It seems Mexican politics are a hot topic. I got a few e-mails from south of the border regarding last week's column, most of them reprimanding me for my soft criticism of the country's president, Vicente Fox. The letter-writers couldn't believe I was "pulling my punches" after years of hard and loud comments against Fox.
First off, those people wouldn't be reading my column if it weren't for the magic of the web, which allows people to check out CL's pages while sipping cheap Coronas in Mexico. Meanwhile, thanks to a few loud comments about our president and a dozen other factors, I have ended up writing about Mexican politics from a bunker in downtown Winston-Salem.
I've trashed Fox's blandness on several issues including his bad decision to marry his campaign spokesperson, the bitchy, nouveau-riche, ultra right-wing Marta Sahagun -- not a good partner to have when you preach "help the poor." But I have never doubted that Fox's economic reforms would help our country if they passed Congress, something that did not happen.
Anyway, to prove I'm still as pissed off as I was a year and a half ago with Fox's reign, here's some more interesting data for my readers in Mexico -- all five of them.
Since Fox became president, the economy, in raw numbers, has witnessed a steady 3 percent growth per year, even though he promised a whopping 6 percent growth in his first year and even toyed with the idea of double-digit growth. Meanwhile, drug-war-related deaths have grown steadily from 1,080 a year in 2001 to 1,843 in 2005 (nice double-digit growth there). The anti-narcotics program Mexico Seguro (Secure Mexico) has proven ineffective; according to the latest public opinion polls, insecurity has become the biggest concern for Mexican citizens, surpassing economic problems.
Speaking of problems with our ever-steady-growing economy, last week the presidency declared in a press conference that "thanks to the important job the government has made on improving the conditions of rural Mexico and lowering extreme poverty, migration to the US from unemployed farmers has decreased substantially."
When a reporter asked for specific data supporting the claim, the president's spokesman Ruben Aguilar replied, "I don't have this data handy, but I can assure you it's a substantial decrease. And people still migrate, of course, but they do it mostly for cultural reasons and not because of lack of employment opportunities."
As you might suspect, this caused great uproar. Mexico's biggest industrial chamber (Canacintra) replied that in all of Fox's term, Mexico has seen only half of the 1 million jobs a year the country needs and was promised. Want to guess where the other, still-jobless people are? If you see people speaking Spanish close to you, maybe you should ask them.
This is a sad reality in more than one way, because it not only shows the failure of Vicente's government to provide the growth and jobs the country has needed -- and that the president had promised -- but also a total lack of knowledge (or acknowledgement) of one of the harsher realities of Mexico.
Hernan Mena, a native of Mexico, is associate editor of the regional Hispanic weekly newspaper, Que Pasa.