Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tuning in to Mexican politics

Just before leaving for lunch a few minutes ago, Félix received a phone call from his wife Isela who had some big news: A truck had dropped off a brand-new 23-inch flat-screen television set at their house, with no other explanation except it came courtesy of Mexico's photogenic president Enrique Peña Nieto.

This cornucopia apparently extended to all households in Sosnavar, Félix' town with a population of 800 or so, and other impoverished hamlets nearby such as La Biznaga, Corralejo, Doña Juana, Providencia and La Campana. A rough guesstimate would be that a couple of thousand TVs dropped out of the sky on the towns around the ranch.

And that's just the latest in a gusher of government services to swamp this part of the world in the last year. Fifteen kilometers of a highway going near our ranch were paved recently, though not very well, and the road now has striping and cat's eyes, reflective signage and other mid-twentieth century amenities to keep people from driving into the ditch at night.

An oversize billboard advises drivers it all came from to the Federal Government of Mexico.

In addition, the main street in Félix' town, going from the highway to the church, roughly about one kilometer, was paved with concrete a few months ago and received new sidewalks with curbs nattily painted yellow, and speed bumps.

Likewise, the main road to La Biznaga, a small town visible from our bedroom window, has been neatly asphalted over.

Mind you, neither one of these towns had ever seen one inch of paved streets during the one or two hundred years they've been on the map.

And then there were lights. Maybe hundreds of street lamps have been installed to make the dark countryside sparkle at night like a Christmas tree.

But a more telling sign of the political tug-of-war around here is a billboard, located by the garbage dump on the way to San Miguel, that has been painted and repainted at least three times during the past two weeks.

For many months the billboard had trumpeted the accomplishments of the state government of Guanajuato, whose governor belongs to the National Action Party or PAN, a right-wing, Republican-type apparatus. Coincidentally, the color scheme of the billboard was blue and white, the colors of the PAN's emblem.

Two weeks ago the same billboard was painted over to proclaim that San Miguel was a "municipio priísta" or a bastion of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Indeed, the current mayor of San Miguel, Mauricio Trejo, as well as the president of Mexico belong to the PRI, a leftish party that holds the largest number of seats among all the parties in the national legislature.

Appropriately, the color scheme on the billboard changed to white, red and green, the colors of both the Mexican flag and the PRI's logo.

Four days or so later the billboard was painted over by the state government and so we went back to white and blue.

Two days ago, the last time we drove by, a crew was painting over the PAN billboard once again, to restore the "municipio priísta" message. We'll see how long this dueling billboards battle goes on.

Félix, one of the most cynical political creatures I've ever met, one who professes not to trust any politician or policemen of any stripe or party, laughingly told Stew that everyone one in Sosnavar now is ready to vote for the PRI.

As well they should, I say.

Unlike a 1928 Republican flyer in the U.S. that only promised a "chicken for every pot," when the PRI in Mexico promises a 23-inch, flat-screen TV set in every home, they deliver—right to your front door.