A New Challenge for Mexico: Expats Gone Wild

A New Challenge for Mexico: Expats Gone Wild

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MERIDA, Yucatan, Mex.— As if Mexico didn’t have enough problems, now comes a plague of scoundrels, airheads and doomsday believers  in the form of “expatriates.”

An invasion of misguided foreigners is creating problems for Mexican citizens and authorities who, without warning, are confronting an invasion that resembles a plague of locusts. Consider recent
developments in Merida, a peaceful and sophisticated city of a million people in the Yucatan peninsula, far removed from the drama of the border region.

This city, ranked among the most livable in the world by International Living magazine, and hailed as an idyllic tropical paradise by thousands of happy expats from the world over, is now the scene of
Expats Gone Wild, with Americans and Canadians misbehaving in ways that have alarmed officials.

To be sure, Americans acting up in the Yucatan is nothing new — witness the hundreds of thousands of Spring Breakers who descend on Cancun each year, flashing their breasts Mardi Gras style for beads, or licking whipped cream off each others’ bodies on stages set up on beaches and broadcast on MTV. But adolescent misbehavior is one thing, and adult criminal behavior is another.

Here in Merida, disclosures of American scams defrauding the public have scandalized society. Meanwhile, officials are expressing concern about the arrival of a new wave of unbalanced doomsdayers who believe  that, when the current cycle in the Maya calendar concludes in
December 2012, the world will end. The combination is proving to be both titillating and unnerving.

Indeed, Mexicans here are stunned at the disclosure that:

Accused scam artists from Texas have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through Brazos Abiertos, Inc., an AIDS charity that apparently has never been authorized by Mexican officials to do business in Mexico, according to records provided by the country's tax authority, known as the SHCP. Lavish fundraising parties and events duped unsuspecting benefactors. The scandal has caused much consternation in Merida’s blogosphere, and outrage at the “plague” of foreign "scoundrels." (The IRS is reportedly  investigating the organization.)

An "unofficial" library has operated for years, soliciting donations. The so-called Merida English Library has boasted that it is a member of the prestigious American Library Association, when its membership lapsed in 2007. It has presented itself as bona fide “Mexican nonprofit organization” — but it has never met the requirements established by Mexico’s tax authority to solicit donations from the public or issue tax-deductible receipts, according to information supplied by the SHCP.

• Gringo Zapatistas running amok have unnerved residents. Of equal concern has been the disclosure that a husband-and-wife team of aging Gringo Zapatistas have been aiding and abetting the Zapatists uprising and their supporters. “We offered them our guest room, our office to work in, and our car (with us as drivers) to ferry them around the Yucatan,” Ellen and James Fields declared in the “NarcoNews.” “As it happened, we also loaned them some of our video and computer equipment, helped them find hotel rooms with some of our clients, and threw in a few dinners and breakfasts for good measure. So this year we donated more than we ever have in the past to the cause of alternative media. And we’re just getting warmed up.” That these self-styled Che Guevara “activists” have been hiding in plain sight has unsettled Mexicans, since foreigners are strictly prohibited from interfering in Mexico’s political process.

• More ominously, U.S. authorities has identified two Americans— Mario E. Lopez and Jose Auais Dogre—as the masterminds of an international ring trafficking in stolen luxury boats and yachts.
Mexican officials have enlisted the help of Bill Dobson, who works for the International Association of Marine Investigators, to spearhead ongoing investigations into the theft of these luxury vessels from the U.S. which are being sold to Mexican businessmen and politicians in the Yucatan.

To compound these scams are two alarming trends: Americans fleeing “Obamanomics” and the beginnings of “doomsday” expats who believe that the world will end in 2012—or that there’s money to be made from those who believe the world will end then.

A growing number of Americans in Mexico are disaffected with the U.S. and life under Barack Obama. Some, now labeled “Refugiados de Obamanomics,” are intent on escaping to a country where there is the sense of greater personal freedoms. “I can smoke in restaurants and no femi-Nazi take umbrage if I call someone a babe,” an Old Gringo, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

Others speak on the record—or at least on YouTube clips. “I like the fact that the government doesn’t interfere in my life. I like the fact that it’s not a litigious society. I’m not concerned about somebody suing me for this or that. I’m really not concerned about being sued. You’re not run and manipulated and controlled by government and big corporations who are dictating terms of living on the television, by your taxes, by political decree,” Mitch Keenan, president of the clandestine English Language Library, said in a clip promoting his real estate company.

Betty Steinmuller, a retired schoolteacher from Boston, moved to Merida to escape the dismal U.S. health care system. “[It's] ridiculously expensive—that’s why I moved here,” she told Wyatt Cenac ofThe Daily Show.

Although she self-identifies as an American Healthcare Refugee, Steinmuller has wasted no time in joining the ranks of Dubious Expats: She is one of the founders of Merida Verde, an environmental
group that has been soliciting donations since 2008 — even though it has not been authorized to do so by Mexico’s tax  authorities, according to the SHCP.

As if the local authories don’t have enough to deal with on their hands, more doomsday-believing Americans are flocking to the Yucatan  as 2012 approaches.

Recently, two groups of these expats have arrived—one has bought up extensive tracts of land in the Yucatan near the Maya town of Oxkutzcab, where members have gone about building “bunker-style”
strongholds. These “settlers” claim to be building a new  “Noah’s Ark,” but Mexican authorities fear this could be the scene of a Jim Jones-style mass suicide.

Another group, more perplexing, believe that, in preparation for the “End of Times,” they must revive the ancient Maya practice of ritualized alcoholic enemas. The presence of a community of Americans dedicated to administering alcoholic enemas—or “Colonic Irrigationists," as they call themselves— is beginning to raise concerns.

“One of the issues, at the most basic level, is a public health issue. How can government make sure that there isn’t an anti-American backlash? We don’t expect Americans to come here to engage in criminal behavior, and we don’t expect them to engage in activities that  potentially endanger the public health,” Concepcion May, a member of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, or PRI, said. She is not alone in her concerns.

Beryl Gorbman, originally from Seattle and a Merida resident for a quarter century, has been so taken aback by the influx of these unsavory and unbalanced Americans, she wrote a novel about them, 2012: Deadly Awakening. “Thousands of spiritual tourists have descended upon this once-peaceful city, creating chaos,” she writes, describing the impact of American Expats Gone Wildin the Yucatan.