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WheativIlle ,s the only tiusfin yam store that ho’ ots the Cirape Boycott Cesar Cliovez tit VVheatsville Irr /990. Ale s wheatsvil le Food co-op 3101 Guadolu 470-2667 pitched battles between market vendors and city police. Compared to this street fight, getting sexoservadoras out of their baby doll nightgowns has been a snap. And these street skirmishes are really fights over a big part of the economy of Mexico, where business in the informal sector is big business. Underground manufacturing and street sales of pirated and hijacked goods are said to account for a quarter of the nation’s gross internal commercial product, according to the National Chamber of Commerce. And prostitution accounts for 3 percent of the informal economy, reports Gray Newman, a Mexico analyst at Wall Street’s Merrill Lynch brokerage house. Those figures are probably far more accurate than the government’s attempt to count the actual number of prostitutes working in the country. Censuses conducted in 1936 and again in 1990 found that an unusually consistent 15,000 workers are employed in the capital’s sex industry. Marta Lamas, a prominent Mexico City feminist, claims the current number could be as low as 20,000 or as high as 200,000 and her estimates seem more in touch with the realities of the street. Lamas collaborated in a recent survey of 914 prostitutes, which offered a profile of the city’s sexoservadoras: 46 percent were between the ages of sixteen and twentyfour, 39 percent were married, and 76 percent had children. Upmarket prostitution in Mexico City extends from La Madame, Maria Antoinette Espinosa who catered to politicians and “juniors” \(the casas de citas Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood to the “massagists,” “guides,” and “escorts” who advertise in several Mexico City dailies. \(One agency offers “executive service”: 1,000 pesos, one hour, one ejaculahotels de paso like the Park Villa, just down Constituyentes Avenue from Los Pinoi, Mexico’s White House, where the rooms with closed-circuit pornographic movies and mirrors on the ceilings rent by the hour. But in down-market La Merced, work is more difficult and usually more danger ous. The Mexico City daily Reforma reported that as many as 5,000 sexoservadoras are now scrambling for clients on neighborhood streets, turning an average of three tricks a day that is, 15,000 sex acts every twenty-four hours. \(Multiple sex acts, including haciendo un Lewinsky, cost as the evening matures, and workers use different approaches. Taconeras walk the steets in stacked-heel tacones. Ficheras work the taverns and the pulque \(maguey ceive a chip for each drink they lure a customer into buying. Meseras, or waitresses, work the market’s numerous loncherias, where like many of the women working around small retail businesses they provide sexual favors to the proprietors. Guiguis or transvestite hustlers also work La Merced, often mugging customers too drunk to distinguish their assailant’s gender. Reforma calculated that prostitution generates 100,000 U.S. dollars per day on the 105 blocks of La Merced. And La Merced, a vital neighborhood when Mexico City was the Aztec state of Tenochtitlan, is today home to some of the youngest practitioners of the world’s oldest profession. Borough President Ramon Sosamontes estimates that 900 under-age girls and boys are exploited on local streets. A recent study compiled by UNESCO and the Mexico City Human Rights commission also looked at juvenile prostitution in La Merced, where younger sexoservadoras have more sexual contacts and take home more pay \(five-to-two, comSome of these young sexoservadoras are abandoned niiias de la calle \(street chilual abuse, and desperate drug addictions. Others are indigenous girls, like the Mazahuas from the nearby state of Mexico, who dominate La Merced, work in near slavery in the market, and still fare better economically than they did in the homes they left. Who runs the prostitution industry in La Merced? Neighbors point to “las mafias,” but no one is naming any names. Reporters and investigators like the UNESCO crew are discouraged by pimps and police from asking too many questions. Empirical evidence suggests that . there is probably no one Czar, but several groups with territorial franchises controlling alcohol, prostitution, and drug distribution. Pancho Soto, the “Czar of Vice,” reportedly runs thirty-six cantinas. \(A former associate of his was recently found dead in a Merced hotel del paso with two holes lante associations rent out swatches of sidewalks the sexoservadoras use for theirpuestos and probably also get a piece of the action, as do sexoservadora groups like HUMSIDA. Among the owners of La Merced’ s seventeen hotels de paso are a group of shady Spanish immigrants, who are also likely to be big players in La Merced’ s prostitution industry. When a U.S. reporter asked Virginia Jaramillo if she knows who runs “the Mafias of La Merced,” Jaramillo, who represents the market district in Mexico City’s legislative assembly, paused perhaps recalling that three of her colleagues from Mayor Cardenas’ Party of the Democratic Revolution were recently kidnapped and beaten for moving against PRI-affiliated ambulante mafias. “I don’t think I really want to know who is at the top,” she finally said. Award-winning author John Ross is currently on the road in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Ross will travel north from October 15 through December 15, touring the western U.S. to promote his first work of fiction, Tonatiuh’s People, a novel of the Mexican Cataclysm. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15 OCTOBER 23, 1998