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Family Struggles to Cope with Mexico’s Troubles

May 24, 1995

CIUDAD NEZAHUALCOYOTL, Mexico (AP) _ Guadalupe Moreno de Garcia doesn’t buy red meat anymore for her household of 10. Now she serves chicken, twice weekly at most.

For the Garcias and millions of other working-class families across Mexico, ``la crisis,″ the soaring inflation that followed the peso’s devaluation last December, has affected every part of life.

Mexico’s huge trade deficit and unbridled government borrowing triggered the crisis, which has cost the peso at least 40 percent of its value against the dollar. That has caused interest rates, prices and taxes to shoot up, while salaries fall behind.

The crisis is striking hard at Mexico’s lower middle class, people like the Garcias, who are cutting back on vacations, shopping trips and all but basic food and services.

Mrs. Garcia’s husband, Antonio, the family’s main breadwinner, wakes up before dawn and drives to work at a Nissan car repair shop in southern Mexico City in a battered 1985 Tsuru.

``He ... gets paid by the job. No fixed wage. And sometimes, like now, he is paid more money but there is less work,″ said Mrs. Garcia, who like her husband is 46.

On 4,000 pesos a month, less than $700, he supports Mrs. Garcia’s elderly mother, their five children, their unemployed son-in-law and 2-year-old grandson, who has a heart problem. Mrs. Garcia earns a few hundred pesos a month with sewing jobs and by selling hand lotions and costume jewelry.

Their income is about the same as before the crisis. But inflation means their pesos are now worth far less. Mexico’s Consumer Price Index rose 23.66 percent in the first quarter of 1995 and 8 percent in April alone.

The government predicts 42 percent inflation this year. But independent economists estimate inflation will top 80 percent this year, as the economy shrinks by about 4 percent.

``Society and the middle class are fast being pauperized,″ said Manuel Victor Terrones, chairman of the National Manufacturers Association, in a television interview.

To cope, Mrs. Garcia is cutting way back.

``No frills anymore. We now buy half the same of everything with the same amount. But some things we can’t do without _ drinking water, for example,″ because local water is unsafe, she said.

``We used to eat (red) meat about twice a week. Now, it’s chicken, and sometimes only once a week.″

Entertainment? She shook her head. ``Not even the movies anymore.″

The family used to vacation at least once a year in Acapulco, the Pacific resort about a four-hour drive to the south. No longer. Gasoline prices have risen more than 35 percent, highway tolls are prohibitive and hotel prices up.

Still, the Garcias are lucky compared with many of Mexico’s poor, who number 42 million out of a population of 86 million. An estimated 750,000 people have lost their jobs since the crisis began _ in a nation where unemployment has always been high.

The Garcias own a five-room house in the tough La Perla neighborhood of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, a working-class city of 2.5 million people that adjoins Mexico City.

Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, like nearly all municipalities throughout Mexico, is broke or close to it and has been cutting services. A number of government offices haven’t paid their employees for months.

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