By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Moments later, we were traveling through neighborhoods that were all dusty roads, tiny liquor stores, and small shacks that make Elvis’ birthplace look like Aaron Spelling’s house. Scrawny dogs were, of course, everywhere, as were children in ratty clothes. The water here runs sporadically, if at all. If these locals were sly, they stole electricity from the main power lines, wrapping their illegal wires around tree branches and running them into their houses; if they were enterprising, they moonlighted, like the butcher I met who also worked full time at Wal-Mart for $500 a month; if they were lucky, a bus stop might be a short walk away. Many of the residents of these huts work in the tourist industry, commuting two hours a day each way from the Hyatt or the Burger King in the Zona Hotelera. And these are comparatively prosperous souls compared to the corn farmers who come to town because subsidized imports have collapsed their prices or the tens of thousands of Mayan workers who leave the countryside in search of day labor and wind up staying in tiny, slat-walled cuarterias, which are closer to animal pens than proper housing.
“CancĂșn is the number-one suicide place in Mexico,” Antonio said, sounding unsurprised by this fact, and I thought of Mr. Lee toppling off that fence, a struggling farmer like so many of these city dwellers had once been.
Of course, much of what’s wrong with CancĂșn has nothing to do with globalization and everything to do with the timeless workings of corruption and greed. The mayor, Juan Ignacio Garcia Zalvidea, known as Chacho, owns one of the tourist hotels, and is not widely admired for his concern over the plight of ordinary people. “He is in the Green Party,” one local told me, laughing, “but it is the green of money, not nature.”
One could tell this just from looking around. Like so many cities in the developing world, CancĂșn is well on its way to achieving an astonishing level of ugliness — polluted, overbuilt, impastoed with angry graffiti. This is known to be the most carefully planned city in Mexico, yet it’s not just a human disaster, but an environmental one, too. “When a businessman sees a tree or beach,” says Tulio Arroyo, an activist with the group Ombligoverde (Green Navel), “they think they must build something there.”
Curiously, the same logic also appears to be true of the tourist strip, which, in its own tacky way, is a classic example of how run-amok corporate money can leave a place wholly denatured. Although the Zona Hotelera is blessed with the white beaches and turquoise waters you would find in paradise, it has been turned into a No Culture Zone designed to let foreign tourists enjoy the tropics without having to endure anything of Mexican culture, or any real culture, for that matter. It doesn’t even have the wit or imagination you find in Las Vegas or Disneyland, whose attractions at least pretend to be someplace real. Here, even the Lonely Planet Guide is reduced to talking about Carlos ’n’ Charlies.
In one of Kafka’s most famous parables,leopards break into a temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry. This happens so frequently that the leopards’ arrival can be counted on beforehand and they become part of the ceremony.
The same is largely true of anti-globalization protests in the wake of Seattle. By now, globalifĂłbicos are the familiar leopards at the meetings of the big administrators of globalization, and though what the protesters do has undeniable political importance, it has come to feel predictable, even obligatory. And everybody is now prepared for them. The city of CancĂșn set aside space for protesters to stay (at the Beto Avila baseball stadium), erected that big orange fence, and deployed hundreds of cops and soldiers to make sure the globalifĂłbicos stayed nonviolent, lest they tarnish CancĂșn’s image as a tourist haven. Media teams spent hours watching the other Koreans (more hara-kiri?) and recording small bits of mayhem that everyone knew would inevitably become the event’s keynote visual imagery. After all, it’s the demonstrators, not the ministers, who dominate international newscasts and grace the cover of the world’s front pages. Without them, most people wouldn’t have a clue that the WTO was meeting, let alone know that anything important was at stake.
In the weeks before the meeting, the right-wing press had been spooking the locals with visions of bloody-minded masses turning CancĂșn into another Seattle, if not another Beirut. As it turned out, the protests proved small and rather tame, and the Mexican police almost scarily calm. The city walls were sprayed with anti-capitalist graffiti, demonstrators occasionally blocked traffic, and there was the de rigueur shattering of a famous-logo window — in this case, that of Pizza Hut. One sunny afternoon, three young protesters climbed a 200-foot-high crane in the Zona Hotelera to hang a banner and cheerily flash their naked privates to stop the juggernaut of globalization. Yet even this enjoyable display of high spirits felt slightly pro forma, uninspired.
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