BORDER NEWS & ISSUES
Border Is Here - Winter 2002 / 2003
Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation:
I needed to get up early to ride with a neighbor who works near Douglas on Friday, and I needed four rides to get back here Sunday, for the tour of the projects of the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation for most of the daytime Saturday. Everything was very well worth my effort. In just 15 years, Rancho Feliz has grown so it is the largest sponsor of community development projects in Agua Prieta and Naco, just across the border from Cochise County. The efforts of this organization from Scottsdale in the Phoenix area now dwarf those of the Friendship Mission from Sierra Vista or anyone else.
I had met its leader, Gil Gillenwater, in Douglas 2 years ago, and I saw
him again soon afterwards at his realty in Scottsdale.
Ironically, I had seen him before; he was a tailback for Utah State rival
Brigham Young when BYU came to Logan for a football game in 1973.
He and his brother Troy began it when they went to Agua Prieta on
Thanksgiving in 1987, and observed the poor living conditions there.
Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah is the largest college belonging
to a religious group in the United States.
However, Rancho Feliz is not sponsored by the Mormons or any other
religious group in particular. Much
of the philosophy of Rancho Feliz was crystallized when, on a trip to the
Himalaya Mountains there, Gil and Troy were thrown in jail in Tibet by its
ruler, China, for wandering into a place China had put off-limits to foreigners.
I was glad that I had exchanged emails with Gil before, for the tour
started at 11:30 instead of the advertised time of 1.
Gil was not there. Instead,
Guardian Warrior motorcyclists of Rancho Feliz led the tour from the Gadsden
Hotel to the border. There,
participants crossed, and boarded Agua Prieta city buses.
These are old American school buses, and the English 'Emergency Exit' was
on the inside, even though they were painted white on the outside. The motorcyclists also went across, and they and the buses
were escorted through town by Agua Prieta municipal police.
Gil and Troy showed up with about 25 other mountain bicycle riders at the
first stop of the tour. They had
each raised $5,000 for Rancho Feliz to ride through the Sierra Madre mountains
to the south for 5 days and 250 miles. Added
to the tour at the last minute, the first stop was a new 10-acre park without
any trees or grass. On it were 5
soccer fields, marked simply by chalk and goals.
The land for the park had been supplied by the municipal technical
college next door. Rancho Feliz
supplied the leveling and equipment to do it.
The tour, with bicycles as well as motorcycles, buses, a van, a police car, and a police truck, went a short distance west to another neighborhood in south Agua Prieta. There, Rancho Feliz had built 22 duplex units. These are available to people who pay Rancho Feliz about $200 a month for 5 succeeding years, and give it 400 hours of service over that time. The duplexes are like those north of the border, except that their only cooling is a ceiling fan, and they have no fixed heat. Residents must have blankets to keep warm; because of the efforts of Rancho Feliz and others over the years, there is a good supply of these in Agua Prieta now. The resident of the unit just opened is Nohemi Rios, an artist who is about 22 years old. She still showed the burns from an accident in her crib when she was 1 year old.
The third and last stop of the tour was a center, that according to
Rancho Feliz has mostly children, but some older people as well.
It is on a campus of about 20 acres.
The price of admission for the tour was at least one gift for the
children in the center. One of the
motorcyclists dressed as Santa Claus, and gave the gifts to the children.
After the tour, Rancho Feliz had its fandango, with Las Vegas tables and
20 of the paintings of Nohemi Ríos set up in the lobby of the Gadsden Hotel.
The fandango had to make up for lost time, as last year's events fell
just after the terrorist attacks, and the only ones not canceled were those for
Mexican Independence Day in Agua Prieta. Rancho
Feliz had to determine that New York or no other place in the United States had
a use for the fire truck that it took from Tempe just south of Scottsdale to
Agua Prieta then.
Rancho Feliz literally means 'happy ranch'.
It is the colloquial Mexican term for a children's home or orphanage.
The organization has very low overhead.
Gil Gillenwater and the volunteers that work with him in Scottsdale run
it out of the same office in the afternoon, that he uses for his realty business
in the morning. Projects have much
support from the municipalities, but Rancho Feliz is not political; Agua Prieta
is run by the PRI, and Naco is run by the PAN. Its philosophy may be summed up in the pledge card which it
sent with its newsletter, 'It is in our giving not our taking that results in
our receiving.' In just 15 years,
the Rancho Feliz organization has brought much support from the Phoenix area,
where about 3/5 of Arizona's people live now, to improve conditions along
Arizona's border with Mexico.
Even if it is after Christmas or New Year's when you see this, check out the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation's website to see its activities in detail. Its address is: http://www.ranchofeliz.org
Has Changed, And What Has Not, in Mexico Lately
Mexico is still definitely a different country
from the United States. However,
there have been great changes in it, especially in the last 15 years.
At the top, politics in Mexico has changed and become more open.
When I first visited Agua Prieta in 1987, the customs house had a poster
for the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI),
Carlos Salinas. The president then
named him as his successor. Until
the election of the next year, it was guaranteed before it that the PRI would
win, and the election was a formality. Today,
Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) is president of Mexico.
The PRI has to share political power with the PAN, the leftist Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD), and other minor parties.
However, the upper classes still govern Mexico.
The shortest way to describe politics across the border is that the elite
have agreed to disagree. For
everyone else, who has the best parties leading up to them is who will win the
The economy of Mexico ran at a level 7 times lower than that of the U.S.
15 years ago. It now runs at a level 4 times lower. There is something to the statement of Fox during his
campaign that Mexico would soon catch the U.S.
There is still a lot for groups as Rancho Feliz to do to improve
conditions there. There is no doubt
that conditions in the U.S. are worse now.
Of course, different Americans have different views on how and why this
Mexico has an income tax and privatized social security programs now.
The income tax is still not well-enforced, and the social security
programs are usable by only the top 15-20% of people there.
As before, the 2 social security groups are for non-government and
government workers. There is enough
of a base so that supporters of privatized Social Security in the U.S. can use
it as an example. However, it
functions so opponents can cite it to make their points.
It used to be that Mexican gasoline was far cheaper than that across the
border. In 1987 I waited to get to
Esqueda, where I could fill my tank for 43 cents instead of 88 cents per gallon.
There was no unleded gas except at a few places.
Today, as gas was $1.56 per gallon when I saw the price last, and gas in the
U.S. is $1.42 a gallon, I usually see cars from Naco and Cananea filling up at
the pumps on this side, when I stop at them myself. As before, all gasoline in Mexico is distributed by Pemex,
the national oil company. Pemex has
a large station along Highway 2 in Agua Prieta.
The main parks in Mexican towns still have gazebos.
While Agua Prieta in general is much cleaner than before, the city still
had to have the sign, No Tirar Basura ni
Perros (No Littering or Abandoning Dogs) on the road to Rancho Feliz's
children's center just west of the core of town.
A friend of mine, Bob, traded auto parts in Mexico before moving to
Miracle Valley. He said that in 1990, the same auto parts in Mexico cost 4
times what they did in the U.S. There
is an Auto Zone at the corner of 6th Ave. and Hwy. 2 in Agua Prieta.
Its prices have to be competitive with those in the Auto Zone in Douglas,
for both appear to be thriving. There
are still enough regulations on importing vehicles and parts, so some of the
Quiroga family, who owns the Ford dealership in Cananea, can make a living just
on this. The Quirogas bought my old
house in Sierra Vista in 1994, and one of the family still lives there.
Agua Prieta still does not have other American enterprises as McDonald's
and Wal-Mart. I have not been to
Hermosillo lately, but I have seen these mentioned in its newspaper, El
Imparcial. The North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994.
Blocking roads has long been a means of political protest in Mexico.
Had I gotten into Los Mochis, Sinaloa as scheduled on a morning in
October 1990, I would have gotten in ahead of a protest by farmers that blocked
Hwy. 15. As it was, I got into Los
Mochis just after the protest ended, late in the afternoon.
While some Rocky Point hotels were delighted to get more money from
Phoenix tourists who had to stay an extra day in September 2002 because of a
protest by shrimpboat operators, tourists who had to get back to work the next
day were not amused. While the top
policymakers have changed from 1990 to 2002, others have not, and they still
make less-than-intelligent decisions that cause the protests.
Much has changed in Mexico in the last 15 years, but much of Mexico has remained the same. Some people have wanted a lot of change, others just some, and others not at all. The total of what all people want is why there has been a lot of change in Mexico in some ways, but little in others.
by Wire, History Books in Mexican Schools,
Changes are coming for me, slowly but surely.
In the same way as Mexico, I do not know what exactly the changes will
be, but I do know they are coming.
The United States Postal Service must serve smaller communities as Naco,
Bisbee, and here in Palominas, but it must support itself, mostly.
To be able to support itself, it must offer services as guides for
moving, exotic stamps for collectors, and First Class Phonecards.
One of the services it offers is Dinero
Seguro (Safe Money). For a
price, and of course without questions, a person in the United States can have
money wired to his or her family in Mexico.
There is even a poster in Spanish in the Sierra Vista post office that
describes the service. The post
office competes with Western Union to provide this service. Western Union had to do it in order to survive, when long
distance telephone service became more economical for people to use than their
telegrams of old.
On the surface, Dinero Seguro is a very good idea.
Mexicans in the U.S. can wire their money home, without exposing it to
the many coyotes, corrupt officials, and outlaws that wait for them as they
cross the border. Right after
Vicente Fox became president of Mexico, he went to Nogales and other border
crossings to welcome crossers home personally.
However, those who make their living by robbing returning crossers have
figured out how to get around the new border procedures.
Like the American military with Russia before or terrorists now, Mexico
has to keep changing procedures to give chances for returning crossers to be
safe. I would be remiss if I did
not say that Mexicans in the U.S. are subject to sharks, also.
However, as should be known everywhere now, crossers are illegal as well
as legal. As long as there are
illegal crossers, on the one hand the U.S. government is providing them a
service to make their lives easier such as Dinero
Seguro, and on the other hand the U.S. government is trying to catch them
with the Border Patrol. Anything
that makes life easier for people here illegally endangers the lives of people
in the Customs Service as well as the Border Patrol.
Therefore, the U.S. government is endangering the lives of people it
employs with Dinero Seguro.
It has now been over a year since the terrorist attacks of 2001, and it
has been established that all the attackers were in the U.S. illegally.
As it is, the U.S. government not only risks the lives of those it
employs, but all residents here now, with Dinero
What would I do? After
accounting for everyone in the United States as I proposed last year, I would
require that everyone using Dinero Seguro,
Western Union, a supermarket, or other money transfer service show proof that he
or she is in the U.S. legally. For
more security in the minds of those using the services and their supporters, I
would increase the penalties to which those at the services would be subject, if
they reveal anything about the transactions to anyone except for tax or
accounting purposes. That way,
Mexicans as well as others can get money around robbers, terrorists, or whoever.
That was the purpose of services like Dinero
Seguro in the first place.
In 1993, I went to Cananea to do the last research for my book, The
Border Is Here. In the old
library, I happened to see the new history books for fourth and fifth graders in
the schools. They were very
controversial in Mexico as they were being introduced the year before, so much
so that the arguments caught the attention of English-language newspapers across
the border. The biggest change was
that the new books did not blame the U.S. for all of Mexico's problems, as the
old ones did. Clearly, at that time
official Mexico was preparing for NAFTA.
Fourth and fifth graders are 9 and 10 years old in Mexico, just as in the
U.S. The new history books were
introduced in 1992.
Just as with the U.S. Constitution, the Mexican Constitution requires one
to be 35 years old to assume the office of president.
The next elections for president in Mexico will be in 2006, 2012, and
Therefore, it is not possible for a president educated under the new
history books instead of the old to take office until 2018.
Now Vicente Fox was elected on his 59th birthday, or 24 years after he
became 35. From his record, it is
clear that the PAN ran him because he had done the most for it in politics
before. If future Mexican
presidents have to wait until they are 59 to be run by their political parties,
it may be 2042 until one educated under the new history books instead of the old
is in power. That is 40 years from
Change must come so the U.S. and Mexico can continue to be good
neighbors. In some ways it has come
a lot. In other ways, it has not
been great, and will not be any time soon.
One thing that has changed in Mexico is the size of its military.
There are now about 250,000 in the Mexican armed forces, more than triple
the 80,000 of 15 years ago. Official
Mexico considers them needed to keep drug trafficking and corruption at a lower
level than before. I have no
problem with this, as long as soldiers don't get into the illegal crossing and
smuggling business as 2 apparently did east of Douglas last year, or some may
have near Lukeville across from Sonoita and Rocky Point this year. Motorcyclists in groups are common on American roads,
but, even though Rancho Feliz has now been in Agua Prieta for 15 years, the
Mexican authorities still considered it necessary to escort such a group of
Americans through town. (The escort
was done by police, not military, authorities, but it still was an official
As for me, I will be 63 when the elections of 2018 are held in Mexico,
and 87 when those of 2042 are held. I
am now at a point where I have to think of my own future seriously.
It is still possible that I could relocate elsewhere in southeastern
Arizona, leave here for now then return, or even remain here.
I thank all who are helping me in the decisions I have now. Hasta luego-?de dónde?
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