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Ask an old gringo: crime, sports, Starbucks and the Mexican roof dog

Marvin West

Mexican roof dog
Watchdog on the roof in Teotitlan del Valle
© Ron Mader, 2010

Please do not ask questions that require only yes or no answers. It takes more and better words for me to tell you how much I know about Mexico.

Question Is Mexico competitive in international sports?

Answer Yes and no. Mexico is almost a world power in soccer. Lorena Ochoa isn't too bad at golf. Little boxers are big-time warriors. The country has exciting baseball and provides an occasional player for the major leagues. It doesn't do much with ice skating.

Believe it or not, Mexico is calling for some long-gone boys and girls to come home long enough to represent the country in the 2012 London Olympics. Sports minister Bernardo de la Garza invested several pesos in American billboards for the Sports Games for Mexicans Abroad, scheduled for Los Angeles, late March, early April, with the hopes of finding runners, jumpers and field-event throwers of Mexican descent.

In theory, discoveries would be medal possibilities for Mexico, even if a notch below properly nurtured and trained U.S. Olympians.

Hint of irony: The country blames the United States for most sins and several shortcomings and seems slow to embrace Mexican-Americans if they don't speak Spanish. New rules apply to athletes.

You didn't ask, but Guadalajara is struggling as host-to-be for the 2011 Pan-American Games. The city was going to build housing for 7,000 or more athletes, coaches, officials and administrators. Problems, greater than the mañana mentality, have emerged.

Plans for new apartments have collided with environmental concerns and deep sadness over displacing poor people for urban renewal. I still haven't seen the new parks and hotels that were going to be part of the Games. Maybe later.

Question I have seen TV clips about all kinds of Mexican pollution, including burning off fields at planting time. Is the country concerned about saving the planet?

Answer Of course — with certain reservations. Environmental minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada says Mexico would be pleased to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent over the next 40 years if the United States or somebody would just pay for the effort and provide technical support.

Mexico is struggling along with a $400 million U.S. annual gift designated for environmental programs. Funds to fight the drug war come from a different treasure chest. Only God knows where the U.S. is borrowing the money it gives away.

Question You've probably been asked this before: Is crime up or down?

Answer Screaming headlines are up. By design, drug murders are spectacular. Regarding more ordinary crime, steel bars over windows have been here forever. There is now more razor wire and electric fencing wrapped around homes. Considering the economic strain, crimes against property are undoubtedly up but it is hard to prove.

Statistics are grossly misleading. I have read speculation that one in 10 crimes is reported to authorities. Mexico's federal human rights commission reported that, on average, prosecution and conviction occurs in only one of every 100 reported crimes.

Before you ask how come, it could be the typical resident does not have deep faith in police or the judicial system. It could also be that filling out forms in triplicate is not worth the effort, considering the improbability of remedial action. It could also be that there isn't much police work in high weeds. Pay is low. It could also be that some corruption continues in high places.

Question What is a Mexican roof dog?

Answer Glad you asked. It is a low-budget form of homeland security, a four-legged alarm placed on flat roofs of homes and businesses to look down on and discourage intruders, door-to-door salesmen and other nuisances.

If you come within a certain distance, their determination, front, back or either side, good roof dogs bark like crazy and give the distinct impression that they might come down for a visit if you ignore their warning.

Animal rights activists oppose the roof-dog concept as cruel. They think it might get hot up there.

Question Is Starbucks in Mexico?

Answer You are kidding me, aren't you? Mexico also has electric lights, indoor plumbing and WalMart. What do you think we are, a third-world country?

Starbucks landed seven or eight years ago and now has 39 city stores in upper-crust neighborhoods, with a growing, loyal (obsessed) clientele, especially stylish teens with affluent parents.

I remember when Starbucks picked a place in San Miguel de Allende. Americans grumbled that such crass commercialism would spoil the scene, scar the ambience. Mexicans, realizing they had arrived, applauded and didn't even ask how much is a latte. The answer to that one is too much, about the same as in Chicago.

The government wants a nickel or dime of Starbucks' profit. It is shaking down the company for a violation of intellectual property rights, for using coffee mugs decorated with Maya or Aztec images from long ago, before Mexico was Mexico. Think about it.

Published or Updated on: March 14, 2010 by Marvin West © 2010
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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