What’s Going On In This Country

BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

Leave the driving to them. Greyhound, the largest intercity bus service in the United States, has begun offering domestic service in Mexico. Grayhound is dogging it mostly in the north of the country with 13 departures a day. Another 10 departures daily will link Monterrey with stops in Texas on a Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo-Laredo-San Antonio-Austin-Dallas route. The bus company has new terminals in both Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo, offering free WiFi and charging stations for electronic devices. New buses offer three-point seat belts, free WiFi, power outlets, leather seats, guaranteed seating, and extra leg room.

Bus service in Mexico can be, and often is, nicer than the airline you flew down on, with way nicer stewardesses than the witches on Alaska who snarl, “tray tables up”, about 600 miles out so they can sit in the back of the plane and read People magazine.

Oh yuck. Celantro imported from Mexico to the United States has been proven to cause outbreaks of stomach illnesses. So the FDA sent investigators to Pueblo, an agricultural area south east of Mexico City. Sure ‘nuf, they found bad shit in the cilantro fields. Literally. They found human feces and scraps of toilet paper among the cilantro! Some fields had no sanitary facilities, others did but had no soap or toilet paper.

As a result, cilantro from Pueblo has been banned from going into the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. FDA is working with Mexican growers, explaining about providing bathroom facilities to a certain standard. When they have come up to U.S. standards, the ban will be removed. Meanwhile, no doubt the growers who are banned from shipping to the U.S. will be aggressively looking for domestic markets to dump their tainted cilantro. So if you’re eating Cilantro here in Baja, ask where your grocer or restaurateur has bought it from.

We’re from the government and we’re here to help. Two recent polls reveal how little confidence Mexican citizens have in their federal government. One found 80% didn’t believe the official version of the escape from jail by drug leader El Chapo while in another, 54% of respondents said they doubted the story. The part they didn’t believe was that about the tunnel: it was a fabrication, they thought, and he left by some other means. President Peña Nieto’s image has taken a bad hit from the escape, said 83%.

Results of the second survey, published Saturday by El Universal, showed that just 16% believed the official story and 65% think the cartel leader won’t be captured again. Corruption enabled Guzmán to escape, said 43%, while 26% believed the authorities let him out. Two per cent said they thought he had never been in jail in the first place. Although the government has offered a reward of nearly $4 million, 51% of those surveyed said they would not provide such information for fear of retaliation.

As for El Chapo himself, 12% thought he was a hero and 42% thought him a villain. But those 42% must be big T shirt buyers, because shirts with his image on them are flying off the shelves.

Frankenweed in Mexico. Competition from newly-legalized marijuana in the United States has been blamed for a shift among drug cartels in Mexico to grow opium poppies instead. Turns out Americans are way better at cultivating marijuana than Mexicans and the cartels can’t sell their inferior product anymore. But now they’ve fought back, as some Mexican growers are raising genetically altered marijuana, a sort of super marijuana, which some people are calling frankenweed. Federal Police have seized 7,000 marijuana plants said to have been genetically modified and cloned in a greenhouse operation in Jalisco.

 Colombians are behind it. There have been reports of GM marijuana being cultivated there for several years. GM pot was proving popular among Colombian farmers, and is more powerful and profitable with bigger production and better quality from the use of genetically modified seeds sourced in Europe. La Cominera, a variety developed in the Netherlands, sells for about 10 times the price of the product from the regular garden-variety plants. One grower near Cali says she can get US $54 a kilogram for La Cominera, whose levels of THC, the fun part of the plant, are as high as 18% compared to 2% to 7% for regular marijuana.

Keep ‘em coming! Mexico continues to lure U.S. visitors in record numbers despite travel warnings and news of violent drug cartel crime. American tourism to this country was up 24% last year, as we welcomed a record at 25.9 million visitors, according to U.S. Commerce Department data. The U.S. State Department issued two travel warnings last year but apparently nobody listens to them.

Mexico’s own figures, released in March, showed U.S. tourism was up, but only by 11.8%.

The exchange rate has worked in Mexico’s favor as the peso has been declining in value against the dollar since last summer.  Mexico is the top international destination for American tourists, and Canada is second.

New forms for passports and visas. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) announced new official forms to process passports, and other identity and travel documents as well as visas issued in the country and in Mexican consular offices abroad. These forms are available on the Internet page http://sre.gob.mx/ and in the offices free of charge. We will begin to use the new documents on August 3.

Bronco faces pres. Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, newly elected governor of the state of Nuevo León, travels to Mexico City to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto to participate in a meeting of elected governors. Calderón is known as El Bronco for his tough style and preference for wearing cowboy hats and chaps. And for shooting his mouth off like a horse’s ass. The meeting is organized by the National Conference of Governors. Caldeón is the seventh elected governor to be received by President Nieto. Nuevo León is located in northwestern Mexico and borders Texas.

Oil people make nice. Mexican oil company Pemex and the German company Siemens reached an agreement to end a legal dispute after almost 14 years of doing battle.. The battle was initiated by disputes over upgrades to a refinery in Nuevo Leon. Charges included allegations of bribes (what a shock!) and fake invoices. A consortium formed by Siemens and South Korea’s SK Engineering won the litigation against Pemex with compensation in the hundreds of millions of dollars, part of which goes into a trust fund to finance energy projects in Mexico and anti-corruption and environmental protection measures.

Bimbo on the rise. Get it? Ja ja. Grupo Bimbo has now acquired the Canadian firm Italian Home Bakery, based in Toronto, for an undisclosed amount. The Canadian bakery cooks up about $11 million Canadian dollars a year, and employes 100 baker people. The name Bimbo never fails to send Gringos into hysterical laughter, but in Mexico it is a family’s last name.

Some banks more bad than others. The National Commission has levied fines of more than $2.5 million on banks for illegal business practices. Of that round of fines, Banorte got his with 57 percent, followed by Bancomer, with 11 percent and Banca Afirme, with 8 percent.

Pemex gassing Japan. Everybody’s favorite gas station, Pemex, has agreed to send six million barrels of crude oil to a Japanese refining company starting next August and until next January. According to Pemex. Pemex is crowing about it while gas prices at home keep going through the roof.

AT&T creeping into Mexico.  AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV was announced, making AT&T the largest pay TV provider in the world. The global telecommunications giant also acquired Iusacell and Nextel Mexico. Industry analysts forecast AT&T may eventually buy the network Televisa. The purchase of DirecTV formalizes the entry of AT&T into Mexico.

Money laundering–say it ain’t so. Is nothing sacred in the world of corruption? According to the Wall Street Journal, Sonora governor Guillermo Padrés, and his brother Miguel are under investigation for receiving millions of dollars from a businessman linked to government contracts to provide school uniforms to the state’s public schools. The U.S. Justice Department is in on the investigation because the brothers deposited their ill gotten gains in U.S. banks. School uniforms? Really?

Our high, their low. While Gringos are enjoying the current exchange rate, the weakened peso is killing some industries. Six of 21 industries are getting clobbered, especially in printing and related industries, manufacturing of petroleum products and coal, chemicals, basic metals, manufacture of machinery and equipment as well as computer equipment and other electronic components.

Border banks close. Citigroup announced it will close the three branch offices of Banamex USA doing business on the US-Mexican border. Additionally, the company will pay a fine of $140 million for lack of money laundering controls. Apparently, if they can’t launder money, they want to pick up their marbles and go home. What ever happened to banks making their money from providing banking services, like issuing loans?

Euromoney Magazine praises HSBC. The British magazine awarded this year’s Best Investment Bank award to HSBC in recognition of the bank’s expansion of its investment banking platform and  the most complete banking services. HSBC just paid $1.25 billion forfeiture and $665 million in civil penalties for failing to monitor more than $670 billion in wire transfers and more than $9.4 billion in purchases of U.S. currency from HSBC Mexico. The bank also violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba, according to a criminal information filed in the case. Not that we want to tarnish HSBC’s award for being the Best Investment Bank, we’re just pointing out it was not all skittles and beer for the bank last week.

Mexican Peso third biggest loser. The Mexican peso was placed among the three major currencies taking a bad tumble against the U.S. dollar. The national currency fell 1.48% against the dollar. So far this year, the Mexican peso depreciated 6.92% against the American dollar, behind the Swedish crown (7.75%), the South African rand (7.99%) and the euro (8.44%).

The Bank of Mexico claims the Mexican currency has traded at record lows due to a realignment of investors seeking short-term returns, not by a  rejection of the peso.

Cactus to the rescue. Turns out, cactus is good for your skin. Some students at the University Center Mexico identified that cactus plant pigments have a protective effect against ultraviolet rays, which could be used as base ingredient to develop a sunscreen. Well, Mexico’s not going to run out of cactus any time soon, so maybe this is good news.

Mexican 3D printer hits the market. Growth of 3D printing is a big thing these days, and a Mexican company is selling their own.  The first Mexican 3D printer is priced at only  $330. The company expects to sell 3,000 printers in Mexico this year, targeting households and educational institutions. Don’t look to find one in your local Office Max here in Cabo, we’re out in the sticks.

Short pour in Mexico. What’s worse, a short pour at a gas station, or a short pour at a bar? They’re both downers. Complaints from citizens in Loreto keep growing about abuses in some service stations. People are demanding the Federal Consumer Protection Agency should increase supervision of the stations. Lack of government inspections is blamed for some stations selling incomplete liters. The problem is, more inspectors won’t help, they will just take pay offs.

Cruising cash to Loreto. Arrival of cruise ships has already become a route for economic recovery in Loreto, especially for the small enterprises. Transport, visits to places of interest, restaurants, bars, and tours of historic sites such as the town of San Javier have come out winners in the race for the cruise ship dollars.