What’s Going On In This Country?

Biggest Train Heist Ever. Teachers in the state of Michoacán have been camping out on the train tracks, so far shutting down 250 trains. They’re demanding money for when they were striking against taking a competency exam. Now they’re threatening to escalate their protest by barricading banks, shopping centers and highway toll booths.

In dispute is about US $263 million, and it’s hard to see how the government is going to avoid paying this without incurring bloodshed, as these people are parking their pillows on the tracks.

The government is admitting the teachers are racking up a loss to the economy of $52 million a day because the blockade is causing a shortage of supplies such as steel and automotive parts, which is beginning to impact a variety of people. Mexican companies that export products are also racking up losses because they can’t get their goods to the ports.

The president of the Business Coordinating Council said its time for the federal government to clear the tracks, stating, “We cannot allow railway tracks to be subject to political extortion by minority groups.”

The president of the Mexican Employers Federation urged the government to end the blockades, although he emphasized that teachers’ human rights must be respected.

Yeah, as in don’t squish them on the tracks, but do get them to move along. This is a toughie.

Who’s the biggest thief of all? Real estate developers spend between 5% and 10% more on a project, just for the bribes they give to whoever regulates them, the NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) reported Tuesday.

The most corrupt or with the highest perception of corruption are the mayors, then other authorities related to bribes would be Urban Development and Housing, and then the Water Authority.

According to the document, the “most common” forms of corruption are the fees of about $1,000, the request for an apartment from the work, the obligation to hire a specific contractor, or even to carry out works in public buildings.

Bribes also include personal gifts such as tickets for the Formula 1 race for officials, demolishing homes affected by the 2017 earthquake, or fixing parks.

Of the respondents to the poll, 94% said they had been victims of extortion or corruption, but only 36% reported it, in part because 42% do not trust the authorities. Gosh, why not?

Dog attack! Dogs attacked a woman as she walked to work over on the mainland.

Surveillance video showed a 34-year-old woman was killed by a pack of 11 dogs. The video indicates the attack lasted 11 minutes. Her body was discovered the following day. The Mayor ordered animal control agents to round up the dogs, but area residents attempted to prevent them from doing so by hiding them. However, the mayor said several had been captured.

Governor bails. After 5 years, a former governor of Sonora was let out of jail on $2 million bail on charges that his administration swiped $1.6 billion while he was governor. Poof! Gone. Well, maybe under his mattress? Has anybody looked?

Goodbye Plastics. This coming August may be the soonest the new law against plastic bags and plastic straws will go into effect. The law was approved last July, but these things, (as all things in Mexico), take time.

We recently used a paper straw and that fell apart after sucking up most of one drink. The straw felt weird, too. But maybe we’re just a strong sucker with sensitive lips

The biggest change will be not having to deal with those cheesy Wal-Mart bags that are so small and so skinny they can only take a few items. As you’re pushing your cart out the store, you look down and see a sea of thin opaque plastic waving and clattering in the breeze.

BYOB, (bring your own bag), has been the deal in some US states for a little while now, and it’s doable with surprisingly little effort. Just always carry a cloth bag in the trunk of your car. Even this dull bulb got used to it in about a month.

And if you forget to BYOB? Hopefully they will sell you their cheesy ones. But you will look pretty irresponsible pushing out of the store with that sea of plastic bobbing around in your cart.

Striking works. Spurred on by workers’ victories in Tamaulipas, employees of three more companies also started job action recently.

Now, 150 employees at a dairy bottling plant walked off the job as did 170 workers at a water purification company.

The non-unionized employees of the bottler said their salaries only increased by 1% at the start of this year when the minimum wage was doubled in the northern border region. They too want a 20% increase and a $1600 US bonus.

Some striking workers, who are calling for the same raise and bonus, denounced what they called exploitation by their employer and condemned the indifference of the union to their cause.

They said they expected to receive an annual bonus of US $525 last year but got just $65.

The strike action by employees of those two companies followed a work stoppage Thursday by workers at Arca Continental, the second largest Coca-Cola bottler in Latin America. The workers are also demanding a 20% pay raise and $1600 bonus.

“The plant and the distribution of products stopped,” said of the Mexican Employers Federation,

The president of the National Council of the Maquiladora Industry (Index Nacional), said earlier this week that strike action in Matamoros will result in 15 manufacturers leaving the city.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Shooting. Despite campaigns and laws against shooting up, New Year’s revelers continue the tradition of firing guns at the stroke of midnight. And if you don’t have a gun, police in Sinaloa will lend you one, which proved fatal for a seven-year-old girl in Oaxaca after she was struck by a stray New Year’s bullet. The little girl and her family were seated outdoors and preparing to enjoy a New Year’s Eve dinner when she appeared to faint.

At about the same time that Vivian was hit, two local police officers loaned an automatic rifle to a New Year’s reveler, so he could join the fun and fire shots into the air. The two are under investigation after a video of the incident surfaced. After the video appeared, they were relieved of their weapons and put under investigation. Don’t expect more than a slap on the wrist.

General Motors has retaken the title of No. 1 automaker in Mexico after an eight-year hiatus inflicted by Nissan.

The United States manufacturer made more than 801,000 light vehicles in Mexico by the end of November last year, a 9% increase over the previous year. It was also the top auto exporter from Mexico, with over 775,000 of its new vehicles shipped out of the country. Japanese automaker Nissan, which was Mexico’s largest between 2011 and 2017, made 717,100 vehicles in the first 11 months of 2018, a 9% decline from the previous year.

GM on a roll. The numbers are a reflection of GM’s renewed manufacturing focus in Mexico and the difficulties faced by Nissan due to a contraction of the Mexican auto market. By increasing its production capacity in Mexico in the past two years, GM thumbed its nose at President Donald Trump. To add to Trump’s consternation, GM announced it plans to manufacture new models in Mexico, including the Chevrolet Equinox SUV, the GMC Terrain and the Chevrolet Blazer.

The new trade agreement late last year between Mexico, the United States and Canada will bring changes to the North American auto sector and push up manufacturing costs in Mexico, but GM and other U.S. manufacturers are well prepared. Among the changes agreed to in the new pact, known as USMCA, are an increase to regional content levels to 75% from 62.5% in order for a car to be given tariff-free status, and a requirement for 40% of content to come from high-wage areas where workers earn at least US $16 per hour.

The trade agreement, which may or may not pass Congress, will replace the 25-year-old NAFTA at the start of 2020. Or not. That $16 wage is about as likely to happen as Mexico paying for the wall, but by that time, if Trump is still president, he won’t be paying attention to the art in this deal.

Gas grief. The same night President López Obrador reported the pipeline that runs from Tuxpan to Azcapotzalco was fixed, it was breached again. “It was working and at 11 o’clock at night it was broken again, and it is being repaired again; I am informed that in an hour the supply will be re-established. As I have said, let’s see who gets tired of this bullshit first.” OK, so he didn’t say bullshit. If you want a word-for-word quote, you can learn Spanish and listen to him yourself. He gives press conference every morning at 7 am, which is carried live on Youtube.

This week, another pipeline was vandalized for three consecutive days. Security will be reinforced along the main pipelines of Pemex, and President AMLO announced new special bases chock full of soldiers ready to charge out and arrest the fuel thieves. Ja! Even a cat knows better than to expect to see that. There will also be aerial surveillance, he said. “Since yesterday and today begins surveillance in air force helicopters in all pipelines and special bases are being created every certain distance.” Forever? 9,000 extra soldiers and guarding the pipelines. For how long? The thieves will just lay low until AMLO gives up on this silly game.

More gas grief. The federal government’s fuel theft strategy has not only stranded motorists unable to get gasoline, but ships are stuck as well: at least 60 oil tankers are stranded in Mexico’s principal ports, unable to unload their fuel because Mexico is afraid to send the fuel they already have through the pipes. There are not enough tanker trucks to distribute it.

What’s Going On In This World?

Uncle Sam to the rescue. The U.S. government is pledging $10.6 billion in public and private funds toward economic development in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, in an attempt to address the causes of migration from the region, the U.S. State Department has announced.

The investment will include partnerships with the private sector;  $4.8 billion will be spent in Mexico and $5.8 billion in northern Central America through 2024, according to a joint statement from the State Department and Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry. Mexico is pledging $25 billion in the region over the same period, the statement said.

Much of the U.S. funds had been set aside since 2017, but the Trump administration will request approval from Congress for an additional $180 million for assistance to Mexico.

“Overall, this is very good news for Mexico,” said Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in a joint statement. Well, no kidding!

Mexico to the rescue. Over the next five years, the Mexican government plans to pitch in $30 billion to Central American development. Their goal is to keep illegal aliens from heading north towards the United States border, and trampling through Mexico to get it done.

BTW, close observers (like us), noted that Mexico tried very hard to stop the migrant caravan from swarming into Mexico. Their forces were simply overwhelmed by young men leading the charge with Molotov cocktails, sticks, and stones. Is it any wonder that these migrants, who can barely read even Spanish, and don’t know what’s going on in the States, thought they could storm through the U.S. border, also? They were misled by their so called “leaders,” who call themselves human rights workers.

Wall grief. The White House border wall is more expensive because of our slapping tariffs on steel imports. That allowed domestic steel plants to raise their domestic prices by the same 25%.

Tecate’s cash in jeopardy.  Mexico’s 121 so called “magical towns” might not receive any federal money in 2019 because the program that funds them has been cancelled. Our own Tecate is one of those magic towns. The average magic town gets about $240,000 U.S. per year, depending on how good a deal they swung when they first were dusted with the magic pixie dust.

Tourism Secretary Miguel Torruco confirmed the end to funding for the program, along with chopping the entire federal tourism budget down to nada. Our new President wants to spend the entire bag of money on his 1000 mile tourist train through the jungles of the Yucatan.

Fake news in Baja. A criminal gang is targeting business owners in Baja with an extortion that threatens to spread fake news about them if they refuse to pony up. More than 100 business owners as well as professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been targeted.

The demands come with the threat that if they don’t pay, false information will be spread about them online. Stuff like they have criminal records for drug trafficking, weapons offenses, robbery or other crimes.

Last week the suspected leader was arrested. He had allegedly posted phony information about business owners and politicians on a website masquerading as an online newspaper called Noticias de México. It is thought that the criminals were obtaining information about their targets from social media.

Preliminary investigations into the modus operandi of the extortion racket indicate that its members initially contact their targets through email, offering to sell them online advertising. The targets are left with a telephone number to call. The telephone numbers of those who call are recorded and passed on to the extortionists who then begin their scam. Their fatal stupidity was that they spread the scam into San Diego. This brought the FBI down on them like a ton of bricks. They were then quickly busted.

Many years ago the Gringo Gazette South was extorted in a similar scam. 24 Horas, a TV program very similar to 60 Minutes, was in Cabo to film a story on the town. Yes, in those days it was actual film, not video. They were filming. The crew approached the publisher and demanded $50,000 USD or they would say “bad things” about the paper. The “bad things” turned out to be a reporter holding up the paper and saying we said negative things about Mexicans. Because most Mexicans can’t read the paper, they believed it. This was about 20 years ago and we still get Mexicans who refer to that. Also, the story went around town so much and got distorted and enlarged to the extent that many don’t remember where they heard it, they just believe that the paper says negative things about them. This latest extortion scam is very serious, and fake news of this kind can have lasting effects.

President attends Mayan ceremony. President AMLO is asking for Earth’s permission to build his tourist train through the jungles of the Mayan peninsula. This is in lieu of the customary conservation permits. The ceremony was for limpia, to rid them of “bad vibes.” Hey, we don’t make this stuff up, it just seems like it!

The ceremony also included the placing of offerings in a hole in the ground. Among these were a chicken, a bottle ofpozol (a fermented corn dough and cacao drink) and 12 bottles of a local aguardiente, a distilled alcoholic beverage. The ceremony was intended to ensure the president’s first big infrastructure project is finished without incident.

“We have to ask for permission from the Earth, because we eat from her and we walk on her,” said the state Secretary for the Sustainable Development of Indigenous Peoples, with a straight face. In a speech after the ceremony, President López Obrador recalled that former president Porfirio Díaz had been able to lay 12,000 miles of track during his decades-long dictatorship, suggesting he ought to be able to lay the 1000 miles of track required for his Maya Train. With a straight face.

More energy, please. Mexico’s oil and gas collapse is an immense problem, because Mexico is the fastest growing OECD energy user. Expected economic growth is a solid 3-5% per year, and oil and gas supply is only 85% of the country’s needs.

Oil revenues have dwindled down 40% from a decade ago.

For natural gas, Mexico’s most vital source of energy, falling production has meant soaring reliance on. U.S. shale gas. Over the past 10 years, the strategy has been to displace fuel oil with natural gas. Today, gas accounts for over 60% of the country’s electricity, and Mexico gets nearly 65% of its natural gas from the U.S.

This increasing reliance on the U.S. has Mexican leadership concerned because the U.S. has plans to export huge amounts of liquefied natural gas to all corners of the globe. China and India and others want U.S. gas, and we hate standing in line.

Pemex woes. Mexico’s military has taken control over key fuel installations. 57 facilities will be protected by the Army and Navy: six refineries, 39 storage terminals, and 12 pumping stations. New President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to fight corruption and fuel theft within and outside government-run energy company, Pemex.

According to Pemex’s own estimates, the losses from fuel theft over the past three years have reached US $7.5 billion.

“This is the theft of national assets, of public funds, of money that belongs to all Mexicans,” Lopez Obrador said. On Friday, the Mexican army swooped in, but unionized workers were blocking access to some of the sites.

Three Pemex officials, suspected of having facilitated fuel theft, had already been arrested for the alleged crimes. The three Pemex officials have been sacked and will be facing criminal charges, Mexico’s Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said at Lopez Obrador’s news conference on Thursday. Ha ha. These accusations will be swept under the rug at the end of this news cycle when no one is looking.

Illegal, amateur taps on Mexican pipelines jumped by 45 percent annually between January and October 2018.

Apart from rampant fuel theft, Pemex also has to cope with declining domestic oil production, which in October is one of the lowest monthly production rates since 1990 when records began.

   In related news. Also in the works will be construction of the Bocas refinery in Tabasco state and the cross-country railroad which will connect the Pacific Coast with the Gulf of Mexico and give the shippers an alternative to the Panama Canal, the president said. All they have to do is unload it from the ships, load up trains, choo choo across the country, then load the stuff on a different ship. Bam! They’re there!

We Get A New President

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 1, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador becomes President of the Republic in an investiture ceremony that promises to be lively.

Current President Enrique Peña Nieto will hand over the presidential sash to the president of the Chamber (similar to our senate), who will hand it over to López Obrador, who will then be sworn in. The new president will offer a speech that’s expected to go on for about an hour, and that will end with the Mexican anthem. This is all central time, which is two hours ahead of Northern Baja.

Expect protestors, who have vowed to jump around in a display of dissatisfaction over AMLO, as he’s popularly called, inviting Venezuelan President Maduro to the festivities, among other worries. Many people are afraid AMLO is going to lead Mexico down the same disastrous path as that country has gone.

Also, people are not happy that the son in law of the very unpopular Donald Trump is getting one of Mexico’s most prestigious awards, supposedly for helping to re-negotiate NAFTA.

And then there’s the garden variety dissatisfaction of AMLO leading the country for the next six years, although he won by a landslide.

To see the ceremony, tune in to any TV station at 9:00 am (11:00 am central time), as that part will be visually interesting. The rest of the day’s activities are going to require Spanish.

These will be tomorrow’s activities according to Forbes Mexico:

What’s Going On In This Country?

More hotels. Wyndham is expanding in Mexico because the country is a rising power in tourism, and the sector is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, declared their spokes dude. With eight new properties announced, the number of Wyndham hotels in Mexico will increase from 52 to 60.

Taxista run amuck. Taxi drivers are scary people for a lot of reasons. They have been known to change the price on you mid ride, then call in their buddies as enforcers if you don’t pay. They will take you around the long way if they think you don’t know the territory, and they initially quote you whatever price that will get them through that day. You will notice that most of them don’t even have a meter in their cabs. But this taxista went a little too far.

Bad habits such as texting and speaking on cell phones while driving us, we can maybe live with. Even watching them watch videos on dash-mounted screens is a bit unsettling.

But a couple of passengers in Puerto Escondido discovered last week it’s not such a good idea to complain. When they asked the driver to stop using his phone and focus on driving, he physically assaulted them. The passengers got out of the vehicle with the aid of passersby and their attacker fled the scene. The unidentified driver and his cab — number 02-968 — are being sought by state traffic police after a formal complaint was filed, but it’s doubtful anything will come of it. Unless he wants his car back, but it’s probably not his anyway, as most taxi drivers here in Mexico don’t own the taxi, they just rent it. The same goes for Uber, but in a smaller percentage.

For the record, traffic regulations forbid the use of mobile phones while driving, except when the driver is using hands-free devices or a speakerphone.

Got Netflix? Telcel, the largest cellphone operator in Mexico, is now offering household internet via its 4G mobile network. Spain-based Movistar was the first company to offer the service early this year, followed by the United States-based AT&T and finally bringing up the end of the innovation and service trend is our own domestic firm, Televisa under the name Blue Telecomm.

For about US $10 per month, we get speeds of up to 5 mbps but once you run through 100GB, they put the speed brakes on, and download speed is reduced to 1 lousy mbp.

The second tier offers up to 10 mbps with a data cap of 150 GB for about $17.50. The price of the modem is about $40. The moral to the story is, don’t get into a long series on Netflix, just view it in little chunks of little mbps’s

Banks’ bad day. Last month saw a day they’re calling Black Thursday on the Mexican stock market; bank stocks plummeted after senators from president-elect López Obrador’s Morena party unexpectedly proposed to rein in those little and not so little bank charges we all suffer with. The bill referenced a study by financial consumer protection agency Condusef that said that, on average, 30% of Mexican banks’ revenues come from commissions. That percentage, Morena argued in its proposal, is more than banks in other countries earn from those charges. If approved, the legislation would prohibit banks from charging customers for checking their account balances, withdrawing cash, requesting past statements and issuing replacement cards, among other services. They’re comparing Mexico to other countries as a benchmark on behavior? That practice, in this cat’s opinion, is ill advised.

The Mexican Stock Exchange index fell 5.81% due to the banks’ losses, its biggest single-day decline since August 2011. Proponents of this legislation claim bank charges generated income of more than US $5.3 billion for Mexican banks last year alone, 8% more than in 2016.

Shares in Banorte suffered the biggest drop, down 11.9% at the close of trading, while Gentera and Inbursa saw 10.23% and 10.08% wiped off their market value. The Mexico subsidiary of Spanish bank Santander slumped 8%. According to Bloomberg, the combined losses that day of Banorte, Inbursa, Santander, BanBajío, Gentera and Regional totaled more than US $4.2 billion.

The move served to further stir fears in the financial sector about López Obrador’s economic plans. But bank stocks recovered the next day after the new president walked that legislation proposal back. Guessing he won’t try that again.

Pemex. The decision to delay oil and gas lease auctions until the new administration officially takes office December 1st has alarmed investors, who fear that incoming president AMLO’s planned $10.5 billion rescue plan for the oil industry will increase Pemex’s debt burden. The Mexican state oil company is already the world’s most indebted national oil company, according to ratings agency Moody’s, with more than $100 billion in debt and about the same amount in pension liabilities. On October 19, Fitch, another ratings agency, revised down Pemex’s outlook rating to negative from stable, causing the peso to fall to its lowest level in over a month.

Pemex’s disarray is evidenced by Mexico’s gargantuan oil production decline over the past two decades. Oil production fell from 3.9 million bpd in 2004 to 2.5 million bpd in 2016, and slipped even further in 2017, dropping as low as 1.9 million bpd. Oil output has fallen during most months in the first half of 2018, standing at just under 2.1 million bpd in June.

The company is in dire need of partnerships with international energy companies that know what the hell they’re doing.  Such joint ventures would allow it to extract more oil from its existing fields, and to discover new fields. But two years ago, there was a new strategy put in place that has proven its worth, as Pemex recently gained $1.43 billion pesos of net profit for the third quarter of 2018, compared with a 101.8 billion pesos loss in the same period last year. Don’t get excited though, as AMLO has vowed to change things again, diverting oil investment funds to his many social programs.

More on airport. Around 5,500 people marched in Mexico City to protest the decision to cancel the new airport under construction there. One third, $5 billion into it, protesters argued the public consultation that led to the cancellation decision was unconstitutional and warned that president-elect López Obrador would hold more illegitimate referendums on other issues if they let him get away with this one.

“What’s going to happen is that he’s going to want to have ‘consultations’, little mini votes, scattered around the country, mostly in areas that voted for him, for everything, and they will be unconstitutional,” said protester Josefina Ruiz. The demonstrators also contended that cancelling the new airport would cost thousands of jobs and halt Mexico City’s economic development.

López Obrador has long criticized the project, charging that it is corrupt, too expensive and not needed. Says the man who is selling the presidential jet and vowing to fly commercial. He is going to regret both of these decisions as he discovers the Mexico City airport is truly a nightmare of last century technology, design, and use of space.

Mexican Gas Stations Seeing Changes

Costco opened its first gas station in the state of Guanajuato this week, its fourth in Mexico. The spiffy new station cost $3.3 million. They’re selling Costco’s Kirkland Signature gasoline brand, and sure it comes from the States, but so does most gas. Mexico has very little refining capabilities. Maybe that goes a long way toward explaining the cost of a gallon of gas costing about $3.65 a gallon.

The company assured customers that they will get what they pay for and won’t be short-poured here. Yes, he actually said that, acknowledging the elephant in the room where gas is sold. They will only accept credit or debit cards and members who use their Costco credit card get a 3% discount.

Meanwhile, The British oil and gas company BP continues its expansion into Mexico by opening its first ToGo convenience store in this country, where it also introduced its Wild Bean Café to customers. This station is in Guadalajara. The new store and its coffee is part of a strategy to transform the concept of service stations in Mexico, now that stations other than Pemex are allowed. BP operates the Wild Bean Café brand in 1,200 convenience stores in 11 countries. In Mexico, the company has more than 350 gas stations. And looking at the overall picture, it does appear that BP’s convenience store is a lot nicer than the OXXO’s.

Meanwhile, stodgy old Pemex appears to be running scared, as the government-owned oil company is sporting a new look. The new gas station design was officially inaugurated last week in the state of México. Poo. Always at the end of the line, Baja doesn’t get anything cool.

The head of the company’s industrial transformation division said the new design will be incorporated at 45 stations this year, eight new ones and 37 boring old stations will be renovated. Carlos Murrieta Cummings said the new concept “is intended to maintain the franchise’s leadership in the domestic market.” See? They just admitted they’re running scared.  “The new image breaks with the conventional and projects a new Pemex: a highly competitive business in an open market,” he said in the announcement.

Murrieta added that the new design reflects an eagle in flight, “a leader, strong and agile, with its wings extended towards new challenges.” Murrieta also said the company’s objective is to provide the highest standards of customer service, offering its clients experience, reliability, modernity and innovation. Ha ha ha! Since when? Since President Pena Nieto broke Pemex’s stranglehold on the gas monopoly and invited in competition! Since then they’re trying a tiny bit harder. They’re still short-pouring and short-changing, and they’re still losing buckets of money.

Well, the general manager of the first Pemex franchise to sport the new look did say its sales have doubled since the new design was incorporated in mid-June. With prices fixed, maybe appearances and service do count.

Should You Get Dentistry Here?

Mexico is touted as a great place to get dentistry done, and most of that touting is from the industry itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great savings or it’s not safe, it just means slow down and do your due diligence. Find out who you’re going to trust your health to. Make no mistake, just because your mouth is kind of on the edge of your health, it is still your health. We know a woman who got a tooth so badly infected the pain went into her neck and shoulder and she went to a chiropractor, not even realizing the pain started in her mouth. It took her almost a year to find a doctor who figured out it was coming from an infection in a tooth she had had work done on in a Mexican border town.

The cost here is a fraction of what it is in the States, and you need to ask yourself why? OK, so we’re asking: Why? Because these dentists don’t carry insurance. Fine, if nothing goes wrong.

Another reason for cheap dentistry is they pay such low wages. As a friend and business owner told me when I complained about his lousy service, “Sorry about that but I pay peanuts, so I get monkeys.” Do you want someone making way less than $1000 a month drilling holes in your gums? Fine, that’s understandable. Dentistry is costly, we get that.

Reason three that dentistry is cheaper here is that most Mexicans can’t afford to pay even the price you think is so cheap. Therefore, dentists are hungry for business from foreigners. The price you’re chortling over is a godsend to them.

Do they have the same training as US dentists? No.

There were 83 dental schools registered in the last official national count in 2007. Half are public, half are private. Admission to dental schools in Mexico requires a high school diploma, and to obtain a license in Mexico, dental students must complete a 3 to 5 year program plus a year of community service. But this  is scary: No formal nationwide standard curriculum exists, so who knows if your dentist went to a Mickey Mouse stay and vay or to a tough school where they had to learn their craft? And did you just notice we said that dentists here have four fewer years of school than US dentists? Of course a case can be made that those four years our dentists spend in college before they get to dental school are wasted since they never see a tooth.

There are 195,000 dentists in the US, and 153,000 dentists in Mexico. There are 312 million Americans and 129 million Mexicans. Clearly there are too many dentists here, especially considering how many of the very poor people never open wide for a dentist.

So, why are so many Mexican dentists trained in the United States? Look closer to that diploma on the wall they’re so proud of, especially if it says graduated from a US school. Most of them are a course lasting a week or two on a specialty. No doubt the dentist wants to improve his craft, but being able to say he’s US trained makes that couple weeks a very good investment.

And who over sees dentists in Mexico? Nobody. In the US, a dentist must pass three tests in the state he/she intends to practice in and show a hepatitis B test, finger prints, a course in infection control, and oh yes, “be of good character” whatever that entails. And they belong to the American Dental Ass., a trade organization where you can start the process of complaint.

Good luck suing a Mexican dentist if something goes wrong. There is no tort law in this country. (Tort law provides relief to injured parties for harms caused by others, and to impose liability on parties responsible for the harm).

All of this sounds negative and is not meant to be, it’s just a counter point to the one big, huge, and very good reason to get dentistry done here: Price. You can save a bundle.

Big Fines for Small Tools

Drones can invade privacy, they can cause accidents, they annoy birds, and they can really piss off pilots in actual airplanes. They can also be incredible tools for scientists, photographers, and anyone in the tourism industry. In some countries, licenses are required. The International Civil Aviation Organization insists on a license too. And, of course, there are regulations. But that doesn’t stop anyone from buying a drone off the internet, and those drones are high-tech.

For example, the DJI Phantom 4 is a model from a few years ago but still very popular. It fits into a piece of hand luggage. It has the ability to fly 20 meters per second, reach 6000 meters above sea level, and fly for about half an hour on a single battery. The drone costs around 840 USD. The DJI Inspire 2 is an up-to-date professional machine. It also has a flight time of about  half an hour, but a range of 7 km and a max speed of 58 mph. Inspire 2 costs a little over 2,700 USD. As tools, these drones have great potential. Their cameras are capable of getting great still shots as well as video.  Mexico has some rules on the books in regard to flying drones, but now the government is pushing ahead, full throttle.

New regulations, which go into effect in December this year, will require all drone users to obtain a license. However, getting that license might be tricky. First, you must be 18 years or older, then you need to be Mexican by birth (sorry Gringos), you need to provide your military release card, have a high school diploma, and be in good health. If those rules don’t sound ridiculous enough, then the fine that goes along with flying without a license (in a country that hardly gives out parking tickets), is enough to have you rolling on the floor.

If the police catch you flying, and you can’t show your license, you’ll be fined as much as 20,000 USD. Of course, you could probably give the officer a few 500 peso notes and a quick flight lesson and everyone will walk away with smiles.

The Mexican government has identified a problem: Drones have the capability of killing people in manned aircraft, so they are taking steps to solve the problem. But more than likely a cop will not even stop you, especially if you’re in the middle of the desert 100 kilometers from the nearest town. The police need to cover huge spaces with few resources (they most likely don’t have a drone).  Also, they probably have better things to do, like setting up speed traps to catch unsuspecting Gringos. Although it might not be completely necessary, it’s always good to follow the rules when in another country. And that’s our disclaimer.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Can you patent a recipe? Traditional Mixtec dishes from Oaxaca might soon be protected by a patent that has been requested by the Indigenous Peoples Development (CDI). A CDI representative in the Mixtec town of Silacayoápam, said the first stage of the cultural conservation project is to promote some staples of regional cuisine to a larger public. Gastronomic festivals have been used to develop this idea. They’ve had good progress; some recipes have already been documented, like those for the atoles (traditional hot corn and masa-based beverages), to Tepejillo, a thick pork-based sauce.

Once the cuisine of the Mixtec region and all of its dishes are fully recognizable by foodies, the CDI will move forward to formally register them. Another part of the registration process is taking place at the Teposcolula Institute of Technology, where gastronomy students are trying to formalize each of the Mixtec dishes’ recipes.

The CDI is also offering counsel and training to traditional Mixtec cooks, improving the presentation of their pre-Hispanic dishes while keeping them authentic. Wait a minute, improving or keeping them authentic? Does anyone else think this is odd? Maybe it’s just us. Did Aunt Jamima ever try to patent waffles? No. And she had something going there.

Druggies hedge income stream. A criminal organization known as the Tobacco Cartel is attempting to control Mexico’s cigarette market by eliminating from store shelves brands it doesn’t sell. Between January and September, police — or people posing as police — have carried out 364 operations at stores in eight states to seize and destroy cigarettes not distributed by the company Tobacco International Holdings (TIH).

Business owners and distributors of other cigarette brands were given fake letters from government departments such as the Federal Tax Administration (SAT) or the Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risk (Cofepris). The letters state that cigarette brands other than those distributed by TIH are illegal and cannot be sold in Mexico. Not true, you may pick your own poison.

Pueblo Magicos, again.  Todos Santos, in Baja Sur, has been chosen by the federal government to be a magic town, pueblo magico. Special? Not so much. There are now 121 magic towns all over Mexico. At the end of former President Calderón’s administration, a lot of new towns were included in the Pueblos Mágicos, despite not meeting the inclusion requirements. It’s very political. Some of the requirements are: There must be a municipal tourism department and the implementation of a tourism development plan. Each town receives US $260,000 in federal funding every year. Earlier this month the country got 10 new ones.

Mapimí, Durango, has seen the biggest improvement in terms of the well-being of citizens, with poverty levels cut from 61% in 2010 to 40% in 2015. Poverty also decreased significantly in Huicha, but Todos Santos hasn’t seen such progress. Well, maybe, they do get a lot of tourists; who knows if they know they are treading on magic ground?

Who do you trust? According to a study, more than 70% of Mexicans reported feeling unsafe in the streets of the neighborhood where they live and 80% said that they were aware of crimes such as assault, robbery, drug trafficking, shootings and homicides, taking place near their homes. Coneval that 62% of Mexicans are not happy with the neighborhood they live in and one in three people don’t trust their neighbors. Yikes, a bad place to be in when you don’t have a police department that plays heads up ball. And what cities have  any of those? Better love your neighbor, as you will never love your police.

Turn it around, Pedro. Central American migrants were arrested while walking or hitching rides in the southern state of Chiapas. Immigration officials and police blocked the migrants’ path with about 30 vehicles. Some succeeded in outrunning authorities while those detained were taken to a National Immigration Institute (INM) facility, where they were put on buses and taken to the airport. There, they were tossed aboard a Federal Police plane and flown to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The United States government is warning that its armed forces will fire guns on migrants who throw rocks at them, but in Mexico a kinder and gentler approach is coming. The incoming chief of the National Immigration Institute (INM) has vowed that Central American migrants will receive kinder attention during the administration of the incoming federal government. We’ll see how long that lasts, as some people in the migrant caravan tossed Molotov cocktails, rocks and sticks at the police. That can piss off anyone. But meanwhile, incoming immigration authorities are babbling on about migrants’ human rights.

The social sciences academic and former head of the College of the Northern Border, who was announced this week as the new INM chief, said that under Andrés Manuel López Obrador presidency, migrants won’t be stigmatized nor will their personal situations be ignored.

No more chicken fights. The Supreme Court has ruled that ban on cockfights by the Veracruz Congress two years ago is constitutional. The ruling said there were many benefits from the ban with regard to the animals’ well-being, protecting them from physical injury and even death. The state’s Animal Protection Act also prohibits hunting and capturing wild animals, fights between any animals, and displaying animals in circus shows.

Say, what? Mexicans’ command of English is on the decline, a new study shows. Mexico dropped 13 places to 57th of 88 countries on the 2018 EF English Proficiency Index (EPI). In Latin America, Mexico ranks ninth out of 17 countries behind Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala and Panama.

This was attributed to overcrowded schools, low teacher wages, and inadequate teacher training.

Don’t bogart that joint. Mexico’s Supreme Court has issued two more rulings ordering that complainants in individual cases be allowed to use marijuana for recreational purposes, establishing a precedent that a blanket prohibition on pot is unconstitutional.

The court found that adults have a fundamental right to personal development which lets them decide their recreational activities without interference from the state.

We’re talking personal consumption, not all out commercialization. The rulings do not even technically legalize recreational use, however. They establish that courts must allow it, but it is still up to each individual to press his or her case in the judicial system.

Mexico saw something similar happen in recent years with five Supreme Court rulings establishing a broader precedent allowing same-sex couples to wed, though same-sex marriage has yet to become the law of the land nationwide.

So How Is The Average Jose Doing?

Defining the size of Mexico’s middle class is more complicated than it is in the United States, where it is a more straightforward measure of family size and income, with data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources. Mexico is a far less transparent country.

So economists have measured the country’s middle class by other means — access to household goods or health care, consumption levels, access to credit, education, food security. It’s a politicized statistic, because Mexican politicians and commentators tend to pick the yardsticks that best suit their agendas, depending on whether they want to depict the country as better off, or mired in poverty. There’s a lot of fake news out there.

But the expansion of Mexico’s middle class over the past several decades is an undeniable trend. In 1960, some 80 percent of Mexicans were living in poverty. Today, the national average of “working poor” households (those that work but still can’t provide sufficient income for a family´s minimum food requirements) among Mexico’s 31 states is 40 percent. Baja California Sur has one of the lowest working poor rates in the country, at just 19 percent. While Mexico’s inequality gap remains wide compared with more developed countries in Europe and Asia, that gap has not increased in recent years as rapidly as it has in the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico’s working class appears to be floating upward on a rising tide: GDP per capita has increased from $7,357 in 1990 to $9,009 in 2015 (the most recent data available). That is a real gain, because inflation is under control.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 34 developed economies, considers Mexico to be 50 percent middle class, based on median incomes. Then there’s another gauge: self-perception. According to surveys, 65 percent of Mexicans see themselves as middle class.

One result of having a small middle class is there is a small pool to pull from for middle management. Middle management comes from the middle class. Case in point:

A restaurant will be founded by a rich guy. He’s not going to run it, he’s usually got other businesses and other interests. Who does he get to run it? There are no educated and trained middle managers, so he pulls one of his waiters out of the lower classes and calls him a manager. He has no idea how to manage, he doesn’t have the education, experience, or cultural background. And this is why Jose can’t get the tacos to the table before they get cold. It’s a lack of middle class/middle management.

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