EL BARZON UPDATE: PUSHING TEQUILA AND STAYING ON THE SIDEWALK:

Always on the lookout for the newest, most effective way to push its agenda for debt reform and producer – as well as consumer – protection, the national Debtor’s group El Barzon has announced a new strategy and a new product in the last couple of days.

First, the product. Tequila is made, in some part, from the blue agave cactus. So is mezcal, whose flavor I personally prefer, particularly in the form of “Don Amado” brand, which is made locally and exported by a friend of mine. The biggest differences between tequila and other distillations of the agave is the name: “Tequila” is the patented property of the Mexican government, and every bottle that has that name on the label pays a royalty to the national treasury. Naturally, this means that the feds have a strong interest in the growth of tequila exports.

You would suppose that this means that they would also have a proprietary interest in nurturing the agave growing industry: the producers of the plant that is used in the process. Wrong!

In response to industry demands for cheaper tequila, and corresponding reductions in the export price of the finished product (whether one followed from the other is, by the way, a matter of some controversy), the producers are allowed to cut the agave juice with sugar cane, or other cheaper sources of alcohol. The official rate is 20% cut, but there are rumors that some product may be cut even more.

For years, farmers in Jalisco state were encouraged to abandon other crops and start supplying agave. Now, there are too many growers for the industry to absorb — so long as the bottlers are allowed to continue the practice of cutting the product. The result has been a slump in the price of agave, and a lot of farmers are facing bankruptcy.

In fact, as any fan of agave juice can tell you, whether in “tequila” or mezcal form, the taste of the pure stuff is far superior to the adulterated swill, and the cost of the finished product is not really much reduced by the time it hits the retail level — although the profits increase enormously.

In order to save the family farms that are endangered by the greedy bottlers, El Barzon has elected to bottle its own 100% agave tequila. Currently only available — due to limited supply — in its MexCity and Tequila Jalisco offices, it is sure to catch on and gain wider distribution. As it does, more and more of the individual family farmers who are currently at the mercy of the coyotes (intermediaries who buy their crops cheap and sell them to the distillers) and the distillers will either join Barzon’s suppliers or, as many have already begun to do, withdraw their crops from the mass marketers and supply the growing number (still microscopic in output) micro-distillers of 100% agave product.

If this works, who knows? El Barzon coffee? El Barzon frijoles? The possibilities are endless…

In Mexico City, at least, El Barzon has abandoned their strategy of staging regular, large, disruptive marches that have tied up traffic for hours and effectively blocked automotive access to the central zona historico. Promising to “keep to the sidewalks”, Metropolitan director Ramirez Cuellar vowed to renew the search for ways to resolve conflicts without the necessity of confrontation.

Coming on the heels of a PRD sweep of Mexico City in the July 6 elections, these changes have occasioned some sniping at El Barzon as being in the pocket of the PRD. While I would argue that the PRD, of all the parties in Mexico, is the most logical home for Barzonistas, I would caution against putting the cart before the horse. PRD owes a whole lot more to El Barzon, in terms of organizing and advocacy, than it can claim in terms of favors given or potentially available.

Clearly, Barzon recognizes that continuing disruption of MexCity would leave Cardenas, the mayor-elect, with some unpleasant choices, and understands the importance of giving him a chance to prove the value of a left-leaning leadership in the capital. However, they also see clearly the acceptance of the PRD administration of much of what they marched to demand from the unresponsive PRI honchos who will be replaced during the October transition. With so much of their agenda in common, the Barzon and the PRD will constitute a powerful alliance for change in the world’s most populous city.

Look for the war against the “ambulante” sidewalk sellers to end, with the tax man and the license inspector replacing the policeman, and large demonstrations and petitions in the legislature aimed at giving the power to appoint the police chief and the public prosecutor to the mayor, rather than the feds, among other “home rule” issues.

SOME OF THE BUTCHERS OF AGUAS BLANCAS ARE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE AT LAST:

On the 11th of July, more that two years after the bloody slaughter of 17 peasant members of the Organization of Campesinos of the Southern Mountains outside Aguas Blancas, Guerrero, many of the “intellectual organizers” and actual perpetrators were sentenced to prison. Ranging from 26 years to little more than 3 years, and including heavy fines, these were surprisingly heavy sentences in a state where murder of political dissidents has long been an accepted way of doing business.

While the punishment reached as high as his cabinet, former governor and chief perpetrator Ruben Figueroa Alcocer was not charged and enjoys a comfortable retirement, having been exonerated by an act of (the PRI dominated) congress. The new legislature is less likely to confer untouchability on similar acts.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE RECENT ELECTIONS:

Quien sabe (who knows?) what will happen. The PRI lost it’s majority in the chamber of deputies and retained it in the senate. However, only a strong and cooperative opposition coalition will be able to prevail. This means the PAN and the PRD and the Greens will have to find common ground, and that may prove an elusive goal.

Clearly, the electorate dealt the PRI organization a powerful smack in the chops, but whether they are down for the count is less than clear. If the other parties are unable to get together and move things forward — if they look to Mexicans as the do-little US congress looks to us — the people may reject pluralism in the 2000 election and give the PRI back their majority.

One thing, among all the uncertainty in this country, is sure: that very little is as it seems. Is the PAN really the right wing of the PRI in drag? Is Cardenas, the son of a PRI governor, just another gangster who couldn’t make it in the PRI and split off for his own gain, who now will prove to have been nothing but a vote getting machine with no real taste for reform? Is Zedillo, who talks a good de-centralist game, free to cooperate with the new MexCity regime, or will Chayffet and the other dinosaurs shut it down?

Stay tuned…

A SIGN OF THE MEXICAN RECOVERY:

For those of you that doubt that the economic recovery in Mexico is nearly complete, here is important news: in spite of the recent report by the federal government that the number of Mexicans living in “extreme poverty” has increased from around 30% to around 50%, Forbes magazine reported this week that Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helu, now has risen to number five in the world, with 6 billion 600 million dollars. Viva Mexico!