: méxico, sin ánimo celebratorio


The New York Times
Published: September 12, 2010

MEXICO CITY — There are the bicentennial buses. Bicentennial roads. A bicentennial marathon. A bicentennial song. The bicentennial digital library. A bicentennial video game. Even a bicentennial bird, the mountain trogon, and plant, the owl agave. And of course the bicentennial fireworks extravaganza, planned to be the largest the country has ever seen.

What appears to be missing is bicentennial enthusiasm.

By accident of timing, as Mexico approaches the 200th anniversary on Thursday of the start of its rebellion against Spain, the national mood has sunk into its deepest funk in years.

A four-year drug war that has taken more than 28,000 lives has seeped into previously quiet corners of the country. Just Sunday night in the central city of Puebla, heavily armed marines captured Sergio Villarreal, known as El Grande, the leader of the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

The bloodiest town, Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, has canceled celebratory bicentennial fireworks out of safety concerns. So have at least two dozen other towns. Major commemorative public works projects, including the bicentennial monument itself, the Estela de Luz, a 30-story quartz obelisk in the capital, will not be completed in time for the big day.

A poll last week in Reforma, a daily newspaper, found only tepid support for the government’s celebration here in the capital, and a range of critics have suggested that the tens of millions of dollars — $53 million for the monument alone — would be better spent on schools, health care and other pressing social needs.

“We are in mourning,” said Ricardo Valdez, 53, a laborer passing through the historic Zócalo, Mexico City’s vast main square, where workers were busy on Thursday erecting scaffolding, staging and decorations for the celebration. “Look at all this useless expense.”

This is, however, Mexico, where, as the Nobel-winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz once noted, “any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies.”

The government still expects tens of thousands to fill the heavily guarded Zócalo, as they do every independence day, and perhaps many more to line a parade route to the square.

The highlight of the celebration, which also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution, will be a series of spectacles on Wednesday night, including one choreographed by Ric Birch, who produced Olympic ceremonies in 1992 and 2000. The aim is a party for the ages, with dancing, an aerial acrobatic show and performances by celebrities including the chart-topping Tigres del Norte.

As usual, the president will deliver the traditional grito, the shout of independence, to the crowds just before midnight.