This is the second set of frontline insights the Smart Border Coalition is distributing to members, Stakeholders, friends, and allies in its extensive network.
In Mexico, Baja California is now #3 for COVID-19 cases despite having only 3% of the population.
I would like to bring to your attention something of great importance and urgency. Tijuana is being overwhelmed by the demands of the health crisis. There is an enormous need for personal protective equipment (PPE) or money equivalents. As of today, the city needs:
90,000 medical gowns
5,000 medical masks
100,000 N95 masks
... among others
There are various ways to help:
BEST OPTION FROM TIJUANA: Directly through Fundación Internacional de la Comunidad (FIC), using the “Apoyemos a Tijuana” website set up by our very own Rafael Carrillo and his son Christian. There are over 65 well-known Tijuana companies
as sponsors, including Jose Fimbres (Calimax), Jorge Kuri (ABC Aluminio), and Raymundo Arnaiz (Frasa). The site is
BEST OPTION FROM SAN DIEGO OR THE U.S.: International Community Foundation. The sites are
FIC directly www.bit.ly/ApoyemosaTijuana
The Foundation’s own Border Fund (https://icfdn.org/covid19- mexico?utm_source=Sumo&utm_medium=WelcomeMat).
I have been part of International Community Foundation since 2014 and am currently the vice chair. Its mission is to inspire international charitable giving by U.S. donors with an emphasis on Northwest Mexico. Many of you know Anne McEnany, CEO. The Foundation has been around for 30 years and can handle logistical and tax deduction needs.
o Tijuana Rotary Club.
o Tijuana Red Cross.
o City of Tijuana through Desarrollo Integral de la Familia.
If you want to send personal protective equipment to the border, you will need to have it imported. I can help. There are coalition members who are customs brokers and have handled logistics for these types of items for many years.
In the midst of our topsy-turvy world I’ve learned of silver linings from members and friends of our coalition. In every crisis there are selfless deeds that reflect the best in people and organizations.
Rafael Carrillo (coalition board member; Grupo Atisa) and family wanted to help Tijuana. They launched www.apoyemosatijuana.com (“Let’s help Tijuana”), with his son Christian rallying the business community. In just two weeks they’ve got 65 sponsors, almost 270,000 dollars, and $217,000 pledged. The goal is $2 million.
Jorge Kuri (board member; ABC Aluminum Solutions) was one of the first to offer the Carrillos his support. He realizes that once this takes off, local and state governments will
follow. The 2,000 employees in his business mean everything to him. He understands what how vital a salary can be to put food on the table. Several now very wealthy Tijuanans of his generation arrived in Baja California with just a few pesos in their pocket.
José Fimbres (board member; Calimax Supermercados) remarks that Calimax has been sanitizing stores more thoroughly than ever, requiring shoppers to wait in line, changing hours of operation to accommodate seniors. He is seeing some shortage of goods such as Lysol and Chlorox and more American shoppers than usual. Their state-of-the-art
distribution center has been a godsend for stocking all their stores rapidly. As a third- generation Fimbres family member in Baja California, he takes the crisis in stride: “We will get through this.”
Elías Laniado (Vesta; board member) is busy. Vesta has been speaking with all its tenants. Very few have stopped working altogether, many have reduced shifts. The company has supported some with rent deferrals. Elias says the Mexican federal government must make it very clear what it means to be an “essential business” versus a “non-essential” one at the border. Confusion creates uncertainty. He notes that federal and state tax authorities have been aggressive with financial and water-use compliance audits in a time when the priority should be to work with private enterprise to manage the health crisis.
Andy Carey (executive director of the Border Philanthropy Partnership [BPP]) has seen a dramatic change in the way Mexico is responding to the crisis. They are now “taking it seriously.” He realizes the difficulty for Tijuana migrant shelters to comply with the COVID- 19 directives and is aware of groups of people living in the streets, no longer allowed at shelters for fear of overcrowding. He has been working with the U.S. Red Cross to get four trailers of medical and cleaning materials to Tijuana shelters. BPP is also sourcing needed goods bound for Juarez and Nogales.
Russ Jones and Lalo Acosta (board members; R.L. Jones Group) are helping Andy Carey and the BPP export four trailers worth of blankets, catheters, and cleaning items from the U.S. Red Cross to Tijuana’s DIF and then to the Tijuana Red Cross. SAT has been cooperative. Russ and his team were instrumental in getting a waiver from U.S. Customs and Border Protection for exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) to Tijuana.
One of our members has reconverted part of their Tijuana plant to manufacture face coverings and wants to make them available to the city. Along the same lines, Taylor Guitars in Tecate, with almost 600 employees, has started to produce face masks in their sewing cells with materials they normally use for gig bags for guitars. They also have N95 masks to donate.
There is another situation I have been seeing over the last 2 weeks which I want to bring to
The COVID-19 crisis has pitted Mexican elected officials against private enterprise, postponing more comprehensive and collaborative measures to limit the COVID-19 outbreak. The proliferation of government-led water-use, permit, and tax audits, as well as COVID-19 compliance audits, has complicated a joint government-private enterprise dialog which ought to be the cornerstone of a response. This has been a mostly short-term political reaction and is reflective of the tussle between the AMLO government and big business.
As of April 9, the Baja California state government has ordered 15 industrial facilities closed for not complying with COVID-19 rules. One controversial case involves Smiths Medical in Tijuana (www.smiths-medical.com), a producer of ventilator parts, for not wanting to sell a fraction of its production in Baja California.
This has had spillover effects in the relationship between the State of Baja California and multinational medical device companies in the region, opening an important debate about how to respond to a health crisis of this magnitude. On the one hand, as cost centers, companies in Baja fulfill orders generated by their headquarters outside our region, with little or no ability to make exceptions. On the other, they use Mexican labor to produce the supplies, potentially justifying taking a fraction of what they produce to sell or donate in
Based on current Mexican customs and permitting rules, companies can sell product in Mexico. For example, under IMMEX (Mexican exporter program) companies can place 5% of their production in Mexico. What complicates matters, however, is the Mexican FDA’s strict permitting process.
All of this is unfortunate, but we should not resign ourselves to its necessarily being permanent. This crisis is an opportunity for Baja California to establish itself as a flexible, hospitable, and “can-do” medical device ecosystem for generations to come.
Stay vigilant and hopeful in this difficult time.
Happy Passover and Easter!
Gustavo De La Fuente Executive Director (858) 444-5630