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earthquakes, boating and harbor fees, summer electricity costs, flu prevention....

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Founder of The Net announces retirement, death of Tony Reyes, closing of stores due to the depression, the space station sighting, winter electricity rates, ATM fraud, Puerto Penasco's new airport, tourist spending..

January 2010
Kitesurfing in the windy months, the South Campos land problems, strange fish at Bahia Santa Maria, moving the fisherman statue from the Malecon, rains of the week of 18 January.

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El Nino, drug cartel operations, the Chile earthquake, tightening of border crossing regulations, the Baja 250, tourism decline..

April 2010 - the Mexicali earthquake and its aftermath

May-June 2010 - more earthquake news, extensive reapirs to roads, Memorial Day, Vaquita, property ownership problems

July-August 2010 - Profeco and property title issues with delinquent developers, July 4th, summer heat, cheap housing, money regulations, road repairs in earthquake territory, the new legal system, future cable television service, new SENTRI lanes, International Space Station sightings, more earthquake news, chiles en nogada in San Felipe.

 

Regional News Topics, the San Felipe Economy and more.....

...by Tony Colleraine .... contact

 

 

Thursday 30 September 2010

Another warm and humid day in San Felipe. Clouds are drifting north up the Gulf and we have periods of sunshine and shade in town; a blessed relief from the merciless beating down of the naked sun. Mexicali had quite a little thunderstorm in the early hours of this morning but no rain here so far.

The center of town is very quiet and many shops are closed for the mid-week "siesta", though they will be alive for the weekend crowds. I was surprised to see quite a convoy of trucks coming in loaded with quads and bikes, clearly some group is having a long weekend here and will be enjoying the broad, sandy, beaches for the next few days. Although the environmental agency, PROFEPA, has been trying to stop the beach vehicles, it seems that they are backing off during this period of slow tourism so that we can attract as much business as possible to our beachfront hotels and condos. Don't forget, however, that glass bottles on the beach are a no-no!

Our new literary star in town, Jacqueline Devereaux, has been getting up at the crack of dawn and doing a lot of photography. Some of the sunrise pictures are spectacular and I will put a few in our Photo Gallery section soon. The cloud cover that we have been having for the past week has resulted in incredible colors. Here is one of Jackie's pictures from this morning:

 

Wednesday 29 September

I want to thank the three people who made a donation to get the weather page camera working again. Unfortunately, there was not enough money to buy one of the new generation cameras but I was able to cannibalize other equipment I had and buy a few Radio Shack parts to rebuild the 2003 unit. It is up and functioning again - at least till the next major glitch comes from the CFE. A small visualization is here:

 

Tuesday 28 September

The Tecate Baja 1000 preliminary course map has been released and it shows the race starting in Enseanda and coming through San Felipe on the way to La Paz. This should bring us some much-needed business! Practice runs start Wednesday October 27th and the actual race is 17-20 November. Expect a frenzy of room bookings for this event.

Monday 27 September

I was afraid that fall had already arrived but thankfully it got a tad warmer again on Sunday and we still may have another week of the famous San Felipe summer to enjoy. Actually, the temperatures are not so high at 90 F, it is the wave of high humidity that is being sucked northward up the Gulf that just makes it feel less like fall. Meanwhile, back in California, San Diego and the Imperial Valley are enduring scorching temperatures with a very high threat of wildfires. Already a large forest fire is raging at the border near Tecate. Thank goodness that our cactus does not easily catch fire!

You can see the cloud cover, and its associated humidity, over mainland Mexico and the Sea of Cortez in this morning's satellite picture:

Now that the weekend crowds have gone home I am going to venture into town and see if there are any goods left in the stores.

Saturday 25 September

Moon over Miami San Felipe

You just can't beat this weather for a wonderful weekend at the beach in San Felipe. Warm, with pleasant breezes and the sea temperature is back up to 86 F. No fear of hypothermia from floating around on an air mattress with a can or two of NewMix, and you can feel the shrimp underfoot when you wade back to shore. It is just too bad that so many of our California and Arizona friends are suffering from the economic malaise that prevents them from enjoying life and visiting San Felipe. This afternoon, I counted over twenty-three people, seven quads, one motorbike, two of those annoying little "golfcarts" without mufflers, and one coco loco truck between the harbor and La Hacienda.

Fun with your waverunner

The shrimp panges have been going out at around 4:30 each morning and returning with their bounty by noon. It reminded me of this old story from our archives about the Harvard MBA and the local fisherman...>> I stopped at Reubens fish store and saw todays catch, excellent size and quality but at a cost of $15 per Kilo they are only for the rich.

The city of Mexicali is having a drive to try for a Guinness Book of Records entry to spay 1000 dogs and cats in a period of four days from 21-24 October. The event is being sponsored by Spay International and organized by the local "Peoples for Animals" of which Patricia Torres is President. The hope is that each animal can be in-and-out in two hours. The DIF organization is taking appointments and the event is said to be going on at Plaza Cachanilla fom 9 am to 4 pm on each designated day. San Felipe is a part of Mexicali so it is likely that dogs and cats from here would qualify for the life-changing experience. I believe that each operation will cost 100 pesos, far less than what a private vet would charge.

Thursday 23 September

Georgette made her way into mainland Mexico yesterday and is bringing wild weather to the south-central areas of the USA. However, she has had an effect on San Felipe. We woke this morning to mild temperatures and refreshing northerly winds. The sea is rough and the shrimp boats that were out in force last night have run for cover. High tides, rapid currents and strong winds are not what you need for shrimping. So far, no noticeable beach erosion. I think it is safe to say that the change in season is with us - right on time. What a relief to be able to shut off the air conditioning for the year.

I am hoping to ressurect the tide camera one day soon as the old one was burned out by a major power problem. Any PayPal donations to tony@sanfelipe.com.mx will be very much appreciated for this task.

Most people who settle here get resigned to the electrical problems that we have. Surges and crashes are common, particularly when drunk drivers hit the utility poles along the side of the road and cause breakages in the cables, loss of a phase, major flashes as the cables touch, or worst of all, loss of ground. Do not think that you are immune because your computer or flat screen TV is on a UPS/surge arrester. These things are good only for the most momentary of glitches. When your voltage goes up to 150 volts for a few minutes your appliances full of modern electronics get fried.

There is a lot to be said for the old, rugged, airconditioners of 10 years ago - the ones with an on-off switch, thermostat knob and little else. These actually thrived on higher voltage to help them start. In fact, the CFE used to come around at the beginning of every summer season and raise the taps on the local distribution transformers to give us that "boost". The old incandescent lightbulbs burned very brightly for a while, the toast got done in record time and the picture on the CRT television got bigger.

Be very cautious of buying any electronics, such as computers, that do not use the new "dual voltage" power systems. If you look at the power adapter for your laptop, for example, you will ilkely see that it is rated for 100-240 volts AC, or similar - this is good. The old ones that say 110-120 volts AC on them can be very prone to failure (I have 3 dead ones in my house right now where the voltage out of the wall socket is reading 125.3 volts!). An example of the label on a dead one is shown in the picture below.

An old-style computer accessory power adapter rated for 100-120 volts

 

Wednesday 22 September

Tropical storm Georgette is making its way up the Gulf of California and is expected to hit the coast of Sonora, near Hermosillo, this afternoon.

While present projections do not indicate any major effect on San Felipe in terms of wind or rainfall, I think that beachfront property owners, especially in the south beach communities that are not protected from southern swells, could experience beach erosion. This is the time of the high tides and already we are experiencing quite significant swells as a result of wind patterns shifting over the Gulf as the atmospheric starts to fall. Mexicali is saying we should be prepared for thunderstorms by Thursday evening.

Early this morning, at 18 minutes past midnight there was a 4.7 Magnitude earthquake around 50 miles east of us towards Ensenada. It was quite a jolt that lasted for around 15 seconds but no damage was caused here as far as I can see.

Towns reporting that they felt this earthquake

I think that the major note of significance for Baja California is that we have now experienced almost 14,000 earthquakes since the great temblor of 7.2 Magnitude hit south of Mexicali on Easter Day. While most of these events have been very minor and mostly imperceptible here in San Felipe, we need to take earthquake preparedness much more seriously than we do. In Mexicali, they are now having periodic earthquake practice drills and the population is being educated as to what to do in an emergency. Local radio and TV stations are being readied to provide directions to the public as to what to do and where to go in such an emergency.

We still do not fully appreciate the extent of the Easter Day earthquake - which was stronger than the devastating Haiti event earlier in the year that killed nearly 300,000 people. In the Mexicali region, although the death toll was minimal, many thousands of people have lost their homes or their way of living as a consequence of the quake. Much land in the delta of the Colorado river, home to some of the most productive agriculture in the world, has been put out of commission as a result of the breakage of the irrigation canals. Now we are seeing that the change in levels of the land, where some areas have sunk 1-2 meters compared to their original levels, is resulting in a change of flow of the ground water and in the encroachment of the salt water from the upper Gulf during the periods of high tides. It is quite likely that this will result in permanent changes in the agricultural economy of the region.

A forest fire has been burning in the mountains west of San Felipe for the past several days, it appears to be located in very remote region near Piccachio del Diablo and was probably started by a lightning strike. Pat Meehan and his wife who live north of town have been watching it and alerted me in an email today. I noticed that at dusk you can observe beautiful ruddy sunsets as a result of the drifting smoke in the air. You may be able to just make out the plume of smoke on this satellite picture from this morning:

The smoke plume as seen from the Bay of San Felipe looking north at 5 p.m.

 

Tuesday 21 September

There is good news on the highway front. Officially the last touches are being put on the asphalt road surface from Mexicali to San Felipe. There is a continuous ribbon of at least 2-lane highway that is paved and in excellent condition all the way between the two centers of civilization. You no longer have to get off onto gravel roads through the desert to get here. Having said that, I must caution you that in places there are no lane or shoulder markings - they are doing these tasks at the moment. This means a certain amount of chaos and danger so be very careful. In particular, some of the dropoffs at the shoulder edge are spectacular; if your wheels go over the side of the paved road you could drop 6 feet in places. This is another reason not to drive at night, the new asphalt is so black that you just cannot see where the edge is!

The road, just completed, through the earthquake zone some 45 km south of Mexicali. The right-hand shoulder here drops steeply to what will become the southbound carrigeway.

The new military checkpoint south of the Ensenada road junction is now in operation, as is a separate, smaller station on the Ensenada road itself.

The southbound lane to San Felipe

Of course, when the contract is awarded for the next stretch of the roadway to be upgraded to four lanes, the diversions onto the desert floor will begin again. Enjoy the beautiful road while you can.

Monday 20 September

San Felipe is now settling into that period where the change in the weather from the summer heat is taking place. On a daily basis you may not notice it at first, but over the next couple of weeks we start to see the drop in the night-time temperatures back into the 70's, and the daytime highs will moderate to the high 80's F. Although there is presently some disturbed weather south of Cabo San Lucas, we have not seen the large number of Pacific tropical storms and hurricanes that are customary this year. We are also very far behind on our annual rainfall as of right now - not good for the recharge of our aquifer east of Punta Estrella. In the past 12 months we have received only 0.8 inches of rain and we would normally expect to see over 2 inches in the same period.

If you go outside this evening you will see the moon that is approaching its full phase on Wednesday night. However, tonight should be an excellent time to also see the planet Jupiter as a very bright object low in the eastern sky at dusk. With a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope you should also be able to see the moons around Jupiter. Just rest your binoculars on some solid frame to steady the view and you will see these little dots of light actually move slowly around the brilliant planet which is now at its closest to Earth since 1963. With binoculars you should also be able to see the planet Uranus as an emerald colored dot very close to Jupiter (use a little imagination on the color).

While you are out stargazing, look to the southwest at dusk and you will see the crescent planet Venus glowing brilliantly, and Mars as a dim red disk at about the 2 o'clock position up from Venus.

Shrimp are now being caught in good quantities and the expectation is that the harvest for the year will be better than last season. However, prices are also showing softness as markets in the USA are currently down, people are in a very thrifty mood and are only buying essentials. In my local stores in San Deigo I can get a pound of U-15 (i.e. under 15 shrimp to the pound) for about $7 dollars, and frozen shrimp from Vietnam are cheaper than that. Wholesalers are only offering around $5/pound for U-15 shrimp from San Felipe, but don't expect the prices in the markets in town to be this low - they need to make up for the bad economic situation here and cover their overhead while they can. Of course, nothing tases as good as fresh San Felipe azuls.

 

Thursday 16 September - el Bicentenario

The Independence Day parades in San Felipe involved almost 2000 schoolchildren who marched through town. Members of the armed forces from the local military base, the Red Cross, police and firemen also formed part of the parade and provided crowd control and security for the event. Everything went off wonderfully.

Wednesday 15 September

Early on Tuesday morning, at 3:50 a.m., a moderate earthquake of 5.0 magnitude struck about 50 miles south of Mexicali (70 miles north of San Felipe). It was likely an aftershock from the great 7.2 quake we experienced on Easter Day (4/4/10) and was located some 3 miles east of the San Felipe road at the north end of the Laguna Salada. I have not heard of any road damage but it is quite likely that some buckling or cracking has occurred - drive carefully! This earthquake was felt in San Felipe but was so light that no damage has been reported.

In addition, there was a second earthquake at 12:52 a.m. this morning in the sea about 20 miles east of Bahia San Luis Gonzaga., 90 miles south of San Felipe. This 5.1 M earthquake was felt by more people in San Felipe but, again, no damage reports. Doug Magee from Gonzaga reports that he felt 3 of the four local quakes and the 5.1M one was largest he had experienced down there. "Some stuff moved around but nothing fell and there was no damage. I had a Guest here sleeping on an air bed and he did not feel a thing."

Tonight at 11 p.m. there will be the traditional "shout of independence" ceremony. El Grito de Independencia will take place in the San Felipe baseball stadium. The evening will start with antojitos and music (and, quite possibly, beer) at 7 p.m. and there will be a firework spectacular after El Grito.

Don't forget that banks will be closed Thursday and Friday!!!

 

Tuesday 14 September

9 p.m. Update. A circular from the US State Department issued at 3 p.m. today to all Americans advises:

In connection with the upcoming bicentennial celebrations, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has declared that Wednesday, September 15 and Friday, September 17 holidays for Mexican federal government employees. These holidays will be observed this year in addition to the traditional Mexican Independence Day holiday on Thursday, September 16.

In view of this decision, and in anticipation of extensive transportation disruptions and business closures throughout Mexico during the bicentennial celebrations, the U.S. Embassy and all U.S. consulates and consular agencies in Mexico will be closed Wednesday September 15 through Friday, September 17. The Embassy and all constituent posts will resume normal operations on Monday, September 20.

It appears that, in addition to the Federal 3 day holiday, many States and Municipalities will also observe the extended vacation and therefore many people will take advantage of this holiday and the coming weekend to have a five day vacation. In some parts of Mexico, heavy road traffic is expected and visitors should be particularly alert for breakdowns and accidents on the highways. San Felipe could be a prime beach destination for travelers from Mexicali and Tijuana who come to enjoy our fine beaches and warm waters.

The Fiestas Patrias in Mexico are here, with Thursday being the National Independence Day Holiday ..>>. Federal government offices will be closed Wednesday - Friday, which means that you really cannot transact any business with them until next week. The Municipal offices in San Felipe will also be closed for these three days.

The transition of the State and Municipal officers is now underway as the PRI party prepares to take control of the five cities in October. Many officials are already leaving their jobs to secure positions in other areas of the economy. In particular, for San Felipe, it is a pleasure to welcome the appointment of our new Secretary of Tourism for the State of Baja California, Lic. Juan Tintos Funcke. Secretary Tintos held this position previously, during the time when I started the Net in San Felipe. He is a most enthusiastic and dynamic character with voluminous practical knowledge of some of the most remote areas of Baja and their attraction for adventure tourism. The return of people of this caliber to the State Government is a very positive sign for the re-invigoration of our economy.

While searching through our old archives, I came across this page on the startup of flights by Blue Pacific Airways between San Diego and San Felipe in 1997..>> At that time, flights did not catch on, mainly because it was so easy to drive to our town. There were none of the hassles of huge border waits and need for passports and inspections when crossing between California and Baja California. There were no Military Checkpoints as there was no war on the drug cartels at that time. A typical daytime border crossing from Mexicali to Calexico took under 15 minutes, and for people headed south at the border, the Mexican authorities just waved you through without stopping. Carole Kingaby reminded me that the situation for the southbound crossing is now much more onerous. She reports that on a typical late Thursday afternoon it can take 45 minutes to get into Mexicali. I have found that it really pays to cross before the workers start heading south; cross before 3 p.m.!

Friday 10 September

I am sure everyone has heard the story of the Florida Pastor who is threatening to burn Holy Qur'an books tomorrow, Saturday 11 September. Even if this act does not occur, it is thought very likely that there will be demonstrations in many countries around the world protesting the religious intolerance of some sectors of US socitey. Because of this, the US State Department has issued a world-wide warning of possible actions against US citizens living abroad. The following link was sent to us by the US Consulate in Tijuana and you may read the full text of the warning ..>> For further information or to express any concerns, contact the US Consulate in Tijuana. Their telephone number is (from San Felipe) 01-(664) 622-7400 or log on to their website ..>>

In San Felipe, the Delegado and his advisors have announced that glass bottles will no longer be permitted on the beaches, though cans (of beer and soft drinks) are OK. In the past, the consumption of alcohol along the Malecon (but on no other streets) was permitted. This is now being stopped and you can expect that there will be vigorous enforcement of the ban by the police.

San Felipe's Tourism Trust Fund, which is funded by a small tax on all hotel, motel and condominium rentals, is so small that the amount collected does not cover the administrative costs of the fund. The money collected is therefore being folded into the Mexicali fund and will be administered from there.

The new State Urban Development Plan 2009-2013 is now being discussed. It sets out as one of its strategies to consolidate San Felipe as a regional service center for the development of tourism, promotion and integration of the San Felipe -Puertecitos -Bahia San Luis Gonzaga - Bahia de los Angeles corridor. This is to be done in coordination with the Municipal Development Plan (Mexicali, Ensenada) 2007- 2010 and to define and develop the future population centers of Puertecitos, San Luis Gonzaga and Bahia de Los Angeles. I will outline more of this plan as detals become available.

Monday 6 September (Labor Day)

The weekend holiday seems to have gone well and did bring some much needed tourism to town. We shall have to await the official statistics but I suspect that we shall see occupancy levels around 50%.

I know that I am still very behind on taking care of many of the letters that you write but I am doing everything possible to catch up with the backlog.

In this frame of mind, I want to revisit the healthcare situation in San Felipe. Since the closing of the St. James (San Felipe) Hospital a couple of years ago, many of us have relied on the small clinic established by Dr. Victor Abasolo that may be found just a few hundred meters south of The Arches on the drive into town. Personally, I have the very highest regard for, and confidence in, Dr. Abasolo. He has taken care of my many little emergencies since 1985. I know that most of my contemporaries in San Felipe also would give him an unqualified endorsement for his dedication and services. His telephone number is 577-1706 and he can arrange for air ambulance to San Diego.

I have also had correspondence with other retirees here asking about additional options and am pleased to say that I get very positive reports about the Hospital Buen Pastor. Val Dormer of El Dorado passed on to me this interview that was performed last month by Bob Miller:

WHATS NEW IN SAN FELIPE MEDICAL SERVICES.... download revised pdf (10/15/10)
Aug. 25, 2010

An interview with Antonio Alverez, M. D. who is the new Medical Director for Hospital Buen Pastor.

San Felipe NOW has a physician who is a specialist and trained in Urgenciologo (Urgent Care) medicine.

Hospital Buen Pastor began service to the community approximately 1 year ago, and is located in the Los Arcos neighborhood of San Felipe. Hospital Buen Pastor is the only currently functioning hospital in San Felipe. The facility is staffed with the following specialties: 2 General Medical doctors, 1 Pediatric doctor, 1 Gynecologist, 1 Orthopedists (the former SCORE INTERNATIONAL Orthopedic doctor), and 1 Urgent Care doctor.

Dr. J. Antonio Alvarez became the Medical Director of Hospital Buen Pastor about one month ago. He is from Durango, Durango, Mexico, the 4th largest state in Mexico with a population of approximately 1.5 million residents. Dr. Alverez medical specialty is Urgent Care medicine, such as heart attacks, and strokes. He holds the Mexican health communities designation as an Urgent Care physician and was a teaching doctor in Urgent Care medicine in Durango which is known nationally and even internationally as it is "the land of the scorpions" due to the many species of scorpions in the state.

Hospital Buen Pastor is open 24 hours, 7 days per week. The phone number 577-0391 (corrected 10/15/10) is answered during and after hours by a receptionist. In the case of a medical emergency, she will contact the on-call doctor to meet the patient at the hospital. All of the staff doctors are on-call on an as need basis.

The hospital is equipped with 5 inpatient beds, X-ray machine, Delivery room, and Outpatient services. The facility can set broken bones, provide baby deliveries, and pediatric care, and the general medical needs of the local population. The hospital has 2 ambulances. Due to the high cost and short “shelf life” of certain medicines used in the treatment of heart attacks, the defined role of this hospital and staff is to stabilize and transport to a Mexicali hospital.

Pathology services are in Mexicali and there currently exists no pharmacy at the hospital, but Dr. Alverez plans to change that in the future, when funding will allow.

Dr. Alverez clarified the new rules in Mexico for antibiotics and other drugs. They are no longer available “over the counter.” A doctors prescription is now required for most drugs including antibiotics.

The doctors at the hospital Buen Pastor are: Dr. Alverez, Urgenciologo, Dra. Anel Becerra, GYN, Dr. Garcia, Ortopedista, Dr. Palma, Medico General, Dr. Rangel, Pediatra, and Dr. Saucedo, Medico General.

I understand from others who have visited the Buen Pastor facility that an in-patient stay costs around 600 pesos/day.

Saturday 4 September

The American Labor Day weekend is in full swing in San Felipe and dozens of people were out riding their quads and dune buggies on the beaches. Some of the closed restaurants have reopened to capitalize on the business but I do not expect to see much revival in overall activity until the cooler weather returns in a few weeks and residents return for the winter season.

The transition of the Mexicali government from the PAN to the PRI has now begun. The outgoing Mayor, Rodolfo Valdez Gutiérrez, and the incoming one, Francisco Pérez Tejada, have formed a transition committee to start arranging the details for the October event. Of particular note, Ing. Alfredo Ascolani, formerly the head of the CFE in San Felipe, is a member of the committee for the incoming administration.

Businesses have been alerted to another whammy from the federal tax authorities (SAT) as the effort to stop the laundering of drug money enters a new and more stringent phase. Up to now, the value added tax (IVA) has been administered through a very complex system of exchanging paper documents called "facturas" between businesses. These facturas are official receipts sanctioned by the government and every business which uses them must get a numbered stack printed by an official printer. The documents are in triplicate and have an expiry date on them (usually 2 years), and every one must be accounted for. Businesses exchange these pieces of paper between themselves as they buy and sell goods and services. Ultimately, there pieces of paper must match up in some tax office in order for the businesses to be able to claim their portion of the tax deductions that are passed forward through the system. The consumer, people like you and me, ends up paying the final IVA tax when we make a purchase in a store or market - but we do not get to deduct it from our income taxes the way businesses do.

Just the sheer volume of dealing with all this triplicate paper is an immense problem. Inevitably mistakes, losses and fraud occur at every point in the system and the result is that the government misses out on collecting a significant amount of money, estimated at around 38 billion pesos ($3 billion dollars) in the last couple of years. Next January, the whole system is going to change and become computerized. Only small businesses, with revenues under 4 million pesos/year (about $300K dollars) and individual transactions under 2000 pesos, will be eligible to use the paper factura system. But it will be different: each business will print out a factura with a barcode on it from the SAT website. This way, the government will be alerted to transactions in progress and the barcode will enable accountants to track the receipts without having to read all the details.

Larger businesses will be required to use a new advanced electronic invoice for all of their transactions - thus immediately notifying the government of the amount of tax that will be included in their monthly filings. Big transactions, such as the sale of assets like real estate, vehicles, yachts, jewelery etc. will immediately appear on the government registers and, because of the associated rules forbidding such transactions from being made in cash deposits in the bank, a huge loophole will be closed. The net result should be that the government of Mexico has much more money to spend on its social programs and that the drug cartels are denied an easy way of bringing dollars into the country to fund their operations. Time will tell.....

 

Thursday 2 September

In Mexico City, the government confirmed that since it announced the new policy on restricting the deposit of dollars in cash a month ago, such deposits in Mexican banks have dropped by more than 20%.

Next week, the budget for 2011 is to be presented to congress. The Bank of Mexico's analysts conclude that a major overhaul of the tax system is needed to sustain growth and attract more domestic and foreign investment into the country. It is widely believed that the weakness in capital investments, particularly by foreigners, is being caused by the present insecurity problems related to the battles with the drug cartels.

In Baja California, the Secretary of Tourism has announced a $500,000 dollar advertising and social marketing campaign to be undertaken to change the negative perceptions that Americans have about Baja. Half the money will come from the state coffers, the other half will come from the convention and tourism committees of the five cities. The last time I enquired about this funding to see if we could get some for The Net, the COTUCO people in San Felipe told me that their budget for the year was only a few thousand dollars, so it is likely that this new initiative will wipe out all of our discretionary money for the promotion of San Felipe locally.

A US public relations firm with offices in San Diego has been given a $300K contract to coordinate with the San Diego Crossborder Group (market research and public relations) to kick things off. One critical first step is seen as getting the current travel advisories issued by the US Department of State modified or cancelled, and to persuade the California and Arizona State Colleges that it is safe to come for Spring Break.

The campaign will highlight the Guadelupe Valley wineries, the beaches of Rosarito and San Felipe, and restaurants and cultural activities in Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. Groups interested in action sports, cruises, gambling, medical care and hispanic culture will be the prime targets. San Felipe should certainly qualify in the action sports classification with events like the Baja 250, but I see no mention of promoting retirement living. An additional $100K will go to promoting Baja on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and $100K will pay for the expenses of journalists to come to Baja and write about their experiences.

 

Wednesday 1 September

Mexicana, Mexico's oldest and largest airline company, declared bankruptcy on August 3rd. and terminated all of its operations last weekend. Its loss leaves Mexicali in the lurch for convenient service to the rest of the country. AeroMexico has announced that it will take over some of the routes of the failed airline and will have limited service from Mexicali to Mexico City and Guadalajara starting on 6th. September, and to Monterrey in early October. In the meantime, the powerhouse hub for flights out of Baja is to be found in Tijuana.

Even San Diego is envious of Tijuana's international routes - particularly to China. A private consortium is proposing to build a passenger terminal with secure car parking on the US side of the border near the Otay Mesa port of entry, just opposite the Tijuana Rodriguez airport, and build a pedestrian bridge across the border for ticketed passengers to walk to the TIJ terminal. This will open up a whole new world of possible travel to Mexico, Latin America and Asia for San Diego area residents. It could even revive the possibility of a cheap shuttle service to San Felipe in the future. An entirely Mexican-based airline which did not have to negotiate international transit and landing rights would likely be able to undercut any foreign fare structure for flights to places like San Felipe and other Baja destinations.

The battle over the Mexican government's proposed new dollar cash deposit limits is reaching a frenzy as the 13th September start date approaches. Because of the impracticality of having every purchase made in pesos right from the start of the program, a feature has been included to allow a limit of $40 dollars cash per customer that can be accepted by shops and other businesses in border cities or tourist destinations. The Association of Banks of Mexico (ABM) and the National Association of Supermarkets and Department Stores (ANTAD) have come out fighting against this proposal. They say that stores need to be allowed to accept up to $100 in cash for a purchase and that guests staying in hotels be able to spend $300 cash per day or $1500 per month during their residence in the hotel. The government proposal also mandates the installation of Point of Sale (POS) terminals in small shops and other businesses that would enable a customer to pay by credit/debit card without an added fee and the merchant would get a break on the processing charge.

Imagine the problems that will arise as thousands of small businesses wrestle to get transactions approved, corrected and voided using the current telecommunications systems with no "customer service" infrastructure. Imagine the possibilities for fraud as skimming devices get attached to these POS terminals. Just this week one of the largest banks in Mexicali found that many transactions at its ATM machines were having account numbers skimmed and customers PIN numbers stolen. (Aside note: look very carefully at any ATM machine that you use to see if the card reader looks OK, with no attached gadgets, and check if any cameras are pointing at the keypad in such a way that your PIN could be observed!).

In most countries in the world, credit and debit cards now also include a small computer chip with stored information to significantly reduce these fraud problems. Unfortunately, US Banks do not endorse this technology, preferring to take the losses and charge them off against their taxes. If Mexico is going to do this right, they need to use POS and ATM machines which use this "smartcard" technology, which is going to cause another big disconnect with their American customers. (I have had personal experience of being unable to use my credit cards at restaurants in Europe because I do not have the chip.)

Big questions also arise as to who would determine the dollar exchange rate and commission, and whether it would favor the customer, the shopkeeper, the US bank or the government. Inevitably, this whole business also means that shopkeepers will "more explicitly" have to start charging tax on their sales as the government will now have much more accurate records of money flow, tips paid and the taxes that are due. The simple life that we came to Mexico to enjoy is ebbing away!

Sunday 29 August

It seems inevitable that the new Mexican money-laundering laws will go into effect on 13 September unless a miracle happens. These laws forbid businesses from depositing more than $7000 dollars in cash/month, and individuals more than $4000/month in a Mexican bank. The likely result is that large cash-flow businesses like gasoline stations, hotels and restaurants will reluctantly have to decline dollars for purchases if they are to obey the law. This means that they will have to accept credit cards or take cash in pesos only. (Note that very few small businesses in San Felipe will accept credit cards.) Banks are being told to increase the number of tellers for visitors who need to exchange their dollars for pesos and lots more ATM machines will have to be installed in shops and public areas so that Americans and other foreigners can withdraw money in pesos for each day of their vacation. In turn, the increased use of credit and debit cards is likely to give rise to more scams to steal both money, cards and PINs from unsuspecting tourists. These new restrictions are going to be a severe handicap to encouraging tourism to Mexico. Even trying to explain the situation to the tourist who, for years, has been able to cross the border and spend dollars in Mexico is going to be a nightmare.

The past week has seen northern Baja endure the hottest and most humid weather of the year. San Felipe, being right on the edge of the sea, has only been seeing heat indexes in the 110 F to 115 F range, but Mexicali has reported five deaths and truly incredible temperatures.

By Thursday temperatures had soared to 51 C ( 123F) as seen on the electronic sign in downtown Mexicali, and the only relief was brought by thunderstorms in the late afternoon. There is now a break in the monsoonal flow of air up the Gulf of California and we can look forward to a period of more stable and pleasant weather now that the hurricane (Frank) that was heading towards Baja has dissipated.

 

previous months news - July-August 2010 - Profeco and property title issues with delinquent developers, July 4th, summer heat, cheap housing, money regulations, road repairs in earthquake territory, the new legal system, future cable television service, new SENTRI lanes, International Space Station sightings, more earthquake news, chiles en nogada in San Felipe.

 


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