BRIGHT PREDICTIONS ARE BELIED BY GRIM REALITIES IN MEXICAN ECONOMY:

Despite the rah-rah razzmatazz published every day on the front page of the “News In English From Mexico City”, the “booster” paper for the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, there is much disquieting news leaking out around the edges. Acting as a counterpoint to upbeat announcements of peso and economic stabilization and growth, fed constantly to the tame media by the Zedillo administration, are scores of articles in other Mexican newspapers, most notably La Jornada and The Mexico City Times, and the magazines Proceso and Tiempo. Here are but a few:

*Far from retiring net indebtedness, the highly touted early repayment of the emergency loan received from the U.S. has increased and prolonged the Mexican debt situation. The first big payment last month was accomplished by selling “Brady Bonds” short of maturity, adversely reflecting interest income which had been expected from holding them longer. The big chunk plunked down last week came from the sale of 30-year bonds on the European market. While reducing the annual payments, bonds of such length cost more in interest and affect eligibility for credit.

*At the annual meeting of the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce (CONCANACO), it was announced that the most favorable rate of inflation that could be predicted for the year 1996 was 28%. Based on current information, this represents a DOUBLING of prices in four years!

*Last week, the government agency in charge of compiling statistics on everything (INEGI) announced that growth in the Gross Domestic Product, adjusted to account for inflation, had fallen by 1%. That’s negative growth, folks.

*It was announced on Monday that the Central Bank will soon begin buying dollars from private bankers, at auction. This is an attempt to build hard currency reserves, which were severely taxed by recent ahead-of-schedule repayments of loans from the US. The result, the bankers say, is likely to be a “weakened” (read: further devaluated) peso “in the short run”, due to the addition of another level of buyer into the market.

*A week ago, the Confederation of Commercial Organizations (CONACCA) announced that in the last year, 35% of the shops in the 12,000 “Centros de Abastos” (central shopping markets) have been closed. Resulting in inability to repay loans and subsequent likelihood of bankruptcy, these closings are moving the “puestos” (small booths) out of the formal economy and into the underground economy (which is now estimated to exceed registered, taxpaying businesses by two to one). Also cited is the closing of over 600 major warehouses. Blamed for all this bad news, were increased interest rates on old loans, inability to secure new credit, sharply reduced conumer buying, and a general belief that things will get worse.

*New laws in the Federal District (Mexico City) mandating more fuel efficient and less polluting autobuses will create a 70% reduction in the number of buses operated by independent operators, according to Mexico City El Barzón. Unable to get credit, tens of thousands of drivers will be put out of work, and the population will be unable to get around.

Especially affected will be the members of SUTAUR100, the busdrivers’ union that recently settled a prolonged lockout with the municipal government, in which deal the affected drivers were promised several exclusive routes — provided they could come up with the vehicles. They have been very militant in the past, and if disappointed again can be expected to make their unhappiness known.

BARZONISTAS JOIN ZAPATISTAS IN “PACT OF UNTOUCHABILITY” DAYS BEFORE THE OPENING OF A WORLD CONFERENCE ON NEOLIBERALISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS:

Leadership of one of the largest factions of the debtors’ movement El Barzón journeyed to La Realidád to sign an agreement with the leadership of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). While mostly symbolic, the pact obligates each to come to the aid of the other in case of “bad” government action (such as the stiff sentances handed out to Elorriaga and Entzín last month, and the arrest of Barzón leaders earlier this year).

The Barzonistas, with their largely middle class, mestizo (mixed blood) constituency, and the Zapatistas whose members are mostly poor and indigenous, have taken an important first step toward an integrated national front against the ruling PRI party.

OPENING OF THE MEXICAN CONVENTION AGAINST NEOLIBERALISM AND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS MARKED BY GOVERNMENT HARASSMENT OF FOREIGN OBSERVERS:

Members of the international press corp, and observers from human rights groups, on their way to the convention in La Realidad, Chiapas, have been detained, interrogated for an hour or more, fingerprinted, photographed, and issued “special” stamps for their passports. Officials of the Migración (immigration department), citing Article 64 of the General Law on Populations, say that they merely wish to establish that foreigners in the region have legitimate business, and to keep track of their whereabouts for their own protection.

As reported in an earlier “Newsletter”, this has been going on for some months. Visitors to San Cristobal de las Casas have been visited in their hotel rooms and in restaurants by Migración officials who act correctly but give off a menacing air. Often these “officials” do not have proper identification and are wearing civilian clothes, leading some to fear that they may actually be White Guard death squad members.

In what may be an ominous turn of events, one Spanish reporter has claimed that his interrogators knew details of his itinerary that were known only to himself and the reconciliation commission COCOPA, headed by Archbishop Samuél Ruiz.

SCIENTISTS SAY NUMBER, MANNER OF MONARCH BUTTERFLY DEATHS EXAGGERATED BY SOME ENVIRONMENTALISTS:

In the winter, the mountains north of Morelia, Michoacán, and neighboring forests in Mexico state, become the home to millions of Monarch butterflies, and a mecca for all sorts of voyagers from lepidopterists to busloads of European tourists. The past winter’s fun was marred by an early and persistent coldsnap and snowfall, making it difficult for the observers to get to the area.

Reported in the media as a disaster of major proportions in which over 20 million Monarchs perished, the actual figures look a little less dire. A trinational study by Mexicans, Canadians and Yankees, suggests that the problem was both exaggerated and misunderstood.

Ecologists reported that no more than one million butterflies were lost to the storms in Michoacán. While it is true that the Monarch population came up 20 million short, the impetus was elsewhere. Drought conditions and increased use of pesticides against the weeds that provide much of the food necessary for making the trip — as well as increased harvesting of their favorite species of cottonwood tree (particularly in southern Loiusiana) took their toll well before the monarchs reached Mexico.

This conflict between tree harvesters and Monarch protectors is being played out in Mexico, as well. While tourist dollars drive the effort to retain the essential oyamel pine in which they rest, the peasant farmers in the area are for the most part left out of the money stream that trickles down from tourism. For them, the oyamel represents firewood, and while they would rather preserve the Monarch habitat, their hungry families come first.

ACCUSATIONS OF HUGE EMBEZZLEMENT BY TOP SOCIAL SECURITY DIRECTOR LEADS TO DEMONSTRATIONS AND WHISTLE BLOWING BY RANK AND FILE WORKERS:

The recent arrest of the ex-head of the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Sociál (IMSS) for embezzling over $40 million usdd has been quickly followed by news stories about the deficiencies of the organization when it comes to treating needy members.

On July 25, a nurse at an IMSS hospital in Mexico City started bleeding herself to death to protest the inadequate treatment and lack of supplies in her hospital, and the complicity of her union leaders in covering up this situation — and falsifying the results of a recent election in order to keep themselves in power.

Marth Pérez Martinez, holder of a university degree in nursing sciences and a mother of two, is letting 5 cc of her blood every half hour. She has been a nurse for over 15 years.

“I feel impotent to change things”, she said in an interview published in La Jornada. “I can’t stand by any longer and watch hundreds of patients die because of lack of medicine, syringes, bandages, and diagnostic services”. She cites, for instance, being given only four syringes to draw blood from twenty patients.

She is also protesting having her election victory stolen from her by corrupt union officials. An opposition officer in her local for 14 years, she ran for a position on the arbitration board and lost — she says — because of voting fraud. She is not alone. The local offices have been occupied for more than a week by other dissidents, who have been on hunger strike since the occupation. One of them now has joined her in disensanguination. Some are already showing signs of starvation: headaches, low blood pressure, loss of feeling in the legs, among others.

ELDERLY MOST AFFECTED BY IMSS CRISIS:

Only 0.6% of Mexico’s 5,875,000 inhabitants of more that 60 years of age get medical attention at special clinics set up in 1979 by the National Instutute for the Aged (INSEN). This amounts to a total of 150 patients per day in Mexico City, where INSEN maintains a clinic that has been under constant criticism in recent years for ignoring the needs of its’ patients. Currently under investigation is the case of an exray technician whose “patron” (read lover), the clinic’s director of personnel, is himself under investigation. The lady in question, paid for 8 hours a day, never works more than three, whether patients are waiting or not. Besides, according to sources, there are not enough xray plates, and machines are more often broken than working.

Caught between the INSEN system, where they are “supposed” to go, and the IMSS who often refer them back to INSEN, are thousands of infirm and confused elders. While IMSS directly funds INSEN’s clinics, the money given barely covers administrative and staff salaries. There is little left over for medicine, supplies and diagnostic equipment. Patients are referred to diagnosic labs, some of which charge twice the going rate.

While some facilities for housing elderly Mexicans, such as the Alvaro Carillo residence in Oaxaca, are models of care and effectiveness, many have been cited as nothing more than prison/poor houses for those who are warehoused there.

REVELATIONS OF CORUPTION AND DEALS WITH DRUG TRAFFICKERS IN OFFICE OF FEDERAL ATTORNEY GENERAL:

In the wake of accusations of high-level coverup in the assassination of ex-candidate Colosio, the government went outside its’ own ruling PRI party to choose a new Attorney General: Antonio Lozano Gracia. A member of the PAN, and a critic of the prior inquiry, Lozano has been a focus of controversy ever since. Many in the PRI say he is ineffective. PAN politicians say that’s because his investigation keeps being impeded by refusal of PRI officials to share information. There have been periodic calls for his resignation, a move that Zedillo has been loath to make, as his appointment was, in the first place, a move to co-opt the criticism of the PAN.

Sparked by a major turf war between the Gulf and Tijuana drug cartels, the last year’s round of assassinations and executions have increased on the streets of Tijuana, Guadalajara, Ciudad Juarez, and México. The violence has, inevitably reached the Federal Judicial Police (PFJ). The latest victim, Commander Isaac Sanchez Perez, is not the first high level PFJ official to be gunned down.

On July 26, Leticia de Anda Munguia, a fiscal supervisor at the PGR, went public. A supporter of Lozano, de Anda has herself been accused of embezzlement, dereliction of duty, and bribe-taking. Attacked on the floor of the national assembly, de Anda struck back, holding a press conference in which she declared that “lawless elements” within the PGR are doing everything they can to stop reform. She also told reporteres that she had been investigated by the official in charge of internal security, and that he had found no evidence of wrong doing on either her part or that of Lozano.

Meanwhile, calls for Lozano’s resignation still can be heard in the halls of the assembly, and the PGR is still regarded as an armed force that operates by its’ own rules.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC RELEASES SPECIAL VOLUME ON MEXICO:

In their latest release, NG devotes the entire issue to México. Reporters inclue Charles Krause of NPR. This is not an archeological/anthropological nor a “green” study, but rather a good piece of contemporary reporting on the problems and possibilities of a nation “emerging” right next to the world’s most powerful (and some would say most domineering) nation. “Must” reading.