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Soldiers’ Pay

19 February 2007

NOT EVERYTHING done in Mexico has something to do with U.S. (or us).  Reuters is reporting — correctly — that Felipe Calderón is calling for a 46 percent raise for Mexican soldiers and sailors.  But, look at how Reuters reports the story:

 Mon Feb 19, 2007 3:02 PM EST30 MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico gave the military salary increases of almost 50 percent on Monday to reward them for leading the fight against violent drug gangs.

President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of troops to combat drug cartels in several states since he took office last December.

“Our armed forced are first in the line of battle, and each soldier, without respite, has faced up to this battle against organized crime,” Calderon told troops in a ceremony to mark army day.

The article goes on for eight paragraphs talking about anti-narcotics activities. 

Jornada’s report (datelined Huehuetoca, Stae of México, where the Army Day speech was given) makes no mention of “drug wars.”  For a simple reason.  This has nothing to do with our drug habit, and everything to do with soldiers and sailors trying to make ends meet on 4500 pesos a month. 

I’m not sure a 700 peso raise, and mortgage credits for veterans  have much to do with narcotics… unless those tax increases the President admitted might be necessary to sell to Congress (Mexican Presidents have this odd idea that government programs have to be paid for) means a tax on narcotics exports. 

Jornada is academic and “leftist”, not the kind of journal that you’d expect to be pro-military.  It’s not, and is usually outraged when the Army is sent in to put down a demonstration, or used for police work.  But that’s a different thing than “supporting the troops.” 

Juan Soladato  is not just the folk saint of “illegal immgirants”.  He’s the small town kid I’d see hanging around Cuartos Caminos (across from Campo Militar #1) without enough pesos for a few extra tacos, the young farmer with a girlfriend trying to maintain some semblance of a home that commutes to his machine-gun post at the highway tollboth, the kids stuck out in the desert who used to “invade” Sanderson Texas on Saturday nights to play pool and buy a few beers.  Normal young guys.

Like any other nations’ soldiers and sailors, the Mexican serviceman or woman is likely to come from a poor family.  Juan Soladato’s 4500 pesos has to support him, his own kids and probably his mom and dad and Tia Chuleta back in the campo.  He’d make a heck of a lot more carrying bricks in Houston, or dirty dishes in New Jersey than he can carrying a gun around Chiapas.  And, he’s likely to be a draftee.

My friend Rafael, from one of the wealthiest families in the country, is probably the only wealthy Mexican I know who signed up.  He wanted a little independence from his dysfunctional family, and didn’t want to end up a 41-year old maricon living with mamí, so the Army was a way out… and a way to buff up.  But that’s rare.  Most of the people I know had higher education, and the ones who were drafted tended to end up in clerical jobs, or doing some essential national service.  Leonardo continued working on sex research at UNAM, but in a green suit (ah, Mexico… where sex research is a militarily useful activity!).

Others avoid the draft by doing national service.  Other friends really enjoyed their time in Servicio Militar Nacional, which seems to be about half the National Guard, and half the Scouts.  The military’s mission is to guard the nation… and its natural resources.  That means, among other things, that the High School kids serving in Servicio Militar get to go camping in the summer… planting trees to protect the watershed.  And, in some places, the Army shrewdly plants avocados, and manages to turn a profit from the fruit.  Personally, I would have sooner volunteered signed up for the Mexican Marines and joined a suicide squad, but I met two Servicio Nacional girls working at Museo Chopo, with the dangerous mission of teaching folk dances to five year olds. 

The kind of people I knew in Mexico City could still live at home while doing their service, or their families could help support them.  They weren’t off in barracks somewhere, or slogging through the desert, manning a machine gun post at the highway tollbooths (and camped off at the side of the road), or doing hurricane relief in … among other places… New Orleans (the Mexican Army actually serves pretty good meals, I’m told… getting a lot of practice setting up emergency kitchens after earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions… I know the Revolution Day parade was the only time I’ve ever seen the people cheer for the army cooks).    

Sure, Juan Solodata gets his three hots and a cot, and maybe some education.  Under a disguised “nom de internet”, I troll “freerepublic” — “freepers” have a Pavlovian response to the word “Mexico”.  They’ll start talking about “illegal aliens,” and drugs and corruption, no matter what the issue from Mexico is… but at least one guy knew something, and sent me an e-mail:   

I gave a Mexican soldier in Estado de Mexico, who was bleeding from a terrible cut on his arm, a ride about 90 miles to a military hospital in Toluca. They were very poorly trained. I was doctor and ambulance driver. So I had this guy who had nearly bleed to death and 3 other soldiers with guns in my stationwagon with Texas plates. They were really good guys and were very appreciative of my help. They come from the poor side of Mexico. I felt sorry for the guys. The little base near I lived welcomed me like one of them after that.

Yeah… these guys need a raise.  We usually only hear about Mexican military men when a General is arrested for corruption, or when there’s a political crackdown, or when there’s a shootout with narcotics smugglers.  Or when they go AWOL and join los Zetas (a very small group, btw).  We don’t hear about them when they’re watching the tollbooths and oil platforms, teaching in rural schools, planting trees, or getting hurt in the middle of nowhere and needing a ride to Toluca.  Or, as in this picture, coming to the rescue of stranded tourists in Cancún after the October 2005 Hurricane Wilma:

Better that than invading other oil-rich countries with armies made up of other underpaid country boys

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 November 2013 10:11 am

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