What’s Going On In This Country?

January 11, 2016 Edition
BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

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That’s it, I’m done with catnip. Done with champagne, done with tossing the fireworks into the neighbor’s yard just to tease the dog, and done with being an all around asshole.

I’m back on the wagon and I’m going to write more words each issue for my column, for you, my precious readers, if you will have me back. I have to pay back my mom for that little accident with the Christmas tree and the drapes. And the sofa. OK, and the toilet paper.

cat hungover.jpgI’m not saying I’m directly responsible, you understand, but it coulda been that some of my friends got a little out of line New Year’s Eve.

I’m taking the pledge. For my new year’s resolution, I’m going to quit being such a heart ache and a head ache to my mom who got me this really great writing gig. I can’t afford to screw up this job because it’s going to take the rest of my life to pay for damages from one night that I hardly even remember. I wonder if I’m the first person to ever regret a night filled with too much celebration.

What Am I saying? I’m not even a person, I’m a cat! I don’t have to behave, nor have regrets, nor even get up and go to work. Come to think of it, could someone bring me that little baggie of catnip that’s around here somewhere? I’m pretty sure we didn’t finish it off last night.

 

We love Gringo migrants. It’s just Central American migrants we’re not so crazy about. At least 300,000 migrants enter Mexico from its southern border, on their way to sneaking into the United States, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. Nearly 200,000 migrants were detained in Mexico last year, the highest figure recorded in almost a decade.

At least 92 percent come from Central America and 45 percent of that group are Guatemalans. The rest are from South America, Africa and Asia. All of them were detained while trying to reach the United States.

All of them are booted back, except for migrants from Asia, Africa and Cuba.  “Immigration law is very noble regard those people. Instead of repatriating them we open the doors and they are able to regularize their stay,” Humberto Roque an Interior Ministry spokesperson said to the press. Several humanitarian organizations have denounced the way Mexico treats immigrants from Central America.

Nativity scenes. Otherwise known as nacimientos, we all saw many of them in the last month. It is the most iconic Christmas image in Mexico, but these days many of the figures used in the scene are made in China, threatening the livelihood of Mexican artisans.

A proper nacimiento will include the infant Jesus and his parents, the angel Gabriel, the three wise guys, assorted shepherds, farm animals and the devil. The bucolic scene can fit on the top of a coffee table or under the Christmas tree, or extend over a garage or a home’s front yard, limited only by the creativity of its builder.

But the cheap Chinese copies of the nativity figures have had a negative impact on their sales by artisans from Amozoc and Tepeaca in the state of Puebla, who have lost up to 50% of their market share in the last five years. Of the town’s 77,000 inhabitants, half are artisans, and 40% of their yearly production is exclusively Christmas-related.  But in the last five years, 100 such family workshops have shut down as they were unable to compete.

The handicrafts have been undervalued by consumers, who prefer buying low-quality Chinese knock-offs for 15 pesos apiece to purchasing the domestic product from markets or studio-workshops, where the price of each figure can range from 20 to 55 pesos. In an effort to counter the trend, Puebla’s artisans have started to promote their handicrafts by making seasonal trips to neighboring states, such as Veracruz, Hidalgo, Tlaxcala and Oaxaca, hoping to save their businesses from bankruptcy. The state of jalisco had been seeing a similar situation but through a promotional campaign launched three months ago it has managed to turn the tables. According to the last census, of the 400,000 artisans in the state, 25% produce Christmas-related figures. About 430 workshops in Jalisco are dedicated to producing artisanal nacimientos, providing a livelihood for at least 1,100 people.

It’s no eBay. More than half of Mexicans over the age of 6 use the Internet, but while 85% of users access social networks, only a quarter use the Internet to make purchases, according to a survey by the Mexican Internet Association. With roughly 98% of Mexico’s retail sales conducted at physical stores, the main competition for online sellers is not each other but rather traditional retail, Retailers take hope from the rapid growth of smartphone use, which jumped 40% in 2015. The department store chain Liverpool invested $36 million in three years to upgrade its online platform, offering free delivery and more than one million online products.

The increased competition in e-commerce comes as traditional retailers are riding a recovery thanks to employment and wage growth, as well as record-low inflation. Last year through November, same-store sales of Mexican retailers were ahead 6.5%, compared with a 0.9% gain in the same period of 2014, according to retail association Antad.

But as e-commerce competition heats up, logistics play an increasing role. Most people don’t have credit cards and most people are reluctant to pay for goods upfront. Then there’s the crappy delivery infrastructure. How is it going to get to your front porch? Most people don’t trust the available delivery systems.

Amazon.com Inc., which launched full-fledged Mexican operations in June, began to offer gift cards in December that can be bought for cash at thousands of Oxxo convenience stores. The Seattle-based online retailer also reached an agreement to accept Oxxo’s own prepaid cards. In two years, Oxxo, which has more than 13,000 stores across the country, has placed with consumers two million cards associated with accounts at Citigroup Inc. unit Banamex.

“We’re acknowledging there’s a big opportunity among the unbanked,” said Amazon Mexico  manager Juan Carlos García, who noted that more than 80% of consumers in Mexico still prefer to buy with cash.

 Linio, one of Latin America’s largest online stores with operations in eight countries, accepts PayPal, cash-on-delivery and cash payments at Oxxo stores, as well as credit and debit cards. Linio Chief Executive Andreas Mjelde, who is based in Mexico City, sees cash-on-delivery as a way to reassure first-time clients, saying that after one or two such purchases they often switch to paying online. “It breaches the gap of the lack of trust that the average Latin American has to shopping online,” he said.

We miss David Letterman. Remember his stupid crooks riffs? Well, we’ve got one for him. Pemex has reported that pipeline taps increased last year by 60%, totaling more than 300 recorded illegal taps. That’s up from 174 for all of 2014. Pemex estimates that as much as a third of the gasoline you buy is stolen and sold to your local gas station, which you are a receiver of stolen goods, Bunky.

Once a pipe is breached, every Jose and his brother comes running with buckets, jars, and barrels, and there is the inevitable spark that sets off the inevitable fire. Right now three little children are recovering at a Shriners hospital burn ward in Texas. And they are the lucky ones, who were not killed outright or left to die in Mexican hospitals that have no facilities to treat burns. So quit it. Because something for nothing rarely is something for nothing. ,