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Political stability and other impressions

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posted by Joel Stocker on June 27, 1997

A front page article in today's Wall Street Journal suggests that the political situation in Mexico is extremely turblulent and unstable. It also suggests that there may be politically related violence in Mexico, with the possible result a deterioration in confidence in the Mexican economy. Any comment??


Posted by esteban on June 27, 1997

If you read that a federal building in the United States was just bombed and 168 people were killed would you think this to be extreme political unrest? If you had been reading that womens health clinics were getting bomb threats everyday and some guy had just shot a doctor and a nurse at one of these clinics would you call this extreme political unrest? If you learned that all over America there were radical groups collecting arms for a confrontation with the government would you call that extreme political unrest?

Give us some more facts about this extreme unrest instead of the generalities and maybe someone will comment.


Posted by Tom Brightman on June 27, 1997

It seems to me that the question is not whether political unrest is more or less in Mexico or the US, but what is going on in Mexico. Its true that the news media tends to exagerate a story, however, as the last commentator indicated,,, things do seem to be changing in Mexico.


Posted by David Eidell on June 27, 1997

As an avid student of Mexico, and it's politics, I have been watching events unfold over the last eight years (since the sexenio of de La Madrid) that are radically changed from events that took place in previous administrations.

For the first time the dominant PRI party is being challenged in key areas. Discord, and disharmony between the PRI, PAN, and PRD parties reflect genuine conflicts in philosophies that are not easily resolved.

The PRI has held power for over seventy years by means, fair or foul. Yet the undertone of the other dominant powers (PAN and PRD) allows for little or no sharing of power, thus the majority of Mexican citizens feel that regardless of which party that gains the dominant role, the first objective of it's members would be to "look out for their own interests as a matter of the-ultimate-priority".

To acheive dominance in Mexico's political arena, it has been historically necessary to utterly control the social fabric, politically and economically. Mexico tolerates dissention as long as the dissension is loyal to the ruling party (PRI). The only escape from this perceived duty is to form an alternate party, which in turn permits it's own loyal dissention (!)

The penalty for non-sanctioned dissent is a semi-subtle never-ending parade of "official problems": Newspapers may find themselves out of newsprint because of an error in paperwork, unions may find that permits and documents are "lost" in the bureauracy. The old adage "It's not what you know, but whom you know" applies to the intricate thread of Mexican politics.

Presently, the official line in Mexico, is to forment an enconomy that integrates itself with the world, which intricately binds Mexico, with the USA, and Canada. By doing so, the last three administrations (De La Madrid, Salinas de Gotari, and Zedillo Ponce de Leon) have focused Mexico's tax revenues on treasury support of the Mexican Peso (extraneous debt), and retreated from subsidized support of basic staples, transportation and energy.

This new approach was supposed to encourage foreign investment and create an atmosphere where employment figures zoomed skyward. An ambitious toll road construction program was enacted in 1990. Prices and wages rose to unheard of levels. NAFTA seemed to be working. What was unseen, however was the effects of foreign debt on Mexico's Peso supply in the national treasury. Record purchases of new cars, foreign clothing, machinery, and electronics, were draining Pesos at an alarming rate in mid-1994 --but Mexico's government wasn't about to impose punitive taxes or sanctions on goods that were protected under the "Free Trade Agreement".

The balloon burst in October 1994. This event coupled with the unprecedented murders of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the shoe-in PRI presidential candidate, in March, of '94 and secondly the gangland-style "hit" of the president of the PRI party, in July, the stage was set for political turmoil, and grave national doubt. The heavy hand of control over the national police force by the PRI wavered. Vast amounts of US Dollars were pouring in to support the ever increasing drug smuggling trade; The Peso collapsed, and the inevitable occurred.

Just about the time that Mexico "needed" a heavy presidential hand to wax control over it's vast yet wavering administration, the current president Ernesto Zedillo, determined that the time was ripe for Glasnost and Perostroyka "PRI style". Rebel indian campesinos decided that "enough was enough" and they staged revolts in Chiapas in 1994 and Oaxaca in 1995.

Even Popocatepetl, the huge volcano visible from Mexico City, decided to get in on the act: It started erupting after 70 years in early 1994, and hasn't been quiet since. Part of Mexico's indian lore is that when "Popo is uneasy, great political events take place". Who can argue with this belief, today?

My answer has turned into a "rant" on this subject. I do not intend to indict Mexico, on it's shortcomings, as all nations are subject to political infamy and corruption. The political climate in the United States, was one of uncertainty and doubt during the Vietnam war, and who can dispute the arrogance shown to the world by our corrupt politicians during the great ABSCAM sting of the 1970's? I'll end this piece by asking that the discussion continue - please, by taking events a piece at a time.

Salud y Saludos!

-David Eidell-

Posted by John Cummings on June 27, 1997

David:
I believe that you have given a pretty accurate description of the political scene in Mexico. When I was visiting family in Tijuana last Sunday, we had a discussion about it. We all agreed that the major number one problem is the massive corruption and its effects on the society. It was interesting, though rather discouraging, that all of the others believe that the corruption will never be eradicated. This is coming from well educated middle class Mexicans. There were 5 of us in which 3 were visiting from other parts of Mexico. They have all accepted political corruption at all levels as being standard operating procedure. Anyone who opposes it will be dealt with in one way or another.

Though I somewhat agree that there appears to be no solution to the problem, I am simply reporting what they think. I thought you may be interested in what the younger ( 22 - 28 ) fairly well educated middle class Mexicans are thinking. Take it for what it is worth. I have given up worrying about it and don't really care anymore.

> I just came back from Mazatlan a couple of weeks ago. I spent 2 weeks there visiting family, playing tourist, a little business and watching some baseball. In our many disussions about life, etc., one thing was coming across.

Many Mexicans now view the US and Americans as being very racist. The Mexican press like ours also prints all the negative stuff about the other side. It is taking effect. A very good friend of mine who works in the tourist business in Mazatlan commented that American tourists have no idea how Mexicans really feel about them. The Mexicans have to put on a happy face because they need the US dollars to survive.

John


Posted by Bruce McGovern on June 27, 1997

Having many close friends and family in Mexico, we, too, talk about many things. Yes, they do have a pretty bad opinion of 'tourists'. The key word here is tourists, that is, people who act like their stereotype of tourists. That is, people from another country, who assume their money gives them license to act in ways, perhaps, differently than they act in their own neighborhoods. Also, in the case of the U.S., sometimes even the way we act in our own neighborhoods is much different than normal behavior in Mexico.

There has been a lot of documentation on the phrase, ugly American, and there is little need to repeat that information, though it is certainly relevant.

Personally, I find Mexicans very easy to befriend, that is, develop friendly acquaintances. (Some people have reported there is a big line between being social friends, and being invited into a person's home.) First, I try very hard to speak Spanish. One of the offensive things about 'tourists' is their assumption that everywhere they go, someone should be available to speak English. The harder you try to speak Spanish, and the worse you speak it, the more helpful they are. They take it as a sign of respect that you assume you must speak their language, and because you are trying and doing poorly, they are eager to help. "Perro? Arbol? Montaña?" like something out of that Charades show.

Another thing that helps me, is telling exactly how I feel about Mexico and Mexicans. When someone, for example, the pretty, young woman at the changing house, asks me what places I have seen, I tell her, "I'm not much for seeing museums and temples. I love the Mexican people, and I am here to know them, not look at old buildings." She just beams, and when I return, she is smiling when she sees me coming.

Instead of nice, new clothes, I wear my old work jeans. Many of these people are poor, and in Mexico, dress is often a sign of wealth, that is, a class difference. And, class difference is one of the political problems in Mexico. Wearing fancy clothes way beyond the means of the people you are dealing with,is like driving a Mercedes Benz, a bit ostentatious. (Unless the occasion calls for good clothing, such as a quincenera, or something.) I have been told, even by our family in the small village where my wife was born, how much they appreciate the fact that I don't dress over their heads.

And I treat the people, even those in the markets as if they are important to me - because they are - they are nice people with families and kids and grandparents, and dogs and cats. I return to the same places, even if I could get a better deal elsewhere, because I want to feel I am shopping at a friend's place. And, it works, too. The woman at the panaderia; the man at the Kodak place; the old man at the hardware store; they remember me. And I feel at home, because I'm not among strangers. In Mexico City, that we hear so much bad about. Do the wonderful folks at the State Department know the person who sells their juice oranges, or their conchas (sweet roll), or bananas? Maybe they need lessons in diplomacy. (Just kidding.) (Sort of.)

If the country went on a rampage as has happened in Africa, which I consider almost impossible, would I escape because I have made friends? I don't know. For sure, it would be strangers who would 'get' me.

But, in daily relationships, those who are very polite in Mexico, and openly respect the people, even the street vendors, will be remembered.

One thing that I shouldn't mention, but will. The Mexican women act differently than North American women. Their dress is somehow different; they have less aggressive posture and speech. When one knows no other way, it may go un-noticed, but I hear about it.

One of the things that causes extreme hard feelings is wearing shorts into a cathedral. These buildings are usually working churches, not for our viewing entertainment. How would you feel if you were in your usual place of worship, and a group of visitors from Japan walked in, and walked around the sanctuary, talking loudly about what they see? Well, I've seen it happen in Mexico. Where's a hand grenade when you need one?

Several years ago, I went to a small village near Celaya, to visit a little girl I sponsored through Christian Children's Fund, which has a different name in Mexico, because behavior by Protestant Evangelists has caused some hard feelings. When I got on the kids slide in the playground, and slid down with the kids, the attitude of the people completely changed. Even a woman older than I got on the slide, and the rest of the day was very relaxed and friendly, and everyone was laughing and joking. Then, I started playing marbles with the kids, and the local guide ran and got my camera and started taking pictures.

Note none of this is deserving of comment except it's not what they expect from North Americans.

We, even long-termers, are essentially visitors in another country. I am confident that regulars on this forum are aware of all these issues, because our regulars are really nice people who love Mexico (almost) as much as I do. I am writing this because anyone can come to visit. The forum, and Mexico alike.

Hope I didn't sermonize too much.

Bruce


Posted by John Cummings on June 27, 1997

Bruce: - You misunderstood my message. It was probably my fault for not explaining my point.

My message has nothing to do with quote "Ugly Americans". We have all seen enough of that. I heartily concur with your message. I have had a very close relationship with Mexico and the Mexican people for 35 years. I was married to a beautiful Mexican señorita in Culiacán, Sinaloa 33 years ago. We are still going stong. I have lived and worked in Mexico, fluent in Spanish, partner in Mexican business, taught classes in Mexican culture etc. Many others on this forum are also quite knowledgeable about Mexico. We visit Mexico very frequently to visit family, conduct business and yes Bruce, play tourist. We like to see the sights also. We do that here at home in San Diego.

It seems like you also have very close ties to Mexico so you should understand what I am saying. No matter how many times you visit Mexico or even if you live there, you will never come to understand the Mexican people except under special circumstances. You may learn about them much like you would read a book but you will not understand them. I have a very good friend of mine who is an attorney in Tijuana. He is a guest lecturer at the UCSD extension program in San Diego. His opening statement to all of the classes is that "No matter how hard you try, you will never understand Mexicans". "We are like people from Mars". It is true that Mexicans are very friendly people. But to get to really know them you must first be fluent in Spanish and their culture and be accepted as one of them.

People have to realize that they are people like us with their faults and virtues. There are many beautiful things about Mexico but there is also a dark side as with most everywhere.

Now after all of my sermonizing and beating around the bush, I will finally get to my point. Many Mexicans have preconceived notions about us. Many of them stereotype Americans. Does that sound familiar? Many Americans do the same thing about them. Some of their notions are gathered from the tourists, TV, movies etc. Don't worry my wife had many preconceived notions about Americans and she had never seen one until I burst into her life. Her notions were not too good. She of course has grown to love the US and its people just like I love the Mexican people.

 

At last the punch line. What I see happening right now is a battle in the press between the US and Mexico. Our press conjures up every negative thing they can about Mexico and then prints it on the front pages. I don't know if this happening all over the US or only along the border. However, not to be outdone, their press does the same thing. They also highly publicize isolated incidents that cast a bad imjage of the US. I have found many people today in Mexico that think we are all racists and hate latinos because of their press coverage. Of course this is not everybody, but it is much more prevalent that a few years ago. This has become more apparent in the last couple of years. This has nothing to do with tourists, though there are a few that don't help.

It is the usual battle of publicize your neghbours faults so that the home folks will ignore their own problems. We both do it.

John

Published or Updated on: June 27, 1997 by Discussion Thread Forum © 1997
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