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BORDER NEWS & ISSUES

The Border Is Here - Winter  2002 / 2003
by Ron Pamachena, Palominas, Arizona

The Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation

What Has Changed, And ....

Money By Wire .....


The Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation:
From The Phoenix Area For The Border

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


What 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 elections.

            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 is.

            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.


Money by Wire, History Books in Mexican Schools,
And Other Things
 

            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 Seguro.

            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 2018.

            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 now.

            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 escort.)

            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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