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Mexico's Official Independence Day Fiesta Was a Disaster

The government literally had to pay people to attend, small children received pat-downs, and protestors blocked the arrival of one of the president's daughters.
Photo via Presidencia de México

Children received pat-downs from police at a public plaza as if they were entering a high-security bunker, and the Mexican flag fell off its pole at precisely the least opportune moment during its raising on Independence Day in the center of the Zócalo main square in Mexico City.

These were among the most notable flops that occurred this year during the two-day national party that is combined by the "Night of the Shout" on September 15 and the Independence Day military parade on September 16. They marked an overall ho-hum edition of the so-called "fiestas patrias" in Mexico, as stagnant economic growth, persistent violence, and a series of controversial reform laws have led to low approval ratings in less than two years of the current government.


Thousands joined President Enrique Peña Nieto in the heavily guarded and watched Zócalo for the traditional celebrations that Mexicans usually call their biggest party of the year. (No, it's not Cinco de Mayo, people!)

But, as it turns out, a significant portion of the revelers that appeared at the plaza on Monday night to hear the president recreate the "Grito de Dolores" — which sparked Mexico's war to liberate itself from Spain in 1810 — were not motivated by their patriotic spirit.

Instead, they were lured by free food, a free concert, and in some cases, cash.

Since Monday night, Mexican media outlets published reports on the "acarreados," average citizens who are paid by political parties to show up and boost numbers at government-sponsored events and demonstrations. According to news accounts, many were bused into the capital city for the celebration from the neighboring state of Mexico, which happens to be Peña Nieto's home turf.

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Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, accompanied by First Lady Angelica Rivera, waves the Mexican national flag after recreating the "Grito de Dolores." (Photo via Presidencia de Mexico)

Peña Nieto served as governor of Mexico state from 2005 to 2011 before he was elected to president in 2012. On Monday, some people on the plaza told reporters that they were offered 100 pesos — or about $7.50 — and a torta sandwich to be there.

In less than two years in office, the president has dropped to his lowest approval ratings ever. A Pew Research Center poll released August 26 shows that 60 percent of Mexican citizens disapprove of Peña Nieto's handling of the economy, a rate that grew by 14 points since 2013. In Mexico City, the country's customary left-leaning bastion, 78 percent of residents say they are dissatisfied with the direction of their country.


That sense of disapproval might have fueled some unruly partygoers in Mexico City's Historic Center, who apparently blocked the arrival of one of the president's daughters to the square on Monday night. Peña Nieto's step-daughter Sophia Castro was riding in a government Suburban when crowds began shouting at her, before blocking her car's path completely.

"She should walk like everyone else," people reportedly yelled.

Cell-phone footage shows Sophia Castro riding in a Suburban vehicle toward the Zócalo on September 15, 2014.

It remained uncertain how Castro arrived at the Zócalo and National Palace, and the president's office made no comment on the incident.

Protests also hit Mexico's government online. The hacker group Anonymous took down the website for the lower house of Congress, replacing it with a video stating: "Long live the marriage of government forces with organized crime, long live the corruption, the ignorance and indifference in Mexico."

Anonymous also published passwords and private data it said were linked to lawmakers. The document was quickly deleted on most hosting servers that carried it.

But the biggest outrage expressed by the Mexican populace was provoked by photos of police pat-downs of young children entering the Zocalo for the festivities on September 15.

Asi la cosa en el Zócalo del DF — Mauricio Echegoyen (@mau_echegoyen)September 15, 2014

"Maybe it caused some uncomfortable situations, but the goal was to guarantee the general well-being of those attending the event," Monte Alejandro Rubido, the national security commissioner, said in news reports later. The official orders, he said, were to do a comprehensive search of all attendees to the "Grito" event, regardless of their age.


"You don't frisk children," well-known social activist Daniel Gershenson told VICE News on Wednesday, reacting to the photos. "If we don't put a stop to this, it will become the precedent, and we'll see babies groped and abused by the authorities at all public events."

Authorities might have cried "Security!" in order to justify the pat-downs of kids at the Zócalo, but it's worth pointing out how unsafe the average Mexican still is in a country where crimes are rarely investigated or solved. Since the start of Peña Nieto's term, almost 30,000 people have been killed violently in the country, a figure that more or less keeps pace with the headline-grabbing violence rates from the term of former President Felipe Calderon, according to Mexico's national security database. In Mexico, less than 2 percent of crimes are ever prosecuted, civil rights groups say.

Maybe that's why some folks decided to hold a cockfight for Independence Day in a Wal-Mart in Mexico and not think they'd get in trouble for it. In Boca del Rio, a suburb of the port of Veracruz, in the eastern coastal state of the same name, promoters of a beer brand put together an illegal cock fight within a Wal-Mart store to celebrate on Monday, according to photos that circulated on social media.

Veracruz state banned cockfights and bullfights in June 2013. Local authorities in Boca del Rio later said they were investigating the matter.


Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, center, rides with top military officials during the September 16 military parade in the Zócalo of Mexico City. Photo via Presidencia de Mexico.

On Tuesday, while most Mexicans were likely nursing an epic hangover, the traditional military parade was held on the Zócalo, an annual ritual meant to show off the country's increasing military might. But just at the most climactic moment, as President Peña Nieto watched over the raising of the red-white-and-green right in the center of the square, the flag unsnapped from its pole and fell.

Soldiers quickly recovered and raised the flag without further incident. But in a country where everything seems to be a sign, the falling flag seemed to be a sad or ominous omen about the state of affairs in Mexico.

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