Sunday, October 17, 2004

Anti-Wal-Mart protest near ancient ruins

Many protestors arrive in traditional Aztec headdresses

TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico (AP) -- About 300 protesters, some wearing traditional Aztec headdresses and dancing to a steady drum beat, rallied near the entrance of the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan on Sunday to protest the construction of a Wal-Mart-owned store nearby.

Organizers set up sheets of paper among the cactuses outside the national park and used the space to paint makeshift murals depicting pre-Columbian scenes.

Others shouted slogans and waved signs. "Multinational corporations get rich while you go hungry," read one prominent banner.

"Wal-Mart represents nothing more than the penetration of imperialism," said Fausto Trejo, one of the demonstration's organizers and a well-known activist against alleged atrocities committed by the government during the so-called "dirty war" of the 1960s and 1970s.

"It's a fact that all of this is an abuse of the very roots of the Mexican people," he said of the store's construction.

Clumps of onlookers gathered to watch the protest, which was nonviolent and orderly. Demonstrators did not attempt to enter the archaeological site, which is open to the public free-of-charge on Sundays.

Not all watching the events came away convinced, however. Walking with her husband nearby, local resident Maria Hernandez echoed the sentiments of many who live in the area and support the opening of the store.

"It's a good thing because Wal-Mart is cheap," Hernandez said. "We won't have to go far to buy things."

The 2,000-year-old ruins, in a valley 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of downtown Mexico City, were built by a little-known culture whose very name has been lost, and were abandoned hundreds of years before the Spaniards arrived.

Construction of the store, which will bear the name of a Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is nearing completion. The site can be seen from the top of Teotihuacan's major pyramids, but so can other commercial developments built in the community nearby.

Opponents appear to have exhausted legal challenges to the store, but that hasn't slowed the campaign against it. On Thursday, prominent Mexican writers and artists sent an open letter to President Vicente Fox asking him to intervene and stop the store's construction.

They did not object to having such a store in the area, but said it should be built further from the spectacular ruins.

Earlier this month, the State of Mexico and the Paris-based International Council on Monuments and Sites said they had determined that the store would cause no damage. It will be almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the ancient pyramids.

The council -- an oversight body which helps monitor U.N. World Heritage Sites -- said measures already taken meant that the store wouldn't ruin the view from the top of the pyramids.

Archaeologists said that so far, only minor cultural remains have been found at the store site.

In earlier years, Mexico also has seen campaigns to ease development at other notable sites such as the Mayan ruins of Tulum and remains of the pre-Teotihuacan culture of Cuicuilco in Mexico City.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.