Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bicentenary balacera

This morning V had been having revisionist thoughts about her favourite parking spot underneath the Tikal Futura.

It has always seemed the logical place to leave the car whenever we head over to Miraflores to catch a movie, but sight of a Land Rover "hecho colador" on the news bulletins last night has been somewhat discouraging.

As ever no-one is quite sure what went down in the hotel's basement just before midday yesterday, but the shoot-out appears to have kicked off when a major police surveillance operation "failed in the tactical aspect" according to local security analyst Mario Mérida.

The PNC were tracking one Mauro Salomón Ramírez Barrios and his bodyguards and must have got themselves made in the underground parqueo. The ensuing fifteen minute exchange of fire resulted in one dead cop and four captured narco-henchmen, but not it seems, the 35-year-old Ramírez Barrios himself.*

Police immediately suspected the detained goons of being secret Mexicans because they spoke funny and could not answer 'simple' questions like 'when is independence day in Guatemala?'.

Now bear in mind that Guatemala and Mexico celebrate their independence on the same date, September 15th, so we're dealing with some really dumb Mexicans because a) they could so easily have hazarded a guess and b) you'd think they might have spotted all the flags in the shop windows on the day they chose to shoot up the mall.

Pictures in the local newspapers (such as the one above) show members of a SWAT team pointing automatic weapons at shopworkers and customers spreadeagled on the floor in front of them with outstretched arms...a measure apparently designed to reduce panic and facilitate an orderly evacuation.

I had considered heading north across the border this week to experience the Mexican bicentenary first hand, but in the end decided to watch the mega-desfile at home on telly, having been put off by the flooding in Chiapas, Tabasco and Oaxaca. I will instead head in the opposite direction for my forthcoming mini-break. (UPDATE: the highway up to Tapachula has now been completely sundered, which is probably why those Mexicans were stopping at Bullock's to get some fresh boxers!)

We turned on Foro TV around nine and caught the mid-section of a massive parade featuring elaborate andas, colourful costumes, an enormous inflatable Kukulkan and numerous elements evincing a healthy degree of national self-parody. (There were also some acrobatic displays in central paved area which were a bit too Cirque du Soleil for my liking.)

Meanwhile light effects were projected onto the cathedral, the best of which involved a series of off-set images of the same facade which made it appear that the whole building was dancing to a tropical beat.

The procession over, seven tons of gunpowder then exploded in the Zócalo, fortunately in the form of a spectacular fireworks display. A 20m high 'colossus' was then lifted into place. This weird plaster-based (?) statue supposedly represents a generic historical Mexican male, and by the time he had been set on his plinth, his sword had been broken and a big chunk had been knocked out of his left boot.

Just before 11pm local time the Mexican flag was delivered into the hands of Felipe Calderón by a truly impressive little squad of goose-stepping soldiers in nineteenth century uniforms and, having literally snatched it from them, he emerged with his family onto the balcony of the Presidential Palace and rang the bell above using a long tassled cord, which then swung back and slapped him on the right cheek.

The Presidente's wife was at his side on the as he thrice shouted "Viva Mexicoooo!" , encouraging the masses below to respond. Out of his direct line of vision, she herself managed one half-hearted "viva..." but at the second opportunity merely rolled her eyes a bit and then grimaced slightly when he repeated the exortation a third time.

The crowds across Mexico were massive, no doubt in part because the country's most senior prelate had declared it would be a sin of ommission for his countrymen not to festejar this landmark date. We'll have to wait another eleven years to see what Guatemala's own eminent theologians have to say on this matter.

*UPDATE: It now appears that this was at least a three-way pelea, as journalists believe that a group of sicarios was simultaneously trying to dispose of the San Marcos gang as the cops closed in. Some also speculate whether elements of the PNC were in fact batting for the other side in this encounter, as one of the injured policemen was found to be carrying a significant chunk of change in Dollars, Euros and Pesos, and unlike many of his colleagues who later arrived on scene, was well armed and armoured from the outset.

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