Thursday, December 23, 2010

The politics of placas

License plates, in combination with make and model, have become very telling here in Narcolandia Lite, aka Guadalajara. Newspaper articles chronicling the weekend's homicides habitually list the plates and details of the cars spotted near the killings. Apparently the sicarios tend to drive often older sedans with out of state plates, which makes sense given that they are usually narcochavos seeking to prove themselves and move up the narcoladder. In general, the more pesado (heavyweight) narcos tend to favor Suburbans and Ford Lobos, to the point that Lobo sales have actually fallen recently because the model is so clearly associated with the narcos. Things get more complicated in a wealthy town with a strong agricultural sector surrounding it, as one must also consider that these models have also been popular with suburban (with a small s) moms and ranchers, albeit for different reasons.  Around the fancy malls and in the wealthy neighborhoods of the ZMG (the greater metropolitan area of GDL, but doesn't it have a nice ring not unlike DMZ?), the combo of plate, make, and model makes for a diverting anthropological game. The Volvo with Sinaloa plates is probably someone here on business, visiting family, or perhaps a refugee fleeing threats of kidnapping or extortion, but the Escalade SUV with the same plates merits at least a raised eyebrow. The Hummers appear to be old money, hijo de papi vehicles of choice, and most sport local plates. But enormous and enormously expensive tricked out SUVs from states like Sinaloa, Michoacan, and even Colima require wide berth and not too much curiosity, even if the windows are too darkened to afford more than a shadowy glimpse of what rides alongside.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not feeling the cheer: Mexico's minimum wage

Among the more ambitious clauses of the Mexican constitution is Article 123, which mandates the provision of a living wage for Mexican workers. After a predictably nasty legislative battle in the Mexican congress, the government has raised the minimum wage to just under 60 pesos a day. That translates to less than $5 dollars a day (about US$4.80 at current exchange rates, to be more specific, with slight variations by region). Consider that figure, in a country where perhaps half of its citizens work in the informal economy and the narcos can recruit at will from among the so-called ni-ni (those that neither work nor study) and one finds the snow machines at the malls and the Hummers with reindeer ears and the garish decorations of the wealthy neighbors rivaling those in that horrible Tim Allen movie some years ago to make one feel slightly sick to one's eggnog.