04/05/2013

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.

03/21/2013

A black eye for San Miguel de Allende

If you travel occasionally to Mexico, certainly you have heard of San Miguel de Allende, the charming colonial city in Guanajuato state about three hours drive from Mexico City. According to this website, some 6,000 Americans, Canadians and other foreigners live permanently in San Miguel, giving it a cosmopolitan patina.

Not all is peace and love, though. A week ago, two Mexican brothers were visiting the town and local cops tried to rough them up. This is a 5-minute video that one of the young men shot through the window as a cop tried to pull the driver, who identified himself as a law student, from the car, first grabbing him, then hitting him in the groin and locking him by the neck to try to pull him from the vehicle. The police eventually tossed pepper gas to get the men out of the car. There's no explanation from the police of what they wanted. Near the end of the video, another officer approaches and tells them to stop taping the scene or that it would go "very badly" for them.

The video has gone viral. At the time I uploaded here, it's been seen by 270,000 or so people. Clearly Mexicans can related to abuse by police officers. Among those who saw the video on YouTube was Guanajuato Gov. Miguel Marquez Marquez, and he was not pleased.

This morning's Milenio newspaper says two of the four officers have been fired, and a probe may lead to more dismissals. San Miguel de Allende Mayor Mauricio Trejo Pureco is clearly worried about the consequences of the video. Earlier this week, he (@mauriciotrejop) tweeted that "my government will not tolerate abuse by authorities."

By the way, after the end of the tape, the police succeeded in getting the two brothers, Osvaldo and Alan Zuniga, out of the car. Alan Zuniga, 27, told reporters that police handcuffed him,threw him on the ground, took him to a station, stripped him and held him for 90 minutes (link in Spanish). The two brothers both had to pay 600-peso fines (roughly 50 bucks). Their car is still impounded.

San Miguel de Allende is still a lovely place. Certainly, this is atypical of life there. What's more, police are sometimes on the receiving end of terrible abuse as well. Remember the Ladies of Polanco case? If not, click here for my blog post.

 

 

11/21/2011

Like movies? In Mexico, keep waiting

I’m a movie buff so was I ever excited when Netflix announced in early September that it had rolled out service to Mexico. I’d seen Netflix at the homes of friends and relatives in the States and couldn’t believe the ease of the streaming movie service.

When I first checked their website right after the rollout I thought there must have been some early glitches.

All the familiar categories were there: Indie Movies, Musicals, Romantic Movies, Docs, Foreign Movies, Action, Horror, etc. But it seemed that there must have been only 150 movies available on the site, many of them several decades old.

Well, I just checked it again. No mistake. Talk about disappointment. 

Let me give you an example of what Netflix offers under Drama: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), The Color of Money (1986), Amistad (1997), and Home Room (2003). Gosh, is this the Ancient Movie Channel?

Why thanks, Netflix! I always wanted to see those for a third time!

Under Documentaries, there is The Thin Blue Line (1988) and Michael Moore’s The Big One (1998).

Under Recently Added movies, Netflix digs deep into its dusty bins and comes up with The Italian Job (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Matt Damon in Rounders (1998) and the Australian movie Rabbit Proof Fence (2002).

What’s absurd is that many of these older movies are listed in several categories, diminishing further the choice. Granted, some are good movies but don’t bother to look for an obscure documentary you’ve wanted to see. Under TV, you won’t find The Wire or Mad Men. 

A broader issue underlies the Netflix matter for travellers: Don’t always carry preconceptions abroad when you see familiar brand names. Go to KFC in China and you will have a different (and probably better) experience than in the States. Same goes for Subway in Tokyo, where you can get an espresso made in an Italian machine. Pizza Hut in Central America is a cut above its cousins in the States. Starbucks is pretty consistently the same wherever I go. Then, there are the occasional duds – U.S. companies that can execute at home, but seem to coast abroad, offering a service that is a shadow of what it is on their home turf.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

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

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