Monday, October 13, 2008

CERVANTINO 2008 - Narco Terrorism

Guanajuato, MexicoOf all the Cervantino Festival events that roll into the city of Guanajuato each October I believe my least favorite has to be that which sends many locals fleeing the city for three weeks each year. The ghoulish punks, the vampirish Goth, or the "hippies"—as the Guanajuatenses are wont to call them—are not what the founders, I am quite sure, had in mind for the Cervantino Festival of the Arts.

Our first Cervantino was in the fall of 2003. I can recall in a discussion I had with my Spanish conversation teacher that my unbridled excitement over participating in the festival was listened to with all the enthusiasm of one of the permanent residents of Guanajuato's Mummy Museum. Her deadpan expression was due, she told me, to the invasion by Mexico's youthful sub-culture, turning what was surely meant as a celebration of the Fine Arts into a celebration of drinking, drugging, and all the free sex one could muster. Apparently, a lot of mustering had become the main attraction.

My Spanish teacher went on to report how her rather large and extended family actually packed their bags and went to stay with relatives elsewhere for the three week duration of the festival as if fleeing a military invasion by Guatemala. Well, goodness, I had to find out what this was all about and would soon discover long-term expats as well as locals with lots and lots of stories.

The huge Cervantino Festival was originally meant to be a celebration of performing arts, fine arts, culture, and general artistic expression honoring the contribution of Miguel de Cervantes to Spanish and Mexican culture.

Cervantes was born in 1547. His work, Don Quixote, is considered to be the world's first modern novel and certainly a classic of Western Literature. The influence Cervantes had on the Spanish language is considered by some experts as a lengua de Cervantes (The language of Cervantes).

Some of the University of Guanajuato's students, enthralled with Cervantes' Entremeses—a kind of satire—began performing them in Plaza San Roque when it grew into a grand idea: increase tourism. That's how the idea for Cervantino was born. These small, almost informal, performances grew in importance and popularity to the point where the Mexican government saw an idea to increase the city's popularity and tourism income. The original idea was to attract world-class performers from all over the world, not just those from Mexico.

However the founders meant the festival to be, interference from the Mexico government is where things went afoul. That is, at least, the story I have been able to piece together from sources varying from Mexican residents to long-term Gringo expats.

To save money—of course—the Mexican government got it into their heads that they could recruit "free talent" from a pool of young and upstart groups looking for exposure. This translated into officially recruited groups and unofficially recruited groups, some of which had little to no talent and who brought with them their groupies and lots of them. And, they showed up in droves. Our first Cervantino, 2003, we had a startling revelation in our discovery that hippies had not died out as a species. They were alive and well and all in Guanajuato for three weeks each October.

What followed this migration of the Not-So-Fine-Art-inclined was a tremendous population of Flashback-From-The-Past Sub-culture individuals who thought nothing of displaying loose behavior and in a very public way, sending the very provincial Guanajuatenses into a vociferous complaining frenzy to the government. An elderly Guanajuato woman of no small financial or influential means told me the Cervantino Festival had become a celebration of the Barrachos or drunkards.

Cervantino 2008 began this year on the 8th of October and will last until the 26th. It began, however, under a cloud of fear. Morelia, Michoacan's Independence Day celebration on the 15th of September, in which shrapnel hand grenades were hurled into the civilian crowd of celebrants, cast a foreboding shadow over Cervantino. With 8 dead and scores wounded, many wondered if Guanajuato's Cervantino would or could be the Narco-Terrorist's next message.

I was delighted to discover that Guanajuato's government saw the light that an ounce of prevention was most certainly worth a pound of cure, as they say. Proactive action looked a lot better than waiting for another body count. Guanajuato acted!

Several days before Guanajuato's Cervantino Opening Ceremonies, the scary but welcome sight of Mexican soldiers with attack dogs appeared in the central plaza, El Jardin. I think it was this unnerving and never-before-seen sight that woke many Guanajuatenses to at least ask the question whether the events of Morelia could happen in Guanajuato.

Extrema Seguridad, or Extreme Security was the headline of Iván Rodriguez's story in the Guanajuato daily, El Correo.

"On each corner," writes Rodriguez, "Mexican army and agents from the Federal Police to guarantee peace and public order."

When Cervantino's opening night finally rolled around, a security presence never before seen and somewhat disturbing to provincial locals, was in place.

Rodriguez writes of barricades for better crowd control, metal detectors, and the manual checking of purses and backpacks by bomb-sniffing dogs assured a Narco-Terrorist incident-free evening.

I only hope that there will many more Terrorism-free Cervantinos to come and with a radical return to the founder's original intent of a high quality presentation of the Fine Arts.


A Walk Through Mexico's Crown JewelA Guanajuato Travelogue

by Doug Bower,

is now available through Unlimited Publishing. CLICK HERE

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