Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back to Normal...Almost

Everyone predicted that the chemical spill from the Grupo Mexico mine in Cananea into the Río Sonora last August would be catastrophic, changing the way of life along the Río Sonora forever. Now, nine months later, curiously, life in Banámichi has almost returned to the way it was before the spill. This in no way lets Grupo Mexico off the hook for their negligence, but it does speak to the resilience of the land and the people and the need to keep on keeping on.

After months of tanker trucks delivering water to tinacos at every house up and down the Río Sonora, for Banámichi at least, water from a different well further from the river was piped into town, and city water service resumed. The water flow has been strong and consistent, better in fact than before the spill. For a time, there were Federales (Federal Police) guarding the city wells..against what I do not know...but even these guys are gone now.

Our local convenience store
After the spill, water from various wells including the new one was tested but due to lack of organization was never analyzed, so in the end, no one knows if the water the city provides is truly safe for human or animal consumption. Even so, gardens and fields are green again. Many people, however, no longer trust the local water supply for their own use. Those who can ill afford it are buying water in plastic bottles from the local OXXO convenience store. Yet ranchers are talking about building their cattle herds again. Slowly, culture and habit are taking over, and life does go on.

Some of the local laborers, when they received reparation funds from the mine settlement decided to take a vacation from work. And who would blame them? How would you like to do heavy work outdoors in heat and cold, day after day? But soon their windfalls will run out and they too will have to go back to work and life as it was before.

There seems to be an attitude of  resignation here that average people are powerless in the face of the mine and the government, and so with time, even the protests blocking the road to Hermosillo have ground to a halt. People are going about their business again, because in the end, what else is there to do? 

Too much bounty
Here at the expat homestead, in spite of a shortage of water for a good part of the year, our grapefruit tree produced more fruit than we could use or give away. After adjusting our newly installed irrigation system, our garden has also revived. The vegetable garden is battened down for the brutal summer months and awaits a new crop in the fall. In the house, we  have multiple 5 gallon bottles of "River Water" - the unfortunate name of  a nearby reverse osmosis plant  - sitting in our kitchen. Curiously, no one has been charged for city water useage since the spill.However, we no longer use the city water for cooking or hot beverages, and we have been debating if it is OK to use the water for washing vegetables. Still, given everything, these are minor wrinkles in the fabric of life.

Meanwhile, in Banámichi, attention has turned to the local election cycle. As foreigners in Mexico on tourist visas, we are not permitted to get involved in the political process. That is good for Mexico, and also educational for us, as the election process becomes an opportunity for cross cultural observation, discussion and learning.

Political banners for the main candidates flutter from every power pole in town, both for the mayor and for the Governor of Sonora. Mexico has 3 main political parties and quite a number of smaller ones. The big three are the PAN (Partido Acción National, The National Action Party), the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Insitutional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party), and the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution.)  The PRI was formed after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), and held power for 71 years. During these years, the PAN was the loyal opposition, and became the first party to defeat the PRI. The PRD is a left-leaning split off from the PRI, and is strongest in Central and Southern Mexico. There is also a Green Party, a left-wing Labor Party and one called the Nueva Allianca (New Alliance) which is the party of the powerful teacher's union. And there are a host of even smaller parties. The 3 main parties can roughly be thought of as left - PRD, right - PAN, and center - PRI, but the reality is much more complex. For a more complete explanation, go to this article from the Los Angeles Times.

PRI candidate for Mayor of Banámichi
PAN Candidate for Mayor of Banámichi

In Mexico, Mayors and Governors are elected for 3 year terms, and it is that time again. (It is hard to believe that we have been here thru 2 1/2 cycles now!) Campaigns are much lower key than they are in the States and only last a few months instead of a few years. Once someone has served their term, they can only run once more, but not until a couple of others have had a chance to serve. The people running for mayor are ordinary townspeople, not career politicians. The banners here in town are for PAN and PRI candidates. Party loyalties are strong, and feelings run high. Jobs and access to social services are riding on who wins. Parties in power give back to their supporters. And when a candidate wins, the entire previous city government is replaced all at once, making for a chaotic transition and new jobs for quite a few folks.

Women seem to be a bigger presence in Mexican politics than in the States. Both the PAN and the PRI have many women mayoral candidates, and for the PRI, Claudia Pavlovich is running for the governor of Sonora.
PAN candidate for Governor of Sonora

PRI candidate for Governo

As observers, we notice that the candidates seem to run more on personality than on a platform. The campaign banners trumpet platitudes ("Talk to your grandparents...they are a treasure.") and picture the candidates' families. The mayoral candidates run based on being known here in town. The townspeople have long memories and long-standing feuds or mistakes on the part of the candidate can affect  outcomes more than any political or social issues. It is not even clear what local or state issues are. It seems that a candidate  here could easily make the spill into an campaign issue and run on promises to clean up the environment, but that simply does not happen. Promises on issues are not made.

So come July, Banámichi will have a new mayor. Lauro the current mayor will step down from his post and presumably go back to his butcher shop.  The question is, whoever wins the election, will it really make a difference here in Banámichi, where circumstances change, but life stays pretty much the same?


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  2. Hey June,
    Comments works for me again. Hooray! And Hooray for Banamichi for getting back on its feet. Sorta. I guess in the big picture, we all have to deal with each hour, each day and try to enjoy life. Attitude surely makes the difference in quality of life. Though good water is pretty critical too! Your post reminds me of where I am in my life today. Recovery, coping, healing, hopefulness. And of course, the ever present quest to accept what is now and to act accordingly for optimum benefit.