** Originally published at La Plaza:
A few weeks ago, I took a late Friday night bus from Mexico City to Queretaro to visit friends.
I spent the weekend relaxing at bars, cafes and restaurants. I took a day trip to an officially designated "pueblo magico," Bernal, where an ancient stone monolith is a regional tourist draw. I finished the weekend in a crowded "college-style" bar to watch a big soccer match for Mexico over a BBQ hamburger and a Mexican lager, with U.S. school pennants hanging overhead.
Queretaro is welcoming and clearly prosperous. Over two days, I met Mexicans who had moved there from Chiapas, Veracruz, Guanajuato and elsewhere.
"Why do you live here?" I asked a guy outside a bar one night.
"They pay better than in Veracruz," the fellow replied. "And, well ... it's safe, right?"
The exchange stuck with me. Contradictions abound in Mexico, especially when it comes to the country's current overall stability.
Mexico's economy is growing at a healthier pace than that of the United States and has a lower official unemployment rate (5.3%) than its northern neighbor (9.2%), though the joblessness rate is deceptive because it doesn't include millions of Mexicans who work in the poorly paid informal economy as sidewalk vendors, day laborers and the like.
Yet, at the same time, Mexico is home to more than 52 million people living in poverty, nearly half the national population. That figure is up by 3 million from three years ago, according to an independent government study released Friday and reported in The Times. Overall, Mexico's recovery from the 2009 global recession is among the slowest in Latin America, a disappointing figure after a decade of free-market policies under federal governments led by the National Action Party, or PAN.
In other words, realities on the ground in Mexico are often more complicated and contradictory than the headlines or government propaganda can tell us.
** Continued here.