Airport, Insecurity and Abuses

Shame on the State government of Chihuahua, shame on the government of Vicente Fox, shame on the nation that lets the Tarahumara die from cold and hunger.

While the security crisis in the United States has extended to other countries, and the US authorities have held up five flights from Mexico – like Aeromexico’s #490 to Los Angeles last New Year’s Eve – on grounds of presenting various risks, during the month of December the health inspector boys of Senor Javier Usabiega, the man responsible for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (SAGARPA), opened and arbitrarily rummaged through the luggage of passengers coming from Europe and the Orient on commercial airlines of Iberia, KLM, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Aeromexico and JAL. Such was the confusion and so long were the lines caused by these searches that Senor Usabiega should have put up a sign saying: “Passenger, you have arrived in the Third World, Welcome to the Country with the Government of Change.”

Contributing to the general confusion, and as though the vehicular and human congestion, normal during this period between Christmas and January 6, were not enough, the Mexico City Airport authorities decided to begin construction in the parking lots (the charges for which are already high enough) out of sheer indifference toward their long-suffering fellow-citizens already enduring the construction of the second story highway. Since the plan to build an international airport in Texcoco was cancelled, and approval to enlarge the present one granted, Pedro Cerisola and the ASA people appear to have carte blanche from the Fox government for any kind of arbitrary conduct and inefficiency. Bearing this in mind, and after a number of visits to the City’s International Airport, the obvious question that goes through ones head is: “Whatever happened to the millions of dollars spent on the Mexico City International Airport for its renovation, or rather bad repair, by successive presidents from Lopez Portillo to Vicente Fox? Because the airport gets worse every day. On account of the obstacles at the international Arrivals Terminal there is no room to make a place for oneself and take care of the children playing on the floor. Nor is any kind of comfort provided at the Departures Terminal, since, forgetting about service, the authorities have filled all the available space with concession stands. To begin with there are no carts for hand luggage in the corridors, so the elderly, the sick and those tired after a long flight are obliged to undertake the interminable journey from plane to customs and immigration without assistance.

But when the traveler reaches the carousels that eke out the luggage from several flights at once, other delays and confusions begin, since everybody crowds into the meager space and loses their cool in the face of the mystery unfolding on the other side. The last time it happened to me I was next to a handicapped person in a wheelchair. For twenty minutes the barrier of humanity prevented him from seeing if his luggage had arrived. Meanwhile the bags of his countrymen were being passed over him, with the risk of his being dealt a nasty blow on the head, so frenetic was the crowd trying to get out of the claustrophobic space as quickly as possible.

The hardest test of all is Customs, since after getting a green light (if you are lucky), the passenger finds that he has to pass another test: the health inspection imposed by the strict and implacable Senor Usabiega. There, every bag has to be X-rayed and then opened by one of the 60 boys from the Secretary of SAGARPA, the man once called “the Garlic King”, now king of the genetically modified corn which is contaminating that of Mexico.

In my presence, a harassed Mexican passenger coming from Spain asked an official the reason for such a meticulous search. “Go search on an Internet site for the reason”, he answered. Not giving up the passenger being searched asked, “What do you do with cheeses that you confiscate?” Quite angrily the official replied: “That is no concern of yours.”

“In previous governments, you were given a receipt when they confiscated something”, said the same passenger who was having several products taken from him, “and if you took the trouble to complain, you could get them back after they had done the ‘analysis’. Now, for sure the cheeses and hams are going to end up on the officials’ table, at my expense since I bought and transported them.” But the conversation ended because the health department boy was now attacking the luggage of a passenger of indeterminate nationality who, done in by fatigue, seemed to be asking himself: “What have I done wrong? All over Europe, where the health regulations are pretty strict, nobody took anything from me. Are the hygiene regulations stricter in Mexico than in Holland, Switzerland, France, England, Spain and Germany so that dairy products cannot come in from those countries?”

“You have only to see the clandestine slaughterhouses in the Metropolitan Area and those that are not clandestine to never want to eat pork, beef, or chicken again,” continued the passenger coming from Spain. “It is disgusting, not just for the conditions of hygiene but for the unbelievably cruel way the animals are slaughtered. These butchers are like graduates from the National Academy of Sadism or the Institute Totally Lacking in Humanity. Where is the zeal of SAGARPA in those places?”

This is relevant because, if Senor Usabiega were to put the same effort into the problem of the sugar contaminated with un bactericida a base de ditiocarbonatos de sodio, compuestos altamente toxicos* apparently manufactured in the United States and exported to sugar production areas in Mexico for direct application on the cane juice as part of the extraction process, then his fellow countrymen could continue to consume excessive quantities of candy and soda without the risks coming from this poison. Ditiocarbamatos de sodio* do not appear in the “Agreement establishing permitted additives and enhancement agents” for foods, which means that it is not permitted for any kind of food processing in our country. Nevertheless, in Mexico it is applied in doses nearly seven times higher than those authorized by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

But having passed through airport Customs, it is the following question that many passengers ask: Why do the inspectors of flights leaving for the United States, and other countries in Europe under terrorist threat, not display the same eagerness to rummage through other people’s luggage, as the health boys from SAGARPA in their search for Roquefort and La Mancha cheese on flights arriving in Mexico City?

* In spite of extensive research (dictionaries, Internet, enquiries at labs etc.) I cannot find a satisfactory translation for this.