What are we Celebrating in 2010?

What are we celebrating in 2010? A country where 28 thousand people are dead after three years of war against the drug dealers and organized crime has superimposed itself on the national map identifying our states as territories of the drug cartels? A country where the atrocities of today compete with those of yesterday, where newspapers refer to Ciudad Juarez as “the most lethal city in the world “(Le Figaro), and to Mexico as the site of “the new killing fields” (The Guardian)? A country where Latin Americans passing through to “the other side” have their rights violated by gangs comprised of human smugglers, government officials and corrupt police whilst our own migrants are discriminated against by laws and racist attitudes in the country to the north?

What are we celebrating in 2010? A country of students poorly educated by government officials and teachers also poorly educated, and where education has been hijacked by union leaders with help from the government? Although Alonso Lujambio, the Minister of Education warns us that if we don’t observe the bicentenary celebrations “our children and our grandchildren will accuse us” of being small-minded, perhaps he could tell us how the ceremonies of smoke and rhetorical bombast will help to improve the “educational poverty” (according to UNESCO) provided by the Ministry of Education throughout the length and breadth of the nation? In the opinion of many citizens, the billions of pesos spent on fireworks, lights in the Zocalo, and tons of books, mostly printed in haste, and unfinished works, would have been better employed by the Federal, Mexico City and State governments to create jobs, decent health services and, above all, getting rid of the corruption that is sucking the blood out of our people who deserve to live under honest and efficient governments offering prosperity and justice.

One hundred years ago, General Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico for eight terms, celebrated with great pomp the first centenary of Mexican independence from Spain. There were speeches, ceremonies, parades, dedications of buildings, exhibitions and banquets. The first party was for the opening of the “la Castenada General Mental Hospital”, and on September 16 the Independence Monument was unveiled. Nevertheless months later, Francisco I. Madero, the presidential candidate for the National Anti-Reelection Party, from San Antonio, Texas called for an armed uprising on November 20, setting off the Mexican Revolution that caused millions of deaths.

The first Mexicans in the United States were those in the territories annexed by the United States in 1847 after the defeat of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, 11 times President of Mexico, in the battle of Cerro Gordo. The revolutionary violence, the coup d’etat of Victoriano Huerta, the assassinations of Madero and Pino Suarez, the Punitive Expedition of the US Army against Pancho Villa, plus the tumult caused by the assassinations of Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon , produced the second wave of Mexicans to the United States. The third wave has been workers, our migrants since the 1940’s, referred to successively as “braceros”, “wetbacks”, “greasers”, “spicks”, “undocumented”, and “illegal”. And the most recent is that of residents in northern states fleeing from the violence in Mexico. Curiously, the greatest exodus is from Ciudad Juarez, where one of the decisive battles of the Mexican Revolution took place.

But while Mexicans are trying to enter the US in huge numbers in what some people call the reconquest of the territories Mexico lost in the 19th. century, we are experiencing the economic reconquest of Mexico –and other parts of Latin America – by Spain. Investors are attracted by the possibility of privatization and liberalization, and the trend of big companies to eliminate small and medium sized ones. In recent years Spain has been the prime investor of the European Union in Mexico (45%), and the second, behind the US, globally. The investment has been mostly in hotels and restaurants, and financial services. Banco Santander is the third financial group in Mexico, and its ads refers to itself as “the Mexican Franchise” At the same time, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentari, which bought Bancomer ten years ago, is the largest financial institution in Mexico. There has also been Spanish penetration in transportation and communication, manufacturing and energy.

There is a growing cultural neo-colonialism apparent in activities such as the capturing of important contracts to print textbooks and the control, from Spain, of a large part of the editorial industry of the Spanish-speaking world of Latin America.

But in order to honor the past (not the present?), in May the government organized a procession to move the bones of the 12 heroes of Independence from the base of the Angel column, where they had been kept since 1925, to Chapultepec Castle. There, anthropological forensic experts analyzed the supposed mortal remains of eminences such as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Jose Maria Morelos, Leona Vicario, Ignacio Allende, Guadalupe Victoria and others who had been buried haphazardly. Supposedly, there was a skull belonging to Hidalgo, but there are doubts about whether certain bones belong to other leaders because, between 1823 and 1925, they were resting forgotten in a crypt under the Metropolitan Cathedral, and in 1895, they were taken out by Porfirio Diaz for an airing.. In August, the bones were taken in a solemn funeral cortege to the National Palace, where the public will be able to admire them in their new urns during the “Mexico 200 Years” exhibition, thereby turning the seat of Federal Government into an architectural reliquary, somewhat reminiscent of the tzompantli of the Templo Mayor.

Everything now is called “Bicentenial”, even the traffic jams. On the official internet page there are announcements, children’s games and an article about the royal eagle, the national symbol of Mexico, at risk of extinction, and whose image on our flag has just appeared on the internet upside down and riddled with bullet holes Among the 1700 activities listed in the National Catalogue of Projects for the Centenary and Bicentenary are the description of a variety of potato, an exhibition game from the National Basketball Association, a sand sculpture competition, the remodeling of the baptistery where Miguel Hidalgo was baptized, productions of telenovelas and films with historical themes, even an art book about parliamentary grounds and buildings. The winner of the competition for the Bicentennial Arch turned out to be a 104 meter high stela, whose construction, plagued with mistakes, outside the Puerto de los Leones in the Forest of Chapultepec (site of the Coca Cola Christmas tree) will, upon completion at the end of 2011, have sucked up 690 million pesos – three times the original budget. Was the inspiration the “Great Stela” of German artist Heinz Mack, 42 meters high, built of steel and created in 1989 for the corporate headquarters of Mercedes Benz, or was it the monolith that so dazzled the monkeys in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: Space Odyssey”? The object of stainless Finnish steel, forged in Italy and covered with 3500 panels of a quartz only found in Brazil – although the architect in charge of the work talked about “the purity of the quartz born out of the deep strength of our land; ancient stone of the pre-Colombian world” – will have the 50 meter hole dug for the foundation as its sole Mexican attribute. Perhaps it will serve as lightning conductor for the Forest of Chapultepec and Los Pinos.

When, 200 years after the Independence of Mexico, 100 years after its Revolution, and 150 years after the annexation of much of its territory by the US, we ask ourselves whether we were better off under the Spanish, the French (during the French invasion) or the United States, there comes to mind a pertinent phrase from the Argentinian Arturo Juaretche, “the point is not to change the collar, it is to stop being a dog”.

– translation by Jeremy Greenwood.