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Ask an old gringo about Mexico education, politics and miracle cures

Marvin West

For some strange reason, an unusual assortment of questions about Mexico education appeared in my e-mailbox. It could be the world has heard about De Panzazo, the new documentary loaded with enough blame to go around.

Concise question: Is Mexico schooling good, bad or awful?

Answer: Yes.

A boy helps with classroom cleanup at Mexico's San Quintin school. There are many excellent schools throughout Mexico.
© Edd Bissell, 2010

For those who want more information, it is all three and more, very good in some places, not so hot in others and horrendous elsewhere if you believe the critics.

De panzazo, according to my translator, means barely passing. The documentary gives the national school system a D and points a mean finger at government for surrendering to the teachers' union.

Elba Esther Gordillo, all-powerful leader of the National Union of Education Workers, is presented as the barrier between where education is and where it should be. The boss doesn't really care if teachers lack credentials, don't show up for work or if those who do accomplish anything.

Filmmakers use the word "tragedy" in describing what young people don't know and why they are being shortchanged. The proposed solution is longer school days and a longer school year.

I am not sure more mediocrity mends the rip.

* * * * *

Question: This is a big election year. The relationship between Mexico and the United States may hang in the balance. What do you know about south-of-the-border politics?

Answer: Not much and I won't tell that. Old gringos and other guests are not allowed in the Mexican political process.

But I will share a smile. A congressional candidate staged a big pep rally in Chilapa, Guerrero. Exciting speeches. Free tacos. Mass illness. Hundreds of potential voters required medical care for food poisoning.

The blame game was spectacular. Duck and run. Not my fault.

* * * * *

Question: I know some people go to Mexico for medical procedures not approved in the United States. What is your opinion?

Answer: There are wonderful exceptions but most "miracle cures" require an additional miracle.

I doubt that Mexico leads the world in promoting amazing solutions to old age, cancer, obesity and sagging body parts. I know the country is trying to do something about false advertising.

Those who make therapeutic claims, at street markets, on billboards, in newspapers and on TV, now face fines unless they can produce scientific proof of effectiveness.

Oh boy! The first sweep took out 274 deceptive products.

* * * * *

Question: We enjoy your occasional tale about Mexican protests. Got any more?

Answer: Protests, demonstrations and marches that disrupt traffic pop up all around. Some are funny. Many are lightweight. Some are very serious.

The drug war, kidnappings, extortion, armed robbery and motorists who order a fill-up and drive off without paying annoyed or terrified Pemex operators in Acapulco. They took action. Twenty-three gas stations were shut down simultaneously for three hours.

Give that some thought and tell me if it changed the world.

* * * * *

Question: Is Mexico a police state?

Answer: Are you kidding?

I will tell you a police story. I start out thinking all policemen are my friends. I adjust with contrary evidence.

Sarah and I met two officers shortly after our most recent border crossing, Columbia outside Laredo, Highway 2. The speed limit drops, one block at a time, for no logical reason, from 80 kilometers per hour to 60 to 40. I think I was slow to slow down.

The police pickup truck, with blue lights flashing, did not scare me nearly as much as a possible drug shootout or blockade.

The officer who spoke English showed me a portable radar gun that said 92. No way, Jose. He said I should follow him into Nuevo Laredo and pay the fine. It would be just a little less than enormous and probably take three hours.

I do believe he was hoping for a more immediate settlement.

I countered with my printed game plan, Spanish and English, no trip to anywhere, just write me a ticket. See here, the law says if I pay within five days, I get a discount.

The policeman consulted with his partner. He came back with a new idea but before he could express it, I explained the remarkable accuracy of my radar detector and let him hear a few beep-beep-beeps. I said I would explain to his commanding officer that his 92 gun reading wasn't our SUV, that he didn't even check our speed, there was no alarm.

The officer had never heard that one. After another consultation, he announced that he was giving me a free pass, no ticket, no trip to Nuevo Laredo.

I asked if he would like a Pepsi from our ice chest.

He asked how many pesos I charged.


Published or Updated on: February 17, 2012 by Marvin West © 2012
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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