MEXICO IS LOW ON THE FOOD CHAIN, WHETHER YOU’RE TALKING FOOD OR MONEY.

Two items in the Mexico City News caught my attention the other day. The first noted that thousands of tons of strawberries were being allowed to rot on the vine (if you will excuse my mixed metaphor) because a U.S. packing firm introduced hepatitis to strawberries during processing. The other was a box containing one paragraph telling that the U.S. government may be getting ready to push the border between Mexico and the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico further south.

Mexican agricultural produce is, pound for pound and penny for penny, as good as, or better than, its Yankee counterpart. During the lengthy debate over whether, under NAFTA, the U.S. should lower its tax on Mexican tomatoes and avocados, a U.S. Senator from Florida told a news conference that his grower constituents needed a high tariff in order to stay in business. He said that Mexican tomatoes are simply better than Florida tomatoes.

Since then, U.S. authorities, acting to protect the turfs of their own growers and canners, have moved in various ways against a number of Mexican agricultural enterprises. The same racism and arrogance that results in Prop 187 and the latest rounds of anti-immigrant pogrom, are at work here, and nowhere is it clearer than the anti-Mexican hysteria occurring in the wake of a hepatitis outbreak in Michigan last week.

A tragedy (these berries ended up on school lunch trays) involved berries grown in Mexico. A U.S. company in San Diego received the berries, cut them up, and froze them. Unfortunately for all concerned, the cannery gave the strawberries hepatitis. 150 schoolchildren became ill with this dangerous liver disease.

At first, the news reports assumed that the hepatitis must have been on the berries all along, because everyone knows that the Mexicans are a dirty people and not competent to clean their produce. And to prove it, they trotted out a “buy American” law, which was misrepresented as consumer protection rather than U.S. grower protection. The law says that only U.S. grown produce may be served in school lunches.

Even now, after a parade of experts has explained that the Mexicans were bum rapped, U.S. importers are staying away from Mexican strawberries because they can’t send them to market. Shoppers won’t touch them, because they are scared. They will miss the chance to taste the incredible freshness and ripeness of a Mexican strawberry. A small price to pay, compared to the increasing number of Mexican agricultural workers who won’t get paid to harvest them (up, to 2,500, early this week), or the Mexican growers and canners who will get stung for about 5 million dollars.

In what many Mexicans perceive as an expansionist stance, the U.S. congress has refrained from approving a treaty negotiated in 1978 by Jimmy Carter’s State Dept. Among the key provisions was a drawing of U.S. / Mexican territories in the Gulf of Mexico, agreeable to both sides. U.S. drilling rigs are taking crude out of the gulf floor, in territories disputed by the two countries. Clearly it would not be in the U.S. interest to disappoint Texaco, Arco and Chevron. Mexico says her territorial integrity is being violated.

UPDATE: On Sunday, 20,000 agricultural workers marched through Watsonville CA, led by AFL-CIO heavies, Rev Jessie Jackson, Cesar Chavez’ widow, and other luminaries, to demand the right for strawberry pickers to organize for better wages and working conditions. They were joined by contingents of workers and union organizers from Oaxaca and other Mexican growing areas.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE MEXICO CITY ELECTION

No doubt about it, folks, the upcoming July election in Mexico City is the most important political event of the year, if not the era, in Mexico. Ultimately, it will be a test of the PRI’s ability to give up power when it is legitimately taken from them. ALL the polls predict that, barring assassination, revelations of wrong doing, or of immoral acts with helpless children and barnyard animals, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the PRD will take the prize.

In Mexico, winning an election requires more than getting more people to vote for you than vote for the other guy. First, the votes. Next, the ballot box. Then you have to take office. Zedillo has pledged to leave the ballot boxes alone, thus avoiding being accused of fixing the results, as many believe Carlos Salinas did in 1988. Once the Federal Election Commission (IFE) declares it, you’re the winner, and you can go to step 3.

Step 3: to take hold of the reins of power, you have to get past the barricades the opposition (loser) parties have thrown up in front of you. Common in small pueblitos high in the mountains, this stage can end in bloodshed.

Mexico City is not just another mayoral election. It is the first ever election for mayor in that city, which holds 1/4 of all Mexicans; and for the last 60+ years has had its mayor appointed by the (PRI) president of Mexico. Everyone is holding their breath.

INTERNET FOR THE PHONELESS:

If you bring your laptop with you, and you have a contract with a local service, but do not have a phone (as many short-term accommodations do not), you may take your computer to the Larga Distancia at Bustamente 203-A, just off the zocalo. They will plug it in for you, and you can upload and download for 2 pesos or less per connection.