Bicentennial parade brings pride when Mexico needs it

Alexandra Olson, The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY – For its 200th birthday, Mexico wanted its citizens – and the world – to forget its vicious drug war and remember the country’s epic history, music and continuing crusade for wider prosperity and democracy.

All were on display Wednesday with a fiesta two years in the making. About 60,000 revelers – many wearing sombreros and face paint with the red, white and green of the Mexican flag – crowded along Reforma Avenue, the capital’s main promenade, cheering and yelling “Bravo!” at the start of the 1.7-mile parade of floats and dances designed by the country’s top artists.

About 25,000 gathered early at the main Zocalo plaza, where President Felipe Calderón was to deliver the traditional grito – three shouts of “Viva Mexico” – to celebrate the uprising that began 200 years ago today and resulted a decade later in independence from Spain.

“This one is special,” said Iris Marí Rodríguez Montiel, a small-business owner who had traveled from the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. “It gives me chills just to think about it. I love Mexico. There’s only one Mexico.”

Several neighboring heads of state and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis were attending.

Still, anxiety hovered over the festivities with a heavy presence of law enforcement.

While drug violence during a grand festival would have been unheard of a few years ago, that changed during independence celebrations in 2008. A grenade attack blamed on a cartel killed eight revelers, including a 14-year-old boy, in Calderón’s home state of Michoacán.

Prosecutors in the Caribbean coast resort of Cancún said they were investigating whether six men detained Wednesday with assault rifles and hand grenades had planned an attack during the bicentennial festivities.

There was still hope, though, that the drug war would take a holiday.

“To celebrate the identity of a country, especially in this moment in Mexico, I think is really needed,” said the parade’s artistic director, Marco Balich.

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