By RICARDO CASTILLO
More often than not, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) visits indigenous communities where the locals not only deck him out in local wear but also crown him with flowers and smoke from aromatic native resin copal to keep away evil spirits.
Along with the semi-religious ceremonies – with little spirituality but lots of showmanship for both the president and the “sorcerers and sorceresses” – there come political promises, a lot of them having to do not so much with immediate wealth, but with the preservation of ancient sites the elderly in these changing communities consider “sacred.”
Normally, these sites are either a hill or a “power-filled” area where rituals have been carried out for centuries, even under the threat of punishment for “practicing sorcery or brujería” by the Catholic Spanish inquisition mentality, which — do believe it — still thrives in many a conservative Catholic place in Mexico.
As one example of this, last week AMLO visited the township of San Pablito, in the Pahuatlán municipality, high up in the eastern Mexico Puebla Sierra.
The locals made AMLO promise that the planned construction of a natural gas duct through San Pablito would also respect several of the surrounding “sacred hills.” It must be said that the company in charge of building the gas line is TransCanada Energy.
“Even if we have to pay extra, the line will not pass over the sacred hills and we are not going to accept conditioning (from the construction company)” AMLO promised. “We are going to propose different routes that do not affect sacred areas.”
Almost immediately. sources from TransCanada claimed that AMLO’s promise to the natives was the equivalent of “opening a can of worms” since the contracts and route for the line were all previously agreed upon and signed.
Surely, there will be yet another renegotiation in which investment will clash against old beliefs as AMLO also warned pipeline contractors that “it is very comfy to say you see how you solve that problem because in the end you’re the one paying me, but it’s not going to happen that way.”
In any case, we’ll see what gives on this one.
On Jan. 1, in the southern state of Chiapas, the Zapatista National Liberation Army gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the attack on San Cristobal de Las Casas by hooded guerrilla war monger Marcos, who took the local garrison knowing that the soldiers had been boozing the night before and were unprepared for an assault. At the time, reportedly 180 soldiers were killed.
The Army’s reaction was swift and responded in accordance with the brutality shown by the Zapatista Army. Three days later, then-Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari ordered a halt to all military action given the fact that the Zapatistas were being killed like flies, and even worse, many of them were teenagers, whose only weapon was a practice wooden rifle.
Since then, the Zapatistas have negotiated land occupancy – none of it sacred by the way – in the state of Chiapas, near the Guatemala border, and have been pacified with handouts by past administrations.
But for a second year in a row, the new “commander” and leader of the Zapatista communities, named Moises, has threatened to declare war against AMLO if he goes ahead and builds one of his favorite pet projects, the Maya Train, which will interconnect the Yucatan Peninsula by rail.
Last year, AMLO said nothing about Moises claiming “we will defend our land with our lives,” but as the Zapatista leader repeated his threat at the start of this New Year, this time AMLO used the traditional disqualifier tone traditionally used by Mexican politicians when they want to upstage someone on an opposition trek.
Whatever Moises is claiming, AMLO said following the Zapatista statement, “is a lot of propaganda and lots of ideological spiel” in an obvious bellicose threat that has nothing to do with political reality. The confrontational tone, however, is most certainly there!
First, the Maya Train – or at least part of it – has existed since 1946. Secondly, it barely touches the Lacandona Jungle rain-forest where Zapatistas live only actually interconnecting the cities of Tenosique and Palenque, on the northern side of the jungle. As for the rest of the railway, it covers states of Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and with the new addition it will cover the Maya Riviera in Quintana Roo, where it will boast double tracks and luxury convoys to pamper tourists.
This time around, Comandante Moisés is covering a lot more ground than was allotted to his Army (namely the Yucatan Peninsula) which has very different political and ideological components than those of the Zapatistas “pure Indians” concept.
Also, wherever this leads surely will not be to confrontation since AMLO, who wields the motto of “abrazos no balazos” (“hugs not bullets”) will respond to Zapatista demands the same way past administrations have, with politics and not violence.
The two abovementioned cases are very recent, but let me conclude with a third incident in which “Indigenous Power” and protection of sacred places imposed itself over infrastructure projects.
Five years ago, the state government of Guanajuato decided it was time to do away with the narrow highway linking Guanajuato City to San Miguel de Allende. As it continually happens, the civil engineers designing the four-lane expressway over the approximately 90-kilometer length of the road did not take into consideration a tiny little Otomí tribe ancient ceremonial site just west of San Miguel de Allende in a hamlet named Cruz del Palmar.
To make a long story short, the local remnants of the Otomi tribe, backed by environmentalists, stopped the construction cold and this much-needed expressway – the ancient road in a peril to drivers – is not even in the plans of the government nowadays. Indian Power indeed!
The problem with AMLO’s eternal love affair with Mexico’s indigenous communities all over the nation may be leading into a situation in which the president ends up biting off – with commitments to native Mexicans – more than he can chew.