Mexican Mayor Gets People To Help Themselves

IN Monterrey the headlines in city newspapers call him simply ''Chuy.''

But what Jesus Hinojosa Tijerina, Monterrey's mayor for just over a year, has learned, is that familiarity does not necessarily equal power.

For example, Mr. Hinojosa, Monterrey's first mayor from Mexico's opposition National Action Party (PAN), wanted to confront the city's rising crime rate head-on. But the police come under the jurisdiction of the state governor, and he was not about to give up such a plum, or even share it. So the mayor's plan for the police fell on deaf ears.

But that doesn't mean Hinojosa has sat around idle. Tapping into a growing activism that has accompanied Mexico's transition to more a representative democracy, the mayor has organized neighborhood review boards, women's groups, and youth organizations designed to make this a city where the people take part in solving their own problems.

One example is the women's groups that City Hall has organized in dozens of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The women are brought together to talk about values, about problems like growing gang participation, and about ''spiritual questions,'' Hinojosa says.

The PAN-controlled City Hall has been accused of puritanism and proselytizing for other initiatives, including a war on nude bars, but Hinojosa says the women's discussion groups haven't been attacked. ''It's not religious,'' he says, ''but it is a way to discuss moral values, like dignity, discipline, or justice, that can help these women face the community's challenges.''

In the same vein, Hinojosa has organized ''value workshops'' for children and computer training for street kids as a way to entice them back to school. ''The idea is to boost these kids' confidence in themselves so they can go back to school, their head held high knowing they have this [computer] skill, and leave the street life behind.''

Hinojosa says self-help remains his guide, especially given the city government's very limited resources and power. In the neighborhood reviews, for example, an inventory of needs and problems is taken, and then together participants decide who among the city, local residents, or private organizations can best solve each need or problem on the list.

''It's really a change in culture we're talking about,'' Hinojosa says. ''For many years government took it upon itself to solve problems - but didn't,'' he says. ''Now we say, 'Government is here to help you solve your problems.' ''

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