The Jewish Reaction towards the Mexican Crisis

    November 1998         
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The Jewish Reaction towards the Mexican Crisis


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Jews in Mexico

By Jack Rubinstein

We are living in an extraordinary time. We are not just experiencing unprecedented events or situations, the entire age which we are privileged to be taking a part of is undergoing vast changes at any given moment and place. While this is a great time for historians, the general population would probably not share in their enthusiasm. The state of the economy is ever changing, at one moment we could be living the greatest continuous rise in the world markets and wake up the next day on the verge of international economic recession.

The volatility of the situation is affecting every human being on the face of the planet and with it every country, state and government. What factor will shape the destiny of all the countries that are currently entangled in this web? Money. While most "first world" countries have enough reserves to be able to maintain a budget and its currencies, the rest of the members of the U.N are not so lucky. While few of them possess respectable reserves, even fewer have strict economic policies in place to vanguard against the tribulations of everyday life. A budget agreement in any of these countries has about the same chance of staying in place, as a high-wire clown on amphetamines.

Obviously Mexico (a notoriously third world country in spite of its prolific neighbors) is not immune to the ups and downs of this roller coaster we affectionately call our economic structure. Its situation is even more unpredictable due to its ever present dependence on petroleum prices. Due to the fact that the largest source of income is the government owned and operated PEMEX, and its well being is tied to the amount of oil the OPEC countries produce. Even though Mexico does not belong to OPEC, on numerous occasions meetings have been proposed and organized with these producers to try to arrange a platform to avoid these changes. Needless to say, most of the times these summits have been canceled, and in those rare cases when they do go forward an agreement has yet to be reached.

Uncertainty in the future is a major part of the problems of the present. "The new relationship between the executive and legislative powers has yet to be defined… the resulting political infighting has helped Mexico look unstable" said analyst Joel Estudillo of the Mexican Institute of Political Science in a recent interview.

The lack of a probable scenario is affecting every social strata. A recent study published in a daily newspaper in Mexico City shows that while the official unemployment rate is 8% the subemployment rate is an unbelievable 62%. Thus 7 out of every 10 adults in Mexico is not officially employed and therefore not eligible for any type of benefit (medical coverage, pension plans, etc…) from the government. The real minimum wage is at a thirty year low. The head of the national Workers Union, Fidel Velazques (which in large part was responsible for the falling wages), died last year at the age of 97. While leaving no clear indication of who was to be his successor. Mexican workers were thus abandoned on the proverbial high rope to wait while a new leader is selected.

The effect this is having on the Jewish population in Mexico can be seen in the amount of young professionals leaving the country in search of greener pastures on the other side of our northern border. Most of these young people have finished their careers and are following in the steps of their grandparents, who took as many of their possessions as possible and traveled to other lands in search of a better life.

Samuel Unzek is a fourth year medical student in a private university in Mexico City. When asked about his future replied, "When I started studying medicine I thought that I could either do my residency here or in the U.S, but after what has happened in the last few years I don't have that choice anymore….. I am now studying for the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) very hard. I cannot afford to fail it".

"As soon as I have the opportunity to leave Ill take it… I love my country but I can't believe how anybody would ever think of living here" said Daniela Landau, a 23 year old psychology student.

The lack of decent opportunities for professionals in Mexico is clearly seen in the community center.

" The Fundación Activa ( The Active Foundation) has been trying for over a year to find work for Jewish professionals such as doctors and engineers… unfortunately most of the jobs we find for these people are for community taxi drivers and the like" said Judith Bank, the General Director of the center.

Most of the people interviewed were reluctant to give a precise number when asked about the amount of Jews leaving Mexico, but when pressed for an answer, the approximations varied from 50 to 200 families per year in the last three years. These "families" are often single men and women or young couples with one or two children, and must be taken in context of the 40,000 Jews currently living in all of Mexico. They represent 1% of the general population and a little over 10% of the 19-35 age group. The constant loss of this income and manpower is bound to be felt in the coming years.

The public safety problems are also taking their toll among the population. The former chief of security for Mexico City, Rodolfo Debernardi, was quoted as saying, "There isn't a person alive today who can take care of the crime problems of Mexico City". After setting himself up for failure, Debernardi continued to be completely inefficient in controlling the crime wave in Mexico, and 11 painful months later he was fired by mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.

Even President Ernesto Zedillo, in his recent State of the Nation address acknowledge his governments failure in the war against crime and in the education of his police force. "As a citizen of this country, as a father and as President, I fully share the indignation and concern of all Mexicans regarding the very grave lack of public safety we are currently experiencing… it is cause of grave indignation when police officers and law enforcement agents, instead of preventing crimes, are often the cruelest and most dangerous criminals because they act with impunity".

In the last few years two young Jews have been violently killed in the streets of Mexico. The first, a 16 year old girl returning home from school was abducted by four men who apparently tried to rape her and when she started to scream and fight back killed her, leaving her battered body less than a kilometer away from "Los Pinos" the official presidential residency. Public and Jewish outcry caused a massive investigation in which the four men were tried and convicted of her murder (this being a rare occurrence because approximately only 1% of all crimes committed in Mexico are punished). The second case involved a 19 year old boy returning home from a dance club in his car, when at around 3 a.m. another car pulled up next to his a shot at him several times. He was wounded and died a few hours later in a Mexico City hospital. So far no arrests have been made.

A member of the Jewish protection agency who asked not to be identified reported 43 "express" kidnappings in the Jewish community, in which the victim is taken to automatic tellers around the city and is forced to withdraw anywhere from 30,000 to 800,000 pesos (3,000 to 80,000 USD), and sometimes taken to his house or store to give jewelry and other valuables to his aggressors. These are express because the victim is usually released before sunrise. There have also been 6 kidnappings with ransoms ranging from 1,000,000 pesos to 1,000,000 USD. All these kidnappings have transpired during the course of this year, and luckily so far none of the victims have been hurt seriously or have been murdered.

Security personnel are making brisk business in light of the situation. Those who can afford it can bullet-proof their car, hire personal bodyguards to follow them around the city and build tremendous electrified walls around their houses reminiscent of San Quentin. For the wealthy Jews in Mexico, who are reluctant to leave because of their jobs or family, these are becoming their only serious options.

"I want my children to be safe, but I cant leave Mexico City. I make a good living here and I cannot afford to start over again. Maybe when my children are older they will decide to live somewhere else. Meanwhile I have to protect them any way I can" Said a local businessman, who asked not to be identified, who recently hired personal bodyguards for himself and for his family.

The future of the Jewish population in Mexico is worrisome; if some drastic measures to curb crime and to raise the economy aren't taken soon the community is bound to suffer grave consequences. Schools will be forced to cut back because of lack of children, synagogues will have to be shut down and community centers will no longer be able to help those who need it the most. If this trend continues, the population graph of the Jewish population will resemble and upside-down pyramid with its large base being the elders and the narrow part representing the youth.

Jack is currently studing in his Fourth year of Medical school. He has published several writings in Foro Magazine and Archivos de Cardiologia in Mexico City.


from theNovember 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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