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AFTERWORD Un Dia sin Auto BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City DOCTOR Sergio Reyes Lujan wants you to know that he’s no bureaucrat; he’s a scientist, the 49th physicist to graduate in Mexico. He has no country home for weekend escapes, but then he spends all his weekends working in his office in Mexico City’s Colonia Cuauhtemoc. And, oh, yes, you won’t see Sergio Reyes Lujan tooling around in his car on Friday afternoons anymore, because Friday is his day to participate in Un Dia Sin Auto project designed to reduce by 20 percent the three million plus vehicles circulating in and polluting the world’s biggest city. Reyes Lujan is the undersecretary for ecology in Mexico’s department of urban normally run across Secretaries and undersecretaries, but I met Reyes Lujan as a result of an interview with Homero Aridjis. Founder and president of the Group of 100, a nonprofit organization of artists and intellectuals concerned with Mexico’s ecological crisis, Aridjis is one of Mexico’s finest poets and the nation’s renaissance man of environmental policy. Aridjis described President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s environmental policy as weak and SEDUE as ineffective and lacking initiative. He also divulged the results of what he called confidential SEDUE reports indicating that levels of several pollutants were two or three times the agency’s own permissible maximum levels, and that one monitoring station had reported levels of over 200 times the maximum permissible level of carbon monoxide. Reyes Lujan suggested that I should listen to SEDUE’s side, and that’s how I ended up on the 16th floor of the SEDUE offices on Rio Elba, poring over the deadly graphs documenting levels of ozone, lead, and carbon monoxide. We were accompanied by someone from SEDUE’s office of Comunicacion Social, who chain-smoked as he recorded the interview with Reyes Lujan. As to the carbon monoxide statistics, Reyes Lujan explained that they weren’t really so bad. SEDUE follows the World Health Organization norms, which require measurement over a period of eight hours, not an isolated reading. What really irked the undersecretary, however, was Aridjis’s Barbara Belejack is a journalist working in Mexico City. 30 JANUARY 12, 1990 claim that pollution levels were confidential material. Reyes Lujan assured me that SEDUE had no secrets, that anyone could walk into the information office and obtain the monthly reports of Mexico City’s pollution monitoring network. But more often than not freedom of information here is something like the Holy Ghost. You can believe or you can refuse to believe, but I wouldn’t waste too much time waiting for proof. THERE WAS a time when Mexican officials steadfastly refused to admit that this once lovely capital sur rounded by volcanos has a problem. As late as November 20, 1988, a former boss of Reyes Lujan, an interim lame-duck SEDUE secretary, insisted that reports of air pollution in the Mexican capital were greatly exaggerated. No more. During his trip to Washington last October and again during his State of the Union speech last month, the President described the Mexican capital as the most polluted city in the world. His government is also soliciting multi-billiondollar loans from the government of Japan, the World Bank and Inter-American Bank for Development for projects to fight pollution. Reyes Lujan says that there are 28 projects proposed or in operation. He offers no total overall price tag, but thinks that about three billion dollars would do for phase one. The project that has received the most attention recently is Un Dia Sin Auto, which took effect November 20 and will continue through February 28. Every vehicle in Mexico City is supposed to be out of circulation one day a week, Monday through Friday. This means taxis, taxi vans, police patrol cars, the president’s official car, as well as any other vehicle that finds its way into Mexico City. The day of rest depends on the color of the inspection sticker for Federal District and State of Mexico vehicles and license plate numbers for vehicles from other states. Colored stickers yellow for Monday, pink for Tuesday, etc. were handed out in the first program. \(A related program also went into effect revolutionizing Mexico City driving practices, requiring seat belts and putting an end to the time-honored tradition of Un Dia Sin Auto banners, with the circle of colors for proscribed driving days, have been painted on walls all over Mexico City. The folksong “De colores,” popular with farmworker organizers in the 1960’s, has been turned into a catchy children’s tune and blasted on the radio in increasing regularity. The idea is not only to reduce pollution there is a dispute among ecologists, scientists and city authorities as to just how much Un Dia Sin Auto will accomplish but to also increase ecological awareness. While it has been a goal of groups like Aridjis’s for years to get the city to implement a similar program, the city’s continuing growth is likely to mean that even after five years of dias sin autos, Mexico City’s air will be no better than it is today. The increase in people and cars will make up for what ever might be accomplished. There are additional problems. Environmental regulations depend on law-enforcement teams doing their jobs. But enforcement is a uniquely Mexican nightmare. Drivers have bought off inspectors. Those who tried to get inspection stickers at the last minute were told there were no more stickers available. Presumably they had disappeared into the same parallel universe as election ballots. On the first day dia sin auto, Superbarrio Gomez, the masked, caped and tight-clad real-life superhero who champions the urban poor and working class of Mexico City, conducted his own law enforcement program. He and his organizers stopped more than 60 cars at one intersection. A third of them, he said, belonged to government employees and officials. The mayor of Mexico City responded by declaring that there would be no favoritism in the program. Several opposition parties have denounced the steep fines \(they cost assigned to violators, minimum wage, and claim that the program is simply providing another means of police extortion. Reyes Lujan and I tread gently on the topic of corruption. There’s corruption all over the world, he says, and I agree. Instead Reyes Lujan wants to see some credit for Mexico’s efforts. Most countries don’t even measure pollution, he says. Who knows what the Eastern Europeans are spewing into their air. He is a no-nonsense administrator and this is a no-nonsense interview. No cafecito, no “How do you like Mexico?” or “What cities have you visited?” Just two hours of