Above, the countdown to Mexico's independence bicentennial, showing just five days to go Friday afternoon near the Zocalo square in downtown Mexico City. It's almost hard to believe. The bicentennial clock was inaugurated at 11 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2008, when it began counting down 730 days to Sept. 16, 2010 (link in Spanish). We're almost there.
You can finally feel it, a quiet, rumbling sense of anticipation for the fiestas patrias on the streets of Mexico City. Flags are appearing in shop windows and attached to the backs of microbuses and taxis. Enormous tricolor banners -- red, white, and green -- are being flung over the tops of government buildings. There are "bicentenario specials" in stores and restaurants, and more than enough bicentennial-related imagery and ties in government public messages and advertising on television and radio.
In the city center and along the stately Paseo de la Reforma, workers are busily erecting stages and lighting arrays for concerts and performances planned for the night of Sept. 15. Mexico is celebrating 200 years of independence from Spain and 100 years since the start of the revolution.
Well, almost all of Mexico, that is. At least 16 municipalities have canceled their grito events due to the threat of drug-related violence. Other cities affected by recent heavy rains also might have to cancel their events.
In Guerrero state, five municipalities won't have a party on the night of Sept. 15, but not because of violence or rain. Local officials just can't get organized and set aside political differences, El Universal reports (link in Spanish).
In Mexico City, an estimated 430,000 national and foreign tourists are expected to arrive in the coming days for the party. La Jornada has a list of the stars who are scheduled to perform for the crowds, among them the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte, pop stars Paulina Rubio and Ely Guerra, and Aleks Syntek, the artist responsible for that regrettable "official" bicentennial song that was later retracted after almost uniform criticism.
There will be three stages and 45 giant screens along the Reforma corridor into the Centro. A parade will begin at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on national TV networks, an event "without precedent in the history of the country," said Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio, whose ministry is organizing the festivities.
The city didn't look or feel like this even a week ago. For months there has been a sense of ambivalence, even wariness, about the holiday. Mexico is facing the most serious challenge to its stability, the drug war, since the last time a major social upheaval engulfed the country. That was the revolution, a century ago. The current battle against drug-trafficking groups is simply not working.
Everyday the violence numbs. On Thursday, 25 more people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, a city just across the border from the United States that has become synonymous with bloodshed and death. According to Molly Molloy, a researcher and librarian who tracks the violence in Ciudad Juarez, that brings the total of deaths there this year to 2,122, or about eight per day as of Friday morning. In all, 6,499 people have been killed in Ciudad Juarez since January 2008, Molloy calculates.
Juarez is among those cities that will not be holding a bicentennial celebration next week.
The federal government is getting ready for a big party nonetheless. Mexico, despite its many problems, is a country that eternally loves a party, a society whose whole social structure, you might say, is rooted around the fiesta. The mood extends north of the border. Bicentennial events are also being planned in major cities in the United States and all through its Mexican-American Southwest, from California to Texas.
On Friday, the White House announced that it will send an official delegation to the celebration in the Mexican capital. The delegation is headed by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the former congresswoman from Los Angeles; U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, who already lives in town; Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; and Julian Castro, the up-and-coming mayor of San Antonio, Texas.
Other performers invited to the stages along Reforma include the alternative bands Zoe, Kinky, and Maldita Vecindad, singer Lila Downs, and the norteño crooner Espinoza Paz. Fun if you're celebrating in the state-sponsored or VIP areas, but not if you're a resident dealing with the traffic.
With large sections of the downtown and Reforma areas already closed to vehicular traffic, it's going to be a long five days until Wednesday. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, Reforma will be entirely closed all the way to streets leading into the Zocalo. But the metro and Metrobus systems will be running after midnight and until 3 a.m. on Sept. 16, the government said.
La Plaza will be here to keep an eye on how it goes down. After all, a bicentennial, in any country, happens only once.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo credits: Daniel Hernandez