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A Literary Love Affair

Cancun Bashing is in Season

By Jules Siegel

Part One

Bashing Cancun is the fashion in the alternative press these days. Though springbreakers are less than two per cent of Cancun's three million annual visitors, no report fails to call us the springbreak resort. When it comes to what Cancun is all about, the general opinion is that it's bad, very bad. After having lived and worked here with my family since 1983, I disagree.

In an article so twisted and inaccurate that it compares unfavorably with Ann Coulter, The Nation's Marc Cooper presents worst case situations as if they were the rule, making it sound as if Cancun were a vast slum and an environmental disaster and an example of globalization at its worst. Actually, it might be an example of globalization at its best -- except it's not much of an example of globalization at all. Cancun was designed and built and mainly financed by Mexicans.

Many of the hotels carry names such as Omni or Hilton, but they refer to the operating companies that provide connections into the worldwide travel networks. Some of the newer hotels, such as the Spanish Riu resorts, are principally owned by foreigners, but at least 70% of Cancun's hotels are Mexican-owned. Even the franchises such as McDonald's are Mexican companies. The Cancun Domino's Pizza is not only Mexican but locally owned. In town, Wal-Mart is a part of the Mexican Aurrera group.

The waters off Cancun are crystal clear. The lagoons suffer from some contamination, mainly due to illegal discharges by a small minority of hotels and restaurants, but by the standards of most American cities, the lagoons would be considered unpolluted. There is no visible smog here. The underground water table is beginning to show some signs of pollution, but nothing like what's happening to American cities. Garbage collection and disposal do need a lot of work. The city is way behind on solving this. Unfortunately, lower class Mexicans tend to be quite careless about garbage and litter. It's a cultural problem that is going to require a lot of education to correct.

The overwhelming majority of Cancun residents have water, sanitation, health care, electricity and education, and they live in houses made of cement, not tarpaper shacks. A lot of these houses are quite simple, but Cancun's residents are mainly home-owners rather than renters, and they fix up and expand the basic units with surprising speed. There are also substantial areas filled with very comfortable houses and apartments made of cement block, not wallboard as in Los Angeles and other American cities.


"They took care of
me very well."

--Paulina Hau de Puch

Paulina Hau de Puch, a housewife, is one of thousands of Cancunenses covered by the Social Security health service system. She broke her ankle. Her husband is a mason. They live in a cement house and have water and electricity and a septic tank. He earns $20 a day. This is one of three Social Security hospitals in the Cancun area. There's also a city hospital.

Emergency care is also available at the Red Cross at modest cost.

Cooper uses "some" (usually for positive statements), and "many" (almost always for negative statements) without any statistical references that would enable the reader to judge their relative significance. This is especially deceptive where he discusses the number of people who are moving upward as a result of the Cancun economy ("some," according to him; "most," according to any non-environmentalist Cancunense you talk to). He mentions "some" low-cost public housing for workers (which he very unfairly and viciously derides), but not the much larger number of units being built for the middle and upper middle classes. From what I can gather not all the neighborhoods that he visited are slums, but typically mixed mostly low-budget housing areas you see all over Mexico. The style of the houses reflects traditional Mexican vernacular architecture using cement block instead of adobe.

Many of Cancun's residents have come from the most desperately hopeless poverty imaginable. Perhaps the Mexican authorities could have done a better job in handling the massive influx of people attracted by Cancun's success. That's easy to say after the fact. But the absurdly unfair coverage isn't going to help correct this, because the basic slant seems to be that any development is bad, no matter what benefits it brings. That's just ridiculous. Mexico is getting its population growth under control, but where is it supposed to put all those new human beings being born? How is it supposed to feed, house and educate them? Are they to be consigned to hopeless lives in the Lost Cities of the Distrito Federal? Exported to the urban and rural slums of the United States?

He makes it sound as if the entry area slums are bigger than the urbanized areas. They represent anywhere from 10% to 20% of the city, depending upon how you define Cancun. There are a lot of poor people here, but this is Mexico, not Monaco. Almost everyone in Cancun came here from somewhere else. The largest group came from the state of Yucatán (which they left not because of American corn subsidies -- the principal crop being henequen -- but because of intractable poverty and slave labor conditions). Most of the rest come from the Mexico City area, seeking clean air and better jobs. He never asks a very obvious question of any of the people he talks with: Would they like to go back to where they came from?

1: Cancun Bashing is in Season
2: The $7.50 Ice Cream Cone
3: The Myth of the Narco-Resort
4: An Open Letter to The Nation's Marc Cooper


Webmaster: jules_siegel@cafecancun.com



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