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The expanding longevity of Mexicans

It’s a good time to talk about death. Day of the Dead is just around the corner.

Older Mexicans have seen an astounding transformation in when their day of reckoning comes.

In 1930, life expectancy for Mexicans was 34 years. By 2010, Mexican men were living an average 73.1 years while Mexican women were hitting 77.8 years.

These figures are courtesy of the National Statistics Institute, which provided some other tidbits in a report this week fitting to the theme of Day of the Dead.

In 2010, the most recent year for statistics, 592,000 Mexicans died. Men, it may come as no surprise, are dying in greater numbers than women. On average, the institute says, 132 men die for every 100 women.

But in the age range of 25-29, the gap spreads to 378 men die for every 100 women.

The most common cause of death in Mexico is diabetes, which takes 14 percent of those who die, it said.

Among kids aged 5 to 14, a high number get killed in auto accidents, either run over by vehicles or killed in crashes. It is the cause of 12.8 percent of their deaths. That category kills 16 percent of young people aged 15 to 29.

Of Mexicans who died a violent death, 70.8 percent were killed by a firearm, 10.1 percent were stabbed to death, 5.5 percent were asphyxiated and 13.6 percent were killed some other way.

I’ll let you get back to your pan de muerte and your chocolate skulls now.


Day of the Dead antics


We were out over the weekend and saw this motorcyclist at an intersection. You can't see it well but he was wearing a skeleton mask under his huge horned helmet. It's a fun time of the year, like Halloween on steroids, here in Mexico with the Day of the Dead coming up later in the week. If you're curious about Day of the Dead celebration, this site will tell you all you need to know. Believe it or not, this will be the first time I'm actually in Mexico for Day of the Dead celebrations. Every other year since 2010, I've been called away. 

Improving life for handicraft artisans

With the help of a global development organization called Counterpart International, some of the one million Guatemalan women whose livelihood is based on making handcrafts are getting a better deal. Some of their handcrafts ended up recently at the International Gift Fair in New York City. This video struck a chord with me. When I worked for The Miami Herald in the 1990s, I once went up to the devastated Ixil Triangle of Guatemala to do a story on women contracted by a major U.S. designer (I can't remember which one now) to knit sweaters that would be sold on Fifth Avenue. The Ixil Triangle was ground zero in the Guatemalan army's scorched earth campaign against leftist rebels in the early 1980s.


Mexico City's stance on the Caspian (?!)

Some big cities seem to set their own foreign policy. Miami comes to mind with the fierce anti-Castro bent of its residents. Boston favors all things Irish. Vancouver has a soft spot for mainland China.

Add Mexico City to the list. It’s high on Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, you may have read, paid City Hall here around $5 million and in return got a huge statue of its founder, Heydar Aliyev, placed at the entrance to Chapultepec Park. Another momument went up at Plaza Tlaxcoaque. City Hall’s interest has generated some outcry, particularly among Armenian-Mexicans. Click here for the story I wrote earlier this week.

I never thought upon arriving in Mexico in 2010 that I’d have to research the tense relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, rivals in the South Caucasus region.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. As a young copyeditor at the newspaper in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the late 1970s, I remember the day the multi-volume complete encyclopedia of Armenia arrived in the newsroom – unsolicited – a sign of the strong Armenian lobby in the U.S.

Even now, one of my McClatchy colleagues, Michael Doyle, who focuses partly on our newspapers in California’s Central Valley, has Armenian issues on his plate constantly. That area is home to many Armenian-Americans.

I just got an email from a spokesman for the Azerbaijan foreign ministry (That’s a sentence I’ll probably never write again!). He was unhappy with my article.

“The so-called public protests you refer to are yet again provocative acts by the Armenian diaspora in Mexico that are sponsored by Mr Sarukhan, due to his Armenian ethnicity. It seems that Republic of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have launched a campaign against Azerbaijani monuments.”


I wasn’t at first sure of the reference to “Mr. Sarukhan,” but now assume it is a reference to Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to Washington. The Sarukhan family is prominent. Sarukhan’s father, Jose, a biologist, was rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the largest in Latin America.

It is important to bear in mind that the two monuments do not in any way cause discomfort to the wider public of Mexico City. They are located in places where ordinary people come and rest. The so-called protesters do not represent the wider general public of Mexico City but are a handful of Armenian diaspora based in Mexico. These people can't speak on behalf of Mexico City residents as they don't represent general public. I view this as an intentionally organized PR campaign aimed to damage the friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Mexico.


I’m happy to offer the spokesman, Polad Mammadov, space here but I think he is mistaken about why this issue has generated interest. It isn’t because of the Azerbaijan-Armenia rivalry. Rather, in my view, it is that Mexico City exalts a Soviet-era leader who was a former KGB general, repressive of free speech and not much given to democracy. Indeed, in a move fitting of dynastic succession, his son is now Azerbaijan’s leader.



Using volunteers to fight drugs

Here's a short news video from Al Jazeera English on the use of community volunteers to help fight the drug gangs invading Central America.

The still-ubiquitous pay phone

PayphoneRemember these? Your kids soon won’t.

Roll in to a gas station in the United States or Canada, and odds are that the phone booth will be a hollowed out shell. As the cell phone prevails, pay phones are vanishing (though, believe it or not, there are still some 500,000).

It's different in Mexico. As I took my daughter to the bus stop this morning, I counted the pay phones. Every corner at her intersection had multiple pay phones. In fact, within a one-block radius, I counted 26 pay phones. They are part of the landscape. But none were in usage.

Used to be that one would see lines of Mexicans waiting to use the pay phones. No longer. According to this website, pay phone usage has collapsed here, too. Cell phone usage has hit 85 percent, that is to say 85 of every 100 people have one.

So it won’t be long before the pay phones in Mexico begin to vanish as well.


The curious case of El Lazca's body

Authorities in the past day have collected tissue samples from relatives of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, founder and jefe supremo of the furious Los Zetas crime gang.

Why are they doing this?

Lazcano was allegedly gunned down Oct. 7 near a baseball field in the dusty town of Progreso in Coahuila state, but authorities let the body slip out of their grasp less than half a day later. Gangsters broke into a mortuary and stole the body.

Authorities have sworn up and down that the man a naval infantry unit killed is indeed Lazcano, widely known as El Lazca. President Calderon, Interior Secretary Poire, U.S. Ambassador Tony Wayne and others have all affirmed this, saying fingerprints on file matched those of the body.

Yet still they feel compelled to test either tissue or blood from the dead man (perhaps from bloody clothing left at the mortuary) with the DNA of Lazcano’s relatives.

This latest development is likely only to fuel doubts about the case, which are running high. The Parametria polling firm released a survey today taken Oct. 13-17 shows that only one out of four Mexicans believes that the navy killed Lazcano Oct. 7.

I traded emails this morning with Scott Stewart, the VP for tactical intelligence for Stratfor, and he, too, has some doubts. Here’s part of what he wrote:

"If this is about public opinion then why not just release the fingerprint charts? To me that seems a lot easier than exhuming bodies and most people would consider fingerprint matches to be sufficient evidence. Fingerprints, especially a comparison of a complete set of prints seems far less controversial than DNA matching.

I am also wondering if this exhumation is not some sort of strange retribution for Lazca's body being stolen."


Opening doors to Mexican opera

This is a really lovely short video about two American opera professionals who are nurturing opera singers in San Miguel de Allende, the artsy colonial city in central Mexico that is home to many expats. This video is under five minutes long and very professionally and lovingly done. Click here for the Washington Post story that accompanies the video.

Americans in Mexico ready to vote

Here's a report from Angela Kocherga from Houston station KHOU on Americans in San Miguel de Allende getting ready to cast their ballots. My experience is that expats are as interested or even more interested in U.S. elections than their counterparts back home.


A dwindling U.S. press corps in Mexico

The future suddenly looks dimmer for those hungry for English-language news of Mexico. The press corps in Mexico City has just grown immeasurably smaller.

Last week was the final week for the Houston Chronicle’s longtime Mexico City bureau chief, Dudley Althaus, who has been in Mexico City for about 23 years.

Like all newspapers, the Hearst Corp.’s Houston Chronicle has faced huge financial challenges with an erosion of readers and advertising. According to Dudley, the Chron has decided to go intensely local, focusing on a 100-mile radius of Houston. So they shut their Mexico bureau as of Friday and Dudley is no longer employed.

From my perspective, such a decision is short-sighted. To understand the importance of Mexico to Texans, consider:

/ 807,600 jobs in the state of Texas depend on trade with Mexico.

/ Texas exports $72 billion worth of goods and services to Mexico each year.

/ And of course, Houston’s oil and energy companies do billions of dollars of business with Mexico annually.

Yet the economics of running newspapers these days is very complicated. And that is hurting those who want Mexico explained to them in English by veteran journalists imbued in the culture, politics and history of the country.

Increasingly, news consumers have to turn to blogs, specialty publications and news aggregators to find news of Mexico. McClatchy stands alongside the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News and NPR in maintaining staff correspondents here. We try to dig a little deeper than the steady flow of factual reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, AFP and the BBC.

Dudley has always been one of the more poetic writers of the group. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992, and his forte has been delving into issues of poverty and human rights. He knows Mexico probably better than any of the rest of us. He mixed the sensibilities of an Ohio-bred Navy veteran with deep compassion for and understanding of Mexico.

There’ll be no more Chronicle stories from Dudley. Thankfully, he is staying in Mexico and likely will find several outlets that hunger for his expertise. But the dwindling of such fulltime correspondents is sad news to those who understand how closely the fates of the United States and Mexico are linked.



This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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