Wednesday, 1 September 2010

It's an Adventure

     During the past few days things have become increasingly interesting at our place.   As those of you who follow our ramblings know, we are situated in the Municipio de Hidalgo, Tamaulipas.   To review a bit, a municipio in Mexico is equivalent to what we call a county.   It comes complete with boundaries, definition of legal and constitutional responsibilities, and so forth.  It also has officers, elected and appointed.   The head of the municipio is elected and holds the title and office of Presidente Municipal.    Our presidente municipal was assassinated three days ago, probably by Zetas...not far from his home in the county seat in Hidalgo....his ten year old daughter was wounded...but not critically.   

A Bit of Background and Orientation 
     So that the reader will not assume that my area is consumed and totally dedicated to illicit and violent activity, I shall try to give a little better orientation concerning our social and cultural and economic environment. 

     My municipio is a fusion of small towns and ejidos (a description of 'ejido' can be found on our website) and extended properties known as "parcelas".   Almost the entirety of the Municipio, back in the period before 1920, was essentially the property of two Haciendas.    One was the 500,000 acre Hacienda de Santa Engracia and the other was the Hacienda de la Meza, a ranch of some 700,000 acres.   Together, one could say that two families essentially owned about 1,200 square miles.   The aforenamed ejidos were drawn out of those properties during the Agrarian Reform conducted from the mid-1920's up until nearly 1950 in this area.    Although still rural in many ways, the population of about 100,000 appears rustic, but is actually relatively urbane.
     This municipio is reliant upon intensive farming of jalapenos,  tomatoes, garbanzos, corn, squash & pumpkins, and other such crops.   It is famous for the production of citrus, including Valencia and navel oranges, Persian limes (aka-saloon, Italian, or seedless limes), red and ruby red grapefruit, and of course, corn and sorghum.   Another multi-million dollar industry in this municipio is fish farming....once dedicated to a bit of catfish diversified into catfish, tilapia, and crawdad (crayfish) operations.    In the contiguous municipios of Padilla, Hidalgo, Villa Gran, and Guemez (estimated combined  population - 200,000) these productions amount to about 2,000,000,000 (two billion) pesos per year, in recent years.   This would be equivalent to around 140,000,000 (one hundred and forty million) American dollars.
      The Municipio de Hidalgo has a very important religious site....the Basilica of El Chorrito...which is a very pleasant pilgrimage center where Catholics, other Christians, and other observers come in droves...several hundred thousand per pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary and honor her apparition at a spring on the face of the Sierra Madre Oriental.   That, coupled with outdoor tourism, huge counts of bird and butterfly species, and other natural attractions fold into the mix of Hidalgo's economic fabric. 
     All of this activity represents a fairly solid base of income and profit for the locale.....something equivalent to a bit more than 700 dollars per every man, woman, and child in the trade area. Other activity, such as transportation, mechanical repair and maintenance, water and irrigation works, education outlays,  retailing, services, government infrastructural outlays & maintenance (Electrical, gasoline and natural gas sales and transmission), and other activity account for another 4,000,000,000 (four billion) pesos of activity.   This would, obviously, be about 1,400 dollars for every man, woman, and the four contiguous municipios.
      About 400 men leave annually and return from the United States....principally to places in North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.....on long-standing labour contracts.  These fellows are provided transportation to and from their homes and their place of work, and paid between 8.50 to 12.50 per hour....on 30 to 44 hour weeks....usually for a period of 3 to 5 months, depending upon the work issue facing the companies which contract them.    During the rebuilding of New spite of a significant available labour pool....there is actually a shortage of people willing to work, even at the rate of 13.00 dollars per hour for basic hand labour.   So some of the workers from this area were "re-recruited" for temporary construction and demolition work in the New Orleans area.   There was not so much call for them in the surrounding parishes or Mississippi....almost exclusively in New Orleans.
    Overall, most of these workers are "repeaters" and all have their work they go and come legally to and from Mexico and the United States.  These fellows send what are called "remesas" which are money orders and bank transfers from their worksites to their homes in the amount of about 2,200,000 American dollars per cycle.  While this income is small compared to the other income generated in the area under concern, it does impact, very significantly, 300 or so families in a profound way.   In this way it also lends to stabilizing the society and allowing for the further sense of a kind of, what I call,  "dull prosperity" in the area.    These fellows who come and go are generally highly regarded in the community.   They are almost always requested by name by the American companies because of their reliability and due to the common characteristic that  mark both Mexican and American....of the social attachment of familiarity and trust which leads to a form of friendship and self-interest bonding. 
      Recruitment is efficiently conducted by the same members of the team who have worked on this contracted basis for various years.     A man is almost always quietly called from "the crowd" a friend or relative...only if it is certain that he (1) will not shame the referring party by degenerate behaviour,  (2) learn quickly and work hard, (3) be punctual to arrive at work and not so punctual to leave (4) that he will not become homesick and, (5) he will not drink too much, or become involved in issues requiring police processes.  
     After 3 to 5 months of absence, these folks return via a fancy bus and are received at the plaza like soldiers returning from Baghdad....and then they can lay around for the rest of the year...or drive a harvest truck for the citrus processing plants....or work on a construction project....fix up the old pick-up, put a new room on the house....or whatever.    It's actually a pretty good life, save for being two or three thousand miles from home for a good part of the year. 

     So, as one might note, 99.999% of our time in the area is boring.   There is a lot of hard work.   Pleasures are fairly simple.   Too many of the men hang around the beer depositos (usually Corona, but Carta Blanca has its share) and drink beer too much, especially on weekends.  Too many of the women gossip too much....but only on weekdays and weekends.    At least they only gossip on Christmas Day when it falls in December, (old local joke).

     And....oddly enough....I have communicated with a few  new Gringos who have moved into the general area in the last two months....semi-retired and retired gentlemen....moving into rural environments with magnificent geographical backdrops, good basic  public services, and inexpensive to reasonable living expenses.     That is after about a year of no such contacts with new people.     So...go figure.
     When Hillary Rodham sends me my new passport (the old one expired), I shall have to be travelling back down...with and other supplies and goodies.... and to deal with my public and clients.   And, yes, I actually look forward to it.   

Once Again...thank you for your time and interest
The Old Gringo