Strolling down the monumental leafy boulevard that is Paseo de la Reforma I come across an Occupy-style camp dedicated to the 43 students who were presumably murdered by people connected to state power last September. Among the photos of the missing students there are exhortations not to vote in the upcoming elections as a protest against corruption and abuses of power, and as I stand there looking in vain for someone from the camp to talk to a cyclist goes blasting out mariachi music in support of one of the candidates. The question of whether or not to vote inevitably brings to mind Russell Brand’s about-turn in the recent UK elections. Back in London there is no equivalent of Ayotzinapa (a word it took me a few days to learn), no mass graves of missing students, and therefore, in a way, less at stake, although admittedly Ian Duncan Smith is doing his little bald best to boost, and cover up, the tally of state-sponsored deaths.
Two minutes further down the road two blue buses suddenly pull out, packed with heavily armed police on their way somewhere, while other police stand at the side of the buses bossing people around. It’s hard to tell whether the people around me are nonplussed, cowed or resigned. There are a lot of guns around in Mexico — yesterday’s edition of La Jornada reported the deaths of ten people in two days in Acapulco, and not to be outdone, in today’s paper you can read about the 30 who have been killed in five days in Chilapa, Guerrero State, the same state as Ayotzinapa. FARC rebels from Colombia are reported to be training narcotrafico gangs in the north of Mexico. Adding all this up, a new report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies puts Mexico in third place for violent deaths, behind only Syria and Iraq. If there is a Mexican equivalent of Russell Brand out there he or she is risking somewhat more than mere credibility.
As I walk on down the avenue a small procession passes by, people carrying placards for PAN, the party that governed Mexico between 2000–2012 before being replaced by the Instutional Party of the Revolution, PRI. The PRI has often been compared to the Irish political party Fianna Fail in that it is the official party of the revolution and has been the main font of corruption for almost 100 years. People still seem to be in shock that it could ever return to power. The precise details of the political panorama of this country defy my understanding but I have heard that the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is, in addition to allegedly being enormously corrupt, a profound idiot — there is even a website dedicated to his pendejadas.
This is a complex, beautiful, and dangerous place. Not so dangerous for me, of course — I’m trying to make sense of these things from an extremely privileged and partial position. Where to begin? Who can tell me what’s going on? I have my guide book and the odd bits of information I’ve picked up here and there from conversations and newspaper articles. I’ll always be little more than a tourist here, and I’m aware of my tendency to make snap judgments and facile connections about and between things I have no or next to no understanding of. My duty is to be polite, to recognise when it’s a good idea when to get involved and when to stay out of the way and to try, humbly, to learn.
This reality is new to me but it’s also ancient, and I have to keep reminding myself not to make assumptions. Even in the UK, a country I grew up in and have been living in for the last ten years, I fail to understand the dynamics of the society in which I’m living. So this blog is not an attempt to explain what is going on in Mexico but a series of hopefully interesting reflections and not completely inaccurate observations by someone with a very limited and privileged perspective and a tendency to make unsubstantiated judgments. It will hopefully make connections between what is happening here and the gathering shitstorm elsewhere. And it will also attempt to explain the experience of being here in this seemingly infinite, and infinitely delightful, city, with its tamarind juice and Iron Maiden t-shirts , its cordiality and variety. In addition to being mostly inaccurate, it will contain far too many links, be clumsily written, insifficeienly prrofread, peripatetic and, in many ways, like all blogs, including the one I did when I was in China, almost entirely irrelevant. In any case, aquí lo tienes.