28 November 2005

PRI campaign limps into Guadalajara

By David Agren

Some Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) members brandished white rubber bracelets with the slogan "¡Unidos Venceremos!" emblazoned around the circumference;  a fashion statement similar to the previously popular Livestrong bands promoted by cyclist Lance Armstrong and worn by virtually every fresa kid in Guadalajara.

The bracelets faded in popularity over the past few months, becoming yesterday's style – not unlike PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo's designs on Mexico's top job.

The former PRI party president finished third in a recent poll conducted for Grupo Reforma, garnering 21 percent support – well behind the National Action Party's (PAN) Felipe Calderon and the Democratic Revolutionary Party's (PRD) Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Even worse, 47 percent of respondents suspect Madrazo would abuse his power if elected; 38 percent viewed him as incompetent.

Not every Priista accepted the results; the PRI leadership challenged Grupo Reforma's methodology. Mario Rosales Anaya, a Guadalajara PRI booster, dismissed the results, saying, "Madrazo's going to get the momentum and climb in the polls."

He declined to explain how, but pointed out, "The PRI has the best national organization.

"We have support from all sectors of society."

Hampered by a rash of bad news, bitter internal bickering and last Monday's unfavorable poll, the PRI presidential campaign limped into Guadalajara Wednesday night. The momentum clearly elsewhere. Madrazo's sordid reputation for hardball politics and less than ethical campaigning preceded him.

In Tabasco state, he allegedly spent more than 50 times the legal limit in the 1995 governor's race, besting Lopez Obrador. Madrazo lost the last PRI primary for the national contest, but later became party president, perhaps the next best thing. As the PRI boss he ousted potential rivals, always conducting party business with an eye towards capturing the party's presidential nomination. Most infamously, he back stabbed the teachers' union president and PRI vice president Elba Esther Gordillo, branding her a traitor after she proposed working cooperatively with President Vicente Fox. In the PRI primary campaign, rival Arturo Montiel – the choice of an anti-Madrazo faction – accused Madrazo of leaking information that suggested Montiel and his family profited handsomely during Montiel's tenure as State of Mexico governor.

None of the past unpleasantness surfaced during the Guadalajara rally; an event attended by an eclectic mix of PRI faithful: businessmen in crisp suits, union members wearing T-shirts identifying their affiliations and even Huichol Indians in traditional white and pink costumes. In short, a cross-section of society, the PRI's traditional constituency. And most importantly for Madrazo, virtually all were loyalists anxious to catch of glimpse of their gallo (go-to guy). So many people showed up, late arrivals stood in the aisles after pushing past an overwhelmed security team, which had tried to keep them out of the hotel ballroom.

Not surprisingly, with such a friendly crowd in attendance, Madrazo delivered a vague message short on policy proposals. For the most part, he stated the obvious – lines like: "The PRI is a party that 100 percent wants Mexico to grow."

Or the equally generic, "There's no long term plan for the campo (countryside)."

He never detailed what exactly the PRI would offer the campo.

Madrazo spoke calmly, invoking little emotion from the crowd. The odd group of women would periodically interrupt the 45-minute speech, chanting campy support slogans like, "Roberto, amigo, (insert town name) es contigo (is with you)."

The candidate, an awkward grin on his face throughout the entire event, responded with clumsy waves, clenching a fist after fully extending his arm.

Perhaps offering a brief glimpse into his governing style – and confirming the fears expressed in the Grupo Reforma poll – he stated: "The public doesn't want change. … They want a strong president."

The Guadalajara event steered clear of controversy. Madrazo never mentioned his rivals from other parties or the poll directly, but conceded, "It's the most competitive contest in the history of the Republic."

As for party unity, he insisted, "Along with [former PRI presidential aspirants] Arturo Montiel and Everardo Moreno, together, we're going to win in 2006."

Supporters mobbed Madrazo after his speech; a cheesy pop track – a specially-made campaign theme song – looped endlessly. The party looked united – and some rabid partisans sported white wristbands to prove it.

From the Guadalajara Colony Reporter.

14 November 2005

Ochoa backs public course


BY DAVID AGREN/Special to The Herald Mexico
El Universal
November 14, 2005

In a city park filled with mechanical rides, a go-kart track and fading athletic facilities, Guadalajara golf star Lorena Ochoa and her management team envision their field of dreams. Theirs is a plan that would not only provide a place for aspiring golfers and weekend duffers to practice their chosen sport, but would also help pioneer a new concept in Mexico: the public golf course.

"Lorena Ochoa has as a goal … to make golf more popular," said Rodrigo Suárez Gilly, a partner in Ochoa Sports Management, an organization that represents the golfer's business interests. "The only way to make the sport of golf more popular is to invite people to play."

Golf, a game accessible to the masses north of the border, remains out of reach for the average Mexican. According to Ochoa Sports Management, fewer than 20,000 Mexicans play golf. Besides the high equipment costs, virtually no public courses exist. Some private clubs allow public access during certain hours, but the green fees are often steep. Additionally, potential players usually require an invitation to enter a club.

The Ochoa Sports Management proposal would "make the sport less expensive," Suárez said. "It's having public places so that people go play not necessarily as members."


To achieve their objective, Ochoa Sports Management expects to leverage the popularity of Ochoa, one of the nation's best-known female athletes, whose sporting success has been making headlines in Guadalajara for more than a decade. She won five world junior titles before receiving a scholarship to the University of Arizona.

Ochoa dominated the college ranks, finishing atop the leader board 12 times in three years. Since turning professional, she has won more than US3 million in prize money. She currently ranks fourth on the LPGA money list.

"All the sports in this country have grown when they had a sports figure," Suárez explained, pointing to Chihuahua native and National Basketball Association journeyman Eduardo Najera as an athlete who enhanced his sport's stature here after achieving success abroad.

"If you don't have a figure, people are not interested."

As an initial target group, Ochoa Sports Management is targeting a younger, sportsminded demographic; people familiar with golf and Lorena Ochoa but who have never picked up a nine iron. And to make the game even more accessible, the group is eyeing Parque Ávila Camacho for their course, an easily-accessible tract of land near the Guadalajara-Zapopan municipal boundary, a chip shot away from the exclusive Guadalajara Country Club, where Ochoa learned to play.

Other plots of land surrounding the Jalisco capital piqued their curiosity, but a long journey to the suburbs would drive up the cost for potential golfers.

"The idea is that someone can play 18 holes for US20," Suárez said.

Guadalajara public officials, however, have so far been cool to the idea. Still, Ochoa Sports Management wants civic involvement.

"It's not a profitable investment for a private company to install a public golf course," Suárez explained. "It might be something profitable in the long term."


Private clubs have sprung up all across the country over the past 25 years. Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas have become popular golf destinations. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has designed 12 courses in Mexico. Many of the new developments don't permit non-members to tee it up or freeze out potential players with high prices.

"Hardly anyone has the chance to play golf," said Gustavo Pérez García, an 18-year-old golfer, who plays at the Chapala Country Club in San Nicolas de Ibarra, Jalisco.

Pérez previously worked as a caddy at the club, which allowed him an opportunity to access the nine-hole course. Nowadays, a group of members sponsor him, providing Pérez the chance to practice and participate in tournaments when not working at the country club.

"It's a lack of money that keeps people from playing," he explained, adding that few of his neighborhood friends, who grew near the golf club, have ever tried the sport.

Published in the Miami Herald, Mexico Edition.

06 November 2005

Wal-Mart eyes Patzcuaro (Mexico)

Patzcuaro pier

Story by : David Agren

Patzcuaro, Michoacan taxi driver Alfredo Molina Aranjo kicked his cab's tires and showed off the new floor mats he purchased at Wal-Mart for his impeccably-maintained vehicle. He drives 40 miles "every eight days" to Morelia to shop in the mega-chain's Supercenter, preferring the lower prices and wider selection.
"I always find things there that I can't get here," he said.

He naturally welcomed the prospect of Wal-Mart putting one of its Bodega Aurrera outlets in Patzcuaro, a municipality of 66,000, which maintains a colonial atmosphere, largely untouched by neon lights and tacky strip malls.

"It's a good idea to have a supermarket here," he stated, adding many of his fellow cab drivers - and the majority of the town's population - would like to see Wal-Mart set up shop.

"A lot of people like the idea - except for the shop owners."

In a move similar to last year's opening of a Bodega Aurrera outlet in the shadow of the massive Teotihuacan pyramids north of Mexico City in San Juan de Teotihuacan, State of Mexico, Wal-Mart is eyeing another landmark location, which has a unique history and impressive attractions, but lacks a large supermarket.

The proposed development, planned for a vacant lot on the road between the town center and the docks serving Lake Patzcuaro - site of Janitzio Island, a tourist magnet and hotbed of indigenous Purepecha culture - unsettles many local merchants, who fear the discount retailer could drive them out of business and spoil the municipality's character.

"They say they're going to create [150] jobs, but a lot of people are going to be laid off," said Hugo Reyes, who owns a hardware store on Patzcuaro's Plaza Chica.

Unemployment plagues Patzcuaro - and much of Michoacan, which has lost a large portion of its population to migration. Tourism drives the local economy; thousands of visitors descend on the town for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities each fall. Mexico's tourism secretariat declared Patzcuaro a "Pueblo Magico" - mainly due to the town's remarkably preserved architecture and strong Purepecha influence. Cobblestone roads crisscross the town and most of its buildings sport red-tile roofs.

A large number of artisans also populate Patzcuaro.

"Small business, this is how we survive," Reyes explained.

"Patzcuaro has no industry; no big source of income."

But the lure of lower prices in nearby Morelia already pulls sales out of Patzcuaro. Many merchants interviewed - including some who oppose the new Bodega Aurrera outlet - acknowledged buying items at Wal-Mart.

"I sometimes go to Wal-Mart in Morelia," said Magdalena Monroy, a pharmacy owner, who supports the chain's expansion into Patzcuaro.

"Me, I want it, but other people don't because it's going to shrink their sales."

As for her pharmacy's future prospects, she boldly stated, "I'm not afraid of anything."

Guadalupe Alba, a vendor, who sells homemade shawls and traditional clothing in one of Patzcuaro's markets, expressed some trepidation of Wal-Mart's impending arrival.

"It's a foreign company that's taking Mexican money out of the country," she said, adding that she never shops in Wal-Mart's stores.

Arkansas-based Wal-Mart conquered the Mexican market in less than two decades, quickly becoming the nation's largest retailer with 747 outlets, which operate under seven brand names. It also employs more than 100,000 people, making it Mexico's largest private employer. It sold 13 billion dollars worth of merchandise in Mexico last year. According to a recent Publico article, the chain recently unveiled plans to open scaled-down stores, which would compete with abarroteras, small neighborhood mom-and-pop shops.

Wal-Mart counters some of the criticism leveled against it on its Web site, saying the chain buys from local suppliers. A Mural article published last week noted that Wal-Mart agreed to stock 90 products from small and medium-sized Michoacan businesses.

Attempts to obtain comments from a Wal-Mart spokesman in Mexico City were unsuccessful.

Although facing a leviathan-sized company, Alba predicted the proposed store would never open, saying, "We won't allow it," but according to reports, Wal-Mart has already put its plans into motion.

Jorge Molina Garcia, Patzcuaro's director of urban development, said Wal-Mart's plans are being reviewed at the legal level, but declined to offer an opinion on how the store would impact the town. He added that Wal-Mart's plans would have to conform to the Pueblo Magico's strict building regulations, which regulate the architectural style of new buildings.

Alfredo Molina Aranjo, peering through a gap in the wall surrounding the proposed Bodega Aurrera site, scoffed at the suggestion the store would ruin Patzcuaro's colonial charm.

"It would put in a nice building," he said.

"If anything, this would improve things."

Published in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter.

02 November 2005

Halloween muscles in on Patzcuaro holiday tradition


BY DAVID AGREN/Special to The Herald Mexico
El Universal
October 31, 2005

PATZCUARO, Michoacan - Caesar López, 13, carved a jack-o'-lantern from a chilacayote gourd and brought it to Patzcuaro's Plaza Grande each night during the weeks preceding Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Once there, instead of accumulating candy by calling out "trick or treat" as his counterparts north of the border might do, he collected money by asking bystanders, "Give me something for my chilacayote."

And many did. On a good night, said Caesar, he made up to 20 pesos with his gourd jack-o'-lantern.

When asked to explain the difference between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, he responded innocently, "It's the same thing."

Over the past 20 years, Halloween influences have crept into Patzcuaro, a colonial city where the indigenous Purepecha build impressive Dia de los Muertos altars and hold nighttime grave-site vigils to honor their deceased loved ones.

Although vestiges of Dia de los Muertos abound, many local stores now adorn their premises with images of pumpkins, black cats and bats. In Patzcuaro's seasonal Dia de los Muertos market, virtually every stall offered Halloween items for sale: pumpkin-shaped sweets and witches' hats occupied spots next to sugar skulls and pan de muerto, a popular holiday bread. A few stalls almost exclusively stocked Halloween merchandise something that irritated a few longtime vendors who sell only traditional Dia de los Muertos supplies.

"Probably 50 percent of the things here are for Halloween," said vendor Jesús García, who works alongside his grandmother, a 47-year veteran of the market.

He complained that the city government, which regulates the market, doesn't enforce the rules, which García said only allows vendors to sell traditional items.

Veronica Adame, a vendor in the market who sells chocolateshaped pumpkins along with chocolate popsicles featuring images of popular cartoon characters like Sponge Bob, Shrek and Mickey Mouse, defended her inventory selection, saying many customers come looking for nontraditional items.

"They're usually looking more for skulls, but many (customers) are also searching for pumpkins," she explained.

"The kids ask for it," added Juan Carlos García, another vendor selling Halloween items.

The advent of foreign television programming and the large number of migrants returning from time abroad in the United States are the most probable sources of Halloween's growing popularity in Mexico. The pagan holiday also has great appeal to Mexican children, who are usually left out of traditional Dia de los Muertos celebrations, said Shawn Haley, a Canadian anthropologist who has studied the Mexican holiday.

"Halloween in Mexico is becoming a way to involve the children," he explained in an interview from his office at Red Deer College, in Red Deer, Alberta.

"Up until this point, Dia de los Muertos festivities didn't involve children a whole lot."

In some towns where Haley researched, parents initiated Halloween activities in order to include their children in Dia de los Muertos.

Jorge Tapia, a pharmaceutical company representative from Morelia who was visiting Patzcuaro on business, planned to celebrate both holidays. He bought sugar skulls emblazoned with the names of his wife and infant son for an altar in his home, but he also planned to dress his son in a skeleton costume for a Halloween party.

"I like to take the best of both (events)," he explained.

Despite the arrival of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos still thrives in smaller towns, to the point of becoming an important part of their regional economies. Michoacan tourism officials estimate more than 100,000 tourists will visit the state for Dia de los Muertos festivities with the majority heading to Patzcuaro and nearby Janitzio Island. Approximately 30 percent of the tourists will come from foreign countries.

Looking into the future, Haley predicts "a heavy tourist influence" will keep many Dia de los Muertos traditions strong, but will also change the holiday.

"(Dia de los Muertos) going to become a bit more like our Christmas, with less solid beliefs," he said. "But I think everyone's going to still do it."

From the Miami Herald, Mexico Edition.