Magazine article New Internationalist

Superbowl City: The Game Goes on in Mexico City, Though No One Can Bear to Watch

Magazine article New Internationalist

Superbowl City: The Game Goes on in Mexico City, Though No One Can Bear to Watch

Article excerpt

THERE'S a stadium of mountains and volcanoes around the world's largest city. It's a grand stage for what, on bad days and from the worst seats, resembles a playing field of asphalt, concrete and rust beneath an evil - smelling cloud of dust and gas. Periodically shaken by lethal earthquakes, the place floats on shifting waves of ground, subsiding slowly into the lake on which, like the great Aztec city it replaced, it was built. When you can see them the terraces of the stadium - green mountainsides in the distance - are empty, as if no - one can bear to behold the spectacle.

My job, however, is not just to watch the game but commentate on it as well, and I don't even know the rules. The best thing seems to be to start in the middle, and I head for the Zocalo, the huge central square. To get there I have to fight my way through throngs of people queuing outside bookshops to buy textbooks - it's the beginning of the school year and I'm unsure whether the queues result from a zeal for learning or a failure of supply. Probably both. Either way I'm not the only one looking for a book of rules.

Plumes of wood - smoke rise over tents of plastic sheeting. Underneath them squat hundreds, perhaps thousands of protesters, gathered around a large, limp Mexican flag. The Zocalo resembles Tiananmen Square before the tanks rolled in. People stand with collection boxes handing out leaflets.

There are dozens of groups, and some of them have been here for months: fisher - folk from Tabasco on the Gulf coast, where fish stocks have been decimated by pollution from the oil industry; campesinos who've marched from Veracruz claiming land; villagers from Guerrero who can't find the money to get connected to the electricity grid.

They come here to make their demands known, to 'reclaim' and 'require' things of the President of the Republic, who occasionally appears on the balcony of the National Palace to one side of the square, but does not actually live there.

Perhaps it's from fear of asphyxiation, of a sudden crushing by the sheer weight of human numbers, that people everywhere in the city make huddles of animated debate, talking tactics. Without a huddle of my own, but desperately in need of tactics, I ask Louise to come to my aid. She is a Canadian who has lived on the brink here for nearly 20 years and is reported to know everyone; to achieve this you must, I feel, have supernatural powers as well as a battered old Volkswagen Beetle. But she too can get lost. Sometimes we pass the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe several times in different directions on our way from one place to the next.

Our prisons are full of innocent people,' says Rosio Culebro of the independent Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights. 'Most arrests are made without a warrant and are illegal,' she adds. I want to know if the basic rules of human rights apply here. Mexican law is, she says, fundamentally flawed by a presumption of guilt for those suspected of 'organized crime' - which could, of course, be virtually anyone.

Mexico has traditionally pursued a 'progressive' foreign policy, condemning the Chilean coup, supporting Cuba, mediating on Nicaragua and periodically accepting political refugees from elsewhere in Latin America. In exchange for Mexican support, there has been little close scrutiny of the country by the international institutions of human rights.

But a Mexican human - rights movement, prompted at first by dissident intellectuals and now by more than 200 groups throughout the country, has blossomed. The Government set up its own Human Rights Commission in response. This has made it easier to register violations. But it has also raised deeper questions. The Commission can only make recommendations, which are by no means always acted upon. So violations go unpunished. The National Law Against Torture, for example, has never been used, despite numerous documented cases of torture by police officers. …

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