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Stop those church bells, or else!

November 20, 2007 |  2:58 pm

Karl Marx once wrote, famously, that history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." So it is in Mexican politics. The disputed 2006 presidential election was for many Mexicans a "tragedy": Millions of Mexicans lost faith in their democracy, believing the election was stolen from the charismatic leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. And the anger over that result continues to produce the occasional farcical incident, like the bust-up this past Sunday over the ringing of the church bells in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo. The controversy, which began with ringing bells and ended with an angry crowd rushing into the church, has caused the Zocalo's Metropolitan Cathedral to be closed for the first time in 81 years.

It all started peacefully enough, with Lopez Obrador (who calls himself "the legitimate president of Mexico") and his leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) holding another mass rally in the square. Then the church bells started to ring in the cathedral, a 17th century structure built in part from the stones of Aztec pyramids. The bells were announcing the midday Mass, but they interrupted a speech by Lopez Obrador supporter Sen. Rosario Ibarra de Piedra. No one was bothered at first, until the bells kept ringing. And ringing. And ringing. And ringing some more. For nine to 12 minutes in all, according to the PRD and some news reports. About 100 PRD activists blamed the "boss" of the cathedral, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, a prelate known for his conservative sympathies, and rushed into the church, bumping into some of the faithful and knocking over furniture and calling the cardinal "the devil."

Church leaders called the incident an "act of terror." It was, by any measure, an embarrassment for the PRD, which Monday issued a press release condemning the acts of violence perpetrated by a small group of people. Still, the PRD said, the anger could be understood as a natural reaction to what many present saw as "the deliberate interruption of their political rally."  The church may reopen this weekend.

Posted by Héctor Tobar in Mexico City