Mexico Celebrates Bicentennial

It's been two hundred years since Mexico demanded its independence from Spain, and the nation celebrated mightily. However, the reverie was tempered by a down economy, notable crime rates and a depressed tourist industry. Host Michel Martin talks with College of William and Mary Professor George Grayson, and pollster Daniel Lund about the history and the future of the USA's neighbor to the south.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of cheering and bells)

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

What you're hearing is the kickoff to Mexico's bicentennial celebration. It was led by President Felipe Calderon around midnight.

(Soundbite of cheering)

President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Speaking Spanish)

(Soundbite of chanting)

Pres. CALDERON: (Speaking Spanish)

(Soundbite of chanting)

Pres. CALDERON: (Speaking Spanish)

MARTIN: Two-hundred years ago a Catholic priest demanded liberation from Spain and launched Mexico's fight for independence. President Calderon made the symbolic cry: Viva Mexico around midnight to mark the occasion, as we said. And Mexicans around the nation reveled at a time when Mexico could use something to celebrate.

Tens of thousands have died in Mexico's drug wars, as we've reported. The economy there, as in so many places, has turned sour. To add insult to injury, tropical storm Karl hit the Yucatan Peninsula today.

Joining us to talk more about the celebrations and the concerns facing Mexico at this critical juncture is Daniel Lund. He's a political analyst and pollster, and he's president of Mund Americas. That's a polling firm based in Mexico City.

Also with us, George Grayson. He's the author of "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" There's a question mark after failed state in that title. He's also a professor of government at Williams and Mary, and he joins us from his office in Williamsburg, Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. DANIEL LUND (President, Mund Americas): Nice to be with you.

Professor GEORGE GRAYSON (Government, College of William and Mary): Hello, nice to be with you too.

MARTIN: Daniel Lund, if I could just ask - what's the general mood there? I know you're out of Mexico City at the moment on holiday elsewhere. But I just wan to ask, what's been the general mood leading up to the celebration?

Mr. LUND: Well, if you ask traditional questions that we pollsters like, about how people feel, like if the country's on the right road or the wrong road, you get pretty cranky answers. The democratic transition seems to have run out of steam and the economy is in a bad state. But, that doesn't mean people are unhappy about everything. And the 16th of September is always a pretty good opportunity to get together in the streets or to get together with family.

And I don't mean to belittle it by saying something cliche, like, Mexicans know how to party. But, in fact, this is a time for celebration that's always worked. It doesn't matter who the government is, it's not a time when you necessarily oppose the government. The cheering you heard was for the nation, not for a popular government.

MARTIN: You (unintelligible) said that some 67 percent of Mexicans were not excited about the bicentennial. Does that sound right to you?

Mr. LUND: That sounds right. But that doesn't mean you can't celebrate and have a good time, because people always celebrate that evening. But if the bicentennial is seen as more than just fireworks, or a party, if it's seen as a time of reflection, then the reflections are very ambiguous and contradictory.

MARTIN: And George Grayson, as we've talked about on this program a number of times, you've done a lot of research on Mexico and you've done a lot of work, most particularly, on how the so-called drug war is affecting the country. How do you think that the ongoing violence and conflict related the drug war situation is affecting the celebrations in Mexico, around the bicentennial, and also people's sense of their country?

Prof. GRAYSON: There has been enormous security surrounding all of these commemoratory events. And while there have been drug killings during the last 24 hours, they don't seem to be related to the celebrations. But I agree with Dan, that this is kind of a time out. It's a chance remember that Mexico has made a lot of achievements. It's probably the 13th largest economy in the world. It doesn't have military coups. And it has first rate financial leadership. Having said that, Dan is right, the economic situation is dreary, to say the least, and the body count continues to mount.

MARTIN: And talk, Daniel Lund, if you would, if you'd talk a little more -expand on George Grayson's point about what do Mexicans perceive as the positives, as well, right now, of their country. I know there was an op-ed in The New York Times talking about the fact that, for example, that Mexico remains a tolerant and secular state. There are not the kinds of religious tensions that one sees in a number of other countries. It's an inclusive of society. There are really - there are no real regional secession fights and so forth like that. But are those - and that's fine for people to sort of say, but are those strengths that is perceived by Mexicans on the whole?

Mr. LUND: Yes, I think they are. And even though they sound abstract, the notion of pluralism at the popular level, being able to sit down in an extended family with people of very different ideas and different persuasions and get along. There are two quick bright side things that sound wonky when I describe them, but they had an enormous resonance this summer. The Supreme Court of Mexico by a seven-to-four decision, approved the first term abortion law of Mexico City. And shortly after that, the Supreme Court, by a nine-to-two decision, approved the same-sex marriage laws, including the right to adopt children - also of Mexico City - and indicated that they would be respected, nationwide, by people who lived in Mexico City.

Now that's the particular social agenda that puts Mexico City in front of, or different, from other parts of the country. But the Supreme Court debate, which was broadcast live, was a remarkable event. Then another quick bright side note. About three weeks ago, several public leaders began to discuss the dreadful situation with youth unemployment, and a group was identified of ninis - they don't study, they don't work - at 7.5 million.

The executive of the government immediately challenged that and said there were only 285,000. And after a debate back and forth, the bureaucracy itself -probably under internal pressures and academic pressures - said, yes, there are 7.5 million young people without study and without jobs. That doesn't solve the problem, but it introduces a new air - a new atmosphere, which is really essential.

MARTIN: Of what? Of sort of truth telling or - rigorous truth telling?

Mr. LUND: Yes, being able to talk about it.

MARTIN: George Grayson, I am reminded that comparing Mexico 2010 with the U.S. at the U.S. bicentennial, the economy was down and the president was unpopular, many people were frustrated by government. But there were extensive sort of national celebrations. And I just wonder if there's the seeds of renewal in those kinds of celebrations. Do you see signs of that, George Grayson?

Mr. GRAYSON: The problem is that Mexico is not a democracy. That is, they have transparent elections. But the average person at the state, local, and national levels has no way to influence policymakers. And that's because politicians can't run for reelection for most positions. That the party bosses choose the nominees, they hand pick them. You can't have independent candidacies. And the federal electoral commission just showers enormous money on the politicians who have their own ways of raising millions, if not billions, of dollars. And so, there is a widespread feeling of impotence among just rank and file Mexicans.

MARTIN: Bracing thought, as usual. George Grayson, thank you for joining us. Daniel, and final thought from you, how are you celebrating? Are you celebrating or are just laying low?

Mr. LUND: Yes. Yes, with extended family, many of whom I don't agree with, but we all get along.

MARTIN: All right, Daniel Lund is a political analyst and pollster. He's the president of Mund Americas - is a polling firm based in Mexico City. He was kind enough to interrupt his vacation to speak with us.

George Grayson is the author of "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" Question mark. He's also a professor of government at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Prof. GRAYSON: Thank you.

Mr. LUND: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.