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Changing money in Michoacan

A dollar is a dollar, right?

Not in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, a Pueblo Magico that I visited over the weekend in company of some relatives. My wife went into an exchange house so that my niece could change $20 to buy some souvenirs.

“No, ma’am, we don’t change anything but $50 and $100,” she was told.

The teller said that no exchange house in the city would exchange small sums of money, only big bills. My niece looked crestfallen and after further discussion, the teller agreed to change the small quantity.

As soon as my wife told me what happened, it clicked. Michoacan sees a massive quantity of profits from illicit narcotics. Actually transporting U.S. bills is a problem for crime gangs. What better way to minimize the problem than only to deal in $100 bills?

Patzcuaro, by the way, is delightful. I hadn’t been there in 30+ years and my memory was fuzzy. But we found a richer variety of handcrafts than most other places we’ve been. Perhaps not surprisingly, waiters spoke to us constantly in English. Michoacan is the home state to huge numbers of migrants to the U.S. In Chicago alone, there are 250,000 migrants from Michoacan. One man who spoke to us in English said he’d lived for 16 years in Burbank, California.

On another evening, we were with some prominent people from Michoacan, and the conversation naturally turned to security and the dominant crime group, the Knights Templar. Out came several stories the gist of which is that few people believe crime boss Nazario Moreno, known as “El Mas Loco,” was really killed as the government contended in a shootout with federal police in Apatzingan in late 2010. Several years ago, I wrote about Moreno as one of the most colorful of Mexico’s underworld figures.


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Mary Ellen

This area, as with most places where there is a huge influx of foreigners, esp. Americans, is one of the more expensive places to live in Mexico.
So people like me avoid those areas so we don't get soaked by the locals.

Felipe Zapata

To Hana: I know that family. They lived two blocks from me. Before moving to Uruguay, and after in emails to me, they never said anything about gangs harassing them. Their kid, an arrogant, spoiled brat in his early 20s, often antagonized the cops with his snarky attitude. The kid also knocked up one of the local girls here in the neighborhood, and I imagine that is why they high-tailed it to Uruguay although they never mentioned specifically why they left.


Forget the money (or get your cash with your card, at the bank!), see the beauty!

Georgia Conti

There's more to the story about the family Hana mentions. The son had a difficult time growing in the US and here in Michoacan, if he ever did. Shame on you for not checking facts better.

I am a serious birder and comb the countryside alone. Never once have I been afraid. Nor have I seen anything illegal while birding.

I have had narco neighbors next to me in West Seattle and I had narcos next to me here in my village. While I couldn't get police to do anything about the Seattle thugs, I can say those in my village were gone within 4 days.

Too bad Tim J and his group don't speak some Spanish and use only US dollars. Good grief, we're in Mexico after all.

David Haun

Yellow journalism, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. (from Wikipedia)
Johnson's story has a sensational headline, no well-researched news, and exaggerations. Very few Mexicans speak English in Patzcuaro. The logic of not making change for US$20 "clicking" because of cartels, is yellow journalism at it's best.

Steve Garcia

What a juvenile "If they don't do what I want, when I want it, then I am going to throw a big tantrum and hold my breath". A misleading headline, just to slam a part of Mexico he knows nothing about. What for? To please his gringo masters in El Norte? What a wanker.

pink schnoid

David, you may be correct (although the writer's insinuation does not seem too far fetched to me at all since narcos and such related offsprings are everywhere and in fact money changing is a major narco lavo enterprise---just ask HSBC and Banamex), but the writer is not a yellow journalism guy at all....I have been reading him for years

also, English is not spoken in Michoacan?...a poco que no?...last time (only time) I was there in Patz it was so filled with old gringos I split rapidly...a great place, for sure, but too many Canadians and USA people for me, at least in winter time....I am sure there is a bit of English spoken in Patzcuaro, not that it really matters regarding the point of the article..

and of course you do not "see" the cartel...como crees?

anyway, not trying to sacarte de onda, but Mr Johnson cannot be lumped into the "yellow" bin...

David Haun

This is one of the most biased and poorly written articles I have read. To base an entire premise about drug cartels on not changing a $20 bill, is ridiculous. I have lived in Patzcuaro for 7 years and not sure what Johnson is talking about. I have never seen the cartel.
We have one English speaking waiter, in one restaurant, in Patzcuaro. English is NOT spoken in Michoacan.
Johnson's "evening conversation" probably started when HE ASKED THEM about security. That is not a "natural" conversation here. We are not bothered. If a person is not involved with the drug cartels, there are no problems in Michoacan. Most of our problems are with the USA media. who try to sell their papers with YELLOW JOURNALISM.

pink schnoid

"prominent people" get their info from the abañiles...interesting about the changing of large bills only


I have American friends who quickly abandoned Michoacan after building an expensive home and now live in Uruguay after gangs harassed them in both Pátcuaro and Morelia. The Morelia police also falsely arrested their young son and that cost $$$$ for his release. So not on my bucket list.

J Reed Brundage

As a former Pátzcuaro resident (and current Mexico City resident) I would suggest that all you have to do to get pesos is put your US debit card into any Mexcio bank ATM. There are several around Pátzcuaro's Plaza Chica

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

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