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Greenhouse effect: Mexicans abroad want to create jobs back home. It takes more than just their money. (Investment Guide).

In the Mexican village of El Trapiche, in Oaxaca state, brothers and sisters, uncles and nephews rarely talk these days, though they live just yards from each other. The failure of a greenhouse cooperative--a project that was supposed to lift the hamlet out of poverty and was financed in part by former villagers now living near San Diego, California--has divided those who stayed behind.

The only telephone is on an anti-greenhouse faction's side of town. When people call asking for members of the cooperative, they're told they've moved to the United States. A year after the group built the greenhouse, someone ripped sections of it with a knife.

The jealousy and infighting that has infected' El Trapiche illustrates the difficulties enacting a key part of Mexican President Vicente Fox's economic development strategy Fox wants to tap into the US$9 billion in cash sent home by Mexicans living north of the border, second only to oil exports as a generator of the country's foreign currency.

Most of these remittances, it's assumed, go to family expenses or home construction, though U.S. immigrants sometimes pool their money. Often, they back infrastructure projects for their home villages: road paving, plaza renovations, school construction, things the government can't finance.

Increasingly, however, as Fox recognized, Mexicans abroad who have learned a bit about U.S. capitalism want to invest their money to create jobs, not simply carry out the government's work. In El Trapiche, that type of micro-investing took the form of $5,000 to build a greenhouse to grow chrysanthemums, money raised by former villagers now in San Diego County, 2,700 kilometers away. Not wealthy by most standards, U.S. immigrants from El Trapiche work mainly in the U.S. flower industry. Many live in caves in the hills after they arrive, looking for a foothold in the U.S. economy.

After some early success, however, the El Trapiche greenhouse backfired. The folks in El Trapiche were confounded by pesticide management, marketing and devising a business plan. The project had trouble early on, says Elsa Payo, who first organized the greenhouse cooperative when she was El Trapiche's agente, similar to a village major.

"The government sent two girls (as technical advisors), but they were novices," Payo says. "They didn't know much about disease or what kinds of pesticides we ought to use. We lost a lot of flowers. We didn't harvest what we should have," Plant disease, coupled with a lack of experience, bedeviled the cooperative of 22 men and women. The villagers paid off the Loan but haven't made a peso.

Left behind. Fox's plan suffers from the double-edged nature of emigration. Mexicans abroad send essential dollars in the form of remittances. But leaving for the United States also takes away the most productive and educated members of a village, usually young males, says Raul Hinojosa, a University of California, Los Angeles economist advising the greenhouse cooperative. So the task of building businesses back home is left to those who remain: the elderly, mothers and their young children, and the handicapped--people without time, experience or the training to run a business. "The one thing they have is an incredible amount of motivation or ganas," Hinojosa says. "It turns out that's not enough."

In San Diego County, too, immigrants' from El Trapiche were initially enthusias tic about the greenhouse project. As the project floundered, though, participants dropped from about 40 to no more than a dozen. "In the past people have said, 'Why should we donate money if it hasn't been spent wisely.'" says Aurelio Hernandez, an organizer from El Trapiche who lived in caves in the hills of San Diego before establishing himself, working in the flower industry then becoming a maintenance man at a school.

That division felt so keenly at home has also split former villagers, in San Diego. Only those with family involved in the greenhouse are interested in investing, and some of them are wary and waiting until it pays off. Hernandez remains positive. "When they see things go well, I'm sure we'll be able to get them to put up $300 or $400 per person," he says.

That's a fortune by El Trapiche standards, but the lack of intellectual and human capital could keep the greenhouse hobbled for some time--and wilt Fox's development plan.
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Title Annotation:Mexico, remittances from Mexican expatriates in U.S.; investment
Author:Ouinones, Sam
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:718
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