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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Occupy Tuxtla

The last day of a long research trip to Chiapas is always bittersweet. I can't wait to be home, but I already miss the culture and people here. My final landing place is Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital. It's generally a chaotic daytime cacophony of cars and colectivos, but this visit is very different: it's actually quiet.

Tent city/parking lot along Tuxtla's main thoroughfare
Well, relatively speaking. Since Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto pushed though a series of education reforms, teachers from the entire state have been demonstrating here (and throughout the country) for almost two months. A tent city of low-strung tarps and cardboard-covered pallets (makeshift sleeping areas) has blockaded Tuxtla's main plaza and a huge stretch of the city's principal road. Before arriving yesterday, I knew that there had been protests here, but didn't realize that thousands were paralyzing the entire center.

Alteration on the Verde party facade

Besides the occasional teach-in and amplified speeches, the noise level downtown has been pretty minimal, and nearby businesses are practically despondent. Some restaurants have hung ABIERTO banners across the front, and waiters mull about at tables inside, fiddling with their cell phones until customers come in. Lots of stores are closing early and posting signs offering bathroom use for 5 pesos.
Teachers sleeping along the sidewalk

Maybe because it's Saturday night, but the street life was more lively tonight. An encampment a block away projected a Sandra Bullock movie on a sheet, and a fiery speaker with an evangelical fervor paced a stage on the plaza to massive applause. Huge cooking pots steamed in the dim light underneath rain tarps, and extension cords and invisible twine guy lines threatened to snare the unwary.

It's time to head home.

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