Market Mover: TACOS, CIPRO, AND EMPATHY
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
NOGALES, Sonora, Mexico (Oct. 15, 2001) -- A clerk named Rodolfo in a cl= ean, starched, white lab coat placed the sealed bottles of "Ciprofloxcino 5= 00 mg" (the antibiotic known as "Cipro") along with a big supply of erythr= omycin tablets in the bag and shook his head.
"I can't believe what is going on. Since September 11th, the tourist bus= iness is just about gone, and there are a few people coming in to buy antib= iotics, but I wouldn't say it's a big rush. Business based on fear is not g= ood. It's bad for everyone."
The Mexican side of the twin Arizona-Sonora cities of Nogales is usually= bustling with tour groups and day visitors. Local shopkeepers estimate tha= t the number of visitors looking for bright "taverna" pottery, hand-stitche= d white lace "wedding" dresses, onyx chess sets, and silver jewelry is off = 70 to 80 percent.
"We did $40 dollars worth of business the other day, but, hey, that was = up from zero the day before," the owner of a tobacco shop on Avenida Juarez= specializing in $13 cartons of Marlboro, and $15 Cuban Upmann cigars said.=
One businessman lunching in the upscale La Roca Bar and Restaurant indic= ated that a few local real estate offices had shown cold-climate retirees s= ome Sonora property. "They always knew the cost of living was cheaper in Me= xico than Arizona, but they specifically said they now wonder if it's safe = here. Who wants to attack Mexico?"
Once routine passage back and forth from the Mexico side to the Walgreen= 's 200 paces up the hill in Nogales, Arizona (one tenth the size of Nogales= , Sonora), has changed since Sept. 11.
Mexican workers have to swipe magnetic I.D. cards, or show passports. U.= S. citizens are waved into Mexico by an armed guard who glances at I.D.
O= n the return trip, U.S. citizens are stopped and questioned, packages are X= -rayed, and passport pictures are scrutinized. Those Mexican-made discount = prescription drugs may or may not make it to the Arizona side without a U.S= . prescription. Because of the anthrax scare, one customs officer indicat= ed, the rules on antibiotics were being rather loosely enforced.
The new Hemispheric reality is also evident along the U.S. Mexican Borde= r. "I've never had to produce my identification so many times in my life," = noted my wife. A former newspaper reporter who has done her share of travel= ing in the late Papa Doc's Haiti, guerrilla-infested eastern reaches of Ven= ezuela, and carbinieri filled night trains in Italy, she doesn't frighten e= asily.
In Arizona cities and hamlets such as Tubac, Sonaita, Patagonia, Sierra = Vista, Tombstone and Benson, U.S. Border Patrol officers stopped vehicles l= ooking for illegal aliens, contraband, and perhaps other things. Sheriffs D= eputies from Cochise County assisted in the roaming roadblocks.
Atop Car= r Canyon in the Coronado Forest, a tethered U.S. Government blimp reportedl= y senses body heat of those trying to sneak into the United States, or the = top secret Army base at adjacent Fort Huachuca.
This was where the Buffalo Soldiers made history. Here, black soldiers w= ho had been cast off and demeaned by Washington bureaucrats, followed their= sometimes brutal orders, and helped pioneers settle the Southwest. Now, = MP's search under auto hoods, inside trunks, and check glove boxes for ille= gal weapons.
Nogales residents on both sides of the border--often members of companie= s, churches, and families from both nations--shared the sadness, outrage, a= nd frustrations of the terror attacks in New York and Washington.
With mo= re than a quarter million northern Sonora residents employed by the U.S. "m= aquiladoras" (factories making consumer items and parts for repatriation b= ack to America, but with cheap labor costs), an economic slump for New York= or Miami is a slump for Phoenix and Tucson. A slump for Phoenix and Tucson= is a slump for both Nogales twins.
Sure, the Ugly American and loud mouthed gringo still clashes with some = traditional Mexican values. Sure, there are some Mexicans using the border'= s proximity to take advantage of easily smuggled cargo of the narcotic and = human variety But nowadays these seem like small feuds.
The larger picture is one of fellow residents of the Americas who feel t= hat struggling with adversity will bring a stronger bond. Unlike my last v= isit a few years ago, many taxis, trucks, and businesses on the Sonora side= flew the Stars and Stripes alongside the Mexican eagle banner.
But that larger picture is what economists call the "macro" view. It's r= eally the "micro" view, or the pocket snapshot , that often explains the in= explicable.
For me the "snapshot" was a young man I had seen cross into = the U.S. an hour earlier, return through the Mexican checkpoint with a case= of Huggies disposable diapers on his shoulder, purchased in Arizona.
It = seemed to make NAFTA much less complex.
Mark Scheinbaum is a veteran investment executive and former UPI = newsman.