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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Life in Mexico's political 'tent city'
With a winner in Mexico's 2 July election yet to be officially declared, the BBC's Duncan Kennedy spends time in the centre of Mexico City, where supporters of one of the candidates have spent more than three weeks camping out to demand a full recount.


In Mexico City, there are plenty of places to go out for a meal, watch a movie, maybe take in an art exhibition or listen to a poetry recital. But rarely is this possible all in the same place or all at the same time.

Yet it has become a reality in the most unlikely of spots... a six-lane boulevard in the centre of the city - Paseo de la Reforma, also known as Reforma Avenue.

Pick either side of the road and a whole new world of life has opened up. But this is not some avant-garde exhibition or some attempt to redefine modern living. It is part of what has become tent city, a vast swathe of canvas stretching hundreds of metres down this now blocked artery running through the heart of the capital.

And nor are the tents full of homeless people. They are packed with political protesters who want to change the outcome of the presidential election - all of them supporters of the left-wing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

It is about not letting democracy go to rot here in Mexico
Alicia
Some of those camping out here are children, including the children of Lydia.

Why has she brought them out to live on the streets? "Because I want to secure their freedom," she said. " I believe that is only possible under the leadership of Mr Lopez Obrador."

At that point , I saw a tear roll down her weathered cheek.

Food and poetry

It is the same sight over in Zocalo Square, the historic centre of Mexico City, where the Aztecs were defeated by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in the 16th Century.

A tent stretches out along one of Mexico City's main avenues
The tents stretch out along the city's major avenues
There is no talk of defeat here or on Reforma. Just more tents, more protesters.

These people are committed. Three weeks of boiling hot days and torrential downpours at night have weeded out the faint-hearted.

For those who have stayed, life has taken on a kind of semi-permanency. You really can have a hot meal, watch a movie, see an art exhibition or listen to a poetry recital.

The city authorities, run incidentally by the same party as Mr Lopez Obrador's, have helpfully wired up mains electricity. That makes TV possible, and television sets are everywhere. On one I watched a cartoon - rather oddly, it was Japanese.

Large propane gas tanks and full-size cookers ensure hot meals. There are microwave ovens too.

The art work, including stunning black and white photos of the protesters, is everywhere. And I really did sit in on a poetry reading which attracted a disparate group of young and old.

Opposition

I also watched a pottery class. It was given by a man called Sixto, who later showed me his tent, his home for the past three weeks.

"It sleeps three or four," he said as the two of us struggled to get inside.

We don't agree with this protest... It's causing chaos to traffic and, in any case, there was no fraud in the election
Paolo
I asked him how comfortable it was. "It's not too bad although it does get cold in the morning, very cold," he said.

Intrigued, I wanted to know why he had stuck it out. "For democracy," came the simple but expansive reply.

For democracy. Sounds simple - but many of these people believe that democracy does not end when you cast your ballot. They think that is just where it begins.

Alicia, a retired telephone operator, was just as clear about that: "It is about not letting democracy go to rot here in Mexico."

Not everyone is on their side. I was almost run down by Paolo and Joaquin, riding their bicycles down the deserted edges of Reforma. They are supporters of the unofficial winning candidate, the conservative Felipe Calderon.

"We don't agree with this protest," said Paolo. "It's causing chaos to traffic and, in any case, there was no fraud in the election."

It was a view shared by the more nervous Joaquin. "I support Mr Calderon, but keep it quiet," he told me.

Mr Calderon is believed to enjoy the backing of about a third of all Mexican voters. But not here and not in this way.

He may well become president in the next few weeks. But there is still time to catch that movie or take in a meal as these people show no signs of packing away their tent poles yet.




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