that healthy immigration, trade and cultural exchanges are not only profitable, they promote peace.
Fear of what “might” happen is a waste of energy – we need to embrace this change – open minds and arms are best for us all. Life is ever-evolving and in the times we face now, we need to take a leap of faith.