[Hpn] Homeless Children's Bakery plan gets Permit Hassle from Mexico City City

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 5 Dec 2000 11:34:35 -0800 (PST)

Homeless Children's Bakery plan gets Permit Hassle from Mexico City:

Have PERMIT HASSLES stalled or stopped "people in need"
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FWD  Christian Science Monitor - Tuesday, December 5, 2000


     By Howard LaFranchi
     Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


If a group of homeless Mexican children - against
all odds - figured out a way to support themselves
by starting their own bakery, you'd think that
politicians of every stripe would jump to support

Think again.

All the stainless-steel kitchen equipment that
teenager Aarón Flores and his street friends need
to start their bakery sits idle in a Mexico City
building, shining tantalizingly like a mirage.

Of course, anyone who starts a small business
encounters unexpected hurdles. But even though
these street kids from the capital's rough Tepito
neighborhood have the country's new president,
Vicente Fox, on their side, they find themselves
blocked by red tape.

Instead of kneading dough, Aarón still spends his
day juggling on a busy Mexico City street corner,
his face painted with the exaggerated smile of a

Then when the pockets of his baggy jeans are full
of change, this teen returns to the shelter that has
given him a place to sleep out of the elements for
the past seven months. There, at night, he counts
the coins and schemes with other street kids about
the kinds of pastry and breads they hope to sell in
their bakery.

"We're not asking for special treatment," says
Aarón, sitting in the Liberty Group shelter. "We
know what it is to be discriminated against, to be
on the bottom, so all we want is to be treated equal
- and for everyone [to have] a better government."

The snag the Tepito street kids' bakery hit is the
city itself. Not known for strict zoning standards,
the Mexico City government denied a permit for a
business on the half-abandoned Libertad Street,
saying the former store space is zoned residential -
inappropriate for a bakery.

Local residents find the city's decision so
incongruous they suspect politics is at play.
President Fox blames the snag on "bureaucracy"
and cites the bakery case as a good example of bad
government, limiting instead of encouraging their
aspirations. In his inaugural addresses Friday, Mr.
Fox referred repeatedly to the Tepito street kids as
symbolic of Mexico's frustrated poor youth, a
marginalized population whose potential must be
realized, he said, for Mexico to realize its potential.

But Aaron and his friends say they hope the city
will change its mind. Their dream of running a
business reflects the aspirations of many Mexican
youths. A national survey released by the National
Statistics Institute last week shows that when
listing their expectations, 1 in 5 young people, 15
to 29 years of age, placed opening a business just
behind getting married and finding a good job.

Still seeming a little incredulous they've got as far
as they have with their project, the Liberty kids run
fingers lovingly along the stainless steel of
never-used bread ovens, muffin tins and dough
blenders - the way other boys might treat a new

"I think it's pretty ugly that they won't let us open
up, and who knows why?" says Manuel Santos, another
Liberty resident. "But everybody talks about how the
country's changing, so we still have hope. "

The Liberty Group's bakery project was born out
of the broad Mexican desire for change that
culminated in Fox's elevation to the Mexican

A year ago when Fox was still a presidential
candidate, he met with some of Mexico City's
estimated 15,000 street kids. He talked about the
different Mexico he wanted to build, and he asked
the kids to help by building themselves a better
future. As a result, the Liberty kids talked about
what business might succeed in their
neighborhood, and they settled on opening a
bakery. With the help of Liberty directors and Fox
himself, they contacted one individual who bought
the baking equipment they needed, and another
who donated $2,000 cash for the flour and other
ingredients they'd need to get going.

They even found a local baker who is willing to
teach the kids his trade and get their bakery up and

The problem now is the small storefront space next
to Liberty Group where the kids are storing their
equipment. The city's claim that the space is only
appropriate for residential use is raising
suspicions, since local residents remember when it
was an ice cream and candy shop during the
neighborhood's better days.

"I even have the papers that prove the space was
once legally used for a business," says Lucía
Ruano Arizmendi, Liberty Group director,
producing a federal tax record from 1959. The tax
form shows the space occupied by "Margarita Ice
Creams," a business permitted to sell "ice cream in
cup and cone, candy, gum, and lemonade of all
brands, but not beer."

Ms. Ruano says her organization is pressing an
appeal. In the meantime, the street kids' efforts is
spawning copious speculation about political
interests getting in the way. One local who's been
following the bakery project but who refused to
give his name said, "It's simple. This is a PAN
project," referring to the center-right National
Action Party of President Fox, "and the city is
governed by the PRD," the left-of-center Party of
the Democratic Revolution. "Thus," he concluded,
"no permit."

Others, like Mexico's new president, say the
problem is just stubborn red tape. In the first hours
of his presidency Friday, Fox visited the Liberty
kids and advised them to persevere with their

And none of them is giving up. "This bakery will
open," says Osvaldo Castillo, one of the Liberty
kids who hopes to leave the corner clown acts and
windshield washing behind. "We hit some
barriers, but sooner or later it's going to open."


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