[Note: This is a transcript of a report that originally aired on Free Speech Radio News]
Today Mexico marks the 200th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Spanish rule. Mexico’s federal government spent months hyping up the celebrations which are estimated to have cost more than $230 million. But hard economic times, social grievances, and Drug War-related bloodshed have dampened the celebratory mood.
(Grito “Viva México” – fade under)
Mexican independence celebrations kick off each year in central plazas on the night of September 15th with a group yell known as the “grito”.
But this year, at least a dozen cities – most notably Ciudad Juárez – had to cancel the ritual due to security concerns. The extreme violence of President Calderón’s Drug War is just one of the factors contributing to the less-than-celebratory mood at Bicentennial events.
(Tania Rivas in Spanish – reporter translates)
The overall lack of enthusiasm was something Oaxaca City resident Tania Rivas noticed at Wednesday night’s “grito”, but she says people should refrain from making negative comments due to the importance of what’s being celebrated.
(sound of protest encampment tent coming down)
State government officials spent the early part of the week hurriedly negotiating with different groups camped out in Oaxaca’s main
plaza – or zócalo – in order to convince them to leave ahead of Wednesday night’s event. Most of the protestors had been camping out in the plaza for more than a month.
(Reyna Martínez in Spanish – reporter translates)
Reyna Martínez says she and the other women from San Juan Copala have nothing to celebrate – but rather they are in mourning. The 25 women set up camp in the zócalo last month to protest paramilitary violence in the state’s indigenous Triqui region.
But they weren’t the only ones sleeping in the square demanding a resolution to their demands.
(Emilio Hernández García in Spanish)
Emilio Hernández García of the Antorcha Campesina – a group with historic ties to the ruling party of Oaxaca – says an agrarian conflict that the governor has allowed to fester has escalated into kidnappings and murders. One of their demands is a definitive resolution to the land dispute.
And then there are the “defraudados”; victims of a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by a group of small-time investment banks set up in towns where migrant remittances are an important source of revenue.
(Armando Contreras in Spanish)
Group spokesperson Armando Contreras says these pseudo-banks ripped off the life savings of around 50 thousand Oaxacans by declaring bankruptcy.
(Julio Cesar Pizarro in Spanish)
Yet another organization occupying the zócalo ahead of Bicentennial festivities was that of street vendors who say they’ve been denied permits due to their participation in the popular uprising of 2006. Street vendor Julio Cesar Pizarro says work permits are rewards in the ruling party’s political patronage system. Pizarro knew the government was intent on clearing out the plaza ahead of the official event.
JULIO CESAR PIZARRO: “The federal government, along with the state government, are making a farce of the commemoration of the bicentennial and of the anniversary of the revolution when, in reality, we cannot say that we are free. Those of us from the organizations here in the plaza share the attitude of ‘what do we have to celebrate?’.”
(Military band music – fade under)
In the end, the state government was able to convince all groups to clear out of the zócalo ahead of the bicentennial event…but the grievances remain. At least one of the groups – the indigenous Triqui women of San Juan Copala – say they plan to return to plaza on Friday to re-establish their camp.