Demanding some basic respect


Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with the Mexican President last Thursday, because Enrique Peña Nieto had said the night before that his country would not be paying for the “wall”. The President of the United States went on declaring that: “Unless Mexico will treat the US fairly, with respect, such a meeting is fruitless.”

Excuse me, Mr. President? Your administration and particularly you personally are not treating Mexico fairly. And I am not seeing a lot of respect in your actions and rhetoric regarding Mexico over the last ten days.

You ordered to build a wall to keep Mexican and other, mainly Central American immigrants out of your country. The US was founded by immigrants. For nearly 250 years, the US has been an immigrant country. It is totally legitimate for a country to want to regulate immigration, and to control its borders. But there are also market rules at work: A lot of hispanic immigrants not only run away from little opportunities in their home country, but also follow a high demand for cheap labor in the US. (Similarly, the strong demand for illegal drugs such as cocaine is one reason why it is so hard to fight drug trafficking into the US; the gains are so lucrative that people look for ever more inventive entries into the US.) How would the “American way of life” look like if there were no hispanic fruit pickers, housekeepers, gardeners and restaurant workers any more? Are you really thinking about those jobs when you claim to get certain employment back to the US, making America great again?

You talk about imposing a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico – despite the fact that Mexico and the US have been operating within the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for more than 20 years now. Most of the economists will tell you that the US and Mexican economies are intertwined to a high degree, and that both, Mexico and the US have been profiting from NAFTA. In both countries, certain industries have also suffered; from globalization, but much more from substituting human labour with technology. Do you have an idea how many US products are sold in Mexican supermarkets, department stores, and Nike boutiques? Oh sorry, right, Nike does not produce in the US, but mainly in South East Asia.

You want to charge a hefty fee for remittances that Mexican workers in the US send home to their families. Has not your country been one of the strongest proponents of free trade and free flow of capital? Democrats and Republicans alike? Are not your banks making part of their huge profits with trading foreign currencies – selling and buying Mexican pesos, Chinese renminbi, or South African rand in a matter of seconds? And now you propose that a Mexican factory worker cannot send home, let’s say 500 US dollars per month, without paying part of it to your government as a special fee, as some form of fine?

Mexico is a sovereign nation. Mexicans are people, more than 120 million. Both countries are neighbors, and as such, have to deal with each other. Would it not be more constructive and effective, if that was done with fairness and with some basic respect? That is what I am demanding of you, Mr. President.

Flag by Nicolas Raymond; Creative Commons

Political failure to address people’s worries

What happened in the US this week should open the eyes of all those who had thought that a person like Donald Trump would never be voted for as president. The Brexit vote in June has shown the world that nothing is certain – so many people thought that the British would not be that “stupid” to vote “Leave”, but that is what a bit more than half of them did in the end. And now – 60 million US voters supported Donald Trump: A person with considerably less political experience than his opponent Hillary Clinton, extremely divisive, racist, sexist and a hothead. Not necessarily character traits that would make a good leader for the world’s most powerful country.

I am not trying to explain why Trump won. The English newspaper “The Guardian” published a piece on the views of six Trump supporters, a really interesting read:

Being fed up with Washington and clientele politics of which they see Hillary Clinton being a fundamental part of, the loss of decently paid manufacturing jobs, Obamacare, government tyranny of rising taxes and the minimum wage, maybe even taking away the right to bear arms – all these were arguments why those people voted against Clinton. He tells you what he thinks, he knows how to make deals, he will revive the American dream – that were reasons why they supported Trump.

He has to do a lot, though, to revive the American dream, that has been in agony for the last 30 years. As the New York Times pointed out: “By 2013, the median American household, after adjusting for inflation, was earning less than it did in 1989.” In the same time, the fortunate have gotten richer, though: “In 1978, the chief executives of America’s big companies took home 30 times the pay of their average workers; in 2013, that multiplier was 296.” The financial crisis of 2008 has hit the poor and the middle class so much harder than the wealthy. If Donald Trump with a net worth of 3.7 billon dollars according to Forbes is the right person to correct this, can be questioned – and remains to be seen.

Governments all over the world should take the frustrations of their citizens seriously. They should explain well their actions, but also the limits of certain politics. It is not an easy task, as people like simple answers, even if they might not be realistic; that tendency seems to get stronger, the more complex our world is getting. Demagogues like Trump abuse these unaddressed worries. The Obama administration’s failure to really deal with the underlying causes of these frustrations has paved the way for a non-politician taking over the White House.

Otto Dix en la Ciudad de México


En el fin de semana, nos fuimos a la exposición del pintor alemán Otto Dix en el Museo Nacional de Arte en la Ciudad de México. Es una de las actividades destacadas del Año Dual Alemania-México que empezó en junio 2016. Y con razón. Muestran más de 160 obras de este artista alemán quien pintó escenas de la Primera Guerra Mundial y de la vida urbana en Alemania en los años 20 del siglo pasado. Los nazis declararon su arte “degenerado” (en alemán se dice “entartete Kunst”), y despidieron a Dix de su puesto de profesor de arte en Dresde. Dix huyó al lago de Constanza, a un pueblo, con su esposa y sus tres hijos, y esta casi forzado de cambiar el foco de su trabajo a la naturaleza. Después de la caída de los nazis retoma algunos de los temas criticas de antes – la guerra y la violencia, la muerte, la vida, pero también el amor, su familia. Muere en 1969, con 77 años, cerca de su casa en el sur de Alemania.

Que a mi me fascinó lo mas es un comentario que hizo la curadora de la exposición, Ulrike Lorenz, sobre Dix: A pesar de todas las cosas que vio en su vida – el horror de la guerra, la crisis económica, desempleo, el fascismo, la Segunda Guerra Mundial -, el no vio la vida como mala. Para Dix estas experiencias eran parte de la vida, y decidió que la vida era buena. Casi la ultima obra en la exposición muestra el artista con su nieta, sonriendo. Antes, siempre se ha pintado mucho mas serio, como en el autorretrato de arriba.

La exposición se puede ver hasta el 15 de enero de 2017 en el MUNAL en la CDMX. Antes ya la exponían por tres meses en Monterrey, en el Marco. Yo la recomiendo muchísimo!

Hoy No Circula.

Mexico City is living a serious environmental crisis. It has been living a serious environmental crisis for years, but some wrong political decisions and “unfavorable” climatic conditions have turned it into a crisis that no one can pretend anymore is not happening.

In mid-March, this city of 8 million inhabitants and supposedly 5 million cars driving on its streets each day, had its first environmental alert in 14 years. Ozone levels went up to 200 parts on the local Imeca scale – a situation when people are recommended to abstain from any physical exercise outside, to stay inside, and close all windows, etc. Kids did not have sports lessons in school during that week (hardly any school here has a gymnasium), and football or baseball games were cancelled.

Because of that experience and of air quality predictions for the upcoming weeks and months of typical Mexico City spring weather – intense sunshine, high temperatures and no rain at all – the Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis, short CAMe, decided last week that from today onwards, 20 percent of the whole car park of this huge metropolitan area should stay off the streets. Each weekday, a different kind of license plate end number cannot circulate; or a different color of license plate sticker (they have five colors here: yellow, pink, red, green and blue). It is a new-old variant of the “Hoy No Circula”-program that goes back to the late 1980s when air pollution in Mexico City was even much worse.

Today again, authorities had to declare environmental alert; again, ozone levels rose to a bit above 150 parts, the threshold that triggers the alert, phase I. So what does CAMe decide? They double the number of cars that cannot circulate tomorrow, grounding then altogether 40 percent of registered private vehicles.

40 percent of cars not circulating – that means, that the people who usually use these 2 million cars to drive to work, to bring their kids to school, or buy food at the supermarket have to use alternative means. There is public transport in Mexico City – which already positively distinguishes it from some other North American cities – but at rush hour, people squeeze like sardines in a can in metro trains and metro busses, and the tens of thousands of mini-busses, the “peseros”, are jam-packed. The system has not held up with the crazy growth of this huge metropolitan area that houses 28 million people. And being able to afford one’s own car, to drive a car, is still something of status thing here; lots of upper-middle class people would not use the metro, as they consider it for “poor people”.

There have been a lot of wrong political decisions in the past; mainly the decisions that have not been taken. Such as the severely delayed approval of a heavy-transport regulation: Norm44 would cut particle pollution responsible for black carbon by 98 percent. One sees these trucks all the time – huge engines, the length of three or four cars, and thick, black exhaust coming out when they start and accelerate. The same applies to city garbage trucks, and thousands of mini-busses. Residents here argue, rightly so, that those vehicles should be as strictly regulated as private cars. Politicians shy away from it as they fear the economic repercussions.

What is most striking to me, personally, is that I am experiencing here what a lot of developing country cities are experiencing today or will experience tomorrow. Air quality in Mexico City is actually not as bad, if you compare it to Delhi, Karachi or Dakar. But it is bad enough for my kids not being able to play sports outside, or me going for a run in the park. I live in this mega-urban place – lots of concrete, lots of asphalt, hardly any green areas left – with more and more cars each year, and the air I am breathing in and out is actually damaging to my health. This is what development looks like – first there are the cars, the streets, the factories, supermarkets and shopping centers, and then we think about the environment. It was like this in Europe 200 years ago, and it is like this in Mexico, South Africa and China now. The problem is just that, at least in Mexico City, we are far too many people. And this density of people relates in a whole range of environmental problems.

Hopefully, this current crisis makes people here to change their life styles to a more sustainable manner, and politicians to take better decisions.

In search for a better future and lasting peace

What I am slowly realizing, a bit more than two years after having moved to Mexico, is that the place I come from is much more abnormal, globally speaking, than the place I am currently living in.

I am German, I have been born and raised in Germany, and until I was 24, I have nearly exclusively lived in Germany, besides a year as an AFS exchange student in Japan. Then I went to the US and the UK to study and work. It was not until 2002, that I started living, for the first time, in a developing country – in Mexico.

Europe – or should I better say Western Europe – has always been my point of reference. I see the negative aspects of daily life in Mexico – impunity, corruption, underperforming government, traffic, contamination, the non-existent service mentality when it comes to monopolies or oligopolies such as Telmex, Telcel, banks, the state electricity company, internet service providers, you name it – and I compare them to how life in Western Europe is. And I see two very different realities.

But, globally speaking, actually billions more people live in conditions similar to the ones in Mexico, or far worse, than to the super high standards of Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, or the likes – legal certainty and transparency, in general good governance, excellent public services such as education, health, transportation, etc. Western Europe is actually a tiny island in the huge sea of countries struggling for a better life. With hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants coming into Western Europe, people there get a glimpse of life beyond their borders – a world, a lot of Germans, Dutch and Austrians have been busy for years, if not decades, to forget and not be bothered with too much.

The current crisis should remind Europe why it is so important to take on global responsibility. Every human being has the right to try to achieve a better future for themselves and for their children – if this right is denied for too long in their country of origin, some will take the chance and search for it somewhere else. Migration might not be a human right, but it for sure is a reality. Mexicans search for better lives mainly in the US – about 12 million of them live there, that is more than 10 percent of their total population. They risk their lives trying to make their way across the desert. Africans, Central Asians and people from the Middle East might opt for Europe, basically because it is closer. They risk their lives, and lots of them loose it, trying to make their way across the Mediterranean.

After having lived for some time outside my Western European comfort zone, I can understand why some Mexicans, Nigerians, Pakistani or Afghans get on the migration trail.

The case of Syrians is even much more dire. They flee from war in their country – something most of us, fortunately, have never faced and never wish to face. I cannot imagine how frightened and vulnerable you must feel in a place like Syria right now. And I can empathize with any Syrian, particularly fathers and mothers, leaving their home, starting a journey to someplace safe.

I do not have a plan for peace in Syria, unfortunately. But it is imperative that the international community takes responsibility to protect the people of Syria. How come that humans can fly to the moon, split atoms, and cure cancer, but have come across so many situations of  war that we have not satisfyingly ended. We should put our smartest minds to trying to address these conflicts and bring more and lasting peace to the people. 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, we have to invest in finding solutions to the new threats we face.

Contra la mega-urbanisación de la colonia Del Valle

Un foto puede decir mucho mas que 1000 palabras. Yo tengo dos fotos que les quiero compartir. Es la vista de mi sala.



El primer foto es de hace mas o menos un año. El segundo es de hoy. Los dos no tienen exactamente el mismo ángulo. Tampoco son de gran calidad fotográfica, francamente. Pero donde hace un año estaba una casa individual con un jardín grande, hoy en día hay una construcción que llena hasta el ultimo centímetro cuadrado del terreno.

La Cuidad de México, o mas propiamente el Distrito Federal, tiene casi 9 millones de habitantes. Es una ciudad muy densamente poblada, en muchas de sus zonas. Yo vivo en una zona céntrica, se llama la colonia Del Valle, en la delegación Benito Juárez. Hasta los fines de la década de los 1970s, era una colonia con muchas casa grandes, con jardines – como la que estaba atrás de mi edificio hasta hace un año. Era una colonia con calles con camellón en medio, con arboles, muy tranquila y residencial, de hecho. Desde los años 1980s, empezó una transformación de construir mas edificios con departamentos y también oficinas. Pero hoy en día ha llegado a un punto que ya no es nada sustentable, y tampoco agradable para los habitantes.

Es totalmente lógico que la capital política, económica y cultural de un país como México que tiene una población que todavía crece año por año, también crece. La megalópolis alrededor de la Ciudad de México tiene ya como 28 millones de habitantes; el país llega casi a 120 millones. Y también en México, como en todos los países desarrollados, la gran mayoridad de la población vive en centros urbanos. Entonces construcciones de nuevas viviendas son totalmente necesarias – no hay de otra.

Pero en la colonia Del Valle, por casi cada casa vieja que se vende, desarrolladores construyen un edificio con seis, ocho, diez departamentos o más. Y usan su terreno al máximo – que es totalmente legal; nada mas tienes que dejar menos que un medio metro alrededor de tu edificio por razones sísmicos. Ese resulta, lógicamente, en mucho menos áreas verdes, mas gentes, mas tráfico, y mas demanda a la infraestructura publica que abastece per ejemplo agua y electricidad y que se encarga de la basura. Si sigue ese desarrollo, en pocos años la Del Valle va tener nada mas edificios, asfalto y coches. Y unos pocos arboles adentro de unos pocos parques públicos.

Como habitante de la Del Valle, me gustaría que mi gobierno local a lo menos trata que la colonia no se convierte en un mini-Manhattan. No estoy hablando de parar la construcción de edificios – pero a lo menos introduce algunas reglas que se debe conservar áreas verdes, que se llena un terreno 98% con ladrillo y cemento. Hasta ahora, no veo mucho de los representantes oficiales aquí contra la mega-urbanisación de mi colonia.

Der Chronist der Winde

Am Montag dieser Woche starb der schwedische Autor Henning Mankell. An genau dem Tag sprachen wir in unserem deutschsprachigen Literaturkreis in Mexiko-Stadt über sein Buch “Der Chronist der Winde”.

In dem Roman, 1995 erschienen, erzählt Mankell die Geschichte vom Straßenkind Nelio, zehn Jahre alt: Sein Dorf wurde von Banditen brutal überfallen, seine Schwester barbarisch ermordet, der Junge von seinen Eltern getrennt. Von Heimat und Familie beraubt, flieht Nelio in die Stadt – angelehnt an Mosambiks Hauptstadt Maputo – und kämpft dort jeden Tag ums blanke Überleben. Er schließt sich einer Gruppe von Straßenkindern an und wird schließlich deren Anführer. Durch seine besondere Art schafft er es, dass die Jungen kleine Dinge tun, die sie aus ihrer Unsichtbarkeit heraustreten lassen. Er regt sie an, Träume zu haben. Gemeinsam erfüllen sie den Wunsch des einen, und den Traum des anderen. Dabei wird Nelio angeschossen, und stirbt neun Tage später an seinen Wunden. In den Nächten bis zu seinem Tod erzählt er seine Lebensgeschichte einem Bäcker, den die Begegnung mit dem weisen Jungen schwer beeindruckt.

Kurz vor seinem Tod sagt Nelio zu José Antonio Maria Vaz, dem Bäcker:

“Mein Vater war ein sehr kluger Mann. Er lehrte mich, zu den Sternen aufzuschauen, wenn das Leben schwer war. Wenn ich den Blick dann wieder auf die Erde senkte, war das, was eben noch übermächtig war, auf einmal klein und einfach.”

Mankell starb im Alter von 67 Jahren an Krebs. 1973 reiste der Schwede zum ersten Mal nach Afrika; seitdem lebte er abwechselnd in Maputo und in Stockholm. Der Autor, weltbekannt durch seine Kriminalromane, setzte sich für den Kontinent Afrika und seine Menschen in Armut, Not und Verfolgung ein. Der “Chronist der Winde” ist ein beeindruckender Roman. Der Junge Nelio macht mit seinem Blick zu den Sternen allen Leidenden Mut – heute genauso wie vor 20 Jahren, als Mankell ihn für uns erschuf.

Viva Hidalgo! Viva México!

Today, Mexico celebrates the 205th anniversary of its independence. In the early hours of 16 September 1810, the Mexican Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo encouraged a group of people to free themselves from Spanish colonial rule. Hidalgo, the most important of Mexico`s independence heroes, had the church bells ring and supposedly shouted “Death to bad government!” that night, in the town of Dolores in the state of Guanajuato. In the subsequent months, Hidalgo gathered an army of 90,000 mainly poor farm workers from indigenous or mestizo origin who fought against the ruling elite in the country – Spaniards and “criollos”, descendants from Spaniards born in the colonies.

Hidalgo was captured and executed not even a year after his famous “grito”, i.e. shout. The Mexican War of Independence lasted another ten years, until the country finally achieved its sovereignty in 1821. The question is, if it has also overcome bad government.

Mexico is a great country. It covers nearly 2 million square kilometers, more than five times the area of Germany, of beautiful coastlines, tropical forests, pristine mountain ranges, fertile plains and deserts with a unique biological, cultural and ethnic diversity. It brought corn, tomatoes and cocoa to the world; to name just a few of the goods. Its 120 million people are friendly and hard-working. Its economy ranks 15th on the global scale – thanks to the growing manufacturing industry, the sluggish oil and gas sector, tourism and the remittances of more than 12 million Mexicans living in the United States.

But nearly 200 years after Mexicans could again fully decide for themselves and choose a government they deemed appropriate, the country could be and should be in better shape. In 2014, 55 million Mexicans lived in poverty – that are even two million more than two years earlier. 28 million did not have enough to eat, 22 million suffered from a serious deprivation in basic education, the same number did not have proper access to health care. The ones that are doing better work overtime and spend every peso they can to send their children to private schools and attend private doctors – despite the fact that the government provides both for free. But a lot of people are just not content with the quality of public services.

Insecurity in the country is a definite issue. Impunity is widespread – according to the Financial Times, only 0.5 percent of crimes went punished in 2013. The papers conclusion after the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala last September: “It is remarkable Mexican criminality is not higher still.” And Mexico ranked even worse than in previous years in 2014 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – it came out as 103rd on a list of 175 countries.

Seven in ten Mexicans say that they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country, according to a latest poll by the Pew Research Center: Rising prices, crime, lack of employment opportunities and corrupt political leaders were the top concerns.

The Mexican President, state governors and city mayors honor Hidalgo’s contribution to the country by shouting out his name and the ones of several other independence heroes on the night of 15 September. President Enrique Peña Nieto did that yesterday at 11 pm from the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Mexico City. He has three years left of his six-year term – he, and any other elected official in the country, should use that time to continue the fight Hidalgo started and make bad government truly a feature of the past. The Mexican people deserve it.

El poder de los consumidores en México – bancos

Tengo que escribir este “post” en español, porque afecta principalmente a mis amigos mexicanos. Pero también muestra a la gente afuera de México que en un país en desarrollo, como México, los consumidores tienen mucho menos poder que en un país desarrollado.

Hace algunos días me informó mi banco aquí, Bancomer, el segundo mas grande en el país, que el sueldo promedio mensual que tengo que tener en mi cuenta ya son 8000 pesos. Punto. Muchos saludos y adiós. Nada mas. Averigüé y vi que antes eran en 4000 pesos. Si no tienes el sueldo promedio mensual en tu cuenta, te cobran, al mes, 370 pesos de comisión, mas IVA, que sale al cliente en mas que 400 pesos.

Para recordar a la gente afuera de México: Hablamos de un país con un salario mínimo de alrededor de 2000 pesos, entonces ahora mi banco quiere que todos sus clientes tienen a lo menos cuatro veces el salario mínimo en su cuenta, si no, les cobran mas que 400 pesos, al mes. Una ayudante de casa en la Cuidad de México, la zona mas cara del país, gana 300 pesos al día. Entonces tiene que trabajar mas que un día para pagar para el servicio de tener una cuenta bancaria de cheques con Bancomer. Porque nunca va estar en la posición de tener 8000 pesos en su cuenta, sin usarlos. Porque ella gana 6000 pesos al mes. Pero me olvidé – nada mas 39 par ciento de los mexicanos tienen una cuenta bancaria, y lo mas probable es que una ayudante de casa esta adentro de los 61 par ciento de la población que no tiene ninguna. México mejoró en el punto de inclusión financiera en los últimos años, pero todavía esta mucho atrás del resto de América Latina.

Para mi cuenta en Alemania pago menos que 5 euros al mes, alrededor de 90 pesos. Como, francamente, puede ser que los bancos mexicanos cobran mas a sus clientes que los bancos europeos? Operan en un entorno con mucho menos gastos – pagan sueldos mucho mas bajos, sobre todo. Pues, cobran mas porque lo pueden hacer. Porque los otros bancos también te piden un sueldo mínimo o te cobran comisión. Y es una lata cambiar banco, porque tienes que llevar muchos documentos, invertir a lo menos una hora para abrir una nueva cuenta, regresar después de unos días para recoger tu chequera (si, todavía se usa mucho en México), esperar otra vez. Las colas en los bancos mexicanos son legendarios.

Logico que el banco no da interes al cliente para sus 8000 pesos que están en la cuenta.

Lidiar con bancos es algo muy frustrante en México. Es como lidiar con el ex-monopolista de servicios telefónicos fijos (Telmex) o mobiles (Telcel) – nunca te dan el servicio que tu crees que mereces porque pagas mucho dinero, mucho mas que pagarías por el mismo servicio en Europa. Que a mi me gustaría es ver a los consumidores mexicanos levantarse, quejarse, no dejarse tratar como clientes dependientes, pero demandar, si exigir, que les dan un buen servicio.