What’s Going On In This Country?

May 16, 2016 Edition
BY: SANTIAGO VERDUGO

Holy cow!

Bad news and worse news! My mom posted my handsome self in the want ads for cat adoptions from the  Humane Society last issue.

I want to make this perfectly clear: I am not up for grabs. I have a very good gig here and I know it. All I have to do is hustle out and get the news of what’s happening in Mexico, write up about 1000 words, and then fall back to nap position. And eat. The chow here is pretty good.

But I will allow I was slacking off a bit on my column, dipping down to 800 words, missing my quota. Well, this issue I hustled up 2,200 words, I want it on record that I’m back at work.

So that’s the bad news. And the worse news? Nobody even showed up at the Humane Society wanting me!

I am a fine spaceman of male catness, and I can type a blazing eight words a minute, which is pretty good for someone with no fingers. Why wouldn’t I be in great demand? Don’t tell my mom nobody inquired about me, I wouldn’t want her to think she has the upper hand.

 

Canada reneges on promise to Mexico. One of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises was to stop requiring Mexicans to obtain a visa to visit that country. That law, imposed in 2009, greatly pissed off  Mexicans, so much that it strained international relations.  It was seen as an easy campaign promise to fulfil, but now it’s threatening to torpedo the June 29 meeting between in Canada between President Barack Obama his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, and Canadian PM Trudeau. The dispute became so contentious that Pena Nieto cancelled a visit to Ottawa and Calgary in 2014 over the issue.The Canadian government says it is working on the matter and that it remains committed to restoring visa-free travel for Mexicans.

Canada imposed visa requirements on travellers from Mexico and the Czech Republic without warning in July 2009, blaming skyrocketing refugee claims from the two countries. The anger only grew after the Conservatives, in response to threats from the European Union over free trade, lifted the Czech visa requirements in November 2013, but kept them on Mexico. Nearly 1,000 Mexicans a month were arriving in Canada and filing for asylum, the most of any country. Processing those claims, both successful and unsuccessful, cost more than $400 million a year.

Canada has not said what the hold-up has been in reinstating visa-free travel, but it seems clear there are concerns that doing so will result in a new flood of unfounded asylum claims. In the House of Commons this week, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel cited department figures showing that before visas were required, one in four Mexican visitors was applying for refugee status. It is now fewer than one in 100. Visa officers have also been rejecting five per cent of Mexican visa requests for fear the travellers will not leave Canada after their visit. The department says its preferred threshold for visa-free countries is less than two per cent. After the visa was introduced, the number of claims fell to 1,199, the cost plunged from $304 million to $44 million; immigration violations dropped from 9,000 in 2006 to 3,500 in 2010, according to a 2012 evaluation of the program. The number of violations is part of the criteria the Immigration Department uses when deciding whether or not to remove visa restrictions — they look at an average of how many visas are refused and how many people violated immigration rules over the last three years.

Of course none of these statistics makes Mexico less demanding of visa free entry to Canada.

The latest edition of Mexico’s most important travel trade show, Tianguis Turístico, celebrated last month in Guadalajara, has been billed as the most successful in its 41-year history. Attended by 910 travel service providers, 1,605 buyers and 9,413 people from 79 countries, the trade show managed to nail down more than 37,000 business appointments, a new record on all fronts, said the Tourism Secretariat.

The presence of 32 Asian buyers was a welcome sign given Mexico’s interest in diversifying into that market, particularly China, India and south Korea. What, Gringos are chopped liver now?

While the importance of international tourism was emphasized during the four-day show, the Enrique Peña Nieto administration also focused upon the importance of the domestic market during the traditional low seasons. Yup, we’re chopped liver, we don’t even come in ahead of domestic travelers. Altogether, off season represents 9 million empty airplane seats, 200 million empty bus seats and 93 million unoccupied hotel rooms every year. This is why Mexican tourists are sought after, they fill in the cracks very nicely. Deals have been made with firms such as Aeroméxico, Volaris and Price Travel through which air fares will be discounted up to 50%, providing an incentive for more Mexicans to travel.

It was announced that the Tianguis Turistico will be returning in 2017 to Acapulco, which hosted the event every year between 1975 and 2011, until drug cartel mayhem there got out of control. But after protests from the city’s business owners, the government decided that Acapulco will be tried again.

“We are proud of the return of Tianguis to Acapulco because it shows that we have what it takes, that we have the trust of the federal tourism authorities and of the industry, and it enables us to showcase all the positive factors that differentiate Acapulco and that deserve attention,” gushed Ernesto Rodriguez Escalona, the state Secretary of Tourism. “The event will give us the opportunity to show an improved infrastructure and world-class tourist offering”

Good luck with that: when the trade show pulled out, the convention center was turned into HQ for soldiers who have been occupying the city. As if that isn’t enough hand writing on the wall, two weeks ago the head of the Acapulco cartel was found hiding out in San Jose with his family.. Seems even he was too afraid to be in Acapulco. He has been arrested.

It’s about damn time. After eight months of screwing around, the U.S. Senate has finally confirmed veteran diplomat Roberta Jacobson as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, filling a crucial diplomatic post that has been vacant all these months.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former Republican presidential candidate, had blocked Jacobson’s nomination all these months because of her role in implementing the Obama administration’s push to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Rubio is Cuban and he opposed normalization of relations. But following negotiations this week, Rubio agreed to withdraw his hold and the confirmation then sailed through the Senate as part of a procedural motion known as unanimous consent.

Jacobson is widely respected in Mexico and in U.S. diplomatic circles because of her knowledge of Latin America, her fluency in Spanish, and her deft handling of cross-border trade negotiations. In an interview with The Times late last year, Jacobson, 55, lamented leaving the ambassador’s post vacant at a time when Mexico seemed to be opening its potentially rich economy. “There are huge opportunities for Americans” thanks to structural economic reforms in Mexico, especially in the energy and telecommunications industries, she said. “The advocacy, support and visibility of a U.S. ambassador to help promote American businesses ... makes a difference,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson’s supporters in the Senate had tried to bypass Rubio’s hold on her nomination. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told his colleagues on Tuesday it was “incomprehensible” that such a vital diplomatic post remained vacant. “The longer the United States goes without having an ambassador to Mexico, the more the relationship will suffer,” he said on the Senate floor when he tried, unsuccessfully, to push Jacobson’s confirmation through. “She enjoys overwhelming support. There is no reason not to move forward.”

Jacobson was not the architect of the administration’s Cuba policy, but she was its most visible shepherd, which was her job. After Obama announced his decision in December 2014 to renew diplomatic ties with Havana, she led talks with the government of President Raul Castro.

Now it seems Marco Rubio’s hissy fit is over.

Oh for crying out loud. A buncha political protesters in Chiapas last week led to the death of two young children who were unable to get medical attention due to a highway blockade.

The brothers, aged four and six, are believed to have ingested penicillin after discovering vials of the antibiotic in a garbage dump in the indigenous community of Chanal. They were taken to a clinic in nearby San Antonio but the doctor was not present, having been detained by the highway blockade. It was those protesters at the same blockade who shortly after prevented an ambulance carrying the two boys from proceeding to a hospital in a neighboring town. The boys’ parents had found a private vehicle to make the hour-long trip instead, but the children were pronounced dead on arrival.

The protesters were members of the Ecologist Green Party who are at odds with the mayor of Chanal. They claim he has failed to keep campaign promises. However, he hasn’t been mayor for long, nor was he even elected. His wife was one of three mayors elected last year after being nominated at the last minute to fulfill gender quota requirements under election laws. All three have since resigned and their positions have been filled by men. In two cases, the men were husbands of the elected mayors.

When the ambulance carrying the two boys attempted to pass through the blockade, protesters identified the driver as a municipal employee and refused to let him pass. He was dragged from the vehicle, beaten and taken to a nearby community where according to the most recent reports was being held for a $2,000 ransom. In the meantime, after setting fire to the ambulance, the protesters were reported to have severed all communications with the city of Chanal, having cut off its electrical power, telephone service and highway access.

Hope for victims of stolen cars. A Mexican tech startup known as Dronix is teaming up with anti-auto theft firm LoJack to create a fleet of drones that can patrol the skies above Mexico City in search of stolen vehicles.

Though overall car theft has declined in Mexico, retrieving stolen vehicles remains a major challenge. Last year less than half of all the reported stolen vehicles were located. The Nissan Tsuru was the most stolen vehicle of 2015.

Dronix and LoJack think new technologies can help both the cops and insurance companies do a better job. The drones will be equipped with cameras and will have radio antennas that can help triangulate stolen vehicles. The drone will locate the car following signals emitted by the LoJack gear installed inside. Personnel from LoJack will then be alerted as to the whereabouts of the vehicle and will physicallygo to the exact location of the stolen car and work with law enforcement to retrieve it.

Now, here’s the way LoJack has worked in the U.S. for several decades: The police in most towns were given locating software by LoJack, so they can find the stolen car when the owner turns it on. No drones needed. But in Mexico the local Keystone Kops are not responsible enough to use the gear if they had it, which they wouldn’t for long because they would either screw it up or sell it for cash.

The publisher of this paper has LoJack in her truck but when it was stolen in Mexico, the local cops could not use LoJack to find it for her. So she promised the police $1000 if they would bring it back to her. It took 45 minutes for the chief of police to return with it. He took a check from her for his reward. And he kept the $7,000 in computer equipment that was inside the truck. She forgot to put return of that in the fine print.

Dirty gas. Not only is the gasoline sold in Mexico more expensive than in the United States, but its quality is substandard compared to what is sold north of the border.

All vehicle fuels sold in the U.S. must by law contain a minimum of 10% ethanol, a gasoline additive and oxygenate that reduces carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. However, the gas that is exported to Mexico are shipped without any additives.

“We purchase, as do other countries, base gasolines. Additives are added afterwards in order to comply with each country’s official standards,” said Pemex. But automotive fuels sold by Pemex contain just 2.7% oxygenates such as ethanol.  Mexico is unable to comply with that 5% because the infrastructure to process the 10 million liters of ethanol that would be needed daily does not exist. Every day, said Pablo González, 200 million liters of gasoline and diesel are consumed in Mexico.

Several specialists quoted by the newspaper El Universal agreed that fuels distributed in Mexico are low-quality and that there hasn’t been a real commitment from the authorities to improve them.

No Olympics here. Mexico’s two main television broadcasters,Televisa and TV Azteca will take a pass on airing the Olympic games from Brazil this summer.

América Móvil, the region’s biggest telecommunications company, and controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim, won exclusive broadcast rights for Latin America, except Brazil. It has resold exhibition rights to broadcasters across the region but not to the biggest Mexican television companies.

“We didn’t reach an agreement,” said América Móvil spokesman Arturo Elías Ayub, who declined to give details. The games are set to take place in August in Rio de Janeiro.

Televisa and Azteca between them control more than 90% of Mexico’s broadcast television. The Olympics will be carried on two government-owned broadcast television channels, as well as on pay TV systems and online via América Móvil’s Claro Sports website.

Mexicans are shurgging it off, as they show greater interest in the soccer World Cup than in the Olympics, in which the country isn’t a major medal winner.

No Mexican sent back. Mexico’s new ambassador to Washington plans to make a top priority helping Mexicans living in the U.S. get citizenship so they can avoid getting deported if they commit crimes. Well, yeah, Mexico doesn’t want those narly guys back. At a press conference last week Ambassador Carlos Manuel Sada said obtaining citizenship “is a very important protection mechanism” for Mexican citizens with legal residence in the U.S. because without citizenship they could still be deported for criminal acts. Well, yeah, we don’t want them either.

“A lot of people think that just because they are legal residents they are not vulnerable to deportation and that’s not the case,” the ambassador said, in remarks later published on a government website. In spite of being a legal resident, if they commit a crime they can be deported. But not if they have citizenship.

He noted that Mexico  has a “well-developed reaction mechanism” for providing assistance to Mexicans facing deportation proceedings in the U.S. The goal is that “no Mexicans are deported and that the corresponding legal process is followed.”

How much is a Mexican worth? A lot. Way more than this paltry contribution. Some of the families of Mexican tourists who were accidentally killed by government forces while touring in Egypt last year have settled for $140,000 for each precious life. 

Negotiations continue with relatives of five other tourists who Egypt says were accidentally killed by security forces. Egyptian forces mistakenly opened fire on tourists when their tour director mistakenly took them off the reservation. Survivors have told Mexican diplomats they came under fire from a plane and helicopters.

It was actually the fault of the tour company, but the Egyptian government has stepped up with the money.