What’s Going On In This Country?

BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

Santiago_0.jpgLeave 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. Cilantro imported from Mexico to the United States has been proven to cause outbreaks of stomach illnesses. So the FDA sent investigators to Puebla, 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 Puebla 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.

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.

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?

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?

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.