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MEXICO: Optimism and Unease as Census Begins

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, May 27 2010 (IPS) - The 100,000 pollsters who will begin knocking on doors throughout Mexico Sunday for the national census will likely face a population hesitant to provide personal information. They may also run into the drug violence that plagues some areas of the country.

The task of the census workers as they fan out across the nation includes gathering information such as age, sex, education and birthplace, in a mission encompassing 25 million households in 2,456 municipalities.

“The biggest challenge is to raise people’s awareness so that they provide the information, taking into account that many will be distrustful in giving information because of the insecurity and violence in this country,” said Rodolfo Rubio, a demographer from the public College of the Northern Border, in the city of Tijuana, which borders the western U.S. state of California.

Several areas, such as in the states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua in the north, Tamaulipas in the east, Michoacán in the west, and Guerrero in the south, are centres of drug trafficking activity, with different groups vying for power to control the distribution routes to the U.S. market.

After taking office in December 2006, conservative President Felipe Calderón ordered the deployment of thousands of soldiers and police to fight the narcotraffickers. To date, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug- related violence in Mexico, according to government figures.

The 2010 Population and Housing Census, which will cost about 460 million dollars, consists of 29 basic questions, plus an additional 75 for the 2.7 million households located in the country’s poorest municipalities.

“Our goal is to reach all corners of the country, every block in every community. However, in the past there have been circumstances in which some towns were not counted, usually very small, that were not considered significant from the perspective of national information,” Eduardo Sojo, president of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), told a press conference.

Sojo recognised that a big concern “is the safety of our pollsters… We hope there is trust and respect for the institute’s work and that we can reach the entire country.”

The preliminary results of the census, with fieldwork ending Jun. 25, will be ready in December, and the final data will be published in the first quarter of 2011.

To plan the census, 10 years after the last one, INEGI used the National Geostrategic Framework, a system that allows the geographic referencing of statistical data from the surveys, collating population with location.

The census questionnaire itself has stirred up controversy. The Mexican Bishops Conference (the national Roman Catholic Church hierarchy) had threatened to boycott the effort, arguing that the census question about religious beliefs was biased. The Conference decided against the boycott once Sojo clarified some aspects of the questionnaire.

One of the questions is “What is the religion of each member of the household?” There are 12 options for the answer in reference to the Catholic faith alone. The Bishops Conference only recognises “Roman Catholics.”

For the 2000 census, the question about religion had just three possible answers: None, Catholic, and Other.

There is also disappointment in the census among the Afro-Mexican community. Their identity is ignored by the survey, which has racial references only for Amerindian origins.

“We wanted the INEGI to perform its duty to include the black population, but they told us that, due to limited time and resources, the modifications necessary to add the question would be impossible,” Israel Reyes, director of the Alliance for the Empowerment of Indigenous Regions and Afro-Mexican Communities, told IPS.

The basic survey asks if the person speaks an indigenous language, and then inquires specifically which one. In the expanded version, the individual is also asked if he or she self-identifies as indigenous.

The census is used to create a demographic and socioeconomic profile of each area of the country, information necessary to develop appropriate public policies, especially for the poorest populations, and to determine the needs for infrastructure, both urban and rural.

With the aggregate data, “we can define social programmes for different socioeconomic or sociodemographic structures, we can identify the location of the people at the rural or urban level, and determine where more schools or hospitals are needed,” said Rubio.

This census has some new aspects, with Jun. 16 set aside for a survey of all people who live in indigence. Also, the polltakers will ask everyone about their use of mobile telephones and the Internet.

Technological advances will make the 2010 census much faster than the 2000 census in terms of collecting, categorising and processing the data, and produce information that is easier to use, say the experts.

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