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Outgunned and underpaid

23 August 2009

Kelly M. Phillips, who I first ran into when she commented on a post about Mexican military pay, is a Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Coast Guard, and a former Mexican military wife.     Her website, “The Eventual Mexican” is unique, in that it deals with the nitty gritty of the Mexican middle class not as a foreign observer, but from the inside.

As far as I can tell, she is one of the few gringo writers to deal with the realities of day to day survival on a Mexican income.  Too many of the “Move to Mexico” sites assume the reader is insulated from the realities of Mexican life  or able to live a “turn key existence” where they just seamlessly step from the way things are done in the United States to the way things are done in most of the world.  I’ve run out of gas in the middle of a shower too, but I think for many here, and for wannabe expats — it will throw a cold shower on their pipe dreams.

More importantly, she writes — and writes very well — on the realities of Mexican military life.  “In Mexico, Outgunned and Underpaid” appeared in the 14 August 2009 New York Times:

President Barack Obama, Canada prime minister, Stephen Harper, and Mexico president, Felipe Calderón, recently met in Guadalajara to discuss the state of the continent and what to do about the drug war in Mexico. Plenty of policy makers agonize over the issue, but having lived on a military base in Mexico as the wife of a Mexican officer, I know that the biggest problem is simple – underequipped, unsupported and absurdly underpaid sailors and soldiers.

As an officer, my husband earned about $1,000 a month. Although our family of four struggled financially, the sailors suffered much more. Their salaries, which despite recent increases are frequently under $600 a month, often have to support a wife, children and the occasional elderly parent. Many of them make extra cash sending their children door to door selling tamales and cookies that their wives make. Some take on second and third jobs.

In the spring of 2007, a Mexican marine walked up to my husband and said, forcefully, “Lieutenant Castillo, look at me!” Juan was surprised that the soldier had spoken so disrespectfully until he noticed that something about the man’s bulletproof vest looked odd. Upon closer inspection, he saw that the marine was not wearing a bulletproof vest at all, but instead had been given a life jacket that had been painted black to look like one.

Juan was livid, and the next day he saw to it that the man was given real body armor, but he couldn’t have been the only soldier whose life was put at risk.

What would make us all safer is straightforward – higher salaries and better weapons for the Mexican military.

After all, the cartels already have money and weapons, which they use against those who stand in their way – to buy the ones who can be corrupted and brutally murder the rest.

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