Playing hardball and crossing a line!

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, a recording of a private telephone call between the President of Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) and the organization’s executive secretary was leaked to the public. In the call which took place in April, INE head Lorenzo Córdova tells his colleague about a meeting he had with indigenous leaders and mocks the way one of them was speaking.

Definitely, what Córdova said in the phone call, was offensive and – if you want to use that concept – not politically correct. INE’s function is to make sure that parties in Mexico act according to the rules and that elections are organized in a free, fair and effective way. There are elections coming up in less than three weeks, on 7 June. Córdova very often seems like a mum telling her fighting children to stop and behave – campaigning can be a messy business in Mexico. I still have not found out which institution fulfills the role of INE in my country, Germany. I actually think, there is no one counterpart, but that responsibilities are held by different bodies, if at all. Maybe politicians also just stick to the rules more there. In México, compliance with and enforcement of the law are some of the biggest problems.

We all know that we live in a world where government institutions such as the secret service survey phone calls, messages, emails, etc. By doing so, they infringe on basic human rights, for example our right to privacy. That is not okay, and in a lot of parts of the world there are debates going on as to how far surveillance should go. Usually the argument of those using these techniques is that they are necessary for protecting national security. I do not think that the head of Mexico`s national electoral body should fall under this category.

We also know that there are, let’s call them “free agents”, who know how to infringe on people’s privacy. Making a private phone call public, however, is even a step further. INE yesterday filed a formal penal complaint, so it will be up to the attorney general’s office to find out who did the recording and who leaked it. Taken Córdova’s position, it seems the most likely that some party official has decided to play hardball. What he or she might not have considered is that with choosing the action he or she did, a line was crossed!

Mexico’s democracy is already plagued by corruption, cronyism and elected officials’ indifference to the people they represent. It is under severe threat from organized crime. Now another unlawful instrument has made its way into the toolbox of some acting in the political arena. I hope that investigators find the culprit – because he or she has not only damaged Mr. Córdova or the INE, but the whole country.

More on the story can be found here:

Mexico’s “Green” Party

Parties that call themselves green usually define as one of their main goals to protect the environment. Using earth’ resouces in an efficient and respectful way, trying to adapt one’s consumption patterns in order to mitigate the dangerous developments of global warming and climate change – all those are usually policies pushed for by green parties.

It is particularly important for politicians that their words are followed by appropriate actions – a President claiming to fight corruption should not receive favors by a big government contractor; a governor claiming to protect human rights should not ignore when police in his state uses violence and torture.

Yesterday, on a highway outside Mexico City, I came across this car.

Yesterday at a highway outside Mexico City.

A Chevrolet Suburban, black, darkened windows, quite popular in Mexico, actually. Depending on the model, the Suburban has at least a 5.3-liter engine and 320 horsepower and a fuel economy of, in the best case, 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway (for my European friends: that is roughly 15 liters on 100 km in the city and 10 on the highway).

The car displayed huge stickers with the slogan “Partido Verde – Sí cumple“, meaning that the Green Party fulfills the promises they make. I was wondering what the political promises and goals of Mexico’s Partido Verde were when I got overtaken by that car. I think, the party has some catching up to do on their own environmental consciousness.


Mexico City is a big city, with a serious traffic problem…But today, several negative factors came together. Just so that you get an idea of what it is like to live in a megapolis of an emerging market:

1. Today is Friday – Friday evening rush-hour is the worst of the whole week…I guess it is not that more people go to work than from Monday to Thursday, but that people go out on Friday night or leave the city heading for their weekend homes.

2. Today is the second Friday in the month, i.e. people get paid (Mexicans get paid every quinzena, every “15 days”). And when Mexicans get paid, they like to spend it; so more people go to cantinas, bars, restaurants and cinemas on “quinzena” Friday than the other one.

3. Today it rained. Despite the fact that it rains nearly half of the year in Mexico (from May to October, usually), every day, traffic becomes so much slower when it does. It has to be said, though, that we are in March, when rain is extremely unusual here. And, on top of that, hail came down today…

4. Today is the last school day before Easter vacation, the most important family vacation in Mexico besides the xmas holidays.

My son attended a birthday party today. The girl, who invited all the kids of their grade, lives about 10 kilometers away from us. Unfortunately, the route is prone to traffic congestion. Parents organized car pools to pick up the kids. My phone has been in constant reception of WhatsApp messages commenting on how heavy the traffic is, etc. I am calculating that it will take my son and his friends about 90 minutes to get home…That is what it is like to live in a megapolis of an emerging economy.

Ecobici – trying to make a megacity more liveable

For the last five years, little red bicycles have helped to make the heavy Mexico City traffic a little less dense and polluting. The service – run by Mexico City’s local government – now offers more than 6000 bikes at more than 400 bike stations. An annual membership costs 400 pesos (27 USD or 24 Euros); lately, short-term memberships for one, three or seven days have been introduced. According to Ecobici, nearly 150.000 users have registered so far for the service which is the biggest in Latin America.

And right on their 5th anniversary, the Ecobicis have made their way into our neighborhood, the borough of Benito Juárez.

The only thing lacking now is educating local drivers that they are not the only ones on the streets. Might be an even tougher job than what Ecobici has reached so far.


Vivos los queremos!

I have not commented so far on what happened in Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero nearly eight weeks ago.

But today, as Mexico celebrates the 104th anniversary of its revolution, people all across the country and Mexicans abroad honor the 43 kidnapped students of Ayotzinapa by wearing black. By showing their solidarity with the students, with their families, with their friends.

Everybody has the right to lead a life in peace, in a secure and safe environment, in a society based on laws and that respects the law, and with justice being done.

Impunity is unacceptable!

Moving countries – part II

The last few weeks, I have been partly irritated, annoyed, frustrated. What happened?

After we have been living here for nearly twelve months, after the first school year finished and we have had our first summer vacactions, I decided that now it was time for myself. I had gotten my kids into the school we always wanted (and which had first told us that they could not offer them a place as classes were full). I had assisted them in countless homework sessions, struggling with the Spanish language that they had heard and partly used since they were born with their father and their Mexican grand-parents, but that they had never been formally taught in. I had found us an apartment. I had waited – also it seems – countless times for some handyman to not show up on time or not show up at all to fix something in our flat – informality is widespread in Mexico, and in the capital there is always “trafico” that serves as a good excuse. I had found us a maid, a pediatrician, a dentist; struggled with the lack of service from banks, insurance firms, the gas company.

So, after all that, I though that I would like to find a job; find a company or an organization that could make use of my professional experience, that would give me opportunities to add value, to grow, and hopefully appreciate my services by paying me a decent salary. And that is when irritation, annoyance and frustration started. And when I got aware of my blatant ignorance of Mexican labor market conditions.

I knew that the minimum wage was very low – it actually is 66 pesos, or a little bit more than 5 US Dollars, a day. As most laborers work six days a week, but get paid for seven, that would make close to 2000 pesos a month. Having a masters degree, I was considering my earning potential far above minimum wage. But still, what I have been offered so far is considerably below my NGO salary back in Vienna. And that was less than what I had earned working in knowledge management in The Netherlands. And that, again, was not as good as what I had gotten as a business journalist in Germany. You see – my career, when you measure it by income, has been in a downward spiral for the last 13 years. I have been doing something wrong (but that would be the subject of at least one other post, I guess).

But back to my job hunt in Mexico. I also knew that Germans are very spoiled when it comes to vacation days. I had 30 days when I worked at Financial Times Deutschland. Times have changed a bit in Germany as well, particularly if you enter the labor market, but still, Germans enjoy a great amount of vacation a year. In one of my first interviews, I learned that according to Mexican labor law the employee actually does not have the right to ANY day of paid vacation during the first year. In year two, law grants her or him six days. After ten years, you have the right to ten paid days a year. There are several employers that offer more than the legal minimum. However, for a European even 15 days a year is meager, and it does not even cover a third of Mexican school vacation. So, if you try to combine family and career, start saving up for summer camps.

In addition, Mexicans work the most and the longest hours – at least within the club of industrialized countries (OECD). A Mexican worker puts in more than 2200 hours a year; a German not even 1400; an American close to 1800.

So, bad pay, little vacation, and long hours. On top of all that, trying to commute in a metropolitan area of 20 million people can be stressful and can take an hour or more, each way. That is not exactly the jackpot. With that in mind, when I feel irritated, annoyed and frustrated, I am trying to cut myself some slack. And then I remind myself of the theme of this blog that says “keep on trying” – and I write another application.

What adds to my irritation is that I would rather like to find something, but without the searching part. Yes, I admit, I confess. After having moved countries four times in 13 years, searching for a suitable position has felt taking as much time as actually working in the different jobs. But, as the Mexicans say: ni modo. What happens to me now is just another phase of adaptation to a my new place of residence. I should congratulate myself that I have managed part I so well. Keeping on trying.

Eine einzige Chance

Ich muss diesen Post einfach auf Deutsch schreiben. Gestern Mittag saß ich mit meinen beiden Jungs vorm Fernseher und habe das Spiel Brasilien gegen Mexiko angeguckt – logisch, meine beiden Söhne sind Mexikaner. Das Spiel war spannend, fesselnd, die Mexikaner nicht nur unserer Meinung nach mindestens gleichauf mit den Brasilianern für das Gros der Spielzeit. Zu WM-Zeiten wird schließlich jeder mehr oder weniger zum Experten. Okay, im Angriff hätte “el Tri” etwas mehr Druck machen können, dafür war die Verteidigung mehr als solide und dann natürlich – der Torwart. Unglaublich! Sechs Mal versuchten die Brasilianer, den Ball im mexikanischen Netz zu versenken, und jedes Mal hielt Guillermo Ochoa.

In der 26. Minute, als Neymar aufs mexikanische Tor köpfte, griff ich erstmals zum Panini-Album meiner Söhne, um zu schauen, wer denn dieser Ochoa eigentlich ist. Nicht drin. Dafür klebte da ein Bild von Jesús Corona. Mein Ältester erklärte mir, dass “Memo” (mexikanischer Kurzname für Guillermo) zum Nummer-1-Torwart der Mexikaner avancierte, nachdem Corona sich beim Vorbereitungsspiel gegen Iran verletzt hatte.

Ein paar Stunden nach Spielende gehe ich auf Spiegel Online und finde dort unter der Überschrift “Mexikos WM-Held Ochoa” einen Lobgesang auf den 28-jährigen Keeper. Der Einstieg ist genial: “Manchmal genügt eine einzige Partie, um sich unsterblich zu machen. Für Guillermo Ochoa war das Duell zwischen Mexiko und Brasilien so ein Spiel.” Die Zeile “Die Backsteinmauer aus Guadalajara” kommt dafür etwas sperrig daher, auch wenn sie sich auf ein Bild von Ochoa auf Twitter bezieht, das kurz nach dem Spiel dort gepostet wurde: Der Torwart als Wand aus Ziegelsteinen, an der nicht mal ein von einem Panzer abgefeuerter Ball vorbeikommt.

Mein Mann kommt nach Hause und ich sage zu ihm belustigt: “Guck’ mal, sogar die Deutschen schreiben über Ochoa.” Er schaut mich etwas erstaunt an und meint. “Naja, die Bälle waren ja nun auch wirklich unhaltbar.” Wie gesagt – zu WM-Zeiten wird schließlich jeder mehr oder weniger zum Experten; ich ganz offensichtlich weniger.

Trotzdem weiß auch ich mittlerweile, dass Ochoa beim Spiel am Dienstag laut Oliver Kahns O-Ton im ZDF “die beste Torwartleistung bisher bei dieser WM” hingelegt hat und damit von der deutschen Torwartikone “geadelt” wurde (Focus Online). Dass sein Halten von Neymars Kopfball in der 26. Minute von brasilianischen Kommentatoren sogar mit der “Jahrhundertparade” des Engländers Gordon Banks gegen Pelé bei der WM 1970 verglichen wurde (FAZ). Dass Ochoa das “Spiel seines Lebens” präsentiert hat (Kicker).

Für mich als Hobby-Fussballerin viel interessanter ist, dass der Nord-Mexikaner, der sein Profi-Debut mit 17 Jahren beim größten mexikanischen Club América hatte, schon zu zwei WMs mitgefahren ist, aber immer nur auf der Bank saß. Dass er 2007 bereits in Mexiko Superstar-Status erreichte, nachdem er in der Copa América mit der Nationalmannschaft 2-0 gegen Brasilien gewann. Und dass er eigentlich vor drei Jahren von América zu Paris Saint-Germain wechseln sollte, das aber platzte, nachdem der damals 25-jährige (und vier weitere mexikanische Spieler) bei einer Dopinguntersuchung positiv getestet wurden. Zwar stellte sich zwei Monate später heraus, dass die erhöhten Werte vom Verzehr von Fleisch herrührten – doch da hatte Paris Saint-German sich bereits anders entschieden. Ochoa wechselte zum gerade in die französische Ligue 1 aufgestiegenen Verein Ajaccio auf Korsika.

Und mit Ajaccio stieg er jüngst wieder ab – nach einer verheerenden Saison, gerade mal vier Siege, insgesamt 72 Gegentore in 38 Spielen. Ochoa hatte 2011 einen Dreijahresvertrag unterzeichnet, und die Option auf ein Verlängerungsjahr, jetzt allerdings in der 2. Liga, wollte der Mexikaner nicht wahrnehmen. Nach Brasilien fuhr er also als “free agent”, man kann auch sagen ohne aktuellen Arbeitgeber, doch sicher wird sich da schnell ein neuer und deutlich besserer finden nach dem Spiel vom Dienstag. Und das ist für mich der tollste Dreh an dem ganzen Ochoa-Hype: Manchmal genügt eine einzige Chance, um zu zeigen, was in einem steckt!

Impossible Mexico – Two

Happy Teacher’s Day in Mexico!

A study by the Mexican Institute for Competition found out that 70 teachers in the country earn more than the President (more than 193,000 pesos or more than 14,000 USD a month). One teacher even earns around 600,000 pesos a month (roughly 46,000 USD). In the state of Hidalgo, 1440 teachers share the same birthday – 12 December 1912, i.e. they are 101 years old…still giving classes??? At least still cashing in their pay checks.

Seriously, oversight has to be strengthened in Mexico! Taxpayers should demand that. And also teachers who earn average salaries (the OECD lists a salary of around 16,000 pesos or 1200 USD a month for a Mexican teacher).

Our Common Future

Today, we were having a recycling call at the school of my sons. I am parent representative of the class of my oldest boy, and his generation was in charge of assisting the parent association (PA) with their work. The PA does those calls to generate funds for their activities – they sell the material to a recycling company. We have had two events where we asked families to bring paper and aluminum cans. This time, we collected electronic trash – computers, cell phone, TVs, stereos, all the things that do not work or that people do not need anymore. And I was first impressed and then shocked by the amount we received.

Impressed because I saw quite some mums and dads that had taken the time and effort to check out their basements and attics to get all their tech junk together and bring it to school from 7am in the morning.

Shocked because I opened several plastic bags that had four, five cell phones in them; or three digital cameras in one lot. One dad brought four laptops that caught the eye of several of the security guys helping us because they looked still quite neat. We piled up hundreds of chargers, cables, modems; dozens of DVD players. I was just wondering how people can have so much stuff; how they can buy so many things. Mexico is still a developing country, but the families of the so-called middle class for sure spend lots of money on consumer electronics.

I was thinking about Gro Harlem Brundtland and the definition of sustainability that she and other environmental thinkers formulated more than 25 years ago: Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The “needs” mentioned in the Brundtland report, aka “Our Common Future”, referred to the “essential needs of the world’s poorest people”. At least 50 percent of the goods we collected this morning, I would say, were not fulfilling that criteria.

I don’t want to propagate quasi stone age life – that we all just have a roof over our heads, enough to eat, clothes to cover our bodies, and health care and education. I have a smart phone, I use a computer, I like to watch TV. I know that there is technological progress – we saw things there this morning that gave us the sense that we were using a time machine: huge computer monitors, bulky CPUs, fax machines, a TV more than half a meter deep, VHS players.

But does it always have to be the latest iPhone? My youngest son knows when the newest version of Steve Jobs’ favorite telecom device is launched. He would love to have one. A lighter laptop? A smaller dock-in station? An even bigger flat-screen? A more powerful car? We all have to ask ourselves if we are not compromising the ability of our children and grand-children to meet their own needs by consuming the way we do.

Recycling is good – a lot of the bits and pieces of the goods that we collected this morning will find their way into new cool gadgets. Production nowadays is much more resource efficient than it was in 1987 when Brundtland was asked by the then UN Secretary-General to lay the intellectual groundwork for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years later. But nearly all experts agree that there will be no sustainability without us really rethinking and changing our consumption habits. It is a truth the business community usually does not like to hear, but some companies have shown that it also can be an opportunity.