A day before the 205th celebration of Mexico's independence, a lone woman made her way through the bustling preparations happening at Mexico City's central Zocalo square, screaming.
"Fucking traitors!" she hollered. "There's nothing to celebrate, worthless acarreados!"
That's a term in Mexico for citizen "supporters" who show up to political rallies in exchange for cash or food, and it's been thrown around a lot lately.
Tonight, when President Enrique Peña Nieto gives the traditional "Grito" shout of independence from the balcony of the Zocalo's National Palace, he's expected to have hundreds or thousands of acarreados before him — as he did last year.
Some cheered the woman on, but most of the government workers went about it, setting up barriers and decorations for the annual "Night of the Shout," which is supposed to be the biggest party of the year in a country known for big parties.
But this year, locals say, there are ever dwindling reasons to celebrate three years into Peña Nieto's six-year term, and some argue, even less so than last year's flopped "fiestas patrias."
Omens abound this time of year. The national flag fell during the festivities in 2014; earlier this month, Peña Nieto dropped the presidential sash in a Periscope stream.
The same old problems Mexico has been unable to solve for decades are seemingly intensifying: Drug-related massacres and disappearances, poverty, social inequality, an underperforming economy, and obscene levels of government corruption and official impunity reign in 2015, Mexicans this week told VICE News.
"Everyone's fucking had it," said Adolfo Martinez, a taxi driver who's been working around the Zocalo.
"Every day I talk to people from all over the country, and they all say the same thing — what could we bloody celebrate? The country is going down the fucking drain," the cabbie added.
Perhaps acknowledging the sour national mood, Peña Nieto last week canceled this year's Independence Day gala, calling it an austerity measure. Instead of a big dinner with a bunch of dignitaries, the president will just show up to wave the red-white-and-green Mexican flag, ring the Bell of Dolores, and shout for Mexico's independence from Spain.
His Independence Day fiesta last year cost an estimated $1.2 million, compared to previous President Felipe Calderon, who spent $835,000 on the holiday in his last year in office.
The news came days after finance secretary Luis Videgaray announced a federal-level budget slashing of $13,193,700 for all public offices, with the goal of having a "less expensive but more efficient government."
Economic growth projections have been perennially downgraded for the country. In his State of the Union address on September 2, Peña Nieto admitted that two million more Mexicans entered the ranks of the extremely poor between 2012 and 2014 — a sobering figure despite the cheerleading "Saving Mexico" days earlier in his term.
Overall, a recent poll by the newspaper Reforma found 64 percent of Mexicans disapproved of the president's government. Among "opinion makers" polled, including academics and politicians, only 15 percent approved of Peña Nieto's administration.
"2016 won't be better," said Francisco Herrera, a political science student. "We are not seeing any social changes. The political changes made by the government are desperate efforts to fix their image, which had never been as damaged as now."
For some, the mood is especially grim because the one-year anniversary approaches of September 26, 2014, when police and a drug gang attacked a group of teachers college students, leaving 43 young men disappeared.
A recent report by an independent panel of high-profile experts found Mexico's government severely at fault for a sloppy investigation into what happened last September 26 in the southern state of Guerrero. Suspects said they were tortured, video surveillance evidence was destroyed, and the government refused to allow the panel to interview members of a military unit that might have been involved.
Today, just hours before the "Grito," Mexico City's central square was filled by more policemen and military than visitors.
"There's gonna be some brawling here," a jewelry-store vendor named Raul told VICE News. "Things will get uglier than last year, because instead of improving, things just got worse."
But a few folks tried to keep a positive outlook.
"We are always complaining about what's happening, and this is a moment of relaxation, a moment to have fun," said Marcela Vazquez, a street-sweeper.
"Well, people will keep celebrating. People will keep coming to fiestas, regardless of what's happening," Diego Velasquez, a vendor, told VICE News. "They don't give a shit about the violence or the corruption."
Gabriela Gorbea contributed to this report.
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