Quiet, Peace and Services for All
Headlines about the young people in Yucatan always catch our attention, mostly because we were present for the first "march" made by the little ones when they demanded clean streets and clean air. As they marched and shouted their "demands," we couldn’t help but smile. Their proud parents and the police looked on and beamed with pride. We wondered if they had noticed that there were more children than there were adults at that particular event. Sure enough, it is now about a decade later and those little ones have just held a Youth Conference at Siglo XXI, Merida’s conference center opposite Gran Plaza in the north. They packed 700 young people into the audience and got busy making plans for the orderly management of the city and state when it is their turn to rule. Even now, they are working with current administrations to ensure that their needs and wants are met. The great thing about this group is that their needs and wants are so fundamental. They want a quiet and peaceful place to live and they want services for all. That is not too much to ask in a civilized world and we are certain they will be successful.
Tampa-Progreso Ferry Talk
Two groups are said to be “working quickly” in hopes of beginning a new ferry that would travel from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Tampa to Cuba and Yucatan. They hope to begin the ferry service after the first of 2012. The biggest problem is that it is still illegal to cruise from the USA to Cuba, though that shouldn’t stop them from coming to Progreso! The leader of one of the groups wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009 for a license to run the ferries, but has gotten no reply. This week, however, the U.S. relaxed travel restrictions at nine additional airports so that family members and people who are going for religious, educational or cultural exchanges can fly to Cuba from the USA. The groups that want to run the ferries think that if it is acceptable to fly to Cuba from selected airports, then it should be acceptable to cruise there. We’re not sure that linking the Tampa-Progreso ferry to a USA-Cuba project is such a good idea, but we will wait and see. In any case, we know that many of the local expatriates and even more to come would greatly appreciate a way to send themselves and their cars to and from the USA by boat.
Kanxoc Accident Update
As many are aware, there was a terrible van accident near the border with Quintana Roo, a little more than a week ago. It happened in the early morning hours as members of a local ejido (native citizens land-based group) were traveling in a van to clean the boundaries of their land. Four died and 26 were injured. This was a devastating blow to a community that depends on the work of each member just to survive. Many ejido-owners still live in stick houses and have dirt floors, but no one works any harder or appreciates what they earn more than the people who have chosen to remain on the ejidos of Mexico.
As luck would have it, representatives of COPARMEX, a group of local businessmen, have come to the rescue. It is the mission of COPARMEX to "help establish conditions for the prosperity of all Mexicans conducive to increasing social cohesion and for companies to develop, multiply and fulfill their function in order to create jobs and wealth with social responsibility." To fulfill that goal, representatives of COPARMEX have already been to Kanxoc to bring food pantries and to assess the situation. They have determined that the best thing to do is put each of the affected families in a sustainable business of their own. In addition, they are making arrangements for each businessman to "adopt" one of the affected children and pay for their schooling. Many thanks to the altruistic hearts of Luis Jorge Ontiveros Alcocer, Hernán Alcocer Méndez, Sergio Camejo Rodríguez, David Rivero Arceo, José Manuel Aguilar Méndez and Manuel Azcorra Rejón.
Japan Earthquake Affecting Mexican Business
Sadly, it has been announced that there may be up to 1,100 workers laid off by Honda in Jalisco due to a shortage of parts that are usually made in Japan. There is no way of knowing how long it will take for Japanese parts factories to come back online. Mexico imports somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion USD in auto parts from Japan, not all of them for Hondas. According to a representative of the National Autoparts Industry Association, workers for other auto manufactures may be at risk for losing their jobs as well. Needless to say, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan, as well as with all of the people, around the world, whose lives this earthquake has touched.
Mexico Same-Store Sales Rebound
If shopping is any barometer of the condition of a nation’s economy, then Mexico is doing well indeed. Same-store sales, for clothing and shoe stores, are up 10.8% over the year before and same-store sales for department stores are up 10.5% over the year before. Supermarket sales are only up 1.4% over the year before, but that’s because Wal-Mart and Soriana, the two largest in this category, engaged in a price war that lowered their individual increases, as well as increases for their entire category. All in all, if consumer activity is any indicator of the health of the economy of a nation, then Mexico is doing quite well.
Yucatan Apparel Industry Improving
The apparel industry in Yucatan took a hit when the rest of the world sank into a global recession, but those days now seem to be behind us. This is great news for Yucatan because the maquiladoras (manufacturing businesses) here provide direct employment for 17,000 families in Yucatan. Those workers salaries have a significant impact on the economies of their towns and villages. Many of these workers are sewing in their homes and their local branch of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria del Vestido (Canainves) is working hard to move the mindset of the industry, as well as the reality for workers, from one of high volume, low profit maquila production to the mainstream of new trends in fashion, including the use of fashionable materials and designs. In addition to this good news, we also hear that there are plans to create a Plaza del Vestir in Merida. There are no solid plans to report quite yet, but what it sounds like to us is an area of the city will be developed as a garment, footware and handicrafts center for the benefit of business and exports. Of course, we won’t complain if those of us who live here and are "in the know" happen to be able to shop for great bargains too! This is such good news from a section of the population that has finally found its voice and is taking its rightful place in the game we call business. Congratulations to all involved.
Housing for the Poor to Recover Subsidies
The latest victim of the global energy crisis is housing for the poor. All products that are mined, manufactured, mixed, packaged, shipped, or trucked have gone up in price, including cement. When we first moved to Yucatan, the standard, new 2 bedroom, 1 bath fraccionamiento home could be had for well under $13,000 USD. Today, that same home costs approximately $18,000 USD. That might not sound like much to most expats, but it is a huge sum to those who earn or have little here in Yucatan. Earlier in the year, it was announced that the average income in Yucatan is high enough that the Federal Government cut subsidies for housing for the poor. Realizing that the term "average" is problematic, the National Housing Commission and local officials are now in negotiations for Yucatan to receive the first reallocation of subsidies for housing for the poor.
Speaking of Housing…
AV1 Group, Inc. (Pink Sheets: AVOP) (www.av1group.com), an international and investment holding group, has just announced that it has received a letter of intent to be included in a joint venture project to build a housing development in Uman, Yucatan. Phase One of this project will consiste of 185 homes, to be sold at approximately $25,000 USD each. The entire development, when completed, will cover 198 acres. The company also has a microlending arm and will loan the new homeowners enough money to completely furnish their new homes.
We were so happy to read, this week, that CFE (Federal Electric Commission) is planning on putting in wind power projects in the Municipalities of Celestun, Progreso, Valladolid and Tizimin, on Cozumel and in the southern part of Quintana Roo. If you drive the highway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you can see one of CFE’s windmills (yes, it’s huge!) on the side of the road. CFE chose these areas because they have a steady wind that will support the technology. What’s the holdup? The plans have not been approved by SENER (the energy ministry). We hope soon to see the windmills of Yucatan make their return in their 21st century reincarnation.
The Windmills of Merida
Wind power is not unknown in Merida. There was a time when the skyline of Merida was covered with windmills, each drawing water to the surface from underground rivers and cenotes. This week, we found a poem by Robert DeCandido, Database Coordinator at The Pierpont Morgan Library. We hope you enjoy one poet’s memory of Merida.
The Windmills of Merida, Yucatan
Once, there was no corner of Merida where
A windmill wasn’t churning steadily
In the wind pumped from the sea by the sun–
The hot, dry wind from the Gulf
Or the gentler one from the Carribean.
Small and many-bladed they were thrust up,
A little ways, into a sky which seemed,
To me, larger than other skies,
Where layered clouds glided and vultures turned
High up to the brink of unseeable.
Though they’ve doubtless been replaced
By motors, the windmills turn still within me
and draw from below sweet water
which dry wind and dry earth cannot steal.
A Locksmith in Progreso
This week, we read about an icon of Progreso, a locksmith named Víctor Miguel Ascanio Magaña. His place of business is located about 25 meters from the new mercado. What immediately captured our attention was Don Victor’s sense of humor.
His father had been in the repair business: typewriters, sewing machines, Coleman lamps, gramophones and phonographs, but Don Victor particularly enjoyed learning to open locked doors, remove padlocks, and change locks – and he taught himself to pick locks. When he grew up, Don Victor went off to California to become a bracero. Nine days on that hot sun, never ending "picking beets" job brought him straight back home. He then gave the sawmills of Campeche a chance, but the mill workers had no drinking water and had to bathe in a nearby lake. Once again, Don Victor headed home to Progreso.
As the son of a small business owner, working for someone else had just not been in his life experience, so he did the only thing he really enjoyed doing. He opened the first locksmith shop in Progreso and the rest is over 50 years of history. Don Victor is full of funny stories about life as a locksmith – the Yale padlock that took him all night to open, the lady who always wanted to haggle over charges, children who lock themselves in cars, bedrooms and bathrooms, and the people who talk so much that he can’t concentrate while he is trying to open their locks. Don Victor’s son is taking over his business now and has nothing but glowing responses when asked about his father. People ask us "What are the people like in Yucatan?" Almost all of them are just like Don Victor: smart, funny, talented, accomplished, and wonderful people we love having as friends and neighbors.
A Tornado in Halacho
There was a small tornado in Halacho this past Tuesday. It managed to destroy the roof on the stands at the skating rink, which is located at the local sports field. Tornados usually occur on unseasonably warm and sultry spring afternoons between 3:00 PM and 9:00 PM, but we have seldom seen tornado weather in Yucatan. This one took place between 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM. It lasted only about five minutes. While there were people in the sports area of the complex, no one was in the skating area and no one was hurt.
Adoption On The Rise
It has only been in recent years that adoption has begun to be more common in Yucatan. There were a number of reasons for the hesitation, all of them culturally based. Those days are gone now and the way is clear for children to be welcomed into loving Yucatecan families. What is particularly heartwarming about this is that the people of Yucatan work hard to provide opportunities for children with different abilities. We’ve seen this over and over again. We saw the wedding of the young couple with Down Syndrome, both of whom hold jobs. We see children with different abilities in their own theater productions and participating in every activity that other children have access to. Now, we are seeing adoptive parents choosing children with different abilities. While the rest of the world gets crazier by the second, Yucatan is building a bright future for all of its young people.
Now you see her. Now you don’t. We had to laugh when we read the story of the white-tailed deer that suddenly appeared in City Hall in Dzidzantún, and then, just as suddenly, vanished. This was no small deer. She weighs 132 pounds! But where did she come from and where did she go?
Then, the proverbial "anonymous caller" tipped off the police that they could find the deer in a local bar. The police hesitated a bit. After all, what would they say when they arrived? "We hear there’s a deer living here?" But, they finally went to just take a look at the bar – and there she was. We’ve seen the story in several papers and it always ends with "The bar owner gave her up."
Not to worry about the deer. Yucatan has a number of farms that are raising white-tailed deer now, as well as zoos and animal preserves, so we are sure the deer is doing just fine in her new home.
Rousing Success for HIV/AIDS Prevention & Education Group!
Brazos Abiertos, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to the prevention of HIV/AIDS and based in Merida, Yucatan and Houston, Texas, was the beneficiary of a rousingly successful House Tour Event this last weekend. The house built by the Working Gringos (read about its construction in our Real Estate section) was one of eight beautiful houses on the tour. The last "house" was the local Irish pub Hennessy’s, designed and built by local architect Henry Ponce, and all the volunteers and attendees ended up there for a party that lasted well into the night. The leading local newspaper, Diario de Yucatan, reported that the event was well attended by both residents and students, and Por Esto, the other leading local newspaper, also covered the story. According to Carlos Cabrera of Brazos Abiertos, about 400 people attended the event and the group raised almost twice the $50,000 pesos they were hoping for. About thirty volunteers worked to sell and take tickets, advertise, organize and otherwise make the event a success, under the direction of twelve people on the Events Committee who managed the event. The proceeds from the event will be used to continue their very well-received education and prevention campaigns both in the city of Merida and in the rural communities surrounding the city.