Some Thoughts On The Article 33 Debate
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.