BIÉVENIDO Á MÉXICO
MAY 6, 1997
President Clinton plans to visit Tlaxcala, a well-kept provincial capital, to meet the "real people" of Mexico. Charles Krause profiles this old colonial city, the surrounding poor rural areas and some of the issues facing modern Mexico.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The visit to Tlaxcala, a small provincial capital two hours by car from Mexico City, is billed as an opportunity for President and Mrs. Clinton to learn something about Mexico's history and to meet real people far removed from the drug traffickers and other problems the President heard so much about today. What the Clintons will find in Tlaxcala is an enchanting colonial city which has so far mostly escaped the economic hardship and political unrest so evident elsewhere in Mexico.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 5, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.
May 2, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with Mack McLarty, America's special envoy to the Americas.
April 29, 1997:
An Online NewsHour Forum with a journalist in Mexico City.
March 4, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on Republican claims that election year politics played a role in the rules of citizenship.
February 27, 1997:
Charles Krause interviews Sen. Diane Feinstein about her opposition to re-certifying Mexico.
October 23, 1996:
Charles Krause reports on what Mexican-Americans call the new anti-immigrant climate La Amenza--the threat.
The complete NewsHour coverage of Latin America.
Instead of slums and pollution, Tlaxcala's air is clean, and the city center is filled with well preserved colonial buildings. In one of them a magnificent mural details the important role Tlaxcala has played in Mexico's history, with an emphasis on the ancient indigenous culture. It flourished here at the time of the Spanish Conquest 500 years ago. In many ways Tlaxcala is old Mexico, where etiquette and tradition are still respected. Every Friday, for example, there is music and dancing in the Plaza De Armas, Tlaxcala's central square which President and Mrs. Clinton will visit tomorrow. The square is surrounded by Tlaxcala's principal church, by covered sidewalks, and at one end by the Palacio D'Egeliano. The Governor's Palace, where went Antonio Alvarez Lima, the current governor who will serve as the Clintons' host.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Tell me about this plaza. How long has it been here?
ANTONIO ALVAREZ LIMA, Governor, Tlaxcala: Well, it has been here for many centuries. The old tribes were here. Cortez designed this plaza. The Franciscans built that convent back there, and we have been here for 500 years.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What do you think that President Clinton should know about this part of Mexico?
ANTONIO ALVAREZ LIMA: We want that he get in touch with our popular culture; music, food, and that he can speak with the real people. Not politicians or technocrats, but workers, peasants, that can tell him that we want mature relations with the United States, and good relations with respect and dignity between us, and that he can understand our problems, and we can understand the American point of view of things.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What has the impact of NAFTA been on your state?
ANTONIO ALVAREZ LIMA: It has been a good impact. We have one big factory, and we hope some others. And we think that globalization is inevitable; we want to have good treatment with the United States. We'd rather be partners than victims.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Partners than victims. But after NAFTA took effect, the economic crisis of ‘94 and ‘95, how has that affected your state?
ANTONIO ALVAREZ LIMA: We are in a good economic, political, and social situation--better than ten or twenty years ago. And we will be better in the next few years.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The governor's views are not shared by everyone. He is a member of Mexico's ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as the PRI. So naturally enough, he puts the best light on the government's economic and political policies, and their impact on Tlaxcala. Nonetheless, Alvarez Lima is unusually open and apparently quite popular. Few governors in Mexico would dare walk in public without security. Nor in most states would average people dare to approach such an August political figure.
Over the weekend, workers were busy inside and out, preparing the chapel and the convent for the President's visit, another historic occasion to add to Tlaxcala's long and distinguished history.
CHARLES KRAUSE: State visits are always occasions for governments to put their best foot forward, and Mexico is no exception. So, President Clinton will see the Plaza de Armas and the convent in Tlaxcala. What he won't see are some other places that are perhaps more representative of Mexico today. One place the President won't see is the university in Tlaxcala where Raul Jimenez is a professor of special education and a member of the state election commission. Jimenez says that while Tlaxcala has avoided some of the worst economic and social divisions found elsewhere in Mexico, it's still poor and hardly an island of opportunity.
RAUL JIMENEZ, University Professor: (speaking through interpreter) This is a place where few dreams are realized. There is little hope. That's clear when you see the infant mortality rate in Tlaxcala. Many babies born here die of hunger and diarrhea. The situation is also clear in our grade schools where children lack basic food and clothing. The reality is we are struggling amongst ourselves every day.
CHARLES KRAUSE: While Tlaxcala's poverty is not so evident in the capital, where the Clintons will spend their time, it is evident in rural areas like Santa Rosa. The day we visited, the local priest was celebrating Mass in a roadside chapel. But most of Santa Rosa's parishioners, like Roman Mendieta, preferred to stay at home. At first blush Mendieta seems to be quite prosperous. He's building a new house with running water and electricity for himself, his wife and his three young daughters. But nothing is ever quite as it seems in Mexico. Mendieta told us he works nine months a year in a restaurant near St. Louis, where he earns about $250 a week. It's the only way he could ever hope to build a home and improve life for his family, he says. No, he doesn't have a green card. Yes, he's an illegal immigrant, like the three to four hundred other men from Santa Rosa who Mendieta says work illegally all across the United States.
MENDIETA: Los Angeles Chicago, St. Louis, New York.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What saves Tlaxcala from the kind of abject poverty seen elsewhere in Mexico is the land. Even the poorest families here seem to have just enough to subsist growing corn and beans. In theory, NAFTA and foreign investment will one day bring prosperity to Mexico. In Tlaxcala, some major U.S., European, and Mexican companies have already built factories and assembly plants. The Diyas company makes pants, 22,000 a month, nearly half of them exported to the United States. The plant is clean and well lit. But the women who work here earn only 300 pesos per 45-hour week. That comes out to about 75 cents an hour. Not even the owner, Marcos Del Rosario, thinks it's enough.
MARCOS DEL ROSARIO, Factory Owner: I don't think it's enough for them to live. But that's the only way we can get ahead. Because most of the people here doesn't have the skills to do the right work, faster and have a lot of efficiency. That's why the pay is kind of low compared to the United States.
CHARLES KRAUSE: President and Mrs. Clinton will not visit Del Rosario's pants factory, nor rural towns like Santa Rosa, nor the market in Tlaxcala. Supposedly, they will have an opportunity to meet a wide cross section of average citizens during the three hours or so they'll spend in the Plaza De Armas. We asked the governor what he hopes the Clintons will take away from their visit here.
ANTONIO ALVAREZ LIMA: To know a little bit more deeper what Mexico is so we can get a mature relationship in the future between Mexico and the United States. And only knowing the real people are you going to get that good relation. The respect between countries is the respect between people.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It's likely the Clintons will receive a respectful welcome tomorrow in Tlaxcala, part of old Mexico unknown to most Americans, with values, traditions, and a peaceful way of life that may come as a surprise to many in the United States.