Letters to the editor
Stan offers relevant comments by readers --
and sometimes answers them
Since going on the World Wide Web, I have received many letters from readers of my column. Reprinted below is a selectin of these letters and, in some cases, my response.
I will continue to reprint interesting email that I receive in the future.
The letters have been edited to remove most personal information and sometimes for brevity's sake. Some typos have been corrected. The letters are arranged in date order, newest first.
Table of Contents
- 7-15-97: Kidnapping Is Not Just A Mexican Problem
- 1-22-97: The Joys of Accidental Tourism
- 1-11-97: Mexican National Health Plan Not For Everybody
- 1-1-97: Predictions May Not Be All That Bad!
- 12-18-96: San Cristobal Is Nice, Too
- 11-7-96: Missionary Madness
- 11-8-96: Who Will Watch Those Who Watch Our Borders?
- 9-27-96: 1975 Revisited?
- 9-26-96: Humiliated By Fellow Student
- 8-23-96: A Border Resident Shares Her Experiences
- 7-28-96: Privatize Pemex Now
- 7-5-96: A Revealing Glimpse Into the Mexican Character
- 7-4-96: Athletics Training In Oaxaca?
- 6-20-96: False Information Feeds Anti-Immigrant Hysteria
- 6-17-96: Why Are Indigenous Soldiers Fighting Other Indigenous People in Chiapas?
- 5-3-96: Tour Guides in Oaxaca
- 5-1-96: WARNING: White Telephones May Be A Tourist Ripoff!
- 3-24-96: Is This A Good Time To Move To Mexico?
- 3-2-96: A sincere Christian talks about evangelism.
- 2-5-96: How do you prevent hassles when you take your car to Mexico?
- 1-5-96: The Mexican Military Is Pursuing A Scorched-Earth Policy In Chiapas.
- 12-20-95: A Mexican-American citizen reflects on how little we understand our southern neighbors.
- 12-19-95: Another Pepto Bismol devotee writes to testify.
- 12-12-95: A historian offers a brief synopsis of Mexican political history since the late 1800's and the role some Oaxaquenos have played in it.
- 12-11-95: A banker writes to criticize my "approval" of the El Barzon.
- 12-7-95: By using false stereotypes to put Mexicans down, we ignore our own loss of democracy and reduced freedom of the press.
- 12-6-95: Motorist alert: illegal "taxes" being charged at border check points; army checkpoints increased in frequency and intensity on south Guerrero coast.
- 12-4-95: Teenage reader asks what life is like for Mexican teeners.
- 11-30-95: A crossborder couple experience U.S. immigration; some insights into the November regional elections
- 10-27-95: A reader accuses Stan of putting Mexicans down.
- 10-25-95: Is Oaxaca a good place for physically challenged gringos on a moderate fixed income?.
- 10-20-95: Stan receives praise from a working reporter for a Mexican weekly.
- 10-17-95: A Mexican student writes to ask Stan to cite his sources, and not to spread "negative rumors".
- 10-8-95: A reader asks if Stan is concerned about Mexican government retaliation for what he writes.
- 10-8-95: A U.S. citizen talks about his own face-to-face experience with illegal Mexican immigrants.
- 8-13-95:Praise from a fellow WEBster.
- 8-2-95: Backpacking In Chiapas?
- 7-30-95:We will be returning to Oaxaca.
- 7-25-95: Buy your coffee from the producer co-op, through Pueblo to People.
- 7-02-95: An academic writes to criticize what he believes is Stan's unfair treatment of Evangelicals in Mexico and Central America.
- 6-22-95:A Chicano leader expresses his appreciation.
July 15, 1997: Kidnapping Is Not Just A Mexican Problem
Adriel S. Mirto writes:
I can empathize with your situation in Mexico. We have a strikingly similar situation here in the Philippines. I don't know if this culture is born out of the curse of our being under Spanish rule and religion.
Our billionaires are mostly of Chinese or Spanish descent and kidnapping here is awful. Misery loves company and I'm quite a bit amused that we are not alone here in the Philippines.
The poor, as the saying goes, are always with us (as are the greedy). Wherever we go. We got, they don't, what can we expect? That they will starve to death politely? Most of them, it turns out, do just that -- in large part because they have been conditioned to do so by our schools and our churches. But of course there are those pesky exceptions who just will not go quietly. Sigh...
January 22, 1997:The Joys of Accidental Tourism
Dan Fuehring writes:
The most rewarding times I've had in Mexico were when I was alone and things didn't go right, like my first day ever in Oaxaca when I didn't realize that there were 2 Aldama streets and I got really lost, or my night on the streets of San Cristobal when I stayed out too late and didn't know which door in the hotel to knock on to get back in and wandered the town until sunrise, or many bus trips that didn't go very smoothly. Or being stranded in Salina Cruz for an extra day and finding good and interesting things about a town that most outsiders just use as a pee stop.
It's been only through these rents and tears in the tourism fabric that I've developed a feeling, and a real love for the land and the people there.
I am a stubborn under-planner. Thank you for making a virtue out of what has always been a necessity for me: figuring out how to make something memorable out of the unexpected. Of course, not everyone is like me (or you). I have always marvelled at people who can make plans and stick to them without skipping a beat, many of whom have marvelous travel experiences. Mexico is a great place, and has much for everyone, whether right or left brained. Nonetheless, anyone who travels will certainly benefit from a little flexibility, a lot of patience, a sufficient sense of humor and a minimum amount of judgemental mindset.
January 11, 1997: Mexican National Health Plan Not For Everybody
Jim Hardy writes about his experience of public medicine:
From what I know about IMSS [Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social: the Mexican social services agency] here in Guadalajara, I'd spend a little more money and get a private insurance policy -- they are still a lot cheaper than what you'd pay for health insurance in the U.S.
My roommate of three to four years worked in IMSS and I have a friend who is a surgical resident so I'm fairly familiar with the system. Why bother with it when private doctors and labs are so cheap? I can make a same day appointment with most any specialist here in Guadalajara for $20 to $25 dollars.
As you mention in your article [see Is There A Doctor In the House?], the quality of doctors varies, and with IMSS you have no choice of doctors, you have long waits to see your GP, you need his permission to see a specialist or get lab tests done or get drugs, all of which can be got on a walk-in basis without a doctor's order at private facilities. IMSS also tends to run out of a lot of drugs, reagents for lab tests, etc. If you have any kind of an income in dollars from the U.S. you're much better off buying private insurance and paying for routine expenses out-of-pocket.
Thanks for making me aware of private medical insurance in Mexico. No-one I know has it, and I didn't know it existed. I will certainly look into it, and report back at a future date. Meanwhile, let me say that the reviews of IMSS I receive are definitely mixed. Some folks have rave reports and some just hated it. I have read reports of shortages of drugs, blood and even electricity in various clinics, and statements by high government officials promising to "make things better" at IMSS -- not a positive evaluation of current conditions. It isn't clear to me that care is any better in the private sector - even if more conventient and prompt. If anyone else has a story to tell, good or bad, I would appreciate hearing from you.
January 1, 1997: Predictions May Not Be All That Bad!
I pass on this "letter to the editor" from a Newsletter subscriber, for whatever insight it may give to some of what we have been sharing lately. Please, if you want to comment to David, write to him directly (at email@example.com) with a copy to me.
Feliz Ano Nuevo!
- The new edition was the best yet! It just keeps getting better and better! To Hell, with supposed "critics" of your content; it's perfectly proportioned with serious info. and humor. And the best thing, is that I agree with your opinions and facts. By the way Stan, I'm a right-wing, pro business, zealot. Not only is Mexico in trouble with reality by basing it's economy on a role model of "corporate greed", our own USA is chipping away at it's infrastructure and broad base of wealth by prostituting short-term gains, as it's primary goal.
The Chickens Will Surely Come Home To Roost...
- You can base your (correct) opinions about the over-valuing of the Peso, on hard facts. Monetary worth of any currency, is derived by a formula that considers cost-of-living, manufacturing cost, and base buying power of the average citizen. Five Hundred super-wealthy Mexicans, are not an adequate income base for "Bimbo" or "Dina". Ninety percent of your perplexion as to "why" the Peso, does not devalue "now" has to do with the fact that Mexico's economy is in the cellar. Current Account Deficit levels are less stressing because few people have enough money to purchase foreign goods.
- By eliminating subsidies to Ejidos and Cooperativas, the central bank can routinely inject a hundred million dollars into the Peso fund, which can artifically prop it up for several weeks. Just think of how much money the government "saved" by raising fuel, energy, and food subsidy base prices!
- The "high cost" of crude oil is no accident. By jacking up the cost of western hemisphere crude oils, plus raising the import percentage of Mexican to "other" crudes, to NINETY FOUR PERCENT (!), the US is effectively subsidizing payments for the bailout package and also for the IMF. In effect the American citizen is paying Mexico to repay it's debt. As an illustration, before the crisis, heavy Maya crude was marketed for $10.80/bbl. Present levels pegged the crude at seventeen dollars for the same barrel of oil. Mexico's income WAS at eight billion Us dollars per year. By increasing both price and production, Mexico now earns close to twenty billion a year on sales of crude to the US. Maquilladors, on the other hand, offer a paltry five hundred million in income.
- The problem in this scenario, is that no room is made for the general Mexican economy to rebound. Personally, I use the "Dina" corp. as a bellweather for the state of health of the economy. Dina's health is marginal----sales are pathetic. The ONLY thing that's going to jumpstart the economy is LOW interest rates-------and there's the rub. Foreign investors are now very wary of Mexico. Stocks declined seventy percent in dollar value, and then political unrest hammered the government and countryside. It's a classic "Mexican Standoff": one is waiting for the other. Low interest rates/Low inflation. It aint gonna happen, until the government unbridles the interest rate and allows the Peso, to zoom to whatever level it can naturally attain. There is no way in Hell, ANY country can prosper, when the cost of a gallon of gasoline exceeds several hour's worth of labor.
- Rebel groups have historically sought whatever level of mischief, that manages to make the news. If the present level of activity is too low to warrant press coverage despite government pressures to gloss over "small things", then the rebels historically will raise the intensity of actions to justify being made "news".
- The real issue is, just how patient are average "fulanos/a's" when it comes to getting back to work, and back to having a full stomach at mealtime? I cannot disagree with your Peso/economy/government/rebel predictions. You will be proved correct----stick with it.
December 18, 1996: San Cristobal Is Nice, Too
Robert Kirsch writes:
...our thoughts turn to Mexico. Sorry we didn't hook up before we left, but on a whim I took off for San Cristobal de las Casas, and fell in love w/ the place. The powers that be make sure everything looks nice and normal (less army/police in evidence than in Oax City!), the mountains are magnificent, and there are no Norteamericano tourists -- it has something of a hippie hangout feel, barefoot longhairs (Mexican & European) playing drums in front of Santo Domingo, right next to the big Indian craft market. Good hippie restaurants too: Casa de Pan w/ excellent breakfasts, great fresh bread, and a big altar w/ the Virgin of Guadalupe next to Tibetan Tara and some Buddhist teacher in robes. And the coffee's GOOD....
San Cris is a very Indian town, with amazing handicrafts (all sorts of embroidery, wild patterns), lots of kids as aggressive as they are cute selling you friendship bracelets and Subcomandante Marcos dolls. The Indians are really intense, the Chamulans in particular -- traditional dress, Spanish as very much a second language. And the church out in San Juan Chamula -- whoa! Pews gone, pine boughs all over the floor, the people kneeling, praying/chanting in their singsong Tzotzel, lighting rows and rows of candles on the floor in front of the saints, who're lined up against the wall in glass boxes w/ all their finery, w/ mirrors hung round their necks. Saw a woman there praying w/ a bunch of eggs lined up in front of the candles -- she performed a "cleaning" on herself after praying for about a half hour, rubbing the eggs (unbroken, of course) down over her long, unbraided hair. I haven't seen anything like this since I was in India.
Oh, and if you might happen to head down to San Cris, make sure you stop by a little cafe right below La Iglesia de Guadalupe, a big church on a beautiful little hill overlooking the city -- it's run by a fellow named John Braun, he comes from an old German Mexican family, and boy has he got some good stories! His cafe is on the right off the steps going up to the church, almost to the top. The view is spectacular.
There would be a lot more Yankees in Sn Cristobal if our government, the travel agents, and the major media didn't exaggerate the dangers of going there. I have always found it a calm, pleasant, beautiful place to visit. In fact, there is much there to recommend it over Oaxaca, starting (as you did) with the availability of excellent international cuisine.
I prefer Oaxaca because it is less isolated (SC is a two hour drive from the nearest airport), it has more of a "big town" feel (I am an inner city kind of guy), and is warmer (5,100 feet up, as opposed to SC's 7,600).
Thankfully, not everyone has the same preference in places to live. My choice is Oaxaca, but I can easily see why someone might prefer Sn Cristobal. In either case, I urge my paisanos to ignore the hysteria and come see for themselves.
November 7, 1996: Missionary Madness
Janet Jacobson writes:
I have been reading your column via the internet for about three months now and have learned a great deal about Mexico. Oaxaca, in particular.
My interest in your topics was sparked when my 19 year-old son was called to serve a two-year mission for our church (yes, we are Mormons) in Oaxaca and the surrounding areas. I have read enough of your writings to be well aware of your lack of enthusiasm for missionaries of any denomination and I respect your viewpoint. At the same time, you might like to know that I have been sending printouts of your articles to Jimmy while he is at the MTC (Missionary Training Center) in Provo, Utah and he and the other missionaries have enjoyed reading about the traditions and idiosyncrasies of their future destination. Sometimes, what may at first appear to be insensitivity is actually lack of information and understanding.
In the article to which you refer, Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition , I took a "hard" line against the various evangelical factions that have invaded Mexico since the original occupation by the Spanish Catholics five hundred years ago. I just don't like know-it-alls; and especially not know-it-all-ultimatelys.
Lack of information and understanding (manifested in lack of respect for the social institutions that suffer disruption in the process of evangelizing) is the necessary foundation for telling people who have a common history thousands of years older that the Mormon Church (whichever Mormon Church you are) that you know better than they do.
Mormons, on the other hand, are in a class all by themselves. They are little flocks of geese, all white skin and short haircuts; dressed in white shirts and dark ties; faces shining with well-scrubbed innocence and sincerity; come down to save their quota of souls and return home, much like military reservists on summer active duty.
Well, I'll say this for them: at least you can see them coming a mile away.
November 8, 1996: Who Will Watch Those Who Watch Our Borders?
Luis Payan writes:
I am a Mexican graduate student of politics and international relations at Georgetown University. I am currently attempting to find out what exactly went into the creation of the Drug Czar office in Washington as well as what kind of bureaucratic politics has gone on in respect to it since its creation. I would also like to include an analysis of the current debate over whether the US military should also be engaged in the "war on drugs" or not. Clearly, as you may be aware, the US military has resisted participation.
According to what I read in the newspapers in October, the US secretary of defense has offered to set up a school in Panama to train LatAm personnel in anti-drug and anti-terrorist activities (read: counterinsurgency and dirty tricks, torture, death squads and black propaganda, just like the now-in-disrepute School of the Americas in Georgia). By shifting the school to Panama, the US hopes to remove the activities from our consciousness.
As to your specific questions about the Drug Czar office and other things of substance:
According to several sources, from investigative reports to trial testimony by eye witnesses to congressional staff research reports, drugs have been brought into the country by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Army National Guard, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as the gangs and syndicates that are usually blamed.
You are in a better position to do research on current modalities than I am, with the library sources available at your university. I suggest you start with the reports of the Cristic Institute, whose research exposed the connections between the Columbian cartels, the Nicaraguan Contras and the Reagan/Bush administration. Unless you research the massive and systematic fraud regarding drug interdiction, from its inception in the later years of World War II, it will be difficult to see through the hypocritical anti-drug rhetoric of today.
September 27, 1996: 1975 Revisited?
In 1975, I traveled from El Paso to Mexico City on the train. The long journey was interrupted by a round of drinking tequila from used 7-up bottles on the steps of a second class coach with a farmer. His observation: We (the Mexicans) are Indians. They (the rich) are the Spanish. It will never change. The Indians need to live as Indians and the Spanish need to own the Indians. We will always have revolt.
A college friend (Boulder, CO - 1976), whose father was a major executive in Mexico's Coca Cola observed: Unfortunately, the poor need us (the rich) for their survival.
It was Spanish paternalistic colonialism, which, as ingrained as it now is, will continue to foster the desire to revolt.
The beaches of Baja, PV, and Cancun conveniently distract the US citizens from this eternal struggle.
Dear Mr. Automation,
Thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like your trip was rich with the sounds, smells and grit of a Mexico that has since receded, for better or worse. These days, the Mexicans, the vast majority of whom are mestizo (mixed blood), are caught up in the same colonialism that we practice in the US: money colonialism.
Your friend's dad was an early advocate of trickle-down economics and corporate control of the economy. Perhaps ahead of his time, although I would assert that he didn't have much on Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie.
As far as your indigenous drinking partner, he can call his oppressors Spaniards, caciques, foremen, or bank presidents; the result is the same: the rich get richer and the poor have children.
Cancun, PV and other beach towns also distract a heck of a lot of Mexicans, in the same way that Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale do for us. In the sense that your train partner meant it, we too are mostly indians, and our Spaniards know how to squeeze pretty good.
September 26, 1996:Humiliated By Fellow Student
I just want to say: Thank You Very Much !! If every Mexican loves Mexico as much as you do, Mexico would be a greater nation !!
I'm an MBA student at the University of Houston, and I'm glad to see that not all Americans have a bad opinion about Mexico.
A few days ago I was working in my management class team and somebody asked me: what are you planning to do when you finish your MBA. I told her that I was planning to go back to Mexico; she replied with a disgusted expression in her face that I won't forget for the rest of my life: TO MEXICO !!! As you can imagine it hurts, but I have the hope that some day in the future it will change.
Thanks for the kind words.
We gringos have been raised to believe that we are the greatest; that no-one in their right mind would ever want to live anywhere else, unless there was a lot of money and / or power to be gained -- and brought back "home" to be enjoyed. We are a young and crude society. I am sure your fellow student is genuinely puzzled about why anyone, given the opportunity, would rather live here than there.
Of course, as you point out, a lot of Mexicans who have been given the opportunity have in fact stayed on in the US. Now, I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, emigration of talented and educated Mexicans to the US removes a badly needed resource for progress in Mexico. On the other hand, adding more Hispanics to the ethnic mix in the US helps the rest of us deal with our prejudices -- and don't forget that we also send talented, educated people to Mexico: me, for instance, or any number of English teachers I know here.
You have chosen to return, from love of your patria and familia. Others have chosen to stay, some for personal reasons and many for the financial needs of their familia. Hard choices, sometimes.