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A Happy Ending for Serafin Zambada Ortiz

Los Narcos

Los Narcos

The day Serafin Zambada Ortiz turned 2, a car bomb exploded outside his birthday party.

When he was 9, just hours after he and his mother had left a Mazatlán hotel to treat an outbreak of the chickenpox, an assassin squad stormed inside, killing his grandparents, uncle and aunt.

It’s what happens when your dad is the one of the most powerful narcos in the world.

The constant threat of bloodshed kept Zambada’s world very small as a child, moving him from place to place under the watchful eye of his mother, at times staying hidden indoors while other children got to play soccer.

“I lived in a golden cage with luxuries that were useless,” Zambada wrote of his upbringing amid turbulent narco wars.

Despite his mother’s best efforts to shield him from that world, Zambada couldn’t resist the pull of the family business. By 22, he was the leader of a drug distribution cell, caught on a wiretap conspiring to traffic large quantities of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into San Diego.

By 23, he had made it – he was in jail!

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, more than three years after pleading guilty, Zambada, 27, was sentenced by a San Diego federal judge to 5½ years in prison. The hearing closes a significant chapter in the long-running, ongoing takedown of Mexico’s most powerful trafficking organization: El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel.

The effort to dismantle the group from top to bottom — largely played out in San Diego — has swept up drug distribution networks, smugglers, hit men, high-ranking leaders and money launderers. Many of the prosecutions have been headed by Adam Braverman, a career prosecutor who is San Diego’s newest U.S. attorney (and may not have many more years to live?).

At the very top of the organization are Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — the public face of the Sinaloa — and his co-leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia — Serafin’s father — who has operated more from the shadows.

Guzmán is awaiting trial in Brooklyn on federal charges of heading a massive trafficking operation.

The elder Zambada remains a fugitive, charged in an indictment in San Diego along with two other sons. The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.

Their family history, outlined in letters to the court and in a sentencing memorandum filed by Serafin’s defense attorney, reads like the gritty cross-border crime dramas that glamorize the narco underworld. Except this one is for real!

“El Mayo,” a farmer by trade, was already a rising star by the time he had a chance encounter with Leticia Ortiz Hernandez in Mexicali MaryAnn’s home town of Mexicali in 1988. The two already knew each other, having grown up in neighboring villages outside Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Ortiz, a recent graduate of psychology, ignored the advice of her forest ranger father and restaurateur mother to stay away from the drug trade, and she fell in love with the man 15 years her elder. The couple lived in Tijuana, surrounded by key players in the narco scene.

Ten days after Serafin’s birth across the border in San Diego, future kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix attended the baptism as his godfather, a great honor. Months later at the boy’s confirmation, Amado Carrillo Fuentes — a leading trafficker known as “Lord of the Skies” for his fleet of cocaine-smuggling planes — stood up as another godfather.

Then the peace ended. War broke out with the Arellano-Felix brothers over control of the Tijuana plaza. Serafin’s mother took him and his baby sister to Culiacán, where they thought it would be safer. The car bomb shattered that notion.

“From that day on, our lives were never the same,” the mother recalled in court records. “The same men that not long before stood up for our children in church and promised to raise them to be good Catholics were now trying to kill them.”

She said several teenage boys were murdered in Tijuana for the sole reason that they had played on the same soccer team as “El Mayo’s” older son from a prior relationship.

The brutality went the other way, too — a cycle of retaliation.

“From 1992 to the year 2000 the days were difficult and bloody and a stupid senseless war where many families were destroyed and with a lot of pain in their hearts,” she said.

When Ortiz’s family was killed by rivals, she hid her family from the outside world, frequently moving from home to home and keeping Serafin from school. His father sent armed guards to live with them, which was normal for a narco kid.

Ortiz told Serafin that his grandparents had been killed in a robbery, but he was starting to understand his family’s unusual position in society. He’d spot his father’s picture on wanted posters. While Serafin described his dad as someone who provided “love and affection,” he was not what you might call “a constant presence.”

Ortiz finally took the children and fled to Phoenix, overcome with depression and paranoia. Serafin and his sister, Teresa, got to live as normal schoolchildren there and learned English. But that tranquility ended two years later, when Ortiz’s visa expired, and they returned to the cartel’s stronghold.

Serafin and his sister returned to Arizona — this time without their mother — to attend The Orme School, a prestigious boarding school near Prescott.

They returned to Culiacán after a year.

Sinaloa’s friend-turned-bitter rival, the Arellano-Felix organization, which had dominated the Tijuana routes under Benjamin’s leadership until his 2002 arrest, slowly faded from the scene as it became the target of San Diego prosecutions. Benjamin is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S.

But new rivalries emerged, and the children had to go into hiding again when the Beltran-Leyva Organization splintered from the Sinaloa and a power struggle put family members in the crosshairs. This time, the family escaped to Vancouver, Canada, sometimes called “Hongcouver” for its swelling population of Chinese.

Back in Culiacán, Serafin attended college at the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa to study agronomy, where classmates said he thrived in his studies and soccer. But he was drawn back into the world that he’d been sheltered from for so long.

“Unfortunately, I returned to Culiacán Sinaloa and I say unfortunately because in that city there is nothing more than the drug trade,” he wrote in a letter to the judge.

In 2010, still a teenager, he married a girl who also comes from a family entrenched in trafficking. The young couple had two children.

“I think it was his way of becoming independent and getting out of the bubble he had always felt he lived inside of,” his mother surmised.

Authorities have not released much detail about Zambada’s managerial role in the cartel. Most documents in the case have been filed under seal.

He was arrested on a warrant in November 2013 as he used the pedestrian lanes (the easy way – no need to climb over a wall) to cross into the U.S. at the port of entry in Nogales, Ariz.

Zambada pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to import more than 100 kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico, according to the plea agreement. He also agreed to forfeit $250,000 in drug proceeds, an amount that has been very easily paid.

On Wednesday, Zambada — allowed to temporarily trade in his jail garb for a white dress shirt and blue slacks — apologized through a Spanish interpreter for his crime and said he looks forward to moving on with his life to raise his two children “in the best way possible.”

In his letter to the judge, Zambada explained further: “In this drug business one hurts a lot of people and I your honor regret having been the cause of causing so much damage to many people with the drug business. I have learned here in this place that drugs destroy many lives.”

For such a high-profile defendant, the hearing was noticeably devoid of the usual spirited argument about how much time he deserved behind bars. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys had previously agreed to the prison term, and U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw accepted their recommendation.

While the judge called Zambada’s crime “very significant,” he listed several mitigating factors that made a lower sentence reasonable, including his youth, his “genuine remorse,” the lack of violence in his background and the many letters of support from family and friends depicting him as a polite and helpful young man. Without the departures, Zambada had faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.

It is not known why it took so many years to sentence Zambada. With time already served, he should be out of custody by September, said his defense attorney Saji Vettiyil.

He plans to finish the last bits of schooling to get his college degree and to help his mother with her Mexican lychee and mango farm, possibly distributing the fruit to a U.S. market and live happily ever after.

Amen!

Graham Mackintosh, Baja California Adventurer

Graham Mackintosh and Friend

Graham Mackintosh and Friend

Graham Mackintosh once described himself as the least adventurous person in the world. Some 30 plus years later, he can look back on adventures that most people would never dream of.

Mackintosh was born in London in 1951 of a Scottish father (Inverness)and an Irish mother (Kilrush, Co. Clare), he grew up in Slough, Berkshire, and received a BA Hons degree in Sociology from the University of Leeds.

In 1983 he was a lecturer at a college in England teaching social sciences and special education to unemployed teenagers. Hoping to show his students that a shoestring expedition could be the adventure of a lifetime, Mackintosh, who described himself as the “least adventurous person in the world,” set out to walk around the beautiful but dangerous coastline of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

He was out to to show his students that “the adventure of a lifetime” could be enjoyed on a shoestring budget.

Two years later, he completed his 3.000 mile (4,800-kilometer) circumnavigation walk on foot around the entire coastline of Baja California. He wrote a book about his experience called Into a Desert Place and subsequently won an award for Adventurous Traveler of the Year.

It turned out that one adventure wasn’t enough for the unadventurous Mackintosh, who embarked upon another Baja expedition in 1997, walking 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers
down the mountainous interior of Baja California from the border all the way to Loreto. Journey with a Baja Burro, Mackintosh’s second book, tells the tale of the hike.

Two more books have followed: Nearer My Dog to Thee, the 2001 story of his four months with two street dogs in the Baja mountain range, Sierra San Pedro Mártir, and Marooned with Very Little Beer, which followed a two-month kayaking trip in the Sea of Cortéz, where he also hiked the island, Isla Angel de la Guarda.

Another adventure in 2013 hasn’t yet produced a book, but it is written up on Mackintosh’s website (http://www.grahammackintosh.com/). It was to be one of his biggest challenges — climbing 9,800 foot (3,000-meter)-high Picacho del Diablo, Baja California’s tallest mountain.

He admitted he wasn’t a climber, but allowed that he didn’t undertake such challenges without considering every possibility for things going wrong. Plus, a bit of tension and anxiety, he said, is a good thing.

“You really need a little fear, a little pressure to keep you focused and alert. But not too much that you feel overwhelmed.”

Mackintosh, who now resides in San Diego, California, says all his Baja adventure have begun with that uncomfortable tension, which turns into confidence as he settles into the trip.

He admitted that climbing Picacho del Diablo, or Devil’s Peak, might be beyond him. “But I will at least try and see what happens and be prepared to leave it for another day if necessary.”

As it turned out, he did have to leave it for another day after one of his climbing companions, aged 72, decided en route that he’d best not continue. Mackintosh notes that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination.

He should know, he’s seen a thing or two.

Mackintosh as written a couple of other great books about his adventures, and his bio, photos and all his books are available on his Amazon page.

The U.S. Has No Idea of How to Deal with Mexico

Trump vs Peña Nieto

Trump vs Peña Nieto

Trump’s contemptuous tweet and temper tantrum reflect failed policies

“Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States,” Mexican president Porfirio Díaz once said around the turn of the 20th century.

Today, a Mexican president who is disliked by Mexicans — as is his Institutional Revolutionary Party — is playing “David” to U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s “Goliath.” A testy phone call between Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his United States counterpart Donald Trump was the catalyst for a joint decision to call off a planned meeting between the pair, according to a report published Saturday in the Washington Post.

This month, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a planned meeting in the White House with President Trump. He apparently did not want to be “bullied” by Trump.

Not only did President Trump express contempt for Mexicans in a tweet but in his personal phone call with President Peña Nieto. Trump reportedly threw one of his patented temper tantrums because the Mexican leader essentially told Trump — and for the third time — that he would not offer any Mexican support for Trump’s “beautiful wall” on the Mexico-U.S. border.

“The Washington Post, which first reported the delay earlier on Saturday, said the two leaders spoke for about 50 minutes on Tuesday, February 20. But the discussion led to an impasse when Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of the wall. The Post said that Trump’s border wall proposal took up a considerable portion of a roughly 50-minute conversation between the two leaders last Tuesday and was — as in the past — a major source of contention.

According to Mexican and U.S. officials who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity, Trump refused to agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s repeated assertion that it will not pay for the construction of the wall.

Trump “lost his temper” during the call, one Mexican official said, while U.S. officials instead described the president as frustrated and exasperated because he believed it was unreasonable for Peña Nieto to expect him to walk away from his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The decision dashes arrangements that were agreed to in Washington earlier this month between a delegation of Mexican officials and a team of Trump advisers, led by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The Mexican team, led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray, had left the White House on February 14 believing it had an agreement that wall funding would not be brought up in a meeting between the two presidents.

According to sources cited by prominent Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola, the call not only led to the meeting’s cancelation but has also caused a deterioration in relations between foreign affairs staff in Mexico and their counterparts in Washington.

In an opinion piece published today on the news website Debate, the well-known columnist and news anchor wrote: “I don’t know if they no longer take calls from Videgaray in the White House but what some sources have confided to me is that at other levels of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, bilateral contacts have been broken.”

Loret de Mola described the climate of relations between the two countries as “frozen.”

Prior to the news that Peña Nieto would not travel to Washington, some political analysts in Mexico said meeting Trump would be risky given the U.S. president’s propensity for verbal combat and one-upmanship.

The Mexican president, in contrast, prefers to avoid conflict in face-to-face meetings.

With Mexico’s presidential election just over four months away, there is a risk that any perception of kowtowing to the U.S. could not only be further damaging to Peña Nieto’s already embattled administration but also to the chances of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate, José Antonio Meade.

A clear majority of Mexicans consider the wall proposal as both offensive and racist and several members of the federal government have been at pains to assert that Mexico will under no circumstances pay for it.

Peña Nieto and Trump previously clashed on the same issue in another phone call that took place just a week after the latter’s inauguration in January 2017.  They met on the sidelines at a G20 meeting in Germany in July but neither leader has visited the other in Washington or Mexico City since Trump became president.

A former Mexican ambassador to the United States told the Post that Trump’s unrelenting attitude towards building the wall and making Mexico pay for it has come at a cost to the wider relationship between the two countries.

“The problem is that President Trump has painted himself, President Peña Nieto and the bilateral relationship into a corner,” Arturo Sarukhan said.

“Even from the get-go, the idea of Mexico paying for the wall was never going to fly. His relationship with Mexico isn’t strategically driven. It’s not even business; it’s personal, driven by motivations and triggers, and that’s a huge problem. It could end up with the U.S. asking itself, ‘who lost Mexico?’” he explained.

However, despite the wall issue and NAFTA renegotiation talks that have also been highly contentious, Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray said earlier this month that the bilateral relationship between the two neighbors is closer under Trump than it has been previously.

“I think in many ways the relationship is more fluid,” Videgaray remarked while standing alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Mexico City. “It’s closer than it was with previous administrations, which might be surprising to some people, but that’s a fact of life.”

According to U.S officials, Peña Nieto might make another attempt to visit Washington later in the year and there is also a possibility that he will meet with Trump on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas which will be held in Lima, Peru, in April.

But with the political stakes already high and rising further as the July 1 election approaches, there is a possibility that Peña Nieto and Trump will not hold formal face-to-face talks before the former vacates the president’s office in December.

Both sides agreed, however, that Peña Nieto’s desire to avoid public embarrassment and Trump’s refusal to make that assurance was the crucial factor that led to the cancelation of the bilateral meeting that had been slated to take place in March.

This episode clearly reflects the failed policies toward Mexico that previously peaked in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, way back in 1914 and 1916. Wilson was America’s premier racist president who invaded Mexico twice in two years in failed attempts to influence the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Apparently, Trump has crafted his policy towards Mexico using Wilson’s playbook.

As a candidate, Trump declared what we can consider to be a Mexico policy in his announcement speech in June 2015. “Criminals” and “rapists” seemed to be flooding the United States from Mexico, he said at the time, and his proposed “wall” would end that.

A few weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Trump surprised everyone by flying to Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto. Though Trump never admitted that the Mexican president symbolically slapped Trump around, the Mexican leader announced publicly that he told Trump to his face that Mexico would not pay for “the wall.”

Trump, of course, told a different story, insisting the subject didn’t come up.

The wall continued to be an issue after Trump’s inauguration, with the famous January 2017 phone call between the two presidents. Trump tried to bully the Mexican, who reportedly held out against the new American president.

Trump appears to be totally unschooled on what American policy should be towards Mexico; apparently, he has no idea of the history between the two countries.

Trump is not alone, of course. Much ignorance of Mexico permeates the American media, the general American populace and, of course, the rest of the U.S. government.

The United States does a trillion dollars in NAFTA trade annually with Mexico and Canada. President Trump needs to make nice with its best mutual trading partners — that’s what he should be doing, not picking fights. Instead, he’s nicer even to Russia than to Mexico.

No wonder Trump received only a tiny percentage of the Hispanic vote in 2016. In Colorado, for example, Trump received perhaps only 14% of the Hispanic vote. And in Los Angeles county, a heavily Hispanic county, Trump lost by 48 percentage points.

Cost of living halved for expats in Mexico

MexicaliFood‘In Mexico, you can live like a king for what it costs just to get by in the US’

What is the true cost of living in Mexico? While it can vary considerably depending on location and lifestyle choices, the clear majority of expatriates contacted for a new survey agreed that it is lower than in their home countries.

A Research Study found that most people who relocated to Mexico paid less for goods and services than what they would pay in their country of origin and were therefore able to enjoy a more lavish lifestyle than they could otherwise afford.

Completed by 1,129 expats, the survey offers insights into the spending habits, opinions, experiences and concerns of people who have moved to Mexico to live, either to continue working or to retire.

The study was conducted and published by Best Places in the World to Retire, which also previously published a survey about expats’ expectations before moving to Mexico and the reality they experience once living in the country.

The overwhelming response to the central question in the latest survey — is it cheaper to live in Mexico? — was yes.

Almost half of those surveyed reported that with US $50 or less in Mexico, they could buy the same quality of goods and services that they would pay US $100 for in their home country.

In other words, things cost half or less here than where they previously lived, they said.

A further 36% said that they paid between 25% and 50% less for goods and services in Mexico, meaning that a combined 85% of expat respondents said they pay between half and three-quarters the price of what they would pay for the same thing back home.

Just under 5% of people said that they paid the same or more when shopping in Mexico.

The highest percentage of respondents who said that their cost of living was 50% or less than in their home country live in Baja California (74.2%), followed by Mazatlán (63.1%) and the state of Yucatán (59.1%).

At the other end of the scale, only 28% of Mexico City residents and 33% of Baja California Sur expats said that their cost of living was half or less in Mexico compared to their previous expenses in their home countries.

However, Chuck Bolotin of Best Places in the World to Retire pointed out that even results in the latter — dominated by respondents who live in or near Los Cabos — showed that 90% of expats there experienced lower costs of living, “many of them by quite a bit.”

One respondent who lives in the Puerto Vallarta area said that her rent is probably one-third of what she would be paying in California, while a resident of Mazatlán said “groceries, most services, internet, restaurants, entertainment and travel are all about half the price of Canada’s.”

Another Canadian expat living in Mazatlán pointed out that “the cost of living here can be greatly influenced by one’s choice to buy local or imported goods.”

A younger European expat said that life is expensive in Mexico for people who work here and earn Mexican pesos but for those who are paid salaries in US dollars or euros or live off their savings in those currencies, “it is much cheaper.”

The study also found that those who generated the most savings by moving to Mexico reduced their expenses the least.

However, the lower costs in Mexico meant that they were able to give themselves a significant lifestyle upgrade.

“In Mexico, you can live like a king for what it costs just to get by in the U.S.,” said one American expat who has lived in Mexico for the past 10 years.

A Canadian living in Mazatlán said the savings resulting from moving to Mexico meant that he and his wife could afford things like “front row theater tickets . . . four-star restaurants with live music [and] a personal trainer.”

The lower living costs also translated into less worry about money among respondents with 43% saying that they were much less concerned about their finances compared to when they were in their home country while 24% said they were a little less concerned.

In contrast, just under 10% said that they were a little or a lot more concerned about money while the remainder said they felt about the same.

“Because the cost of living is much lower in Mexico we spend a lot less time and energy thinking about money and just have fun without any guilt,” said a Canadian who lives in Mazatlán.

“For the average retired person money is and will likely always be a concern but that level of concern has been significantly reduced,” said an American who recently moved to Puerto Vallarta.

The study also asked respondents about how much time they spend doing chores in Mexico compared to their home country, contending that it too can affect living costs and quality of life.

Just over 60% of respondents said that they either do much less (41%) or a little less (20%) housework than when they were in their home country, while just over 10% said that they do a little or a lot more.

Increased ability to afford domestic help was cited by several respondents as the main reason why they were able to spend less time doing household chores.

“As Mexican labor is so reasonable, we feel using as much as we can afford us the opportunity to help in appreciation of their gracious acceptance of our being here,” said a Canadian resident in the Lake Chapala area.

Finally, the survey asked respondents where they would have a better overall lifestyle if they spent the same amount of money in Mexico as they would in their country of origin.  The response was resounding.

A total of 80% of respondents said that their lifestyle would be “much better in Mexico” and a further 13% said that it would be a “little better in Mexico.” That comes to 93%, or almost everyone.

“You can really have the champagne and caviar lifestyle here in Mexico on a tuna fish budget,” said one resident of the Lake Chapala area.

However, some respondents pointed out that having a better lifestyle in Mexico wasn’t just about having more money to spend or their money going further than in their home country, citing additional factors such as good weather and simplicity of life.

Residents of the greater Lake Chapala area were most likely to say that their lifestyle would be much better in Mexico than in their home countries by spending the same amount, with 93.5% of respondents indicating so, followed by expats in Mazatlán (90%), San Miguel de Allende (87%), Yucatán (86%) and Baja California (84%).

Poppies replacing pot in Mexico’s drug fields

Poppies

Poppies

In Mexico, opium poppy plantations located by the Mexican military are up 26% in just one year. Once a staple crop for drug traffickers, marijuana is giving way to the opium poppy.

Between 2016 and 2017, the amount of land on which opium poppy plantations were discovered and destroyed by the Mexican Army grew by 26%, from 55,944 to 69,736 acres.

During the same period, land on which marijuana plantations were located dropped 24%, from 5,395 to 4,086 hectares.

Profit is one of the main drivers behind the larger opium poppy production and its increase, Mexican military sources told the newspaper Reforma.

According to figures from the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR), drug traffickers earn US $80 per kilogram of marijuana, while the same amount of heroin — an opium byproduct — can be sold for $35,000 per kilogram.

Mexico is now the third largest producer of opium poppies in the world, behind only the Asian countries of Afghanistan (thanks for the U.S. turning a blind eye) and Myanmar, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Guerrero is the state with the largest amount of land dedicated to growing poppies, followed by the Golden Triangle states of Durango, Sinaloa and Chihuahua.

Military officials believe the states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, Nayarit, Jalisco and Sonora are red flag areas, given the growth seen in the number of opium poppy plantations over the last three years. Consequently, these are not areas in which tourism is safe.

The United States State Department acknowledged last April that it intended to fund a redoubled opium poppy eradication program after detecting a surge in recent years. So far, these efforts have not proved successful.

This comes at a time when the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 64,070 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. That’s a 21 percent increase over the year before. Approximately three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths are now caused by opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions like fentanyl.

It should be pointed out that even though drugs are grown in Mexico, the country has no opiod crises—but the United States does.

In 2017 Walmart Opened 79 New Stores in Mexico!

Jim and I feel real at home in Mexicali because we live quite close to Mexicali’s Walmart.

It is a good thing for Mexicans and expats that Walmart México opened 79 new stores in Mexico last year in 2017, most of them under the Aurrera, Aurrera Express and Mi Bodega brands. But it is also angling for more online sales. This year, 2018, Walmart will begin offering free wireless in most of its stores throughout Mexico.

So far, Walmart has opened 29 stores in central Mexico, 22 in western states, 18 in the north and 10 in southeastern states, creating 4,619 new jobs and 9,120 indirect sources of employment.

In addition to that, two new Sam’s Club stores opened in Mexico City, representing a reactivation of the brand: the last new Sam’s Club opened its doors in 2014.

Walmart is betting that 2018 will be a good one for e-commerce. It announced last month it would install free Wi-Fi in all but one of its stores by mid-year. This includes, Walmart Supercenter, Superama, Sam’s Club, Bodega Aurrera, Mi Bodega Aurrera and Bodega Aurrera Express.

Of these, all but the warehouse-style Bodega Aurrera Express will offer wireless connectivity to its customers. The wi-fi service is already available at the members-only Sam’s Club stores.

Walmart hopes that free Wi-Fi access will help Internet-resistant shoppers to become more comfortable online and ultimately boost Walmart’s growing online e-commerce business, which represented less than 1% of Walmart’s third-quarter sales.

Bringing Wi-Fi to its stores and customers will also allow Walmart to collect data from users of its website, helping to personalize offerings in stores and online with the ability to quickly adjust inventory levels and prices.

Walmart has learned a lesson from Amazon and hopes to become a major on-line presence.

Amazon will soon cap off another banner year: The Internet giant is expected to win roughly half of all online shopping sales this holiday season. But Amazon’s greatest rival, Walmart, wants to beat Amazon at its own game: Walmart recently announced that it grew its online sales 50% year-on-year in Q3 2017. As the de-facto leaders of U.S. retail, the two companies are each spending heavily in an attempt to unseat the other.

The two retail giants have been stepping on each other’s toes lately. Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods can be seen as a defensive move against Walmart’s thriving grocery business. Amazon is also playing offense: The company is going after Walmart’s customer base by offering a discounted Amazon Prime membership to low-income consumers.

Back in 2016, Walmart began an e-commerce buying spree, gobbling up firms such as Jet.com, ShoeBuy, Moosejaw, and Bonobos. The company earlier this year rolled out free two-day shipping for all orders over US$35, and is experimenting with paying workers overtime for delivering packages on their commute home.

So, what’s the advantage for Walmart? First, it is still a much larger company, with revenues of nearly half a trillion dollars—nearly four times Amazon’s. That scale alone enables it to put a much bigger squeeze on suppliers. Second, Walmart generates a large profit—and generates it today.

Walmart’s main revenue driver is its brick-and-mortar retail business, which continues to gain steam amid a world of collapsing retail stores. As of October 2017, more brick-and-mortar store closures had been announced than in any other single year on record. In this low-margin environment, cost efficiency is key—and nobody does cost efficiency better than Walmart, a company that uses its clout to negotiate favorable deals with suppliers and finance its “Everyday Low Prices.” While the rest of retail craters, Walmart plans to add 10,000 retail jobs and 59 new/renovated properties by the end of the fiscal year.

So, what does the future hold? For one, both companies acknowledge that tomorrow’s retail likely will be a blend of online and brick-and-mortar. As TechCrunch columnist Sarah Perez puts it, “Amazon wants to become Walmart before Walmart can become Amazon.” However, the fact is that it may be easier—and cheaper—for Walmart to become Amazon. Walmart has already shown that it is willing to spend big on top tech talent. It would be a lot tougher, on the other hand, for Amazon to pour enough concrete to become a brick-and-mortar powerhouse while still maintaining the company’s culture.

Whoever wins, both Walmart and Amazon may very well outperform the broader market in the years to come. But don’t be surprised if Walmart eventually emerges on top. In Mexico, for one, Walmart is way ahead of Amazon. This presents a major benefit not only for Mexico, but for Americans who live in Mexico and are used to shopping at Walmart.

Mexico continues to move forward, rapidly, to make shopping easy and convenient for all Mexicans and ex-pats, alike!

Central bank auction fails to support Mexican peso

The US dollar and the Mexican peso

The US dollar and the Mexican peso

Efforts to support the Mexican peso amid a slump that has seen it trading at around 20 to the US dollar have failed to apply the brakes on the tumbling currency.

The Bank of México (Banxico) auctioned off an unscheduled US $500 million in foreign exchange hedges yesterday, a measure designed to ease pressure on the peso. But it only provided brief relief as the peso slumped again to end the day at 20.15 pesos per dollar.

The central bank took the decision to make the sale on the questionable advice of the Foreign Exchange Commission, a body made up of officials from the Finance Secretariat (SHCP) and Banxico who are responsible for foreign exchange policy in Mexico.

The Foreign Exchange Commission explained its questionable motivations to intervene via press release, stating, “With the objective of fostering better liquidity conditions, better price discovery and orderly operation [of the exchange market], the commission has decided to instruct the Bank of México to sell exchangeable currency hedges today [yesterday] for the value in national currency of US $500 million.”

The central bank placed US $250 million in a 30-day forward contract and the other US $250 million in a 57-day forward contract.

If the peso has declined further by the time the contracts mature, Banxico will have to pay the difference in pesos but if the currency goes up, it will receive the difference—a dangerous and perhaps ill-advised move.

The central bank’s excuse for the sale is that it allowed the central bank to support the exchange market without eating into Mexico’s international reserves, currently valued at around US $172.5 billion.

The intervention followed the peso depreciating to its lowest level in nine months last Friday, December 22, 2017, perhaps causing the central bank to panic.

Analysts have attributed the dip to high inflation, the threat to investment posed by tax reform in the United States and government corruption scandals that could benefit presidential aspirant Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

But analysts from Banorte-Ixe made the questionable remark that yesterday’s measure showed that the SHCP and Banxico recognized that the recent increase in volatility was largely the result of the US $1.5 trillion tax cut package signed into law last week by United States President Donald Trump—but how does that make sense?

The chief economic analyst at Banco Base, Gabriela Siller, said the exchange rate would remain vulnerable in 2018 due to speculation related to the July 1 presidential election.

Even though this is great news for American and other expats visiting or living in Mexico, it is bad news for Mexico and its people.

Peso falls to 19.725

20 Pesos now only worth about one US dollar

20 Pesos now only worth about one US dollar

The Mexican peso slumped to its lowest level in nine months today, falling 1% to 19.725 pesos to the U.S. dollar today.

Reuters cited high inflation, the threat to investment posed by fiscal reform in the United States and corruption scandals in Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—as reasons for the drop.

The peso hasn’t been this low since March 2017 and this week is likely to be the worst for the peso since United States President Donald Trump took office in January. The peso has shed 6% of its value this month alone. However, it is still stronger than just before Trump was sworn in when it traded at a historic low of 22 pesos to the dollar.

Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) amid pressure from Trump to rework the treaty as well as threats to terminate the deal altogether have also placed downward pressure on the peso, with analysts predicting that the trend will continue in 2018.

Banco Base analyst Gabriela Siller highlighted the volatility of the currency based on the U.S. president’s rhetorical whim. “With the level it’s at now, it’s likely that it will go to 20 pesos, especially if Trump speaks out about NAFTA again,” she said.

Inflation rose slightly above analysts’ expectations in the first half of December to 6.69%, around double the US rate, continuing pressure on the Bank of México to maintain high interest rates which currently stand at 7%.

United States tax reform, now signed into law, is also concerning because there are fears that Mexico may lose out on some investment opportunities to the US.

The head of a United Nations economic commission said that the US tax reform will have an impact on the Mexican economy, but some others have downplayed the potential damage it may cause.

Citibanamex analysts pointed to a new and still developing corruption scandal in the PRI as another factor for the weakness of the peso.

An adjunct secretary to the PRI presidency, Alejandro Gutiérrez, was arrested Wednesday and accused of diverting taxpayer money to a political campaign in the northern state of Chihuahua Gutiérrez has denied the allegations, but analysts believe that it could provide a further boost to third-time presidential aspirant López Obrador, who has vowed to stamp out corruption and inequality while trying at the same time to shake off an image that he is anti-business.

A recent survey by polling company Parametria showed that he had an 11-point lead over his rivals. They include declared pre-candidates José Antonio Meade for the PRI and former National Action Party (PAN) president Ricardo Anaya, who is running under a coalition the PAN formed with the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizens’ Movement Party.

One good result is that Mexico continues to be very inexpensive for visiting American expat and those living in Mexico.

Medical Tourism Booming in Los Algodones

Los Algodones, Mexico on the border near Yuma, Arizona

Los Algodones, Mexico on the border near Yuma, Arizona

Los Algodones, Mexico is right on the border with the USA, just a scant 10-mile drive from Yuma, Arizona and Highway 10. Los Algodones is a Mecca for medical tourism. You hear the comments, “Major dental work… the cost savings is incredible,” “I come here for medicines, I come here for dental work,” “I came down here last May for Dental work.”  While visiting Los Algodones, this is what some visitors had to say about their visit.

The residents and visitors to the Yuma area also find that the health care providers offer an affordable alternative to the high and increasing costs seen for health care on the U.S. side of the border. In addition, there are parking lots on the U.S. side of the border that allow visitors to walk in to this town and return without the hassle of crossing the border in your car. You really don’t need a car in Los Algodones as all the major medical facilities, pharmacies, restaurants and shopping are within easy walking distance.

With high quality, cheap and fast medical and prescription drug services, it attracts Americans and Canadians alike. People near and far visit Los Algodones, bringing their business and to spend money on cheaper products like prescription drugs. For example, an asthma prescription in Mexico costs about $60… in the United States, it’s about three times as much. In addition, there are medical procedures in Los Algodones that do not exist in the States, mainly stem-cell treatments.

However, inexpensive prescription drugs (often without a  prescription) aren’t the only thing that is bringing visitors to the city. “The dentists are fantastic and they’re quick,” one visitor said. “Pricing, professionalism, and they take care of you,” another visitor added. A few visitors even added that the atmosphere is what keeps bringing them back to Los Algodones. There are some great restaurants in Los Algodones, and you can drink the water there, as both Jim and I can attest.

With visitors from the United States and Canada, pharmacy employees say that business has increased. “Business is picking up 100%. There’s going to be double the tourists this year because of the tornadoes that happened in Texas and Florida,” Miguel Gil said, who works at Pharmacy Liquis, one of the major pharmacies in town. He also added that going to Los Algodones is a great alternative to getting medical services in the United States. “We all have the same quality, same materials, same everything for about 10 to 15 times cheaper,” said Gil. With an influx of new winter visitors, these businesses are serving more people. “Two thousand people, a day. Here, and those opticians, three pharmacies, medical doctors, I’m including them all,” Gil said. When Jim and I asked employees when they noticed an increase of visitors over last year, they said it started about two weeks ago.

To further accommodate tourists to the area, there are RV parks on the States side of the border, and even the fancy Quechan Casino with all its attractions.

RV parks in Yuma are seeing an increase this year because of the Canadian currency rate. At one point last year, the Canadian dollar was poor, in the mid to low 60’s.  Now it’s up to 78 cents to the dollar and the fact that it has improved means great things for our economy as RV parks are seeing less cancellations and more bookings. Local RV parks such as ‘Glenaire Mobile Home’ and ‘Westward Village’ are almost at full capacity and it’s not even prime season yet.

“Winter visitors come in all different forms, most of them do travel in motor homes and stay in the RV parks, so we stay in really close contact with the r parks and they let us know how their doing as far as occupancy and some of them are reporting either at capacity or near capacity,” said Linda Morgan, Executive Director for ‘Visit Yuma.’

Another reason for the boom? The recent tragedies across the country with natural disasters have left people leaving areas like Florida and Texas; Once prime vacation spots for visitors, Yuma and the surrounding territory has now become their new vacation area for the winter season.

 

Why Mexico? Here’s Why!!!

Best Places in the World to Retire!

Best Places in the World to Retire!

Why do expatriates like Jim and me move to Mexico? Weather, cost of living and a simpler lifestyle were the top reasons offered by the vast majority of expats contacted for a new survey.

Expats in Medico: A Research Study found too that most of those who relocated to Mexico saw their expectations met and were happy they moved. It was completed by 1,129 expats, the survey offers insight into the motivations, expectations, concerns, experiences and opinions of people who have moved to Mexico to live, either to continue working or to retire.

The study was conducted and published by Best Places in the World to Retire, and the very comprehensive report is “a must-read” for anyone considering moving to Mexico.

“This study contains the answers to the most basic, most interesting questions about people moving to Mexico. Why did they do it? What were their expectations? What were their fears? What surprised them? How did it all turn out?” are all to be found in Best Places in the World to Retire.

By all accounts in the report, it worked out extremely well for most.

There were three clear-cut winners among the reasons why expats decided to move to Mexico: (1) over 80% of respondents cited better weather, (2) a lower cost of living or a (3) desire to have a simpler, less stressful life.

The next three reasons cited — at considerably lower percentages — were a desire to have a less materialistic, more meaningful life, a more romantic, exotic or adventurous life or to have better access to less expensive, quality health care.

Other, more specific factors were revealed in respondents’ comments.

“I wanted some place where I could easily return to the United States,” said one Mazatlán resident, while an expat living in Puerto Vallarta cited “freedom, fewer rules, regulations and red tape,” as the main reason he decided to move to Mexico.  Of course, being in Mexicali and having SENTRI passes, Jim and I can get from our house to Calexico, California in an easy ten minutes.

Over 80% said that they had achieved a lower cost of living and enjoyed better weather but the third top reason cited for moving to Mexico — the desire to have a simpler, less stressful life — proved only slightly more elusive with just over 75% saying they had actually achieved it.

Still, a significant majority of people responded that they had achieved their goals for moving to Mexico, indicating that most were happy with their decision to move.

Interestingly, women reported that they had achieved their goals at even higher rates than men.

Overall, the survey data showed that most people’s expectations were largely met and in many cases exceeded, especially with regard to access to high quality, low-cost health care.

However, living a simpler, more stressful life was one exception as a lower percentage actually achieved the goal compared to the percentage of people who cited it as a motivation for moving to Mexico, although the difference was minimal.

In respondents’ comments, working expatriates cited having a healthier work-life balance as an advantage of living in Mexico while many also stressed the emphasis placed on spending time with family as a positive aspect of the Mexican culture.

The survey found that respondents’ primary concern about moving to Mexico was not being able to communicate. Thirty-one per cent said they were worried they would not be able to speak or learn Spanish or get by in their daily life with only English. Luckily for us, Jim spoke Spanish before we came to Mexicali, and I have picked it up pretty (with – watch out – here comes my commercial – with Synergy Spanish).

However, the same percentage said they were not worried about any of the concerns suggested by the survey.

The next biggest concerns were missing family and friends, underdeveloped infrastructure, health care accessibility and insecurity, although it is worth noting that none of those issues worried more than a quarter of those polled. Being so close to the USA, Jim and I have no problems with our kids or relatives coming to visit us, or vice-versa.

“I didn’t have any worries . . . I don’t believe in borders so I thought, if Mexicans can live here, we should be able to as well,” said a resident of Puerto Vallarta, while others said that previous visits or research they had done prior to moving allayed any fears they might have otherwise had.

Just over 70% of respondents said that none of the fears or concerns they had about living in Mexico came true. Slightly more than 10% said they missed first world goods and services while just under 10% said that infrastructure including internet, roads and electricity was substandard.

All other concerns registered single-digit percentages of around 5% or less and notably, just 3.3% of respondents said the ability to communicate remained a concern for them after they became established in their new home.

Only 4.5% said security was a concern despite gang turf wars, which is pretty much limited to the gangs, themselves—just like back in the USA.

One respondent said, “. . . having lived in Mexico for over 10 years I can tell you Sonora is safer than Arizona,” making a similar point to the Baja California tourism secretary who recently said that tourists are safer in Baja California than California.

A Yucatán resident said that living in Mérida “is fast becoming more and more like living in Florida.”

A resounding 76.5% responded “very much yes” when asked whether they would make the same decision to move to Mexico if given the opportunity to do so while a further 16% said “probably.”

“I don’t know” and “probably not” both came in at under 4% of respondents and just 1.6% responded “absolutely not” to the question.

A recurring comment from respondents was a recommendation to potential new expats to rent in Mexico initially before deciding whether or not to buy a house.

Over half of respondents said that living in Mexico was much better than they expected and when combined with those who said that it was a little better, the proportion reached almost three-quarters of those surveyed.

Around 22% said it was about the same as they expected and less than 4% of respondents said that living in Mexico was a lot worse or a little worse than expected.

Over 80% of people said that they enjoyed life in Mexico “much more” or “a little more” than in their country of origin while the same percentage also said they were “a lot less” or “a little less” stressed living in Mexico. A similar percentage said they were “much happier” or “somewhat happier” living in Mexico.

Is anyone planning to go home?

Forty-one per cent said they had no plans to return to their country of origin and just under 40% said they hadn’t made any plans or were unsure. Just over 7% said they either planned to return soon or in the next five years while 13% said they would only return whey they were very old or if they were sick.

Among the comments: “spread my ashes out there with the whales” from a resident of Puerto Vallarta while a Lake Chapala expat said, “the Mexican culture honors the elderly and treats them with so much compassion.”

Several other respondents cited improved medical services as a factor that would enable them to stay longer in Mexico.

The full survey can be downloaded here at the Best Places in the World to Retire.