I recently came back from a visit and tour of the Mayan heartland of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula which is known for its pristine beaches, unique ecosystems, archaeological wonders, and of course, vacation hot spots such as Cancun and Cozumel. The resort city of Cancun is where I will first focus my attention, for I have never been more startled at such a physical manifestation of globalization, and N.A.F.T.A, and their affect on a city when combined in one package, set amidst a tropical paradise.

Initially a fishing village, modern day Cancun was founded in the late 70’s and began to expand throughout the 80’s to cater to what the corrupt government of former Mexican president Luis Echeverría Álvarez called the “New Havana”, citing the former status of that city as the playground for the wealthy and renowned of the U.S.A. The Mexican government, responding to a strong tourism demand from the United States, as well as taking advantage of the turquoise waters and distinct Mayan culture of the area, began pumping tens of millions of dollars into the region throughout the late 80’s and 90’s. The result, a city of 700,000 people with 7 million tourists annually, as well as massive ecological damage, cultural clashes between indigenous Mayans and incoming Mexican laborers, and what I call touristic imperialism in the form of U.S. and European owned hotels and real estate.

Despite creating a high demand for laborers and hotel employees, most people that benefited from Cancun were from mainland Mexico, and not the impoverished Mayan heartland where Cancun is located, a region where many of the people do not even speak Spanish. In addition, the many laborers that built the resort city lost their jobs, yet never left to their home towns, contributing to a rising poverty rate as well as providing assistance to organized crime and drug cartels. Drug Cartels are certainly no stranger to as many Mexicans insist that of the small percentage of Mexican owned hotels in the city, almost all are owned by powerful drug barons. This theory also includes the city’s government.

What is particularly troubling about the whole situation is the trend Mexico is taking as a whole, under the constricting reign of N.A.F.T.A and current conservative President Felipe Calderon. Calderon, like his predecessors, has continued to allow the Americanization, or better yet, Cancunization of the entire country, under the semi false but also semi correct façade of Globalization. Like Cancun, Starbucks, Pizza Huts, and Wal-Mart’s are popping up in many places, from more expected places such as the suburbs of wealthy Monterrey, or the less expected places: a Wal-Mart super center across from the largest Pyramid in the world outside Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, or a Subway restaurant across from the renowned Mayan archaeological site of Tulum in the Yucatan.

Now I am not going to condemn Globalization outright, for there are some positive and progressive aspects of this phenomenon, but I will condemn it coupled with free-trade agreements that strip away the sovereignty of another nation. Now social tensions are simmering across Mexico, both against the ruling elites that benefit from the influence of the “gringos”, as well as the current conservative government who barely have a mandate to govern after winning by less than 1 million votes.

In many ways, Cancun is a microcosm of Mexico’s current and near future problems: powerful drug cartels operating in and around American owned businesses, ecological destruction from mass tourism, a despised city government, poverty, spring breakers, and a deteriorating security situation as indigenous southern Mexico pushes for autonomy…all set amidst an “occupied” Mayan paradise.

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