Tag Archives: economy

IT’S ALL IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

27 Oct

So how are things going with you? Hopefully you’re working or maybe collecting U.I.?  Maybe your benefits are just about at an end and the prospects of collecting Welfare are starting to loom large. Ever since the recession hit, things have been pretty rough and if you watch American T.V. you’ve certainly come to realize that things are way worse in the States than they are in Canada. Europe is constantly in the news, as Greece slides into financial chaos soon perhaps to be followed by other countries that have been unable to control their financial messes.

A cardinal comes to sample our oranges in the early morning

Through it all, how much have you heard about Mexico? Probably the only things you’ve heard about have been the drug wars and innocents being murdered by the drug Cartels, or perhaps the media ranting about how unsafe it is because some tourist has been mugged or killed. I’d be willing to bet you haven’t heard a word about how the Recession has impacted down here have you?

Things are very bad, very bad indeed. First let me explain a little about Mexican Employment Law. Once you have been hired, unless you do something so egregious that you could be arrested for it, you can’t be laid off or fired. The only way you leave a job is to retire, quit or die. Our social services such as Welfare and Unemployment insurance either don’t exist here or are offered only sporadically depending on which State you live in and Baja Sur has neither. Now I exaggerate, but not much, you can be laid off but it requires a large severance package to be paid.

So imagine what happens to cities and states that have all these employees, but no money to pay them. Not only do they not have money to pay the employees, they have no money to run the basic infrastructures that keep cities functioning. Since they have no money to pay in wages, they certainly don’t have any to pay out in severance packages to laid off employees, so they stay on the payroll.

Trying his luck, fishing at dawn

Let me give you a little background here, so you’ll have a little understanding. Mexico is a third world country that has lots of petro dollars and like every other similar country; it also has lots of corruption, from the local city cops right up to federal government ministers. It also has very wealthy drug cartels.

Now this is going to sound a bit strange but when there wasn’t this huge crackdown on the Cartels, things worked better. The Cartels held areas of the country, mostly along the border and in a few other states such as Sinaloa and Chihuahua. In these places the Cartels ran everything, including the schools, hospitals and charities. They made sure that the people were looked after. Sure the elections were rigged and only those politicians who were being paid by the Cartels were elected, and if you crossed them your life wasn’t worth a plug nickel, but things worked, maybe only in a warped way, but they worked. Money trickled down eventually to everyone.

That is no longer the case.

Who watches the watcher?

First came the American war on drugs and the billions of dollars offered to the Mexican Government to do away with the Cartels. Now, I’m not saying that was a bad thing, since at the same time Calderon was also getting rid of those in his government from Customs Officers to Federal Ministers who were corrupt and replacing them with honest people who would work for the betterment of the country as a whole. In the minds of right thinking people this was a wonderful idea and full of good intentions. The problem is we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Calderon was using the American money to try and break the Cartels and was siphoning other monies to the cause from various Government agencies, when the recession hit. Now the Cartels are no longer looking after the people in their areas, they are using it to fight a war against the government and the Government no longer has excess money to spend on anything. The people are suffering.

A school of fish paying me no attention.

Down here in Baja, the city has employees, but no money to pay them and hasn’t for 2 years, there is also a drought that’s in it’s 2nd year and the fishing is getting worse every year. Unemployment is rampant and even those with jobs are only holding on in hopes that eventually some money will appear and they will get some back wages. The Rancher’s animals are dying because they can’t afford to feed them and there is nothing left to eat in the desert. The fishermen, generally the poorest of the poor are bringing in less and less all the time and no one has any money to buy their catch anyways. Even the big tourist developments have stopped work because the tourists are not buying anymore and they certainly are not coming in the numbers they used to. Things are very bad.

Now, try to predict what happens in places like this when every 6 months, there is a large influx of what look like rich tourists who come to stay for 3 to 6 months at a time. Do you think you’d look upon these folks as fonts of money? Bingo!

When we arrived a few years ago, the economy was booming, condos, golf courses and hotels were being built at breakneck speed and all the beaches that were accessible were free to all. That changed in 2009, with the introduction of a rental fee for the right to stay on the beach and call the space you occupied yours for the season. Now we are talking a million dollar view for a pittance. The rate was 1940 pesos per month, that’s about $160.00 Canadian.

This little fellow was just as curious as I was.

You can imagine the hue and cry that ensued, with some flat out refusing to pay and actually being escorted away by the local constabulary. I mean let’s face it, none of us, regardless as to where we come from, could find anywhere at home for that price, probably not even a rat infested flophouse.  So most of us coughed up the money, knowing that we were is some small way helping the locals.

The price stayed the same all of last year, but and it’s a big but, no one was quite aware as to what the local Mayor was up to. It seems after the election in Loreto last February, it become obvious that the previous Mayor was a big time crook and he took the city for ever last cent they had, then buggered off. The city is absolutely, flat out broke and there is no money to be had from the State of Baja, since they can’t get any from the Federal Government. What’s the new administration to do? Why, raise the beach rates of course.

The fellow who has always collected the monies came last week and told us that the new Comptroller wanted to raise the fee to 3600 pesos a month, (about $300.00 Can). Since we are all rich tourists we could afford it they thought. Wrong!

Heading back to his home.

Off we all went to see this gentleman and to try and disabuse him of that impression. Most of us who spend 6 months of our lives every winter in this beautiful place do so because we can’t afford to live in our own counties full time. We are the poor (but not impoverished) of Canada and the United States, who have to travel to a poorer country in order to survive on our limited pensions and incomes.

We made a new friend that day and we all came away with a new understanding as to the struggles we are all facing in this new age of financial uncertainty. He understood that we could afford a small increase and that all of us try very hard to spend as much money as we can afford to support the local businesses. We were made aware of just how bad things are down here and how far they need to go to get back to where they were just a few years ago.

So rent has gone up to 2400 pesos a month, (about $200.00 Can) bringing in some badly needed funds into the cities coffers and helping to pay city workers that haven’t had a pay cheque in months, we got an offer of garbage pick-up, better security, a little work on the road coming in here and maybe, somehow they’ll bring in water. We’ll see, sometimes money in hand down here means we won’t see anyone again until next months rent time, but since we now have a better understanding as to what poor means down here, none of us mind. We pay our rent and this beautiful spot is ours for the winter and if we can help the locals make it through the bad times, so much the better.

We may not have much but for those who have nothing, we are rich beyond compare. They see us arriving with our cars, motorhomes, campers and boats and see wealth. We see old cars, motorhomes and campers that are past their prime and boats that need TLC to keep them afloat and constant tinkering to keep the motors running.

I guess everything really is relative and people judge things based on the only reality that exists for them. We all see our selves as poor or just getting by, yet we all seem to feel ourselves lucky to be here at this place and in this time. Even the locals who are suffering, will tell you that they know folks who are in worse shape than they are and that though things are not great, they could certainly be much, much worse.

Life truly is seen simply through the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

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AREN’T YOU AFRAID?

9 Mar

In February of 2006, my eldest daughter and I decided to go to Playa del Carmen and stay at a 4 star hotel for 2 weeks. While we were there, a couple were murdered in their room. From that moment on we have constantly been asked the same question about going to Mexico, “Aren’t you afraid?” The answer is NO!

Punta Arena Beach, just south of La Paz

We are constantly amazed at the coverage any crime involving foreigners that occurs in Mexico, is given in the American and Canadian press. The way the news is slanted makes it seems as if these things never happen anywhere but in Mexico and that no sane person would ever voluntarily go there.

 
Mexico has an economic problem. It’s a third world country, where the average monthly wage, before the recession was $130.00 US. Now, chances are many are either not working, or if they are, they are probably being paid much less, if at all. Many Mexicans we have talked to this winter have told us they haven’t received a wage in months, but are afraid to quit. If they do, they may not be able to find another job, but if they stick with what they have, they may eventually get some of the money owed them.

A piece of black coral left behind by the tide.

When physical violence happens here, it generally occurs in large border towns as these are Drug distribution centres. Drugs are moved to them and then across the border into the US because Americans are the drug cartels biggest customers.  Don’t kid yourself about making the border leakproof. There are always ways to get people and products across any border and the harder it becomes, the more valuable the product when you DO get it across and money is what it’s all about! The violence happens either when gangs fight over turf, or try to protect their empires from those who would bring them down. They kill each other, those they believe threaten them and anyone who gets caught in the cross fire.

 

When the US and Canadian press get hold of these stories they write them as if no one is ever murdered in their countries, there are no gangs, no drugs and all is sweetness and light there. All you have to do is read the Los Angeles Times or the Vancouver Sun to know that’s a huge crock of BS. I’m not sure why the news is slanted the way it is at home, but to us it sure seems as if it’s simply to scare people and it works beautifully. People are afraid to come to Mexico.

 
The only place any major problems have occurred in Baja is in Tijuana, just across the California border. Sure, there’s been the occasional violent crime committed in Cabo san Lucas and La Paz, but certainly, considering the number of tourists that visit those cities every year, it’s nowhere near the number that happens in say, Las Vegas, or Niagara Falls, but you’d never know that from the news reports would you?

 
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is crime here, even on our lovely beach. Last year an old rug and 2 broken lawn chairs went missing and this year just before we arrived, an old 10HP boat motor was stolen. Last month during the full moon, an attempt was made, 2 nights in a row, by the same men, to steal a 90HP boat motor, but was foiled by the vigilance and sleeplessness of one of the campers. Last night an unattended and unlocked boat trailer was pinched. These are crimes of desperation as the recession has hit very hard here and unlike the rest of North American the economy is not rebounding, there’s little work and the tourist industry is in the tank, both because of the economic slowdown and, of course, fear.

 
When these very poor locals see the things that many of the campers bring down with them, they assume we are wealthy and won’t miss a few odds and ends or can easily afford to replace those items that go missing. The local police don’t help matters since many of those responsible for the crimes are related to some of the constabulary. Down here family is everything, and the policemen are very unlikely to arrest and prosecute a relative. Plus many Anglos here, especially Americans, seem to forget that this is a foreign country, with different laws and legal system. There isn’t the vast network of police and security available to protect the individuals and their property like there is in Canada and the US, so we all have to take responsibility for our own protection.

 
Some of the Anglos here exasperate the problem by flaunting their obvious wealth, living in fancy, expensive homes, in villages where the locals live in 2 or 3 room shacks, with little or nothing in the way of what we call necessities. Down here a refrigerator is a luxury! These people always seem to have an amazing assortment of cars, trucks, Quads, boats and other toys laid out and displayed for all to see. They live down here because it’s cheap and with a  relatively small income from the US or Canada, can live pretty high on the hog. When their belongings go missing, they go berserk, loudly disparage any and all things Mexican. Though when asked if they would show strangers all the money in their wallets or leave all their belongings unlocked and on display in their home country, the answer is usually a much more subdued, “Well, no. I thought it was safe here!” No different here than it is at home folks!

 
I should also add that the local Mexicans are not responsible for everything that goes missing. There are certainly a few light fingered Anglos in the crowd and many have no qualms about purchasing obviously stolen items for cheap.

 
So, when we get asked the question by all those who believe the newspaper headlines, we tell them that we feel no more afraid to travel to Baja than we would travelling in our own country. If we stay out of problem areas, like the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, or Tijuana, the chances of anything bad happening to us, are slim. If we don’t go around flaunting what little wealth we have, which we  wouldn’t do at home, let alone while travelling, we won’t draw any unwanted attention.  Truth be told, one look at ol’ Grummy and no one would ever assume we had anything worth stealing.

A small island off Agua Verde a beautiful beach just south of us.

This is an absolutely beautiful area full of gorgeous views, awe inspiring vistas and warm and friendly people. Sure there’s a few bad apples in the bunch, but with a little common sense, you can be as safe and comfortable here as you are in your own home.

 
If the headlines make you afraid to travel, then don’t!  The less folks on the road, the more room there is for those of us who want to know where it goes.