Monday, March 19, 2007

Mexico City: Legislature having trouble counting "braceros"

The "braceros" were a huge group of Mexican workers allowed into the United States on special work visas between 1942 and 1964. The initial reason was to allow Mexican workers in to replace Americans who had gone off to war. Most of the braceros worked in agriculture but many others found work in construction and even in manufacturing facilities.

The US government withheld 10% of each bracero's income for purposes of Social Security benefits, then turned that money over to the Mexican government for future payment to the braceros. What do you think happened to all that money?

That's right, it disappeared. Every stinkin' peso of it.

After years of demanding their money, and during the Fox administration, someone, somewhere, finally thought to make an official inquiry to the USA as to the money's likely whereabouts. The US government's calm, and official, reply was, "Well, yeah. And we sent it all to your government."

The initial reaction from the Fox government was, unfortunately and very publicly, "We have no record of any such money being sent to us by the Gringos." That was a mistake. If anything can be said for the American bureaucracy, it has records. Millions of tons of records from that era and previous eras and now billions of tons as well as trillions of gigabytes of records from the modern era. And when those records involve cash money and US bank transfers, they are in twelve-tuplicate and signed and re-signed and countersigned.
Records? We don't got no records. We don't have to show you no stinkin' records. But, now that you've accused us of theft on a massive scale from dirt poor Mexican campesinos who worked back breaking, long hours in our beanfields while our brave young men and women shot up Nazis and the Empire of Japan, we will.
And we did.

The money had all been transferred over time from US banks to the Mexican Banco de Crédito Agrícola de México, now called Financiera Rural. The records were impeccable and the Fox government had to eat a little crow. I wrote a post about this a couple of years ago but I cannot find it now. Hey, here it is. One small discrepancy found, however. In that old post I said that the Fox government was beginning to pay up. Not so, as you shall soon see.

The Fox government announced in 2005 that, uh, indeed, there had been some 5000 braceros in the program and it would pay the money to any still left alive. The US government said that, uh, no, it was 5,000,000. The Fox accountants went back to their abacuses and finally determined that the Mexican government owed 38,000 pesos each to some 200,000 to 250,000 still living, breathing braceros. The families of deceased braceros were, er, SOL.

The Mexican House of Deputies approved this 38,000 peso payment to each of the estimated 200-250 thousand braceros in April, 2006. The measure has been hung up in the Senate ever since. The argument is over just how many braceros there are. The Deputies approved a measure to pay the money to 200-250 thousand braceros for a total of somewhere between 7.6 billion and 9.5 billion pesos. The Secretaría of Gobernación can only count 47,000 braceros able to fully document their participation in the program.

The reasons for that are two-fold. First, the Mexican government never bothered to inform most of the braceros that the money was being withheld and why. So, the braceros didn't bother to keep their records. Second, the government's attempts to register the remaining braceros were frought with disorganization and bureaucratic entanglements.

No real surprise there. Mexico is still paying out hundreds of millions of pesos every year to "Mexican Revolution war widows" which would indicate that the country of Mexico has the highest percentage of 100+ year-old ladies in the world . . . all widows of freedom fighters. Most of those old ladies, however, are in their 70's which means that the Mexican revolution widowed them 25 years before they were born. Residual widowhood, I would presume. Actually, all these old ladies claim to have been married at the age of twelve to 65 year-old Mexican ex no-reelecionistas and veterans of Villa's División del Norte. All that ridin' and shootin' and anti-Porfiriatin' kept those old guys horny, I guess. Or maybe it was the uniforms that held the attraction to impresionable, twelve year-old girls.

So the executive branch of the government now recognizes only 47,000 braceros. Well, that's a heap bit better than the 5000 it initially admitted had belonged in the program but still way short of the 200-250 thousand left alive and a long way from the 5,000,000 from whom the US government withheld money, later transferring it to Mexico. And the Mexican Senate would really like to know whether it's approving the expenditure of 1.8 billion pesos or 7.6 billion pesos or 9.5 billion pesos. And to whom, exactly.

This seems like a reasonable question to me. However, one would think that shame alone would push the legislators and the federal government's executive to get a move on. After all, it's only been 65 years since the program started and only 42 years since its end. But then, we are talking about a duly elected federal government with its duly appointed bureaucracy where the word "shame" holds no shame.

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