“THERE is nothing so joyous as a Mexican fiesta,” observed Octavio Paz, Mexico’s greatest poet, “but there is also nothing so sorrowful.” The night of the fiesta “is the brilliant reverse to our silence and apathy, our reticence and gloom,” he wrote. On September 15th Mexico lit itself up in green, white and red for a double anniversary, and to try to shrug off its gloom. The night marked 200 years since the start of the war of independence against Spain; November marks a century since the rising against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz that unleashed a decade-long revolution. It was a chance to forget the violence visited on Mexico by drug-trafficking gangs (see article). This lacks the political motives of these previous events but is starting to rival them in intensity.
Ciudad Juárez, on the United States border, was forced to cancel some of its celebrations owing to security concerns. In the run-up to the festivities Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, warned that Mexico’s criminal organisations were “morphing into…what we would consider an insurgency,” evoking Colombia 20 years ago. Barack Obama diplomatically swatted this analysis down. On September 12th Mexico’s government arrested Sergio Villareal Barragán, aka El Comeniños (“the child-eater”), the latest in a string of suspected drug barons to be captured or killed.
Not so long ago, such a movie would not even have been made, let alone been backed by the government. Had they fallen a decade ago, the anniversaries would have coincided with Mexico’s first fully democratic presidential election; five years before they would have chimed with a free-trade agreement with the world’s biggest economy. In the bloody days of 2010 it is easy to forget the strides that Mexico has made towards prosperity and freedom.For a few days El Comeniños and co were almost forgotten, as town halls draped themselves in tinsel and tricolour flags were jammed into car windows. Even McDonald’s is advertising its hamburgers with a cardboard cut-out of Emiliano Zapata, a hero of the revolution who would surely have shot up every branch. As well as laying on fireworks, parades and commemorative banknotes, the government has sent every household a glossy 68-page booklet about Mexico’s history, and part-funded several bicentennial-themed films. “True Heroes”, a cartoon adventure, tells an idealised history of independence; “Hell: Nothing to celebrate” is a grittier affair.