Behind Globalization's Glitz
Local leftists had a good laugh recently when newspapers ran a story quoting the usually conservative and antistatist leaders of the Cancún Hotel Association calling on the Mexican government, no less, to intervene in the market and impose price controls on resort hotel rooms--controls that would guarantee a price floor, not a ceiling. "It's the only way we are going to overcome this problem," says association executive Tomás Aunon--the problem being that in spite of 98 percent hotel-occupancy rates this summer, many of the Mexican-owned hotels are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and local suppliers say their invoices are regularly going unpaid. Already this year, ten luxury hotels have been sold off or are currently on the auction block. There's a palpable fear that Cancún may now be embarked on a downward spiral with no bottom in sight, that it might become a globalization-whipped Caribbean version of Flint, Michigan.
Those concerned about Cancún's problems can't expect any help from the government. President Vicente Fox is a big promoter of globalization, while the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party, in opposition, which has criticized Cancún-style development, has been losing strength. Its vote was down to about 17 percent nationally in July's congressional elections, and it did particularly poorly in the state of Quintana Roo, dropping into single digits.
At least one Cancún businessman, 49-year-old Armando Rangel Diaz, is convinced that Cancún faces "catastrophic problems in the near future" if nothing is done. Rangel Diaz, the great-grandson of a former president of Mexico, a former industry adviser to the Mexican Congress and a longtime businessman who today owns fish-packing warehouses, is an unlikely critic of the economic system. But he's quick to call himself a "victim of globalization." His small fleet of shrimp boats was driven out of business by trade concessions to Asian corporate fleets, and he says he has painfully watched his adopted city of Cancún succumb to a lethal brew of international capital and local corruption--a formula he says is embodied in the policies of agencies like the WTO.
The crisis, he says, runs much deeper than a few greedy Spanish hotel chains. "Globalization is a process that radically undermines national projects," he says. "International capital, as you can see here in Cancún, wants to offer only enough wages, healthcare and education to guarantee a minimum of stability. It then becomes complicit with corrupt local governments. And neither side asks very much of each other. Instead they fuse into a single mafia that robs the population of its human dignity."
Two years ago, Diaz helped lead a study of the Cancún economy that detailed the radical shortcomings in its model of free-market development. "We have a $10 billion industry here, and all it does is consistently degrade the work force," he says. "Labor was brought in but never trained or upgraded. We have two miserable libraries, only two athletic fields, only four youth coaches, only six baseball diamonds, no public university, but we have public schools where the principals pocket 'registration fees.' We have half the population without sewers, but we have 7,000 liquor stores, half of them clandestine, 4,000 prostitutes who each pay the police $10 a month and 400 crackhouses that also produce about $2 million a month in police protection money. Do you think this is just? Do you think this is fair treatment by a $10 billion industry?"
The study made hundreds of concrete suggestions for reform and improvement, but he says, "We have been totally, but totally ignored. Not one of our suggestions has been implemented. The globalizers couldn't care less about sustainability or even social order. What's most important to them is competitiveness. And, damn it, if being competitive means they have to pay you $4 a day--then $4 a day is all you're going to be paid."