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Ask the old gringo about Mexico welcome mat, value system, jail time and hot billboard

Marvin West

Beach chairs in Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido
© Geri Anderson

Question: Are gringos really welcome in Mexico?

Answer: Some guests are an aggravation, others are a pain, but it appears their folding money is well received. Officials of the beach community of Puerto Escondido, in the state of Oaxaca, threw a December party to celebrate foreigners. A few hundred attended. Free food and drink remains an exciting lure. Mexican dignitaries were there and many immigration personnel worked the crowd, nice to meet you, so glad you are here. There were music, smiles and handshakes. A good time was had by all. How's that for welcome?

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True or false? Even poor Mexicans live it up for holidays and fiestas. Who pays for all those fireworks?

Answer: The first statement is true. The second answer is I don't know but there has been a lot of boom-booming going on. Many Mexicans do not have the same value system as most Americans and Canadians. They don't live for the almighty peso, possessions, equity or even government handouts. Perhaps they lack faith in the future. Maybe their outlook has been shaped by disasters and failures, too many powerful people or events taking away what they had.

Our best Mexican friends seem near this category. They are family-oriented and find joy in simple settings. I believe they would like more "things" but their lifestyle is always going another direction. They live from Saturday to Saturday. When misfortune strikes, they suffer because they lack reserves. When the clutch goes out on the old pickup truck, they walk until they can save enough to get it repaired. When more serious problems arise, they believe God will provide and God or somebody usually does.

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Question: Is the Mexican economy going up or down?


I hereby defer to experts and other stuffed shirts. The International Monetary Fund's executive board renewed Mexico's flexible credit line for $73 billion. The IMF said the Mexican economy has remained resilient. Growth in 2011 and 2012 exceeded expectations, achieving nearly 4 percent. The IMF had a few suggestions for continued success: tax reforms, labor reforms, education reforms and competition in the energy sector. I don't know if the new government can do all that. Maybe.

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Fireworks in Xico, Veracruz
© Roy Dudley, 2000

Question: OK, old gringo, speak up, hide or run. What do you think of the jail time the U.S. Marine spent in Mexico?

Answer: You really shouldn't have started me on this subject. This was almost as dumb as what happened to the truck driver who made a wrong turn and ended up at the border with an 18-wheeler loaded with ammunition.

In both disasters, U.S. officials contributed erroneous guidance. "Just drive over there and turn around." "No problem, declare the gun and tell them you want to register it. Just fill out a form."

The Marine, Jon Hammar, 27, spent four years in Afghanistan and Iraq and five months in the even more dangerous Centro de Ejecuciones, the gang-controlled Tamaulipas prison in Matamoros, across the way from Brownsville, Texas.

Hammar made the mistake of trying to bring in a small heirloom shotgun, a hand-me-down .410 gauge Sears and Roebuck special that his great-grandfather once used for rabbit hunting. It was not much of a killer weapon but Mexican agents have no patience and less common sense when it comes to guns. Because the barrel measured 24 inches instead of the required 25 for a sporting model, it was defined as a sawed-off shotgun, wicked and evil, no doubt intended to help a drug cartel murder many soldiers or police.


Mexico, still angry about U.S. guns sent south just to see where they landed, took advantage of the law, imprisoned the Marine and kept him there while awaiting trial. A comparable mistake was chaining him by the ankle to a steel bed frame and somehow allowing a photograph to get out.

All hell broke loose. Other Marines, patriotic politicians, Fox TV star Bill O'Reilly and maybe our Father which art in Heaven were offended to the point of calling for a boycott of all things Mexican and blocking all tourism as if they could.

A Mexican judge, much smarter than some involved with this mess, realized there was no intent to commit a crime. He read the controversy correctly, decided the blunders weren't worth another World War, dropped charges and sent Hammar home for Christmas.

The truck driver stayed in jail a few months until friends, relatives and do-gooders took up a sufficient collection to pay his penalty. He got out with less fanfare. He didn't have O'Reilly or U.S. Marines making waves.

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Question: Do Mexican drug dealers have a touch of genius? Did you hear about shooting marijuana across the border fence?

Answer: Yes and yes. Thirty-three cans of marijuana, two to three pounds each, were found in the Yuma area of Arizona. Border patrol people said it appeared the containers were launched some 500 feet by a compressed-air cannon. That is progressive technology. Last year the delivery boys used a catapult.

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Question: How about Juan Manuel Márquez Méndez?

Answer: Interesting, very interesting. The little boxer was hailed, toasted and paraded around Mexico as if he had brought home the World Cup. The 39-year-old stunned the fight world when he knocked out Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Mexicans said hip, hip, hooray and maybe whoopee! My Spanish is not very good.

Juan has been everywhere doing everything, including a visit with Enrique Pena Nieto. He autographed the winning gloves and gave them to the president. Friends flocked around Manuel Marquez to take him somewhere to meet somebody or just to show him off. He did a full round of press interviews and TV appearances.

Before you ask, it ain't over 'til it's over. Victory is intoxicating. Juan has not yet decided whether he will retire or resume training when he has time. Promoters and other money people want a June fight.

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Question: Sometimes you save your best stories for last. What do you have for today?

Answer: Thanks for staying with me to the finish. Maybe you have seen the giant photo of the darling, young model in not much underwear. She is up on a prominent billboard in Mexico City. She is undoubtedly a major distraction to motorists and almost guaranteed to make always dangerous driving more dangerous.

The girl is promoting a Swedish clothing line that promises high fashion and modest prices. The skimpy briefs barely in the picture cost only 69 pesos. Fair enough considering there isn't much cloth.


Published or Updated on: January 11, 2013 by Marvin West © 2013
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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