Goodbye, Lupe Reyes! Hello, Obama!

January 7, 2015

The grueling, nearly month-long Mexican holiday season known as Guadalupe Reyes, or Lupe Reyes, has finally concluded. On January 6, Three King’s Day, the final act was played out when children got presents and slices of the Rosca de Reyes sweet cake were consummed along with the traditional atole drink. The “lucky” eaters, who had a little plastic baby Jesus, or “mono”, tumble out of their cake, will get to resume the party on February 2, the Dia de la Candelaria, when they will be required to provide the tamales for the festivities.

Held amid the nation’s deepest political crisis in decades, Lupe Reyes 2014-15 nevertheless forged ahead with plenty of turkey, tequila, posole, noise and fireworks. Despite fears of a tourism collapse, on New Year’s Eve Mexicans crowded the Pacific resorts of Acapulco and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in the state of Guerrero, the epicenter of the ongoing national protest over the killings and disappearances of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’college students last September.

Up the coast in Puerto Vallarta, meanwhile, the city enjoyed a banner year. Ludwig Estrada, Puerto Vallarta delegate for the Jalisco State Tourism Secretariat, credited the bad press for Acapulco as well as lingering damages in Los Cabos from last September’s Hurricane Odile for an even better-than-normal turnout of tourists. But some never made it home. At least five people were reported drowned in big Banderas Bay straddling the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, while four others, including two Canadian tourists, perished in a fiery December 26 crash outside the swank resort of Punta Mitla near Puerto Vallarta.

A baby humpback whale, estimated to be one month old and about 13 feet in length, was another casualty of Lupe Reyes. The little cetacean was found floating dead in Banderas Bay, the apparent victim of a passing boat. Every year, Lupe Reyes can be an unforgiving time.

Now, life appears to be returning to “normal.” On Wednesday, January 7, millions of Mexican school children returned to the classroom, though schools in some states might shut down soon if brewing teacher strikes materialize. Pawnshops are gearing up for one of their busiest seasons, as financially-strapped Mexicans hawk their valuables to pay for Lupe Reyes. Interspersed among the nightly soap operas, flashy television spots from the country’s political parties open the parting shots of the 2015 mid-term election campaign.

As the nation crept back from the holiday cheer, the worlds of letters and politics were suddenly thrown into mourning with news of the January 7 death of 88-year-old Julio Scherer Garcia, the undisputed dean of Mexican journalism, the founder of the influential Proceso newsweeky and the master chronicler of modern Mexico. The former director of the capital city’s emblematic Excelsior daily, the expulsion of Scherer and his colleagues from the newspaper in 1976 in a government-instigated coup d’ etat and the subsequent birth to Proceso were milestones in the cultural and political development  of contemporary Mexico.

Mexico’s social movements are back in action. On January 6, thousands of nurses in Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Puebla and other cities demonstrated against a health reform they contend will devalue their profession and turn it into a second-rate job.

Among the signs carried by protesters: “We demand respect for nursing.” “We demand a review of working conditions, material and sufficient supplies.” “To be a nurse is more than a job: it is the union of science, the heart and human strength.”

The nurses’ grievances are remarkably similar to the issues raised by the students of Mexico City’s National Polytechnic Institute, who waged a months’ long strike before returning to classes this week.

In the Mexico City nurses’ protest, parents of some of the Ayotzinapa students joined with the healthcare workers. A nurses’ delegation attempted to meet with the represenative of the World Health Organization in Mexico, but was told the official was out of the country and would not be available until February 11. Carolina Reyes, protest spokesperson, said her movement was requesting the intervention of the global agency in order to force the government to respect international norms.

“Our assembly demands of the government the effective and permanent professionalization of nursing personnel and health care professionals,” Flores said. “Also, the revision and improvement of labor and professional conditions, as well as the cancellation of harassment and repression against personnel.”

On the same day Mexican streets were emblazoned in white smocks, small farmers from the Authentic Countryside Front protested in the capital city. Hailing from Oaxaca and several other states, they demanded government action to reverse rural poverty, falling grain prices and the loss of food sovereignty.

In Guerrero, students, teachers and members of popular movements once again seized highway toll booths in support of the Ayotzinapa students. Separately, the Union of Popular Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Upoeg) held a two-year anniversary celebration of the movement’s uprising against organized crime in the Costa Chica zone south of Acapulco.

In an event attended by more than 400 people, the Upoeg, which operates a community police force, issued a 12-point plan. The Tecoanapa Plan calls for punishment of officials implicated in the Aytozinapa events; the freedom of imprisoned community police leader Nestora Salgado and other individuals deemed political prisoners; enhanced citizen oversight of government; the creation of popular governing councils; and the direct election of officials without the involvement of political parties.

Tecoanapa activist Rogelio Ortega Garcia held that the people “should forget about the parties,” since the current political system has not functioned. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the business and religious sectors, including Jorge Mario Campo, pastoral coordinator of the Diocese of Tlapa, Guerrero, and Father Gregorio “Goyo” Lopez of Apatzingan, Michoacan.

As for smoldering Michoacan, Commissioner Alfredo Castillo, who was appointed by President Enrique Pena Nieto to oversee state security, tried to put a good face on the southwestern state’s situation. In a Mexico City press conference this week, Castillo claimed that conflicts were now isolated to three muncipalities and the power of organized crime significantly reduced. Since last month, two major shoot-outs involving former self-defense groups and/or security forces have claimed the lives of at least 18 people.

January 6 was also the day President Pena Nieto and senior Mexican officials met in Washington with President Barack Obama and their other U.S. counterparts. In wide-ranging discussions on security, immigration, commerce, and foreign policy, Pena Nieto and Obama closed ranks. The U.S. leader offered more assistance for the so-called drug war, while the Mexican president lauded Obama’s administrative relief action for undocumented immgirants. Pena Nieto also underscored Mexico’s support for a transnational policy of curbing Central American migration through Mexico en route to the U.S.

“We will maintain a policy of greater control of our southern border in order to have a more orderly and controlled migration that, due to misinformation, encourages entries to the United States,” Pena Nieto vowed.

But the high-level governmental visit also drew protests from the growing Ayotzinapa solidarity movement, which organized demonstrations in Washington and at least a dozen of other U.S. cities. Although the Mexican government insists that the arrests of more than 70 individuals for the Ayotzinapa crimes demonstrates official interest in seeing justice, mounting accounts in the Mexican press question the Pena Nieto administration’s version of the events, and parents of the students and their supporters demand investigations of  the U.S.-supported Mexican army and Federal Police for their possible roles in the September repression.

In this context, Obama’s renewed support for Pena Nieto puts Washington squarely in the cross-hairs of protesters, especially over the U.S. security assistance to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, or Plan Mexico as it is called by protesters, in illusion to the U.S.-Colombia anti-drug and counterinsurgency program.

“Plan Mexico: The U.S. supplies the arms, Mexico the dead,” read one banner at the January 6 Washington protest.

While the Three King’s Day Washington meetings were heavy with talk on money matters, it is not known if a “mono” fell out of anyone’s cake and which side-if any- will have to supply the tamales for the Dia de Candelaria on February 2. Coincidentally, February 2 is also the anniversary date of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which Washington, after invading and conquering Mexico, paid the defeated nation $15 million for much of the modern western U.S.

Additional sources: Proceso, January 7, 2015. Notimex, January 7, 2015. Reforma News Agency. January 7, 2015. Articles by Paloma Villanueva and Natalia Vitela. Lapolaka.com, January 6, 2015. La Jornada, January 6 and 7, 2015. Articles by Matilde Perez, Angeles Cruz and Gustavo Castillo. El Sur, January 6, 2015. Articles by Alina Navarette Fernandez,  Alejandro Guerrero, Jacob Morales, and Aurora Harrison. Commondreams.org, January 6, 2015. Article by Lauren McCauley. Tribuna de la Bahia, December 24, 29 and 31, 2014; January 2, 3, 5, 7, 2015. Articles by Jose Guadalupe Arce, Alan Yamil Hinojosa and Nohemi Zamora Reynoso.

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