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Ask the old gringo about 2010, Mexican police, the rainy season

Marvin West

Rain clouds over Lake Chapala

When something is going on in Mexico, MexConnect readers sometimes remember they can ask an old gringo what he has seen or heard, knows or thinks.

What is all the fuss in Mexico about 2010?

Answer: This year commemorates two really big deals, the 200th anniversary of Mexico's fight for independence from Spain and the 100th anniversary of its revolution.

The independence drive kicked off September 15, 1810 with Miguel Hidalgo's famous call to rise up against the colonial government.

The revolution began in November 1910 when Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco led the first insurrection attack. Focal point might have been pesos or Porfirio Díaz, who kept appointing himself president.

Mexicans love a good party and 2010 is an excellent reason to celebrate. Serious money has been invested in a national improvement and clean-up campaign. There are connected cultural events all over the country. A genuine patriotic element is stirring.

In a solemn military ceremony in May in Mexico City, the remains of 12 independence leaders were removed from crypts near the Angel of Independence monument and carried in glass caskets to historic Chapultepec Castle. It was a full-dress parade with salutes and a presidential speech.

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What is your current opinion of Mexico's police and the justice system?

Answer: About like it has been. You never hear about good things. The bad, ugly and awful stir up storms.

The image has been scruffy enough for generations and has suffered several recent scars. Back in the spring, there was a national uproar over a little girl's body found at the foot of her own bed — nine days after her affluent parents reported her missing from their home near Mexico City.

They and officers of the law conducted a massive search for 4-year-old Paulette Gebara. They put up billboards with photos of the missing girl. Have you seen Paulette?

An autopsy and investigators eventually (remember, this is Mexico) concluded the child had accidentally smothered in the covers and had been there all along. Two nannies and several policemen who previously searched the bedroom several times for clues looked at each other with raised eyebrows. The state attorney general resigned.

Other high-profile cases have not ended satisfactorily. Cancun detectives missed several siestas over the murder of a U.S. television producer's wife. Her body was found in a sewer at a luxury resort. Nobody thought the butler did it.

The disappearance of a former presidential candidate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, 69, cigar-chomping political powerbroker, still haunts the authorities. Kidnapped? Killed? We just don't know.

Many Mexicans are skeptical of police and judges. Some are afraid. Some just laugh as if the entire mess is a joke.

Sometimes the system becomes a caricature of itself. Politicians decided three-fourths of the 70,000 Mexico City police are overweight. They prescribed a diet. The New York Times leaped in with assistance: "Their bulletproof vests squeeze like corsets, their gun belts lie hidden under rolls of fat. Mexico's police officers may not catch as many criminals as they should, but they have the reputation of rarely missing a taco stand."

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I've been to Mexico only in the winter. What is the rainy season like?

Answer: Beautiful. Where we live, everything, from mountains to front yards, switches from brown to a lovely shade of green. Lake Chapala gets a much-needed gulp of new water and rises up to gently lap at the new malecones along the north shore.

In theory, it only rains at night. We're not talking drizzles. There are downpours. Thunder rattles windows and lightening over the lake is at least awesome. There have been times I actually uncovered my eyes and ears and took it all in.

The rainy season, generally from June until September or beyond, allows us to forget how hot it was in May. It raises the spirits — unless electrical service is knocked out or your street floods.

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Can I live in Mexico without a car?

Answer: Yes, and save a small fortune. The cost of ownership includes investment and depreciation, insurance, taxes and licenses, fuel, repairs and penalties for driving violations, real or imagined.

The bus system goes almost everywhere if you are willing to wait. You can call a taxi or beg rides with friends and neighbors until they grow weary. In some cases, paying for gas or lunch restores relationships.

What you really lose without a car are convenience, spontaneity, the joy of the open road, exploration without walking too much and the opportunity to assist friends and neighbors who don't own cars.

(If you want to ask the old gringo a really good question, e-mail

Published or Updated on: July 4, 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

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