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Seven meetings that shaped a nation

Mexico, according to Malcolm Lowry, is “the meeting place of mankind itself,” where European and Aztec civilization first made contact. Every year, many Mexicans gather at their family graves to meet with the spirits of departed loved ones. In business etiquette, first impressions are of utmost importance, and establishing a personal rapport is essential for negotiations.

Whether it is cross cultural encounters, assemblies with the dead, or the building of personal and business relationships, meetings are a key to the culture. Here are seven that shaped the country since the arrival of the Spanish.

1. Hernan Cortes meets La Malinche, present day Tabasco, 1519.

In April 1519, Doña Marina, or La Malinche as she is commonly known, was among 20 slave women given to Hernan Cortes as a gift from a Mayan warlord. Her exact age at the time is unknown, but it is assumed she was in her late teens. The chronicler of the Conquest, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, remarked on her beauty; and she was the only one of the slaves whose name he remembered. She worked as an interpreter and mediator, mastering Spanish in weeks, and later became Cortes’ lover. She played a pivotal role in events, with Cortes even writing: “after God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.”

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2. Cortes meets Moctezuma II, present day Mexico City. 1519.

On November 8, 1519, Emperor Moctezuma came with a procession of lords to meet Cortes on the bridge leading into his island city. The Aztec leader gave the Spaniard a golden calendar as a gift, which Cortes melted down for its material value. 

Moctezuma brought Cortes into his palace, and the Spaniards stayed as guests for several months. At some point, he became a hostage in his own home, which eventually sparked a rebellion amongst his own frustrated people. Cortes forced Moctezuma to address an angry mob from the palace balcony, and he was hurt by rocks thrown from the crowd. He later died from his injuries, or was murdered by Cortes, depending on which version you believe.

3. General Santa Anna meets Sam Houston, Texas territory, 1836.

General Santa Anna was an eccentric military leader and president who ordered a ceremonial burial for a leg he lost in battle. His political blunders make his name a continuing cause of controversy in Mexico. Sam Houston was the commander of the Texan army that fought for independence from Mexico. In 1836, his forces surprised Santa Anna’s, defeating them in the battle of San Jacinto. 

The Texan militia rounded up the Mexican soldiers, and Santa Anna initially evaded discovery by changing into the uniform of a common soldier. The tactic worked until he was exposed by one of his own men, who referred to him as “Presidente” in front of the Texans. His true identity exposed, he was brought before Sam Houston, who had been wounded in battle. In exchange for his life, Santa Anna signed over all Mexican rights to Texas. It was the beginning of a process that would eventually see Mexico lose more than half of its territories to the United States. By 1848, it had lost all of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada as well as parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The bungling General responsible is even vilified in the Molotov song “Frijolero”: “If not for Santa Anna just to let you know, that where your feet are planted would be Mexico!”

4. Frida Kahlo Meets Diego Rivera, Mexico City, 1928.

While the student Frida Kahlo used to spy on muralist Diego Rivera as he painted at her school in 1921, their first face-to-face meeting wasn’t until seven years later, at a party hosted by Italian actress Tina Modotti. Frida, who had an unpredictable personality herself, enjoyed seeing Diego pull a pistol and shoot the phonograph. For Diego, it was the meeting that would define his life: “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life, and would continue to be up to the moment she died, 27 years later.”

5. Roberto Bolaño meets Octavio Paz, Mexico City, 1974.

In 1974, the Nobel prize-winning poet Octavio Paz had the misfortune of meeting a young, angry Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean novelist who went on to write postmodern masterpiece “2666”. Bolaño’s group, the “Infrarealists” saw Paz as the embodiment of the establishment, a suited villain who cozied up to power.

The writer Carmen Boullosa was 20-years-old when she encountered Bolaño and his circle at Mexico City poetry readings. She writes, “With my own eyes I saw a group of Infrarealists throw the contents of a glass over Paz (very smartly dressed, in an elegant blazer) who shook out his tie and continued conversation with a smile, as if nothing happened.” 

At another event, Bolaño set out the reasons for his hatred of Paz: “his odious crimes in the service of international fascism, the appalling little piles of words that he risibly calls his poems, his abject insults to Latin American intelligence.”

6. Carlos Salinas meets Carlos Slim, Mexico City, 1982.

Carlos Salinas is the former president of Mexico who came to power in the rigged elections of 1988. Carlos Slim is the owner of Telmex, formerly the richest, and currently the second-richest man in the world. The pair met at a dinner in 1982. It was the start of a friendship that would shape the next three decades of Mexican history. Slim was at the banquet in 1994 when Salinas appealed to the country’s millionaires to provide financial aid to the campaign of his chosen successor as president, Ernesto Zedillo, and was almost certainly influential in keeping the country out of the hands of the left-leaning PRD.

For his part, Salinas sold the national telecoms company Telmex to Slim in 1990. It was an auction that rivals alleged was fixed. 

“Regardless of whether there was favoritism in the sale of Telmex,” said David Lunhow, writing in the Wall Street Journal, “the privatization process created a new class of super-rich in Mexico. In 1991, the country had two billionaires on the Forbes list. By 1994, at the end of Mr. Salinas’s six-year term, there were 24. The richest of them all was Mr. Slim.”

7. Guillermo del Toro meets Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico City, 1987.

The director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” met the director of “Gravity” in 1987, while both were working on a Mexican horror series.

“It was an episodic thing like ‘The Twilight Zone’,” Cuaron said. “We used to call it ‘The Toilet Zone’ because of the budgets.” 

“I remember, right after I did my first one, this freak from Guadalajara walks into the office and says: ‘You’re Cuaron, right? I’m Guillermo del Toro. I saw your show, and it was a rip-off from a Stephen King story.’ I started laughing, and I said, ‘You’re the one guy who figured it out!’ And he said, ‘Yeah, man, but your show still stunk.’ I started laughing even louder. I loved the guy immediately.”







Learn how to keep from getting scammed by your “bank”


The other day I received an urgent email from my Mexican bank warning me that my account had been frozen in order to prevent any fraudulent activity taking place.  The email looked entirely genuine and would have fooled even me except that I am always suspicious of any email I receive.

When I scrutinized the email closer I noted that there was a link that said “Click here to log into your account.”  I never click on links in emails, and the advice I give to everyone is to never, never, ever click on links in emails.  There is rarely any way to tell a valid link from a malicious link, and so there is no way to ever make it safe to click on links.  When I hovered my mouse over the link in my email, I could see in the lower left of my screen that the link connected to:


I fired up my test computer, the one that has none of my personal information on it.  When I opened that web page above, what I saw was the Bancomer web page I expected to see, except that my network packet sniffing software started vociferously warning me that Bancomer was silently installing a keystroke logger and other malware on my computer.  Now my friends at Bancomer would never do such a thing, so what was going on?  Look closely at the URL above for the answer.  When I clicked on that link I did not connect to “bancomer.com” in Mexico but to “mexio.cc” which was a fake site in Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a fake copy of the Bancomer web site.  Anyone who enters their username and password into that fake site would probably have their real bank account emptied by the crooks in minutes.  Do not bother trying that address; I reported it and the site is already taken down.  Besides, most of these scams keep the fake site up for only 48-72 hours before vanishing.

Let us take a look at another URL.  This one appears to be a login for Yahoo, but a closer examination shows it is not that at all:


The Top Level Domain (TLD) such as .com or .net or a county such as .de (Germany) or .mx (Mexico) almost always follows the last period and is itself followed by a slash.  The domain in the example above is “scam.ru” meaning that if you clicked on that link you would be taken not to yahoo.com but to a malicious site in Russia.

Now let us dissect a more complicated URL.  If you buy at Costco you might be tempted to click on the link in the email you received, the one that says you have a refund coming to you and all you have to do is claim it.  Here is the link:


Looking at that URL above you might be tempted to think it is “refunds” at “costco.com” or something to do with “customer.service.”  In reality this address connects you to “24O1OaeNVwy2DvlOnS49.md” which is a web site in Moldova (.md).  I am not aware Costco has a refund department there, but Moldova is seen by many as a hotbed of online fraud.

As explained earlier, when you receive an email with a link, you can usually see where a link will take you if you hover your mouse over the link without clicking.  Look in the lower part of your screen to see if the URL is visible when you do this.

A better, easier and safer solution is to do what I do: Never, ever click on links in emails!

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.

South of North – He worked 70 years changing Mexican  journalists from serfs to sleuths and teaching government what the truth is

In April of 1975 when my wife and I finally completed the two-year hallucinatory ordeal of buying the Colony Reporter (as it was then called), a government fiat ruled Mexican journalism: “NO FREE PRESS.”  Even a hint of such an inclination tended to prompt a strong “Keep that up, we’ll shut you down... and deport you.”  This made publishing a newspaper in Mexico both surreal and a bit scary.  Still, after a period of daunting, if short-lived, wrangles, we concocted strategies that allowed us to dodge the censors.  

Danzon and the origins of the salsa

When foreigners arrive in Guadalajara, they want to experience or at least see what is currently the dance that has become the world-wide representative of Latin dance — salsa.  However, though salsa has evolved from Latin-American rhythms, it was actually “born” in New York City!   It’s “parents” are actually the Cuban danzon and mambo (which also has its roots in danzon, a dance that is now more alive in Mexico than in Cuba).  While salsa is primarily a dance for the younger and physically fit — especially here in Mexico where a single, fast paced dance can last 15-20 minutes — danzon can be danced by people of all ages and physical abilities.  In fact, the danzon group that I attend in Zapopan includes a woman of 84 and a man in his 60’s who dances with the aid of a cane! 

Is the Guadalajara Zoo cool in winter?

Most people associate going to the zoo with summer and children on vacation from school. The Guadalajara Zoo is no exception, as, according to zoo public relations staffer Danae Vazquez, summer brings the greatest influx of visitors to the zoo, which is widely known as the best in Latin America.

However, winter — even January — really rock, Vazquez said, because many people enjoy the sparse crowds and active animals at this time of year. 

“The mornings are especially nice” she said, because cool and downright cold temperatures make the animals perkier than ever. “In the afternoons, when it’s a bit warmer, they tend to rest.”

The polar bears were definitely going with the flow as explained by Vazquez. At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday the two males and one female were konked out — collapsed on a ledge just above their beautiful aqua pool, oblivious to visitors peering through large windows from a darkened grotto below ground level, who were hoping to see them show off in their aquarium-style digs. Well, one can hardly blame a polar bear for never, ever, considering Guadalajara invigoratingly chilly.

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However, in the primate area, a hefty orangutang must not have heard Vazquez proclaim that sunny January afternoons are for snoozing. In full sun at 3 p.m., he bounded up one of eight impressively tall towers that have recently been built for the zoo’s five orangutangs. 

The towers are made of slick metal, explained Primate Curator and Veterinarian Luis Soto, so that where a tower is grounded in a visitor area and doesn’t have steps, the orangutangs can’t get down it. “They’re connected by cables that the orangutangs use to get from one tower to the other.” 

On the grass below the acrobat, a mother orangutang nursed her two-year-old baby Chemita for a few seconds before the youngster sauntered away to thrill visitors by executing an effortless somersault and then setting off to scale a precariously tilted log.

Primates in another new area called Monkeyland are just as active, explained tour guide Rosy Cepeda of Charter Club  Tours, who had brought a group of visitors to the Zoo and entered Monkeyland for the first time. She recounted that, while wandering around with the monkeys, she even saw one of them dare to snatch a woman’s purse.

Cepeda further explained that, besides Monkeyland, a favorite spot for young zoo visitors is the Safari. “They see a big variety of animals who are fat and healthy,” she said.  


visitors, on the other hand, love taking the Sky Zoo — a system of small gondolas suspended from cables in the air. Sky Zoo coasts along overhead, through and above treetops, giving visitors a good overview of the entire park. 

“While they’re in the Sky Zoo, people can decide what they want to see later, when they are walking,” Cepeda said. She noted that she encourages people to get what is called Paquete Diamond, a pass that allows them to do everything in the park. (Cost: 205 pesos for adults, 145 pesos for children.)

Cepeda also noted that she especially loves the Zoo’s aquariums. “They are organized by ecosystem,” she said, “and the signage they have for reading is very good.”

“We are a zoo that is not near the ocean,” Vazquez emphasized, “but we have recreated the sea in the exhibit.”

Back on land, one visiting couple, a member of Cepeda’s group, declared that the Zoo’s white tiger exhibit had been their favorite. “The tigers were in an outdoor area enjoying the sun,” said Rosemarie Masson.

It is perhaps a reflection of the quality of the zoo, that many staffers have worked there a long time. Primate Curator Soto said that he has been at the zoo since the age of 17 — 11 years. Likewise, Vazquez said she has been at the zoo many years. As we neared the Zoo’s exit, with the Russian Mountain (Montaña Rusa) in the next-door amusement park clattering overhead and its riders emitting terrified screams, Vazquez declared without hesitation that the 

principal reason for the high quality of the Zoo is its director, Francisco Rodriguez Herrejón. “He has been here 25 years,” she noted.

Zoológico Guadalajara, open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Basic entrance fee: 70 pesos adults, 42 pesos children. www.zooguadalajara.com.mx, (33 )3674-4488, Calzada de Independencia just outside Periferico. Zoológico stop on the Macrobus. {/access}

Hacienda brings viejo Mexico to life

After a sip or two of Forteleza, which is served upon check-in at the Hacienda El Carmen hotel, if you squint your eyes just right as you wander through the property’s reception rooms, you can easily imagine yourself to have stepped back into old colonial Mexico.  It’s hard not to visualize the past here on a slow and sultry afternoon.  In my mind’s eye, I see family guests in white linens and silks, playing roque among the peacocks or polo beyond the fountains.