Saturday, March 04, 2006

The horror, the horror

It looks like a horrendous crime happened in Mexico again, this time against a Canadian couple staying at a huge resort, the Barceló Maya Beach in the Mayan Riviera.
I once stayed there while shooting a commercial. It was a humongous, all-inclusive resort, with garish "Mayan" day-glo motifs on the bedspreads. In order to reach one of the two immense dining rooms -- mess halls, rather -- you had to walk for miles. The food was plentiful, generic and completely unauthentic, designed with the palate (and vulnerable stomachs) of foreign tourists in mind. It was a hodgepodge of culinary styles from the countries the guests hailed from: France, Germany, Italy, the U.S. If there was any attempt at Mexican, it was so bland as to be almost unrecognizable. I remember that at one point Mr. Ex-Grande Enchilada asked one of the very courteous waiters for some hot sauce or chili peppers for his insipid scrambled eggs. Eons elapsed before the waiter came back from the bowels of the kitchen saying he couldn't find any. IN MEXICO. Still, the reason why we were shooting there was because the hotel beach was gorgeous, a creamy crescent with powdery sand and the intense blue-green stillness of the Caribbean. We had a great time, although we were terrified by the all-you-can-drink flat beer on tap, and worse, the wine, which came from plastic bags, I kid you not. We soon discovered that the prices of decent booze, like good brand vodka and whisky, were insanely cheap, like $2.50 each, and we proceeded to cap our intense working days nursing many a drink at the overly lit lobby bar.
The place was rather sinister in its fake, coerced cheerfulness and, as this interesting article points out, in its insistence in erasing any trace of actual Mexico in it. At night they had half-hearted karaoke and a Michael Jackson imitator that was actually creepier than the original. During the day, we were subjected to an endless stream of ear-splitting Christmas carols, this being early December. Now when I hear that they torture people in Guantánamo with music, I know what they mean. The Barceló Maya Beach was charmless, toothless, tacky and disturbing: mass tourism in a nutshell.
But at least it was safe, or so it seemed. Because right outside, danger surely lurked. We were surrounded by the thickest, greenest jungle. The jungle made it seem more isolated, but it was not the source of the threat. The very talented director of the commercial told me about a very scary encounter he had on the roads along the Riviera Maya with the fearsome Quintana Roo state police. We heard stories about drug dealing and mafiosi at Playa del Carmen, which everybody described as a quiet, bohemian paradise. I found it tacky, sinister and ugly, yet another touristy development encouraged by the Mexican government which turns whatever was alluring about the place into blight.
To make a long story shorter: Two Canadians are murdered in Mexico and as is usual, there is a botched investigation and a cover up by the Mexican authorities, who, in their utter stupidity and their corrupt, disgusting gall, try to pin the murders on two Canadian women who were staying on the same floor as the victims.
If I were the Canadian government, this is what I would do: I would start a boycott of Mexican tourism ASAP. I would put an all points bulletin alerting my citizens not to come anywhere near this country or spend one red cent buying anything related to it. It has been done before, and it works.
Now, I know that the people who pay the price are not the sleazy vermin who run Quintana Roo and the drugdealers who employ them, but the hard-working hotel employees who need to make a living every day serving clueless tourists. I know that. But how do you stop impunity? How do you demand accountability? How do you register your anger at the authorities of a fellow country treating your citizens like that? I'm sick of hearing that Mexico gets a bad rap about tourism safety. I'm sick of hearing that most of the tourists who go there emerge unscathed after their vacations, as if this was some kind of miracle we should be congratulating ourselves about. What if there only have been four gruesome tourist deaths in recent years? They are four too many, as far as I'm concerned. If people wanted that kind of experience, instead of Mexico they would go to Iraq. And if Mexico as a country wants to sell itself as a paradise destination, it needs to clean up its act, its complicity with corporations and its exploitation of its own citizenry.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:23 AM

    Yeah- I lived in Mexico for a year in a colonial town. There was an American school there for writers. It was something of a clown
    paradise in that it attracted, as I was led to believe, a lot of low-lifes from all over Mexico to apply their trades on the various European, American and Canadian artists and wealthy sorts.

    As people were being robbed and raped all over the place, women in shorts sightseeing mistaken for prostitutes and so on, eventually the
    soldiers were called in and a curfew put on the town.

    This was a boom for the local police, who could then pick-up for curfew violations poor souls who misjudged the distance from a student friends home to their own. The town was small but not that small.

    It was an interesting time. And I know Mexico is beautiful. But not that beautiful.

    Unfortunately, it would be a great country to vicously satirize. But that thing is out of the question these days as their illegal aliens are keeping the U.S. afloat, or so I am told.