The poverty and inequality affecting Mexico doesn’t bypass the tourist resort of Los Cabos, Baja California Sur. Hidden beneath the grandeur of its magnificent landscapes and luxury hotels, these two social ills can go unnoticed by visitors and even by many of its residents.
Hurricane Odile, which battered the area in September 2014, revealed that this tourist paradise also lives off exploitation of people. Poverty was there, but amidst so much natural beauty, luxury and artefacts, we couldn’t see it.
The hurricane left thousands of families out in the open. They lost their roofs and walls made of wood and cardboard and went in search of help. This is when we got to know the other face of Los Cabos, the face of extreme poverty, and when Caritas reached out to help.
“Odile focused attention back here again,” says Fr Fernando Espinosa Carrera, priest of the Parish of Divine Providence, from the deanery of San José, one of the first people to provide and promote assistance for many of these people hit by the dual impact of poverty and natural disaster.
With emergencies of this type, during the first few days there’s lots of assistance due to sympathy for the victims’ plight, but as time passes such generosity tends to fade. Los Cabos was no different. From the onset of the disaster aid flowed in, despite the enormous geographical difficulties. At the same time, reconstruction work began, which gave temporary employment to heads of badly affected households. But these activities are nearing completion, and employment is now becoming scarce.
In anticipation of these problems and in an attempt to get in some extra aid, last November, via Caritas Mexico, Catholic Relief Services (CRS – Caritas United States), Caritas Baja California Sur and the Bishops’ Social Ministry Commission (CEPS) signed a collaboration agreement to deal with some of the needs emerging from the various communities of the deanery of San José y San Lucas, in Los Cabos, and to repair some of the most badly damaged houses.
Via this agreement CRS is responsible for administrating funds of more than 2.2 million pesos donated by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, while the local and national Caritas are responsible for carrying out the work.
Yet this aid includes something new. Electronic purses containing 600 pesos per month were delivered to each of the 725 affected families, so that they could decide what they needed most and directly buy goods from the supermarket, with the only restriction that the purse may not be used to buy tobacco or alcoholic beverages. This assistance will be provided for three months. It also includes construction of 18 housing modules, so an equal number of families are no longer sleeping out in the open air.
“The diocesan Caritas and Caritas Mexico told us about CRS’s interest in helping in these situations and how it provided synergy and coordination to get this aid delivered,” said Fr David Ojeda Gutiérrez, a representative of Caritas Baja California Sur.
While the support given by the initiative is limited due to the size of the problem, it has alleviated some of the population’s urgent needs, and the electronic purse has given them the opportunity to deal with what really are their most urgent needs, depending on their own actual circumstances.
Fr Espinosa told us that now there’s less work these families need assistance.
The electronic purses have been a great help, by giving the families 600 pesos that they can spend as they wish.
“They enable recognition of people’s individuality. This is none other than managing and deciding for themselves. Something encouraging about this initiative is the fact that the beneficiaries can decide what to buy, thus enabling them to recognise their own individuality.
“But it also allows them to take care of needs we would have overlooked. Maybe during the hurricane they lost a piece of electrical equipment, an iron, a blender, clothing or medicines. Or a special need, like nappies for babies or adults.
“For example, a family may wish to top up the necessary amount to buy a mattress. So there are some very special needs that we didn’t identify, but via the electronic purse, they can be met,” Fr Epinosa explained.
María Norma Ramos Escalante, who came from Mochis, Sinaloa, to Los Cabos to look for new opportunities, lost the roof of her small house, tables, chairs, kitchen utensils and even some walls.
“I felt very sad and even started crying. But while we’re all together and move forward together, we’ll get back on our feet again,” she said.
She receives 600 pesos from the electronic purse, which she uses to stock up with food for her family, and she’s also one of the 18 beneficiaries of a housing module that will help her to get her life back on track.
“They came looking for me. I wasn’t at home. I was told the priest had called and that I qualified for the Caritas programme.”
The special circumstances of the peninsula led to consideration of the possibility of providing the electronic purse. Bringing in provisions from the mainland is complicated and costly. You need to use the ferry from Mazatlán or Guaymas, or go right round the peninsula. The best thing was being able to use the logistics of the commercial supply chains. In this case it was Chedraui, who offered a 3.5% discount for all users of the card.
“It gives people in need the opportunity and the freedom to choose what’s best for them. It’s very practical, and more effective,” Fr Ojeda from Caritas Baja California Sur points out.
“The hurricane affected the entire economy, and all kinds of people suffered damage. The electronic purse is necessary ‘to ease the burden’ while the local economy gets back in its stride,” he added.
Undoubtedly its only a small help for the thousands of migrant families who come from all over the country hoping to realise a dream of well-being and security, and they already face the challenge of living with the burning heat of the desert during the day and relentless cold during the night, as well as how to dodge the beautiful but dangerous animals: snakes, spiders, scorpions and insects.
Los Cabos isn’t the paradise they say it is, nor is it for everyone. Odile came to remind us before the problem arose by itself, as has happened in many other large tourist resorts in Mexico.
“The wages aren’t very fair or high either. They are high-end tourist hotels but this doesn’t mean that people get fair and generous wages. Rather I’d say the low wages are low, just enough to survive.
“This made it difficult for people to get by on their own. The situation called for help and solidarity, and it’s a good thing this aid arrived. We praise God and give thanks that this help arrived,” said Fr Espinosa.