Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Walk Interrupted

The duck pond in Parque México in La Condesa

I decided to go for a walk, eager to finally find some grass and trees in Bosque de Chapultepec where I could sit and read in peace. But my idyllic plans were interrupted by the harsh reality that I have been avoiding since I arrived in Mexico: my path to the park was blocked by thousands of riot-gear-clad police officers.

I had forgotten to check if there would be any protests today. It just seemed like a normal sunny Monday afternoon. It wasn’t. Another march for the 43 students missing in Guerrero State would begin at 4pm, starting in the historic center at the Zócalo and ending at the statue of the Ángel de la Independencia. It was only 2pm and but Paseo de la Reforma, the main street of the soon-to-be march path, was already lined on either side by police vehicles and armed officers. They held their riot shields and masks loosely at their sides. The strong sun brought sweat to their foreheads as they leaned against their trucks, waiting. The air around the trucks felt charged. The officers stared like hawks as I walked past and I immediately felt uncomfortable.

After a quick u-turn I was back on my way towards La Condesa neighborhood, where no protests would take place that afternoon. Instead hipsters in thick-rimmed glasses skateboard the streets, cafes serve gourmet dishes with English names, and dogs are dressed in sweaters and booties for their afternoon walks. Back in the comfort of my cosmopolitan neighborhood, I felt sick. Just a 15 minute walk from my apartment, thousands of civilians would march in protest of President Enrique Peña Nieto´s government and the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

Many Mexicans have expressed their frustration, disgust, and calls for justice in several marches since the students´ initial disappearance in September. These marches have been mostly peaceful, although ending in clashes between police and groups of protesters. Despite the potential dangers of arrest and violent confrontation, Mexicans continue to march again and again, determined to make Peña Nieto´s government accountable for this atrocity that occurred under its nose. Today´s march in particular also remembers the nearly 100 political prisoners originally arrested during a protest on December 1st, 2012 during Peña Nieto´s inauguration, of which only 60 have been freed while the others remain held under what protesters claim to be false charges. Yet I have also met Mexicans who are frustrated by the disruption and inconvenience that these recurring protests have caused. They believe protesting doesn´t achieve anything; people should just keep going to work and supporting the economy instead of derailing order through protests.

As a foreigner living in Mexico, I can only observe and try to gain a better understanding of what is going on in this city I have come to call home. But I feel helpless. I would like to think that my presence as a fellow at Endeavor Mexico is making a positive difference, but it sometimes feels that helping promote entrepreneurship is not enough in the face of social injustices.

I am increasingly aware of my privilege as a foreigner. While President Peña Nieto faces a rapidly declining approval rating (39% approval, 58% disapproval - an 11% drop since August) and calls for reform build, I am looking forward to going home for Christmas in a few weeks, where I will be able to leave behind the social unrest, pollution and insecurity of Mexico City for two whole weeks in exchange for reunions with family and friends. I feel like a hypocrite: I call myself an advocate for social justice, yet when I find myself in a city boiling with calls for social and governmental reform, I´m dreaming of Christmas vacation.

These thoughts haunt me while sitting around a man-made pond in a park in La Condesa watching ducks, surrounded by tourists, foreigners and pure-bred dogs. Everyone else in the park seems perfectly content to ignore the police preparations that are being made just blocks away and the protest scheduled for that evening. My eyes watch the ducks as they scramble for pieces of bread tossed by a child from the side of the pond, but my mind is back on Reforma, remembering the suffocating feeling of walking among all of those police officers and wondering what will happen to the thousands of protestors who will walk that same path later today, and, more importantly, if their efforts will make any difference.

I don´t know what to do, but I know that I can´t ignore it. I remain hopeful that peaceful reform is possible. I am aware that as a foreigner, there is little I can (or should) do here. It is up to Mexican citizens to demand government reform or not.  What I can do is continue to write thorough company profiles for Endeavor, supporting high impact entrepreneurs in the country, and remain an attentive, open-minded, and respectful foreign observer, sharing what is happening here with those who read my blog, and working to improve my own understanding of Mexico in the process.

Source, NPR Article: http://www.ibtimes.com/mexico-city-march-thousands-protesters-call-president-pena-nietos-ouster-1731687

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