Mexico's latest ad campaign

Check out the latest promo video for Mexico City, put out by the Mexico Tourism Board. This item from the Board says the campaign will target the United States and Canada, and will be based on tourist accounts of their travels. A colleague of mine notes on Facebook that she finds it curious the use of women in these ads. Is it that women promote an image of security? Make the travel decisions? Find Mexico's charms more interesting?

I don't know. But it looks like Mexico is also trying to gear up for a greater flow of Chinese tourists. At about the time that President Xi Jinping visited Mexico in early June, Tourism Minister Claudia Ruiz opened her doors to Chinese journalists. Below is the piece that appeared on CCTV Channel 9 in English, which reaches the English-speaking population in China and around the world. The piece most certainly would have appeared on one of the many Mandarin channels operated by CCTV as well as the Spanish language one.


Altitude+smog=tough marathon

020713 MANCERA-MARATÓN 08Mayor Miguel Mancera wants the annual marathon in Mexico City to regain some lost luster. The marathon, scheduled this year for Aug. 25, is not ranked among the world’s most important races.

At an event Tuesday, Mancera bemoaned the lack of prestige for the local foot race.

“I must say, we're not even among the top 100 marathons in the world. We can’t let this go on because it is a very important marathon, a marathon that serves as training for other marathons. The altitude and the route of the race make it worthy of much attention,” Mancera said.

Mancera said nearly 10,000 runners have signed up for the race but that he is hoping for 20,000 by race time.

Mexico City is no doubt a challenging venue for a race. First off is the elevation: 7,900 feet above sea level, high enough to make runners gasp for breath. The altitude “can add up to 10 minutes to a runner’s overall time,” according to this website. Second is the smog. On most days, a haze covers the city.

Click here for the Runner's World list of the world’s top 10 marathons.


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.


A convergence of celebrity first ladies

"Laundry Song" Performed by Peng Liyuan from HPeaks on Vimeo.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Mexico tomorrow for an official state visit, at his side will be Peng Liyuan, his graceful wife who is a star in her own right.

Peng is an opera and folksinger known to hundreds of millions of Chinese for her television appearances on Chinese New Year, and she is the object of incessant chatter on the internet about her clothing, beauty and general image.

There is more than a slight parallel with Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto is also married to a woman known to millions of Mexicans as a television idol. Pena Nieto’s wife, Angelica Rivera, has been kept largely under wraps since the Mexican leader took office Dec. 1, with the exception of a few appearances as titular head of a federal family social welfare organization.

Apparently Peng, who you can see in the video above, has been a big fan of Mexican soap operas, so one of her activities on Tuesday will be visiting the studios of Televisa to watch a soap opera taping. At her side, of course, will be Rivera, who is known to Mexicans as La Gaviota, or sea gull, for her part in a widely viewed drama.

There are other similarities between the two couples. In both cases, the wives were used in polished media campaigns to boost the images of their husbands.

Peng, however, appears to do more heavy lifting on behalf of her husband. An Agence France-Presse story filed out of Trinidad, Xi’s first stop on a swing that also took him to Costa Rica and will end in the United States later this week, said Peng was taking the limelight of the visit.

"She's a very beautiful person, very warm, and to chat with her in English was very wonderful," Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said after meeting Peng.

Chinese censors stay atop of Peng’s image. Case in point: In March, a photo appeared on the internet of a younger Peng singing to martial law troops following the crack down on Tiananmen Square democracy protesters. The photo was quickly scrubbed from the internet. Coincidentally, Peng and Xi arrive in Mexico June 4, the anniversary of the bloody quashing of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising.

A note about the video above: In this 2007 performance, Peng dresses in native Tibetan costume, backed by a chorus of Han Chinese also dressed as Tibetans, and sings of the glories of the People’s Liberation Army. She comes on after about 50 seconds, and there are English subtitles. Tibetans find such performances offensive, and say it is akin to white singers putting themselves in “black face” to portray people of African descent.

But it is par for the course in mainland China, where ethnic minorities (comprising only 8.5 percent of the 1.3 billion population) are often seen as objects of fascination and but also viewed as backward and inferior to majority ethnic Han.


Arizona mother freed from prison

Yanira Maldonado, the Mormon mother of seven from Arizona who was arrested at a roadblock in Sonora last week, went free late Thursday and crossed the border early this morning, according to the Arizona Republic.

Maldonado had been accused of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana, a charge that her family members and lawyers said was a set-up.

According to this morning's Arizona Republic story, a judge released Maldonado after viewing a surveillance video that showed Maldonado boarding the bus. Other news stories indicated that she wasn't carrying any package that could conceal 12 pounds of pot.

Maldonado's case drew a lot of attention. She and her husband had traveled from the Phoenix area to attend a family funeral in Los Mochis in Sonora state last week. They took a bus because they were tired when they had to make the sudden trip and thought the bus would be safe. As I noted in a previous post, bus lines and employees have regularly smuggled marijuana under passenger seats.

The video above was apparently taken beside a hotel pool this morning around 2:30 a.m. in Nogales, Arizona. I'm sure that family is quite relieved that their ordeal is over.


Packing dope under bus seats

You may have seens stories or TV newscasts about a U.S. mother of seven from Arizona who's been arrested in Sonora for allegedly trafficking marijuana under her bus seat. The incident occurred May 22 when Yanira Maldonado and her husband Gary were returning home to Arizona from a funeral. Outside Hermosillo, the state capital, soldiers at a roadblock said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under their bus seat.

The Mormon couple has alleged their innocence and some 12,000 supporters have signed a Facebook page for her release (the husband, curiously, was not charged). The husband, according to this news report, says a judge asked for thousands of U.S. dollars to free the 42-year-old wife. A daughter told CNN she doesn't think her mother has "ever even tried a cigarette in her life or even drank a beer."

What is striking about this case -- besides how apparently clean living Americans have gotten snared in Mexico's judiciary -- is how often marijuana seems to be smuggled under bus seats in Mexico. It seems to be a perfect tactic for bus companies and drivers in cahoots with smugglers. In one case two years ago, a bus carried half a ton of marijuana carefully hidden under the seats of some 20 unwitting passengers. I don't immediately find other examples but remember reading of this every few months.

If you take a bus in Mexico, check under the seat before you settle in. 

Maldonado's case, meanwhile, is drawing lots of attention. It came up at a press briefing Tuesday at the State Department, the Mexican Embassy in Washington issued a statement saying that her "due rights" are being respected, and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake's office sent me a statement that he "has been in contact with the family, as well as officials in Mexico and the U.S. regarding the case. He will continue to monitor the situation.”



'New president is serious about reform'

Obama Congress_Nost
President Obama offered a press conference a few hours ago, and the subject of Mexico came up only at the very end even though Obama will be landing here in Mexico City on Thursday for about 24 hours.

Here is the transcript of his remarks on Mexico, in response to a question from Antonieta Cadiz, a Chilean correspondent. She asked how the U.S. felt about Mexico saying Monday that all future contact with U.S. law enforcement will now go through a single gateway, the Mexican Interior Secretariat:

When it comes to Mexico, I’m very much looking forward to taking the trip down to Mexico to see the new President, Peña Nieto. I had a chance to meet him here, but this will be the first, more extensive consultations and it will be an opportunity for his ministers, my Cabinet members who are participating to really hammer out some of these issues.

A lot of the focus is going to be on economics. We’ve spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border. We want to see how we can deepen that, how we can improve that and maintain that economic dialogue over a long period of time.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be talking about security. I think that in my first conversation with the President, he indicated to me that he very much continues to be concerned about how we can work together to deal with transnational drug cartels. We’ve made great strides in the coordination and cooperation between our two governments over the last several years. But my suspicion is, is that things can be improved.

And some of the issues that he’s talking about really had to do with refinements and improvements in terms of how Mexican authorities work with each other, how they coordinate more effectively, and it has less to do with how they're dealing with us, per se. So I’m not going to yet judge how this will alter the relationship between the United States and Mexico until I’ve heard directly from them to see what exactly are they trying to accomplish.

But, overall, what I can say is that my impression is, is that the new President is serious about reform. He’s already made some tough decisions. I think he’s going to make more that will improve the economy and security of Mexican citizens, and that will improve the bilateral relationship as well.


Buying land near Mexico's coasts

For nearly a century, foreigners have been holding deeds to land near Mexico’s borders or shoreline. The prohibition came as a result of fear of invasion by land or sea.

Over the past four decades, foreigners have indeed been able to obtain beachfront property but through a bureaucratic process in which they set up a Mexican bank trust. The bank actually holds the deed. Through the trust, the foreigners enjoy basically the same rights as Mexicans.

Now, change is in the air, and it could save money for thousands of American retirees and other foreigners who want to buy their piece of paradise in Mexico.

Two days ago, none other than Manlio Fabio Beltrones, put forth a proposal to amend article 27 of the Mexican constitution.

Beltrones is no ordinary politician. He’s a former governor of Sonora state, a former two-term congressman, a current senator, a perennial big shot of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and even a onetime presidential candidate.

Beltrones, presented the proposal along with another PRI deputy, Gloria Nunez Sanchez, and early signs are that members of the center-right National Action party may get behind it.

But first, a little more history: Mexico had legitimate fears of invasion back during the 1917 Revolution. So the constitution minted then included a blanket ban on foreigners owning land within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of any border or 50 kilometers (31 miles) of any shoreline. This website says the ban includes the entire Baja Peninsula.

Following a 1973 law that regulated creation of trusts, foreigners found a work-around. By paying around $2,000 for a permit and registration in the foreign investment registry, plus up to another $1,000 annually for bank trust administration fees, foreigners could buy land near the coasts and borders.

This has made quite a bit of money for banks.

In his proposal, Beltrones notes that fears of invasion are anachronistic.

“Hand to hand combat is no longer the way to settle disputes, thus the danger has disappeared of allowing foreigners to obtain property,” it says.

The trusts, the proposal notes, have confronted foreigners with “high costs of setting up trusts and fee payments for various registration procedures, assessments, taxes and permits prior to the government authority.”

Some Mexican realtors are already touting the proposed change, apparently eager to increase sales.

But any constitutional amendment is lengthy. Beltrones’s proposal has to be passed by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, then approved by 17 state legislatures before it becomes law.

Moreover, the proposal would only affect those building housing with "no commercial objectives," and that a ban would remain on foreigners owning "direct dominion over the water." I'm not sure what that means. 

Anyone who knows more about the impact of this proposed change, please post below. Some readers would certainly be interested.


'I just got totally raped by the police'

This video is a few months old. It shows an American driver getting stopped in Aguascalientes by a traffic cop who proceeds to tell him his fine comes to 6,400 pesos, or more than $500 US. The cop seems VERY eager to receive the cash immediately. The driver, who doesn't speak Spanish, says he's in a Budget rental car, but the cop insists that he doesn't have the proper "verification" for the car.

Finally, the cop takes some 600 pesos from the driver and tells him to scram.

As the American drives off, he says, "Dude! I just got totally raped by the police, dude! Hola Mexico! Viva Mexico!"

I'm glad he kept his good humor. Makes me recall a time a policeman stopped me outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras. When he saw my rental car contract, he said, "This isn't notarized." I could hardly stop laughing. I told him no auto rental contract is ever notarized. His bristles went up. It was only when I told him I was a journalist and started taking down his name and badge number that he relented.


Acapulco's mayor and his big blunder

No one’s had a worse week than the six Spanish tourists who were gang-raped by masked men in their bungalow in Acapulco’s Playa Bonfil early Monday morning. The rapists chugged mescal after assaulting the women.

The case made worldwide headlines on Tuesday _ partly because Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton dismissed the rape initially, saying such attacks happen “anywhere in the world.” In political terms, Walton’s also had a rotten week, deservedly so.

Within a day, Walton held a press conference in which he apologized and begged for federal help in finding the rapists. By several accounts, he wept before journalists. I guess aides advised him that tourism to a city that some call “Narcopulco” would fall even faster off a cliff with news of marauding rapists preying on foreign women.

Female lawmakers from the ruling PRI immediately called Walton a misogynist and demanded further signs of atonement: "There is no room for interpretation, either good nor bad, of this claim that it 'happens anywhere in the world.' This was the cynical and misogynistic statement of someone who holds public office and shames all those from Guerrero state."

Sadly, authorities report no advances in trying to find the culprits.

The headline in Spain’s ABC newspaper today says: “The rape of the Spaniards in Acapulco will remain in impunity.” An accompanying story notes that Acapulco is now considered the second most dangerous city in the world after San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

If nothing else, Walton should get busy trying to change that dubious distinction.



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

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