Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who Do We Blame?


Those of you who are my friends on Facebook have likely seen the image above. For the rest of you, let me explain. My very dear friends and ex-neighbours in Patzcuaro recently suffered one of the worst experiences possible for any family. Their  15 year old nephew and his friend disappeared from a mall in Guadalajara. Tragically their bodies were recovered several days later.

This is a story heard all too often, not only in Mexico, but in every country in the world. What I would like to address here is not so much the events themselves but our reactions to them. Today another dear friend of mine shared on Facebook, a very interesting and insightful blog post discussing the abduction of the two boys, from a blog entitled La Política Circense.

The post asks us to consider the possibility that we should take social responsibility for heinous acts such as these and questions the actions ( or non-actions ) of the government in it’s responses to these situations.
The author of the post says that in response to this situation there are two general opinions. On the one hand there is indignation, accusation, grief and sadness. On the other there is justification. He “was a narco”, and that, in some way makes the crime “expected”, dehumanized. In our minds we see that the assassination was a narco mandate which has become all too common, and if it is narco related we have no control. We just keep our heads down and say ”poor little things”, “how terrible for the families”.

It’s a good excuse isn’t it? “Ohhhhhh, he must have been involved in drugs”.  The author goes on to ask “ How is it that we allow crimes like this to become normalized?” “When did it become normal that thugs with guns can snatch away the lives of 15 year boys?” “Who’s fault is that?” he asks.

He feels that the government is shielding itself under “fue producto del crimen del Narco” , “it was the proceeds of narco crime”, and he wonders if we, as a society are doing the same thing. Because we feel we can’t do anything against the drug cartels, have we reached a point where we say, well it’s no one’s fault, these things happen? As though they were accidents?

Todos somos responsables de la muerte de estos chicos. Somos responsables de la muerte de todas las víctimas del narcotráfico. Hemos, deliberadamente, permitido que las cosas se salieran de control. Tenemos policías que no sirven. Esperamos que papá Gobierno llegue a solucionarnos las vidas: ¿secuestran a dos chavales en una plaza? Pedimos cámaras de seguridad. Como si la construcción de un mejor país se hiciera con cámaras de seguridad y no con la propagación de valores de comunidad, de protesta, de transparencia, de cooperación.

I have added the passage above as it is very heartfelt and profound. I will translate as best I can. “ We are responsible for the deaths of those boys. We are responsible for the deaths of all the victims of drug trafficking. We have deliberately allowed matters to get out of control. We have police that do not serve. We wait for Father Government to solve the problems of our lives. Kidnap two boys from a plaza? We ask for security cameras. Like a better country might be built with security cameras and not the spreading of community values, protest, transparency and cooperation.” 

He goes on to say that we are responsible for our lives as they are because we do not embrace those values. That we are conformists and individualists. That we see these atrocities and the ineffective efforts of the government to control them, and we do nothing. We get angry with those who “rock the boat”, exercising their rights to protest. We put our individuality before the community, always.

This is interesting to me, as I have noticed a huge tendency among Mexicans to say “ni modo”, what can you do? I’m not referring to drug cartels here, but to life in general. “Si es la voluntad de Dios”, if it’s God’s will. However, don’t we all really do that, or something similar? Take the easy way out? I’m curious if the blog author’s feeling is a non-Mexican attitude, a young Mexican attitude or maybe more people in general are inclined this way but don’t voice their feelings. Or maybe they just don’t voice them to gringos. Or maybe he's a zealot.
Food for thought.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

To Everything There Is A Season…


Timing is everything. Whether you are a comedian, a musician or just an average Joe.


Patzcuaro friday market

Friday Market, Patzcuro, 2006


When we arrived in Patzcuaro, in the summer of 2006, our new lives filled with promise, life was ideal. Vincente Fox was still in office and the Michoacán days were warm, slow and happy. Shortly after our arrival we discovered Corazón de Durazno, a new housing development in the forested hills above the town.

Real estate was booming everywhere and our hope, when we packed up and left Canada was that we could buy, renovate and flip properties in Mexico. We had researched the market here and at that time real estate was relatively inexpensive. With my home staging abilities and Todd’s acumen in real estate photography and website building in addition to the influx of retirees from north of the border, our plan seemed sound.



Breaking Ground in the “Corazón”


“The Plan”, however did not include building from the ground up, but we had fallen in love with Corazón de Durazno. In our defense it really was something totally unique to Mexico and under different circumstances would have been a good investment. But then hindsight is 20/20. We didn’t move on to spend more time in Guanajuato City or Zacatecas, the other two towns where we had considered settling, we just started building. In retrospect I think this was the beginning of the collapse of our “Mexican Dream”.

On July 2, 2006 the Mexican presidential election was held. The competition was fierce with 8 parties involved. The National Action Party  (PAN) had won over the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, then in coalition with the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico) in 2000 for the first time in 71 years, and was anxious to hold on to the presidency for a second term, while the PRI was desperate to regain the office.The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) (then in coalition with Convergence and the Labor Party) also believed it had a good chance that year after losing in the two previous elections.

The preliminary official count went to Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (PAN) by a very narrow margin over Andres Manuel López Obrador, (PRD) who then declared a challenge of the results before the Federal Electoral Tribunal demanding a full recount of all the ballots in Mexico City. The PRD alleged election irregularities, including allegations that the IFE’s running scoreboard, tallying the votes, blinked zero for all candidates for a period of 4 minutes.

On July 8th a group of Obrador’s supporters ( a crowd estimated from 500,000 to 3,000,000 depending on which newspaper you read ) gathered in Mexico City’s Zócalo square starting, in Obrador’s words, “the defense of the popular vote”. The protests were mostly peaceful and within the law, but some unions and PRD supporters threatened “civil resistance” should the courts ratify Calderón's victory and there was some concern expressed that this could lead to an armed conflict.

After a prolonged period during which recounts were done in Mexico City Felipe Calderón Hinojosa was declared the definitive winner on September 5, 2006, and was sworn in amid loud protests and demonstrations by the PRD supporters on December 1st.



Our wonderful Corazón neighbours, Irma and Marcos


Being FM3 visa holders, we were not permitted to be involved in any way with the political goings-on so we really paid them very little attention, and with our initial euphoria still intact we celebrated our first Christmas in Mexico. 

Seeing as we were “on Mexican time”, our scheduled move-in date of March 1, 2007 didn’t actually happen until July 1st. I guess it was a good thing that the furniture that we had purchased at a show in Moroleon in March didn’t actually arrive until August. We spent the remainder of that year blissfully decorating and landscaping and readying our new home for sale. Don’t forget “The Plan”.



Front yard


By Christmas 2007 the war had begun. We had seen evidence of the escalating altercations between the police and the drug cartels. President Calderón had begun his war on drugs in his home state of Michoacán. Patzcuaro’s warm, slow days of easy living had become strained by kidnappings, extortion and burning busses.

After some initial worrying we adjusted, as one does to any new situation, and really our day to day lives were not affected very much. Although, one day I did have the army creeping through my back yard and eventually searching my underwear drawer, but that’s a story for another day. What was affected was tourism in Mexico, and in Michoacán in particular.

By mid 2008 most of the responses that we received from the website for the sale of our home were in the area of “beautiful house, but is it safe there?”. The media was having a field day with the Mexican drug wars. Then following closely on the heels of the new Mexican struggles, came the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. As I mentioned earlier, timing is everything.



Christmas Cactus, 2008


By the end of 2008 the situation had become somewhat prickly, as evidenced by the cactus above. The house had still not sold and in early 2009 we lowered the price quite dramatically. The drug wars raged on and tourism in Mexico had reached an all time low as the world media continued to play up the violence, which really only happened between warring drug factions and the Feds. For the most part the general public was left entirely alone, or in some cases greatly helped, and or greatly intimidated by “La Familia” ( Mexican mafia) which made it difficult for the police to obtain the evidence that they needed to bring them to justice.

The United States was in turmoil with the worst depression since the 1930’s and the rest of the world was reeling with the impact. In March of 2009, in the midst of all of this we sold the house. Our buyer, understandably, had financing problems what with the state of the American banking system at the time. It took roughly 6 months with us lowering our price another ten thousand to alleviate half the cost of our buyer having to take investment money rather than financing.

However we were just happy that the house had sold, greatly improving our financial situation, as we now had all of the money from the sale of the house in our bank account, but the buyer had second thoughts. On the day that we were to sign the papers, we were in the office of the notario, our buyer went off the deep end.

Calling us thieves and con artists and threatening to have us killed by her mafia friends in Guadalajara and saying that we had threatened her life, she barricaded herself in our home and refused to leave until she had 100% of her money back. After one week and many long hours of negotiating with lawyers we returned 90% of her money, she went back to the States and we started over from scratch.


Photo courtesy of


2010 saw many changes in  Corazón de Durazno. When we bought the property there were only a few houses built there and the atmosphere was relaxed and happy. We socialized with our neighbours, enjoying many parties and dinners in their homes. Todd even said once that it was like living in Mayberry.

We were technically a gated community, but as you can see from the picture above our gate consisted, in Todd’s words, of “pine and twine technology”, and we liked it like that. Eventually though, time marches on and new houses were built, neighbours left and new ones arrived and the property was turned over to the owners and registered with the city.

With this progress came the dreaded Home Owners Association. No matter how well people get along in social situations they will never all agree in a meeting of the HOA, and of course there are many issues that it is essential that everyone agree upon to maintain what ultimately becomes a business. Monthly dues needed to paid to maintain the property, to pay the lovely young man who had to be hired to man the real gate that eventually had to be built, and repair and maintain the high tech sewer system that the architect had included to service our community.

When the house finally sold in April of 2011 we were happy and relieved. But we had taken a bath on that investment and it was pretty clear that “ The Plan “ was going to have to be rethought. Although tourism was improving and we were looking at a new political regime in the following year it was fairly clear that our original idea of flipping property was no longer viable.

The situation in Corazón de Durazno however, had become uncomfortable for us. Somehow we hadn’t thought ahead to when it would eventually become a real gated community. We discovered that this was really not for us and felt that our timing was good in this instance when we moved to San Miguel de Allende.

Our timing had also been good when we sold our condo in North Vancouver, for which we had paid very little, for a ridiculously large price. Now we are about to embark on a new  “Plan”. This time we will endeavor to be a little more diverse in our thinking in an effort to be more adaptable to the changes that ultimately happen in our lives. Is our timing better now? Only time will tell, lo que será, será.