My friends, there are no friends.
There is a quote from a French politician in the early 20th century that I do not remember exactly, but it is to the effect that the politician preferred to dine with his enemies rather than his friends because his enemies, unlike his friends, would not stab him in the back.
In México, when one seeks the truth, one finds that it is like water: you look and it is there, you close your eyes for a moment in the glare of the sun, and when you reopen your eyes you see another truth; the water is gone. Evaporated? Drunk by cattle? Pumped into a neighbor’s field?
Do golden arches portend the end of magic?
A group wishing to open a McDonald’s restaurant in a building in el Centro has stirred up great controversy among the ex-pat community (and to a lesser extent among the Sanmiguelenses). There is already a McDonald’s outlet in a mall that sits on the outskirts of town.
Some background: the group initially made application for a restaurant at calle Canal, 16, but did not disclose that it was going to be a McDonald’s franchise. When the previous mayor’s administration suspended work, McDonald’s sought a reversal of that ruling. In November of 2012 the Municipal Administrative Court said the former Mayor and his administration did not follow the correct procedures – and acted in secrecy – in its order to cease construction.
Among the ex-pats there are pro-factions and anti-factions as well as a leave-it-to-the-Mexicans-it’s-their-country faction. There are pro- and anti- factions among the Sanmiguelenses as well. At least three threads existed on the San Miguel electronic bulletin board until a moderator closed all discussion regarding McDonald’s. A meeting was held two days ago (9 January) between the McDonald’s representatives and townspeople.
Currently at one corner of el Jardin sits a Starbuck’s (owned by a Mexican group). I have read that in the past, two fast food operations faced el Jardin, both of which are now closed. Rumor is afoot that there are plans for a Sanborns department store (its owner is a Mexican company that also operates Sears stores in México). A Sanborns store is likely to include:
- Farmacia (pharmacy)
- Librería (bookstore)
- Departamento de aparatos electrónicos (electronics)
- Departamento para el hogar (items for the home)
- Accesorios y joyería para dama y caballero (men’s and women’s accessories and jewelry)
- Regalos y novedades de alta calidad (high quality gifts and novelties)
- Un restaurante y un bar que se encuentran abiertos de las 7.00 a.m. a 1:30 a.m. los siete días (a restaurant and bar open seven days)
Evidently there are zoning regulations against franchises on el Jardin. Regulations can be selectively enforced at the discretion of planning commissions. Then, too, enforcement of regulations, like the law and the truth in México, can change as the sun moves across the sky. According to Jorge Castañeda, author of Mañana Forever: México and the Mexicans,
…By maintaining the colonial era’s tradition of ignoring the law, Mexico was perpetuating a birth defect that would plague it for nearly two centuries.
Castañeda believes Mexicans’ disrespect for the law derives from the Conquistadores, who did their best not to comply with their distant king’s edicts.
Arguments against the McDonald’s are somewhat typical for these types of situations. These include statements such as, “I don’t like:
- The smell of meat cooking
- Big corporations
- Fast food
- Altering paradise
San Miguel is dependent on the tourist dollar. But which tourist dollar? Is it the day tripper from México City? European, South American and North American tourists here for the day, or for a month, or more?
San Miguel is proud of and promotes its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, of which there are approximately 1,000 (31 in México). Of the Mexican sites, San Miguel is one of eight designated historic towns or city centers. UNESCO says of San Miguel:
The required conditions of integrity and authenticity have been met; both the town and Sanctuary have been subject to few significant alterations over time, urban changes have been adapted to the town’s features and scale, and restoration works have been carried out according to appropriate theoretical and technical principles.
The legal system in place ensures the adequate protection of the property and the town and the Sanctuary exhibit an acceptable state of conservation. Management policies, structures and plans in place are adequate to ensure the preservation of the property’s values, integrity and authenticity.
So, a McDonald’s would not seem to threaten the UNESCO designation UNLESS it somehow significantly altered the look or functionality of el Centro. Other Mexican cities with World Heritage Status include Guanajuato and Campeche, and the historic centers of Mexico City, Morelia, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Zacatecas. For a number of years similar protests took place in Zacatecas before McDonald’s prevailed. Below are photographs from historic centers, that on the left México City, that in the center Puebla and that on the right Zacatecas.
In addition to the above points, the nay-sayers have also brought up some significant issues:
- According to one writer, “McDonald’s got its original permit on [Calle] Canal under false pretenses more than one year ago. It was revoked by the City Administration two months later.”
- The same writer claims “this struggle is NOT about McDonald’s. It is
about ALL MULTI-NATIONAL fast-food franchises which will follow them into our Centro Historico. Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s.”
- 60 per cent of the 1,800 protest signatures are Mexican; the rest have been gathered from around the world. Approximately three-fourths of the 700-plus written petition signers are local Mexicans.
I think issue 2 is important to San Miguel as fast food enterprises generate significant amounts of trash through their packaging. I’ve written previously about trash collection in San Miguel. As one walks around town there is a noticeable lack of containers for trash and in some places, receptacles have been stolen.
If I were a San Miguel restauranteur or shopkeeper I would feel threatened by a McDonald’s or a Sanborn as both companies have significant capital and so can offer loss-leaders to pull business away from Mom-and-Pop operations. However, the future is change, and San Miguel already has big-box stores that have cut into the business of las tiendas – but they are not located on el Jardin.