What’s Going On In This Country?

April 18, 2016 Edition
BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

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No shit, Sherlock. The head of Mexico’s National Defense agency said in a recent interview that Mexico had made a mistake in deploying the military as part of the country’s war against drug cartels and organized crime. “Of course we have committed errors,” said Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos.  This deployment, which ramped up under former President Felipe Calderon, left Mexico’s armed forces to deal with “a problem that is not ours,” Cienfuegos said. “The military is not intended for the work against crime,” Cienfuegos said. “The army is not prepared to do the functions of the police.”

Putting “soldiers prepared for war” in the streets alongside police to face down criminals has created dangerous situations for civilians, Cienfuegos said. The strategy to fight organized crime increased troop deployments in Mexico from 20,000 to 50,000 soldiers, focusing on urban drug-trafficking hubs, rather than rural areas where drug production was concentrated.

Crowded skies. Air travel has been rising rapidly in Mexico in recent years. Total passenger volume grew 12.3% in 2015, following three consecutive years of 8.3% annual growth. Volaris has played a big role in this growth by significantly reducing the cost of airline tickets in Mexico. The rise of the middle class is also helping. Still, In 2014, the number of air trips per capita was more than eight times higher in the U.S. than in Mexico. Even within Latin America, Brazil and Chile had about twice as many air trips per capita as Mexico. This suggests there is plenty of room for growth, and sure enough, Volaris’ management believes the Mexican air travel market will continue growing at a rapid rate for the foreseeable future. Buy stock! You heard it here first!

Damage control. Mexico is going into damage control mode for their image, hoping to counter Donald Trump’s rhetoric, by swapping out its current ambassador to the U.S. for one with stronger public relatons skills. Carlos Manual Sada Solana, a seasoned diplomat and current Los Angeles Consul General, will replace the current ambassador, Miguel Basanez Ebergenyi, only eight months after Basanez’s appointment.

The change is a behind-the-scenes move to refocus the negativity in the U.S. elections. In particular Mexico is concerned this anti Mexican immigrant movement will jeorpardize trade relations. This is an effort to both improve the reputation of Mexicans in the U.S. and to protect the bilateral trade relationship.

“They are bringing in someone who is exceptionally skilled to defend Mexico. They see Mexico being bashed on trade issues and immigration, with statements about immigrants being rapists and drug dealers. They feel they need to do some crisis management so that there is no lasting damage to the relationship, went the official word in the press release.

The previous ambassador had attempted to downplay the damage that Donald Trump could do to the Mexican relationship with the U.S. This  new guy is going to deal with it head on. ‘Scuse. The word is, “Sada will  take a more proactive approach, actively reminding the U.S. that the $600 billion a year in trade with Mexico generates more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. and includes 42 cents of U.S. content for each dollar of Mexican goods imported.”

Hard working Mexicans. Mexicans worked longer hours in 2015 than workers in nearly all other industrialized countries but are still hampered in productivity and earning power by relatively low levels of education, according to a recent study issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Nearly 30 percent of Mexican employees work more than 50 hours a week on average, according to the OECD’s Better Life Index, a study on quality of life issues in OECD countries. The long hours, more than twice the OECD average, result from a corporate culture that emphasizes attendance over productivity, according to Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

All this work has not helped raise the productivity of Mexico’s workforce, however, owing in good part to the country’s low levels of worker education. Only 37 percent of adults aged 25-64 in Mexico have completed upper secondary education, according to the OECD study, while more than 75 percent of all OECD workers have, making the Mexican workforce one of the least educated among member countries.

The weak educational foundation of many Mexican workers is also reflected in the relatively low reading literacy, math and science scores–417 on an international assessment-even for those who have completed secondary education. The average OECD score is 497.

Attempts to improve the educational system have been largely unsuccessful. In 2012, for example, the current Pena Nieto administration tried to establish minimum standards for teachers, including an examination. This much-needed improvement—in a culture where teaching positions can be inherited or sold, regardless of qualifications—was bitterly contested by the teacher’s union and rescinded in mid 2015.

It gets worse. Illiteracy is more common in the poorer, rural and indigeounous states: 21% of women and 13.5% of men can’t read or write, and the state’s average for the number of years spent in school is 7.2, well below the national figure of 9.1. In the case of indigenous communities, that average drops to 3.8 years.

Americans love their tacos. It’s not just a Mexican thing. Last year Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos. That’s 490,000 miles of tacos, which could take you to the moon and back or, if you prefer, could, at 775-million pounds, equal the weight of two Empire State buildings.

You want Fluff & Fold with that?  The first American Gulf gas stations will open in Mexico City and Monterrey this July and while they will try to be competitive in their pricing, says a company spokesman, customer service will be the more important focus. Uh oh. That means bend over. But they might even do your laundry. Geeze, we would be happy if they would just catch the windshild.

Mexico general manager of Gulf, Sergio de la Vega, said the new stations will sell cell phone time and offer laundry service, depending on the region they’re in. Customers will be able to leave their dirty laundry and pick it up later, fluffed and folded.

Another offering that will set Gulf apart from the universally hated and mistrusted Pemex, will be loyalty discounts for frequent gassers.

But what people really want to hear is whether prices will come down, acknowledged de la Vega. But he said there are two factors that affect prices and the retail sellers of gas have no control over either one. Yup, for sure that means bend over.

One, he explained, is international prices and the other is taxes.

After starting in Mexico City and Monterrey, the objective is having 2,000 gas stations in three years and 20-25% of the market. Maybe in our time we will see a Gulf station in Baja, but we won’t be saving up our dirty laundry in hopes.

Looking for a job? A Gulf franchise will cost $40,000 U.S., discounted for Pemex owners who will desert over to the enemy.

Guard your sticker. You know that annual regsitration sticker you add to your U.S. license plate every year? Well, they’re getting scraped off. Why? What can you do with a curled up, used up, obviosly second hand sticker? Hard to put it on another car and pass that off as genuine, but maybe it slides by a Mexican police officer.

Most U.S. states make them hard to remove but if you want to go one better, after you stick the new one on, cut through it a few times with a razor blade. For the truly paranoid, finish your project by brushing clear nail polish over it. 

Hurricanes. Mexico’s weather station released the names of this year’s bad boys. Let’s hope in the unlikely event that we get one, it doesn’t have some stupid name like Odile.

Here is the official list:: Agatha, Blas, Celia, Darby, Estelle, Frank, Georgette, Howard, Isis, Javier, Kay, Lester, Madeline, Newton, Orlene, Paine, Roslyn, Seymour, Tina, Vigil and Winifred. We wouldn’t be excited about a hurricane named Isis, either, what’s up with that? The season ends on November 30.