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Oil glut, inflation hit Mexican economy

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Valeria Diaz is a seamstress working in a ''tintoreria'' (dry cleaner's shop) in the Tacubaya section of this sprawling city.

She is typical of many working-class people who are just barely making it on their skimpy wages as Mexico's economy slumps into recession.

But Valeria feels she is better off today than she might have been if she had stayed on her father's farm in the hill country near Guanajuato, a four-hour drive from here.

''Dad wanted me to stay with him after Mom died,'' she said over a cup of cinnamon-laced sweet Mexican chocolate in a cafe near the dry cleaning plant. ''But I saw how hard he worked and didn't want to get caught in that treadmill.

''Maybe I'm a little selfish,'' she confessed. ''No, that's not it. I just wanted more out of life than a farm career. I had gone to agricultural school, learned a lot about seeds and fertilizers, and learned even more working with dad and my brothers on the farm.''

But like her brothers before her, she decided that farming was not her lot in life. The three brothers all went to Monterrey in northern Mexico to work in industry. She came here to Mexico City.

''It made dad a little unhappy. And he doesn't have anyone in the family who wants to take over the farm. After my brothers went north, he hoped I would be like his neighbor, Jose Ramon, who got his daughter Cecilia to take over the farm after her brothers came here to work. I couldn't do it.''

She works hard -- an 11-hour day -- and takes home the equivalent of $20 a day. That's fairly good pay for lower-middle-class Mexicans, but with inflation at 30 percent or more and food costs soaring, that wage does not go as far she would like. The late February devaluation of the Mexican peso has hurt even more. Devaluation already has cut the US dollar value of the peso by 40 percent, and it may slip more.

''A lot of us are being pinched. Being here in Mexico City is not as glamorous as I expected,'' she adds. ''But I am glad I came.''

Valeria knows little about Mexico's economy. Her concerns are naturally concentrated on her own lot. Yet behind her decision to move here was a national problem - the plight of agriculture, which has bedeviled Mexican governments for generations and forced this nation to import sizable quantities of food.


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