Ya no toleremos la intolerancia

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Un espacio publicitario de un parabús muestra la imagen de dos hombres besándose y el titular lee “Un corazón normal”, invitando a las audiencias a la muestra en escena de una obra que busca generar conciencia y conocimiento respecto a la enfermedad de VIH SIDA. En un país progresista, esto no ocuparía espacio en las notas periodísticas… pero esto es México.

corazonnormalEn este país y específicamente en los municipios de Monterrey y San Pedro Garza García del pujante estado de Nuevo León, dos hombres besándose generan escándalo, malestar y hasta llevan a que las autoridades se atribuyan capacidad de censura y ordenen remover algo que no es más que una representación gráfica de una realidad que no sólo nos rodea, sino que no tiene nada de aberrante, anormal ni hiriente.

El siglo pasado, por los escándalos de unos cuantos que aparentemente consideraban que la figura femenina era pecaminosa o vulgar, las autoridades mandaron “vestir” la imagen de un panorámico que mostraba a una dama con un sostén de la marca Wonderbra. Hoy los panorámicos con mujeres en ropa interior proliferan sin mayor problema, ya que los mojigatos han encontrado un nuevo blanco para derramar sus inseguridades y fobias: la homosexualidad (mojigato evolucionado, tercer sayayin de idiotez).

La justificación para permitir la censura que dan las personas de mente cerrada, miope, homofóbica, retrograda y francamente estúpida (o como prefieren ser llamados, las personas conservadoras), es que permitir las representaciones gráficas de una pareja homosexual dando una muestra de cariño/amor degrada el tejido social y/o puede confundir a la niñez (ojo, generalizo y sintetizo bajo una sola razón las que estoy seguro son una multiplicidad de justificaciones del odio y discriminación que los hace sentirse mejores personas, cercanas a la divinidad). Comentemos al respecto:

  1. Les guste o no, la homosexualidad existe. Siempre ha existido y siempre existirá. Y les guste o no, la homosexualidad merece su lugar en términos de equidad en nuestra sociedad. La homosexualidad no es un crimen a reprimir, una enfermedad a combatir o un problema a esconder por la vergüenza que les causa. El/La homosexual no degrada el tejido social por su orientación sexual. No somos peor sociedad si dentro de ella tenemos personas a quienes les atraen otras personas de su mismo género. Somos peor sociedad si decidimos y acordamos que vamos a promover el odio, la discriminación o el repudio a dichas personas por razones que deberían de sernos completamente irrelevantes.

2. Les guste o no, la libertad de expresión existe. Estoy de acuerdo que debe de haber algún tipo de regulación respecto a la comunicación publicitaria PERO esta debe de darse en torno de la protección de la sociedad por cuestiones de veracidad en marketing y/o riesgo a la salud. Por ejemplo, sí debemos regular que alguien no venda de manera engañosa productos que prometen curas milagrosas a alguna enfermedad sin el sustento médico para argumentar los efectos que se atribuyen. Y si de manera consuetudinaria acordamos que un acto sexual explícito no debería ser proyectado en materiales de comunicación en la vía pública, valdría la pena preguntar de qué manera se estableció dicho consenso consuetudinario y/o entender las razones por las que se considera esto dañino. Sin embargo, si estamos de manera consensual, tranquilos con tener un panorámico en que un hombre y una mujer se demuestran cariño/amor dándose un beso, no hay justificación que quepa para decir que dos hombres no pueden hacerlo. La unión de saliva proveniente del mismo sexo, hasta donde yo sé, no provoca epidemias y para los homofóbicos, no se preocupen, les juro que la homosexualidad no se pega y mucho menos por contacto visual.

3. Les guste o no, México no es un régimen teocrático. México no es Irán. México es un país libre, democrático y LAICO. Nuestra ley máxima se plasma en la Constitución Política de México y no en una Biblia, Corán o cualquier otro libro religioso. Por ende, los estándares religiosos de un grupo particular no tienen por qué estar por encima de la ética social en el territorio nacional. Y en este tenor, nuestro país es uno en que todas las personas son consideradas iguales. En México (por lo menos en papel ley) la discriminación por género, religión o raza es algo que no tiene lugar y va en contra del espíritu nacional y de los derechos otorgados a todos quienes lo habitamos. La religión y estándares de moralidad que cualquier fe dictan a quienes la siguen deben de ser cuestiones de apreciación personal y privada. Si tu fe (por torcido que esto suene) te invita a odiar a alguien por ser diferente a ti, tienes todo el derecho de vivir dicha fe PERO no tienes derecho de imponer estos cuasiprincipios a los demás porque insisto, en el país en que vivimos la ética social está MUY por encima de la moral religiosa

4. La homosexualidad no es su enemigo. ¿Por qué le temen tanto a dos hombres besándose? ¿qué creen que les va a pasar si ven esto? En el país tenemos MUCHOS más problemas que la preocupación que pueda causarles el hecho de que dos hombres se amen. Creo que más nos debería de preocupar por mencionar algunos, la violencia, la obesidad y la pobreza. No quisiera que esto se interprete como una invitación a la censura (porque no lo es) pero doy estos ejemplos sólo para mostrar lo ridículo que es que se exija remover muestras de amor entre dos personas de espacios publicitarios:

  • Si nos preocupa la violencia ¿por qué permitir panorámicos TARGETEADOS A NIÑOS que enseñan violencia a nuestros niños? ¿por qué es aceptable que nuestras ciudades se llenen de panorámicos con dibujos animados de tortugas ninja cuya profesión es golpear a sus contrincantes? ¿por qué es aceptable mostrar en TV abierta cuasideportes como la UFC, que no son más que una celebración de violencia?
  • Si nos preocupa la obesidad, ¿deberíamos censurar los panorámicos de Pan Bimbo?
  • Si nos preocupa la pobreza, ¿no deberíamos censurar las manifestaciones que la perpetúan y enaltecen? (hint, hint: bendecidos los pobres porque ellos heredarán el cielo)

5. Sus niños no se confunden al entender que en el mundo en que viven hay personas a las que les atraen personas del sexo opuesto y otras a las que les atrae gente de su mismo sexo. No se confunden de la misma manera en que no se confunden cuando se dan cuenta que existen otros niños con razas distintas a la suya o cuando se dan cuenta que los niños tienen pene y las niñas vagina. Los niños no tienen nada de que confundirse al enfrentarse a la diversidad natural y real que existe en el contexto en que viven. Los niños no nacieron con los prejuicios que ustedes recibieron en sus casas cuando crecían. No los culpo por haberlos recibido de sus padres y no culpo a sus padres… en ese entonces era la usanza. Dejemos sobre la mesa la posibilidad de que sus padres al mostrarles que la homosexualidad era una aberración no se daban cuenta del daño que les estaban haciendo. Al crecer, a ustedes les tocó entender mejor el ideal de igualdad y el valor del respeto a los individuos que a sus padres. Les tocó vivir en una época en que están expuestos a otros países y otras culturas y en base a dicha exposición, pueden desarrollar una capacidad crítica que aunada a la madurez de ser adulto DEBERÍA dejarles claro que nada bueno puede venir de educar en base al odio y el repudio vs. la aceptación y el amor. Ustedes, a diferencia de sus padres, ya no tienen excusa si se obstinan a enseñarle a sus hijos a odiar a los demás por su orientación sexual o por cualquier otra razón.

6. ¿Por qué no les coleriza o escandaliza el hecho de que en el 2015, los “talentos” que llegan a nuestras televisoras transforman lo que debería de ser espacios de entretenimiento a más oportunidades para proyectar (y por ende promover) una cultura primitiva y discriminatoria, en la que comedia es el pobre sinónimo de “chistes de jotitos”? ¿Por qué no nos enoja y encabrona que las telenovelas promueven la estratificación social, las divisiones clasistas, los modelos de enriquecimiento fortuito o banal pero sí estamos dispuestos a no sólo trivializar sino minimizar esfuerzos artísticos por generar conciencia en torno a problemáticas como la del VIH-SIDA?

Cuando las autoridades (a quienes TODOS les otorgamos dicha autoridad) se deja llevar por presiones de los menos y por creencias que recuerdan más a la Edad Media que a la actualidad, hay que enojarnos y HAY QUE LEVANTAR LA VOZ para que nos escuchen por encima de los alaridos de quienes por más que tienen oportunidades y acceso a la información, se empeñan en no abrir los ojos y venirse con nosotros al siglo XXI.

Si están de acuerdo, POR FAVOR hablen de este tema. Eduquen a las personas a su alrededor. Eduquen a sus hijos. Eduquen a sus amigos. Eduquen si se puede y si hay una mínima esperanza de que los escuchen, hasta a los mojigatos. No nos rindamos e invitémoslos a no ser imbéciles. Platiquémosles lo bien que se siente ser gente pensante, incluyente y tolerante. Platiquémosles lo bien que se siente vivir en la época actual y no hace 700 años. Si este texto les sirve para platicar, compartir, difundir, etc. con toda libertad, úsenlo. Gracias por leer.

No es paradójico decirlo: hay que ser tolerantes… a todo menos a la intolerancia.

Is Peña Nieto Facing a Mexican Spring?

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on December 4th, 2014.

Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.

Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Timemagazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.

The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.

A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. […] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.

Some of the things I will discuss in this piece are not making their way to mainstream media, or they are being distorted and minimized, but they are gaining momentum in the open forum of Mexican social media—clearly demonstrating the growing divide between institutions and a fed-up and empowered rebellious citizenry.

The apparent state-sponsored mass murder of 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa was not the result of Peña Nieto’s mandate or decisions. The horrible events occurred in the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-run state of Guerrero, and the alleged intellectual authors of the massacre where the now-deposed and incarcerated PRD mayor of Iguala,José Luis Abarca, and his wife.

However, the president’s reaction to the crisis is proving to be more than a challenge for his office. Protesters are holding him accountable and expecting answers from him and only him.

When the massacre reached mass media, political groups in the elite saw it as an opportunity to attack their opponents. Two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for Peña Nieto’s resignation, saying the president was not equipped to deal with the Ayotzinapa case. The PRI apparatus returned the blow, flooding the Web with a picture of Abarca and López Obrador hugging during a political rally and arguing that the two politicians were not only members of the same political party, but close friends and political allies.

While this game of political finger-pointing was going on, the families of the 43 students—and, quite frankly, most Mexicans—were more interested in what the federal government was doing to advance the investigation and to deliver credible results.

When days turned into months and the public still had no answers, two incidents collided and became a perfect storm for the president.

On November 7, 33 days after the Ayotzinapa students disappeared, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he declared that the students’ bodies had been thrown in a mass grave and cremated, citing confessions from local gang members as evidence. Families of the students, who had expected empathy and hope, were instead subjected to a crude account of how their loved ones had been abducted, transported, tortured, maimed and murdered.

Murillo continued to share testimonies of apprehended criminals, describing the way the bodies were doused with gasoline and set ablaze. At the conclusion of the press conference, Murillo dodged questions challenging the credibility of his statements, only to abruptly end the session by getting up from his chair and murmuring “I’ve had enough” (Ya me cansé).

Though Murillo later said that his words were an expression of his frustration with the violence, #Yamecansé immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Enraged Mexicans shouted they, too, had had enough of the political elite, of organized crime in bed with the government, and of being lied to and patronized.

The second PR disaster came two days later, when journalist Carmen Aristegui uncovered acase of alleged corruption and nepotism involving Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera. Aristegui revealed that the construction company Grupo Higa, which had won a  multimillion dollar bid to construct a high-speed rail project in the PRI-governed state of Nuevo León, had also built Rivera’s now famous $7 million “Casa Blanca” mansion.

As if the Casa Blanca accusation wasn’t bad enough, Peña Nieto decided not to directly respond to it. Instead, the strategy from the president’s office was to have the First Lady provide an explanation, in a failed attempt to put distance between the accusation and the president.  The Rivera’s nonsensical YouTube video explanation of how she came to possess enough money to buy the house through acting in telenovelas, created an outcry on social media, showing that nobody bought the First Lady’s explanation. Instead, the video became yet another symbol of the effrontery with which the political class approaches their constituency, stirring up frustration and indignation.

The #Yamecansé and #CasaBlanca hashtags sparked massive social mobilizations and marches in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City and in major cities across the country and abroad. Some have compared these mass protests with the #YoSoy132 movement of 2012.

The similarity between the two movements is the fact that Peña Nieto is the main target of criticis—but it would be more accurate to compare the current movement with the Arab Spring. #YoSoy132 was fueled by electoral politics, with the goal of preventing Peña Nieto from winning office. After Peña Nieto was elected, the movement did not die completely, but it became more symbolic than effective.

Today, enraged and politically alienated youth are amassing in a more organic way, and their reasons for protesting will not dissipate after electoral polls close. Local, state and federal incompetence and corruption have created more reasons than ever for people to take to the streets and demand a change.

There is no sign of this trend reversing. In fact, all strategies used by the government to tackle the protests only seem to aggravate them.  With accusations of police beating up and arresting peaceful protesters, Peña Nieto’s presentation of a security reformthat would unify local police forces was met with skepticism. The spokesperson for the relatives of the Ayotzinapa victims called the measure “like his words—false,” and a move by Mexico’s lower house of Congress to revise rules on social mobilization (Senate approval pending) was received as a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

Why aren’t these strategies working? In part, because they were the wrong solutions to begin with. In his recent op-ed in El Economista, the founder and president of the Mexican think tank Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA ), Armando Regil Velasco, identified the root cause of the prolonged problem:

“When your moral authority is so fragile, it doesn’t matter what you say. Skepticism will impose itself and little to nothing will be believable. [The Federal government] lacks honesty, courage and determination.”

The Mexican political elite, with Peña Nieto heading the list, has lost whatever  trust the citizenry once had in them. The phrase “more crooked than a politician” has risen to new heights in today’s Mexico, and those brave enough to mobilize are finding more and more reasons to do so as more cases of corruption and inadequacy develop.

After two years of Peña Nieto’s government and with the current social chaos the country is facing, I wonder where those 2012 notions of “Saving Mexico,” “Mexico’s moment” and “getting back in the game” have ended up. The best place to look for them is probably in the gutter.

La mejor manera de pasar un cumpleaños

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Hoy ha sido un día de grandes satisfacciones. Empecé el día al lado de mi bebé que me regalaba sonrisas al tiempo que se tomaba su biberón. Un poco después se nos unió mi esposa que me dio dos excelentes regalos… de esos que se nota que fueron pensados específicamente en ti. Durante el día he recibido una infinidad de muestras de cariño de familiares, compañeros y amigos que se tomaron el tiempo para mandarme un mensaje o llamarme. También tuve una mañana muy productiva en la oficina sacando pendientes importantes antes de cerrar el año. De verdad, un gran GRAN día.

Pero les quiero platicar muy brevemente de otra cosa que hice el día de hoy… y se los platico no con las intenciones de proyectarme magnánimo ni mucho menos. Si les comento de esta experiencia, es sólo porque obtuve de ella TANTO, que me parece egoísta no compartirla invitando a que ustedes consideren hacer algo similar en su cumpleaños. Por lo pronto, yo pretendo hacerlo una tradición en el mío.

Anoche reflexionaba acerca del hecho de que en este año he recibido mucho de muchas personas y del tiempo que he podido pasar alrededor de la gente que quiero y haciendo las cosas que me gustan. Ha sido un año sumamente gratificante en todos los sentidos. Guardar tanta gratitud en una sola persona es muy difícil así que anoche decidí que dedicaría una parte de mi cumpleaños a dar, aunque fuese un mínimo detalle y en poco tiempo.

Después de comer con compañeros de la oficina y de sacar algunos pendientes, fui a una pastelería y compré un montón de bolsas de pequeñas hojarascas. Un poco antes de las 3:30 de la tarde llegué al Hospital San José (lugar en donde varios familiares y amigos han sido atendidos) y me dirigí a la sala de espera de la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos. Ahí, en distintos y pequeños grupos, había alrededor de 25 personas, en espera por obtener noticias de sus seres queridos que estaban siendo atendidos.

De manera respetuosa y tratando de ser lo menos intrusivo posible, fui visitando a cada una de estas personas, a quienes ofrecí las galletas como regalo y les di palabras de aliento, deseando la próxima recuperación de sus pacientes. Pasé tan sólo alrededor de una hora con ellos, pero quiero decirles que fue un momento INCREÍBLE. Todas las personas ahí me mostraron enorme gratitud por lo que no era más que un pequeño detalle… algunas estaban confundidas y me veían inicialmente de manera incrédula. Otras me preguntaban por mis familiares y me deseaban que ellos también mejoraran, sorprendiéndose aún más al aprender que afortunadamente ningún familiar mío estaba internado. Recibí bendiciones, palabras de agradecimiento y una señora mayor, con la que estuve platicando un rato más que con los demás, me felicitó y me dijo que hacía mucho que no veía una acción desinteresada de una persona a otra. Realmente me llegó al corazón y me hizo reflexionar BASTANTE sobre la necesidad que tenemos de rescatar el sentido cívico en nuestra comunidad. Me preguntó por qué lo hacía y al explicarle que era algo que había querido hacer para festejar mi cumpleaños, la señora (a pesar de lo que a su edad esto significaba en esfuerzo) se paró de su lugar y me regaló un abrazo.

Es evidente que nuestras acciones individuales no necesariamente resuelven los grandes problemas que aquejan a nuestra sociedad pero es muy fácil olvidar que la gente que nos rodea, a veces no necesita que les resolvamos esos problemas. A veces una sonrisa, un abrazo o un pequeño detalle son suficientes para volver a depositar la esperanza en aquellos que pueden haberla momentáneamente extraviado. A veces la gente sólo necesita una mirada empática… y eso, no cuesta nada.

Mis mejores deseos a todos ustedes. Que tengan un 2015 lleno de satisfacción, de grandes logros y de muchas razones para sentirse orgullosos y agradecidos. Que sea un año en que avancemos como sociedad y nos acerquemos de nuevo a lo que debería de ser una comunidad.

Con cariño y respeto,

Arjan

P.S. En este blog y a través de mis redes sociales el día de hoy compartí una serie de ligas a organizaciones cuyo trabajo considero valioso. Muchas gracias a quieres se sumaron al proyecto y las han apoyado el día de hoy. Si todavía no lo hacen, por favor consideren la información contenida aquí.

It’s my birthday so please… Give a little bit.

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Today, December 30th, is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. This year, I want to try to make the day count so please, if you can, indulge me on my very special day by giving a little bit.

Your generosity would be my greatest birthday gift and I would be extremely thankful if you could take a couple of minutes to consider donating to one of the following organizations/causes:

VOLUNTARY DONATIONS (These are organizations I’ve either donated to, worked with and/or know well enough to trust. Their work is really valuable and worthy of your generosity)

FREE DONATIONS (All you have to do is CLICK and companies will donate for you)

Since I do not monitor traffic to any of these sites, there will be no way for me to know if you donated to them or not but in all truth, me knowing about it is not the objective so I’m ok with that. But hopefully you were able to take 2 minutes of your time on my birthday and through small but significant actions, help make a change.

Want to do more? Tell your friends about this project! Invite them to participate!

Happy birthday to me and thanks!

 

Desde la Sultana del Norte, ¡Feliz Navidad! Pura Yesca

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Me prometí que si llegaba a los 30 mil views en Facebook, publicaría mi mensaje navideño en YouTube y lo dejaría disponible de manera abierta. El día de ayer sobrepasamos esa meta y más de 1000 shares así que, con ustedes ¡Chuntaro Xmas! El video viral del momento…

Que pasen muy felices fiestas y los mejores deseos para el 2015. ¡A bailar de gavilán!

(si les gustó, compartan el video con sus amigos)

Why I Wasn’t a Fat Kid in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 27th, 2014.

I grew up in Manzanillo and Monterrey, two Mexican cities that are opposites in many ways. Manzanillo is on the southwest coast of Mexico; Monterrey is in the dry northeastern desert. Manzanillo is a small town; Monterrey is one of the country’s most important urban industrial centers. In Manzanillo, people are laid back and relaxed, whereas Monterrey’s citizens are famous for being laborious, high-strung and dynamic.

When I was growing up, Monterrey and Manzanillo did have one thing in common, though: the general rule was that children played outside. Without even asking for permission, we would leave the house (which was always unlocked), and the world was our playground.

We did have some rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go farther than two blocks from home—but that was about it. We rode bikes and skateboards, played soccer in the street, set up a lemonade stand, and played tag and hide-and-seek. We also had videogames and TV, but they were limited to a couple of hours a day, and we really didn’t complain about it (mostly because TV programming and videogames were so limited back then).

In 2013, Mexico surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the Americas. Because I was born with asthma, I wasn’t the most active kid. Yet I still grew up extra-skinny, and so did most of my friends.

What happened to Mexico’s children in the last 30 years? Based on my personal experience and observations, here are a few of the multiple causes of child obesity in Mexico today.

The school system: It is no mystery that Mexico’s school system is in trouble. We have substandard teachers, no accountability, and funding that is often diverted to teachers’ unions—the list goes onl. If you go to a public school during recess in Mexico, you’ll find a basketball court, which will add to numbers mentioned in any government report. Yet those numbers tell a half truth: the court will have baskets with no backboards and broken rims—and, most likely, the school won’t have basketballs available for the kids to play with. Usually, you’ll just see the boys playing kickball on a dirt patio with improvised goals (usually two rocks set apart from each other), and the girls will be on the sidelines, chatting and eating chips.

According to the Federal Program for Sports and Physical Culture 2014-2018, some of our national sports system’s flaws include the lack of school and municipal sports leagues, deficient attention to school sports programs, insufficient federal funding, obsolete state legislation to promote sports, social inequality and a scarcity of female participation in sports, and the absence of physical education in the school curricula.

The food industry and NAFTA: Before 1994, if I wanted to eat a box of Lucky Charms, I had to cross the border into the United States. We did not have direct access to many of the U.S. food products that are now available in every supermarket nationwide, thanks to NAFTA.

A pre-packaged “Lunchable” is much easier to stick in a lunchbox than what I grew up with. When I went to primary school, my lunchbox was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and my thermos bottle contained lemonade squeezed from real lemons. Today, kids are taking artificially flavored drinks and foods to school on a daily basis.  According to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, the U.S. food industry is in great part responsible for turning sugar into a staple food in Americans’ diets. Thanks to NAFTA, all that sugar is now easily accessible to Mexicans, and we’re devouring it.

TV on demand and the technological revolution:  I recently took my kids on vacation and we were staying at a hotel. My three-year-old son told me he wanted to watch a specific kids’ program. We have TV on demand at home, so it was a challenge to explain to him that the only programming available was what was playing in real time: live TV (none of which was interesting to him). Videogame consoles and TV programming for children have existed for much longer than the obesity problem, so the difference has to be the availability and portability of entertainment that encourages kids to be sedentary. I had my first cell phone when I was 17 years old. “Let me get my iPad” is now commonplace talk among middle- and upper-class eight to ten year olds.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition, children and young adults are straying from physical and recreational activity. Instead, they play videogames, watch television and spend time on the Internet. The survey estimated that 58.6 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 do zero physical or sports activities.

Insecurity and loss of childhood independence: Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that insecurity—and the perception of insecurity—has turned children into hostages of playdate agendas.

When I was 12, I would get home from school, have lunch and then say goodbye to my folks, only to see them again after 7 pm. My everyday life included walking to a bus stop eight blocks away, getting on a bus in order to go to a friend’s house, then walking to a basketball court and playing for a couple of hours—and getting into trouble in multiple creative ways.

Were my parents irresponsible? Was I a neglected child? Of course not. I was free, because the era in which I grew up in allowed me to be. My parents had little to worry about.

My kids are not as fortunate as I was. Unless they live in private, gated communities, Mexican kids are no longer allowed to walk out their door unattended—because today, parents have serious reasons to fear for their kids’ safety. The rise of violence and crime in hotspots in the country has made us (reasonably) more paranoid, so kids now have play dates—specific and limited times during the week when they can get together with their friends. Hopefully, they engage in some physical activity and don’t just glue themselves to game consoles in the living room.

In this new Mexico, where child obesity is a reality, parents need to play a more active role in making sure their kids get out and play, eat healthy food, and detach themselves from their gadgets and TV. No one else is going to do it for them.

A Focus on Security Sidelines Education in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Nov. 19th, 2014.

This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector.  If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.

However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of.  On the contrary,  a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero;  strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM);  a railway contract scandalimplicating Peña Nieto;  and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.

Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.

The sectors taking a hit in 2015 will once again be education and tourism. In 2012, Education represented 5.2 percent of the country’s GDP. The approved budget for 2015 drops this figure to 2.8 percent, and the Tourism Ministry will receive a 9.1 percent budget cut from last year.

That’s no surprise. With the Ayotzinapa tragedy still unfolding and both the rulingPartido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and thePartido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) taking hard political hits, the Lower House decided to capitalize on the public’s concerns byraising the budget for the Victims Treatment Executive Commission from 186 million pesos to 958 million pesos—more than five times the amount proposed by the Executive Branch. Congressman Miguel Alonso Raya from the PRD said that the additional money will be used to set up an assistance fund for the families of victims of organized crime, but did not specify whether or not the families of the 43 student-teachers murdered in Guerrero would have access to the fund.

Meanwhile, the relative cuts in the education and tourism budgets stand as clear evidence that the budget is short-sighted, insofar as it focuses on throwing money at the manifestations of a problem instead of investing in long-term solutions to it. While energy and economic reforms were flying through Congress with relative ease last year, I pointed out the shortcomings in education reform, which are now beset with a lack of development funding.

Congresswoman Lucila Garfias has argued that deciding to allocate only 2.8 percent of the GDP to education reveals how little progress has been made: “When resources in the country are insufficient and the challenges are many, it is essential to prioritize the quality of public education. The decision to restrict these funds places the success of education reform at risk.” Another one of the few voices opposing the 2015 budget, CongresswomanLuisa María Alcalde Luján, chimed in to say that the composition of the budget was fueled by short-term electoral interests and that “…this budget, like the one for 2014, punishes our public universities, schools and research centers.”

It is easy to go for the apparently popular solution. It is easy to say that it is in public interest to favor short-term security over long-term education and job creation. Like many Latin American countries, Mexico is not free of populist rhetoric in its political class, regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on. Unfortunately, the 2015 budget is once again a populist solution. And like Argentinian journalist Mariano Grondona once said, the problem is that “populism loves the poor so much, that it multiplies them.”

The PRI’s leader in Congress, Manlio Fablio Beltrones, called the 97.6 percent approval vote for the 2015 Budget “a historical consensus.” As long as fixing the education system in Mexico continues to be a lower priority, it is a historical consensus that should worry all of us.