Saturday, September 16, 2006

Santa Cruz de los Milagros

Night of September 12, Santa Cruz de los Milagros, Rooster heads up the serenade.

This has been a very busy week. Starting last Saturday, Bob and Maria took us to Mineral de Pozos, a mostly abandoned gold and silver mining town. Around the turn of the century it was one of the richest cities in Mexico with somewhere around 1,500 mines operating. By the 1940s its population had shrunk from over 70,000 to 400. In the 1990s, it began growing again, and is now 4,000, due in part to increasing tourism. The artsy crowd in San Miguel de Allende is touting it as the next artists’ colony. Mining started here before Cortes, was taken over by the Jesuits with enslaved indians, and after Spain kicked the Jesuits out of Mexico in the 1780s, private enterprise took over. Somewhere in there, the forests were destroyed, the ecology was raped, and a bunch of foreigners who owned and ran the mines got very, very rich. We visited two industrial haciendas, San Rafael which has an underground mine shaft, and Santa Brigida, which has a large surface mine and some interesting buildings. Both have incredible and extensive ruins, industrial and workers dwellings. It is a historical archaeologist’s dream. For some pictures, visit my Flickr site at

The remainder of the week revolved around our barrio’s annual celebration of Santa Cruz de los Milagros (September 12-15) and Mexican Independence Day September 15 and 16. The Santa Cruz celebration is in remembrance of the taking of Sangremal Hill (where we live) by the Spanish in 1531 after Santiago appeared in the sky, and of the miracles wrought by the cross that gives the barrio its name. The wooden cross that was first used in the 1530s was later replaced by one of cantera (stone), and is now a venerated icon for the indigenous people who originally lived in the barrio and who still live in the other barrio on Sangremal called San Francisquito. This is the biggest celebration of the year for concheros (Aztec style dancers who use conch shells in their dances) and Apache/Soldado dancers from Querétaro and across the Republic.

The festivities start on the 12th and include a nearly all night serenade in the barrio. We started the festivities in the afternoon by following the sound of a band as it passed near our house, going in the direction of La Cruz church. At the tail end of the procession was a pick-up truck with offerings from the people at the La Cruz market. Later, this group was followed by people from the market carrying dozens of offerings of flowers, and by as many bird cages with all kinds and colors of birds, also from the market. The flowers were offered to the church for the weeks festivities, but I think the birds were just taken to church to be blessed. We ran into Sophie and her son Antoine as we came out of the church. They and Pierre are staying in Querétaro for a year while he is on sabbatical. They are friends of Byrone and Neils from Boston, and know and enjoy Mexico.

The serenade starts at 9 PM from La Cruz church and is led by a big paper maché rooster and smaller paper maché roosters all carried on long poles, followed by a 8-10 piece band, and 100-200 people to begin with. We went along Felipe Luna and stopped at a house about halfway up the block following the same route as most every other procession from the church. At the house, the band struck up Las Mañanitas (traditional Mexican birthday morning song and thus the roosters to greet the morning), and the priest and some Franciscans (who were all remarkably well-fed, jolly, and young) went inside to bless the altar set up by the owner while the rest of us stayed outdoors. This and the subsequent houses we went to were the houses of captains of the indigenous dance groups throughout the barrio. Every year the captains prepare altars or even turned their living rooms into small chapels with flowers, pictures, statues, an altar, etc. While the altar is being blessed inside, the band is playing, the cohete (rocket) guys are setting off big bottle rockets at the edge of the crowd (OSHA would definitely not approve), and the roosters are cavorting. At most of the houses, the crowd is offered something to drink or eat. The lively and animated crowd consists mostly of people from the barrio, with no foreigners (except us) or tourists from out of town, and very few people from other parts of Querétaro. Even our American and Canadian friends who live in the barrio did not come. There is a definite sense that the people know each other and feel a strong bond.

After the altar was blessed, the coheteros headed off to the next house shooting off rockets to lead the way. When they arrived at the next house they would send off half a dozen or more rockets at the same time. This invariably set off car alarms which added to the general noise and chaos. It was really rather amusing.

The only indication or information about the serenade was a short note posted at La Cruz church giving the time. There was also an explanation in the new book Christiane got from her teacher about the barrios of Querétaro which turned out to be a reliable guide on what was happening this week, why it was happening, and its history. Other than that there was no information available on the biggest celebration in the barrio. The folks in the barrio just knew what was going to happen next, since it has been going on, pretty much unchanged, for 300+ years.

Christiane went home as the crowd grew and headed off towards San Francisquito. I followed the crowd since we had heard the next house was giving out free tequila! By this time the rooster had lost a leg, the other one was hanging by a thread, one of the smaller roosters had popped off its carrying stick, and someone was passing around tequila surreptitiously, as people (well, guys) were getting a little tipsy. We crossed all six lanes of Avenida de Zaragoza stopping traffic in downtown Querétaro for 10 minutes. On the other side was San Francisquito, and a crowd waiting for us. There were now around 400 people.

The narrow, winding streets of San Francisquito made it hard to get around, and when I got to the street for the next altar it became apparent that I would never get in to get my tequila. So I said goodnight to the couple who had been telling us what was going to happen next and headed home at around midnight. We heard the multiple rockets exploding as the crowd arrived at a house until sometime between 3 and 5 AM.

The next day was the parade of dancers that started on Zaragosa and headed downtown passing through the main squares, then in front of the old San Francisco monastery (now the regional museum) where every group paid its respects and did a special dance. The parade then continued up Independencia to La Cruz Church. There were coheteros interspersed along the way setting off car alarms to the accompaniment of each dance group’s big drums that never stopped and which made a deafening noise. The featherwork was truly incredible (see, and the sense of movement almost made you seasick.

As evening drew near, my pictures began to get fuzzy, especially with the quick dance movements. The Aztec dancers have been around for over 100 years, but the Apache and Soldier dancers are 15 to 20 years old, I think. There are few if any Apaches in Mexico, and the soldiers are all French, even the ones with US Calvary uniforms. Since the French (under Maximilian) never fought the Apache, the whole meaning of this is beyond me. Do the Apache represent Mexicans, and the French represent the US or the Spanish? Why do the French always win?

The clowns in this parade are all either devils or skeletons, who are sometimes chased around by a little kid dressed as an Indian and holding a machete sword.

After three hours of this we were glad to see and hear the end of it.

On Thursday, there was dancing in all the streets around La Cruz from around 8 in the morning until at least 11 at night. After dancing for three hours in the parade the day before, everyone must have been exhausted and only kept going by the hypnotic effect of the drums. That evening we went to mass and happened to catch the bishop coming up the street (as foretold in C’s book) escorted from the cathedral across town by the best Aztec dancers and a coterie of well-fed, jolly, and young Franciscan monks. As mass was going on inside the church, the dancing went on outside. Without loudspeakers turned up full blast, no one would have been able to hear mass. At one point, I think I heard church bells amidst all the noise, and once I heard very faint, whoosh, whoosh, whooshes, followed several seconds latter by a dozen very loud explosions right over the church.

By this time we were worn out and went home to dinner. Later, we heard the sounds of real fireworks, not just the rockets, but were too tired to go watch. Maybe next year.

The barrio celebration ended Friday morning, and that evening was the Grito which memorializes the “cry” of Father Hidalgo in 1810. This is celebrated throughout the country, but the main celebration is the Zocalo in Mexico City. This year, there was a lot of speculation about what would happen with AMLO’s tent city dwellers who had been camped out there for 47 days. President Fox decided to avoid a confrontation (someone had to act like an adult) and visited Dolores Hidalgo and gave the Grito on the same steps Hidalgo did 196 years ago. By this time we were safely ensconced with our Irish coffees at David and Zoe’s B&B watching TV along with a bunch of other ex-pats like Bob and Maria, Joe, Lee, Barry, and some current Peace Corps Volunteers. We had a great view of the fireworks in Plaza de Armas from their roof, despite the rain which did not dampen the celebration too much.

Today, Saturday, there is a military parade in the Zocalo which AMLO kindly vacated for the occasion. Traffic is back to normal in Mexico City, and there is something going on in Querétaro, but I am too tired to find out what.

A footnote on AMLO and his movement. One gets the impression that a deal was struck between his group and the federal government to help him save face by being able to say he had “won” the Zocalo and defeated the “traitor” Fox. In return, he moved his folks out of the Zocalo. All the papers trumpeted how he had “won” and Fox had “lost”. But Fox also got what he wanted, by playing the martyr to the messianic, anti-democratic AMLO, by giving the Grito in Dolores Hidalgo (where it probably ought to be anyway), and by clearing out the Zocalo and Avenida Reforma of protestors without any need for police brutality. 84% in a national poll said they are glad AMLO and friends are leaving (every time AMLO does something his poll numbers go down and the PAN’s poll numbers go up, so the PAN was happy to let AMLO do his worst.) 77% said they don’t want him to come back; but significantly, 60% said they thought there should be a vocal opposition to the PAN and the federal bureaucracy. Also significantly, the PRD (AMLO’s party) are questioning whether they want to be a thorn in the side of the PAN or whether they want to get some laws passed for their constituents by working cooperatively in the legislature. And perhaps most significantly, the PRD and many of their sympathizers are now again referring to themselves as perredistas (PRD party members) and not as lopezobradoristas (followers of AMLO). Common sense seems to be prevailing.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Shadow Government?

The following is taken from a post to my brothers in response to a question about what is going on in Mexico and how the "shadow" government will work.

No one seems to know what a shadow government would entail. No one is even asking how they would raise taxes, rent offices, much less make laws. Only one columnist has recently raised the question of whether this whole business of setting up another government is treason. AMLO has been maintaining that because the constitution says that the power of the government is derived from the people, the people (him) can do whatever they want, up to and including setting up a different government and a constitutional convention. The most recent idea from the AMLO camp seems to be to hold meetings of the "leaders" every six months where they would make important decisions which they could not enforce, of course. AMLO would be the one to pick the "leaders" and set up the "rules" and his most ardent supporters (the ones who are still in the Zocalo) would gladly do whatever he asked. The ones who think are beginning to see him for what he is, a throw back to the early and mid 20th century, and are slinking quietly away. Just to put this in perspective, the great 19th century reformer, Mexico's Lincoln, Benito Juarez would not have succeeded if the US had not recognized his government early on, had not supplied money and advice, etc. I don't think they will do the same for AMLO, nor will anyone else. The guy is now seen by the majority here and abroad as a crackpot.

What I really see happening is that the other main figures of the left are deserting him in the past week or two, the mayor of the DF from his own party is asking him to take down the tent city in the Zocalo before the Independence Day celebration this Sat, and he is becoming increasingly marginalized. The people in the "camps" are dwindling and some of the other allied parties have deserted him. He will be a minor irritant this time next year, but it will take a while. Mexicans tend not to be confrontational, and they are unfailingly polite with folks like AMLO even if he is trying to undermine everything they have spent the last 10 years setting up. And people are worried because they know that democracy is young here, and they are not sure how strong it really is and whether it can stand up to this echo from the past.

Attached is an editorial in the NYT written by a Mexican intellectual (a separate and distinct class in Mexico). When I started reading it, I thought someone had been reading my blog since it is the first editorial by anyone I have seen, Mexican or US, that tries to put this into historical perspective, but then I realized the writer had really done his homework, well beyond anything in my blog. Turns out the author is Enrique Krause. We were present at an award ceremony a few months ago that was held in the Teatro de la Republica in Querétaro, a few blocks from our house. We were invited because of C's culture classes, and were the only gringos there, and I was one of only 6 who were not wearing dark suits! Krause, a noted historian and intellectual, was given a national literary award for a book on Mexican history. Even the left has a grudging respect for him. Anyway, he seems to have a real understanding of what is at stake for Mexico; what democracy, rule of law and transparency, etc. are; and a good handle on the facts and issues of the current situation in the Zocalo and Reforma Ave.

Few editorial writers of any stripe now support AMLO, but that does not mean they are letting up on President Fox and his myriad of mistakes (he is like the Mexican Bush) or supporting a leftist agenda of helping the poor. Even right wing writers
(including Calderon) all admit that Calderon's main task will be helping the poor and developing jobs.

Since the link to Krause's article will expire, if it has not done so already, I have copied it here:

Mexico: Democracy Under Threat

By Enrique Krauze
Tuesday, September 5, 2006; Page A19, Washington Post

To get a sense of the danger hovering over Mexican democracy, consider these numbers: In the 681 years between the founding of the Aztec empire in 1325 and the present day, Mexico has lived for 196 years under an indigenous theocracy, 289 years under the absolute monarchy of Spain, 106 years under personal or party dictatorships, 68 years embroiled in civil wars or revolutions, and only 22 years in democracy.

This modest democratic 3 percent of Mexico's history is divided over three periods, far separated in time: 11 years in the second half of the 19th century, 11 months at the beginning of the 20th century, and the past 10 years. In the first two instances, the constitutional order was overturned by military coups

Scarcely 50 years ago, armed groups of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (known as the PRI, its initials in Spanish) attacked polling stations with pistols and submachine guns, gunning down suspect voters and stealing ballot boxes. Scarcely 20 years ago, the PRI -- which had refined its methods -- prided itself on being a nearly infallible machine. The government and the PRI (symbiotic entities) controlled every step of the elections, from the preparation of voting rolls and the discretionary issuing of voter registration cards to the counting of votes. Many bureaucrats and members of worker and peasant organizations were carted to polling stations where they were instructed to vote in mass for the official candidate chosen by the outgoing president. The voters were given sandwiches and gifts; their leaders were given government posts, sinecures and money. Many times the ballots were marked in advance and stuffed days before the election into "pregnant" ballot boxes; the establishment of secret polling places was common, and some people were registered many times over.

This shameful situation ended in 1996 when President Ernesto Zedillo set in motion a deep democratic reform. Elections at all levels were no longer controlled by the government, becoming the jurisdiction of an independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), subject to a Federal Electoral Tribunal. At great cost, detailed voter rolls were drawn up with a registration and voter ID system that made it possible to correlate physical presence, identity and registration at the polling places. The IFE very soon gained remarkable credibility. All over the country, citizens began to vote freely in fair and transparent elections. Few were surprised when in 1997 the PRI lost the majority in the Chamber of Deputies for the first time and the leftist candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, attained the extremely important post of mayor of Mexico City. Three years later, the PRI lost the jewel in the crown, and the crown itself: Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) won the presidency.

On July 2 this same independent electoral organization, made up of 909,575 citizens (not government employees), oversaw an orderly, peaceful election in which more than 41 million people voted. It's important to note that almost a million representatives from all parties participated, as well as nearly 25,000 national observers and 639 international observers. At the end of the day, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) presidential candidate came away with more votes than any other leftist candidate in Mexican history; in fact, he fell just 240,000 votes short of winning the presidency.

What happened next has left Mexico on the verge of social upheaval. What would an American think if, after a campaign as heated as the Kerry-Bush race, the losing candidate had declared himself the winner the night of the election, claimed "massive fraud" a few days later and orchestrated a sit-in of his followers (many of them directly paid by the local PRD government) on the Mall in Washington, blocking access to the neighboring streets and affecting businesses and government offices? That is exactly what Andrés Manuel López Obrador has done.

In articles and interviews published in the international press (written in a misleading tone of civility, far from that of his incendiary speeches), López Obrador has seriously damaged Mexico's young democracy by trying to sustain the unsustainable: that Mexico today is the same as Mexico in the days of PRI rule. He fails to mention that:

· He spent more on television advertising than any other candidate.

· In the same election he calls "a filthy mess" his leftist coalition managed to become the second-most-powerful force in the legislature, considerably increasing its presence in both chambers, while the coalition's candidate for mayor of Mexico City won with 47 percent of the vote.

· The polling places where the Federal Electoral Tribunal ordered a recount (9 percent of the total) weren't a random sampling, which would have been more than sufficient to determine whether there was generalized fraud. They were instead a selection weighted in López Obrador's favor because he chose the polling places where he hoped to show that there had been fraud -- unsuccessfully, since the resulting difference has been minimal, according to the tribunal's ruling.

· He has said that even if there were a recount in 100 percent of the polling places, he wouldn't accept the results if they were not in his favor.

Today, many citizens who voted for López Obrador are not only disappointed but fearful. According to recent polls, the majority of the country disapproves of his actions and supports the Federal Electoral Tribunal's performance. If the presidential elections were held today, Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party would win with 54 percent to López Obrador's 30 percent.

López Obrador has complained about his opponents' fear-mongering, but he's the one stirring up real fear, by declaring that "Mexico needs a revolution" and comparing the situation to the circumstances that led to the Revolution of 1910. The historical comparison is completely wrong: López Obrador isn't the heir of liberal democrats Benito Juárez and Francisco I. Madero, but of Porfirio Díaz and Victoriano Huerta, the coup leaders who smothered Mexico's two initial attempts at democracy.

What comes next? If, as is likely, the final ruling of the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary confirms Calderón's victory, López Obrador will do as he has warned: On Sept. 16, Mexico's Independence Day, he'll gather tens of thousands of people in the central square of Mexico's capital to declare him "president" by acclaim. He may even try to control "his territory" in the southern states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and Guerrero, and the capital itself. His aim for the near future will be to lay siege to the institutions he despises ("let them go to hell," he said recently) and force Calderón to resign.

It is crystal-clear that López Obrador is not a democrat. He's a revolutionary with a totalitarian mentality and messianic aspirations who is using the rhetoric of democracy to try to destroy this third historic attempt at democracy in Mexico. Eighty-six years ago, Mexico brought an end to a revolution that cost a million lives. Since then it has lived in peace. It's a country still plagued with injustice and poverty, but it has made significant progress in its economic transformation, social programs and political life. It would be a sad thing for it all to end in dictatorship or revolution: the 97 percent of our history. Mexico isn't just another democracy: it's the neighbor and partner of Canada and the United States and the counterweight on the scale tipping Latin America toward the example of Brazil and Chile and not Cuba and Venezuela. It's more important than ever that the democracy we've achieved has the support and understanding of international opinion.

Enrique Krauze is the author of "Mexico: Biography of Power" and editor of the magazine Letras Libres. This article was translated by Natasha Wimmer.