Don’t Blame Walmart

Blame The System

I like Mexico. The food, the beaches, the spirit of the people; I find them compelling. And I know a thing or two about our southern neighbor. Many years ago, I spent a lot of time there as a TV producer on the Mexico City Olympics.

Actually, I was the advance man for ABC-TV and started going to Mexico 18 months before the games. It was my job to get the right camera placements, requisite number of passes to all venues, schedule  events so they would coincide with prime time in America, find housing for our staff, etc. It was a monumental task but it was made much harder because for the first three months, I could get exactly nothing done.

And then I learned why. In two short words ‘no mordida.’ We all know what ‘no’ is, but mordida in Spanish means bribe.

Since I was getting nowhere with scheduling, camera placements, or anything else as a matter of fact; I went to the honchos at the network and said I needed money—and lots of it to get the job done. ABC had a lot riding on this telecast. It was in color (it was only the second Olympic Games telecasted in color). And on top of that, we were supplying the picture to the entire world.

After I presented my case, I met with a vice president who said he’d be taking care of things. And take care of things he did. Every week he descended on Mexico City with a black bag stuffed with hundred dollar bills, and then at my direction, we’d spread the wealth out. $5,000to change the route to the marathon, $10,000 to change the boxing schedule, and $20,000 to the honchos at Mexico Olympic Committee.

Black Power Salute

And all that money worked. It was a very successful telecast. It was also a very memorable one. It was at The Mexico City Games that John Carlos and Tommy Smith mounted the victory stand and raised their black-gloved fists in the black power salute.

The stadium erupted when that happened. I knew I had to get Howard Cossell to the site but the door to our remote truck was totally blocked by a screaming crowd. We couldn’t get out.The president of the network was yelling at me to get the shot. I realized I had to call the guy I had been paying off at the track and field venue. His last name was Renard, which means fox, which I always found to be rather fitting. Anyway, Fox-Renard came to the rescue. He dispatched a company of Mexican riot police and we cut through the crowd like butter and we got that iconic shot of black raised fists.

Without ‘mordida’ it never would have happened. In fact without bribes we would have had a totally different telecast…a far inferior one.

Which brings me to the topic of the day. Walmart. I have no love for the company and have always found their hiring practices despicable, but now I find myself coming to their defense. I know first-hand how business gets done in Mexico.

Walmart is a hydra-headed monster. Its tentacles are wrapped around the world. Mexico is one of their biggest cash cows, but they know how to do business there. It’s a seven letter word: Mordida.

And though Walmart is the shits, they are not alone. Unfortunately, in that beautiful country filled with great art, gracious people, the powers that be have their hands out. And to get most things done, you got to grease those greedy, outstretched palms.

So don’t blame Walmart. They are not alone. Blame the system.

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