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Ask an old gringo about oil, Mexico doctors, Bimbo

Marvin West

PEMEX gas station
PEMEX gas station in Zapopan
© Daniel Wheeler, 2010

Nobody asked about holidays in Mexico so I just won't tell you but I will say happy 2011. And please wish us luck for the Pan Am Games coming to Guadalajara in October. Cross your fingers that arenas and housing will be ready in time.

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Question: Has Mexico opened the oil industry to outsiders? Could this be true?

Answer: Yes and no. PEMEX will accept bids to extract leftover oil from mature fields. It will not sell ownership rights.

Oil companies around the world are so hungry, they will accept most any deal, including big-time investment on contracts with fuzzy fine print.

From Mexico's perspective, this is the most significant change since oil was nationalized. The rush to participate reminds me that those who ignore history are prone to repeat the same old mistakes.

American oil companies, especially Standard Oil of New Jersey, lost a fortune in the 1938 experience. A settlement, five years after the fact, paid only a fraction of book value of expropriated facilities.

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Question: From your perspective, how did the 2010 celebrations go?

Answer: I thought Mexico celebrated the bicentennial of independence from Spain and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution with enthusiasm and a sufficient degree of dignity. If there were major negatives, I missed them.

I watched on TV some of the biggest show in Mexico City. It was a wild and crazy party with much color and pageantry, laughter and applause — and more than a few tears.

Mexicans, when they stop and think about it, are a proud people. OK, some are bad. Most are good.

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Question: Do you still drive in Mexico? Aren't you afraid of the violence?

Answer: Yes, we drive, 1500 kilometers each way to and from the border and many more to favorite sites and to some we have not previously seen.

Yes, we are alarmed by the dangers of the drug war and grudgingly accept the risk. We are pleased to see increased military presence and more federal police blockades along our routes. We say "thank you" each time we are stopped.

Officers smile. They are not accustomed to kindness.

We are saddened to hear of occasional abuses by the military. Alas, we are reminded that drug cartels have no rules to abuse. The good guys are in a tough fight and I am not at all sure they can win.

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Question: Have you ever been to the doctor in Mexico?

Answer: Yes, but, thankfully, that was some time ago. New friend David Frost has more recent information. He thought he had a kidney stone. The doctor in Catemaco sent him for an ultra scan and a urine test. Info gathered said just an infection.

Two stops at the doctor's office set David back $16. The scan cost $22. The lab analysis was $1.60. Prescribed antibiotics cost $1.92. Prices are some higher where there are more Americans and Canadians.

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Question: What the heck is this Bimbo business and how come she bought my favorite Sara Lee cakes?

Answer: Bimbo in Mexico is a giant bakery, not a dumb blonde. After generations of national success, the company is expanding into a world factor. Buying into the U.S. market seems a very intelligent decision. There are several Mexicans north of the border who will tell their neighbors about Bimbo products.

Incidentally, the bread people would like you to pronounce it BEEM-bo. They have already heard all the butter-my-bimbo jokes.

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Question: Is Mexico doing anything to help protect the environment?

Answer: Of course. Just the other day, officials in Mexico City said the dump may be contaminating the water supply and maybe they should consider remedial action. The massive Bordo Poniente landfill takes in 12,000 tons of garbage daily. That is a lot of stuff.

Eventually, somebody asked when corrections might be made. Oh, it isn't too bad, maybe manana, how about 2012? Meanwhile, don't drink the water.

Published or Updated on: January 5, 2011 by Marvin West © 2011
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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