31 October 2006
A bottle of tequila similar to this one, but crafted from pure platinum just set an official world record for being the most expensive bottle of liquor ever sold. It fetched $225,000 last July. A 50-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky held the previous record. Ley .925, the tequila distiller - it seems the actual tequila is an afterthought here - will auction off a similar bottle studded with diamonds next year for $1 million.
Happy Halloween! And no, it's not the same as Dia de los Muertos - even though several years ago a large coffee shop chain substituted Day of the Dead items like catrinas and sugar skulls for traditional Halloween items.
Halloween has seemingly invaded much of Mexico - especially in Wal-Mart stores, which are bursting with Halloween merchandise. But Day of the Dead is still widely observed and it makes up a large part of many local economies - most notably in Michoacan and Oaxaca, although strike violence is impacting celebrations in the latter location.
Traditional markets still operate in most Mexican cities, selling things for building altars, which are adorned with items enjoyed by the deceased.
Most interesting, Dia de los Muertos is finding popularity in Canada and the U.S. A Canadian anthropologist I spoke with last year said it fits with the whole trend towards indulging "New Age" things, which many yuppies have embraced in recent years. Or think of it this way: Halloween is for the kids, while Dia de los Muertos is for their "sophisticated" parents.
Marcos has been touring Mexico on a motorcycle since New Year's when he kicked off his "otra campaña." The tour has barely registered with most Mexicans. At his stop in Guadalajara last March, many in the audience spoke of witnessing a "dead movement" that lacked the spark of several years ago. Much of the EZLN's support is garnered from beyond Mexico - and in the pages of La Jornada - where Marcos is a sort of folk hero for the international left.
About the only time Marcos seems to appear in the headlines is whenever violence erupts - or, in one case, refusing to take off his mask when trying to enter a Guanjuato jail. His most notable surfacing was last May after a violence erupted at a flower market in suburban Mexico City. He later said the election winner would be knocked off.
Opponents of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tried to scare the electorate by highlighting Marcos' reappearance as a possible sign of what might happen under a PRD government. Marcos never endorsed Lopez Obrador and branded the PRD a recycling machine for the worst elements of the PRI.
The EZLN movement is seemingly a spent force outside of Chiapas. But try telling that to its sympathizers in other countries, who don't understand that Marcos, for all his supposed sex appeal, unsettles many Mexicans.
29 October 2006
BY DAVID AGREN/The Herald Mexico
September 02, 2006
Martha Herrera- Lasso, 20, used to faint every few months for inex plicable reasons. When she was 12, she consulted her family doctor, who diagnosed her with blood sugar problems. Later, she saw an endocrinologist and gynecologist. They prescribed costly medicines and hormones, but Herrera-Lasso continued feel ing lousy — and fainting at inop portune times.
Two years ago, taking the sug gestion of a friend and figuring she had nothing to lose, she tried some thing different and unconvention al: She visited a naturopath.
“I was pretty open-minded about it,” she recalled. “I had been with a lot of doctors ... but it hadn’t worked out.”
Within a week of following the naturopath’s advice, she noticed major improvements in her energy levels. Her blood sugar levels also seemed to steady. As the months passed, she stopped fainting, her digestion improved and she now leads a normal life as a theater and literature student at the National Autonomous University of Mexi co (UNAM).
Naturopathy, which worked well for Herrera-Lasso, departs from the traditional medical model of prescribing pharmaceuticals and simply treating symptoms.
It instead focuses on prevention, emphasizes nutrition and treats the patient holistically. It’s an increasingly accepted practice in the United States and Canada, but surprisingly, it’s virtually unknown in Mexico, where numerous curanderos and naturalistas ply their crafts and tianguis vendors hawk miracle cures — some of dubious origins — for virtually every malady known.
“The naturopath studies the most perfect laboratory in the world, which is the human body,” said Bob Worthington, a naturo pathic doctor in Mexico City. “It’s basically getting back to nature.”
Worthington practices in a quiet home office in the leafy Colonia del Valle neighborhood, although he also sees clients during trips back to Riverside, Calif., where he resided prior to moving south in 2003, and El Salvador, his mother’s homeland.
He mostly treats family members and friends along with people referred to him. In some ways, he’s a pioneer; the number of naturopaths working in Mexico is difficult to ascertain, but Worthington figured the number was extremely small.
Those who do practice in Mexico do so with few of the tools that their counterparts in Canada and the United States rely on. Quality nutritional supplements are generally in short supply; regulatory officials often prevent the impor tation of many vitamins and herbs. Many of the domestically-produced supplements inspire little confidence and Worthington said certain forms of many vitamins are classified as pharmaceuticals.
“Mexico tends to be very strict on their availability of natural sup plements,” he said, adding that product exaggerations are fairly common.
“In the United States, you can’t say anything about herbs that help. Here, the claims are just wild.”
Worthington keeps claims of naturopathy’s virtues to a minimum — even though he’s personally experienced impressive re sults. (He finally brought his own weight problem under control by figuring out the ideal diet and addressing the underlying problems.) He also said he would seek out a regular medical doctor in many situations.
“If I get run over by a truck, please don’t bring me an herb,” he said, laughingly. “Allopathic medicine is fantastic when it comes to trauma.”
Naturopathy has its critics, though, who charge that science and studies to back up claims are generally lacking. Mainstream medical doctors have been attacking naturopathy for decades — often branding practitioners as quacks. Some naturopaths use unconventional treatments like cleanses — traditional doctors say the body is self-cleansing and doesn’t really need an assist — and heavy doses of nutritional supplements.
Naturopathic education also varies. Some naturopathic medical schools offer curriculum similar to conventional medical schools, but teach more classes in nutrition and botanical medicine. (Medical students in some universities graduate without taking even a single nutrition course.)Graduates of these naturopathic medical schools — there are six in the United States and Canada — form professional associations and are licensed in certain jurisdictions. They are often allowed to prescribe some pharmaceuticals and perform minor surgeries.
Other schools, like the one Bob Worthington graduated from, also provide comprehensive programs, but don’t mirror normal medical education and teach a variety of disciplines, including herbalism and homeopathy.
Despite the naysayers, many people disenchanted with mainstream medicine seek out a naturopathic approach and find it can sometimes work wonders — even in Mexico, where supplements are lacking.
Worthington makes up for a lack of tools by taking a different approach, but conceded it was difficult practicing upon his arrival in Mexico City.
“I was kind of traumatized,” he said.
He now depends on a limited range of available supplements and dispenses nutritional advice — primarily, what foods should be avoided. Additionally, Worthing ton uses applied kinesiology (also known as muscle testing) to assess what his patients lack and should stay away from. The practice, which is scorned by critics as junk science, has fallen out of favor in some naturopathic circles.
MET WITH SKEPTICISM
Worthington, who worked as an electrical engineer in the power industry before switching careers, acknowledged the skepticism, saying, “(Applied kinesiology) is sort of like witchcraft to traditional medicine.”
Results, however, prompted Worthington to use applied kinesiology, even though he found it somewhat tricky to learn and fully understand. (Several underlying factors, which unskilled practitioners sometimes ignore, can skew results.)
He explained applied kinesiology this way, “(By) using a muscle of the body, (you can) determine what is beneficial and what is not. What is giving it energy and what takes away energy.”
Worthington often uncovers food intolerances — which aren’t food allergies — through applied kinesiology. He said many of his clients have problems after eating dietary staples like wheat, dairy, corn, soy and sugar. Other supposedly-healthy foods can also be troublesome. Carrots caused digestive distress for one client.
After using applied kinesiology on Herrera-Lasso, Worthington discovered that wheat, milk and sugar triggered unpleasant symptoms. He banished all three offending foods from her diet. He also recommended two dietary supplements: magnesium and digestive enzymes. Herrera-Lasso followed the ad vice — even though “it was really hard” — and discovered many pleasant surprises as a result.
“I lost a lot of weight ... in a good way and my energy levels were high,” she recalled. “I stopped fainting and started feeling really well.”
Herrera-Lasso still avoids wheat, dairy and sugar and said eating a bowl of cereal in the morning pretty much ruins the rest of her day. She occasionally indulges a piece of birthday cake, though. The results are fairly predictable.
“I sometimes do eat (a forbidden food) ... but I feel really bad af terwards,” she explained. “My body just rejects it so it’s really not worth it.”
BETTER EMOTIONAL HEALTH
Herrera-Lasso still drops by Worthington’s office for consultations, mainly to deal with emotional issues, which she said can trigger problems if left unresolved. Worthington uses applied kinesiology and a form of emotional acupuncture to assess and treat his clients. He considers addressing emotion al health issues as important as treating the physical ones.
“Although you can do wonderful things with nutrition and diet, there comes a point where people get better, but it doesn’t quite seem to be enough,” he said. “The emotional side is very important.”
Due to Herrera-Lasso’s success with a naturopathic approach, many of her friends and family members now use Worthington’s services. Her improved health has also taken a load off of their minds, she said.
“It’s good because I have control now and that makes everyone feel safer.”
28 October 2006
The unrest started back in May when the teachers stages their annual walkout - something they've done for more than 20 consecutive years - after demanding a salary increase. The state government balked and violence later erupted. The teachers then demanded governor Ulises Ruiz's head. A left-leaning group dubbed APPO joined in.
Their protests effectively killed the local tourist trade - especially after they sabotaged the main stage of the Galaguetza, one of the state's premier cultural festivals. Highways into the state were at times blocked. Hotels in the state capital report receiving few guests. The U.S. and Canadian governments advised their citizens to stay away.
Who's to blame? The teachers and APPO say the governor, a product of the state's old-school PRI machine, who won an election marred by accusations of fraud in 2004 and who allegedly employs thug tactics. In an egregious attack on the press, a sindicato (union) sypathetic to the governor shut down an opposition newspaper last year - without the concent of the employees the sindicato supposedly represented.
A friend in Oaxaca city blamed both sides. Newspaper reporters in the state say many people prefer not to openly criticize either side. The teachers recently voted to return to classes - although not overwhelmingly - but insist they'll continue their struggle. (Even though they've been off the job, they reportedly have drawn paycheques the entire time.)
Much of the violence has been in the state capital. My landlady's son, who lives near Huatulco, has been teaching Grade 3 and 4 students on an ejido in exchange for food and 300 pesos a week until the union settles its strike. He reported calm conditions along the coast.
Ruiz's resignation or removal from office would obviously help resolve the situation. The PRI, however, has closed ranks behind the governor. The PAN is hesitant to oust an elected official, knowing the reality of the tenuous victory it obtained in the July presidential vote. More importantly for PAN, it needs the PRI to advance Felipe Calderon's legislative agenda in the federal Congress and Senate. University of Guadalajara political science professor Marco Antonio Cortes opined that the two sides would engage in a sort of "blackmail" - the PAN would save Ruiz, while the PRI cooperated on other issues. The PRI, having been humiliated on July 2, can't afford another defeat.
Meanwhile, independent American journalist and activist Brad Will was shot dead. Witnesses say plainclothed police officers were responsible, according to several reports. A journalist from Grupo Milenio was also shot in the foot.
How will this situation end? Stay tuned.
(Photos available at Mark in Mexico's blog.)
More: Grupo Reforma columnist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa asks in today's column, "How many deaths is Ulises [Ruiz] worth?"
"Ruiz is the beneficiary of a paradox. No one supports him, but no one wants to throw him out."
25 October 2006
The decision is puzzling and once again shows Fox's dreadful political instincts. Lopez Obrador's PRD just lost the gubernatorial race in Tabasco - Lopez Obraodor's home state. The party's governors recently pledged to recognize Calderon as president - not Lopez Obrador. Lopez Obrador squandered much of his political capital - at least in the short term - with his boisterous attacks on the country's institutions and six-week shutdown of central Mexico City. And now Fox, instead of taking advantage, holes himself up in Los Pinos and cedes the public square once again to Lopez Obrador, quickening a weakened movement.
Fox vacates Los Pinos in less than six weeks and despite assertions to the contrary, he'll leave a festering conflict in Oaxaca and Lopez Obrador's antics for Felipe Calderon to deal with. The president's refusal to address pressing issues in Mexico will, no doubt, go down as his real legacy.
17 October 2006
Lopez Obrador, who lost a scandalous 1994 gubernatorial race in Tabasco, is receiving much of the blame as critics, both in the PRD and outside of the party, castigate his post-election protesting and assailing of Mexico's electoral institutions. Analysts are largely accusing Lopez Obrador of inadvertently tarnishing his party's image - Tabasco being the first example of that - and putting his own interests ahead of the PRD's in an effort to prove fraud in the federal race.
Sergio Sarmiento somewhat harshly wrote in today's Mural (Guadalajara), "In a short time, Lopez Obrador has revived the viloent image of the PRD as a party that demonizes institutions and uses roadblocks as a weapon of political pressure."
Other were more charitable. An article in The Herald Mexico pointed out the PRD ran an unpopular candidate, who had lost two previous gubernatorial races. (The 2000 election results were annulled, but the PRI won again in a re-vote.)
The PRI, which brought a sordid past in Tabasco politics, won the race, although unseemly allegations of vote-buying and harassment surfaced. While encouraging and a boost for the troubled party, it only proves the PRI can win on the state level and hardly signals a national revival.
14 October 2006
I recent visited the ACA center near Jocotepec, where two Canadians and a Mexican assistant teach local farmers organic farming techniques. They also sell the best mixed greens on either side of the border for just 20 pesos a bag at an on-site market called GG's. Check out the article I wrote on the center from the Oct. 14 edition of The Herald Mexico.
13 October 2006
This Sunday's Tabasco gubernatorial election could change that - should the PRD win - or hasten Lopez Obrador's descent into obscurity and irrelevence. Polls and analysts are suggesting the latter should happen, although the race is close. A telling Grupo Reforma poll last week said most PRI voters would back their party's gubernatorial candidate, who also would receive enough support from dissatisfied Lopez Obrador voters to possibly pull out the win. As for the PAN, the party claimed a paltry three percent of votes on July 2 and shouldn't be a factor.
But even if the PRD pulls out a win in Tabasco, Lopez Obrador gains little. As in Chiapas - a state the PRD barely won recently - some of the PRD leadership recognizes Felipe Calderon as President-elect. This, more than any tactical blunders after July 2 on Lopez Obrador's part, sabotages his bid to lead an alternate government, or more accurately, an effective protest movement. The PRD is more than Lopez Obrador, whose aspirations and behavior are damaging the party more than any PAN attack ad ever could.
Thirteen PRD supporters were arrested for supposedly planning to sabotage Sunday's election. The PRI currently governs the oil-rich state, which has a long and calamitous history of holding not-so-fair elections, so detaining perredistas on the eve of the vote obviously looks suspicious. Sadly for the PRD, though, the party now has a reputation of not abiding by election results and being democratic only when it suits it best. Thus, when it cries foul - and perhaps quite justly in this situation - the public will imply ignore them.
10 October 2006
Photo by Steven H. Miller, taken in Tepatitlan de Morelos, Jalisco
A kilogram of tomatoes at my local Gigante supermarket in Guadalajara now sells for 40 pesos. I took a pass.
The price of the normally-cheap Mexican dietary staple jumped recently due to hurricane Lane, which last month battered Sinaloa, a major tomato-producing state. (Sinaloa adorns its license plates with a tomato and the Culiacan baseball team is called the Tomateros, or tomato growers).
And as an unexpected consequence of the high price, Mexico's inflation rate also soared, passing the four-percent plateau. Low inflation - it dipped below three percent for the first time ever during the winter - had been one of the Fox administrations biggest accomplishments, but that could now be jeopardized.
Tomatoes comprise a major part of Mexico's consumer price index. And according to a Los Angeles Times article, "[N]o dietary staple can gyrate a nation's consumer price index like Mexico's tomatoes."
The index's spike won't resolve itself until after several more harvests. In the meantime, expect to see fewer tomato-based dishes and fresh salsas on the nation's menus.
09 October 2006
The show ceased production and exited the Televisa airwaves earlier this spring, but Rebelde, the popular and over-the-top teen telenovela lives on in other markets and the show's spinoff band, RBD, which is presently recording an English-language album, keeps churning out one sappy track after another. (Actually, the group made headlines this weekend when one of the male members, Christian, insisted he wasn't gay and a female member, Anahi, said she wasn't anorexic.)
I mention all this because traffic to a posting about Rebelde on my blog exploded recently and most of the hits are coming from South America - most notably Brazil and Peru - along with Romania. Many visitors have left comments in Portugese.
My only brush with Rebelde, other than hearing RBD songs on the radio, came from writing an article for a Calgary alt. weekly - and posting it to my blog - about how the Canadian Tourism Commission and Travel Alberta teamed up to bring the show to the Canadian Rockies for a week of episodes last year. Based on the show's demographics - lot of fresa kids watched it - and the positive feelings towards Canada held by many young Mexicans, the deal apparently made sense.
Here's what I wrote ... it's amusing, which is about the best way to describe Rebelde - the uniforms, characters, social dynamics, curious storylines, etc. - and RBD.
07 October 2006
Vergara bought Chivas, a wildly-popular, but badly-underperforming team, from a group of shareholders back in 2002. Not all the shareholders sold out, and now one is going after Vergara in a lawsuit, which could alter the club's ownership structure. Vergara took out full-page ads recently to state that Chivas is not for sale.
The team's training facility and athletic club in Guadalajara's Providencia neighborhood apparently is though. But in order to sell it, Vergara must deal with a five-million-peso water bill issued by SIAPA, Guadalajara's water utility.
Also going unfulfilled, Chivas' grandiose new stadium in suburban Zapopan. So far, not much has been accomplished, even though Vergara pledged back in 2002 to have the stadium completed by 2006, Chivas' 100th anniversary. The team is still selling private boxes, although according to Mural, if the stadium is not completed by the end of 2007, the money must be returned along with 25-percent interest. Another story said permits obtained from the municipality of Zapopan have lapsed.
Vergara's presence always seems to loom larger than his team - and Omnilife, his supplements empire. (The company expanded into Russia last year and just last month opened a massive new facility in suburban Guadalajara.) This saga should drag out for a while longer.
05 October 2006
04 October 2006
PRI stonewalling during President Vicenete Fox's administration parked Mexico in a sort of political purgatory. Fox, being a somewhat weak politician, couldn't play hardball and the PRI, led by Roberto Madrazo, expected stalling would pay dividends and eventually return the presidency to the PRI. The PRI antics hurt Fox, but ultimately failed - the party didn't capture a single state in the presidential race and is now the third-place force in both congress and the senate. (Madrazo, of course, shoulders much of the blame for the PRI's demise.)
Calderon, an often-underestimated man, will no doubt capitalize on the PRI's weakened state - and possibly marginalize the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and its allies. (He's already usurping parts of the PRD's platform.) The public's appetite for progress should also force the PRI hand.
The PRI lacks a strong ideology, meaning it will shift where needed - even if it's toward's Calderon. Survival will be its inner guide. If the party behaves as before, it could accelerate its descent into irrelevance.
03 October 2006
The 700-mile border wall the U.S. government proposes building will undoubtably make slipping into the United States more difficult, but shouldn't deter many would-be migrants from decamping rural Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Politics and hurt feelings aside – the Mexican government likens the barrier to the Berlin Wall and considers the construction plans unneighborly – the biggest beneficiary will probably be polleros (traffickers), whose business of smuggling migrants should become a whole lot more lucrative.
In an insightful column in today's Publico (Guadalajara), editor Luis Miguel Gonzalez laid out the polleros' economics. According to a 1993 study, one of every six undocumented migrants hired a pollero. By 2004, the figure jumped to two out of every five. The value of the human-smuggling business is estimated to be worth $5 billion annually.
The smugglers have elaborate networks on both sides of the border and charge fees based on where the migrants want to go and the route being used.
Gonzalez wrote, “The fees vary according to the services. In Baja California, a false passport is obtained for $700 and they charge $700 for jumping the fence.
“Times will be very good for traffickers. ... Money won't be lacking because it's a business nurtured by dreams and crisis.”
02 October 2006
No fees for the pair's services were given, but in glowing profiles, HMA describes Fox as "a charismatic reformer," who went from "deliveryman to CEO of Coca-Cola" and "succeeded in controlling inflation and interest rates, and in achieving the lowest unemployment rate in all of Latin America."
Keeping with a focus on the president's business background, it somewhat curiously states, "Under Fox, Coca-Cola surpassed Pepsi as Mexico's top-selling soft drink." (Pepsi once outsold Coke in Mexico?)
Coca-Cola has always sold well in Mexico and despite a rash of upstarts - most notably Big Cola - it's still selling very well. (The average Mexican guzzles 148.1 liters of cola each year; Coca-Cola currently owns 60 percent of the market.) As for topics, Fox is available to speak on "Surveying the Geo-Political Landscape" and "Bringing the New Economy to Latin America." The Web site summarizes the latter speech as:
In this address, President Fox discusses his businesses-centered approach to the development of Mexico, the future of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the opportunities available for international corporations in the region. A critic of the populist movements sweeping Central and South America, President Fox offers an alternative that should be heard by everyone concerned with the future of the hemisphere.
Sahagun, whose profile reads, "(She) has dedicated her life to public service and to fostering social investment and responsibility," will speak on "Social Responsibility in the 21st Century." It made no mention of her sons and their supposed business skills. Once again, the First Lady cashes in on her proximity to power.
Fox should find this new role a natural; even critics acknowledge he's a brilliant speaker and campaigner - even if his political skills are lacking. Some what ironically, President-elect Felipe Calderon said in today's Milenio that he's looking for cabinet members possessing political skills. That would certainly omit Fox - if he were looking for a post.
01 October 2006
Perhaps some of the PRI defections to the PRD on the state level earlier this year weren't so opportunistic - after all, if the party is in this big a mess and the alleged culture of buying nominations and cronyism exists, why not jump? And perhaps the PAN legislator I interviewed last month about his party's success was correct when he suggested that the PRI erred by only promoting Zamora and that the PAN capitalized on lingering discontent from PRI rule prior to 1995.