Merida Expat Legacy of the 1980s

Beryl Gorbman
www.yucatan-yenta.com

Actually, it’s not much of a legacy. It’s a not-very-interesting history. The foreign community of Merida was founded primarily (with notable exceptions) by drunks, misfits and criminals. Fortunately, things have changed.

Who becomes an expat? I’m not talking about the normal human beings who set up residence in other countries because their employers send them there. I’m talking about those of us who make a decision to uproot ourselves, leave our friends and families and all that’s familiar, and relocate, either alone or with  a family or partner, to a foreign culture. From this discussion, I’m also eliminating people who have roots in the new country, or have married into roots there.

When I first started coming to Merida about 25 years ago, there were very few foreigners here. The American Consulate held First Friday gatherings for the American community in the consulate, then located on the Paseo Montejo. There was a big room, some tacky chairs, hard fluorescent lighting, and an open bar. There were never more than 20 people there, and  they were all there for the free booze, myself included. We’d drink and sit around complaining about how often the electricity went off, or how easy it was to trip on the unfilled holes in the sidewalks. Poor us.

Then, there was the gathering place in Parque Hidalgo, commonly known as “The Umbrellas.” On any given day, there would be about ten gringos/gringas sitting there, starting at about 9 a.m., drinking beer and smoking. Mostly, they were older, unmarried men, some gay and some straight. And mostly they were disconnected people, disenchanted with life, and content to drink away their final years in quiet quasi companionship with like-minded people. We were all running away from something. We hadn’t come to create a new life so much as to get away from the old one.

These were the Pre-NAFTA days, in fact long before. We had no McDonalds or Costco. There was no common use of the internet or email. English language TV didn’t exist here and grocery shopping was an adventure. The wealthier, less eccentric (or should we say adventurous) Americans and Canadians found this place much too primitive. My mom came down to visit me in my house in the late 80′s and was very troubled because there were no toilet seats.

Today, a surfeit of toilet seats

Today, a surfeit of toilet seats

When northamericans came to Mexico (and this is true today with tourists, at least), they felt that it was a place where they could let loose and do all the outrageous things they could never get away with at home. They treated Merida like a cesspool. They had a fantasy that Mexico supported distasteful, rude and illegal behaviors, when in fact, quite the opposite was (and is) true. We had a steady stream of American fugitives here, and occasionally the FBI would quietly snatch one or the other of them up and we’d never see them again. One of my friends had been involved with one of these guys and after he disappeared, she visited him several times at a federal prison in the US.

Houses could be had for very little in the 80s and into the 90s. I bought my colonial in 1988 for $11,000 USD. But in the 90s, Real Estate Agents made their appearance. Merida began to be a trendy place to live and the Agents helped shoot the prices through the roof, so to speak. In their search for houses to sell, Agents knocked on the doors of family homes, asking whether they’d consider selling. This did not engender goodwill, but many Meridianos did cash in, collecting enough money to make them secure for life.
The foreigners have restored hundreds of houses downtown. Where in the 80s, Merida looked sort of like Havana – worn and dirty, now it is charming. The City of Merida launched a program to revitalize the facades of downtown buildings, so the total effect is about a 100% improvement.

The early gay foreign male population here, which was substantial, was known for wild parties, some of which included the presence of prepubescent boys. Some of the boys were “borrowed” from local orphanages. I remember early in my time here going to the house party given by an American man, a doctor who had lost his license. I looked around the crowded, dimly lit room and saw about a dozen very quiet Maya boys, about eight years old. I wondered what the heck they were doing at an adult party, when suddenly I understood.

A lot of the straight men went through as many women and girls as their creaky bodies would allow, especially the old codgers. One guy worked so hard at it, he had to have a penile implant (and ended up marrying his young nurse). Some of the gringa women couldn’t keep their eyes (or hands) off those darling dark-eyed Maya boys and men who treated them like fair goddesses. Alcohol was cheap. There were constant parties, revolving among the houses in Gringo Gulch, the area near the present day Merida English Library.

One guy used to regularly wander to the Plaza at night, drunk and naked. The police were nice to him. they bundled him up and took him home. But some foreigners behaved so badly, they were deported. The local police seemed to put up with a certain level of gringo lunacy, but when people crossed the line, they were disappeared.

Unlike today, we barely knew there were police in Merida in the mid-80s. You rarely saw one, probably because they weren’t needed. The police of those days were little guys in dowdy brown uniforms who made minimum wage, were completely for sale, and totally deferential. If I got stopped for a supposed infraction, all I had to do was cry and say my husband was going to be very angry at me. That was it.

There were several crazy old American men who lived in remote villages, drinking and doing whatever. Twenty-five years ago, those villages were truly isolated compared to now, and local Mayas didn’t know quite what to make of these guys. Being an accepting group, they tolerated them, brought them food in exchange for cash, and did their best to ignore them. I visited a guy once in Dzan, who had invented some kind of cooling and rain channeling system that he thought would revolutionize houses here. It didn’t work very well, though.

A Cuban American from New York, Jose Bosch, was a brilliant man and a terrible artist. All his paintings looked like orgasms, which he professed not to realize. And they were scary, awful orgasms in violent colors. He also sculpted very badly in cement. Giant abstract installations which he mounted all over his house and patio. Although he claimed not to be gay, he decided to build a gay bath-house which took off like a ball of fire, so to speak. Although Jose died some years ago, his bizarrely decorated bath-house has outlived him. It’s located across from a Mormon church downtown. Not sure, but I think it’s the one called “Bananas.” It’s the site of a gruesome murder in a book I’m working on called Rotten Fruit.

My friend Gina P was another colorful figure. In her 70s, she dressed like a teenager and had a body that almost went with it. She wore flamboyant make-up and loved a good party. She had an eye for the gentlemen, and was intermittently off with one or the other. I was sad when she died in Florida in the early 90s.

Local residents pretty much thought we were nuts, a fairly accurate assessment. It was later, when more balanced foreigners started coming here, that numerous friendships and affiliations with the people of Yucatan began to take shape. Can you blame them for holding back?

In the 80s, there was no symphony, no theater that we knew of, and only two or three (unpleasant) movie houses. Poor us. Few gringos ventured out of the city.

There were a few notable exceptions. One guy, Tom Parks, was passionate about air plants and biked into the countryside regularly to collect them. He had hundreds in his home and knew them all by their Latin names. He kept them all going for many years. Tom had a keen, scientific mind and a drive to understand the flowers and fauna of this place.

Another guy, a retired advertising man from NYC, developed a love for abandoned haciendas and begged rides from those of us with cars for his regular jaunts to some of the least accessible ones. He photographed every hacienda in the State and developed large black and white images which were shown here and in Campeche (at the University). His name was Bill Ebbetts, and I owe to him my dawning realization of how fabulous it was to visit the hundreds of historic places in our back yard. If he were alive today, he would shudder at how badly some of the haciendas have been restored.

Several of us began going on regular forays to remote ruins, mostly on dirt roads. We visited villages where no gringo had ever been. We sat outside huts and ate eggs, frijoles, and home-made tortillas. They ground their own corn back then which made a far better tortilla. Even then, there were always cokes. Unrefrigerated. When we revisited a pueblo, we brought used clothing, school supplies, toothbrushes, and other things we collected from people in the US when we went home. In one of the villages, there was a child with spina bifida who spent most of his time in a hammock or dragging himself through the dirt of his compound. My friend Lorenzo Polanco built him a cart with wheels which could be pulled by other people or manipulated by him. I remember one woman cooking eggs over her open fire in a frying pan that had a large hole in it. She was expert at sloshing the eggs around without spilling a drop.

Crumbling haciendaCrumbling hacienda

The self-appointed doyenne of Gringo Gulch was Marilyn Smith, a difficult woman who liked to spread fictitious and horrible stories about people she didn’t like. (I’ll try to stop saying bad things about her now.) Marilyn’s legacy was that she left her house on Calle 53 to the fledgling Merida English Library. Some said she did that to avoid leaving anything to her children. Quien sabes?

In the summers, archaeologists working at digs near here, would come to Merida with their families. A lot of them stayed at the Hotel Caribe, also a destination hotel for teachers and academics with summers off. You could meet a lot of interesting people sitting in Hidalgo Park in the summer, in front of the Caribe. I met my friend Bruce Dahlin there, the lead archaeologist at ChunChucMil. Bruce came here with his family every summer for years. He’d worked at El Mirador, in Guatemala, and used to tell us stories about it, his eyes shining.

Max, a man in his 70s who was the court jester of the gay community, lived with his mom on Calle 66. He and I were friends. One day he came to my house and announced that he was in love with a woman! He really was. They got married at Santa Lucia church. The rest of the gay male community was outraged and some of them attended the wedding wearing leather pants with the butt cut out. Sorry to have missed that.

One of my all-time favorite characters was Richard, a tall skinny American from Detroit. A self-confessed drug runner, he flitted in and out of town for years. When he wanted to lay low, he managed after-hour gambling clubs in downtown Detroit. He was in San Cristobal managing a bar when Marcos and his jolly band walked in, and he helped them sack a pharmacy. Richard liked to go to Havana for short stays and “hole up in a hotel with two or three women and all the coke I could use.” He came back refreshed. Later on, he skippered a boat that went up and down the east coast of the US and down into Central America, presumably running drugs. That was the peaceful era of drug trade. His boat was called A Further Adventure.

A mysterious man named William sporadically occupied two rooms on the top floor of the Caribe. He looked like a wild man and lived in a Maya village near Tulum. He spoke fluent Maya and spent much time drinking booze out of paper-bag covered bottles, poolside on the third floor of the hotel, usually with several employees. Before I bought my house, the third floor of the Caribe was my home too, so William and I had a pleasant nodding acquaintance.

My friend Louis reminds me, and of course he’s right, that there were constructive northamericans here even before the dissolute folks arrived. JoAnne Andrews, founder of Pronatura Yucatan, came here in the 60s with her husband Will Andrews, the archaeologist who worked on Dzibilchaltun. JoAnne developed a solid expertise in the plants of the area, and became prominent in her own right. Their lovely old home occupies an entire city block and is a nature refuge. Their home was and continues to be a mecca for intellectuals from all over the world.

Sarah S., a gentle grey-haired woman from New York, settled alone in Chixulub Puerto, for some reason. At that time, she was probably the only foreigner there. Struck by the poverty of the villagers, she taught a bunch of women how to make cloth dolls, which they sold in the market. And she did it without learning a word of Spanish. People absolutely adored Sarah. Me included.

The English-speaking International Women’s Club has always done constructive things for the community (and does even more so now). As more balanced people started to come here, most of the women joined the club, which was very helpful for them in orienting themselves. The IWC continues to sponsor selected local girls for university scholarships, teach English and volunteer in schools and orphanages.

There were probably other cool people here back then, but in the 80s I didn’t know them. We Centro dwellers were limited by our lack of language skills and the tiny group that comprised our society. Poor, poor us.

Things started to change around 1990. Some of us had sobered up and some reasonable people began moving here. We started to see people who actually contributed to Merida, rather than leaching off of it. Adventurers, artists, the intellectually curious, and people with something to offer the local communities started to trickle in. It was the beginning of the revitalization of the Centro and of the northamerican image.

Sadly, the 1990s also brought more organized setups for pedophilia. The internet brought many travelers here, responding to direct solicitations and ads such as “Rent-A-Boy” on Merida websites. As of now, authorities are seriously investigating offendors.

Also in the 90s, Brazos Abiertos was formed. Their primary purpose of this foreigner-run organization, as written on their IRS filing was to support the OASIS AIDS shelter near Merida. More recently, this has resulted in a scandal. BA was a Texas-incoporated non-profit that raised thousands of dollars here, but the money did not reach OASIS, nor was it used to open a clinic, as promised. OASIS, run by a Catholic priest, received a pittance from BA and the clinic never happened at all. BA held grand, glittery fundraising events without benefit of proper permission to act as a non-profit here and when Mexican agencies began questioning the two prinicpals, they bolted, leaving the Yucateco doctor they had hired high and dry.  The money is unaccounted for.

Overall, things have definately evolved. Apparently there are 5,000 foreigners living in this beautiful, cultured city of almost a million. Most of us are law abiding and constructive and some aren’t, just like like anyone and anywhere else.

All my photos from that era were taken with film cameras. Lastima.

In memory of the fabulous and outrageous Gina Pappalardo. A good friend and a good soul.

These are my personal memories and not necessarily representative of anything else. Many of these people and places are chronicled in my book, Madrugada, which I will publish online soon.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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51 Responses to Merida Expat Legacy of the 1980s

  1. William says:

    Love the article!! All that history!

  2. Mario Arredondo says:

    Wonderful story, Beryl. You are truly a very talented raconteur..

    Mario

  3. LEVN says:

    Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

    Are you saying that you are an eyewitness to the fact that, for a quarter century, American pedophiles have been coming down to Merida to have booze-fueled sex parties with children?

    Are you saying that for a quarter century Merida has been a destination of foreigners who engage in sex crimes against Merida’s children?

    That’s that I think you are saying when you write: “The early gay foreign male population here, which was substantial, was known for wild parties, some of which included the presence of prepubescent boys. Some of the boys were “borrowed” from local orphanages. I remember early in my time here going to the house of a guy who’d been a doc in the US but had his license taken away. I looked around the crowded, dimly lit room and saw about a dozen very quiet Maya boys, about eight years old. I wondered what the heck they were doing at an adult party, when suddenly I understood.”

    Whatever became of the doc who hosted these parties? How many American pedophiles were in attendance? Does this continue to this day — where websites go up and come down all the time by way of building the networks used by these sick perverts? Whatever became of those sexually abused Maya children from the orphanage?

    You really have raised a lot of questions, Beryl, questions that resonate to our days.

    Louis

    • BG says:

      I’m saying that was my experience some years ago. Now it’s possible, that all parties involved have cleaned up their acts and no longer sexually abuse young children. Perhaps they have gotten religion. Anything is possible.
      b

  4. Want more says:

    Oh Beryl, this is fantastic. Want more… want to read your book…

  5. Jonna says:

    Fascinating post! I’ve heard that there was (or is) a gay bathhouse around the corner from my house but I’ve never figured out which house it was. You’ll have to show me sometime. Not for any real reason, just because I like to know these things. The rest, well it sounds like a run down of expats in backwaters all over the world. I met quite a few in the lower Baja in the 60′s. All those dirty little secrets in those dirty little beach towns.

  6. Joe’s Perspective says:

    “Things have certainly changed around here,” the gringo said.

    “I’ll drink to that,” said the Mexican.

    And of course every American glass in the place lifted too, just like in the old days. “So, you honestly believe we Americans have changed?”

    “Hell, yes. Nearly everyone thinks so,” said the Mexican, “I got family in Arizona who’d say the same thing.”

    “We’re a very proud people,” said the latter day gringo with a grin.

    “I’ll drink to that too,” said the Mexican wearing a grin of his own.

  7. I’ve been enjoying your writing so much, and it’s getting better and better. The photographs add so much.

  8. I think back to 7th grade when four of us wrote to each other in our blog-like epistle Cauliflower which is, alas, long gone. I’m qvelling over your writing success.

  9. Don Batchelor says:

    Funny and fascinating. I’m eager to see Madrugada.

  10. Debi says:

    Thanks Beryl, that was funny and fascinating and makes me want to know more. Definitly a great promo for your upcoming book!
    How could we resist?

    abrazos
    Dbi

  11. Ellyne Basto says:

    Just about any expat community anywhere in the world where the cost of living was the same or cheaper than the US and Canada “back in the day” had it’s share of left over’s from the Leary, Haight Ashbury and East Village era. I don’t know many deviants but they seem to spread themselves around as well. I’m also sure that the Gay community shared the same percentages as the straight community. We were just not comfortable then. Kind of nice that we are improving and evolving expats! I have been a part of Merida for 36+ years, but have only become a member of the expat community in the last 6 years. Bet there were a bunch of “normals” like me back in the day as well, but these accounts sure are spicy and interesting.

  12. LG says:

    WoW! Sounds like the advent of the Merida English Library had a civilizing effect on that old timey expat group. So thanks to Marilyn E. Smith’s alleged disinclination to leave the property to her children, we now have a first class community centre for our alien community.
    And Yenta, yenta, Yenta … it is still bad form to talk ill of the dead.

  13. Rainie says:

    What a great story…I can’t wait to read the book. In fact, I’m sure there are lots of books to be written from this piece. Great writing Beryl. I hung on every word as did Roger.
    Rainie

  14. LEVN says:

    In response to my comment, BG, what do you mean by “perhaps they have gotten religion.”

    Are you suggesting they became Catholic priests (ha, ha).

    And by the way, a reminder: “My mother always told me to speak good about the dead,” Bette Davis was fond of saying. “Joan Crawford’s dead …. [appropriate pause] … GOOD!”

    I think what “LG” meant is that in proper WASP society in New England, it was considered bad form to speak ill of the dead. Fortunately, there’s apparently no longer anything as proper ANYTHING society and we’ve seemingly degenerated into a planet inhabited by vulgarians.

    Louis

  15. Jeremy says:

    …and did you report the pedophilia that you witnessed? Or did you just sit back and observe the events at hand, waiting to write about it years later in your so called “memoir”?

    I also find it hard to believe that a woman would have been present at one of those parties.

    Shame on you for not reporting it, but only writing about it later, providing something for these same people to gossip about.

    Did you ever stop to think about the young children that continued to be abused by your silence?

    I will absolutely NOT be reading your book.

  16. BG says:

    As a matter of fact, Mr. Morally Superior Jeremy, I did report it. Perhaps I didn’t do that well enough, because nothing happened.
    In those days in Merida, parties like this were common and anyone in the foreign community was welcome. Yes, even women. We were simply irrelevant.
    Things are changing. There is still an active pedophile ring in Merida and at last they are feeling some real pressure.
    So shove it up your ass, so to speak, Jeremy.
    b

  17. Jeremy says:

    Then perhaps you should have changed the perspective in your article, because that paragraph reads as a trite interesting little memory, rather than an outrageous crime.

    and yes I do feel morally superior to you. Enjoy the last word… I’m sure you’ll have it.

  18. Barbara Bode says:

    Moral Superiority ueber alles, Jeremy!
    Now here’s what I, someone who has lived almost exclusively in non-Latino countries, don’t get. Jeremy, who is supposed to be superior to whom? The strait-laced members of American tour groups who pay to be shocked by the sight of early morning tequila drinkers? The impoverished families of the under-employed locals — thanks to foreign dominated industries who pay only a few pesos and, therefore, whose employees’ only source of semi-substantial income is a quick blow job or roll in the hay? The adult men and women who prostitute themselves to feed their families? The horny , altar-boy –molesting priests? The Bishops and even the Pope who hide the molesters?
    Or…
    The sanctimonious Jeremy-type American born-again Puritans screeching that the police be called without being clear as to what the police are then to do. Take molested kids away from their prostituting parents? Then what, toss them into an orphanage where other adults – often priests and nuns — can take advantage of them?
    If you want a puritanical, English speaking, tea-totaling life with the goal of restricting kids, stay home.
    If you want to learn about life as it is lived anywhere but the US suburbs, travel, take notes, take photos and tell stories to your friends.
    But for god’s sake and for the sake of humanity world-wide, keep your personal measures of moral superiority out of other peoples’ lives and other peoples’ countries. Stay home and read your American version of the bible. That book has enough sex and rock and roll to satisfy the most lascivious of the likes of you.

    bbode, 28 May 2010

  19. Alinde says:

    I once knew a man quite well, who confessed to me that he’d molested his sister when she was probably about 8 or so. I remember his remorse; and I remember that I was not horrified! Life goes on. I did not know his sister personally; and I really do NOT know that she was damaged. In fact, we as a world population, probably do not REALLY know what the effects of these acts are on a true, scientific, basis. Sure, we hear anecdotal accounts–but these are most likely from the people who did feel abused. We don’t hear from the ones who just went on with their lives.

    I remember being date-raped in my early twenties. And quite frankly, it was NOT devestating to me at all. (My greatest satisfaction came in telling the guy later that I’d become pregnant. He was never to be seen in my area again!) I won’t go into more info here, except that I really did not suffer more from this incident. I was far more “damaged” by the marital discord of my own parents.

    I take exception with those like Jeremy who seem to feel that anyone who did not raise a stink about the acts they suspected was somehow complicit. The Jeremy’s of the world (how about Bill O’Reilly?) are most certainly not “morally superior,” but possibly many other things. And we should not be somehow telling everyone who has encountered such acts that they are supposed to be damaged. Let’s just do the best we can, with the laws that we have, and the social mileus that exist. These are not simple problems, (except to the simplistic-solvers, like those on Fox News.)

    Alinde

  20. LG says:

    Why, Beryl ? … because being impeccable in your speech is something to aim for.

    This is a very ancient prohibition. In classical Latin: “De mortuis nil nisi bonum”, literally “[speak] nothing but good of the dead” as to why the ancients said this, I do not know except that it was considered bad form. The Greeks had their saying about speaking only good things of those who are dead, as did subsequent civilizations. Por ejemplo: Olde Englishe: “Rayle not vpon him that is deade”. Perhaps those times past when manners were more considerate, folks were thinking of the laws of karma and wanted no one to speak ill of them when they too had joined the choir invisible.

    • BG says:

      LG – Maybe they were afraid of ghosts. In any case, I bow to your fabulously well-researched position. It will never happen again. All dead people are very nice. Were very nice.
      b

  21. mitch keenan says:

    A walk down memory lane. I agree with much of what you posted. I know or knew many of the characters mentioned. No doubt Marilyn could be prickly.

    We did know of a neighbor that was considered to most likely be a pedophile and we called his house “el kinder”.

    This Jeremy person (commented above) has made some very inflammatory (most likely slanderous and illegal) charges against people I know in Merida. He seems to display the pathology of a “closeted” self-loathing pedophile. He has used this site and several others to spread lies and he is intentionally trying to destroy peoples reputations. Good people.

    I hope responsible people will call him on his abuse. You did and I applaud you for it!

    Nonetheless, I know individuals whom would like to met out some vigilante justice to him. Since he has called into question people’s manhood and sexuality – painting with a wide brush, he has irritated many.

    I know a bit about the law, justice and am friends with police from the local, state and federal level. Sometimes the police turn a blind eye to vigilante justice if they see it was in response to a vile insult of a man’s manhood and reputation!

    Ten cuidado.

  22. BG says:

    Mitch, thank you for your excellent comment. Perhaps I was wrong about the name. If so I apologize. It was 25 years ago and I went to a lot of parties.
    I didn’t realize Jeremy was all over the place. He is obsessed. My take is that he is a self-loathing gay man who may have himself been abused. No excuse, though.

  23. BG says:

    This post has produced some spectacular comments and more come in. I am a bit overwhelmed. I am getting a volume of private mail, some threatening or angry and some with kind corrections. Some people are concerned for my safety and want me to take the article and comments off the web. I am considering it. I’m a chicken, really, and had no idea this would generate such intense feelings.
    Everyone, of course, has focused on the single paragraph in a long article.
    Every single city in the world has an underbelly. So do small towns. So do rigid churches and so do many families.
    Merida, IMHO, is one of the most transparent places in the world. Almost everyone looks at you in the eyes and smiles. The manners and kindness here make everywhere else I have traveled look bad. This is a fabulous city on all levels.
    This post has brought all kinds of stuff out of the woodwork. Like Jeremy, the homophobe disguised as an outraged citizen. Please.
    I DID NOT WRITE that there was anything wrong with Merida. What I wrote was that there was a small, self-serving group of FOREIGNERS, male and female, gay and straight, who came here to act out fantasies they mistakenly thought would be overlooked here because in their minds, Mexico was a wild place.
    As we all know, Mexico, and especially Yucatan has a far better developed sense of community and family than almost anywhere else. That is why I am so unhappy with northamericans who have come here and destroyed some of the innocence of a lovely city.
    Some of my personal email, warns that I could be kicked out of the country for making politically negative accusations against Mexico. (Does anyone actually see anything like that in my post?) I have received mail like this from two different people and have become nervous enough to seek legal advice. I am close to taking this entire post down, but the very fact that it has stirred such intense feelings (almost all from foreigners) indicates that there a things we, as foreigners, need to take responsibility for. Instead, most of us turn our backs.
    I think this is what a blog is for. A place for everyone to, within reason, express their opinions on issues and events.
    I will not be publishing any of the extraordinary email I have received privately, but that mail saddens me greatly.
    We, as foreigners, need to take some responsibility to protect this wonderful city that tolerates us as their guests.
    Beryl

  24. Louis Navaer, Mexican citizen says:

    Beryl:

    Your blog has caused a great deal of discussion, centering on libel and innuendos and slander. I have received many emails from folks who have expressed “concern” and “outrage” at what they believe is “libel” and “defamation” against Brazos Abiertos, a group you identify in everything but name.

    Opinions are opinions, and websites have all kinds of opinions, some of which go unchallenged even though they are demonstrably false. Consider, speaking of defaming Brazos Abiertos, specifically, what the United States Agency for International Development says about HIV/AIDS treatments in Mexico:

    “With less than 1 percent of the adult population estimated to be HIV-positive, Mexico has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in the world. … Mexico has a national policy on HIV/AIDS treatment and … established a national network of HIV/AIDS ambulatory health care facilities known as Centros Ambulatorios Para la Prevencion y Atencion en SIDA e ITS (CAPASITS). The CAPASITS are the result of collaboration among local governments, the national government, and NGOs and provide comprehensive community-based attention and treatment free of charge to people with HIV.”
    United States Agency for International Development, September 7, 2008

    The full report is available here: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/aids/Countries/lac/mexico_profile.pdf
    Now compare that with what Brazos Abiertos says about HIV/AIDS in Mexico:

    “In the Yucatan region of Mexico … [t]his deadly disease still destroys families in a manner we haven’t experienced since the 1980’s. Those contracting HIV are fired from their jobs, often banished from their families, thrown out into the street or even sent to live with the pigs, and finally, doomed to poverty and death. … most babies born with HIV die.”
    See: http://www.hivyucatan.org/en/who-we-help.html

    Disowned by their familes? Sent to live with pigs? Left to die?

    Forgive me, but this libel against the people of the Yucatan benefits no one, and such defamation diminishes and devalues the work of thousands of health care professionals throughout Yucatan who have, since the mid-1980s, worked selflessly on behalf of those living with HIV/AIDS.

    Does anyone seem to care that Brazos Abiertos, in their Mission Statement, proceeds to libel and defame Mexico? Apparently not. Does anyone care that a foreign, Texas-based nonprofit is in Merida raising money by slandering the people of Merida? Apparently not.

    So why is there now, suddenly, such concern about your expressing your own opinions?

    Even now, in my own work, I encounter people who tell me they can’t believe that Bernie Madoff was a thief. OK, let them hold whatever opinion they want, Mr. Madoff’s guilty plea and life sentence notwithstanding.

    Well, I’d write more, but you know how people here in the Yucatan are — gotta go out there, find an HIV positive person who’s wandering the streets disowned, and throw him into a pig trough!

    Louis Navaer, Casa Catherwood

  25. Jeremy says:

    To Mr. Keenan,

    “This Jeremy person (commented above) has made some very inflammatory (most likely slanderous and illegal) charges against people I know in Merida. He seems to display the pathology of a “closeted” self-loathing pedophile. He has used this site and several others to spread lies and he is intentionally trying to destroy peoples reputations. Good people.

    I hope responsible people will call him on his abuse. You did and I applaud you for it!”

    What abuse Mitch? I have never, and will never abuse anyone. You have me pegged as the exact opposite type of person I am. And which accusations are you talking about?

    I actually am a happily open gay man, am certainly NOT the person you think that is spreading these rumors around town. (Yes I received that email as well).

    How you would think that my comment makes me a “self loathing pedophile”, is beyond me. I’m actually chastising this woman for being passive towards pedophilia.

    Anyway, I’m also certainly not a Fox News watching, Sarah Palin supporting, Tea-Party Republican.

    What a sad lot of confused people you are. Too much booze and sun perhaps??

  26. Wow. All that feedback! And you didn’t even comment on local politics!

    Congratulations! (?)

    Have a good one BG! Here’s a big abrazo from me!

  27. Jane says:

    Moral Superiority is a myth, an invisible thread one holds onto when one’s heart and soul can no longer grasp humanity in its non perfect imprint.
    I’ve walked in its shadow with a slight ora of purple oozing down to the ground leaving a sticky residue on my loins. But I fear not I keep smiling with reality kissing my checks for I realize if you want to know the truth you have to embrace your demands they always whisper true fully about the caustic waste that boils within the human spirit. I applaud Jeremy’s performance laughing out loud, he is a parody with the sadist pink monkey ever seen on anyones back. Cry out for help my boy we are listening. really……

  28. mitch keenan says:

    Jeremy, I’ve strapped on my orthopedic shoes and I stand corrected. My sincere apology if you are not the Jeremy that is defaming people here in Merida.

    There is/are a person(s) that are using several pseudonyms and sending out very ugly emails accusing good people of being child abusers. “Jeremy” is one of the names they have utilized.

    WOW Jane! Where can I find more of your prose?

  29. DULCE says:

    Dear Beryl,
    Very good preview of trhe book.
    You have a good memory, it may sound controversial but that how it was on those days.
    I am glad to hear about Marilyn and the Library, someone is starting to put her on the right place!!!
    Congratulations!!!!

  30. Judy says:

    After reading your comment, Louis, I looked at the link to the usaidgov as I understand the incidence of AIDS/HIV IS high in Yucatan. Between the high rate of bi-sexual men and the workers going to the Rivera Maya to earn their daily bread, there IS a lot of AIDS in our state.

    You didn’t really explain the whole picture. Further to your quote from the first paragraph of the usaidgov site (with 2005 statistics), it actually says: “With less than 1 percent of the adult population estimated to by HIV-positive, Mexico has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN.” (not IN THE WORLD as you wrote). (Caps are mine.) It continues: “Although the overall HIV prevalence is low, UNAIDS estimates that, because of Mexico’s large population, approximately 180,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2005. In 2005, there were 6,200 deaths due to AIDS in Mexico. The epidemic is concentrated in high-risk communities, such as men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers, and has not yet become generalized. This situation presents both a challenge and an opportunity to step up prevention measures to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS in Mexico and in the region. Through USAID, Mexico in fiscal year 2007 received $2.2 million for essential HIV/AIDS programs and services. USAID/Mexico supports the prevention and control of two diseases that pose a major threat to global health: HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. USAID/Mexico works with Mexico to contain and reduce infection within vulnerable populations and to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.”

    I draw your attention to the words “epidemic”, “step up prevention measures”, and “reduce the stigma and discrimination”.

    Brazos Abiertos has programs which address all of these challenges mentioned by USAID, beginning with prevention-oriented “peer-on-peer education”. From their website: “BAI offers free condoms wherever possible and will be offering free anonymous HIV testing, as well as post- and pre-HIV testing counseling. BAI will also work to supply HIV-positive individuals with medications that will allow them to live a normal life and be productive persons who contribute to society.”

    As Mitch mentioned, I have also seen lots of letters going around defaming Brazos Abiertos and its people. The host of this blog has also made similar comments, referring to a connection between a pedophile ring and “so-called AIDS support organizations”. If there is no evidence to support these claims, they are, at the very least, malicious gossip, and in the case of the anonymous emails, obviously the work of a very sick person.

  31. mitch keenan says:

    In September of 2002 Hurricane Isadore laid waste to Merida and much of the Yucatan Peninsula. One of Isadore’s sad and cruel outcomes was the complete destruction of “Oasis”.

    Oasis is an HIV/AIDS albergue located just north of Conkal. It provides housing, food, friendship, medicine and resources to individuals and families that have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. Many of these people have been rejected by their families, treated as pariah by their communities and pueblos and tossed to the figurative “pig trough” by their local, state and federal government. That is not a libelous statement. That is the truth. I’d be happy to drive you out there and introduce you to the people living there. You can hear their stories for yourself.

    A few days following Isidore’s pummeling of the peninsula, Alejandro Chuil and myself were driving from Conkal towards Chicxulub Pueblo to check on a clients property and report back to them it’s condition.

    When we passed Oasis, I commented to Alejandro, “My God, those people really got wasted.” The small wooden huts that had been donated to the albergue from a benefactor in Amsterdam had been completely destroyed. Walls, roofs and doors had been smashed, broken and tossed like a salad. Clothes, bedding, mattresses, hammocks, radios, notebooks, paper, pots, pans, dishes and trash – everything was scattered across an acre of land and was being soaked by the persistent rains that followed in Isadore’s wake.

    It looked like a landfill. However the poor residents of this sad scenario were not rutting pigs or rats. They were poor, homeless, sick and rejected people, picking through their few poor and saturated belongings. It was a horrific and profoundly sad situation.
    Alejandro told me that this place was “Oasis” a place the people with HIV/AIDS could get help when there was no where else to turn. We decided on the trip back to Merida that we had to do something.

    We joined with Padre Raul Lugo, Olga Mogel, Ypke Vanderharing, Bud Godley, Carlos Renan Mèndez Benavides, and several others to start raising funds to re-build Oasis.
    The expat community and the local Yucatecan community were very generous in helping to re-build and maintain Oasis. I know many people whom still donate to this very day.

    My point is this. The help and aid the families and individuals at Oasis had received by the local, state or federal gov’t didn’t and doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Carlos and Father Raul are both very well connected with the local governments, churches and relief organizations around Yucatan. To this very day receiving any type of aid from the government has amounted to little but broken promises. See: http://www.yucatan.com.mx/noticia.asp?cx=11$1310000000$4274325&f=20100401

    I stayed on the Oasis Advisory Board and helped with fund raising for a few years. Not long after I left the board, Brazos Abiertos started operating in Merida and has provided a great deal of aid, food, medicine and generosity to Oasis. The people who are responsible for Abrazos have raised money through the non-profit in the USA so that Americans can make “tax deductible” contributions. I know they have donated generously of their time, energy and money to Abrazos. And I know Abrazos has done much to help Oasis and other HIV/AIDS sufferers in Yucatan.

    I looked at the website that Louis Navaer posted: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/aids/Countries/lac/mexico_profile.pdf

    And I gotta respectfully tell you Luis, based upon my personal experience with Oasis and from what I have witnessed with my own eyes, the claims of that website appear to be less than accurate.

    And the claims of Abrazos:

    “Disowned by their families? Sent to live with pigs? Left to die?”

    Is much closer to the actual truth as I know it. So if your truly looking for an HIV or AIDS person you can toss into the pig trough. I can direct you where to look.

    Louis, I know you are a smart guy and I love what you are doing with Casa Catherwood – creating an environment for discussion and debate about politics, renewable energy, art, history, literature and culture. If I lived closer to Merida I would be a more active at your events. However, your post here is a sad and disappointing commentary from a person in an influential position in our community

  32. mcm says:

    Re, BG’s response to LG’s statement “it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead” –
    It’s “bad form” because the dead are no longer around to reply to, clarify, and/or correct statements made about them.
    Marilyn Smith was not everyone’s cup of tea, but her legacy to the MEL was not as mean-spirited as you suggest.
    As for the rest of it…sigh.

  33. Christofer says:

    First things first: Beryl, what a great job of describing the eccentrics that populated Merida 20 or more years ago. Ex-pats come in all flavors and they’ve / we’ve all got dirty laundry no matter how loverly our Sunday-go-to-Meeting clothing.

    Secondly, I am very interested in hearing why people believe that the AIDs/HIV services groups (and which ones?) are engaged in pedophilia? That’s one of the most absurd things I can imagine.

    Many of the Merida gay community became involved with Oasis de San Juan de Dios shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Isodoro. As Mitch states, their living quarters, such as they were, had been totally destroyed. The donation from The Netherlands was a wonderful thing, but those were intended to be temporary dwellings, not permanent residences. Yet those folks had been living in them for a long time.

    There were about 20 of them or so. Maybe it was 18. Not many. Want to know how big they were? About big enough for 6 refrigerators. Just a big shipping crate, really.

    And the hurricane smashed them to bits. Splinters of the blue wood could be seen miles away. The charges of Oasis were literally living in the open after that. There were families where the father had died of AIDs, the mother was infected from the father and so were both children who were born with HIV. And they had been kicked to the side of the road by their families, Louis, as much as you may not want to accept that. I sat there and talked with them.

    There were young gay men, yes, but even more women infected by male partners. And people of all ages. People with NOWHERE to turn.

    You see, Louis, if you don’t have earnings reported to the Mexican government officially, you cannot get free Social Security care. Zero treatment. No place to live. And Padre Raul & Brother Carlos took them into this shelter and gave them a home.

    A bunch of people, as Mitch mentions got together, wrote our relatives in the states, donated our own money, found an architect and materials and got solid concrete homes built. Oasis de San Juan de Dios is much better off now and has hurricane-proof buildings. But the cases keep arriving.

    Brazos Abiertos took up the cause from Friends of Oasis and continues the work in Merida with prevention education and peer groups, while still helping Oasis.

    So… who says these are “pedophile rings?” I’d like to meet that person. And besides, if you’d seen the conditions and residents of Oasis, to be quite honest, sex is the last thing that comes to mind. It’s heart-wrenching.

    Sounds like there are still some highly eccentric characters in Merida, including at least one who is sociopathic or psychopathic, trying to destroy the only care that exists for some people. And that is sick.

    • BG says:

      Thank you to Christopher, Judith and Mitch for your constructive comments giving the other side of the BA story. As of now, all comments about this subject are CLOSED. If you want to comment about anything else in this article, that’s fine.
      Beryl

  34. Christofer says:

    P.S. If you haven’t read Charles Portis’ book, Gringos, I think you’ll find that the “novel” backs up a lot of the assertions that Beryl makes. Same atmosphere, really.

    Charles Portis is the author of True Grit, if you haven’t heard of him before.

    Not trying to horn in on your book sales Beryl. ;-)

    I’m no relation to Charles. I wish I could write that well.

  35. jose gardner says:

    my wife fernanda and I lived in merida for several years in the early nineties. we know most of those characters you speak of. I wonder if you know what ever happened to William? We used to spend days with william and jorge (5×5) up by the caribe pool drinking the dayz away…..

  36. Tina leach says:

    Beryl, Please do not buckle to these people. They are cowards and I often find they are the very same people who commit these act. We can not save everyone as that is the human condition and only by you and others like you writing about it, can we begin to take personal responsibility for our actions. Only then will crimes on humanity stop. We need your honesty. Thank you

  37. BG says:

    Update: My lawyer says that I need not concern myself with Mexican authorities being annoyed by my blog content. He says they have no concern with the topics we are discussing here.
    So thank you all for your warnings and threats, but I don’t want to hear them any more.
    And just to clarify – Brazos Abiertos is not affiliated with the Oasis AIDS shelter. And when Oasis was devastated in a hurricane nearly a decade ago, BA did not exist. Mitch Keenan, Chris Craig, and the leadership of Oasis plus a few other good citizens did a fast, heroic fundraising job to put the place back up. These people are not affiliated with BA either.
    I hope to write a future article about Oasis, which I understand is not in good shape.

  38. Rummy says:

    What an fantastic article. The ex-pat life, from the British remittance, to the American wealthy or gay or divorcee or artsy……. love them all. Hollywood in the 20s, Berlin in the 30s, India in the Raj, Canada in the …… jeez, that must be why it’s so compelling, it’s never Canada in the whatevers…. So they’re not morally spotless…. dissolute and seedy are more attractive to me (and many others). And so the story of shock when finding oneself in a den of iniquity doesn’t have the Dudly Do Right ending of curing child abuse for future generations that self-rightous smuggers can only focus on. Write me more and don’t re-write history. I’m a non-turtling adult, I can take it – it’s Runyunesque, Waughesque, E F Bensonesque. It’s the denyers, the re-writers, pompous, picking moralists I can’t. I’m favouriting this wonderful site. Muchas gracias.

  39. EJ Albright says:

    Great post. I’m also a big fan of Charles Portis’ “Gringos” and had the pleasure of interviewing him about the book a while back. I was somewhat disappointed when I first visited Merida in 2005 and found many of ex-pats not as “interesting” as the book made them out to be. But over time I’ve heard the stories about ex-pats of the past, and it’s great to see these stories collected and related by someone who was there.

    I enjoyed reading this post very much. Don’t let the bastards get you down!

    – Josh

  40. Malinche says:

    It is nice to see some truths being written as opposed to the pollyana variety at websites disguised as Yucatan lifestyles for expats, when in actuality they are trumpeting their own gringo-oriented businesses. I am not writing to abet fear mongering, and I know too often that becomes the case with crime in Mexico.
    It makes sense that Merida would ultimately be squeezed by the surrounding narco violence. Why is it never mentioned that the decapitated men found there had Maya names? It seems obvious to me tht they were recruited from the region. I also don’t believe the whole “narco families live here” theory, as an explanation of why there is a violence hands-off policy here among th cartels.
    They say the same things in here in Guadalajara, but there are signs of escalation here. Also, with Guatemala becoming increasingly narco oriented, that puts on further pressure on southern mexico.
    I know historical data has kidnappings in Yucatan as nearly non-existent, but what happens if just one person is abducted? That would be an incredible blow to confidence and stability.
    I’ve spent lots of time in Merida, and personally have ZERO fear walking the city. I am also from a large city myself, but there just seems to be a large amount of risk in Merida that is not easily measured and makes me think twice about buying real estate there. The concept of buying the blood in the streets is nearly literal in this case. I would rather wait til the trumpets at least blare quietly before making such a commitment.
    There are an amazing number of barriers and pitfalls to living in Mexico, and I am tired of websites ( i have one in mind, but won’t mention) extolling only virtues without at least weighing the case for the violence that surrounds Merida. The narcos move where they wish, and their presence in areas surrounding Merida only raises the question of why they are treating Merida in more of a laissez-faire manner.
    I had intentions of moving to Merida as well, but there are just too many moving parts right now. I appreciate hearing from those living there who are willing to speak the truth.
    I am ardently supportive of Mexico, having lived in various parts on and off for many years, but I am realistic with regards to the tremendous pressures they face not only from the cartels. The financial crisis is still weighing heavily upon the world obviously, and that would be enought to deal with aside from the political/narco strife. Now adding in the decreased production of Pemex which accounts for a large percentage of income, and you can see what a difficult set of issues they face. That said, there is solid precedent in Mexico’s history of dealing with narco activity, and the government, in my view, is gathering its forces as it did successfully in the 80s. I am really excited about Latin America in general over the coming decade, and growth there will continue to be spectacular once the narco violence gets under control along with the eventual resolution of the sovereign debt crisis in europe and the Euro. Interesting times to say the least!

    Note from editor: This originally came in as a comment on an old post about Crimes in Merida, but I took the liberty of transferring it here because we are having such a lively discussion.

  41. Delta says:

    Wow, really this is a complete different world that you describe here, I never realized how Merida is seen trough the eyes of foreing visitors or habitants of the city. I was born here in Merida during the early 50′s and I have seen how the people and the city had evolved up to now, but after travel around the world, now I am more conscious of the presence of great people who are yucatecan in their hearts and love this dearest land of the mayans as much as I do. Great blog, carry on, and I can hardly wait to read Beryl’s book. Cheers.

  42. Alinde says:

    Thanks, Christofer! I found the book GRINGO at MEL–and am enjoying it so MUCH! I, too, wish I could write that well! AND be so funny!

  43. Soňa Králová says:

    Dear Beryl.
    I am afraid this article PLUS the comments amount to better a thriller than -even in your wildest imagination- you could ever write. I read ALL of it breathlessly. Now, what crept into my mind throughout the reading, were my own memories of the 8Oies. The world certainly looks kinder to me now than then, in Mexico City, with all the instabilityof constant devaluations, my ex´s bursts of anger, my own neurotic behaviour, the 1985 earthquake, the polution, the traffic jams, the fear of being mugged and of having my children abducted. And where did I find a safe haven and get cured of all this and found my own private piece of heaven? You´d never guess!

  44. SB says:

    BG, what make u moving in merida 80′? For fun or escape from your reality, u sound like a very intelligent person. Did y have a professional job or degree in USA? It’s very intersting story I never imagine happening in merida. Hope your book will be the best seller in NY times.

  45. Christofer says:

    There is a lengthy, but interesting description of crime and violence in Mexico at this link:

    http://blog.diegovalle.net/2010/06/statistical-analysis-and-visualization.html

    If you are too busy to read the whole long thing, at least do this:

    Look at some of the graphs. Yucatan is consistently near the lowest in violent crime, but Campeche is usually lower.

    And, read the conclusions under “Summary.”
    Very interesting research.

  46. Susan Haight Hall says:

    I have just been notified of the death of my uncle Fred Haight. It seems that he has had an affiliation with your group for the past years. I wonder if you knew him and what you and others might share with me about him. Thank you!

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