What’s Going On In This Country?

September 7th, 2015
BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

Santiago_1.jpgNow, I’m as patriotic as the next Mexican, I’ve certainly been known to wave the bandera for the Republic, but wearing this stereotype sombrero is where I draw the line. My mom is a Gringa, (I’m actually adopted), and if you ask me, she’s jealous of my status as a Mexie. That’s why every Independence Day she has to dress me up in what she refers to as my native clothing. Fur is my native clothing, hellloooo!

This year she stuck the damn hat on me and held me so tight I couldn’t get away until someone snapped a picture of my humiliation.

You can just bet that next year I will see this coming and take a hike til after the holiday on September 16.

 

No thanks, we’d rather starve. Top Mexican chefs urged the president to join them in their opposition to genetically modified corn in a country where fully 34% of this important staple has to be imported. About 100 well known chefs hopped on this bandwagon.

Last year Mexico  temporarily banned cultivation of the crops in which some genes are modified to make them hardier or make them work better with a particular pesticide. But a judge ruled a week later  to suspend the temporary hold.

While supporters say the modified crops may bring larger yields, detractors worry that the crop itself could be unhealthy for humans, and that pesticides will sully their farmland and water supply. Some social groups and environmental organizations have protested, calling for the ban to be permanent.

“Growing these products undermines the biodiversity of our native corn grains and endangers their very existence,” the chefs said in a statement. Mexico is a leading producer of white corn from which tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet, are made.

President’s numbers dropping. President Peña Nieto’s strategists had predicted that his changes in the oil and telecom industries would produce growth rates of 5 to 6 percent, but expectations keep dropping.  While preparing this year’s budget, the government predicted growth rates of 3.7 percent, although so far this year growth has hobbled along at only 1.6 percent. This has taken a political toll. A poll in the Reforma newspaper found Peña Nieto’s approval rating had fallen to 34%, down from 39% in March, reaching the lowest point since he took office in December 2012.

A UNAM professor sums it up thusly: “We have an economy that practically has not grown in two-and-a-half years,” said Jonathan Heath, an economics professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.  “And that has bothered a lot of people, because the government promised that we were going to grow.” Well, look, every campaign promises that. And anyway, what’s wrong with a 34 percent rating? He was elected by only 38% of the vote, so he hasn’t slid that much.

Part of the reason for the economic growth failure has to do with disappointment with petroleum. Mexico waited to denationalize their oil industry until the price of oil skidded to record lows. The big oil companies are closing their wallets, afraid to bid on Pemex’s offers.

What are we, chopped liver? Move over, Colima, Mérida has moved into the top spot on the National Quality of Life Index, a measurement of the best and t1he worst cities in Mexico in which to live. The capital of Yucatán edged up from last year’s second place to oust Colima, the capital of the state with the same name, which plunged to sixth place in the fourth annual survey of Mexico’s most habitable cities. Mérida scored 83.3 points out of 100 on an index based on residents’ views about housing, schooling, mobility, cleanliness, recreational opportunities, citizen coexistence, museums and historical places, natural beauty, quality of life compared to last year and quality of life compared to the rest of the country. Well, we’ll take Cabo over some dumpy city over on the mainland.

What is wrong with these people?  A recent poll asked, “If you were offered a meal of turtle eggs, whose possession is illegal, would you eat them? 3% said they would gulp them right down, yes indeedy, screw the turtles. 97% claimed they wouldn’t, but there is such a thriving black market for turtle eggs, you know half of that 97% is lying their ass off.

Let’s clap them in jail. As nine state governors prepare to leave office after completing their six year terms later this year, it seems most of them are taking a big chunk of their state’s funds with them. The governors of Michoacán, Colima, Nuevo León, Querétaro, Sonora, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Campeche and our own Baja California Sur, have yet to account to the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) for some dodgy expenditures, which amount to the not insignificant sum of $972.8 million U.S.

The most common irregularities detected by the auditor include bank transfers to unauthorized accounts, the absence of refunds from interest income or under spending, overpriced and/or under used purchases, spending in areas other than those originally intended, or payments made to unqualified teaching and medical staff.

The governor of Michoacán is the biggest thief, according to ASF data: expenditures of 7.8 billion pesos have yet to be explained by the government of former governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, who left office early for health reasons. Yeah, it’s unhealthy to live in jail and he loses his immunity the day he leaves office. A head start is a good thing.

The state Finance Secretary claims that the current administration inherited debt from the previous one, a situation that has only worsened since. He also accepted the amount claimed by the auditor’s office, but while the current government will try to clarify its expenditures, it is likely that the governor-elect will be inheriting the anomalies, which will add to the state’s indebtedness.

Under tepid investigation here is a questionable payment of 1.7 million pesos from a health services fund to pay six medical specialists who couldn’t prove their qualifications and were thus deemed unfit for the positions for which they were hired.

The total of the funds in question is almost as much as the budget of the entire state of Aguascalientes for the 2015 fiscal year, 17.2 billion pesos. The Federal Auditor’s Office 1says that as of this week none of the nine states has rectified or explained the anomalies and misappropriation of federal resources.

Cancun beaches, well, no day at the beach. Removing the foul-smelling, fly-infested mounds of seaweed washed up on the beaches of Quintana Roo continues, and with no end in sight. The much larger than normal volume of sargassum seaweed, which has turned beaches all over the Caribbean from pristine white to coffee brown, keeps on coming.

Authorities in the state say they have gathered up more than 22,000 cubic meters of sargassum in Cancún alone. Every day, laborers and machinery head out to the beaches to collect seaweed, and every day more of the crap arrives. One official predicts it will continue for some months to come. One positive offshoot is that a temporary employment program has been created to recruit the labor required to deal with it. The 4,000 jobs created have been 80% filled.

Another negative outcome, other than the stink and the ding to tourism, is the collateral damage. Environmental authorities are investigating the deaths of sea turtles on the beach in Playa del Carmen after heavy equipment tracks were found at the scene. However, it’s not just the backhoes that can kill the turtles. There have been reports of newly hatched turtles betting tangled and trapped in the seaweed itself.

Across the Caribbean tourists have been canceling their summer holidays, persuaded by hordes of biting sand fleas and the pungent smell of decaying seaweed, likened to rotten eggs, to stay away.

No one has been able to pinpoint the precise reason for the phenomenon, which has been worsening in recent years. Climate change and nutrients and pollutants that fertilize the weed have both been identified. Back in Quintana Roo, with the big winter tourist season just around the corner, authorities are planning a meeting next week to review the situation and consider other strategies for addressing it. One strategy being studied by the Cancún and Puerto Morelos Hotels Association is to have boats out at sea gather up the sargassum before it arrives. The group is anxiously awaiting the results of a study because the region’s most important tourism fair is coming up in early October.

Meanwhile, some visitors are taking it in their stride. “The smell of seaweed is terrible,” a German tourist told The Guardian, “but I’m enjoying the sun.” Good attitude.

The federal government, has launched an educational program aimed at Gringos. Sports fishermen, often from San Diego, have never needed to undergo inspections, passport checks or obtain tourist permits, fishing permits or other documents just to fish in Mexican waters.

Now, however, the Mexico government is warning foreign fishermen they could face a lengthy process if they ignore the new requirements. They’re threatening to tow boats not in compliance to Ensenada for processing and deporting crew and passengers. Authorities do not currently plan to charge violators with a crime, which is a break.

“It will be an inconvenience,” promised María de los Remedios Gómez Arnau, head of the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. Mexican consulates throughout California, as well as in western Canada and parts of Arizona, are working to inform people of the new regime. According to the consulates, “Mexican Navy and immigration authorities are strengthening their presence in Mexican waters.”

Some 40,000 to 50,000 tourist vessels cross into Mexico each year, says the federal government, generally for fishing but also for racing and cruising. Having long required fishing permits, the Mexican government is only now threatening to step up enforcement of the regulations. While in Mexican waters — within 12 miles of the coast — boaters will now need to carry a passport and the FMM tourist permit. The permit costs about 21 Gringo bucks.

Mexican officials have teamed up with the San Diego boating community to clarify the requirements and launched an English and Spanish language website and app last March to explain fishing and visitor permits. The Mexican government is really doing outreach to the American public to make them feel comfortable to visit their country,” Franke said. Which is why they sent us this press release and why we’re printing it here for you. Can’t say you weren’t warned.

Hot fuel? Could be. Federal authorities estimate that 30% of all gasoline and diesel sold in Mexico’s Pemex stations is stolen, a figure they hope will be reduced by new controls on fuel sales that take effect next year. The Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE), a relatively new agency created by energy reforms, will become directly responsible for combating fuel theft on January 1, when it implements a series of new measures to monitor fuel sales and distribution.

A CRE representative spoke this week at Expogas, a conference of gas station owners and operators being held in Querétaro on the mainland, to explain the new procedures, chief among them registering all commercial fuel transactions in which all gas stations must participate, although only half of Mexico’s 15,000 stations have begun the process of obtaining the permit, they will need to do so, to continue operating. Oh yeah, sure. Some stations are so crooked that when the Mexican version of the bureau of weights and measures shows up for their periodical check on the honesty of the pumps, the owners of the gas stations chase them off, refusing to cooperate. So Profeco meekly slinks away. What good is an enforcement agency that weak?

They’re claiming that due to a 90 day processing period, stations that haven’t applied by the end of September will not be allowed to operate come January 1. Want to bet how many stations will be buttoned up come next January?

Another piece of the system, which will become operational in 2018, is a website where consumers can access maps showing the locations of all the country’s gas stations, and their current prices. Yes, stations will be able to set their own prices, within a narrow range. Mexico’s 15,000 stations sell 200 million liters of gasoline and diesel per day, of which 30% is estimated to be stolen.

More Pemex news. We are all frustrated by some of the local Pemex stations’ short pour. Sometimes the gas stations get so greedy that it’s obvious our tank can’t hold as much fuel as the pump shows we just bought. But by the end of the year a smart phone app that is in beta test right now will keep track of those thieving stations. It’s community based, meaning if you think you have been cheated, you post the location of the gas station. Others will check the app before buoying fuel to see if the station they’re headed for has been accused of ripping off their customers. This should really help to put a stop to the practice. Your favorite newspaper, (that would be us, Bunky), will post those scores every issue, in case you are not smart enough to operate a smart phone. 

The Federal Electricity Commission’s (CFE) boss said yesterday that 16% of the energy it produces is stolen or lost every year, a percentage that represents a financial cost of about U.S. $3 billion. But Enrique Ochoa also said the electric utility is mad as hell and isn’t going to stand for this anymore. He says CFE plans to reduce lost electricity by 1% per year, dropping the percentage to 11% by the end of 2018. The long term goal is to get it down to below 6%, a figure that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says should be the maximum for competitive countries. The CFE says most of its losses are incurred in the Mexico City metropolitan area in the Valley of México and stem from the now-defunct Central Light and Power (LFC), which was liquidated by then-president Felipe Calderón in 2009. Its annual losses, largely due to electricity theft, ran to 30% per year or more. Losses in the Valley of México were down to 25% last year, of which 17% was due to theft. The remainder was lost through a poorly maintained transmission and distribution system, said a report published by El Financiero last June.

One of CFE’s strategies to reduce theft is the installation of new meters. Over the next 12 to 18 months it will install more than 1 million in the State of México, Tabasco and the Federal District.

CFE strikes back. CFE has been accused of setting its standard line voltage to 128 volts instead of the 115 volts in the U.S. and Canada. This allows them to save money because they can push the power farther with fewer substations. But the result is burned out light bulbs, fried electric motors, and other damage to equipment. This is a hidden tax we as consumers pay.

Take on The Donald. Mexico’s new ambassador designate to the United States said presidential candidate Donald Trump is just playing politics. “He knows that what he says is bullshit” said Miguel Basanez at a senate meeting in Mexico City. Well, we paraphrase. That’s what he wanted to say but he was too weenie. (We at the GG have never been accused of being to weenie to tell it like it is.) “Trump knows that he will have to apologize to Mexicans,” he continued. Trump claimed Mexico is intentionally sending its criminals across the border, and that he will make Mexico pay for a wall along America’s southern border if he’s elected president.

The Mexican government, however, publicly set the record straight. Spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said Trump’s comments were false. “It reflects an enormous ignorance for what Mexico represents, and also the irresponsibility of the candidate who’s saying it.” He also insisted that the majority of Mexicans in the U.S. follow the laws and make up an important part of the economy. Can we use the word bullshit one more time?

New regs for border foot traffic. You can walk, but you can’t hide. Brand new regulations for pedestrian border crossings from San Diego to Tijuana require presentation of a valid passport, filling out paperwork, and a fee of $330 pesos if you stay longer than a week. Officials say they are just enforcing Mexican law in a more organized fashion. Now, for the first time, foreigners will be processed in separate lines from Mexican nationals.

American criminals who want to escape into Mexico will have a much tougher time, as you have to check into the country, not just check out. Border inspectors claim more than 120 Americans expelled from Mexico this year while living in the Mexican State of Baja California had arrest warrants in the U.S. Now, inspectors will tap into international criminal databases.

Some people are concerned about clogged lines for the estimated 25,000 pedestrians and 50,000 motorists crossing the border daily from San Diego into Tijuana and that sounds like a legitimate concern.

Polls damaging for Nieto. President Nieto’s approval rating is down, according to Pew Research (a nonpartisan American think tank in D.C. if there is such a thing, and there isn’t). Despite an ambitious reform program, Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has suffered a small scandal, controversies, and corruption that have disappointed Mexicans. Fewer people think the government is making progress against the drug cartels and education reform, and Nieto now has only a 44 percent favorable opinion rating, well below the 51 percent he had in 2014, but still ahead of the 38% plurality he was elected with.

The Pew people reported that while Peña Nieto has sought to advance new measures against corruption in recent months, his government has also been rocked by scandals over the past year, including allegations of irregularities surrounding his home being built by a Chinese company that won a contract for a rail line. 

Increase in prices is the main concern of Mexicans as well as crime, unemployment, corrupt political leaders, violence related to drug cartels, and corrupt police. The research was based on interviews with 1,000 adults aged 18 and over, conducted in April.

Nieto makes case on video. President Nieto is using YouTube to air a series of 18 videos to address issues such as education, economy, security, government actions, and jobs.

On the subject of education reform, Nieto said that it is the most important topic. “Education reform advances throughout the country to provide a better future for the children of Mexico,” said the president. Speaking about the issue of security, the video says that homicides dropped 24 percent, to the lowest rate in six years.

In the video about the economy, the president noted that thanks to energy and telecommunications reform there is more competition and investment, which has resulted in lower prices of telephone, electricity and more jobs. “But not enough, I admit,” he said. “Mexico still is not moving at the speed we all want.” He added, “There are three brakes that are holding the country from that: corruption, inequality, and a global downturn reflected in a fall in oil prices.” Mostly the latter. Mexico finally unchained their oil industry just as the world wide oil industry has hit the dumpsters. Mexico’s timing could not have been worse. The last two presidents tried to free the industry but the lefty liberals wouldn’t let him. Now it’s too late. Sigh.

Poverty rates down. The country has reduced its level of extreme poverty from 9.3 to 3.7 percent in the last 15 years. This, says the resident coordinator of the United Nations in this country, Marcia de Castro, is one of the greatest success stories in contemporary history. During a presentation at the 2015 UN Progress Report in Mexico City, she commented that the results also show that the poorest countries can progress with targeted interventions, adequate resources, and political will. “Mexico has sought to strengthen its institutional capacities, streamline its use of resources, focus on priority regions and has developed a multidimensional system for measuring poverty. The country has also coordinated its development efforts,” said de Castro.

Big fuss over a little cookie. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed never to eat another Oreo cookie because the production plant was moving from Chicago to Mexico. The truth is that Mondel–z International, parent company of Oreo, plans to invest $130 million in building four new production lines at an existing plant in Salinas Mexico, which will replace nine older production lines at its Chicago plant. The number of jobs at the Chicago plant will go from about 1,200 to about 600, but the plant in Chicago will remain open. Well, tell that to the 600 cookie bakers who are watching their jobs move south. There is a reason why The Donald is popular. We’re not saying it’s a good reason, but there is a reason.

GDP falls. Mexico’s growth forecast is down. The gross domestic product will expand 2 percent, down from a May forecast of 2.2 to 3.2 percent. In the face of the drastic currency decline and a slump in oil output, the country seeks ways to boost the economy.

Meanwhile, a survey by pollster Parametria shows that most Mexicans believe the economic woes are due to bad management by the Mexican government, and that most of the population believes that the Mexican peso will not soon recover against the dollar. Although analysts said the depreciation of the peso against the dollar is the fault of global positioning, 31% of Mexicans think it is the fault of the Mexican government, while 21% said it is due to the economic crisis that exists in Greece and other countries. Geeze, these people have got to quit facebooking and go read the real news and learn what’s going on in the world.

Farmers get pep talk. President Nieto has said farmers in Mexico have the government as an ally to support them. “We want a prosperous country and a fair field, where productivity and wealth creation help reduce poverty and inequality,” he said.

Since 2013, the Mexican government’s main objective has been to help increase the production and productivity of small farms through an incentive program. So far, 267,000 hectares have been modernized to increase crop productivity. Our publisher recently returned from a trip to the mainland of Mexico where she took pictures of three different farmers plowing with donkeys. She was blown away. She’s saying what is needed in Mexico is capital to buy machinery to small farmers or Mexico will never catch up to what she calls the real world.

Another area of support for farmers is marketing assistance both domestically and internationally. For example, tequila, strawberries, lime, and grapefruit can be profitably sent to countries like China, Japan, USA and Korea. Like the Gringa says, “How’s a guy driving a donkey going to sell his carrots in Korea? C’mon, Mexico, let’s get it together,” she will say.  It makes her crazy while we Mexicans in the GG office just accept it. Then our acceptance makes her even crazier. What are we supposed to do? I will look on my friends’ facebook pages for the answers, which will drive her around the bend.