In Puebla, my hometown, I can see Mexico from the inside. It is a relatively peaceful place in this fraught country. Since the tragedy of the 43 disappeared students in Iguala, Guerrero, on Sept. 26, the honeymoon of the government of Enrique Peña Nieto is over, despite its enactment of historic reforms. Every segment of society and, with a few exceptions, all the media are criticizing the government and politicians of every party with endless protests and expressions of distrust.
The common citizen, from my family members and friends to taxi drivers, salesmen, waiters and everyone else I have spoken to, echoes the same refrain: something is wrong with the country. They demand answers to the crime of Iguala and to the growing violence of drug trafficking and the organized crime that occurs in collusion with authorities, judges, police and the military. They call for social, economic and political change, for the end of impunity and for justice, equality and the rule of law. Although these problems are endemic, they are now exploding on a national scale in newspapers and magazines and on the radio and television.
Though at first glance daily life appears normal, the social and economic inequality permeates my senses. As I walk and drive around, I observe a mosaic of contrasts: exclusive, gated areas for the rich next to poverty-stricken barrios; businessmen and beggars; students and hungry children; established stores and street vendors; expensive cars and ancient heaps; exclusive taxis and insulting public transport. The government makes television announcements that boast of its marvelous efficiency and call on the people to pay their taxes, but the message runs counter to the terrible reality of life, and nobody pays much attention.
It appears that the government and those who comprise it—from the president and state secretaries to judges and members of congress, whose highly paid posts and shady dealings are protected by political power—pretend that everything can be worked out with good will. They laud new laws ensuring economic equity and transparency and the fight against corruption, but they have weakened these laws to the point of non-functionality even while boasting that they have made historic changes. Meanwhile, more cases of possible corruption are coming to light at the highest levels, beginning with the palatial houses and inexplicable wealth of the president, his wife and their closest collaborators.
Mexico occupies an important place in the world when it comes to the production and export of real goods, but ranks high in corruption, human rights abuses and injustice. The murder of human rights defenders, journalists and women is widespread, as are other disappearances and killings. It is the country from which the most people emigrate, principally to the United States, for reasons of poverty and now, because of violence and death threats. It is the home of one of the wealthiest men on the planet, but it has a 60 percent poverty rate and an immense gap between the rich and the poor. Sixty percent of its workers are “informally” employed. Experts speak of two Mexicos, one developed and digitized, the other impoverished and despairing.
The holiday season and its fiestas come as a relief to a population injured and punished by a corrupt government at the beck and call of enormous corporations. The season begins with the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the country’s most important religious event. Millions of pilgrims—principally the poorest from all over Mexico—visit the Hill of Tepeyac, the site of miraculous apparitions. They arrive in groups, walking and running, or on bicycles, motorcycles or trucks, and create monstrous traffic jams at all the entries of Mexico City.
They are profound devotees of the Dark Virgin and, often at great sacrifice, they visit her and bring flowers, candles and images of La Guadalupana to be blessed in exchange for a miracle in their lives—a cure for some sickness, or some other benefit for themselves or their families. The Basilica of Guadalupe receives as many as eight million pilgrims, more than Mecca, making it the largest pilgrimage in the world.
Here in Puebla, the Christmas spirit is alive and well, but there are not yet many customers in the shops. The posadas began on Dec. 16 with prayers, songs and piñata parties to celebrate the journey of Joseph and Mary on the eve of the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. This celebration, La Nochebuena, is traditionally on Christmas Eve and is the last posada, ending with Baby Jesus being laid down in the manger, followed by a traditional dinner. The New Year is also celebrated in grand style, but this year everybody is just hoping for a 2015 of peace and justice, different from this terrible 2014.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher and native of Puebla, Mexico with decades-old ties to the Light. The Spanish-language version of this column is available at ptreyeslight.com.