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Ask an old gringo about Mexico changes, obesity and whale sharks

Marvin West


Your questions are very meaningful. Preparing answers is an excellent excuse for staying in the shade by day and in the dry at night.

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Question: What has changed during your time in Mexico?

Answer: Wow, this goes back several years. We were occasional tourists and winter renters and interested witnesses to peso devaluation before our first home purchase in San Juan Cosala in 1998.

Since then, we have seen the evolution of the Volkswagen bug, what we think is modest expansion of the so-called middle class, a political upheaval and a bit more transparency in government, the arrival of consolidated raspberry farming and a great increase in the number of products for sale.

We witnessed highway improvements and the coming of WalMart. We saw Lake Chapala go up and down and up. We feel the depression of the gosh-awful drug war.

In many ways, Mexico has improved during our years. In peace and tranquility, it has regressed.

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Question: Is this for real or just a bad joke? Did the United Nations say Mexicans are too fat?

Answer: World food police are focused on Mexico obesity. Seventy percent of adults are supposedly overweight and children are following their example at a dangerous pace. Evil targets are fried snacks, sugary soft drinks and heavy starches, three times a day.

Olivier de Schutter, a UN spokesman, teacher of international human rights law at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, says Mexicans deserve a more healthy diet and that the Mexican government should declare a state of emergency. Sounds bad.

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Question: Did you hear about a priest being murdered in Tijuana?

Answer: Father Salvador Ruiz Enciso was killed a few months ago, apparently to silence his denouncement of organized crime. His partially burned body was found with hands and feet tied. Police also found 300 pornographic videos. Community leaders said they were "planted" by the killers.

Archibishop Rafael Romo Muñoz said the good father was a sincere man of God dedicated to his ministry. Muñoz called for justice. None has arrived.

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Question: The Pan-Am Games are scheduled for October. Is excitement building?

Answer: Yes. People are placing bets about whether Guadalajara will be ready or not.

The games were awarded in 2006 with considerable fanfare. The city told of great things to come. Bit by bit, the grand scheme was scaled down. Political wrangling forced several revisions.

Five years after the okay to go, the director of the organizing committee is working very long hours and sleeping fast, trying to keep abreast of last-minute "progress."

Carlos Andrade Garin says all 23 stadiums will be 100-percent ready — just in time. Carlos also says Mexico will present "the greatest games every held" for about one third the cost that Canada has budgeted for the 2015 games. Believe it or not, he does not envision traffic problems. File that thought under the heading of forthcoming miracles.

So, how about security, you ask? Great news. Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, governor of Jalisco, says "security won't be an obstacle to us enjoying the Pan American Games."

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Question: Okay, tell us again, exactly how big a deal is crime and corruption? Is it enough to cause us to retire in Florida?

Answer: There are so many beautiful positives about Mexico but this ugly negative is the blight that won't go away. The ostrich version says the less we identify problems, the more we live in peace. If your head is not in the sand, this is a serious situation.

Don't put a lot of trust in numbers you may have heard. Too often they are arranged in neat lines to serve a purpose, complete an agenda, sell real estate or preserve tourism.

Two examples: The aforementioned United Nations has no earthly way of knowing the scope of the migrant smuggling business from Mexico to the United States but says it generates $6.6 billion in illegal revenue. Amazing what you can do with a calculator.

The United Nations is less precise on illegal drug running. The current estimate is somewhere between $10 billion and $29 billion annually. That leaves $19 billion in wiggle room. Even if you join me in believing those numbers are actually stars in the evening sky, crime and corruption is big business. Avoid it if you can.

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Question: From time to time, there are TV snippets when Mexican authorities capture criminals. Sometimes they are paraded for all to see. What is your perspective?

Answer: This is show biz. Best example comes from a year or two ago. Thirty-five government officials, from mayors on down, were arrested in Michoacan for supposedly aiding a drug cartel. Big sweep. Large splash. Enthusiastic applause.

Not long ago, a judge in Morelia acquitted the last of those 35 officials. The release of Mayor Armando Medina Torres completed the absolute total setback for the federal effort to clean up alleged corruption.

Think about this: Zero convictions. All 35 were set free. Corrupt judges? Dumb prosecutors? Poor evidence clerks? No concept of the law? A federal spokeswoman had no comment.

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Question: What is the story of whale sharks off the coast of Mexico?

Answer: This is big news. Whale sharks grow up to 40 feet long and can weigh 80,000 pounds. Studies say they prefer to feed alone, in the open ocean, on tiny organisms such as zooplankton. They are not mean-spirited or dangerous. They just coast along in slow motion with their big mouths open, taking in whatever is floating and filtering out oil barrels, row boats and anything that might cause indigestion.

That 400 or more of the big boys and girls would gather off the Yucatan peninsula to dine on dense patches of mackerel eggs shakes up scientific thinking and gives hint of unexplained communications devices, perhaps an all-wet version of the internet.

I predict Mexico will respond with a new industry, more and better tour boats for environmental tourists looking for whale sharks. I must say they are big enough to see.

Published or Updated on: August 2, 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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