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MEXICO CITY: Tepito



The Tepito district of Mexico City has come to symbolize the social problems of Mexico City. Raúl Escalante writes:

"As a Red Cross volunteer I became friends with a couple of Tepito natives and was once invited to a christening there. Knowing them and having visited their home gave an inside perspective, although a somewhat limited one. What I can say is that the atmosphere is very different from that of other working-class neighborhoods in Mexico City. Neighbors know exactly who everyone is and what they're up to, even if they don't get along. As far as I could tell, most of the people there have been Mexico City natives form many generations, unlike practically every Chilango you are likely to meet.

Unlike most other barrios in the city, outsiders stand out like sore thumbs even if they aren't particularly well dressed. Tepito is an extremely close-knit community where illegal trade is intricately woven into the fabric. Conflicts are solved internally.

Although Mafias clearly run the place, I don't think many outsiders can claim to understand how the whole thing works or even who its prominent figures are. Police involvement in contraband is widely believed to exist as was confirmed last week with the arrest of 12 "Judiciales" [judicial police] who were guarding stolen/smuggled goods.

On the other hand, I don't think Fox risked anything by entering Tepito. His security team is professional enough, and I'm pretty sure his breakfast at the organization he visited was agreed to by all concerned well in advance.

One of the greatest challenges Fox faces is the host of informal organizations put together and supported by the PRI during the last 50 years or so. The leaders of organizations such as the "official" trade unions and gangs of thugs, notably those at UNAM and Polythechnic universities who regularly hijack buses and spray-paint the city,s, are having a hard time keeping control of their followers because they are losing the benefits and budgets that supported them. Hence, they are becoming increasingly radicalized and independent in the way a runaway sixteen-wheeler is independent. Much of the street violence on Friday was organized by groups such as these.

I think that Fox's message by breakfasting with street children was not aimed at the various Mafias, however. As shown by the disturbances during his inaugural address on the one hand and the popularity polls on the other, Fox has a huge grass-roots following, but needs to win over a majority in Congress. His whole speech about taking care of Mexicans who have the least is designed to win over those people who have traditionally supported the PRI out of fear, ignorance or both. His breakfast in Tepito was a message to the Mexican poor - 95% of whom own TVs - that the President isn't too proud to rub elbows with them.

P.S. I think I should point out that, if forced to choose a political party, I would very reluctantly side with the PRI, despite my disgust at the behavior and the intransigent game its leaders are trapped in while struggling for power. "

My comment: Another ground for optimism. Whereas Zedillo was being undermined by the PRD administration of Mexico City. Fox attended the opening session of its council under its new head Muñoz Ledo, and the two are cooperating despite disagreement on some policies.

Ronald Hilton - 12/06/00


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