Heading down Lisandro de la Torre street in south Buenos Aires at dawn on a weekday, it’s hard to believe Argentina no longer reigns as South America’s beef-eating king.
People crowd around butcher shops that line both sides of the road for half a mile, eyeing carcasses that hang in open entrances. Customers order popular cuts of ribs and flank steak just a few yards away from one of South America's largest cattle markets, where bulls, cows, and calves crammed into pens are auctioned off to slaughterhouses.
But, as the New York Times reported last week, Argentina is no longer top dog. In 2010, Uruguay replaced its neighbor across the Río de la Plata at the summit of the beef consumption league.
The average Argentine ate 123 pounds of beef last year, compared to 132 pounds in Uruguay (though figures for 2013 so far show Argentina is closing the gap).
Just don’t mention this development to porteños – the residents of Buenos Aires known across the region for their brazen pride. “Forget it. It’s a lie,” says Roberto Pérez, standing outside one of the butcher shops on Lisandro de la Torre. “The amount of meat we eat here is savage. There’s no country that compares with Argentina."
And it can certainly feel that way sometimes. The statistics tell one story, but daily life reflects another.
In his workshop in the provincial city of Bahía Blanca, carpenter Juancho Jiménez regularly loads the grill with cheap skirt steak, eaten off wooden slates with friends who supply the modest accompaniment of sliced tomato and fresh white bread.
On Sundays, that scene is mirrored in thousands of households across the country. Families gather for asados – or barbecues – feasts of red meat and conversation. At no-nonsense steakhouses in working class neighborhoods, groups of men lunch outside with plates of beef and tumblers of red wine mixed with soda water.
A number of factors are responsible for the fall in Argentina’s beef consumption since 1956, a record year in which the average person here ate 222 pounds. They range from state intervention in agriculture and reduced cattle stocks, to the profitability of soy farming and rising costs for consumers.
But as long as cows roam the Pampas, Argentina’s beef-eating culture will never die.
When low-cost mass merchandiser Comercial Mexicana opened its first upscale grocery, City Market, it did so on a corner in the Colonia Del Valle neighborhood in Benito Juarez. Shoppers crowd the aisles of polished organic produce, pay $30 for Scottish smoked salmon, and sip cappuccinos at an in-house café.
Benito Juarez doesn’t contain the capital’s richest neighborhoods, where mansions hide behind enormous walls. But it doesn’t contain the poorest barrios, either. It’s solidly middle class. And the rest of the country may be headed in that direction, too, albeit slowly.
This week, national statistics agency INEGI released a new study showing that Mexico’s middle class grew 4 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 39 percent of the population, or 44 million people.
INEGI’s definition of the middle class weights spending above earnings, in part because people have greater incentive to underreport the latter, the report said. INEGI looked at 17 variables, including how much people spent on dining out, personal care, and credit cards, among other things.
This is the picture INEGI paints of Mexico’s middle class: Three quarters live in cities. At least one member of the typically four-member household holds a job in the formal sector, and the head of household has at least some high school education. The children attend public school and have a computer at home.
Mexico City’s Benito Juarez borough has the city’s highest level of schooling by far, with more than 74 percent of residents claiming some time spent studying in high school, technical school, or college, according to 2005 INEGI data. In fact, neighborhoods like Colonia del Valle are packed with schools. The borough has the highest average per capita income and the most homes with a computer in Mexico City.
“For a long time, seeing Mexico as poor has been a pretext for not doing what should be done [for development] and an argument for sustaining the impossibility of development,” wrote Luis de la Calle, author of Mexico: A Middle Class Society, Poor No More, Developed Not Yet, in an Op-Ed in the capital’s El Universal newspaper.
But it’s also true that most of Mexico still doesn’t look much like the Benito Juarez borough. Some 59 percent of Mexicans reside in the lower class, according to the INEGI report. This largest group of people are not necessarily impoverished, the report says, but their position is precarious. They could be one pink slip or illness away from poverty; an economic downturn or high inflation could hit them especially hard.
Just 1.7 percent of Mexicans qualify as upper class.
The agency notes in its report that measuring the middle class is a “complex discussion.” It remains a hotly debated topic in Mexico and across Latin America, where the spread between the richest and poorest remains abysmal but where the ranks of the middle are swelling, especially in places like Brazil, Chile, and Peru.
Mr. De la Calle argues that perceiving Mexico as middle class allows for the visualization of a development that could come from within these households.
“The investment of households in their own future” – a central characteristic of the middle class, he wrote – “is indispensable for the construction of a modern country, which is now possible.”
Snowden checked out of the Hong Kong hotel where he had been staying when he identified himself as the whistleblower that handed over information about the US government’s domestic spying program to The Washington Post and The Guardian. He is reportedly still in Chinese territory, where some residents have called him a “hero” for divulging the information, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
He’s sure US prosecutors will come after him, telling The Guardian, “You can't come up against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk. If they want to get you, over time they will.”
So where is the man behind one of the most dramatic security leaks in recent history to go?
“I would strongly advise him to go to Latin America," Mr. Assange told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview this week. “Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There’s a long tradition of asylum.”
RECOMMENDED: Six countries where Edward Snowden could get asylum
Assange also feels a connection with Snowden, calling him on Sky News, “a hero who has informed the public about one of the most serious events of the decade, which was the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state.”
The WikiLeaks founder has a lot to thank Latin America for – specifically Ecuador. He famously took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy almost a year ago after he was sought for questioning in relation to alleged sexual offenses in Sweden.
Latin America may have given Assange refuge. But in recent years, a handful of countries there have been more regularly associated with expelling US agencies and decrying the "imperialist power" to the north than leading the world in human rights.
And the violence that plagues the region is often associated with various human rights violations. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to eight of the 10 most dangerous countries in the world, based on homicide rates.
A drug war in Mexico has killed an estimated 70,000 people; its Central America neighbor, Honduras, is the world’s murder capital; and Brazil has been accused of numerous human rights violations in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup.
Meanwhile, leaders from Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, to the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, have aggressively opposed US policies.
Their opposition to US hegemony is not without reason: The US government has long inserted itself into Latin American affairs, at times with disastrous consequences.
But even Latin American countries that have railed against the US might not be Snowden’s best bet in an effort to avoid facing charges back home.
The Los Angeles Times reports that dozens of countries have no extradition agreement with the US, whereas most in Latin America do, some of which date back more than a century.
And even Venezuela, “Washington’s No. 1 enemy in Latin America,” might balk at giving Snowden a safe haven, the newspaper says. “Even if Caracas were to offer Snowden asylum now, any improvement in relations in the years to come could make that shelter a bargaining chip that Venezuelan authorities may have no qualms about cashing in.”
RECOMMENDED: Six countries where Edward Snowden could get asylum
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
It's become a Brazilian cliché: "Imagina na Copa!" Just imagine during the World Cup. It's a common complaint about many problems in Brazil, particularly in big cities, predicting an unhappy future for the country's megaevents. Overcrowded airports? Imagina na Copa! A spate of muggings in São Paulo? Imagina na Copa! A series of road signs with English misspellings in Rio? Imagina na Copa!
The saying was popularized further by a series of comedy videos that came out last year, and is the title of a new song by a popular sertanejo duo. But a new organization by the same name is seeking to turn the pessimistic expression on its head. I spoke to Mariana Campanatti, one of the group's founders, about what Imagina na Copa hopes to achieve.
Imagina na Copa was started by four Brazilians in their late 20s living in São Paulo. The two paulistas, mineira, and carioca were working at corporate jobs, and wanted to do something different, focusing on social good projects. "It's easy for people to complain," Ms. Campanatti explained. "Why don't we stop complaining and do something?" A lot of Brazilians of her generation also want to get involved in social good, said Campanatti, but sometimes things get in the way.
"Between the intention and the action, there's a barrier. People have a lot of trouble seeing themselves as an agent of change." So Campanatti and the Imagina na Copa team decided to share stories about ordinary Brazilians working on social good projects to show how easy it can be to get involved, without necessarily needing a "noble" cause or a lot of money.
So each of the four quit their jobs and "threw themselves out into the world." In September 2012, they launched the project on Catarse, a crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter, and raised R$25,000 to start the organization. They officially launched the site on Jan. 3.
Imagina da Copa has three main areas. First, it launches a story each week describing an organization or social entrepreneur in Brazil, complete with a video, photos, and a blog post. "We want to show that any person have a role in social change, whether it's in their neighborhood or in society," said Campanatti. The organization looks at a variety causes and entrepreneurs so that others can relate to them.
Each week, Imagina na Copa has featured some truly incredible entrepreneurs. There's Alessandra Orofino of Meu Rio, a successful organization to get young people involved in public policy in Rio; Monique Evelle, who started the Salvador-based organization Desabafo Social at the age of 16, starting out by explaining human rights by sitting down with kids in public spaces; Augusto Leal, who started the Bibliocicleta, the traveling community Bike-Library in Bahia; and artist/activist Thiago Mundano of Pimp My Carroça in São Paulo, among others.
The second area of the organization is holding workshops. Often, people interested in social good don't know where to start and feel overwhelmed by the number of causes. Through the workshops, Imagina na Copa helps participants figure out which cause speaks to them--the kind that "gets them out of bed in the morning"--and then teaches them how to turn their interest into a project. They've held five of these workshops in cities across the country, some of which have already turned out social good projects.
The third area is launching a monthly "mission." Since Imagina na Copa began, it has launched campaigns to crowdsource signage and bus line information at bus stops in cities, to donate books in a pay-it-forward style, and to separate recyclables in green bags. "Everyone doing a small thing can generate a bigger change," Campanatti told me.
To get the word out, Imagina na Copa largely relies on social networks, especially Facebook. "We only exist because of social media," Campanatti said. It's also a way for the group to connect people interested in similar causes, and to reach Brazilians across the country. However, since the four co-founders travel a great deal to meet with social entrepreneurs and feature their stories, they decided to start a network of "captains," or local leaders. They recruited 40 young people (the average age is 22) from 20 cities, and trained them last month in São Paulo. Now, this group will be able to organize their own workshops, launch missions, and suggest stories.
Like other non-profits, Imagina na Copa is constantly seeking funding. The four co-founders don't have salaries and are living off personal savings. Aside from crowdfunding, they managed to get sponsorship from Instituto Asas. They also have partners who donate space and services, and Folha de São Paulo syndicates their weekly story. They're relaunching another crowdfunding drive starting June 12, which marks a year before the World Cup begins.
Despite their early successes, the co-founders plan to end the project in its current form when the World Cup begins. Putting a deadline on something helps motivate people, explained Campanatti, giving a more tangible sense for getting things done. When 2014 comes, the group plans to assess the project and publish a report, and figure out another way to continue their work. After leaving careers in places like ad agencies and banks, working on social good is "a path of no return," said Campanatti.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Monday, the United States suspended all aid it was giving the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP).
The DIECP is responsible for carrying out the confidence testing of Honduran police, part of a process to weed out those who should not be police.
A US embassy employee who did not want to be named told El Tiempo:
Hondurans have expressed their frustration with the slow progress of the confidence testing of the police....it's a frustration that we share and as a result, we have suspended the aid from the United States to the DIECP.
The funds, among other things used to pay for foreign lie detector contractors to assist the DIECP, come from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
It's been apparent for a while that the DIECP wasn't working well.
Earlier this year Porfirio Lobo Sosa "accepted" (after requesting) the resignations of Eduardo Villanueva, the DIECP director, and his deputy. However, both continue to serve because Porfirio Lobo Sosa has made no effort to appoint replacements.
As of Tuesday, Villanueva told El Tiempo that he had received no notice from the US Embassy of the funding cuts.
After more than a decade of tough talk and frigid foreign relations, the Maduro administration may have shown the first sign that Venezuela could be warming up to the United States. Timothy Tracy, an American documentary filmmaker, was released after spending more than a month in government detention for allegedly spying and planning unrest after Venezuela's April 14 presidential election.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres (@MRodriguezTorre) wrote on Twitter: "The American Timothy Hallet Tracy, who was caught spying in our country, has been expelled from the national territory." Mr. Tracy's lawyers said his film had nothing to do with Venezuela's national security.
Tracy made his way to Miami International Airport today, hours before a meeting between Venezuela's foreign minister, Elias Jaua, and US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to take place. The countries have been without ambassadors for three years. And while the Venezuelan government continues to insist the "gringo" filmmaker was "conspiring to start a civil war," analysts say the sudden release is meant as a show of good faith.
"It's a sign of rapprochement," says Elsa Cardozo, a professor of international relations at the Central University of Venezuela.
Ms. Cardozo says that given the country's current economic crisis, the move comes as no surprise. Venezuela's toilet paper troubles have been making headlines for weeks now, but consumers are struggling to find many staples, like milk, butter, and sugar as the inflation rate here remains one of world's highest, at about 30 percent.
Many believe the OPEC nation may now start looking abroad to solve its economic woes; recently appointed Finance Minister Nelson Merentes announced just last week he would soon travel to the US and Europe to speak with creditors and court additional foreign investment.
Even during times of strained relations under Hugo Chávez's administration, Venezuela could always depend on the oil-thirsty US to be one of its biggest buyers.
Will sending Tracy back to the US be enough to smooth over rocky US-Venezuelan relations? Perhaps not. But at the very least, Cardozo argues, the government may be realizing that “it's very hard to bring in new business when your investors are worried about being taken captive."
Frustrated with your Internet access? Try logging on in Cuba.
Since it started offering limited access in 1996, the communist country has tightly restricted access to everything but the bare Web essentials. Unless you were looking for government news or something directly related to your job, you were out of luck.
But now news comes that the government is inching toward wider access. In the Official Gazette, the government said it would provide access to the Internet – including e-mail and international websites – at 118 providers across the Caribbean island starting today.
Will a handful of Internet cafes in each major city across the island of 11 million make much of a difference in a country where connecting to the Internet is notoriously slow and difficult?
It won’t be cheap. Providers will ask users to fork over the equivalent of $4.50 per hour for access.
While those prices might compete with the service offered at 30,000 feet by US airlines, for most Cubans the fees make logging on out of reach.
Independent Cuban journalist Iván García Quintero makes this point in a column published by Infobae. Mr. García quotes a woman named Sandra who earns 375 pesos (roughly US$14) a month.
“I don’t see how I could surf the Internet or open an account on Facebook with a salary of 375 pesos. One hour on the Internet would cost me 112 pesos, nearly a third of my salary,” she says. “I guess that some people could. But the majority is not going to stop eating just to connect to the Internet.”
It’s not just the cost. Once you log on, the connection promises to be slow, too. Think dial-up.
A couple years back, The Economist said Cuba’s Internet speed was second-slowest behind the island of Mayotte, a French territory of around 200,000 people that sits northwest of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
And it’s not clear how heavily the Cuban government will restrict access to sites. The US-headquartered NGO Freedom House, which ranks countries based on levels of political freedom and civil liberties, gives Cuba one of the lowest rankings for Latin American countries in its Internet freedom category.
“Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for the Internet and other information and communication technologies,” the organization wrote in its 2012 report entitled “Freedom on the Net.”
Blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has famously worked around the island’s Internet restrictions to publicize her work, highlighted the importance of increased connectivity on a trip to the US this year. “The Internet,” she said, “is helping us explain to the world what is happening inside our country.”
Even if it’s slow and expensive, a connection to the Web seems to represent another step toward wider access.
Earlier this year, Cuba connected to Jamaica via a submarine cable on the ocean floor. That was expected to help bring Internet connections to more Cubans.
Separately, Cuba and Venezuela have connected via a fiber optic cable, although it remains unclear if that connection is providing service to Cuban residents.
The 118 new hotspots might not mean much to most Cubans. But, as one Cuban housewife told a radio station after the announcement, “something is better than nothing.”
The controversial and disputed testimony from a notorious protected witness in Mexico reflects the justice system's persistent inability to fully exploit the opportunities presented by turncoat criminals.
The most recent example of this problem is that of Roberto Lopez Najera, whose code name was "Jennifer." As reported by Proceso, Mr. Lopez Najera’s testimony helped advance some of the most important cases of the Felipe Calderón presidency, but the lack of veracity of his claims led them to all fall apart:
"The list of victims of Lopez Najera in Mexico include the ex-commissioner of the Federal Police Javier Herrera, who documented the irregularities in the tenure of Genaro Garcia Luna as the secretary of public security; Noe Ramirez Mandujano, the federal prosecutor who together with his team investigated ex-military officers that worked for SIEDO [the division for organized crime prosecutions] and were allegedly workeing for the Sinaloa Cartel, and General Tomas Angeles Dauahare, former undersecretary of defense.
"All were absolved after demonstrating their innocence following months or years in prison thanks to the false testimony of Jennifer."
Other similar cases abound. For instance, in December 2012, El Universal reported on the testimony of another witness, known as "El Pitufo," whose declarations helped spur some of the most famous recent prosecutions. Most of these failed and virtually all of them were littered with irregularities. El Pitufo contributed to the Michoacanazo, the celebrated arrest of nearly three dozen state and local officials in Michoacan, all of whom were subsequently released; the arrest of Florence Cassez, the French national and accused kidnapper whose detention under unusual circumstances sparked a lengthy diplomatic row; and the case of Gregorio Sanchez, the eccentric Cancun mayor who was arrested in 2010, while campaigning to be governor of Quintana Roo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico's problems with protected witnesses go beyond faulty testimony in some high-profile cases. One basic issue is the lack of protected witnesses, plain and simple. According to a recent report by Excelsior, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) used just 379 such witnesses during former President Calderon's administration. This number represented a sharp increase (the figure was just 80 in 2006), but in a nation where the government estimates that 500,000 people earn their living from the drug trade, it is a paltry sum.
This lack of collaboration from criminal turncoats reflects the broader inability of Mexico's judicial system to move beyond the ethos of frontal attack. It also highlights Mexico's ongoing incapacity to use the justice system as an effective weapon against organized crime. For the most part, the judiciary is more like a millstone around the neck of the nation.
Mexico has also proved itself unable to protect the witnesses in its custody on a number of occasions. In one of the most famous examples, two witnesses into an investigation against Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada died in quick succession in late 2009. The first, Reyes Reinado Zambada Garcia, allegedly hung himself, while the second, Edgar Enrique Bayardo del Villar, was shot to death in a crowded Starbucks.
Mexico is not alone in its fraught relationship with protected witnesses. Many critics of the US legal system have argued that prosecutors have become too reliant on such figures, who often have dubious credibility and clear reasons to lie. This has the added consequence of eating into the ability of US officials to pursue alternative methods of investigations, creating a vicious cycle where finding criminals to flip becomes even more important. This was, for example, the basic thrust of the 2007 book Snitch.
But while these complaints against the US system echo Mexico's recent troubles, the problem is far more complicated south of the Rio Grande. If the US has reasons to be concerned about an over-reliance on protected witnesses, at the least the US can point to its ability to successfully prosecute successful cases built around such testimony. It's a controversial tactic that has certain unquestionable benefits. Mexico, meanwhile, must deal with all of the downsides (cases falling apart because of lying witnesses) but none of the benefits (witnesses regularly contributing to successful convictions against dangerous criminals).
Until this changes, Mexico will continue to do battle with organized crime without what should be one of its chief tools.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
What originally appeared as a visible but subtle change of direction at Venezuelan television station Glovovisión has in the last two weeks become a raucous turning point with multiple journalists being fired or resigning. The turmoil leaves Globovisión’s role as an opposition outlet in doubt and appears to represent a new extension of the Venezuelan government’s control over broadcast media.
Following Guillermo Zuloaga’s announcement in March that he had agreed in principle to the sale of Globovisión it was finally acquired at the beginning of May by a business group rumored to have ties with the Government.
The announcement of the hiring of journalists Vladimir Villegas and Leopoldo Castillo as station directors generated considerable optimism about the new Globovisión and its independence. However on May 13, after a meeting with the new owners, Mr. Villegas surprisingly announced on Twitter that he would not be accepting the position after all. He commented that “we didn’t reach agreement on programming nor on what my competencies would be.”
One of the new owners, Juan Domingo Cordero, declared on May 16 that there had been disagreements in the meeting with Villegas over the general direction the business should follow, but he assured that there would be no changes in the channel and that all the journalists would keep their jobs: “All the news anchors are staying, there won't be any changes here.”
However events have unfolded quite differently.
On May 22, President Nicolás Maduro met with two of the new owners of the Channel, Raúl Corrín and Gustavo Perdomo, in Miraflores. The meeting was qualified by the business men as “cordial” and they declared that they had told President Maduro that Globovisión would contribute to “the decrease in the levels of violence in the country.” Information Minister Jorge Arreaza, also present in the meeting, revealed that Maduro had insisted on the need for “generating television content with transcendent values for the future of the children and the need to struggle against fascism, which is a threat to society in any part of the world.”
Only two days after that meeting with the government, Globovisión confirmed rumors that Ismael García (opposition National Assembly representative and responsible for making public the Mario Silva audio) would leave his morning opinion program “Aló Venezuela.” The program will still be aired with co-host Delvalle Canelón but without Mr. García. The statement explained that the policy of the channel was not to air programs hosted by candidates for political office, and since García would be a candidate for Mayor of Caracas in the upcoming municipal elections, the channel had asked him to leave the program. In Venezuela it is common for elected leaders and candidates for office to simultaneously work as broadcast journalists.
The next day the channel also announced that the popular late night host of the show “Good Night,” Francisco Bautista “Kiko,” would leave Globovisión. On the same night of the 26th Henrique Capriles tweeted several times about Globovisión. He expressed solidarity with the workers of the channel and claimed that the new owners had given express orders not to provide live coverage of his speeches and declarations.
On Monday the 27th, news anchor Pedro Luis Flores, and “Buenas Noches” cohost Carla Angola announced they had quit Globovisión in solidarity with Kiko. The Globovisión web page announced the reporters where leaving the channel on “the best of terms.” That same day Globovisión published a statement on its web page reaffirming that the exit of García had been on friendly terms and that Kiko had made misinformed declarations on the matter. The statement denies the existence of a “list of professionals” that will be fired, and ends with the assertion that “media outlets are not political parties.”
That same afternoon, reporter Leopoldo Castillo (popular host of the show “Aló Ciudadano” and now temporary director of Globovisión), in a statement aired by Globovisión declared that there had been misunderstandings recently and that he would do everything in his power to keep the channel’s personnel “united,” but if that was not possible, he would simply leave. He also asked his fellow reporters to “not respond emotionally” and impulsively. He added that if he discovered recent events in the channel where part of a “systematic policy, which up to date I have not uncovered, you can be sure that I will speak out.” (The video can be seen here.)
That same night Kiko declared to CNN en Español that his meeting with the new owners of the channel had been “very aggressive”, and that they had “used the same arguments that the oficialismo [government] uses to attack me. They told me that the channel had been used as a political party and was responsible for what had happened in the country. They told me that I used slander and that I made fun of people.” He also denounced that the day Ismael García had made public the Mario Silva audio, in several occasions they had tried to take it off the air “and then that night at news hour, when that information was given, the reporter that wrote the note said that it had been edited. They took out the parts where Diosdado Cabello was named.”
In a press conference, Kiko reiterated that the new board of directors is exercising censorship in line with the Government. He also declared that during his last meeting with the new directors, they had offered to buy the name of the show “Buenas Noches,” which Kiko owns, but that he had refused.
On Tuesday May 28 Maduro declared that the problem with Globovisión is not disagreements over a supposed change of editorial line but a fight between different factions of the “right” for control of the channel: “They are dealing with a huge problem among themselves…In the end they are the ones that are destroying the TV channel that the fascist right used to poison the country: Globovisión.”
The Globovisión official twitter account has suffered an “unfollow” campaign by opposition followers unhappy with what they perceive is a change in the editorial line of the channel. According to Noticias 24, the account had 2,732,394 followers on Sunday 26th. At the time of writing this post the account has 2,349,779 followers.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
Low wages, gaping income inequality, poor education, long workdays, shorter life expectancy. By the sound of the statistics, Mexicans’ satisfaction with their lot ought to be low.
But despite weak performance across rankings in the 2013 "Better Life" index released this week by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexicans come out strong in terms of satisfaction. They’re more satisfied with their lives than the average in the OECD – a collection of mostly wealthy nations – and fall just behind a handful of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark: 85 percent of Mexicans say they have more positive experiences than negative ones in a given day.
It’s not because they’re making more money. Mexicans earn roughly half the OECD annual average wage of about $23,000 in a country plagued by inequality. The top 20 percent of earners bring home nearly 13 times what the bottom 20 percent earn here.
And it’s not because they have more free time. The OECD report calculates that Mexicans work 2,250 hours per year – the highest rate of all the countries surveyed. Women, more of whom work in the informal sector, still bear the brunt of labor at home, too. Mexican men dedicate less than a third of their time on unpaid domestic work than women do.
School isn’t a bright spot, either. When it comes to education, Mexico falls well below OECD nations in reading literacy, math, and science test scores. Few people earn a high school diploma compared to the rest of the OECD field: 36 percent versus the organization average of 74 percent.
Mexicans even fare worse in life expectancy: 74 years versus 80 years, the OECD average.
So what gives?
Faith, family, and pride in the patria, or homeland, may have something to do with it.
“Even if the economy isn’t great, the opportunity God gives us to live every day is more than sufficient,” says Marina Garcia while playing in a park with her two dogs.
Rosalina Tuma, waiting for a Tai Chi class to begin, says, “I live happily. I travel a lot, outside the country, too. But I would never trade Mexico. I’m very proud of my country.”
Staying happy in the face of hardship “is how we are,” says Raul Gonzalez, a self-described proud grandfather. “Al mal tiempo, le damos buena cara.”
We put on a good face, even in bad weather.