What’s Going On In This Country?

Pacifying unions at what cost? Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, (AMLO) has said he was ordering the education, interior and finance ministries to suspend laws passed by the government of his predecessor, President Enrique Pena Nieto

AMLO says those laws belong to the “neo-liberal” era, his name for the three and a half decades that preceded his election. He has repeatedly blamed that period for aggravating poverty, corruption and violence in Mexico.

The repeal of this law is aimed at buying off the CNTE teachers union – a dissident breakaway group from the biggest union, the SNTE. These young people who call themselves student teachers, although they don’t go to school, have staged months of protests and blockades to pressure Lopez Obrador to dump the 2013 reform that requires new teachers to take a competency exam and forbids the buying and selling of teaching jobs. AMLO  also let the head of the teachers union out of jail, who was found to have $200 million USD in properties, as well as a private jet. AMLO just this week gave her back all of her ill-gotten-booty and she is running for president of the union again! If she wins, she will once again be able to sway elections by delivering 26,000 votes from her teachers.

Central Americans Getting Pushy. Trump is cranking up pressure on Mexico to stop the flow of migrants through that country and it seems to be working. A little bit. Detentions of undocumented migrants waiting for registration in Mexico increased to 12,746 last month, an increase of almost one-third compared to February, and two-thirds compared to January.

The INM says that migrants staying at its facilities are not detained but rather are being held for processing, but rights groups and the migrants themselves say they are not free to leave.

Thousands of migrants have been stranded in Chiapas as they wait to see if they will be granted humanitarian visas, or at least 20-day transit visas that allow them to legally travel through Mexico.

Some of the migrants have been staying inside a makeshift shelter set up inside a sports stadium for almost three weeks, while others have camped in a field. “It’s madness that they’re making us wait so long. For what? For nothing!” said Daisy Maldonado, a 26-year-old from Honduras who traveled to Mexico with her five-year-old daughter.

Immigration Commissioner Tonatiuh Guillén said in a recent interview that a stricter immigration approach was being adopted in the south of Mexico due to a large number of arrivals, but he denied that it was a result of pressure from the United States, although two large groups of migrants – 204 from Honduras and 148 from Cuba – were deported from Mexico in recent days after they were found traveling through the country without having first regularized their immigration status.

“Migration officials are grabbing us like pigs,” said Erick Morazan, a 28-year-old Honduran migrant who traveled at night in a “caravan of zombies” to avoid detection by immigration officials and the possibility of deportation.

In related news. As the number of Central American immigrants has increased, the welcome mat in southern Mexico is being withdrawn. One Mapastepec resident who said she helped provide food for migrant caravans last year told Reuters that migrants “are pouring onto our land” and regularly ask residents for money, rejecting offers of food. A recent poll of close to 500 adults by the Center of Public Opinion at the University of the Valley of Mexico (UVM) found that 83% believed that migrants could cause problems for Mexico, and 62% said they believed Mexico should be tougher on them.

A heads-up vendor. El Chuy is a street vendor with a cart in downtown Oaxaca city. He is done selling his elotes (corn on the cob) and esquites (corn kernels cooked in butter and topped with mayonnaise, chile and lime juice) in the zócalo, or central square, of the southern state’s capital, using Styrofoam cups. He now wraps his goodies in corn husks.

He started using corn husks, explaining he had heard a lot about the damage that Styrofoam causes “to the seas, marine animals and ecosystems.”

Alvarado said his environmentally-conscious decision made more work for himself because he has to get up early in the morning to cut and clean the corn husks, but it’s been worth it: in addition to helping the environment, the Styrofoam substitute has proven popular among El Chuy’s customers. “People say the [the esquites] taste better than with Styrofoam. Corn husks are very clean and they release a very sweet flavor,” Alvarado said.

His sales have also improved, and despite the extra work he puts in, El Chuy continues to sell a serving of esquites at the same old price of 20 pesos (US $1).

Down, boy! Two women were attacked and mauled this week by their own family’s eight dogs — six pit bulls and two dalmatians. Police reported the dogs attacked a 46-year-old woman and her 26-year-old daughter at home. Authorities identified another daughter and her boyfriend, who live in the same house, as the dogs’ owners. The couple voluntarily gave permission for an animal control team to capture the animals.

One year ago two pit bulls killed a seven-year-old child in México state. He and his mother had left the house to go shopping but when they returned they discovered they had left the keys inside. The young boy volunteered to scale the entrance wall but when he descended on the other side the dogs attacked. Neighbors rushed to help but by the time they entered the home the child was dead.

Also on the mainland, a woman was mauled and partially eaten on her way to work by a pack of 11 dogs. Some of the dog’s owners refused to surrender them to authorities.

It gets closer to home: A boy dog riding along the Malecon in La Paz, in the back of a pickup truck, saw a pretty girl dog walking on a leash along the Malecon, just minding her own business. The boy dog leapt out of the truck and attacked. The boy dog’s owner leapt out too and tried to stop the fight the girl dog put up for her honor and the horny out of control dog turned around and bit his own owner in the face, enough that he had to have stitches!

The city of La Paz is trying to ban all dogs from the Malecon because even leashed dogs are biting, but they’re getting so much push back from dog owners, the law probably won’t work.

This isn’t working. Illegal taps on petroleum pipelines increased in both January and February compared to the same months last year despite the federal government’s crackdown on fuel theft.

The state oil company reported that 1,342 new pipeline taps were detected in February, an increase of 9.6% over the same month in 2018.

In January, a month when the federal government was implementing an anti-fuel theft strategy that caused widespread gasoline shortages, there were 1,519 new pipeline taps detected, a 45% increase compared to a year earlier. In Hidalgo, where more than 100 people were killed in January by an explosion at a tapped pipeline, the number of illegal taps still didn’t go down.

Three weeks after he took office on December 1, President López Obrador began implementing a strategy aimed at combating high levels of fuel theft, a crime that costs Pemex billions of pesos a year. The strategy included the closure of several major pipelines and the deployment of the military and Federal Police to protect fuel infrastructure. With pipelines closed, Pemex was forced to make greater use of tanker trucks to transport fuel, a situation that was blamed for causing prolonged gasoline shortages that affected more than 10 states.

The government’s claims that fuel theft has been significantly reduced appear to be not true.

Over $2 million in cash stolen. It took a group of armed men 3 minutes to steal $2.4 million worth of United States and Canadian dollars at Guanajuato International Airport in Central Mexico last Wednesday night, more than double the amount initially reported.

Between six and eight masked men in a truck disguised with a fake Aeroméxico logo breached security to enter the runway area, where they intercepted an airport service vehicle that was in the process of delivering the cash to a waiting aircraft.

The money had arrived at the airport in a PanAmericano armored truck at around 8 p.m. in order to be flown to Mexico City. The armed men stole 14 of 18 bags of cash from a sole unarmed PanAmericano guard and two airport employees traveling across the tarmac in a luggage transport vehicle. The thieves then loaded the money into their truck, drove to the perimeter of the airport property and knocked over a fence to escape.

Shortly after the robbery, police found the truck that was used in the robbery and recovered two of the stolen bags of cash. They later found two more bags of cash in another abandoned vehicle.

Federal and state police, as well as the army, conducted a joint search operation but there have been no arrests. Later, Federal Police set up checkpoints to inspect vehicles entering and leaving the Guanajuato airport as part of wider measures to bolster security at the facility.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Mexico’s President gives away another prize. Teachers affiliated with the dissident CNTE teachers’ union can now take time off for demonstrations and blockades and even go on strike, and they will still get paid.

“No, no, no,” he said, “there will be no discounts to salaries; teachers have the right to protest …” said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, adding that  “… in the time we’ve been in government there have been no frequent strikes, children have continued to have classes and there has been no major issue.”

Teachers’ pay had been docked in the past if they didn’t show up in the classroom, a measure coherent with the Education Reform approved under former President Peña Nieto’s administration to reduce strikes and protests.

The president stressed that “this is what democracy is like; when there are no more strikes it means that the political system is dead … there must be demonstrations, different points of view … this is democracy.”

AMLO also explained that his administration is considering analyzing a rule that prohibits the payment of salaries to teachers assigned to positions in the union. At present they must be physically present in the classroom to get paid. The policy was part of the 2013 educational reforms, “and we are for its complete cancellation, all of its policies.”

That’s what CNTE members are hoping as they begin another protest today outside the Chamber of Deputies. A spokesman said teachers will continue to protest until “not even a comma remains” of the education reform of 2013.

Union leaders had announced that 40,000 teachers would march at today’s rally, but the newspaper Reforma said about 1,500 turned up.

Beer truck accident becomes a gift. An overturned beer truck was cause for celebration last week in Santa Cruz, Campeche, in Southern Mexico. About 100 people soon arrived at the scene of the accident on the Campeche-Mérida highway and carried away as much as they could. Some couldn’t wait to get home and cracked open some beers on the spot, including a woman who had to rest from the strenuous task by popping open a can and quenching her thirst.

The pillaging did not stop with the beer strewn on the roadside. Even the truck’s tires were stolen. When state and municipal police arrived, they cordoned off the area but did not intervene or attempt to stop the theft. Questioned by reporters, residents declared that stealing the beer mattered little to the brewery because the cargo was covered by insurance.

No arrests were reported, nor was the cause of the accident and the truck driver’s condition is unknown. It was the second accident involving a beer truck in just two days and the second time that a truck’s cargo was looted.

Trump makes new threat. And Mexico retorts saying that trade and immigration are separate issues, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexican auto imports and close the U.S. border if Mexico doesn’t stop drug and migration flows into the country within a year.

Well, at least we now have a year’s extension, ha!  “For the government of Mexico, keeping migration issues and trade issues separate is very important,” minister of economy Graciela Márquez said.

“The United States government sometimes mixes the two issues, but for us, it’s very important to keep the ratification of the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) in one lane and issues that have to do with migration in another,” she added.

The economy secretary said that any move by the United States to impose new tariffs would have to be discussed “within the terms of a relationship between trade partners that are modernizing a trade agreement.”

Former president Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the USMCA deal in November but it won’t take effect until it has been ratified by the legislatures of all three countries. Márquez’s position was supported by the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), who appeared alongside the economy secretary at yesterday’s press conference.

Last week, Trump said that “… Mexico, for the first time in decades, is meaningfully apprehending illegals at their southern border, before the long march up to the U.S. This is great and the way it should be. The big flow will stop,” he wrote.

“However, if for any reason Mexico stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from, the U.S. will be forced to tariff at 25% all cars made in Mexico and shipped over the border to us. If that doesn’t work, which it will, I will close the border,” Trump continued.

According to Kenneth Smith, a trade official who headed up Mexico’s technical negotiating team in trilateral talks with the United States and Canada last year, Trump’s tariff threats are nothing more than bluster that is politically motivated.

“Trump has no basis to argue that he can increase tariffs. Firstly, because if he increases them … he violates WTO rules, he violates the existing North American Free Trade Agreement,” he said.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Teachers’ union goes nuts again.  The latest target of the teacher’s union members’ unhappiness with allowing their skills to be evaluated is the lower house of Congress, which they shut down. Camping out on the railroad tracks cost so many people so much money, that the tactic proved pretty unpopular. Nobody cares about Congress, so now they’re targeting them.

Stolen border fence. Some new barbed wire placed atop the border wall in Tijuana didn’t stay there long: it is now serving to improve security at several area homes on the southern side of the border. The wire was installed to reinforce the Mexico-U.S. border recently in response to the arrival of thousands of migrants in caravans from Central America. But the barbed wire is there no more, leading to the belief that thieves on the Mexico side removed it and sold it in nearby neighborhoods, giving residents protection from the border jumpers.

“We know about the theft of barbed wire because United States authorities have requested our help,” said Tijuana police chief Marco Antonio Sotomayor Amezcua. Houses near the border are now clearly protected with barbed wire of a similar size and what’s more, a type that is not sold in Mexican stores.

So. It’s necessary to protect one’s home, but not one’s country. Got it now. Not saying we understand it, just saying we got it now.

Shot over the bow. Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico should be on notice that the sector is going to face increased scrutiny on its environmental practices and treatment of Indigenous people, according to Mexico’s new ambassador to Canada.

“President Lopez Obrador has been very public about this, that we really want a strong, profitable mining sector – and Canadian mining companies are large investors in Mexico – but we expect them to operate in this country with exactly the same standards as they do in Canada,” Juan Jose Gomez said enforcement of Mexico’s existing laws will be increased under the government of new president Lopez Obrador.

The most pressing task when he gets to Ottawa will be the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, the text of which was completed nearly six months ago but has yet to be ratified by the partners.

No More Tourist Promotion. The private sector will assume responsibility for marketing Mexico as a tourism destination in light of the federal government’s decision to disband the Tourism Promotion Council (CPTM).

“It’s an effort that must be done together to promote Mexico as a country,” said José Manuel Campos. However, Campos didn’t reveal the size of the budget the new organization will have.

The government’s decision to disband the CPTM shortly after President AMLO took office last December has been widely criticized by members of the tourism and business sectors, including union boss Gustavo de Hoyos, who said it “makes you think that tourism has stopped being a priority.”

Well, yeah. AMLO would rather have his bullet train than tourists speeding into Mexico.

Dead turtles! More than 110 sea turtles have been found dead on beaches in Guerrero so far this month, causing widespread alarm. But a marine biologist says it’s a natural phenomenon that salpa, a zooplankton, sometimes carry high levels of toxins which, when they come in contact with the turtles, paralyzes and kills them.

In 2009 between 500 and 600 dead turtles were found and a similar number perished in the same way in 2016.

The biologist added that illegal fishing techniques, especially using nets in which turtles get trapped, have also been responsible for many deaths.

So far, dead sea turtles have been found in Coyuca de Benítez, San Jerónimo, Tecpan de Galeana, Acapulco and the Costa Chica region in Guerrero, all on the mainland.

Are You Outta Your Mind?? The government of Spain has “vigorously” rejected a request from Mexican President López Obrador that Spain apologizes for its conquest of Mexico that occurred about 500 years ago. López Obrador wants an apology for the indignities suffered by the native peoples during the period of the Spanish conquest.

2021 will be known as the Year of Historical Reconciliation when Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence and 500 years since the taking of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. It appears Spain will not be part of the festivities.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Border emergency. You want to talk about a border emergency? Grab your passport and take a quick trip with me around the world. Look at the tensions between Israel and Syria. India and Pakistan. Iraq and Iran. Colombia and Venezuela. South Korea and North Korea. Now, closer to home, look at this relationship: United States-Mexico.

Thank goodness for good neighbors.

Can we have one of those? Groundbreaking took place Monday near Cancún for a US $312 million mall that will offer major brands. The Grand Outlet Riviera Maya will employ its “malltertainment” concept as nearly half the square footage will be allocated to entertainment attractions. The malltertainment concept consists of offering an all-round experience to the consumer. They even get an ice rink.

Construction started this week and is expected to take 18 months. There will also be a 7,500-seat auditorium, water features, an amusement park, a go-kart track described as the largest in the world and a hot air balloon ride. And three hotels.

Vanishing dolphins. Only 22 vaquita type of porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, a biology professor said yesterday, warning that the species could become extinct within months. The only place they can be found is the upper Sea of Cortez.

How do they know this? It’s a big sea, how can they be sure they’ve counted them all? Because 22 vaquitas were heard over a network of acoustic monitors. Ha! Maybe some vaquita were there and had nothing to say.

Vaquita huggers want more vigilance by the Navy but after angry fishermen who are accidently catching the little dolphins in their nets attacked a ship, Navy vessels have been too scaredy able to stop the illegal fishing.

Who doesn’t like Oxxo? Some residents of Oaxaca claim Oxxo is a threat to Mexico’s heritage. A movement calling itself anti-Oxxo, (less than imaginative but descriptive), erected blockades on several streets to prevent the mega-chain from constructing a new store in front of an elementary school. The group hopes to get all the locations in the city closed down. Members demand that the city government review every location’s construction permits and prohibit the franchise from opening more stores. Whoa, this is serious if they’re demanding permits. No way Oxxo, or any sophisticated chain spreads its tentacles legally.

At least five Oxxos are already located in the city center, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a very cute town.

Electricity is terrorism now? For the second time this year the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) cut electricity service to the Acapulco water and sewer system, a move described by the water utility as “terrorism.” 600,000 residents were without water, no word on the sewer system, shudder.

The utility had been making daily payments, trying to catch up on the $3.5 million they owe. The day before the “terrorism” against the water/sewer system, they cut off the lights.

Walmart uprising. More than 8,500 Walmart employees in 10 states are seeking a 20% pay increase and a fat bonus. The mainly female cashiers and other low-ranking employees earn on average between US $7 to $7.50 per day, (minimum wage is about $5 a day). They are not enrolled in medical insurance or retirement, their union claims. This is illegal.

In addition, they charge that Walmart doesn’t respect the right to an eight-hour work day, doesn’t pay overtime in accordance with the law, discriminates against pregnant women, and has dismissed workers unfairly. Workers at 121 Walmart stores as well as 56 Sam’s Club outlets and an unspecified number of Bodega Aurrera stores are prepared to walk off the job and in some states they are supported by governors who have acknowledged the “abuse” to which Walmart employees are subjected. Uh, well, why didn’t they stop it then?

The threatened strike follows widespread job actions in several other states where thousands of factory workers have won 20% pay increases and annual bonuses of as much as US $1,650. And they got this within days. However, those were manufacturers who had big contracts to deliver product and would suffer badly if they didn’t deliver. Maybe Walmart can go a few days or weeks without selling a pair of socks.

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.

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