A World of Protests in Mexico City

August 7, 2007

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“To the Museum of Modern Art, please,” I told the taxi driver.

“I can’t go there.  The street’s closed.”

“Paseo de la Reforma?”

“That’s right.”

“What’s going on?”

“A big demonstration.”

“What are they protesting?”

“Don’t know.  I can’t keep track of all the protests.”

“Please drive as close as you can, and I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

We discovered west-bound lanes on Reforma were open on that July afternoon and traffic was moving at pedestrian speed through thousands of people.

“Right here’s fine,” I said, and stepped onto a sidewalk in Chapultepec Park renowned for lakes and museums and a palace, and that today offered a grand celebration: hundreds of vendors were selling an array of food, clothes, arts and crafts, and music resounded from the stage in an open area across the street.  On the other side of the stage, steps to the massive National Auditorium were being used like seats in a stadium.

I crossed the lanes of slow-moving traffic then traversed a plant-laden center divider and the closed, east-bound lanes before trying to step over a chain link fence that proved higher than perceived and left me straddling a pain-inducing pole I hastened to get off, stretching to put my left foot on soil so I could hoist the other over.  This indelicate maneuver knocked several shirts off the fence onto the ground, and as I moved to pick them up I stepped on some very long knives, one almost qualifying as a sword.

“Excuse me,” I said to the vendor.

He waved don’t worry.  He was enjoying the melodic voice of a beautiful, black-haired woman in traditional mariachi attire.

Winding through the crowd closer to the stage, I said to a young couple, “She’s got to be famous.  Who is she?”

They either couldn’t hear or didn’t know, and shrugged.  I listened to a few more songs until her performance ended and the next singer started, then eased away looking for someone willing to talk, and selected a group of four middle-aged people, evidently two couples.

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yes,” one of the women said.

“Where are you from?”

“San Luis Potosi.”

“And everyone else here?” I motioned around the park.

“Queretaro, Michoacán, Veracruz, Chiapas, Puebla, Oaxaca, all over Mexico.”

“What are you protesting?”  Actually, they seemed utterly tranquil.

“Everything,” she said, peeling a small flyer backed by adhesive and handing it to me.  The headline stated: “March of 25 Thousand People to Los Pinos.”

I pasted the flyer on my note paper and asked, “Did you march to the president’s house?”

“We tried, but the police blocked us.  That’s all right.  President Felipe Calderon knows we’re here.”

“Thanks.” It was hard to hear amid the music and I didn’t want to interrupt any more.

Later that afternoon and on subsequent days I asked taxi drivers, waiters, hotel employees, and others what the big demonstration was about.  No one I questioned could be specific.  In the morning the only newspaper I read mentioned the event but didn’t detail political issues, instead listing in bold graphics the enormous number of vendors and police who attended.

Later, accessing the website listed on the flyer – www.AntorchaCampesina.org.mx (Campesino Torch) – I made a list of grievances that includes corruption and repression in education, religion, and commerce, union busting, dominance of farm land, and a system that compels campesinos to borrow money to work on land and while doing so borrow more money for food, and later struggle to pay off high-interest loans.

The Mexican people, though outwardly genial, are increasingly exasperated by a system that rewards the rich for greed and punishes the poor for hard work.  Those in power better take heed or someday the protestors may stroll through their manicured gardens.

George Thomas Clark

George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States. His commentaries for GeorgeThomasClark.com are read in more than 50 countries a month.

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