From Our Own Correspondent: World Service, 3 January 2009
Stephen Gibbs meets a stylish mayor with some interesting crime-fighting methods
San Pedro Garza Garcia is known as the Beverly Hills of Mexico. As I drove through town, I began to see why.
In the November sunshine, women in immaculate track suits were jogging alongside the main boulevard.
They could check their reflections in the shop windows of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Lamborghini.
As the road got steeper, the houses became more impressive: vast colonnaded mansions, clinging to the mountainside.
I was heading for the house at the top of the hill: the home of Mauricio Fernandez.
The recently elected mayor of San Pedro, who reportedly has a fortune of 800 million dollars, last month proposed his own radical solution to Mexico's appalling problem with organised crime.
His strategy is that the people should not sit back and wait for their government to make this country safer. Citizens, he says, should unite and if necessary fight against the criminals.
The suspicion is that the mayor has already heeded his own advice. On the day of his inauguration, he told a crowd of his supporters that he had some good news. A notorious local kidnapper had been murdered, he announced.
But he was speaking almost four hours before the man’s body was discovered by police in Mexico City.
“I had a tip off”, is his explanation.
At the gates to his home, a team of leather jacketed private security guards was expecting me. I was waved on.
The entrance to the house itself is through an understated low doorway. The mayor was waiting on the other side.
“It’s fifteenth century”, he said.
He'd noticed my jaw drop as I gazed at the ceiling 20 metres above us.
Vast, finely engraved wooden beams, of the sort you might see in a French Cathedral, topped the enormous room in front of us.
In the 1970s, Mr Fernandez had bought the entire renaissance ceiling from the estate of William Randolph Hearst, the American media tycoon, and had it shipped to Mexico.
On the far wall was a large rock, riddled with fossils.
“It looks like Jackson Pollock, but it is 30 million years old.” joked the mayor, his baritone voice echoing around the room. “”
I was handed a shot of tequila. It had been poured into a freshly carved tomato skin. Along its rim were sprinkled brown crystals.
“That’s Hawaiian salt”, my host reassured me.
I began to realise that I was in the home of a man whose friends, and enemies, had to admire his attention to detail.
We sat down.
Just behind the Mayor’s head was a dinosaur skull, mounted on a marble plinth. On the table, there were fossils of long-extinct fish. At his feet, there was a tame racoon.
But for all the prehistoric and animal life around us, something was missing: family life.
Mayor Fernadez has six children. All are now living in the United States. After a spate of kidnap attempts, first against his daughter, then against two of his grandchildren he told them to leave Mexico. He says he expects the family to be back within a year or so, after, as he puts it, he has “sorted out” San Pedro.
His vision is that the town becomes a place where all crime is irradicated
One problem, he admits, is that Utopia has its price, and that amongst the select people who can afford homes in his neighbourhood, some might have made their money from drugs.
He tells me the story of how an affable dad on the local school run turned out to be one of Mexico’s most wanted men, a cartel boss with a two million dollar bounty on his head. He was arrested last March, along with a stash of machine guns.
“I can’t stop them living here, but I can stop them working” said Mr Fernandez.
This year two mayors have been killed in drug related violence in Mexico, I ask him if he fears for his life.
“They could kill me today,” he said. “But perhaps they know it is better not to”.
With that, his beautiful assistant stared, a little awkwardly, at the Persian carpet. Mauricio Fernandez suggested we all take a walk outside.
Placed at the edge of the garden there is a swimming pool, and beyond that a medieval stone arch. also once the property of William Hearst. It frames the view perfectly.
Mr Fernandez’s popularity has soared in the last month, as Mexicans look for a believable solution to the crime problem which blights their lives.
His name is even mentioned as a possible Presidential candidate, when Felipe Calderon’s term expires in 2012
I asked him whether he has such ambitions.
In the great tradition of those who may yet seek high office he denied it.
“I like being mayor”, he said, as he peered through his gothic arch at the city below.