REPORTERS AND PAYOFFS: MORE THAN ONE SIDE TO THIS STORY:

On June 5, Mexican president Zedillo awarded reporter Luis Rubio a prize for his work. Rubio, in response to this prestigious pomposity, treated the prez to a reality sandwich: he talked about how pandemic government bribery of journalists is.

Long an open secret, well acknowledged but never talked about, the self-censorship of the press in the face of possible withdrawal of government support both of the papers they work on, and their own personal lifestyles, is now out of the bottle. It is, however, only the carrot. There is still the stick.

Newspapers in Mexico, with the exception of “Reforma”, depend on government subsidies to survive. Reforma is subsidized internally by its’ parent corporation’s profits from stablemate newspapers in Nuevo Leon state and Monterrey in particular.

The base of the problem is that few Mexicans buy daily papers, and thus few advertisers are willing to pay for display ads. In order to make up for this, the papers accept government handouts, and print them as if they were news: no attribution, no “paid advertisement”. Even the respected opposition newspaper, La Jornada, must do so, but Jornada signals which articles are prepaid propaganda by printing the headline in Italics. Thus, a Jornada reader may see two articles, both with the same headline, on the same page: one with a normal header (the Jornada’s reporter) and the other with the government version (in italics).

Beyond this, individual reporters are also suborned, by gifts of wine, women and cash envelopes. Some, it is said, are pulling in 10 times their newspaper paychecks. Most are on the tit in one way or another.

If bribery doesn’t work, there is always the other hand: persuasion by kidnapping, torture, incarceration, lawsuit (under Mexican law, you can be sued for “defamation”, an imprisonable offense, even if what you say can be proven to be true). Human rights agencies and jounalism organizations have been reporting increased attacks against reporters over the last couple of months. It seems clear that for many, having decided to avoid the stick, the carrot is a logical compensation.

ARMS RACE HEATING UP AT BEHEST OF BOEING, LOCKHEED:

The Clinton administration, once more displaying its inability to formulate and keep a consistent policy on arms proliferation, has recently lifted the ban on arms sales in Latin America. However, this will probably have little effect in Mexico and Guatemala, two of the most serious abusers of their own citizens.

Apparently yielding to pressures from the two biggest war-weapons producers, the Clintonites have lifted the 20-year-old ban on selling to Lat-Am so that Boeing and Lockheed can enter “competitive bids” for jet fighters, being let by the Chilean government. As you probably know, Chile, Peru and Equador are all uptight with each other over border hassles, and any massive supplies of weapons to any of the three is likely to cause the others an anxiety attack that will only be allayed by ratcheting their own supplies up another notch.

Never fear, though, our clear-sighted leader, having made the arms available, wrote a personal letter to Chilean president Eduardo Frei, asking him to refrain from buying them — a request which Frei took to be “insulting”: whether personally or as regards thought and logic, I don’t know.

Lifting the ban will not affect the situation of the campesinos being occasionally bombed and constantly harassed in Chiapas, and elsewhere in Mexico, since we now supply them all the weaponry they can use under the guise of “anti-drug” agreements.

BACK ON THE ROAD:

Another segment of the serialized journey we took in May, on our way to California:

TLAQUEPAQUE, a suburb of Guadalajara, along with Tonala, used to be known as a center of ceramics. Not so many years ago, the area around the local zocalo was home to dozens of shops devoted to the local artesania. Not so today. We found a lot of shops filled with stuff from Oaxaca and Michoacan, as well as old stuff from local artesans, but local and contemporary seemed absent. In many ways, Avenida Independencia, the upscale shopping mall running from the zocalo to Ninos Heroes and the bus back to Guadalajara, reminded us of the fancy stores we saw in Querretaro. Except for the Ceramics Museum, where beautiful – but old, and poorly displayed – local product was on display, and the showroom of Sergio Bustamente where new but totally nontraditional work was on display, there just wasn’t much traditional artesania to be found. This was particularly disappointing to Diana, who soothed her annoyance by making a couple of careful selections from the Huichol indians selling their beaded work on the sidewalks.

We did ask David and Dona about this the next day, and they said that the center of Tlaquepaque had simply become too expensive for the traditional ceramicists, and that they had moved a few blocks further out, and to nearby Tonola, where the trade still flourishes.

IF THIS IS THURSDAY, WE MUST BE IN MAZATLAN:

When we arrived in Guadalajara, we bought a bus ticked for Mazatlan. We bought it at the Elite counter. When we arrived on Thursday to catch our bus we were pointed to an Estrella del Norte bus bound for Tijuana (remember what I said about this gang earlier?). Instead of two stops, as promised, it made five (scheduled) and two extras. The bus itself was a very comfortable Mercedes, and the driving was excellent. Even the regular stops were not too bad. It was the last stop that tore it.

About an hour out of Mazatlan, the Procuraduria General de Republica (PGR), the FBI of Mexico, has an inspection point. Everyone was asked for ID (we used our senior citizen cards), and all the contents of the (absolutely packed full to the gills) baggage compartments were removed and inspected. Only one suspicious piece was noted: a brand-new, fire engine red electric welding machine. For the next hour, the authorities disassembled the case, and drilled holes in the generator plates; unwrapped some of the insulation and generally turned the poor thing into scrap. Finally satisfied that there was no hidden contraband, the authorities reassembled the case and sent us on our way, about an hour and a half later.

MAZATLAN is muggy, but cooler than Guadalajara or Oaxaca. The Hotel BelMar where we stayed, is old, clean, functional and right across the road from the Pacific in the older section of town. At 184 pesos for a double with fan, a reasonable domicile for a couple of days (or more).

Our friends Dan and Deb McWethy, who had arrived at the Mazatlan airport well before we got to the bus depot, and who by destination were the closest to the airport, were almost an hour behind us in arriving at the Belmar. This was because the travelers going to the more expensive hotels on the north edge of town got delivered first: not only the expedited service due their elevated economic status, but that way nobody got to say “hey, wait a minute, that’s a pretty nice looking place over there, driver, how much does THAT cost?” However, Dan got to practice his Spanish, and they got a tour of the town, factors that Deb might have appreciated more had not their jouney started at 4 am in New Hampshire and lasted some 14 hours.

Hooked up with – and hooked up through – RED 2000, the local internet provider. Director Moises Romero was extremely helpful in getting my machine connected through his office server, a job made more difficult by my outdated winsock connection (which I hope to fix as soon as we get to Three Rivers). My half hour session cost me 25 pesos, which I considered very reasonable because of the personal attention Moises gave me – before we had exchanged cards, when I was just another customer to him. Red 2000 is at Plaza las Americas, local 2. Moises’ email # is moytoy@red2000.com.mx

Shrimp is the name of the game in Mazatlan, and we partook early and often. We ate large, juicy shrimp in a simple restaurant blocks off the tourist trail, and in the “upscale” Bucket of Shrimp on the Malecon (promenade along the ocean). While the Bucket was a little higher in price, the salsa was made-at-your-table, and the bread came from the kitchen. We could have done without the salsa-in-English band, or at least a lower volume, and the forced bonhomie of the wait staff was a distraction, although the table of 20-something US women next to us seemed to enjoy the atmosphere.

Shrimp cocktail in this part of Mexico is a lot different that what we were used to in Oaxaca (and probably, what you are used to in the U.S.): a thin broth, brought warm to the table; no avacado or cilantro; no hot sauce of any kind. We asked for a glass (to pour the juice out), some ketchup, some salsa picante, a little avacado and some lime. That seemed to do the trick.

Next time: Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon y mas.

NUDGE-NUDGE, WINK-WINK, KNOW WHAT I MEAN, KNOW WHAT I MEAN:

And now, for something completely the same. The DEA now claims that the secret sting operation it ran in Mexico, code named Casablanca, was not kept secret from Mexico’s highest authorities. It cites a memorandum in its file that meetings were held in Mexico between its representatives and the office of then-Attorney General Lozano Gracia, in which the plot was discussed and approved.

In response, the foreign secretary, Rosario Green, said that while the subject was brought up at the meeting in question, there was only a vague reference to a possible sting, and no details were revealed, nor was the plan in any way approved. Calling it only “a hint”, Green and now-Attorney General Cuellar said the investigation into bringing criminal charges against the individual agents who operated on Mexican territory is going ahead.

Meanwhile, Maddie Albright all but said no way will we allow extradition of our agents to answer to Mexico’s charges, and the State Dept sent a letter to the Treasury, chastising them for not keeping them informed of the whole affair. Does anybody else get the notion that all this froofaraw is just a bunch of bureaucratic territorialism, with everyone jockeying for position while the “war on drugs” continues to bog down in its own contradictions?

U.S. NOT EXACTLY IMMUNE TO DRUG-INDUCED CORRUPTION:

In an article which reminded me of why we got rid of Prohibition, the LA Times reported last week that official police corruption at home has increased fivefold in the last four years (based on number of officers serving time for getting caught). That’s what happens when you try to prohibit folks from going to hell in a handbasket of their own choosing. Will the prohibitors never learn?