Guadalajara, Jalisco. An hour’s drive west of the city. The Tequila volcano looms in the distance, its summit jagged like a broken tooth. On the slopes all around the foot of the volcano, fields of sugar cane and agave. Trucks piled high with canes rumble past on their way to the huge sugar mill nearby. Other small fields are heaped with maize stalks. Skinny horses lounge in the shade.
I’m on my way to a place called Guachi-monotones. This is the most recent of the countless archaeological discoveries made in Mexico’s dry earth. This site was stumbled on and explored for more than forty years by a gringo and his wife. It dates from at least two thousand years ago, and is remarkable for its circular pyramids, surrounded by concentric circles of ritual buildings and dwellings. Much older than the Olmecs, Mayans or Aztec cvilisations, it has not yet been given a name.
The burial chambers are dug twelve metres deep into the rock: perhaps that was the only way the dead could sleep soundly in this volcano-strewn region. Only a small percentage of the pyramids and graves have been properly excavated. The rest of the area is covered in thick grass and low trees; hundreds more mounds are still to be explored. remain. As my guide tells me: ‘we’re walking on bones’.
Guadalajara, Jalisco. On the ornate iron bandstand in the middle of the city’s main square, a hoarse-voiced speaker is haranguing a couple of hundred hard-faced campesinos wearing stetsons and dark work clothes. He says their union is demanding better prices for their maize crops, which are now so low it’s hardly worth farming. But, he re-assures them, President Enrique Peña Nieto is sympathetic to their plight. Peña Nieto is the head of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party born out of the early twentieth century Mexican revolution, and as such is bound to understand their plight. And so they will cross the road peacefully with their marching band and present their demands to the state governor in the casa de gobierno, who is bound to listen to them.
Inside the state governor’s palace, the main staircase boasts a huge mural by the 1930s painter Clemente Orozco. A huge, livid head of the great nineteenth century reformer Benito Juarez scowls down on anyone daring to approach. His flaming sword of liberty chops down all injustice: the bottom third of the mural shows all the writhing bodies of the evil-doers, swastikas plainly visible.
Guadalara, Jalisco. The International Book Fair is the largest in Latin America, the annual opportunity for the continent to show off its latest authors. Today though the street outside is lined with more than a hundred police and soldiers, all of them in full combat gear, with riot shields and some with sub-machine-guns. They’re here in case there is any trouble with the planned protest by students, writers, and other participants in the fair over the disappearance and presumed deaths of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college in the southern state of Guerrero. More than two months after their disappearance, President Peña Nieto’s government has so far been unable to provide any convincing answer as to what happened to them.
The demonstration passed off without incident. Inside the exhibition halls though a shout suddenly goes up, and the count begins: 1…2…3, up to 43. As they count, students collapse on the floor one by one. Some of the passers-by look bemused, but far more join in the count, and when it’s over, they applaud. [For video of the flashmob witnessed by Nick, click here].
Guadalajara, Jalisco. I go to a book presentation by one of Mexico’s most renowned authors, Elena Poniatowska. She became known back in 1968 for her writing about the massacre of students in Tlatelolco Square, Mexico City, when several hundred people were shot and killed.
Now as a preface to her presentation, she calls on the government to make a real effort to uncover and punish all those responsible for this new massacre. Like many of the Mexican writers at the fair, she is horrified about the levels of impunity that now seem to be regarded as normal. She is also indignant that in the search for the students, more than twenty other mass graves have been discovered in this one small region of Mexico, with none of the victims having been identified. ‘We’re walking on bones, we’re sleeping on bones’, she says, in a sad echo of the archaeological guide.
Photos: Nick Caistor