Merida - Where Were You On This Day?

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Friday, January 23, 2009

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First Time Reader? is the background to this series of blogs:

Mexico:  23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months

no. 21 of 23 destinations (this is not a ranking)
Merida – A Special Day
Where were you on January 20, 2009?
Part 2 of 3

Remarkable dates tend to be remembered not only for the events that make them memorable but also for the location and moment where the event was witnessed. So it was with the inauguration of Barak Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America.

We shall always remember that on this day, at this historic moment, we were in Merida, Yucatan.

Since we were not in Washington, DC, the best we could hope for was to see the event on television. The question was where to go. Since Merida was such a hot bed of expats it was not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that for this moment there would be a need for some of the expats to gather and share this feel-good moment with others.

It was thus that we learned from Bob Swafford, an expat who works at the tourist office, that a good place would be the prestigious Fiesta Americana Hotel located at Pisano Montejo 451.  It was here that a group of expats was to gather to witness the inauguration.

Considering that the thrust of this series of blogs: Mexico: 23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months” is directed at expats or “snow birds” as we call them in Canada, this was a gathering we could not pass up, notwithstanding the inauguration of the President of the United States.

To get there we would have liked to use our preferred mode of transportation – walking. Time and distance dictated that we had to take a bus north along Calle 60 to Avenida Colon from where we walked east to the famous Pasejo de Montejo (next blog) where the Fiesta Americana is located.

Upon our arrival we were directed to a bar and it was there that we found a group of about 100 of mostly Americans with some Canadians and a few Mexicans gathered to witness this moment in history. My first impression was one of disappointment as the group was smaller than expected and there was no large screen TV in sight. The small screen TVs scattered around the room offered only small grainy image.

After procuring the prerequisite coffee and croissant it was time to mingle. Now mingling with strangers is not my strong suit but my drive for information got the better of me as I made the rounds.

To say that there was a buzz in the room would have been an understatement for everyone realized that we were about to witness history as the first black president of the U.S.A. was about to be sworn in.

A common phrase heard in conversation was “I would never have thought to be witness to this moment in my life time” and that pretty well summed up the importance of the hour.

The anticipation of the group of what I suspect was mostly Obama supporters was great although no one really seemed to be paying much attention to what was being said on TV until the actual swearing in ceremony. Part of the problem with listening to what was being said on TV was the collective din of the conversations going on around the room.

The enthusiasm for Obama was pan-national as I observed that Canadians seemed to be just as enthusiastic as the Americans. Previous to being elected president, Obama drew his largest crowd in Berlin Germany.

The conversation of course came to a halt when the swearing in ceremony started as everyone hung on every word, including the minor stumble on Obama’s part, in repeating the oath.

The stumble, the details of which I have now forgotten, was uncharacteristic of the man who had proven himself to be the ultimate orator.

The man with the resonating voice and the inspirational catch phrases such as: “Yes, we can”, “Vote for Change”, “Change we can believe in”, “a leader who can deliver change”, was about to take his prize as the 44th president of the United States of America.
During the swearing in ceremony I was more intent on observing the reaction of the ensemble around me. What I saw was intense interest, a hanging on every word, a look of satisfaction, a tear shed by some males and females and at the end wild applause, congratulatory handshakes, general hugging as a sign of celebration and a general feeling of joy.  I keyed in on a black man sitting at the far end of the bar studying his face and teary-eyed reaction to the proceedings. I could only imagine the feelings of pride and satisfaction awash in his inner sanctum. At that moment all the history of separation, rejection and discrimination must have been forgotten and replaced by the anticipation of a dawn of a new era.

Let it be said, it was a euphoric moment if you were an Obama supporter and that seemed to include everyone assembled here.

Since I am writing this blog in Montreal on October 25, 2009 a lot of time has passed and some observations can be made about this dawn of a new era ushered in by the election of Barack Obama.

The new president’s early approval ratings of 64% were an encouraging sign but then reality set in.

The new president promised change and lots of it. That sounds good on the surface but upon closer examination change is threatening to a whole lot of people with vested interests and different political philosophies.

Furthermore, as a Canadian I had no idea how deeply divided the Republicans were from the Democrats making Obama’s promise of working with the opposition a hollow promise.

The first hot potato the new president had to handle was an economic crisis inherited from the Bush administration. It resulted in a $787-billion economic stimulus package that received only three Republican votes of approval in the Senate and was unanimously rejected by the Republicans in the House of Representatives - so much for Obama’s promise for bi-partisanship. The economic results so far are positive but slow in coming.

This hot potato was nothing in comparison with the unrest stirred up by Obama’s promised health care reform.  Obama filled Pennsylvania Avenue with people for his inauguration. However, in September the mood on Pennsylvania Avenue was entirely different as thousands upon thousands protested vehemently against the reform of the health care system. With 44 million Americans being uninsured, health care reform would seem to be a no-brainer. The problem is that those in the United States who have health care insurance have some of the best medical care in the world. Any plan that would provide coverage for the 44 million that are presently not covered risks diluting the coverage of the majority. That is a situation that a lot of people will not take sitting down.

In Canada we have universal health coverage provided by the federal and provincial governments. To Canadians it would be unthinkable that 25% of the population has no health coverage. The Canadian health care system however has its problems with long waiting lists for crucial medical procedures.

It is for this reason that in the U.S. the Canadian health care system is a poor example to follow. In other words, let the government keep its hands off health insurance.

It is for that reason that signs of “No Obama care” and “National Health Care Doesn’t Work, Just Ask Canada” abounded at the rally.

Ironically in Canada, public health insurance is sacrosanct and the mention of private health insurance is as welcome as a skunk at a garden party. The fear is that if there was a parallel private system the best doctors would be drawn to the private system thereby diluting the public system.

Attempting to rally support for the reforms, the president addressed a joint session of Congress only to be greeted by a shout of “You Lie!” from a disgruntled and boorish Republican.

The vitriol displayed by some of the protestors as well as the far right media led by Fox News and commentators like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh prompted former President Carter to remark that a lot of the hatred addressed at Obama was racially motivated. Obama took it in stride by noting that he has been “black for a long time”.

The political right has an inherent fear of “big government” which translates into huge government spending.  It is projected that with Obama’s “borrow-and-spend” policies, the deficit will reach a mindboggling $17 trillion by 2018.

Obama’s approval rating has dropped into the 50% range and continues to drop.

On the foreign policy front, Obama has cancelled the missile defense system that was to have been built in Poland much to the consternation of Russia.

As a result of this concession, Russia may be willing to put pressure on Iran to come clean on its nuclear program.

Obama continues to be committed to pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010 while waffling on his Afghanistan strategy.  While a “surge” was successful in Iraq, no commitment has been made to repeat the strategy in Afghanistan. There are signs that the battle against the Taliban is going badly with no victory in sight. A possible exit strategy that is being floated is that the battle should be with Al-Qaeda and not the Taliban.

Thrown into this mix has been the unexpected awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama based on his conciliatory posture towards the rest of the world. Compared to the bellicose nature of American foreign policy under George Bush the Obama approach is a breath of fresh air. It is also a breath of fresh air he tried to extend to Republicans with totally negative results. It is a Nobel Peace prize awarded almost totally on expectations.

There is no doubt that as we stood on that day in Merida witnessing this historical moment of Obama’s inauguration, we were witness to the dawning of a new age.  The expectation was that this would be an age in which co-operation and consultation would replace confrontation and coercion. That was a feel-good moment.

Like most feel-good moments, they only last so long. As the above brief overview of the first nine months of the Obama presidency has illustrated, co-operation and consultation have been met with confrontation, intransigence and obstruction both on the domestic and foreign fronts. No. nice guys may not finish last but from the looks of it they don’t finish first either.

Going back to the assembled group of expats at the Fiesta Americana I once again ran into Bob Swafford who along with Nidia Bastaranches Hernandez, a dentist, made for a photo of a dashing couple.

Of special interest was my encounter with Reg Deneau of Windsor, Ontario Canada and Progresso, Yucatan.

I perked up when Reg mentioned that he was from Windsor, Ontario for the simple reason that I grew up there. I graduated from Riverside High School in 1964 and was therefore amazed to learn that Reg had spent his teaching career at the same school albeit long after I had left.  He had also taught with a good friend of mine, Eric Seppala, who is now retired and lives in beautiful Kingsville, Ontario.

Reg splits his time between Progresso located on the Gulf of Mexico just a half hour north of Merida and Windsor, Ontario.  In Merida he keeps active and occupied by being the director to the English library. What a great job for a former high school librarian.

I remember Reg as an avid Obama supporter who wore his “Obama for America” T-shirt with pride and who had a tear in his eye as he witnessed the swearing in of the 44th president of the U.S.A.

In another error of judgment we did not spent an extra day in the Merida area in order to check out Progresso. What was it that made Reg chose to live in the port and beach town of Progresso instead of the cultural hotbed of Merida? The English library in which he worked as the librarian is after all located in Merida.

Let’s send an e-mail and maybe we can get an answer to that question.


Coming Soon:

Merida – Paseo Montejo – One of the great Avenues of the Americas

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