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Some Thoughts On The Article 33 Debate

July 25, 2011

One can think of many reasons why the Mexican government would want to reiterate that foreigners are not permitted to involve themselves in political matters.

An influx of predominantly left-leaning immigrants from Central America, which Mexico is facilitating with its recent policy changes, and an armed insurgency in Chiapas that has become the pet project of a great many foreign intellectuals both come to mind.

A tiny group of retirees and snowbirds living in one of Mexico’s smallest and most out-of-the-way cities, slurring things like “no yo quiero el mal environmento, yo quiero mas salud para perros de la calle,” is pretty far down the list.

While we at Expats Anonymous do feel that some pretty insane and often offensive things have been said by a few local gringos about these matters, it takes a heaping helping of gringo self-importance to believe that Mexico might risk further damage to its struggling tourism industry, frighten away other foreigners thinking about moving here, and willingly tie itself up in a diplomatic nightmare, all to deport someone for spreading their inarticulate and misinformed ideas.

Particularly when said slurring gringos can’t seem to get a number of easily-verifiable facts straight, such as whether Merida’s stray dogs go un-neutered because “it’s a Catholic thing” or because the minimum wage in the state of Yucatan is 54 pesos a day and your average Yucatecan simply can’t afford to blow their paychecks on neutering stray dogs, or whether it’s the Geneva Convention or the Vienna Convention that ensures consular benefits are extended to people arrested in a foreign country.

(A little off-topic, but I’d hate to be the poor schmuck who took the wrong person’s word for it and found themselves in a Mexican jail screaming “The Geneva Convention says I get consular benefits!  I know my rights!”)

It’s hard to take anyone seriously when they can’t be bothered to do a ten-second Google search to see if what they’re saying isn’t, simply put, all a bunch of hooey.  It’s even harder to imagine these goofy people as a threat to Mexico’s sovereignty.

However, time and time again we have seen what can happen to people for stepping on the wrong toes.

Last year, I saw a truck driving around Merida carrying a banner informing its citizens that they have a right and a duty to report municipal insecticide sprayers for refusing to spray the yards of people who, for one reason or another, voted for the wrong candidate in the previous elections.

Call me paranoid, but this truck sent a clear message to me: it doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist, or an expat, or a citizen born in Mexico, your opinion can be used against you, and the only way to play it safe is to not play at all.

One would be wise to weigh the benefits of voicing their political opinion against the potential consequences.  As a foreigner, one’s opinion is virtually of no consequence.  But that’s not to say the hand of God can’t come down pretty quickly on those who meddle in affairs that don’t concern them.

It should also be noted that there is a big difference between “I don’t like that there are stray dogs roaming the streets” and “I don’t like x politician or x party because they’re doing nothing about the stray dogs roaming the streets.”  (Not to mention facile, insulting slogans like “You can judge a society by the way it treats its animals.”)

Far more articulate people than I have noted that, when all is said and done, the issues are seldom as important as the money, the power, and the people behind them.  So it stands to reason that, being a vulnerable foreigner whose opinion doesn’t really matter anyway, it’s imprudent (not to mention pointless) to mouth off about issues, but it’s downright crazy to mouth off about politicians and parties, or to stand in the way of somebody’s political goals.

And those expats who have gained Mexican citizenship and claim that this gives them immunity against political persecution would be wise to take a cue from the newspapers, public service announcements and banner-carrying trucks all around us:

Not even citizens born in Mexico are immune when the gloves come off.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. mexicano permalink
    July 25, 2011 6:01 pm

    Another excellent article. More like this please!

  2. María Cristina Llera permalink
    July 25, 2011 11:06 pm

    As usual, right on target. Pity folks who don´t get the message…and they are legion.

  3. Alex permalink
    July 30, 2011 8:56 am

    I take issue with this sentence: “As a foreigner, one’s opinion is virtually of no consequence.”

    In Mexico, as in much of the world, one’s opinion is virtually of no consequence if 1) one does not vote; 2) one does not have money; 3) one does not have power.

    Expats in Merida, 1) cannot vote, 2) cannot give money to political parties or candidates; 3) have no political power, their numbers are so few.

    That’s true in the U.S. as well. If you don’t vote, have no money to give a candidate or are not part of some PAC in Washington, who really gives a damn about what you think? It costs $15,000 PER PERSON to attend an event where President Obama will stand and have his picture taken with you after the dessert dishes are whisked away. That means it would cost $30,000 for a couple to have a photograph with the president that they can then frame for their home!

    And if you don’t vote, think of the 300,000 Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans in San Francisco who are not registered to vote — have you ever wondered why San Francisco city government is comprised of Caucasians and African-Americans when of the city’s 800,000 residents, 600,000 are Asian-Americans and Hispanics? One guess: Asian-Americans and Hispanics don’t vote, and therefore have no power.

    So in Merida, American expats comprise about 0.0035% of the population. And they cannot vote, give money to politicians and have no claim to exercise power. So whether we are here or not is completely immaterial to the life of the city. And if you think we, as a community, have economic clout, I would venture to guess that all the Social Security checks we spend each month probably doesn’t even amount to the money Roberto Hernandez, of Banamex, spends on lawn maintenance at the dozen or so haciendas he owns, or what Trino Moina spends running his household.

    The moral of the story is to just enjoy Mexico, with all the wonderful things it has to offer, and if you are inclined to become politically active, you probably are in the wrong place.

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