Madonna tastes Mexican bureaucracy in opening Hard Candy Fitness gym

The hurdles that Madonna overcame to open Hard Candy Fitness are emblematic of the long ride of permits, stamps, and waits faced by business owners in Mexico.

Henry Romero/Reuters
U.S. singer Madonna (3rd R) cuts the ribbon to officiate the opening of her Hard Candy Fitness gym in Mexico City, November 29.

Madonna, always the tough girl, did not let the news of drug-fueled beheadings and butchering in Mexico scare her off.

The pop queen inaugurated her Hard Candy Fitness gym in a posh Mexico City neighborhood on Monday night, with Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in the crowd.

“A lot of places I go to are considered dangerous whether that's Tel Aviv or Rio, [but] that never stops me from going somewhere to put on a show. I'm not hindered by that. I have good security, and I'm not worried about it,” Madonna was quoted as saying at the celebration.

But if drug traffickers could not keep her away, something arguably even scarier might: Mexican bureaucracy.

Two days after the red-carpet gala, authorities told her she could not open doors because she lacked the proper permits and failed to show that she had enough parking spaces for users. The gym has since sorted out their paperwork, but this could just be the beginning of a long ride of permits, stamps, and waits faced by business owners in Mexico.

Demetrio Sodi, who heads the Miguel Hidalgo borough where the gym is located, told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday before the issue was solved: "I think it's very good for the city, very good for the country that Madonna chose Mexico City for a gym, but as borough head I have the authority to check, for example... that there won't be any accidents, that there are emergency exits, that's what we have to check."

Mexican bureaucracy is notorious, and businesses opening – only to close two days later – is nothing new here. In the capital's Condesa neighborhood, full of restaurants and cafes, it seems that every other day a new locale has signs plastered over it reading “clausurado,” or closed down. Officials give any number of reasons for their actions, from improper signage to too many tables on the sidewalk.

(This reporter’s own gym was once closed down for 10 unbearable days. No reason given and no refunds granted, by the way.)

Mexico knows it has a bureaucracy problem. In January 2009, the federal government announced the winners of a contest it held to identify “the most useless procedure” in part of a stated goal to reduce 4,200 "tramites," or registered procedures, to 3,000 by the end of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's term in 2012.

“We want a government that is economic and agile, where public spending does not get stopped in the morass of bureaucracy," Salvador Vega Casillas, head of the federal comptroller's office, told the Monitor. "Much of the paperwork serves no purpose, or is complicated and expensive. With the contest, we wanted to see complaints from the citizen's point of view.”

And from Madonna's point of view? She seems to have escaped the morass, this time, and now she will test the waters elsewhere. Hard Candy Fitness is a chain venture that could see 10 more locations open in Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and in various cities in Europe and Asia, according to the singer’s website.

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