Tag Archives: Guanajuato

Getting Legal–Trip 1

In order to avoid denial due to spelling or format errors, I trotted next door and had this office fill out my forms.

In order to avoid denial due to spelling or format errors, I trotted next door and had this office fill out my forms.

I have been living in México for 7 years and every year I go to San Miguel de Allende to the Mexican Immigration office to apply for permission to live here another year. When I entered México, I had a 6-month tourist visa. Then 6 months later, I had an FM-3. I had that for 3 years then moved up to an FM-2. I applied as a dependent familiar (family dependent) since the requirements were not so stringent. When I met the residency requirements, I started investigating what I would need to become a citizen and in order to give up these yearly trips and expenses as exciting as they may be.

First, the immigration office in San Miguel de Allende sent me to the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores in my hometown, Moroleón. There I was told that they didn’t do that sort of thing anymore and I would have to go to Morelia. So I went to Morelia and was told that since my legal address was in Guanajuato and Morelia was in Michoacan, I would need to go to León. So I went to León. And in León, I was told that because the name on my passport and Mexican identification was different from my name on my birth certificate, (my passport and ID had my married name) they would have to send my application on to Mexico City for approval. Well, I’m still waiting for that approval.

So thus defeated in my quest to become Mexican citizen last year, this year I went back to San Miguel de Allende to renew my Mexican identification and was told that because I had 4 years with the FM-3 classification I would not be able to get a renewal, unless I left the country and went to a Mexican consulate in the U.S. and started the process over again.

But wait, the law changed last November and I could qualify for permanent residency now. Yippee!! That meant I would no longer need to make the trip to immigration in San Miguel de Allende ever again! But of course, I wouldn’t be able to vote, own a foreign car, become alcalde (mayor) or own property, however, it would make my transition to naturalized citizen that much easier. So I said, sign me up!

Well, of course, it wasn’t that easy. I went the 25th of the month, but my identification didn’t expire until the 2nd of the following month, so my application couldn’t be processed until then. So I would have to come back on the 2nd when my papers could be accepted. Okie Dokie!

In order to not have wasted the trip, we headed next door to the lawyer’s office where we had the necessary paperwork drawn up. I could do it myself, however, I didn’t want my application to be denied on the basis of a spelling error. So the secretary completed my online application, wrote the letter asking for my change of status on the basis of being in the country 4 years and being the wife of a Mexican, took my picture (3 front facing, no earrings, no glasses, no bangs and one side facing, ears exposed), made copies of my Mexican ID, my U.S. passport, my Mexican marriage certificate, and my husband’s ID (IFE). When my husband handed over his ID, I took a quick look at it, and then had to look again. Dios mío! He looked like a serial killer in that picture. I can’t even begin to imagine what the approval committee said when they got a load of him as he looked there. Well, even serial killers have wives I guess.

The secretary gave me all the paperwork and the receipts that I needed to present at Banamex for payment, one for $1000 pesos and a second for $3812 pesos. The immigration office does not accept any sort of cash, all transactions have to be made at the bank. I expect that reduces the number of mordidas (bribes) offered and received. And so, the grand total for my paperwork was $720 pesos, which is about what I earn in a week. Then there were the mordidas in Celaya, (See Driving Hazards) gas, food and hair dye (I wasn’t about to have my application read :entre canas (gray-haired) which in all added another $1000 to that first trip. Cha-Ching!$$$ But I was on my way to permanent residency at long last.

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Failing at your own business–Taxi service

After dinner, last week, my husband began by saying I should hear him out about this plan he has and I immediately perked up and took notice. What new plan was this??? So he started with “There is this group of women and they would pay $100 each. . .” I thought perhaps he was talking about a tanda, which is a sort of chain savings plan where a number of women contribute a portion of their weekly earnings, paying it to the designated hostess and receiving it the week of her own hosting. I tuned out of the conversation for a bit while I tried to think of the word tanda and came back to full attention when my husband started making hugging and kissing pantomimes. What was he talking about?

His sister L, he continued, wanted to visit her young boyfriend (see Parenting challenge–Independence vs. safety) who is currently serving a five-year stint in the bote (jail) near Valle de Santiago on Sunday for a visit. She asked if my husband would drive her there in the truck. She had a group of 9 ladies or so that also wanted to go to visit their significant others and they would pay $100 pesos each for the ride. My husband pressed me to agree by saying we could drop them off at the jail, then go to the tianguis (flea market) in Valle and spend the day leisurely enjoying the shopping and refreshments with the profits of the trip.

I reminded him that every single one of his sister’s plans has caused problems for us. Her last move gave my husband a hernia, her involvement in some of our money making schemes has cost us money and so on. As recent as a week previously, she and the strapping Cornhusker-grown wife of M were brawling in the streets while my husband was trying to close a deal on the burra (donkey)  and he pretended he didn’t know either of them. How could any idea of hers be a good idea?

What if she was planning on breaking her man out of jail? I could just picture them, 9 cholos climbing out of the wrenched jailhouse bars that had been tied to the hitch of the truck, holding their pants in one hand and hopping in the back of the get-away vehicle (driven by my husband) with police and their Uzis firing after us.

As it appeared I wasn’t going to agree, my husband played his trump card. Well, if that did happen, he said, it would be something interesting for me to write about on my blog. OK. I’m in.

This was one time that the reality didn’t live up to my imagination. We got up at the unearthly hour of 4 a.m. Sunday morning so that we could take care of the animals before we left. We began the pickup round for inmate wives and families at 5 a.m.

I have privileged status, being the wife of the driver, so I sat in the front seat. My son, however, was ousted to the back of the truck so that a wife and baby could be in the front. I also was given a baby, a little tike about 3 months old, to hold. Although the driver is required to wear a seatbelt, no one else in the vehicle is subject to that law. Therefore, we held the babies in our laps. Fortunately, neither baby was fussy, so it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.

jail

The State Penitentiary outside Valle de Santiago

We arrived at the Ceresa (State Penitentiary) about 7 a.m. The ladies hurried to the gate, leaving their children behind in my care, to get their ficha (number). They came back 20 minutes later or so, happy. All of them had scored numbers between 30 and 40, so they would be towards the head of the line. Then they scattered again to hunt down pan (bread) sold by local vendors. They came back with 2 to 3 bags each. These sweetbreads were to leave with their incarcerated significant other for breakfast for the week. There seems to be a concern that the inmates aren’t fed, but I think that’s just not true. I’ve seen some recently released men and they are in no way starving–in fact they were some of the fattest men I came across in Mexico. But then again, maybe their wives and mothers are very conscientious about their weekly visit.

After the bread rush, the ladies rushed to the gate for a second time to claim their credenciales (visitor’s passes). Each lady has her own laminated card, complete with her name and picture, the name of the inmate she is visiting, and the relationship to the inmate. My husband’s sister is not married to her young cholo, so I asked to see her card. She is listed as being G’s concubina (concubine). I had no idea that being a concubine was a legal status here in México. Well, I expect that makes it easier for her to request conjugal rights.

So by then the sun had come up, so the ladies began to primp and preen as any girl might before a hot date. Gel and blush, combing hair and brushing teeth, even a quick change of shirt, something more feminine. I shamelessly eavesdropped while they worked on themselves and each other.

So I learned about the trip last week to see the hombres encuarados (nearly naked men) and some mean gossip about two other ladies that didn’t travel with us. I was especially interested in what their men had done to be in the carcel (jail) in the first place, but I didn’t know them well enough to ask. However, my husband’s sister was free with her own gossip. The one girl with the 2 kids that sat next to me was the daughter-in-law of the lady who gave us donuts. They were here to visit a man who was in for 7 years for beating another man to death with a stone in La Yacata. (Hmm, must have been before we moved there.) The mother of the baby I held during the trip was there to visit her man who had been arrested for selling drugs, like G. The older lady was there to visit her husband who was in year 7 of a 12-year sentence, but my husband’s sister didn’t know for what. And the last lady was there to visit her husband who was in for 30 years for kidnapping an elderly man and holding him for ransom.

Enough gossip, it was time to line up. They left their jackets, cell phones and purses in my care. My husband helped them carry their babies and bags of food to the line. They were called in by groups of 10. We waited until we were pretty certain they had all been admitted and then went to look for breakfast.

Even by rural standards, there was nothing nearby that even resembled a store or restaurant. We stopped at a place that had a few tables set up in the yard desperate to eat. The only thing on the menu was carnitas (fried pork) which is not what I really wanted for breakfast, but the pico de gallo and salsa were very good.

carnitas express

Breakfast of champions in Puebla Nueva

So then we went in search of a gas station. We didn’t have to wait in line and they had free and clean bathrooms.

getting gas

Waiting in line at the gas station in Villa Nueva

We couldn’t afford to drive around and waste gas, so we went back to jail and parked under a mesquite tree outside the compound to wait for our passengers. With the heat and the owls hooting in the palm trees, I soon fell asleep.

Patience is a virtue that we have learned to perfect in México. My husband has taken up smoking to help him to wile away these long waiting periods and keep him calm. My son has learned to bring his rechargeable games (DS or PSP) when we expect something like this to happen. I bring my notebook to record everything for posterity. So went the afternoon. No shopping, no escaping cholos, nothing but the heat and an occasional passing vehicle.

traffic

My siesta was disturbed by the passing traffic.

So at 3 p.m. we entered the prison compound again. My husband went to wait by the door when he saw ladies beginning to trickle out. I was approached by some other lady, not one that had traveled with us who said that she was the friend of Mari (I still don’t know which one was Mari) and that she was going to leave these 2 benches with us to take back to Moroleón. I said, sure. Then she went back for 2 more. About 30 minutes later, our passenger ladies came out loaded with things. My husband moved the truck closer to the door. The ladies were peeved that there were already furniture items in the back because that meant less room for their own things.

front door

Front door at the Ceresa

They had large wooden framed paintings of the Virgen of Guadalupe, several more benches, a large TV stand, a child’s desk, two children’s hat stands and some little end tables. My husband’s sister had a centerpiece sized paper swan that she was all paranoid about having damage. (I guess her man isn’t as talented as some and that was the best he could come up with.) After a bit of maneuvering of babies, women and furniture bits, we were finally loaded and left the compound at 5 p.m.

The significant other ladies all sported nice collections of hickeys that they did not have in the morning. I suppose it makes sense that since their men can’t be there to make sure the ladies aren’t stepping out during the week, that they mark their territories with hickeys during visiting hours.

One under way, I asked that lady in the front about the furniture. It seems there is quite a prison industry going on. The inmates that wish to work are given materials and a weekly wage (about $700 pesos per week) and make these items. Their wives and mothers then come and pick up the items and sell them in their hometowns. The inmates also make shoes that can be ordered through by catalog.

I was amazed. $700 pesos a week! I expect that the families of many of these inmate workers are earning more now that their men are behind bars than they were before. Work is scarce in this area. Crime does pay after all.

So we made it back to Moroleón before it began to rain, made the drop offs and arrived home about 7 p.m. After we fed and watered the animals, I asked my husband how much money he had made with this venture. He ruefully admitted that he only had $300 pesos free and clear, after gas and tolls. It hadn’t been a good money-making plan after all but it did make a good story.

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Safety and security (or lack of) in these parts

 

Masked persons may or may not be members of the official police force here in Mexico. Numerous crimes are committed daily by those dressed much like those pictured here.

Masked persons may or may not be members of the official police force here in Mexico. Numerous crimes are committed daily by those dressed much like those pictured here.

Last weekend, my husband and one of his friends A, went to Cerano for the weekly tianguis (flea market). On the way home, they were stopped by los cappuchis (masked ‘policemen’) who examined their papers, searched the vehicle and ended up demanding a mordida (bribe) which was all the cash the two had on them.

This is just another case in point in a long line of problems with the police or supposed police, it’s hard to say which is which these days. So why is it that those paid to serve and defend are in the midst of this sort of activity?

Perhaps because we live less than an hour from the Michoacan-Guanajuato border. The ‘police’ arrive in town, accept these not-so voluntary contributions, make off with parked vehicles, even as far as targeting wealthy-looking persons for kidnapping and head back to Michoacan, outside the Guanajuato jurisdiction.

I can’t even begin to list all the times my husband has been charged a mordida, which translates a “little bite” as in little bite of the apple. On the moto, in the truck, and even while on horseback, police have stopped, searched, and relieved him of cash or other easily transportable items like tools or cds.

We once made the mistake of reporting a particularly big mordida to the chief of state police several years ago. We filled out the report and had it sent to Guanajuato. The police involved were suspended 2 weeks, but had their revenge. My husband was out and about and had a flat tire one day. While waiting for the tow truck, the same police that we had reported stopped and arrested him on a pretext of obstructing traffic or something or other. Two years later, he gets a summons and we make the trip to Guanajuato where his license was suspended for 180 days. In the scheme of things doesn’t seem like much, however there were the expenses of the trip there and back and the nuisance of 6 months without a license, then having to pay to have it reissued. So it seems there isn’t anything else to do but pay up.

Things can be much worse than a mordida. Kidnapping happens on a regular basis. Typically the kidnapped victim is an adult male whose family has money. I suppose women are not kidnapped because there is some doubt whether a ransom would be paid once her reputation is compromised by being in unchaperoned, unknown parts with unknown (probably male) kidnappers. Male victims on the other hand, have a plethora of female relatives that will pull out all stops and get the money for the ransom together.

My husband was kidnapped our first year in Mexico. We had gone to Cerano to visit his relatives (seems a dangerous corridor to drive) and were stopped by the ‘military’ on the way back. They searched our vehicle and asked some questions and saw that we had cash on hand. My husband had some 2000 pesos in his wallet to buy a door for the house. From me they gleaned that we had some land (although its only 2 measly lots) and our vehicle was luxurious for these parts as we were still driving our 2000 GMC Sierra. After all that, we went on our merry way back to La Yacata.

Someone on the ‘military’ team alerted the kidnappers that we were potential victims and they followed us to La Yacata. Otherwise, remote as it is, no one would think to look for us there. Additionally the address that was on my husband’s license and registration was that of his brother’s house since La Yacata had no street names yet. Unsuspecting, my son and I got out at the house and my husband took the truck up the hill to cut some inquierta (a vine plant that grows in trees and has orange flowers and black berries) for the goats to eat.

About 30 minutes later, his parents and I were outside talking and saw the truck attempting to come down a road that was not finished. We wondered aloud what on earth my husband was doing since he knew that road was closed and went back to the conversation. A little while later, a green van came down the road, again with little comment from us.

But my husband didn’t come back. I sat at the door all night and waited for him. His brother thought he might have gone drinking and stayed in town, but I knew him. He would not leave us alone all night.

Around 5 a.m. he pulled up and practically fell out of the truck. He had awoken in Uriangato, a neighboring town, dazed and disoriented.

He doesn’t remember much, but says that when he had jumped down from the tree, there were about 5 or 6 young guys. There must have been one behind him with something on a cloth to make him pass out, because he said the next thing he knew, he was lying on a bed in an unfamiliar room. Gathering his wits, he broke the window and jumped out. Someone entered when he was jumping and tried to restrain him, but he shook him off. Then he spotted the truck parked down the road, took out the spare key which was hidden under the front bumper, opened the door and revved off, relieved of his wallet and, of course ,the money, and various little things that had been in the truck. It took him some time to orient himself and find the road back to Moroleón, but find it he did.

For a time he was shaken up, but then he was angry and wanted to go and try to find the guys. That phase passed too. We were fortunate. Several other persons of my acquaintance have been kidnapped. Its quite an ordeal, no water, no bathroom, physical and emotional abuse, calls and messages to family members to pay up. The physically and emotional trauma is intense and causes life-long problems, both in terms of health and psychological issues. And emotionally, if it happens in your own home, how does one recover the sense of security lost? Not to mention the monetary aspect. The current going rate is $500,000 U.S. dollars, not exactly chump change.

For our part, we sold our nice truck and bought a 1980 model with a few bangs in it already. Looking as poor as we are, perhaps trying to blend in, has relieved some of our anxiety. However, the random stops and searches, valid pretext or not, the mordidas, kidnappings, robberies have not been halted and makes a daily trek to the store a voyage frought with unexpected dangers.

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