President Elect Gets Big Turnout

A very diverse group, but they mostly agree they don’t want mines

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador commonly called AMLO, was elected as the next president of Mexico on July 1. The Tabasco native doesn’t take office until December 1, but he has already cut his salary by 60% agreeing to take home less than 6000 USD per month to run the second largest economy in Latin America. Also, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting next to him the next time you fly coach. It’s how he’s rolling. In fact that’s how he arrived in La Paz on Monday September 17th—by flying coach. If all that isn’t disorienting enough, for his first appearance as president elect in La Paz, he seemed to be more the leader of an anti-mine protest, than a president elect.

A routine anti-mine protest scheduled for the day after a major national holiday in the states would pull maybe 20-40 underemployed twenty-somethings mixed in with a few baby-boomers who may have been in the actual Monkey Wrench Gang of protestors and sabotagers and are still trying to keep the gang together.

minano.JPGBut we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. When they heard AMLO was scheduled to visit La Paz as part of his thank you tour, the anti-mine folks started spreading the word on social media. The president-elect's first official visit to La Paz was as good a time as any, they explained, to inform a national audience of Baja California Sur’s anti-gold mine stance.

AMLO’s appearance was scheduled to begin at 5:30. By 4:15 p.m. there were around 20 twenty-somethings who weren’t quite sure why they were there or what exactly was bad about the mine. They pointed me to their jefa,  a well-spoken, neatly groomed woman who appeared to be in her 30s and as articulate about the reasons for the protest as she was passionate. She says mines are taxed at a lower  rate than any other business type, so BCS, (our state), makes little money and the profit from the local resource leaves the state. The mines also contaminates water, and reduce the health of the fish, which impacts the livelihood of fisherman and tourism industries. Mines take a lot of water to operate, but protestors do not trust that mine operators will haul desalinated water up the hill. Also, mines in other parts of Mexico have suffered catastrophic failures of the holding ponds of their waste, resulting in polluted rivers and streams. Because the mine owners are wealthy and powerful, they often act with impunity, not even bothering to clean up the mess.

 I asked her if I could possibly photograph her group once they had all arrived. Little did either of us know, that was going to be impossible. By 5:30 AMLO was nowhere in sight but there were at least 400 protesters, a shocking turn out even to the protest's organizer. Another woman on the main stage co-opted the mic from the scheduled musicians and was passionately detailing all the evils of the mine. There were anti mine groups in green t-shirts, white-shirts, wheel chairs, strollers, and even toddlers stuffed into Kelty Kids backpacks emblazoned with the battle cry “no a la mina!" No to the mine. Rambunctious young boys with Morena, AMLO’s political party, pom-poms and no a la mina t-shirts were escorted by their extended families arriving by bus from Comondu, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose and Todos Santos and every other corner of Baja California Sur. One protestor from Comondu explained he was a member of the Morena party and in their region it was clear that they did not want mining in this state.

The geographical and socio-economic variety among the protestors was striking given the seemingly disorganized nature of it. There were gender non-conforming women with masterful, architecturally interesting haircuts accessorizing their G.I. Jane streetwear. There were old hippies burning sage. There was a group of well-dressed women in Ralph Lauren and penny loafers with straw hats designed with charity polo matches in mind. These ladies happily unrolled their perfectly sized, professionally printed sign reading, Si a la vida, no a la mina. (Yes to life, no to mines.) They danced around their beautiful sign as if they were at an East Hampton 4th of July party or a clam bake on Martha’s Vineyard. They set up camp directly next to the women burning sage who seemed to be invoking feminine goddesses of native tribes.

What was conceived as a protest and very loosely organized on social media had clearly struck a nerve across Baja California Sur, seamlessly evolving into a unity rally where Mexicans from all walks of life overflowed with pride the moment the incoming president, AMLO himself, finally arrived, took to the stage and verbally, forcefully agreed with them.

A man from Comondu approached me and asked if I were American, as if he could tell I’d come straight from Pilates and a scrumptious meal at Gringo-magnet market Dulce Romero (he could tell). He asked me if I had any idea what was going on here or if I was just waiting for the bus. I said I had some idea and I was on assignment from the Gringo Gazette. He perked up. "I’m in the incoming president’s party”. (Morena). “I came from up north, Comondu. We don’t support the mine. The president of our party in Comondu, before he was even in office, signed a letter saying we want all the mine companies out. We are here to support AMLO. We’re all supposed to be here with him, for him." His imposing frame and earnest manner answered all of my questions about how exactly AMLO plans to get away with no security detail. This man was one of maybe 50 civilians, who were there with no official role other than supporting and protecting AMLO.

A family from San Lucas arrived by bus, with impeccable Mexican timing, seconds before AMLO finally appeared. Their various ages, physical condition and attire seemed a perfect metaphor for the crowd as a whole. No matter how anyone arrived at the malecon or what life they would be leading when they left, it was agreed by them that Baja California Sur does not want La Mina.

There were no obvious supporters of the mine.