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Pushing the color envelope

Mexico's notoriously unreliable postal service is trying to win back customers with a new look in hot pink and green.

September 14, 2008|Mark Stevenson | Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's notoriously unreliable postal service is getting the shock treatment -- shocking pink, that is.

Infamous for lost packages and tardy delivery, the service is getting a hot-pink makeover to try to brighten up its image, win back customers and pull it out of the red.

Changes include a new logo, new uniforms and pink and lime-green paint for post offices. Some facilities will also sell cut-rate rice, beans and powdered milk in addition to stamps. Coffee mugs and envelopes -- something the post office didn't sell before -- will also be available, but only in hot pink and lime green.

The service's new symbol -- a white carrier pigeon holding a letter in its beak -- hit the streets last week, a day after President Felipe Calderon unveiled the new look at a gala ceremony. The government hopes the new image and offerings will help the post office break even next year, after annual losses of up to $50 million.

Officials promise high-speed Internet access at post offices, where clerks still struggle with manual typewriters and sort mail by hand.

Out are the dingy blue-and-white paint and threadbare uniforms of the last few decades. The new color scheme was chosen because "we want to be very visible . . . in colors as brilliant, as vibrant as Mexico," said Purificacion Carpinteyro, who oversaw the remake and wore a hot-pink dress to the ceremony.

All 1,450 post offices will be painted with the new colors, inside and out.

But in a country where mail theft is widespread and letters often arrive weeks after they're sent, the public is skeptical.

"I don't trust it," Mexico City resident Beatriz Stern said as she mailed a "very important letter" at a post office sporting a fresh coat of pink paint. She said she went there only because she didn't believe anyone bothered to collect mail from the country's street-corner red mailboxes.

"They say it was faster in colonial times, when they used horses and carriages," Stern said.

The new name, Correos de Mexico, or Mexican Mail, is actually a throwback to the days of the early 20th century, when the service was trusted and the government built a main post office meant to look like a Renaissance palace.

Although there will be no horses, the new uniform -- a visored cap and shirts of lime green, hot pink and white -- look like something jockeys would wear.

Alberto Izquierdo, a native of Madrid who was waiting in a long line to mail a letter at the main downtown post office, wasn't impressed.

"I think they're focusing a little too much on appearances and not substance," he said.

Mexico's postal service delivers only about seven pieces of mail per inhabitant per year; Americans get an average of 700.

The low volume reflects a lack of confidence. Federal officials acknowledge most businesses won't send bills, statements or receipts through the mail, preferring pricey but safer private courier services, about 4,000 of which have sprung up here, according to industry estimates.

Then there's crime.

In 2003, police captured a gang of thieves who had stolen thousands of U.S. Social Security checks bound for retired workers in Mexico.

And in February, legislators demanded a federal investigation after police found several tons of opened and undelivered letters, most from the United States, at a home in the border town of Ciudad Juarez. Three postal workers were charged with stealing the correspondence, some of which dated to the 1990s.

Just a couple of years ago, the entire postal system had only seven inspectors. Now 170 are on duty -- many with new pink-and-green bicycles or motorcycles to help chase down fraud, Carpinteyro said.

Many expatriates don't even bother with Mexico's postal service. Chris Davis, an English teacher from Philadelphia who lives in Mexico City, said he doesn't even "take the risk" of having packages sent from the United States.

"I ask people who are coming down to bring things," he said.

Those who do use the service tend to be like Jorge Garcia, 38, who sees it as an affordable alternative to courier services for the few personal letters he mails.

"It's slow, but it's cheaper," he said.

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