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August 12th, 2010 8:26 PM

An Anti-Incumbency Wave — in Mexico

Published: July 6, 2010
Mexico City

PERCEPTIONS, once firmly established, can often obscure the truth. The homicide rate in Brazil is twice that in Mexico, but it is my country that is portrayed as lawless and violence-ridden. So it is important to note some sudden good news: On Sunday, in 14 of Mexico’s 32 states, millions of citizens went to the polls and, defying the threat of violence from drug cartels, decisively consolidated our young democracy.

They did not, as had been feared, simply entrust local government in all 14 states to the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party), which had ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000. That had seemed to be a strong possibility, given the widespread desire to return to the relative stability of the days before the drug gangs spread violence and death through much of Mexico. Complete victory for the PRI would have led to its inevitable return to nationwide power in the presidential election of 2012. What voters did in many places was simply vote out corrupt or ineffective incumbent governors, mayors and other state and local officials — regardless of party.

Now, though the return of the PRI in 2012 is still probable, it is no longer inevitable. Even if the next president turns out to be from the PRI, the party will still not regain its lock on power, since the other parties have made such substantial gains in state and city governments. This is cause for great optimism.

For most of its modern history, Mexico was a monarchy in disguise. Each president in turn was the Great Elector, dominating Congress through a permanent majority, wielding influence over the Supreme Court, appointing and removing governors and mayors, freely manipulating the national budget and natural resources, and limiting freedom of expression.

In its decade of existence in Mexico, democracy has created a true division of power among Congress, the president and the judiciary; honest presidential and legislative elections; limits on the traditionally absolute power of the Mexican president; an independent Supreme Court; a disclosure law that has notably reduced federal corruption; unrestricted freedom of expression in the news media; and active participation by Mexican citizens in public life.

But democracy itself brought unexpected problems. The powers formerly monopolized by the president devolved to the state governors, most of whom still belonged to the PRI and often, suddenly free of presidential control, behaved like the old strongmen of the Mexican Revolution. They bought votes, controlled local electoral institutions, made free use of public funds, nourished corruption and repressed or silenced the press.

And yet, on Sunday, contrary to many people’s expectations, committed citizens voted out the feudal lords in two key states, Oaxaca and Puebla, as well as in the violence-ridden state of Sinaloa.

Public consciousness of the power of the vote is relatively new here. And it is of course vital to the success of democracy. In 6 of the 12 states that elected governors on Sunday, incumbents — not only from the PRI but also from the PAN (the right-of-center National Action Party of President Felipe Calderón) and the P.R.D. (the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party) — were rejected.

In Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, the voters chose candidates jointly supported by the PAN and the P.R.D., a practical alliance that would have been unimaginable a few years ago and seems to confirm the centrist tendency of the Mexican electorate. Even in a few states where the alliance lost to the PRI, it demonstrated growing strength.

Despite the menace of violence from organized crime, in seven states, including Sinaloa, more than 50 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Natural disasters, disease outbreaks, economic crisis, migration and the violence of the drug war have clouded life in Mexico through recent years. But the people continue to believe in democracy.

Now democracy can continue to develop where it is most needed, at the state and municipal level. Consider what might happen next year in the rich and populous state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital city. The current governor there is the popular Enrique Peña Nieto, who polls suggest is the leading candidate in the 2012 presidential race. But a PAN-P.R.D. alliance could prove competitive against his PRI successor in the 2011 gubernatorial race. Should the alliance win there, Mr. Peña Nieto’s presidential prospects would not be so clear.

At the same time, the PAN will have difficulty holding onto the presidency. Mexico remains economically stagnant, and ordinary citizens disapprove of President Calderón’s war against the drug bosses. The PAN would not have gotten very far on Sunday without its alliance with the P.R.D., and vice versa. These parties could become competitive in the 2012 presidential race, but first the new state governments, formed by alliances opposed to the PRI, must show themselves to be honest, economically innovative and effective in confronting organized crime.

The good news is that even if Mr. Peña Nieto wins the presidency in 2012, the PRI will still not regain its former strength. The governors, even the many in the PRI party, will not gracefully cede their new powers to the president. And voters know the PRI cannot easily persuade the drug lords to stop competing for market and territories — and stop killing each other, government representatives and ordinary citizens.

In practical terms, a pluralistic Mexico is far preferable to the restoration of a camouflaged monarchy. A country that becomes continually more comfortable with democracy and the rule of law in its states and cities can confront the challenge of organized crime in a more effective and responsible manner. Colombia has done it, and maintained democracy. Mexico — with some help and understanding from the United States — can do it as well. No matter the dangers, the future for Mexico must rest on maintaining and expanding its still young democracy.

Enrique Krauze is the editor of the magazine Letras Libres and the author of “Mexico: Biography of Power.” This article was translated by Hank Heifetz from the Spanish.

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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 8:26 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 8:20 PM

The World's Billionaires -

3/9/2010 6:00 PM

Carlos Slim takes the No. 1 spot on Forbes' annual list of the world's richest as a record 164 billionaires return to the ranking amidst the global economic recovery.    For the third time in three years, the world has a new richest man.

Riding surging prices of his various telecom holdings, including giant mobile outfit America Movil ( AMX - news - people ), Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu has beaten out Americans Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to become the wealthiest person on earth and nab the top spot on the 2010 Forbes list of the World's Billionaires.

Slim's fortune has swelled to an estimated $53.5 billion, up $18.5 billion in 12 months. Shares of America Movil, of which Slim owns a $23 billion stake, were up 35% in a year.

In Pictures: The 20 Richest People In The World

That massive hoard of scratch puts him ahead of Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) cofounder Bill Gates, who had held the title of world's richest 14 of the past 15 years.

Gates, now worth $53 billion, is ranked second in the world. He is up $13 billion from a year ago as shares of Microsoft rose 50% in 12 months. Gates' holdings in his personal investment vehicle Cascade ( CAE - news - people ) also soared with the rest of the markets.

Buffett's fortune jumped $10 billion to $47 billion on rising shares of Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK - news - people ). He ranks third.

The Oracle of Omaha shrewdly invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs ( GS - news - people ) and $3 billion in General Electric ( GE - news - people ) amid the 2008 market collapse. He also recently acquired railroad giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe ( BNI - news - people ) for $26 billion.

In his annual shareholder letter Buffett wrote, "We've put a lot of money to work during the chaos of the last two years. When it's raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble."

Many plutocrats did just that. Indeed, last year's wealth wasteland has become a billionaire bonanza. Most of the richest people on the planet have seen their fortunes soar in the past year.



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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 8:20 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 8:15 PM

Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations

August 3, 2010

Geopolitics, Nationalism and Dual Citizenship

By George Friedman

Arizona’s new law on illegal immigration went into effect last week, albeit severely limited by a federal court ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court undoubtedly will settle the matter, which may also trigger federal regulations. However that turns out, the entire issue cannot simply be seen as an internal American legal matter. More broadly, it forms part of the relations between the United States and Mexico, two sovereign nation-states whose internal dynamics and interests are leading them into an era of increasing tension. Arizona and the entire immigration issue have to be viewed in this broader context.

Until the Mexican-American War, it was not clear whether the dominant power in North America would have its capital in Washington or Mexico City. Mexico was the older society with a substantially larger military. The United States, having been founded east of the Appalachian Mountains, had been a weak and vulnerable country. At its founding, it lacked strategic depth and adequate north-south transportation routes. The ability of one colony to support another in the event of war was limited. More important, the United States had the most vulnerable of economies: It was heavily dependent on maritime exports and lacked a navy able to protect its sea-lanes against more powerful European powers like England and Spain. The War of 1812 showed the deep weakness of the United States. By contrast, Mexico had greater strategic depth and less dependence on exports.

The Centrality of New Orleans

The American solution to this strategic weakness was to expand the United States west of the Appalachians, first into the Northwest Territory ceded to the United States by the United Kingdom and then into the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson ordered bought from France. These two territories gave the United States both strategic depth and a new economic foundation. The regions could support agriculture that produced more than the farmers could consume. Using the Ohio-Missouri-Mississippi river system, products could be shipped south to New Orleans. New Orleans was the farthest point south to which flat-bottomed barges from the north could go, and the farthest inland that oceangoing ships could travel. New Orleans became the single most strategic point in North America. Whoever controlled it controlled the agricultural system developing between the Appalachians and the Rockies. During the War of 1812, the British tried to seize New Orleans, but forces led by Andrew Jackson defeated them in a battle fought after the war itself was completed.

Jackson understood the importance of New Orleans to the United States. He also understood that the main threat to New Orleans came from Mexico. The U.S.-Mexican border then stood on the Sabine River, which divides today’s Texas from Louisiana. It was about 200 miles from that border to New Orleans and, at its narrowest point, a little more than 100 miles from the Sabine to the Mississippi.

Mexico therefore represented a fundamental threat to the United States. In response, Jackson authorized a covert operation under Sam Houston to foment an uprising among American settlers in the Mexican department of Texas with the aim of pushing Mexico farther west. With its larger army, a Mexican thrust to the Mississippi was not impossible — nor something the Mexicans would necessarily avoid, as the rising United States threatened Mexican national security.

Mexico’s strategic problem was the geography south of the Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo). This territory consisted of desert and mountains. Settling this area with large populations was impossible. Moving through it was difficult. As a result, Texas was very lightly settled with Mexicans, prompting Mexico initially to encourage Americans to settle there. Once a rising was fomented among the Americans, it took time and enormous effort to send a Mexican army into Texas. When it arrived, it was weary from the journey and short of supplies. The insurgents were defeated at the Alamo and Goliad, but as the Mexicans pushed their line east toward the Mississippi, they were defeated at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston.

The creation of an independent Texas served American interests, relieving the threat to New Orleans and weakening Mexico. The final blow was delivered under President James K. Polk during the Mexican-American War, which (after the Gadsden Purchase) resulted in the modern U.S.-Mexican border. That war severely weakened both the Mexican army and Mexico City, which spent roughly the rest of the century stabilizing Mexico’s original political order.

A Temporary Resolution

The U.S. defeat of Mexico settled the issue of the relative power of Mexico and the United States but did not permanently resolve the region’s status; that remained a matter of national power and will. The United States had the same problem with much of the Southwest (aside from California) that Mexico had: It was a relatively unattractive place economically, given that so much of it was inhospitable. The region experienced chronic labor shortages, relatively minor at first but accelerating over time. The acquisition of relatively low-cost labor became one of the drivers of the region’s economy, and the nearest available labor pool was Mexico. An accelerating population movement out of Mexico and into the territory the United States seized from Mexico paralleled the region’s accelerating economic growth.

The United States and Mexico both saw this as mutually beneficial. From the American point of view, there was a perpetual shortage of low-cost, low-end labor in the region. From the Mexican point of view, Mexico had a population surplus that the Mexican economy could not readily metabolize. The inclination of the United States to pull labor north was thus matched by the inclination of Mexico to push that labor north.

The Mexican government built its social policy around the idea of exporting surplus labor — and as important, using remittances from immigrants to stabilize the Mexican economy. The U.S. government, however, wanted an outcome that was illegal under U.S. law. At times, the federal government made exceptions to the law. When it lacked the political ability to change the law, the United States put limits on the resources needed to enforce the law. The rest of the country didn’t notice this process while the former Mexican borderlands benefited from it economically. There were costs to the United States in this immigrant movement, in health care, education and other areas, but business interests saw these as minor costs while Washington saw them as costs to be borne by the states.

Three fault lines emerged in United States on the topic. One was between the business classes, which benefited directly from the flow of immigrants and could shift the cost of immigration to other social sectors, and those who did not enjoy those benefits. The second lay between the federal government, which saw the costs as trivial, and the states, which saw them as intensifying over time. And third, there were tensions between Mexican-American citizens and other American citizens over the question of illegal migrants. This inherently divisive, potentially explosive mix intensified as the process continued.

Borderlands and the Geopolitics of Immigration

Underlying this political process was a geopolitical one. Immigration in any country is destabilizing. Immigrants have destabilized the United States ever since the Scots-Irish changed American culture, taking political power and frightening prior settlers. The same immigrants were indispensible to economic growth. Social and cultural instability proved a low price to pay for the acquisition of new labor.

That equation ultimately also works in the case of Mexican migrants, but there is a fundamental difference. When the Irish or the Poles or the South Asians came to the United States, they were physically isolated from their homelands. The Irish might have wanted Roman Catholic schools, but in the end, they had no choice but to assimilate into the dominant culture. The retention of cultural hangovers did not retard basic cultural assimilation, given that they were far from home and surrounded by other, very different, groups.

This is the case for Mexican-Americans in Chicago or Alaska, whether citizens, permanent residents or illegal immigrants. In such locales, they form a substantial but ultimately isolated group, surrounded by other, larger groups and generally integrated into the society and economy. Success requires that subsequent generations follow the path of prior immigrants and integrate. This is not the case, however, for Mexicans moving into the borderlands conquered by the United States just as it is not the case in other borderlands around the world. Immigrant populations in this region are not physically separated from their homeland, but rather can be seen as culturally extending their homeland northward — in this case not into alien territory, but into historically Mexican lands.

This is no different from what takes place in borderlands the world over. The political border moves because of war. Members of an alien population suddenly become citizens of a new country. Sometimes, massive waves of immigrants from the group that originally controlled the territory politically move there, undertaking new citizenship or refusing to do so. The cultural status of the borderland shifts between waves of ethnic cleansing and population movement. Politics and economics mix, sometimes peacefully and sometimes explosively.

The Mexican-American War established the political boundary between the two countries. Economic forces on both sides of the border have encouraged both legal and illegal immigration north into the borderland — the area occupied by the United States. The cultural character of the borderland is shifting as the economic and demographic process accelerates. The political border stays where it is while the cultural border moves northward.

The underlying fear of those opposing this process is not economic (although it is frequently expressed that way), but much deeper: It is the fear that the massive population movement will ultimately reverse the military outcome of the 1830s and 1840s, returning the region to Mexico culturally or even politically. Such borderland conflicts rage throughout the world. The fear is that it will rage here.

The problem is that Mexicans are not seen in the traditional context of immigration to the United States. As I have said, some see them as extending their homeland into the United States, rather than as leaving their homeland and coming to the United States. Moreover, by treating illegal immigration as an acceptable mode of immigration, a sense of helplessness is created, a feeling that the prior order of society was being profoundly and illegally changed. And finally, when those who express these concerns are demonized, they become radicalized. The tension between Washington and Arizona — between those who benefit from the migration and those who don’t — and the tension between Mexican-Americans who are legal residents and citizens of the United States and support illegal immigration and non-Mexicans who oppose illegal immigration creates a potentially explosive situation.

Centuries ago, Scots moved to Northern Ireland after the English conquered it. The question of Northern Ireland, a borderland, was never quite settled. Similarly, Albanians moved to now-independent Kosovo, where tensions remain high. The world is filled with borderlands where political and cultural borders don’t coincide and where one group wants to change the political border that another group sees as sacred.

Migration to the United States is a normal process. Migration into the borderlands from Mexico is not. The land was seized from Mexico by force, territory now experiencing a massive national movement — legal and illegal — changing the cultural character of the region. It should come as no surprise that this is destabilizing the region, as instability naturally flows from such forces.

Jewish migration to modern-day Israel represents a worst-case scenario for borderlands. An absence of stable political agreements undergirding this movement characterized this process. One of the characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mutual demonization. In the case of Arizona, demonization between the two sides also runs deep. The portrayal of supporters of Arizona’s new law as racist and the characterization of critics of that law as un-American is neither new nor promising. It is the way things would sound in a situation likely to get out of hand.

Ultimately, this is not about the Arizona question. It is about the relationship between Mexico and the United States on a range of issues, immigration merely being one of them. The problem as I see it is that the immigration issue is being treated as an internal debate among Americans when it is really about reaching an understanding with Mexico. Immigration has been treated as a subnational issue involving individuals. It is in fact a geopolitical issue between two nation-states. Over the past decades, Washington has tried to avoid turning immigration into an international matter, portraying it rather as an American law enforcement issue. In my view, it cannot be contained in that box any longer.

Read more: Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations | STRATFOR


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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 8:15 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 8:04 PM

Essential Skills for Expats 5: Cultural Awareness

Topics: Living & Lifestyle

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Getting to know Mexico well and becoming intimately involved in the country and its ways is a skill that can only be truly developed with the experience of having lived here for a good while, and taking the necessary care to observe, acknowledge and learn about the local environment you have adopted as your home, whether you live in Mexico full-time or part-time.

However, some background research into Mexican culture, how its society is structured and in particular learning about the country’s social etiquette, can help you to arrive in Mexico better prepared for the road ahead. If you plan to work in Mexico, whether under the auspice of an employment contract or by running your business, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with Mexican business etiquette.

If you’re planning to call Mexico home, it’s worth getting an understanding of how the social fabric is structured. Understanding how the government is structured, the basic principles of the country’s legal and judicial systems, how the police and military operate, how religion is practised and so on, will help you to get a broad backdrop to this country and its social norms. The Mexperience guide to Society and Culture in Mexico will give you an introduction to all these matters.

Understanding social etiquette is vitally important when you are in the throes of adopting a foreign country as your home. Behaviors which appear irregular to you may be quite normal in Mexico; and vice-versa. You can avoid potential embarrassment and upset by becoming familiar with basic social etiquette in Mexico. Understanding how social classes are defined, the formalities of language use in everyday situations, the expected use of professional titles, the appropriate way to greet people, how to dress, dinner table manners, giving gifts, time-keeping and a miscellany of social etiquette practices are examined in some detail on the Mexperience guide to Social Etiquette in Mexico.

If you plan to conduct business in Mexico, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with a further set of rules, those concerning business etiquette. As we alluded to in part four of this series, doing business in Mexico is distinct to doing business in the USA and western Europe. Our guide to Business Etiquette in Mexico, which can be read in parallel with our guide to Social Etiquette, is good primer for beginners. If you’re planning to work for yourself in Mexico, you can also read our Guide to Self Employment.

Moving to a foreign country to live is challenging enough. Adopting that country and embracing its culture and ways is a life-skill that requires good character, a high degree of presence and observation, patience, understanding and acceptance. In these respects, kindling your relationship with Mexico will be like kindling a relationship with any other being. Hard work, perseverance and tenacity will also be required, because even in laid-back, easy-going cultures with a great climate, life is hard sometimes.

Today, an unprecedented number of Americans and Canadians—and increasing numbers of Europeans—are not just talking about moving to Mexico, they are actively pursuing those plans.

Foreigners who come to Mexico without the strength of character, open mindedness, flexibility and patience required to adopt a foreign country will almost certainly find themselves increasingly frustrated, agitated—perhaps even becoming angry—and probably end up leaving. For those who come to know Mexico, who are willing to accept its foibles and graces in equal measure, and who are willing to undertake the hard work of adaption that needs to take place before adoption can come, Mexico offers one of the most unique and valuable expatriate locations on offer anywhere.

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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 8:04 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:58 PM

Essential Skills for Expats 1: Learn Spanish

Topics: Living & Lifestyle | Travel Insight

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Monday, July 12, 2010

In this series of articles we will examine five essential skills any budding expat considering Mexico should develop, whether the move is for living, working or retirement, full-time or part-time. In this first article, we examine possibly the most essential skill of all: learning the local language.

Even if you plan to live in an area of Mexico that is settled by large foreign expat communities speaking English, you will still need to learn some Spanish to get by on a daily basis, and especially if you want to get the most of your experience of being in Mexico.

Spanish is Mexico’s official language, and is spoken by over 450 million people in over 20 countries world-wide. By being able to understand and speak Spanish, you will gain access to the culture in a way that you would otherwise not be able to benefit from by having everyone else speak to you in English.

Furthermore, many of the people you will need and want to interact with regularly may not speak much English, if any at all. On a daily basis these could include the local shop keepers and market traders, the gasoline station attendant, the bank clerk, your maid and the gardener. People who provide essential services on an ad-hoc basis and who also may not speak English include the plumber, the car mechanic, the electrician, or the local doctor.

It’s inconvenient having to ask someone to translate for you all of the time. It’s also good manners to be command at least a modicum of understanding for the language of the country which you have chosen to adopt. Spanish is a phonetic language, it’s easy to grasp the basics and you can start learning right away.

In fact, you can start learning Spanish now, by undertaking some free online lessons. The language program we have partnered with offers eleven lessons; the course has been designed by an language teacher who devised a way to teach Spanish in such a way that gets you conversing within a quarter-hour. Try the free lessons and see how you get on; you can buy the entire course on DVD, the course is reasonably priced and comes with a refund guarantee.

To accelerate your learning, there is no better way to learn Spanish than by immersing yourself in the language among a group of peers, attending a course at a local language school in Mexico. These structured courses offer an excellent way to learn Spanish, alongside other students who have the same desire as you to study, sharing the learning and getting involved locally at markets, banks, shops and other places where you can exercise the language you’ve studied in the classroom.

If you’re planning to move to Mexico, you can start to learn Spanish today using the online lessons, and accelerate your learning at a language school in Mexico when you arrive. If your move to Mexico is part of longer-term plan, but you intend to visit Mexico beforehand, consider mixing learning with pleasure on your next visit by including a course at local Spanish language school.

Our Learning Spanish guide is an integral part of our Living & Lifestyle section. Learn about how Spanish is applied in Mexico, as well as the reasons why Spanish is such a great language to learn. Intermediate and advanced students will all find a lot of value by reading Foreign Native’s language blog articles here on Mexperience.

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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:58 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:49 PM

Essential Skills for Expats 2: Flexibility & Patience

Topics: Living & Lifestyle

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

For a variety of reasons, which include bureaucracy, ceremony and cultural habit, some situations which develop in Mexico can appear quite frustrating to unwary foreigners. Sometimes it’s because one is “used to” things, especially supposedly simple things, happening differently (usually more quickly) than they might do here. Sometimes, the lack of something you really need or would very much like within a certain time frame can lead to frustration, inconvenience or even loss.

If you plan to live in Mexico, you’ll need to develop a certain degree of flexibility and exercise a generous helping of patience with yourself and with others; not just from time to time, but as a matter of course. If you are not of flexible character and cannot find the patience in yourself, you might find Mexico to be a very challenging place to live.

Many foreigners who have settled in Mexico and now make this country their home share stories about how they moved away from stressful lifestyles to find a more agreeable rhythm in Mexico. They tell how the process is almost cathartic—but only as and when they accepted how Mexico is and let go of once habitual demands which appeared to plague their thoughts. This narrative is epitomized quite well in Tony Cohan’s travel biography “On Mexican Time”.

Foreigners who come to live in Mexico and cannot find peace with how things are here usually begin to display impatience, frustration, anger and lack of general respect in formal or informal situations. Inevitably, these fall on “deaf ears” when dealing with most people. Furthermore, although Mexicans may not outwardly react to this conflictive behavior, the ultimate outcome in a situation is usually made worse for the hapless individual, through deliberate obstruction—or perhaps total rejection—of his or her wishes; not because it is impossible to fulfill them, but as a reaction to what is deemed impoliteness.

Remaining calm, allowing matters to take a natural course, being flexible with your plans and expectations, and exercising patience are noble pursuits anywhere you live, but in Mexico they are prerequisites. Being a foreigner in a foreign land means playing by your host’s rules. Given that there exists an estimated one million foreigners living in Mexico full or part-time suggests that the rules are not that difficult to adopt, and may indeed harbor some inner value.

To learn more about Mexican customs, read our guides to Society & Culture and Social Etiquette.

Foreign Native also writes many excellent articles with insights into contemporary Mexican culture and these provide an invaluable source of information.

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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:49 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:17 PM

Essential Skills for Expats 3: Negotiation & Barter

Topics: Living & Lifestyle | Travel Insight

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Friday, July 16, 2010

Negotiation and barter are woven into the fabric of Mexican culture. In 1520, Hernan Cortes wrote to Emperor Carlos V of Spain describing a city with “many plazas, where there are continuous markets and dealings in buying and selling”. Since at least Aztec times, Mexicans have been devout traders.

Five hundred years later, whether you’re buying a piece of land, a home, a car, or a kilo of limes at the local market, you will need to exercise some negotiation skills, lest you may pay more, and possibly a lot more, than you need have.

How you negotiate (or barter) will depend upon the precise situation you find yourself in. In most cases—the notable exception being real estate purchases in popular towns and cities—effective negotiation will require the use of Spanish, so a basic conversational level of the language, as described in the first article of this series, is a prerequisite. Most Spanish language schools in Mexico include market trading as part of their course material.

There are some places and situations where barter is not practiced in Mexico. These include the local Wal-Mart (and similar establishments), department stores and gasoline stations. Barter is not practiced at tienditas (family-run corner stores) and it’s not practiced at pharmacies. Restaurants and comedores don’t usually barter, either; although they might agree to a group discount if you have a quiet word with the manager or owner before or upon your arrival.

Situations where barter is practiced (and sometimes expected) include shopping in open-air food markets, flea markets, art and craft markets and fairs; and buying from ambulant vendors on the street and on public transport. If you board a taxi cab that isn’t metered or doesn’t charge a zonal fee, you should always negotiate your price beforehand.

More formal situations where price negotiations are often entered into include the purchase of a vehicle (new or used), the purchase of jewelry or fine clothing from a specialist supplier of these products, the bulk purchase of almost anything from a trade supplier, hand-made furniture bought in volume from local manufacturers, as well as land and property—whether for purchase or to rent.

When you have lived in Mexico for a while—and especially when you have lived in one place in Mexico for a while—you’ll notice that the prices asked for many local things you buy every day can be very elastic indeed. There are prices for ‘locals’ and prices for ‘tourists’, and whether the tourists are foreign or Mexican might also create a further variation in price. Unmetered taxi cabs which are few in supply may quote you a higher rate when it’s pouring with rain, than they would do on a sunny day with two other cabs parked in the rank, waiting for custom.

Mexican traders, like traders everywhere, are opportunists. They will always try to make hay while the sun shines, and unwary foreigners (whether resident or just passing-by) are fair game. With some experience of living in a place, you’ll learn what prices should be for things like a taxi cab ride, a kilo of meat or fish, a bagful of oranges, a hat or walking stick, a stack of fresh corn tortillas, and so on. How? You start talking with people locally, you hear and see what others are being offered and gradually you get to know. Eventually, you don’t even ask the price for many things—you know what it should be and hand over that amount of money. The acid test is to hand over a coin or bank note that requires some change in return and see how much comes back. In fact, this level of local economic intimacy is a gauge for you—the more you buy without the need to ‘negotiate’ the price, the deeper you have become involved in—and part of—the local community.

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Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:17 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:13 PM

Essential Skills for Expats 4: Contacts & Networking

Topics: Living & Lifestyle

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Monday, July 19, 2010

When you are living in Mexico, one of the most important day-to-day skills you’ll need to develop is that of making contacts and networking in your local community.  Contacts fall into two broad categories; social contacts and trade & business contacts.

In social terms, Mexico is an easy place to meet and make new friends locally.  Mexicans are exceedingly social people.  They are open, some will speak English (possibly quite well), and getting involved socially is never difficult in a Mexican town or city.  Check notice boards at coffee shops, internet cafés and book stores for advertisements and classified ads to find out what social events are happening locally. In addition to making new local friends, you’ll also find that there are many expatriate networks and expat social events happening in Mexico.  If you’re completely stuck about where to start to find those—contact your country’s consulate in Mexico, they will be able to tell you about the existing networks established near you.

If you’re planning to work in Mexico, or run your own business here, building trust networks is vital to your commercial prosperity.  Furthermore, you’ll find that Mexicans will be weary of dealing with you if they don’t know you.  You must allow space for a social and non-commercial relationships to kindle before you can move on to business matters.  This process may be hastened if you have been referred by someone who knows you already to someone you don’t know.  This is a common way of connecting with new people in Mexico; there’s no guarantee that the connection will be right for your needs, but on balance it’s probably better than picking someone at random.

This process of relationship-kindling and network development is important whether you’re looking for a maid, an electrician or plumber, a builder, a lawyer, a service supplier or a business partner.  You can go out and seek people to work with at random, but many people who know Mexico don’t do that initially—they always prefer a referral.

Finding someone by chance can sometimes produce surprisingly good results.  By way of example, tradesmen do, on occasion, advertise in the town center.  The advertisement is the person: standing in one of the town’s plazas with a tool box and sign that reads, for example, “Plomero”.  You simply approach him and start talking about what you need, and agree a date and time for him to call at your house, where he’ll consider the situation and give you a verbal quote for the work.

This personalized ‘in-person’ approach is all part-and-parcel of building your networks in Mexico.  You need to have the confidence to talk with people and ask questions, and be open about your needs and intentions with others. When you find a good plumber, a good gardener, a good carpenter, et al, you’ll keep in touch and, if you’re really smart, you’ll give them a bit of work—however small—on occasion, so that when the big job you need doing comes up, the person knows who you are.  Furthermore, referring a known ‘good contact’ to someone else, helps the person in need, helps your contact to secure more work and he/she will remember you for referring them.

To start developing your contacts and building your networks in Mexico, you need to get out into the community where you live, tread some shoe leather, and get talking with people.  You may know some expatriates who live locally; they can offer referrals.  But sooner or later you’ll need to start making your own contacts.  Good places to start include local coffee houses, internet cafés, restaurants, the Zocalo (town center), local shops and boutiques, and local workshops where you may see furniture makers, carpenters, stone masons and others plying their trade.

Building contacts and networks in Mexico is enjoyable, rewarding and it’s all quite real.  There is nothing virtual about developing contacts at a local level here.  The personal aspect of network building is one of the many nuances which make Mexico an attractive place to be for hundreds of thousands of foreigners who, full-time or part-time, call Mexico ‘home’.

Posted in:General
Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:13 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:10 PM

Protecting Mexico’s Sea Turtles

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sea Turtles are found in all of the world’s oceans, with exception of the arctic.  There are seven species of Sea Turtle, and six of these arrive to lay eggs each year on beaches across Mexico.

Although Sea Turtles live most of their lives at sea, the females must return to land to lay their eggs.  One of the wonderful (and mysterious) aspects of these beautiful creatures is that the females return to the precise location where they themselves were born to lay their own eggs.  It is thought that they are sensitive to, and use, the Earth’s magnetic field as a means of navigation.

A sea turtle’s nest may contain up to 200 eggs.  The female will bury her “clutch” of eggs in the sand, where they will incubate for around fifty days before the eggs hatch, and the baby turtles make the often perilous journey from the beach to the ocean.  In addition to natural predators, to whom the baby turtles are easy prey as they scurry slowly along the beach from their birth nest to the water, Sea Turtles are also endangered by Man: people who would steal the eggs and baby turtles for profit as both fetch high prices on the black market.  We implore everybody visiting Mexico to desist from purchasing turtle eggs, turtle meat and any other products deriving from sea turtles.

Mexico runs a number of key conservation projects, whereby marine biologists and government agencies work in unison to protect Sea Turtles – an endangered species world-wide – from natural predators and unscrupulous humans.  One of the country’s principal conservation projects is situated at Estrella del Mar (EDM), a golf resort and luxury realty development situated some twenty miles south of Mazatlan, on a secluded beach where Olive Ridley and Leatherback sea turtles arrive to lay eggs every year.

Between July and December, the females arrive to lay their eggs.  As they are laid, the preservation team based at the EDM Turtle Reserve monitors the beach and carefully collects eggs from sand nests to place them into a special incubator unit situated at the reserve.  Last year, the work led by Erendira Gonzalez Diego, a marine biologist working full-time at the reserve, collected 1,326 nests containing 125,263 eggs of which 83,866 hatched and were successfully returned to the sea; a survival rate of 68%.

In this area near Mazatlan, humans were previously the turtles’ number one predator; now, thanks directly to the preservation work being undertaken at Estrella del Mar, only one nest was looted by humans in 2008.   Every year, the government supports the effort by dispatching state and federal police forces to guard several beaches where female turtles are known to arrive and lay eggs – including the beach at EDM – and thus assist with the ongoing efforts to protect the sea turtles.

We’ve uploaded Erendira’s full report (PDF, 1MB) that includes detailed information about the EDM Turtle Reserve, how the egg collection, incubation and release work is undertaken, detailed statistics, and some wonderful photographs.  Please download a copy and learn more about this excellent preservation work.

The females will return to Mexico to lay their eggs this summer, beginning in July.  Endira and her team of volunteers will be there, monitoring and working across seventeen kilometers (eleven miles) of beach area, awaiting the turtle arrivals and to extend last year’s valuable preservation work throughout the upcoming 2009 season.

Posted in:General
Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:10 PMLeave a Comment

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August 12th, 2010 7:05 PM

The Real Value of Your Tip

Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Friday, April 24, 2009

Tipping people for services rendered is a practice that is deeply engrained into Mexican culture.

Most of the people working in Mexico’s tourism and catering service industries earn a low basic minimum wage and depend upon your tips to earn their living.   The importance of earning those tips, coupled with extensive training programs rolled-out nationwide out by Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism, have caused service levels in Mexico to increase exponentially over the last decade.   Hotels, restaurants, bars and activity and tours service-providers and their staff are being continuously trained in the art of good service and it’s actually harder to find bad service in Mexico now than it ever has been before.

The practice of tipping in Mexico goes far beyond the restaurant table; there are many situations where a small tip is appropriate, and keeping change on hand, in the form of small denomination coins, is essential for this purpose when you are visiting or living in the country.

There are two situations which are worth a particular mention as they are often overlooked by foreign travelers:

The first relates to the unsung heroines (they are invariably women) of the hotel industry: chamber maids.   They will often travel a considerable distance to reach your hotel and spend the day cleaning and maintaining yours and other guest’s rooms in good order, so that when you get back after to your room, it’s waiting for you clean, fresh and tidy.  It’s appropriate to leave a small tip and leave it each day, as work schedules change, and the maid who cleaned your room initially may not be on duty the day when you leave.  The amount of the tip should vary depending upon the category of hotel; a sum in Mexican pesos, left in cash on the side table (next to the maid’s greeting card if one is present), equivalent to between US$3 and US$5 (for highest-end luxury hotels) per day is suggested and will be sincerely appreciated.

The second situation relates to “all inclusive” hotels and travel packages.  A small few packages stipulate that ‘tips are included’ and in this case no further tipping is required.  However in most cases, porters, the concierge, table staff, and the chamber maids (see above) will appreciate a small tip – even if, for example, the price of your meals (or just breakfast) is included in the room rate.  A dollar per bag for porters, a dollar or two left on the table after a breakfast or meal, and a modest tip for the chamber maids will add less than US$30 to your total spend over a seven day vacation in Mexico; and the amounts you tip will mean a great deal to the people serving you and your partner or family during your stay.

The amount of the tip should vary depending on the situation and the category of establishment.  Our guide to tipping in Mexico contains a comprehensive list of situations and the amounts you may consider tipping in given circumstances.

Posted in:General
Posted by Craig Harrison on August 12th, 2010 7:05 PMLeave a Comment

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