Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Learning about the Massacre in Tlatelolco

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

The other day my husband brought home the movie “Rojo Amanecer” for us to watch. The title means “red dawn” in English, but this isn’t the cheesy American-made Red Dawn movie about the U.S. getting into WWIII with the Soviet Union. Instead this is a Mexican movie about the 1968 Massacre in Tlatelolco, a neighborhood in Mexico City.

My husband lived in Tlatelolco as a child. He took his First Communion in the church of Santiago Tlatelolco right there in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where the massacre began. And for years he has been telling me bits and pieces of what he remembers of that night. Mostly what he seems to remember is the sound of the tanks rolling in and falling asleep to the sound of endless gunfire. He told me that it took him a long time to fall asleep that night and that “the gunfire went on and on and didn’t stop.” I can’t imagine what that must have been like for a young child.

The movie Rojo Amanecer won a Silver Ariel award and starred important Mexican actors. It was and is an important movie. It’s also cheesy as all get-out, with nearly non-stop over-acting and unrealistic-looking and generous displays of ketchup. Its characters also have an incredible number of meals in a short amount of time, they never stop eating. But when I watched it what I was seeing was a missing piece of my husband’s childhood. I was learning something important about why he is the way he is and why he thinks the way he thinks.

Watching this movie taught me something about why so many Mexicans, especially my husband, don’t trust their own government. If a government can massacre a crowd, in the middle of it’s capital city, and then cover it up, what else can they do? I think that there is a whole generation of Mexicans who’ve grown up wondering just that. And I think this goes a long way to explaining some of the wild conspiracy theories that get passed around in Mexico. A whole generation of people don’t trust the government and won’t put anything past it.

I recommend Rojo Amanecer to anyone who is a student of Mexican culture or is an expat living here. It goes a long way towards explaining the very real fear so many people in Mexico have of their government’s power.

Easing of Cuba Travel Restrictions Will Cut Bribe-Taking in Mexico

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Today the Obama administration lifted the travel restriction for Cubans traveling to Cuba from the U.S. This will have the effect of helping to cut bribe-taking in Mexican Immigration in Mexican cities with direct flights to Cuba.

Under the old rules Cubans who wished to travel from the U.S. to Cuba more often than they were allowed to under U.S. law would commonly try to bribe Mexican Immigration officials to prevent the officials from stamping their passports with a second (and to U.S. officials suspicious) entry stamp.

The typical scenario worked like this: A Cuban (or an American traveling illegally to Cuba) flies to Mexico from the U.S. In Mexico their passport is stamped showing an entrance to Mexico via air on a certain day. Then the passenger generally travels on to Cuba the same day, on a later flight, never leaving the airport.

Cuba is known to be ‘nice’ to people in this situation, so Immigration officials there do not stamp these passengers’ passports, leaving no record of their entry to Cuba.

Returning to the U.S. the passenger flies back to Mexico where the Mexican Immigration official is required by law to place another entry to Mexico stamp in the person’s passport. U.S. Immigration officials know to look for two Mexican Immigration entry stamps within a short time frame, this alerts them that the passenger may have traveled from Mexico to Cuba.

And so upon return to Mexico from Cuba it is very common for Cubans who reside in the U.S., and for Americans who have traveled to Cuba illegally, to try to convince the Mexican Immigration officials not to give their passports that second suspicious Mexican entry stamp. As you can imagine, the convincing part often involves money changing hands.

It’s hard to blame Mexican Immigration agents for taking these easy bribes. The passengers are often VERY interested in NOT getting that second stamp and are willing to pay well to avoid it. And Mexico doesn’t pay its Immigration agents a living wage. Currently the pay rate for most agents is something around $8000 MXP per month after tax (which is less than $500 USD at current exchange rates).

With the cost of living here and that salary you can’t maintain a vehicle, let alone a decent home. People living on less than $500 USD per month here in Mexico can forget about anything except meeting their basic needs and an occasional stop at a street vendor for cheap tacos. There is no extra money in that equation, none. So it’s very easy to see why these poorly paid agents would be willing to take easy money from someone desperate to avoid having their passport stamped.

Taking a bribe is not without risk for an Immigration agent in Mexico. Agents have gone to prison for taking just a $20 USD bribe. But travelers rushing through airports are almost universally not interested in taking the time to report their abuse at the hands of Immigration officials. And if you are guilty of giving the bribe you are not about to turn yourself and the agent in, because you’ve received a benefit. So while there is a risk to the agents for taking bribes they know that their chances of getting turned in for bribe-taking are very small.

The easing of the U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will mean that the Cubans, at least, who travel through Mexico en route to Cuba, will have no reason to try to bribe Mexican Immigration agents. This is good. Other Americans, who are traveling to Cuba illegally will still have reason to avoid that second stamp, however. So the corruption will be reduced but will continue.

Until such time as Mexico sees fit to pay its Immigration agents a decent salary, a salary that represents a wage that allows more than just subsistence living, many agents will embrace the easy money that is a side-effect of illegal travel to Cuba by Americans.

For Mexico’s sake, it is my hope that the U.S. will completely remove the restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. This would completely eliminate a huge source of bribe money for Mexican Immigration agents. I also hope that the Mexican government will recognize that it can’t hope to fight corruption in Mexican Immigration until it pays those agents a decent wage.

What a Beautiful Victory

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I’m so happy that Obama won the U.S. Presidential election. I’m happy because he won so decisively. I’m happy because he ran a clean campaign. I’m happy because there were no “October Surprises,” because he was properly vetted. I’m happy because he is a good man and I absolutely believe he will make good decisions for the country. But the thing that makes me happiest is how happy everyone else is.

My cell phone has been bursting with victory text messages from all my happy friends. All of the email lists I belong to are buzzing with we’re-so-happy-emails.

And the people I read on Twitter are positively giddy. One Twitter member that I follow changed his icon/photo from a caricature of himself with his own white skin to a caricature of himself with black skin.

And here are some Tweets from Twitter members I follow:

  • A Twitter member who was on a flight to Japan said this “On approach to Japan, a flight attendant announced Obama’s victory. There was a burst of applause from economy; in business class, silence.”
  • Is Michelle Obama not the most awesome First Lady-elect that ever awesomed?
  • There is cheering in the streets in my neighborhood.
  • Jesus H. Christ, Barack H. Obama. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
  • Big giant exhale. Ahhhhhh
  • Wow!!! processing…never teared up at an election night result before. Exciting times.
  • Now to roll up our sleeves and dump Sarah as our Governess…stick a fork in here: she’s toast.
  • Tears of joy last night, wow! Loved Obama’s speech, I was sobbing.
  • Ike reigned at my birth, but JFK’s the first president I remember. Obama will be four-year-old Ava’s “first” president. That thrills me.
  • Something I’ll never forget: stepping off a plane to catch a snippet of McCain giving his concession speech. There is no sweeter welcome.

It’s so exciting, so gratifying to be part of this victory. I think Obama was right last night when he said “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.” He’s right, this victory is ours. We did this and we are damn proud of ourselves right now.

So Typical

Monday, August 25th, 2008

The Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC) started in the U.S. today. And being that I’m in Mexico and have essentially pathetic TV cable service (Can you say Cablemenos? Menos means less in Spanish.) I decided I wanted to watch the opening night speeches over the internet.

So first I dug around on Barack Obama’s (lovely) site looking for a link to a live video stream, but that was a fruitless search. Then I got with the program and made my way over to the DNCC’s site. I found the DNCC video stream link, but when I got to that page I was informed that I needed to install 2 plugins in order to view the live video (they were Microsoft’s Silverlight and the Move Media Player). Now I don’t live under too big a technological rock, but I had not heard of either of these programs before.

When I have a web design client who wants to deliver video on their web site I always tell them that we need to provide video in the formats that are commonly used. I tell my clients that it’s bad form and that it’s a usability obstacle to force your viewers to install a plugin in order to see content. If you want to reach the widest possible audience you deliver content that users can see without doing any extra work.

But why on earth would the Democrats do that? Why would they make it easy for us to view their video when they can complicate things by making us download not one, but two plugins?

Now it’s possible, maybe even likely, that this combination of plugins provides better quality video than other programs would. If that’s the case then I guess I’m happy to have installed them. But I’m still upset that I couldn’t just arrive on the site and see the video stream without doing the work of installing something first. And if these two plugins were widely used I’m certain that I would have encountered them by now, so now I’m annoyed that I may have just installed two plugins that might not get much use once the Convention ends.

Something about this feels typical of the Democratic Party. It’s an example of what we Democrats always seem to do wrong. We make things complicated when they should be simple. We make people work to hear our message when they shouldn’t need to.

That being said, I did enjoy watching the opening night speeches. And Michelle Obama’s speech made me a little misty…

Wikipedia & Barack Obama

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I’m kind of a Wikipedia junkie, I even use Wikipedia as a verb, as in “Hang on a sec, I’ll Wikipedia that”. Today I came across the Wikipedia article traffic statistics page, which provides information about how often different Wikipedia pages are viewed. But most interesting to me was the list of the most viewed pages.

In the month of February 2008 the most viewed normal page (not the home page or a search page) was, not surprisingly, a page titled “Valentine’s_Day”, at number 6. It was viewed 2,368,531 times during the month (well, the majority of views were on February 14).

The next most viewed normal page, at number 7, was the “Barack_Obama” page, which was viewed 2,625,243 times during February. That’s a lot of interest, in fact it’s more than 90,000 views per day.

Number 9 was “John_McCain” which was viewed 1,614,941 times (that’s more than 1 million fewer viewings than Barack’s page had).

I got curious about where Hillary Clinton’s page was in the list, I started scrolling down and didn’t see her name. So I used the browser’s search function and found her down the page at #77. The “Hillary_Clinton” page was viewed 646,899 times in February (that’s almost 2 million fewer viewings than Barack’s page).

In fact, in February there were a whole slew of things that Wikipedia users read about more often than they read Hillary’s page, including:

Sex at #13
Zacarias_Moussaoui at #20
Amy_Winehouse at #39
Canada at #46
Lost_(TV_series) at #32
Global_warming at #51
Abraham_Lincoln at #54
United_Kingdom at #55
Scientology at #56
George_W._Bush at #63

I’m not sure what all of this means, but I must say it didn’t surprise me. I find Lost and Global Warming and Sex and Abraham Lincoln all to be more interesting than I do Hillary Clinton. Not that I won’t vote for her if she gets the nomination, I will, but she simply doesn’t interest me.

Barack Obama on the other hand does interest me. In fact I’ve subscribed to his web site’s RSS feed, so I can stay up to date on whatever his camp is up to. And I find myself visiting the Barack Obama web site pretty often (it’s a well designed site with nice graphics and I like looking at it). I guess I’ve become a Barack Obama junkie as well.

The Bored Democrat

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I’ve got a U.S. phone line that rings here in Cancun. It’s very cool and helps me appear like I’m in the states when I’m not. Heehee. Well, anyway I basically never get any random sales-like calls on that number. But in the last 2 weeks I’ve gotten 3 phone calls from people in the Barack Obama camp who are just calling registered Democrats to make sure we aren’t going to support that grumpy goat who should have divorced Mr. Bill ages ago. I didn’t say that. No.

So the two candidates that I actually agreed on the most issues with are both out of the race now. One of them was even MORE QUALIFIED to run the country than any of these other people (AND he had a better web site too). But he’s gone. And so every time one of these members of the Obama fan club calls I tell him (all have been hims) “yes, yes, yes, of course O-ba-ma!”.

I even registered with Democrats Abroad so I can vote online for O-ba-ma in the primary and everything.

Here in Cancun we are about to have local elections. In my hood it looks like the PRI party is going to win. More than half my neighbors have PRI stickers on their cars and PRI flags flying from the door-cracks of their cars.

The recent uproar among tourists here stems from worry over the fact that Cancun will have an almost 36 hour dry law in effect for the election. And that dry spell will cover the SuperBowl. Horrors. Can’t watch the SuperBowl without booze. Christ. I don’t even know who’s playing and I don’t care. Quarterbacks sometimes have cute butts but that is ALL I know about football. So the tourists can run to WalMart and buy booze for the SuperBowl. And I’ll sit home and watch the pirate copy of the DaVinci Code that my husband borrowed from someone at work.

Like I said before “I am not a junkie”, so I can NOT watch the SuperBowl with no booze! Whoohoo!

High School Revisted

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Ok, so I didn’t really GO to high school very much. In fact my high school career consisted of attending 9th grade and the second half of 10th grade. (I transcended the first half of 10th grade, thanks for asking.) Then I went to college (which, to be absolutely honest, saved me from running off to become a circus clown).

Somehow, I think by simply not being there for high school, I missed learning about a whole bunch of stuff which I think of as the “politics of female friendship”. The friends I had in my brief high school career were either male or serious intellectual females who didn’t fit into the regular high school population, and who didn’t have any idea about the “politics of female friendship” either.

Then when I got to college everyone was an intellectual, and the women there were so concerned with their studies and with issues like environmental destruction, or human rights abuses, or how idiotic the government was being, that they didn’t engage very much in the “politics of female friendship”.

After college I got involved in the male-dominated computer industry and started, or worked for, a series of small computer and internet-based companies. And the very few female friends I had then, for whatever reason, didn’t engage much in the “politics of female friendship”.

The result of all this is that I never learned how to navigate the tricky waters of things like what to do when one friend tells you that another one was saying nasty things about you behind your back. Or what to do when the secrets you tell one person come back to you from someone else.

Now, in one sense, I do know what to do, I should ignore it and keep my brain occupied with intellectual pursuits. Or I should turn my attention to simpler friendships (ones with men and with women who are too occupied for this stuff) where these issues don’t arise.

But since coming here to Cancun I’ve found that the closeness of the female ex-pat community can be my biggest comfort. Female ex-pats stick together and the women I’ve become close to here give me a sense of belonging that I’m not sure I’ve ever had before.

So I’m taking a crash course in the “politics of female friendship”, but I’m flunking! I’m flunking badly and I’m seriously considering dropping out of the class altogether.

Wet Foot Dry Foot

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I might get into trouble somewhere down the road for saying this but it seems really hypocritical and unethical to me that the U.S. gives Cubans the right to stay in the country legally when they enter the U.S. illegally!

The U.S. has a wet-foot-dry-foot law which effectively means that if a Cuban shows up on land (with dry feet) in the States, he or she can apply for permanent residency and it will be granted. It doesn’t matter if that Cuban enters the U.S. illegally.

But how, praytell, does a Cuban get into the U.S. and onto dry land in the first place?

Well, they sometimes take a life-threatening journey in a rickety piece-of-shit raft, right? We’ve all heard the stories.

And the other common way that Cubans get into the U.S. is to get smuggled through Mexico and into the U.S. over land. Which of course provides business to the many human smuggling rings which operate in Mexico.

I’ve read that the price to smuggle someone from Cuba into the U.S. is $10,000 usd per person, but I’ve heard whispers that there was a recent price increase due to tightening of the U.S border.

Now I’m not going to give an opinion on Castro or his regime or Communism or any of that. But if the U.S. wants to help the Cubans it should ensure safe passage for them.

But instead, through it’s wet-foot-dry-foot policy, the U.S. encourages unsafe passage and illegal human smuggling.

And when a Cuban immigrant is smuggled through Mexico who do you think pays the fee for their passage? That Cuban can’t pay his (or her) own way out of Cuba, if he could afford that he could buy a plane ticket and leave Cuba on his own. So relatives living in the U.S. are the ones who are likely to pay for Cubans to be smuggled through Mexico. Which means that part of the money earned in the U.S., part of the U.S. economy, is supporting these human smugglers. Surely our lawmakers didn’t mean for this to be the case, but that’s what it is.

To me you either help people or you don’t! You either fight illegal immigration or you don’t! You either fight human trafficking or you don’t!

But you don’t dangle the promise of permanent residency regardless of how they get there. You don’t encourage people to risk their lives at sea. And you don’t encourage human smugglers.

Mexican Constitution in English

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

I just came across a decent English translation of the Mexican Constitution:

Mexican Constitution – In English

Can you say Corruption?

Monday, March 12th, 2007

I just found the very cool Global Integrity web site. It’s a site which provides data about corruption in various countries around the world. Mexico, not surprisingly, gets a “weak” integrity rating, coming in at 65. Lovely. Charming. Tell me again why I want to become a Mexican citizen?

People here talk about corruption often. People discuss whether it’s origin is genetic. They discuss whether it can be blamed on the Spanish invasion almost 500 years ago (I say yes, just because it’s easy). They discuss if one can blame the Catholic Church for it. They talk about how corruption is taught in families and in schools. They talk about how to take advantage of corruption. But mostly, my friends at least, talk about how sick it makes them, how much they hate it.

But it surrounds us here and so we put up with it. 65. That’s 2 whole points better than Russia, folks. Woo hoo!

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