Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Mexico continues to be the one of the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. Martín Méndez Pineda of Acapulco tried to get asylum in the US, but after being detained for 100 days in not-very-good conditions, he gave up and returned to Mexico. He is not safe there.

Patricia Mayorga of Chihuahua did better. She fled to an unidentified country.

The seven journalists murdered so far in 2017 include two high-profile ones, Miroslava Breach Velducea of Chihuahua and Javier Valdez Cárdenas of Culiacán. Breach was the Chihuahua correspondent for La Jornada, a major Mexico City newspaper; her beat was crime and politics. She was shot eight times as she was leaving her home. Valdez wrote several books about narcos, edited an award-winning weekly, and was a correspondent for La Jornada. He was dragged out of his pickup truck and shot several times.

David Lida is an author who found a home for himself in Mexico 25 years ago. He tells the story of his first visit to Puerto Escondido, when he started wondering what life is like for the Mexicans who live a few blocks away from the centre of town. Thanks to the Lockett v Ohio Supreme Court decision of 1978, he got his wish, along with a means of living in Mexico and earning a living.

The deal is, in all cases in the US where the death penalty is in play, a mitigation study must be done on behalf of the defendant. If the defendant is Latino, it’s important that the person who does the study is capable of speaking decent Spanish, and can interview relatives and contacts (teachers, former employers, etc.) in all parts of Mexico. So, Lida landed a job as a mitigation specialist.

What Lida has done, by publishing this book, is let us in on some of the many insights into Mexico’s less-prosperous areas that he has developed. The main character of One Life, Esperanza, is obviously a composite. She grew up in a dirt-poor Mexican town. She goes to a city, where conditions are better, and gets a job as a housekeeper. She meets a guy who is no good, and loses the job because of it. She goes to Ciudad Juarez (a very dangerous place for women) for a job in a “maquiladora”. Eventually, she ends up in New Orleans working to clean up the Hurricane Katrina damage. (That’s right, Mexicans and other Central Americans did this.) She has a child, the child dies, and she is accused of murdering it.

That’s where the narrator, Richard, enters the story. His task is to go to different places in Mexico and Louisiana to interview people who knew Esperanza, with the hope of getting some infomation about her that her lawyer can use to convince the prosecutors that she does not deserve the death penalty. The reader gets, through Richard’s eyes, insights into Mexico that are rarely found elsewhere. And it isn’t just about the poverty mentioned elsewhere in this review. Richard describes the quality of the food and the coffee, the religious celebrations, and how Mexicans outside Mexico’s affluent areas live their lives. Lida’s attempt to communicate to us what life is like for millions of Mexicans is a success.

The Valle de Guadalupe, located in Baja California between Ensenada and Tecate. Is Mexico’s primary wine-producing area. The first commercial winery on the scene was Domecq in 1972. L.A. Cetto and Santo Tomás are two other major producers with national distribution in Mexico. However, a map of the valley shows 54 of them, and I suspect that there’s a few more that aren’t on the map.

Visiting these wineries and doing tastings is a fun activity, but there are some logistical issues that are addressed in this article.

First, if you want to stay overnight in Valle de Guadalupe, there are a few hotels and bed and breakfasts, with some of the B& B’s run by wineries. They are all expensive. The one exception I’ve been able to find is Glamping Ruta de Arte Y Vino, which has a collection of renovated Airstream camping trailers. They rent for USD $45 a night. (Note that, because of the proximity to San Diego and Southern California, a lot of businesses in the area quote prices in dollars.) There’s some posadas and B& B’s in nearby San Antonio de las Minas, most of which can’t be found in Trip Advisor or other accommodation listings. So, you’ll probably end up staying in Ensenada, where high-quality and reasonably priced hotel rooms are available.

That leads to a “gotcha”; Valle de Guadalupe is one a a very few places in Mexico where there are no taxis whatsoever. There are van tours, but they’re pricey; do you want to spend money on this, or tasting and procuring wine? There are passenger vans that leave from Calle Sexta and Miramar in Ensenada every half hour, and the one-way fare is a dollar. Other that the frequency, this isn’t a very satisfactory way of getting around. For one thing, wineries tend to have long driveways, and for another, do you really want to be carrying around a lot of full wine bottles? Once you get over five or so of them, they get heavy.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships M/Y Farley Mowat and M/Y Sam Simon are in the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. the Gulf of California) for Operation Milagro III.

The purpose of Operation Milagro III is to protect two endangered species, the totoaba fish and the vaquita porpoise. As the name implies, this is the third season that the Sea Shepherd society has been in the Sea of Cortez.

The threat to totoabas is poaching. The demand comes from China, where their swim bladders are considered to have medicinal value. Mexican organized crime organizations have stepped up to meeting this demand, by using illegal gillnets to catch them. These gillnets are deadly to the vaquitas, who are unable to see them in the murky water of the Sea of Cortez. Their population has been estimated to be 60.

Mexico has regulations in place protecting vaquitas, and the Mexican Navy and the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) have been making an effort to enforce them. As is almost always the case, their resources are insufficient to deal with the problems, so the Sea Shepherd society is on the scene to help out. They patrol for illegal activity, and when they spot it, they communicate the position to the Navy.

Children riding The Beast
Children riding The Beast

“La Bestia” (The Beast) is an unofficial name applied to freight trains that start in Tapachula, Chiapas, and go to Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, or Matamoros. These trains have for many years served as the transportation method of choice for poor people of Central America migrating to the United States.

This method of travel has been the subject of many films, both fictional - “Sin Nombre”, “El Norte”, ”The Golden Cage” (Spanish title: “La Jaula de Oro”) and documentary - “Which Way Home”, “The Beast” and “Run For Your Life”.

Over the years, an informal network supporting the migrants has developed. One of the locations is Tequisquiapan, an attractive town of 27,000 people, 30 km. East of Querétaro. The Ferromex tracks run a kilometer east of the town, and the Estancia del Migrante (Stay of Migrants) González y Martínez A.C. has some space in a disused station.

I went to the old station and talked with Martín Martínez Rios to get his views on Central American migration as it exists in November, 2016.

The Estancia del Migrante is providing food, clothing, medical assistance, and moral support to three to four hundred migrants a day. If a train doesn’t stop, the volunteers toss bags containing food and bottled water to the migrants.About half of the migrants are from Honduras, and the rest are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Many of them are unaccompanied children.

Rafe Mair's 13th book can be classified as an autobiography. It covers his life up to the University of British Columbia Law School. However, after the first 150 pages, the chapters in this book alternate between autobiographical ones and ones on topics that Rafe feels that the readers should know about.

The chapters in the latter category are especially good ones. “You've gotta talk salmon” is a concise explanation of the different species of salmon (and some fish incorrectly identified as salmon) in British Columbia waters and the various dams, built and unbuilt, over the years. “Canadian bombshell: the forgotten case of Igor Gouzenko” documents some shameful actions by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. “Whither the book?” and “The electronic book arrives” are essays on the merits of bookstores, paper books, and Kindles.

Readers of this book who were born in or moved to Vancouver since 1990 will not recognize a lot of the Vancouver that is described, especially if they live outside of the upscale west side. Multiculturalism has existed in Vancouver for a long time, but during Rafe's younger years, Irish were “Micks”, Chinese were “Chinks”, and one day in 1942, the Japanese just disappeared. These minority groups had their distinct neighbourhoods, and they weren't in Rafe's west side.

John Scherber has lived in San Miguel de Allende since 2007. He has written 17 fiction books, and this is his third non-fiction. This book is a series of interviews of extranjeros who have settled permanently in Mexico. Scherber asked a lot of good questions, and got a lot of good answers.

At first glance, the “off the beaten path” in the title might seem misleading, unless your idea of “off the beaten path” is “outside of Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas”. Two of Scherber's destinations, Mineral de Pozos and San Luis de la Paz, are only a few kilometers away from San Miguel de Allende, a major Gringo colony. Morelia, Puebla, and Oaxaca are big cities that attract a lot of tourists, and Pátzcuaro is also a major tourist destination. Zacatecas is off the beaten path, however, and also included in this book are Erongarícuaro (usually shortened to Eronga) near Pátzcuaro, and Tlacolula de Matamoros in the State of Oaxaca. I thought that these three places were the most interesting parts of the book.

 Scherber has several common topics, such as, “how often do you get visits from family members?” and “why did you choose this town?” The cost of living comes up in some interviews, and not in others. Health care, an important topic for retirees, didn't come up very often. The interviewees come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but there are several common threads in their testimonies. One is that they don't want to alter the culture of the place that they have moved into. (I feel the same way.) When Scherber asks, “do you feel safe here?” the response was always “yes”, except for one incident where an interviewee was chased out of San Pedro Chenalho in Chiapas by a group of people with two-by-fours. Well, after all, there was a civil war going on in Chiapas at the time. Another common thread is, the interviewees hang out mostly with Mexicans, instead of other expatriates, and this is the case even in Oaxaca, which has an English-language library that serves as a gathering place.