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Wal-Mart Upsets Cosmic Balance of Ruins
Published on Saturday, September 4, 2004 by the Guardian/UK
Wal-Mart Upsets Cosmic Balance of Ruins
Protesters decry building of store near mysterious Mexican city of Teotihuacan as attack on heritage which could spoil rural valley
by Jo Tuckman in Teotihuacan
 

From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in the ancient ruined city of Teotihuacan, Emma Ortega blows a haunting ode on her conch shell and points out a half-built Wal-Mart supermarket in the valley below.

Her blood boils at the sight. "It is an attack on our heritage," fumes Ms Ortega, a colorful figure in a small but vocal protest movement against the construction of a Bodega Aurrera superstore, a Wal-Mart Mexico subsidiary, half a mile from the monuments. "It is an attack on our cosmic equilibrium."


A pyramid at Teotihuacanis shown in this Sept. 18, 2003, photo at the archeological site 18 miles from Mexico City. A Wal-Mart store is being built a half-mile from the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan and a small, embattled group opposed to seeing the store from atop the pyramids is fighting a lonely battle for what it calls Mexico's landscape and culture.(Photo/Marco Ugarte)
The movement gives full rein to spiritualists, such as Ms Ortega, who believe Teotihuacan's pyramids and temples possess a special energy that Wal-Mart's presence threatens to throw off balance.

The protest is brought down to earth by traditional conservationists who fear that the development will encourage urban spillover from the capital 30 miles away and spoil the largely rural valley for ever. Then there are the local shopkeepers and stall owners from the small town of San Juan who cannot compete with the biggest retailer in the world.

Most recently the anti-Wal-Mart campaign in Teotihuacan has attracted support from other campaign groups because of the undeniable importance of the ruins.

One of Mexico's oldest and most mysterious civilizations, Teotihuacan boasted a population of up to 150,000 about 300AD. It faded away a few centuries later for unknown reasons and leaving few clues about what life was like. Archaeologists furiously debate issues such as whether it was ruled by kings or collectives.

"A big supermarket so close to the monuments sounds worrying," says Javier Villalobos, of the Paris-based International Council of Monuments and Sites, an influential conservation group. Mr Villalobos is planning to visit Teotihuacan this weekend to evaluate the threat.

But even if the protesters get international heavyweights on their side, theirs is no easy battle. There are many who welcome Wal-Mart, seeing modernization where the protesters fear desecration.

"These people who are trying to stop it [the supermarket] don't understand the meaning of progress," says Victor Hernandez, a bicycle salesman who is fed up with traveling 15 miles to shop in bulk. He is hopeful that Wal-Mart will give his son a job. "This is progress," he says.

The protesters are also having a tough time challenging a construction that apparently has all its permits in order.

The development on an alfalfa field, just outside the zone where all building is prohibited, was approved by the archaeological authorities on condition that Wal-Mart employed archaeologists to survey the site.

The archaeologists have reported that there is little worth saving beyond a semi-rural domestic compound unlikely to produce anything of value when excavated.

They have also questioned the authenticity of the protesters' claims to have found pots and ceramic figurines in waste heaps from the site.

It is very difficult to find out what is actually being uncovered behind the perimeter fence; the company refuses to let visitors in and armed guards keep a watchful eye for snoopers.

In the meantime, less than a month after construction began the gray concrete warehouse shell is already largely in place and the roof supports will be constructed shortly.

Still, Ms Ortega insists that Wal-Mart has met its match in Teotihuacan.

"We are going to make them demolish what they have already built, and return things to the way they were," she says.

She will need all the extra cosmic energy she can get.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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