Although the Russians and the Chinese are reportedly fretting about the end of the world tomorrow — according to an interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar — down here in the Yucatan, which was part of the Mayan empire, the locals couldn’t care less. Nor does anyone in Mexico City seem to notice. They are too busy thinking about what the new government is going to get up to. With its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, sworn into as president on Dec. 1, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is back in power after 12 years out of office.
The new president is known in Mexico for a) being married to a famous soap opera star and b) not being able to answer when he was asked at the Guadalajara International Book Fair to name three books that had influenced his life. After mentioning the Bible, he blanked out and apparently could not remember the details of anything else he had read. He has, however, brought in young talent from the party’s lower ranks, and we met some of these officials in Mexico City last week. As in the Egyptian revolution, many in this group are elites who have been educated overseas. But instead of protesting in the streets, they paid their dues, waited patiently for their turn. Now they are raring to introduce reforms. The major parties have already come together to agree on a list of priorities, taken on the teachers’ union and pushed to give private capital access to the massive, state-owned oil company Pemex, which has been faulted for a decline in production over the past eight years. Included on their to-do list is tax reform; a complete overhaul of Pemex; improving education; introducing new technology to speed up the export of goods to the U.S.; and increased cooperation with like-minded Latin American countries.
In short, the new government is in full-blown honeymoon mode (although no one we saw mentioned fighting poverty or drug trafficking). We’ll see what gets accomplished.
PRI supporters argue that their party can get things done because it ruled for so many years and has an entrenched network across the country. It’s a strength that resonates in the Yucatan, a state that is still fairly old-school. But while more Mexicans are now focused on the next chapter of the country’s political life than on the end of the world, here in the Yucatan there are more practical reasons to be interested in a modern misinterpretation of a centuries-old calendar. Tourism is a major part of Yucatan’s economy, and the Dec. 21 festivals at the pyramids of Chichen Itza are expected to draw everyone from Burning Man enthusiasts to professional crystal readers and pierced teenagers whose primary source of knowledge on Mayan culture is Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto Locals have been regaling us all week with the tale of the Italians who, expecting a flood, built condos on the highest mountain peak they could find.
In addition to fretting foreigners, there are plenty of homegrown New Age types, including the autodidact Alberto Haggar, who sprinkles his lectures on Mayan cosmology with power points of sudoku puzzles, references to geometry, dismissals of global warming and a complaint about the number of drugstores that have opened in Merida in the past decade (4,000!). Haggar informed us that the world will soon start spinning in a different direction, as he said it has twice before, but noted if we all meditate together the next world will be a new reality with equality for woman. Not all bad, in other words.