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Ask the old gringo about ocean-front property, butterflies, boxing and the next Mexico crisis

Marvin West

Monarch butterflies in Mexico
Monarch butterflies in a Michoacan sanctuary
© Tony Burton, 1997

Q: This is a very personal question: Do you own any ocean-front property?

A: I wish. We do have a happy home on Lake Chapala in Jalisco, which isn't too bad for second place. The ocean question reminds me of what we'll call the story of the day.

Pat Cordes, my favorite source of San Blas information, says something for nothing or not much is still too much to resist, even when you know it is too good to be true. An exciting entrepreneur proclaimed that property on Borrego Beach from the old Hotel Playa Hermosa to the Puntillo had been subdivided and lots were available only to Mexicans — for a token charge of 300 pesos. Step right up, folks. Get your piece of the Pacific before they are all gone. The salesman put up little flag markers.

Friends, neighbors and visitors rushed to participate. He quickly disposed of 700 beach lots, in the federal zone. A few foreigners, rejected because of bloodlines, were deeply disappointed. One mentioned the ugly word "discrimination."

When the San Blas mayor heard the story of the day, he caught on quickly and smiled. Perhaps you have caught on. The man who sold the lots did not own the lots. The people who bought the lots had hurried to throw away their money. That left rejected gringos as the happy campers not looking for the real estate salesman.

* * * * *

No question about this, the monarchs are coming, the monarchs are coming from Canada and the United States to the massive butterfly campgrounds in the mountain ranges of Michoacan.

Millions or billions will arrive at Altamirano, Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, Chivati-Huacal, Cerro Pelon, San Andres, Mil Cumbres, La Mesa, Lomas de Aparicio, Piedra Herrada, Oxtotilpan and Palomas.

There is good news, purchased by the federal government, from the butterfly forests. Paying villagers to not steal trees is supposedly working. Local cooperation includes no longer confronting environmental inspectors.

The magnificent migration is well above my pay grade. Neither I nor scientists can do a good job explaining the orientation and endurance of these fragile fliers.

Monarchs live only a few months. The ones that fly to Mexico each fall are not the ones that go north the following spring. And the ones that return to Mexico the next fall are still another generation. Do you find it mesmerizing that this butterfly miracle goes on and on?

Where all this leads is to a new video, "Flight of the Butterflies in 3D" by a Canadian TV company, SK Films. The show was introduced at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., in September. Mexicans will enjoy it. Bimbo and Coca-Cola, among the sponsors, certainly hope so.

* * * * *

Q: What do you know about Mexican boxing, specifically Juan Manuel Marquez?

A: I know Juan Manuel Marquez Mendez is one tough, little hombre, off-and-on world champion of four different weight divisions.

At 39, he should have enough pesos to kick back and live the good life. Instead, he has been training like a mad man, hoping to finally win a fight against Manny Pacquiano (December 8 in Las Vegas).

Dinamita (nickname) has been exerting himself, doing heavy, high-altitude roadwork near the Nevado de Toluca. Muscling up includes chopping wood with an ugly ax and beating on a car tire with a sledgehammer almost his size. Just telling you about it makes me tired.

This will be the fourth and surely final go-around between Marquez and Pacquiano. The first two were wars. The third was more tactful. All three, a tie and two splits, had controversial or worse judging from the Mexican point of view.

And you wondered what I know about boxing.

* * * * *

Q: Do Mexicans still use HCFC-22 in air conditioners?

A: Yes.

OK, I know that under an international treaty, the gas is taboo because it contributes to global warming. And I know there are strict limits on how much can be sold and used in the United States. Mexico is not a party to this treaty and HCFC-22 is made and sold here.

Consider this believe-it-or-not tidbit: The DuPont company, in Louisville, Ky., makes more HCFC-22 than it can legally sell in the U.S. Some is shipped to Mexico and to heck with the ozone.

Here's the kicker: Northern feds are wringing their hands. They have just learned that some hauled south is smuggled back into the U.S. I don't know how they do it.

* * * * *

Q: There was a snippet on BBC TV about young Mexican warriors. Are children really involved in the drug war?

A: A nine-year-old in Hermosillo took a loaded gun to school in his backpack.

Classmates squealed. The child was "captured" before anybody got killed. Police confiscated the weapon and determined the ammunition was high-powered stuff made to penetrate bullet-proof vests. The street term is cop-killers.

Officers went home with the boy and raided the house. An armed guard escaped. A woman was arrested. Also hauled away were two loads of ammo, assorted guns, including AK-47s, portable radios, military uniforms, stacks of pesos and a money-counting machine. Social workers took the boy who said he intended to grow up and take over the family business.

I suppose you could say children are involved in the drug war, as junior partners or victims. Any suggestions?

* * * * *

Q: It seems to me Mexico is prone to have crisis after crisis. Anything new?

A: We recently endured the Great Egg Crisis. Recovery was scrambled because the Mexican media kept cracking jokes.

It was serious.

Mexicans lead the world in egg-eating with an average of 402 per person per year. Any shortage means price spikes, long waiting lines at grocery stores and unpleasant limitations on how many eggs a customer can purchase.

What brought this on was an outbreak of AH7N3 avian flu virus. That led to the eradication of 11 million chickens. Ninety million hens were vaccinated twice each. Some squawked.

Good, old USA rushed to the rescue, sending substitute chickens and eggs for a price.

We are now facing a tomato war. It was inevitable. The trade pact between Mexico and the United States has been ripening for 16 years.

Mexico ships many, many winter tomatoes straight from the fields to the United States. After three markups, they are still cheaper than Florida growers say they must charge for hothouse crops that are artificially tinted and taste like cardboard.

Most Florida farmers will vote in the November presidential election in the U.S. Some Mexicans won't. Political pressure is squeezing the agreement. It may cut the sale of really good Mexican tomatoes and may cause a trade war of tariffs and retaliatory restrictions — which not many of us need.

* * * * *

My previous commentary about Mexican education inspired this follow-up from a Mexican reader:

"First of all, the education industry would have you believe education is free. It is not.

"Have you heard of the 'cuota voluntaria' in public schools? It is 400 pesos. In secundaria, it is 600.

"Books, beyond basics, must be purchased. Uniforms are not mandatory but peer pressure sends us to the store. There are charges for exams and don't forget to bring a gift on teacher's day.

"In some communities, parents are charged for school supplies, even light bulbs and toilet paper. Does that sound like education is free?"

The reader-writer didn't say it but costs could be one reason so many young Mexicans drop out of school and pursue jobs. The cycle continues with low pay until a drug cartel recruiter offers a sack of gold.

Meanwhile, politicians and educators pat each other on the back and tell us to be happy, everything is good and will soon get better.


Published or Updated on: October 12, 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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