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Gringo Gone Home

Gringo Gone Home

15 March 2007 News 73

Yesterday George W. Bush left Mexico, and for many of the local inhabitants of Merida and the surrounding countryside, it wasn't a moment too soon.

From what we have seen in the past few days, the Leader of the Western World appears to be very afraid, and his presence projected those fears onto our traditionally tranquil city in a most bizarre and invasive manner.

First came the advance team. The Diario de Yucatan reported that at least 2,500 Secret Service agents from both the U.S. and Mexican governments were in town. Who knows when they really started moving in, but it became obvious about a week ago as the area around the Fiesta Americana and Hyatt hotels started crawling with young, tall, clean-cut Mexican men wearing golf shirts and khakis and strange-looking gringo tourists wearing sunglasses. On one of our morning walks, we saw an elderly gentleman who appeared to be a local retiree, but he was wearing black earplugs with wires trailing into his shirt. The security men were serious but friendly (especially to Norteamericanos), even as they made everyone step through metal detectors inside the hotels. And all the changes were pretty low-key at first.

Then the metal barriers started showing up around town. First stacked on street corners, then gradually blocking streets and keeping cars from parking. Eventually there were pairs of black-shirted policemen on every corner within twenty blocks in any direction from the Forbidden Zone around the hotels. Then two days before the arrival of the leaders, ten-foot-tall metal barricades were erected that connected together to form a solid metal wall around the hotel area, effectively creating a walled city of three square blocks with heavily guarded entrances. To pass through the gates on Monday morning before Bush arrived, a person had to show their ID and have a good reason to be there. After his arrival, it was impossible for most people to gain entry. Once inside this walled city, the empty streets were eerie. Businesses on the ground floors of the hotels were closed and other businesses, like taxi drivers who cater to the hotels, were also effectively shut down. Schools around the hotels and around the pueblo of Temozon were closed for several days as well. Traffic was re-routed around the Centro Historico to stay clear of the Forbidden Zone encircling the hotels. Most people we talked to were not too pleased to have their routines, their income and their studies interrupted for this circus of powerful potentates, a circus that their government paid handsomely to host.

We read that similar walls of metal barricades were erected around the entire hacienda at Temozon, forcing people who usually walk through the hacienda on their way to school or work to walk miles out of their way. In fact, the entire pueblo of Temozon was put under a 9:00 PM curfew for a week leading up to the president's arrival and not allowed out of their houses when the presidents were actually in the hacienda.

Other chilling touches included the multiple flyovers with large military Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 military jets, arriving from an aircraft carrier stationed off shore. The helicopters flew lower than anything ever flies over the city, creating a lot of noise, vibration and a sense of intimidation. Some we talked with questioned the legality of the United States flying military helicopters over Mexican soil. Can you imagine the U.S. Government allowing Mexico's president to fly a full military escort over any city in the United States?

Some Canadian friends told us that the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, arrived on the last day of these events in order to participate in talks with Bush and Calderon. In contrast to the arrival of the U.S. President, they told us he flew down from Canada on a commercial jet and drove into Merida by taxi, although we've not been able to confirm this.

We've been told that when President Clinton came here in 1998 to visit with Mexico's then-president Zedillo, there were no barricades or military flyovers. A friend of our assistant who lives in Muna, a small colonial town south of Merida on the way to Uxmal, remembers seeing Clinton walking down the streets of their small pueblo, waving and talking with passers-by.

In fact, Merida has a long history of playing host to world leaders and dignitaries, from Emperor Maxmilian to Porfirio Diaz to President Clinton. The protocol for the important visitor has traditionally been one of public ceremony and friendly invitation to enjoy the people and culture of Yucatan. The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, visited Merida and some of the surrounding pueblos at least twice since we moved here and was warmly received and moved freely among the people.

There was none of that this time. Bush and Calderon visited Uxmal, but no one was allowed near them. The two presidents and their wives had dinner at Hacienda Xcanatun and the wives visited Hacienda Ochil (hmmm, they must have read our article about haciendas...) But no one here saw the President of the United States unless they were invited to a private audience.

They say the president's people chose the city of Merida for its peaceful and friendly atmosphere. Admittedly, there were several small protests here before Bush came, but none while he was here that we heard of, though there were violent protests in Mexico City and in other countries during Bush's tour. We love our adopted city for its attitude but deplore the way the powers-that-be chose to use it for their own purposes, disrupting the very thing they came to take advantage of. It felt somehow insulting, even to us. We can only imagine how resentful many local Yucatecos might feel.

It was widely reported in the press that one of the main reasons for Bush's tour of Latin America was to counter the growing popularity here of socialist politics and especially the influence of Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. If that really was his aim, it seems to us that he failed by design. There were no public appearances, no smiling and waving from a motorcade nor any speeches to win hearts and minds. Instead we were reminded of the distance imposed between poweful and ordinary people, the walls that separate the Latin and Anglo worlds, and the imposing military might of gringolandia.

But then, just as suddenly as they came, they are gone. The barricades are down. Business friends of ours in the Fiesta Americana have said we can come by their office now, because they are free again. Driving and parking on the streets that were emptied is allowed again, the small shops and parking attendants and taxi drivers can return to work now, feed their families and normal life goes on.

Frankly, we are left puzzled and confused by our President and by his visit to Merida. We know that Bush grew up in Texas, which has a long history of relations with Mexico. We know he and his family have many Mexican friends. We know he has a better grasp of the Spanish language and Mexican culture than most gringos, so ignorance cannot be what caused Bush to leave an impression that could only create the kind of resentment his tour was supposed to ameliorate. As U.S. expatriates living as guests in this country, we cannot help but feel that his visit reinforced old stereotypes and resentments toward the U.S. that may eventually - however unintentional, however impersonal - be directed toward us. Seeing what we've seen these past few days, we can hardly blame any Mexican for having those feelings. And so it seems to us that no one, not the U.S. nor Mexico nor the president himself was served by this visit.

Those of us who were here to witness the show of power and intimidation that this U.S. President brought to Merida will not soon forget it. Seeing and FEELING those jets and helicopters patrolling Merida in stark contrast to our usual tranquilidad makes us even more grateful for this friendly and peaceful place where we live called Yucatan.


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  • CasiYucateco 9 years ago

    9/11 was a horrible event. But it did not change "the world." It shocked we Americans, who were smug in our isolation from the world. Pearl Harbor was just as bad, but there was no TV to endless repeat the sinking of our navy in the harbor, the bombs falling upon our land. The world, however, went on as it always has. The world is acquainted with terror. The world thought what happened was awful, terrible, horrific.

    But, the world did not change. That's an egoistical way for Americans to assert their importance, which the rest of the world -- particularly today -- casually ignores.

    Terrorists exist to inspire terror. Refuse to give in to fear and they are defeated. The average person is in more danger crossing the street than from terrorists, but if you tremble, buy duct tape. That'll help.

    I guess we'll see how security for Obama is handled. I did notice this: During the acceptance speech, nothing was heavy-handed or visible. I'm sure there was lots of security. But that's the point here: It can be effective. Or it can be visible, oppressive, and insulting.

  • TERE 9 years ago

    Even I don't agree with many of Bush's policies, all of you have to admit that after 9/11 the world has never been the same and more likely never will be. Clinton visited before that infamouse date, therefore he didn't have to be so careful. If Obama ever decides to visit Merida I can assure you that what you experienced with Bush's visit will pale in comparisson.

  • Working Gringos 9 years ago

    You know, since all this happened a long time ago (two years at least...), we're thinking it is time to close comments here. Thank you for all your comments!

  • CasiYucateco 9 years ago

    Me thinks the Secret Service would comply completely and promptly with any order from the President of the United States. Period.

    Clinton was able to visit Merida without naval flotillas and squadrons of jet fighters and helicopters.

    During the Clinton years, terrorists were just as intent on hitting the USA as during the Bush years, and in fact, exploded a bomb in the World Trade Center basement parking garage. Those terrorists were captured during the Clinton years, tried in a US court and imprisoned. The terrorists who planned the World Trade Center attacks on 9.11 are still at large.

    As to all concept that "organized crime is completely defeated in the USA," I suggest that anyone open any newspaper to read about the rings of meth gangs, the gangs dealing heroin, cocaine, etc, etc, etc. Organized crime is alive and well in the USA and killing people (though not as spectacularly) every day. In fact, there are many more drug killings in the US than Mexico. They are just spread around so much -- and so common place -- they don't get the splashy headlines that "decapitation" does.

    Finally, the drug wars in Mexico are precisely because of the drug DEMAND from the addicts and users in the USA. The trafficking to the USA is the profitable part. That is what the Mexican gangs are fighting.

    Prohibition never works until the culture or society wishes to comply. No law ever prohibits market forces. The drug wars have been going on in the USA since Nixon -- over 35 years! -- and yet most any high schooler in ANY city in the USA can tell you where to score drugs.

    If there is economic demand for a product, the market supplies it. What stopped "organized crime" in the USA -- more particularly the gangland killings -- was the end of Prohibition. Once alcohol was legal again, there was no profit in it for criminals. The precursors to the FBI nor any other police force ended the violence during Prohibition. Only the repeal of Prohibition ended the violence.

    Interesting, isn't it, how history repeats over and over, yet so many remain blind to its lessons?

  • Robert 9 years ago

    1st: President Bush, or any President of the USA, is NOT in charge of his security and has very limited control of such. Security is setup in response to threat levels and is done completely by the US Secret Service along with the host country. Often it is the host country that insists on extra security due to the terrible consequences of something bad happening with the world press watching.

    Clinton, Reagan and all Presidents have had major security such as is described when intelligence agencies deemed the threat high enough. The President has little to do with it and CANNOT tell the security services to stand down.

    2nd: You would not be aware of the security threats. It would not be the ever present protesters.

    3rd: As to the "can you imagine" stuff about foreign forces in the USA. There is something to that though the US forces were invited by Mexico or they would not have been present. The USA lets known terrorists and brutal thug dictators into New York to be at the United Nations. We all have to put up with things we do not like.

    4th: The story sounds like a lot of whining. All these security folk represented a large cash investment in the local economy. Do you complain when major festivals shut down the streets and crowd the zacalo? I doubt it.

  • Working Gringos 9 years ago

    Well, yes, we are saying that the gang wars in the U.S. during the alcohol prohibition are very much like the gang wars in Mexico today during the drug prohibition. And, yes, the reason prohibition-related crime is down in the U.S. is because we're dealing with the effects here. Yet, the U.S. still has an amazing amount of violent crime for being the richest nation on the planet, despite becoming a police state:

    You're blinded by orthodoxy and ideology, remthealamo. You have a lot to say, but you don't seem to grasp even the most obvious things. Study history and get some perspective. Then get your own website.

  • Francois Delgado 9 years ago

    Visite Merida, y me quede encantado todo fue muy bien, fui a celestun, Progreso, Chichen-itza, Cancun (muy agringado parece Las Vegas cerca de la playa y todo carisimo) tambien fui a Valladolid y fui a un pueblo a unos 30 kilometros de Valladolid llamado CHEMAX, en este pueblo buscamos con mi cunada Sra Nelly Cervera de Azcona a unos ninos que viven en una aldea "La Esperanza" y que sacaron las mejores calificaciones escolares de todo YUCATAN y estamos averiguando como podemos hacer para ayudarlos a seguir hacia adelante y que tengan un buen futuro y no se pierda esta inteligencia que an demostrado estos cinco ninos, Haci que a todo el que quiera ayudar aganmelo saber y se lo comunico a la Sra Nelly Cervera de Azcona ella es profesora en la Universidad de la ciudad de Mexico y agrego que fue gracias al Comandante de policia de Chemax que los encontramos a estos ninos 4 ninos y una nina si es posible mandare fotos Gracias Yucatanes y Yucatanas, Francois

    Translation: I visited Merida and I was charmed, everything was good. I went to Celestun, Progreso, Chichen Itza, Cancun (very gringo... it looks like Las Vegas close to the beach and everything is so expensive). I also went to Valladolid and to a town 30 kms from Valladolid called Chemax. In this town we (my sister in law Sra. Nelly Cervera de Azcona and I) looked for the children who live in a little town called La Esperanza (Hope) who got the best grades in all Yucatan and we are searching on how we can help to keep them going and have a good future and keep the intelligence these 5 children are showing. So, everyone who wishes to help, let me know and I’ll let Sra. Nelly Cervera know. She is a professor at the Mexico City University and it was thank to the Chemax police officer that we found these four boys and one girl. If it is possible I’ll send some pictures. Thanks yucatanes and yucatanas, Francois

  • remthealamo 9 years ago

    So you feel a 1929 mass murder is similar to a countrywide drug battle in modern day Mexico? I dont see the parallel. We have crushed organized crime in this country. The Italian mafia is a joke here in ny now. (i am American-Italian). The U.S. has had political stability for years. Mexico has had over 80years of rule by the corrupt and left of center PRI. Im not saying that PAN (whom i favor) is squeaky clean, but we have seen what 80 years of rule has done for Mexico. America was at the height of her industrial might at the end of 1929, and capping off the largest buidling boom in the history of the world. Even greater than that of the Romans. Part of our U.S. infrastructure problem today is that the generation of the 20's was so darn ambitious that it will be dificult for us to maintain the highway, bridges and industrial projects that they put forth. Again, you are viewing the finding of these twelve bodies as isolated acts of violence. This is not the work of serial killers, but organized drug dealers taking advantage of corrupt and malfunctioning mexican security to threaten and destabilize tourist dependent areas crucial for the economy of the yucatan. Say what you will about the U.S., but you cannot question her economic might and the overall safety we live in. I live in NYC, so I am not blind to the dangers of urban life. NYC is now one of the safest cities in the world. Im not in favor of doing a blow by blow comparison between the two great nations. But address directly your thoughts on the finding of these gangland style decapitations and the potential for escalation in and around Merida. They have been finding bodies in Quintana Roo as well, and the murdering of government officials fighting these drug slime in Qroo.

  • remthealamo 9 years ago

    I did bash Juarez, but we had a dreadful experience there as it is quite bad. In all my years of travel in Mexico and Europe that was the most harrowing of my experiences. We were lucky to leave unscathed.

  • remthealamo 9 years ago

    working gringo,

    FIghting the drug war down there?? Are you serious? Are you not aware of the Merida Initiative where we are giving $400million dollars in aid potentially after Senate approval? Sounds like you are using the U.S. mantra on fighting in Iraq. But im sure you are against that war as well. Ive travelled all through Mexico, even unfortunately to Ciudad Juarez which is an unabashed dump. I must make something clear: I, too, love Mexico as well. But to say that the country is secure or that the U.S. President was extreme in security measures is probably a stretch. Do you feel finding decapitated bodies is fighting the drug war? Do you think a serial killer, which is horrific in its own right, is comparable to the mass destabilization of Mexico by drug runners? It seems that the war is now front and center in the Yucatan as well. This saddens me as I am currently bidding on a house in the Yucatan area, and spent the last two weeks in Merida. I have been travelling to the Yucatan since 2001 or so. I have friends in Chetumal that live in daily fear of both the narcotraficantes and federal officials. I, personally, have friends who have lost family members to these pathetic drug runners and there bodies were found in Quintana Roo. I have seen a man shot in Mexico City at the Plaza de las tres culturas revisiting the student protests of '71 I believe. I was three blocks from a kidnap and shooting of hotel execs in mexico city in '03. I understand you dont like Bush, but whatever your opinions we cant deny that Mexico is under fire. They must try to achieve what Columbia has done as difficult as it will be. Unfortunately, my love of architecture and design will still have me purchasing property even as I let the place sit until a better time. Additionally, my girlfriend lives in GDL, so I am as intimately connected with Mexico as many of you are. Ive lived on and off in Mexico CIty (ojo de agua), Jalisco, Cancun and Guerrero. I was very disappointed with your Bush bash piece and really think your forte is more pasta tiles than it is political banter. It also divides this wonderful community that you have here. Furthermore, I purchased your hacienda book(in spanish for $1350 pesos...hijole!) and I really respect what you have achieved it is quite impressive. Rather than bash U.S. politics lets discuss more closely security of the Yucatan. My plan was to buy outside the city of Merida in one of the smaller towns. It makes sense that these drug running mules would try to destabilize and damage tourism. Mexico does not allow foreigners or naturalized citizens to buy guns, yet we can purchase their property. One of the bodies was found in the quiet town of Buctzotz (im not sure if i passed that town, but i know all the ruins from Xcambo to Ake to Mayapan). I have been through (and searched) by the military chcekpoints throughout the Yucatan and see the mexican military with there out of date issued weaponry. Is the Yucatan prepared for a heightening of the drug games? I think not. It would seem that ultimately the solution will involve American military assistance and training in a covert manner. The finding of these newer deaths around Merida and northeast in quiet pueblos implies that the noose has already tightened on Merida. I would really like to hear your thoughts on this new issue in a manner that doesnt rely on U.S. comparisons. I have not bashed Mexico in any manner to make my points nor do I place the U.S. on a pedestal even as I am proudly American. I actually feel that the relationship between Mexico and the U.S.(canada too) is one of the best in history, and will be increasingly important as China rises to further prominence. As an American who is often mistaken for argentinian, colombian and even mexican(!) i fret for the safety of my impending family ( i will marry my girlfriend soon) living in a quiet town slightly isolated. We are on the same side here, but im not sure if your dismissing this recent incident as isolated. It is not, unfortunately, and i regret to say that we'll prolly be hearing more gruesome tales.

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