28 July 2007

And now: Malverde beer

Jesus Malverde inspires an odd following; he's better known as the patron saint of narcos. He's also fairly popular in Sinaloa, a state notorious for narcotics trafficking, but lately he's been creeping into the country's broader popular culture. In Mexico City's trendy Condesa neighborhood, a bar named for the unofficial saint opened recently. And now Cerveceria Minerva, a Zapopan-based microbrewery just registered the label: Malverde. There's nothing like cashing in on the cachet of a notorious figure, something Minerva's head brewer acknowledged in an interview with the Mural newspaper.

Cerveceria Minervia makes great craft beer - something rare in Mexico, where the big two breweries have a stranglehold on the market and hawk rather watery suds. Thus, this offering should be good - even if the name is a bit naco.

16 July 2007

Los extranjeros invaden Jalisco/Foreigners invade Jalisco

State house (Jalisco)

The National Immigration Institute (INM) released figures earlier this week showing that Jalisco has more foreign-born residents than any other Mexican state except for Baja California. (Chihuahua, which like Baja California is also on the border, placed third in the survey. It wasn't mentioned if data from the Federal District were included.)

With booming expat enclaves in the Chapala Riviera and Puerto Vallarta - the latter area spills into neighboring Nayarit state - this news about foreigners in Jalisco shouldn't come as a surprise. The INM said 56,065 foreign-born residents live in the state, a figure that's probably low as many people arriving in Jalisco simply obtain a tourist card - if anything - and stay for less than six months.

Somewhat curiously, a story announcing the INM findings in the Mural newspaper (subscription required) stated:

"La Perla Tapatia [as Guadalajara is referred to] is now considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world."

Not so fast. Yes, Guadalajara is much less provincial than before, but locals still call it El Rancho Grande, in English: The Big Ranch. Many of the foreigners here, according to the INM, are studying in one of the seven local universities. But the city doesn't attract many expats that work and/or run businesses - spare some tech industry workers. (The average age of the foreign-born population is supposedly younger than the average Mexican, but this must simply reflect children born to Mexicans in the U.S. that now live down here.)

Foreign retirees now opt in much larger numbers to settle in the Lake Chapala area. (Take a look at the dwindling membership at the American Society of Jalisco if you don't believe me.) Adding to Chapala's appeal, it has an even better climate and less pollution than Guadalajara. Still, Guadalajara is one of the most livable big cities anywhere and tastes are becoming less conservative - even if the politics and social mores still tilt in that direction.

10 July 2007

Guerrilla group sabotages pipelines

The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) claimed responsibility for two pipeline attacks near Salamanca and Celeya in Guanajuato state that cut the supply of natural gas into the Guadalajara area. Another attack in Queretaro happened earlier today.

EPR, reportedly a group that was active in southern Mexico in the 1990s, demanded that Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz and President Felipe Calderon release two members detained on May 25 in Oaxaca. The group promised that the attacks would continue until their demands are met.

Ulises Ruiz's resignation is long overdue, but groups like EPR hurt that cause with these attacks. Perhaps the Oaxaca conflict will blow up again, deepening the misery for the beleaguered residents being hurt by a lack of tourism.

Meanwhile, the pipeline explosion shut down many factories in Guadalajara and Western Mexico. Residential customers were spared since not many homes are hooked up to the natural gas network. Interestingly, the municipality of Guadalajara has no residential natural gas service as the prospect of combustibles running under the city unsettles quite a few residents, who no doubt vividly remember the April 22, 1992 explosion, which was caused by gasoline that leaked into the sewer system.

Update: As per usual the Mexfiles blog has a thorough analysis of this issue and even presents some of the contrarian opinions voiced in the Mexican media.

08 July 2007

Global warming blamed for bus accident in Puebla

The government of Puebla found a new villain for the tragic bus crash in the state that claimed an estimated 60 lives: Global warming. Never mind that Puebla highways traverse the torturous Sierra Madre and aren't always in the best conditions. This crash was caused by a mudslide - something perhaps aggravated by deforestation.

Perhaps the most harrowing trip I've ever taken in Mexico was going from Mexico City to Papantla, Veracruz via the Sierra Madre of northern Puebla. I highly recommend Papantla, the home of vanilla, the famed voladores and the El Tajin ruins. But the road there is at times frightening.

Blaming global warming, though, seemed apt on July 7, the day former vice president-turned-full-time-scold Al Gore threw his Live Earth concerts.

I confess to never liking Al Gore. He's always passed off as a man of towering intellect, yet his college transcripts suggest otherwise. Gore is receiving a lot of favorable treatment these days, which is no doubt driven by an immense sense of buyer's remorse after the 2000 U.S. election - which should never have been close.

For an alternate view, this New York Times piece is revealing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/science/13gore.html?ex=1184040000&en=7df896e2a7a46ed6&ei=5070

04 July 2007

While AMLO cries foul, his opponents spend big

PRD protests

In the months leading up to last year's presidential election, wealthy Mexicans sat on their wallets, putting big-ticket purchases on hold. Now they're spending again - and spending big.

German automaker Mercedes Benz reported an 83-percent increase in Mexican sales during June 2007 when compared to the same month last year - which just happened to precede the July 2 vote.

A Cox News feature on Mexico's ultra wealthy described how the luxury car business was impacted by the political cycle:

Just off of Avenue Presidente Masaryk, the Rodeo Drive of Mexico, sits the Mulsanne luxury car dealership. Inside is the crown jewel, a bright yellow Lamborghini Murcielago that sells for $300,000.

The manager, Jeronimo Irurita, says the luxury car business is tied tightly to the whims of the daily news: a rash of kidnappings will send sales plummeting (although his fleet of bulletproof cars do better in those times).

But worse, he says, is the threat of a left-wing government.

"If the left had won, many of my clients would have moved to Miami," he said. "This business would have disappeared, or it would have changed to cheaper cars."

With Calderon's victory, business picked up nicely, and the yellow Lamborghini sold quickly to a Mexico City businessman, he said.

It's not just fancy cars. I recall speaking with the organizers of the EduCanada expositions, who reported robust attendance at this year's events in Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey after experiencing a substantial decline in 2006. The reason: Election uncertainty. One school division superintendent told me that just as many students came to his city as before, but that their parents opted to pay the entire tuition up front, forgoing the monthly payment option.

Anyway, this Mercedes Benz news comes during the same week as Mexico's "legitimate president" Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held a rally in the Zocalo to mark the one-year anniversary of the July 2 election he says was fraudulent.

Unfortunately, an El Universal poll showed that if Mexicans were to vote today, Felipe Calderon would win by a 15-percentage-point margin. AMLO would still receive 30 percent, though. Thus, writing him off as a spent force would be premature. Yes he shed roughly 15 percent of his support, but 30 percent of Mexicans still back him. Many of them believe the election results were not legitimate. AMLO will persist, but his biggest problem is perhaps a lack of PRD unity. As Sergio Sarmiento pointed out in his Grupo Reforma column this week, none of the PRD governors attended AMLO's July 1 rally in the Zocalo. And look no further than the strife in Zacatecas for proof of problems in the PRD. The PAN has unity problems too, but they seem to close ranks when it matters.

02 July 2007

Durango archbishop: Not voting is a mortal sin

The archbishop of Durango, Mexico, Hector Gonzalez Martinez, told reporters that not voting is a mortal sin, after casting his vote in the northern Mexican state's local election on Sunday. Catholic leaders in Mexico have previous encouraged the faithful to participate in elections and vote for parties that promote Catholic values - usually not the PRD. But calling absenteeism a sin sets a new standard.

As the Mexfiles blog playfully points out, "48% of the state is expected to put their souls in peril."

The PRI-Green alliance should come out as the big winners in Durango, a state famous for being the scene of many old Western movies. The PRI also looks to be doing well in Chihuahua.

In Zacatecas state, a traditional PRD hotbed, the left-leaning party was trailing in the state capital of Zacatecas to the PAN, but claimed a majority of the municipalities. Previously to taking the state capital, the only panista with any notoriety in Zacatecas was Andres Bermudez, the migrant-turned-millionaire mayor of Jerez, who is better known as the Tomato King. (He now sits in the federal Congress.) Perhaps in a sign of how unremarkable his run as municipal president (mayor) of Jerez was, the town swung back to the PRD.

Internal bickering - nothing new for the PRD - has been common Zacatecas and no doubt played a role in the election outcomes.

01 July 2007

The Legend of Jesus Malverde, Patron 'Saint' of Narco Traffickers, Grows in Mexico

Jabon de Jesus Malverde/Jesus Malverde soap

The Legend of Jesus Malverde, Patron 'Saint' of Narco Traffickers, Grows in Mexico

David Agren | Bio | 28 Jun 2007
World Politics Review Exclusive

MEXICO CITY -- Alejandro Ruiz Rodriguez, a Mexico City law student, lost a stack of important legal documents last year. Despite searching everywhere imaginable, they never turned up. As a last resort, he asked Jesus Malverde, an unofficial saint beloved by narcotics traffickers, for intervention. Inexplicably, the documents surfaced shortly thereafter.

"I don't know if it was just by chance or if Jesus Malverde was responsible," the 26-year-old said at a monthly gathering of Malverde adherents in Mexico City.

"Either way, I'm here every month to give thanks . . . it was absolutely miraculous."

Like an increasing number of Mexicans, Ruiz believes in the legend of Jesus Malverde, a mustachioed bandit from the hills of Sinaloa state that, like Robin Hood, reputedly stole from the rich and gave to the poor until his death by hanging in 1909. Narcotics traffickers claim him as their own and donate heavily to maintain a shrine in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, a western state notorious for smuggling activities and home to a powerful drug cartel of the same name. Even with narcotics-cartel violence flaring across Mexico, Malverde's legend is growing and seeping into the broader popular culture. In addition to the Culiacan shrine, a smaller shrine was recently built on a sidewalk in Mexico City's tough Doctores neighborhood. A martini bar in the capital's chic Condesa district adopted the narco saint's name and a piece inspired by Malverde recently won acclaim at a major art fair.

In Doctores, Maria Alicia Pulida Sanchez, who makes a modest living by running a mom-and-pop store, erected the Malverde shrine after her teenage son recovered from an automobile accident more quickly than expected -- something she credited to her praying to the unofficial saint, who she insisted "wasn't a narco.

"He was a thief, but at the same time, he was a thief who helped his community," she said.

Like Robin Hood, "He was a thief who would steal from the rich and give to the poor."

As dusk fell on a quiet Sunday in Mexico City's Colonia Doctores, a group of men in blue jeans loaded a life-size statue of Jesus Malverde along with a similar statue of San Judas, the patron saint of lost causes, into the bed of a Ford pickup truck for a spin around the neighborhood. On the third day of every month, some 30 to 70 adherents gather at the sidewalk shrine to pay homage to the bandit-turned-unofficial saint, whom they attribute miracles to and in many cases ask for intervention.

A similar scene is carried out in Culiacan on a regular basis at the Jesus Malverde shrine, which stands near the state legislature and a McDonald's restaurant and appears on maps distributed by the municipal tourism board. On May 3, the supposed anniversary of Malverde's death, the shrine throws a party complete with banda groups playing narcocorridos -- songs glorifying narcotics traffickers -- and despensas (giveaways) of food, household items and toys. Throughout the year, the shrine reportedly funds charity projects -- like paying funeral expenses for those lacking money. According to some of the shrine's visitors, narco donations underwrite almost everything.

"Narcos pretty much sponsor this place," said Alfredo Aguilar, a sugar cane farmer from rural Sinaloa.

Like many at the shrine, he insisted Malverde was for all people -- not just narcos.

"All sorts of people come here . . . famous people, important people, poor people, rich people," said Doña Tere, an elderly woman, hawking Malverde busts at the shrine.

Visitors to the Malverde shrine often leave Polaroid photos with pithy notes. Wealthier visitors, including some from the United States, sometimes pay for permanent plaques, which usually give thanks for "favors received" and "success in business."

Drawing on Malverde's notoriety is now becoming a good business for entrepreneurs beyond Sinaloa. The Malverde Bar in Mexico City attracts the fresa crowd (young monied set) with $7 martinis and an ambiance drawn from the tacky side of Mexican pop culture. Bartender Luis Mondragon insisted, "This place isn't about glorifying narcos."

Beyond the trend of Mexican youth indulging the naco (low class) side of their pop culture, researcher Arturo Navarro Ramos of the ITESO university in Guadalajara described most of Malverde's followers as marginalized people.

"He makes it possible to live life on the margins," he said, pointing to narcotics traffickers as prime examples.

"Malverde facilitates the view that people can be saved while not giving up their improper activities."

Due to the sketchy accounts of Malverde's life -- even details of his death are disputed -- Navarro figured Malverde would never be recognized as an official saint by the Catholic Church, which only in the past few years promised to start better scrutinizing the sources of large donations that may or may not be coming from narcotics traffickers.

Regardless of Malverde's shady reputation, law student Alejandro Ruiz Rodriguez, who insists he'd never engage in illegal activities, said he would be returning to the Doctores shrine every month.

"It's pure faith," he commented.