Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15TH, 1999 -- OAXACA & MITLA RUINS

We meet our guide Nicolas early in the morning. I ask him about the strange Christmas tree and Santa's lap thing. He says that only started ten years ago. The young people rebel against the old Mexican culture and they want to be different.

What kinds of industry is in Chiapas? He says hotel, restaurants, travel agencies. Rich people own a lot of land. He says they grow "mice"... he means "maize".

Rich people give 30 pesos a day. That's the local minimum wage in Oaxaca. People who work in a hotel, work 8 hours a day. But farmers can work 12-14 hours.

There are bad working conditions. Only given a few minutes at lunch, no break time. In restaurants, most of the time if you order something from the kitchen, but it's a mistake and the customer doesn't want it, the waiter or waitress must pay for it. Similarly, if a customer doesn't pay the hotel bill, the employee pays.

10 or 20% of the young people from these villages go to the USA to work illegally. Note, it's not illegal in Mexico to do this, so if you get caught crossing the border and sent back to Mexico, the Mexico government doesn't imprison you.

However, the Mexican government is quite strict about many things. If you have a gram of cocaine you go to jail for five years. Or one cigarette of marijuana. You can pay the cops 1000 or 2000 pesos and they'll let you go.

How do you feel about bribery? "We are used to it." I ask him to play out a scene for us. What would it be like to bribe a policeman? Let's say Nancy is driving. If she drives OK, then no problem. But if she breaks the law, policeman are very alert because they are looking for an opportunity to get bribed. So they'll pull you over for even small infractions.

Policeman: Good morning

Nancy: What did I do?

Policeman: You passed a stop light

Nancy: We can negotiate about this. Shows bill to policeman: 20, 50, or 100 pesos. "Let's make a deal."

Policeman: Either "No way.", or depending on how much "yes".

To get a ticket for running a red light costs 50-60 pesos. So bribery costs about as much as the ticket, but now Nancy doesn't have to go to "Transito". (some gov't office??).

I say, also Nancy doesn't have it on her driving record. But Nicolas says "In Mexico, we don't care about driving record." But... if you get a lot of tickets, they do take your license away. Nicolas got a ticket, but didn't have money to pay it, so he had to go work for the government for free. He cleaned roads for 80 hours.

We stop at a gas station. A guy in drab green fills our tank. Nicolas says "all" police are corrupt. Even if you try to bribe an honest policeman, bribery is so commonplace that you won't get arrested for attempted bribery. Policemen only get paid every 2 weeks. They make 1000 pesos, for 6 days a week at 8 hours a day. So some police really need the money.

Even taking the bus to work can be expensive: 3 pesos each way.

"loxichas" is a community where people were unfairly jailed. Many other communities have this too. People the government says may be revolutionaries, or who are "causing trouble" get jailed. This jailing problem is almost as big in Oaxaca as it is in Chiapas.

He says the government doesn't have informants trying to see who is speaking out against the government. A government employee would have to hear you badmouthing the government. Not so many tourists go to San Cristobal. Villagers need tourists for money, but 30% in San Cristobal don't like the tourists. Outside San Cristobal, in the villages, 90% don't like tourists.

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