Several years ago, Rudolph Giuliani — the former mayor of New York and 2008 presidential candidate — headed to Mexico with his consultancy company, hired to help the country curb crime with a “zero tolerance” policy that had been credited with reducing crime in New York.
Richard Grabman is an American author living in Mexico. He writes at “The Mex Files” blog that harsher laws against vagrancy have thrust some homeless street children into even darker situations.
“Social cleansing” — limpieza social – is what El Universal recently called the “zero tolerance” policy (pushed by Rudolf Guiliani, who was hired to make recommendations to Mexico City’s police) that is forcing street children into prostitution.
I don’t want to romanticize the plight of the “children of the streets”, but I think they may have been better off living in the parks. It seemed, based on nothing but casual observation, that there was usually a food brigade, a laundry brigade and a “hanging out brigade” (the largest of all, naturally) that seemed to offer them some protection and structure.
I used to charge for doing some basic tourist assistance and research a basic fee of one set of kids’ clothes and a couple liters of milk. Recognizing that a middle-aged foreigner going to visit a homeless kids” encampment could be easily misunderstood, I’d bribe a nun to accompany me when I’d drop off my ill-got gains with the kids at my local park. The kids were, if nothing else, polite and better mannered than you’d expect from shoplifters, narcotics retailers, and glue sniffers.
I was hardly the only person doing this (and the nuns were happy to pitch in, even without a donation). Charity in Mexico is not — as in the northern countries — something you foist off with a check to someone else. It’s hands on. And… based in both the Indigenous cultures and in the Hispanic Islamic-Judaic-Christian tradition… the concept of charity as a benefit to the giver is strong. One gives a peso to a begger not because you think “give a man a fish today…” but because it earns you a blessing… or good karma. Yeah, you need to teach a man to fish, but before you do that, you have to get him a fishing line, a hook and a worm… and he’s got to have enough calories in his stomach to get to the river.
And fishing line, hooks, worms … and calories… require more than feeling the need for occasional good karma. The Federal District provided some basic services like medial attention, and offered some drop in social service clinics, but there isn’t a lot of money available. The Quakers and a few others — including the Brigada Callejara (which includes the Prostitutes’ Union, feminists and homeless advocacy organizations) — offered some ad hoc assistance. At one point, mostly to shame the government into action, dissident teachers organized an open air school at the Angel of Independence.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it beat what’s happened as a result of “social cleansing”. At least living in the parks provided the younger kids with some kind of protection and a semblance of a “home life” that’s been lost when Guiliani recommended, and the Federal District adopted, anti-vagrancy statutes that made sleeping in the parks overnight a criminal offense.
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