The year 2013 in review
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Without a doubt, in 2013 San Miguel achieved greater international renown by being voted the world’s best city by readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Nationally, the city gained recognition not only for its festivals but also through the posting of a viral video of abuse by police officers that resulted in their censure. This year criminal complaints were lodged against former mayor Luz María Núñez; also controversial was the planned construction of the Bicentennial freeway that would connect Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. Mayor Mauricio Trejo started the process to turn San Miguel into a wine-producing region. It was a year of investment, including construction of the convention center, restoration of the aerodrome and the possible construction of an industrial park and a center for retirees. Here is a month-by-month review of some of the headlines.
Association of Haciendas and Architectural and Cultural Heritage of Mexico, a civil association, was formed. The objective of the association was the preservation and promotion of the architectural and cultural heritage of the haciendas of San Miguel. The association catalogued the 42 extant haciendas near the city and contacted the owners of the buildings. Flora Dionicio, secretary of the civil association commented that the new use that they were proposing was as lodging (even just bunk beds, as in a hostel) inside of a big room with floors made of bricks and high walls and ceilings lit with candles to transport visitors to the past. The association holds weekly tours. For more information contact Santiago González at 415-1132-900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A representative of McDonald’s asked to hold a meeting with members of the group Protege San Miguel de Allende. In the meeting, the group against the franchise exposed the reasons why the restaurant should not be open in the historic center. “We will win the lawsuit and will open McDonald’s. It is just a matter of time,” said the legal representative of McDonald’s. “We are not against the opening of the franchise, but we do not want it in the historic center,” replied members of Protege San Miguel. Thus far, the franchise has not been opened on calle Canal as was planned.
The local administration announced the band shell—a project of the 2009–20012 administration to hold events of quality and attract more tourism—had been halted by because the structure was unstable and could collapse. In addition, the local authorities argued that the construction costs were “inflated” and that the licitación (bidding process) was not done correctly. The project—which would have an investment of 20 million pesos—has not been resumed.
The construction of the convention center named “The Casona de Allende” began. “It emerged from a dream,” said the developer, Benigno Torres, who also commented that San Miguel needs a convention center to increase hotel occupancy and make use of services in the city. The convention center will be a venue for exhibits, cultural events and conferences and help make San Miguel one of the world’s prime tourist destinations not only for pleasure but also for business. The construction could finish within 18 months, although local authorities have said that it will be opened ahead of schedule.
Some residents from San Miguelito and Atotonilco came to Atención to denounce the illegal extraction of sand from the Laja River, damage to the environment due to the tree cutting and even the invasion of private land by the concessionaires. According to the residents, every day five or ten truckloads of sand were stolen from the river, in an area that was even federally protected. “We are concerned about the stealing of sand and the continued devastation of the Laja River in San Miguelito,” said concerned residents who lived near the river. “We are not stealing sand. We have our permit and we will not be hiding from anyone,” claimed a member of the Unión de Paleros del Laja S.C. (Association of Front Men of the Laja S.C.), which has authorization granted by the CONAGUA (National Commission of Water) and who proved to Atención that they were not causing any damage.
The eight edition of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference was held in the city, featuring workshops and lectures by Mexican writers such as Juan Villoro, American Cheryl Strayed and Canadian Lawrence Hill.
The city council did not approve the hiring of seven employees proposed by the municipal comptroller, so the PAN city councilors published a press release suggesting that Mayor Mauricio Trejo did not want to be audited. The seven proposed people worked for three months, and later their contract was not renewed. They were working without a contract and without receiving a salary, and for that reason the assistant mayor prohibited them from entering the office. The municipal comptroller indicated that the personnel who were working temporarily in that department without a contract would continue working as usual and he would not prohibit them from using municipal equipment or resources. The municipal treasurer said that the administration would not fire or relocate employees of the auditing office to hire seven more. A few weeks later, the municipal comptroller was removed from his post for several reasons, including being absent during working hours and for maintaining people in the office without a contract with the administration.
Joyous Heart (Joyce Schuman), a Los Angeles native who lived in San Miguel de Allende for 12 years, was found murdered in her home. The same week, authorities reported that the victim had been killed by her adoptive daughter, who is currently in prison.
Luxury, power and controversy surrounded Elba Esther Gordillo, leader of the largest workers’ union in Latin America and named the most powerful woman in Mexico in 2012 by Forbes Magazine. Nevertheless, that title did not help her to sidestep Mexican laws, and Gordillo was arrested on February 26 for embezzling more than 2 billion pesos from the SNTE, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación (Teachers’ Union), the union she headed and that represents more than 1.5 million teachers. That national scandal generated contrasting opinions among teachers across the country.
The Argentinean actress Christian Bach, Mexican actor Damián Alcazar and tenor Fernando de la Mora received the San Miguel’s Heart award. The event was organized as a closing for the festival “San Miguel, I Love You.” There was a premiere of the movie The Desire, which was filmed in the city years ago. The film stars Christian Bach, who told Atención that it is a movie that shows the bonds that are formed while people search for love in the wrong places.
Cubafest celebrated 10 years and paid tribute to Miguel Matamoros (1984–1971), a Cuban singer who had several occupations such as driver, painter and carpenter at the time that he learned to play guitar and train his voice. The singer recorded for RCA Victor in New York. The festival was exciting and mixed music, food, films, literature and dance.
The body of a young sanmiguelense woman who disappeared at the end of February was found on an unpaved road. A march to promote the culture of denouncing crime and heightening security was held from the Jardín to city hall on the road to Querétaro. Once there, those who took part summoned Mayor Trejo to a public meeting, where they handed over written petitions asking for a resolution to the case. The then district attornee of Zone D, Miguel Ángel Rangél Zendejas, said that the case was under investigation by the SADAI (Attorney General’s Office for High-Impact Felonies). Months later, the district attorney reported that one those responsible for the murder had been arrested.
Two law students were violently forced by police officers to get out of their car. A video, which was transmitted by national media and uploaded to social networks, showed the officers’ attitudes and the students’ reactions. The local government accepted that there was an abuse of power on the part of the policemen. The students filed a complaint before the Ministerio Público (Offices of the State Attorney General), which has launched an inquiry, and before the Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos (Office of Human Rights). According to the students, their human rights were not respected. In May, the Human Rights Office recommended the local government censure the policemen for violating the students’ human rights and for the excessive use of force, injuries, threats and for spraying a chemical substance inside the car.
A local TV station broadcasted a citizens’ denouncement from two expat women concerning abuse of power by officers of Public Security. Later, the video of the denouncement was uploaded to a public website. According to municipal authorities, the women were arrested for aggressively opposing a lawful seizure process.
The local government announced a criminal complaint against former mayor Luz María Núñez Flores and her husband, Javier Zavala, for alleged abuse of authority, influence peddling and embezzlement. The embezzlement charge was related to contracts the municipal government had with Radio San Miguel and Canal Cuatro during the 2009–2012 administration; the two media outlets are owned by the former mayor and her husband. The municipal government did not make the figures public, and Zavala told Atención that the amount of the contracts was less than 1.5 million pesos over three years and that the hiring of the media was completely legal.
The state government announced it would open bidding on the construction of the Autopista del Bicentenario (Bicentenial Freeway), which would connect Guanajuato and San Miguel with 70 kilometers of roadway. Nevertheless, several residents of rural communities protested that the construction would irreversibly affect the tangible and intangible heritage of the area.
Bernabé González Silva, better known as el Támbula, passed away. For 32 years, he sold Atención as well as other news papers and magazines at the Jardín. He inherited that job from his father, who was a delivery man, but he decided to remain at the Jardín.
The local government announced the arrival of One Eighty, the second most important center for retirees in the United States. The company, it was said, would construct a retirement center in the city. The investment would be greater than 40 million dollars, which would energize the construction industry and generate 350 jobs in the end.
Inhabitants of El Atascadero living near the new housing development located on the edge of the Arroyo Atascadero denounced the development as ecologically destructive. Representatives from Inmobiliaria Cruz de San Miguel S.A. de C.V., in a meeting with Atención, made a complete presentation of the project in progress, showing copies of each federal, state and municipal permit for working in the area and noting that the official numbers of the documents have been posted at the entrance of the fraccionamiento. They said that if someone needs copies of the documents they must be requested from the authorities that issued them, because they cannot legally be forced to hand over copies to individuals.
Guanajuato governor Miguel Márquez Márquez visited the city and signed an agreement to contribute 10 million pesos toward the first stage of the arts center. Márquez commented that since the moment he heard of the project he was convinced of its great touristic potential and that it will be a space for expressing the life and feelings of San Miguel. Previously known as SMart (San Miguel Art), the Centro para las Artes Contemporáneas de San Miguel de Allende is a project involving both foreigners and Mexicans aimed at revitalizing the arts in the city. The art center will be located on the Road to la Cieneguita, next to the former train station, on 5.3 hectares of land; it will be developed in five phases. The first stage will cost 48 million pesos
Mayor Mauricio Trejo signed an agreement of collaboration with the Guanajuato Humans Rights attorney, Gustavo Rodríguez Junquera. This agreement was signed in order to train the traffic and security officers of San Miguel de Allende to respect human rights of the inhabitants and visitors in the city. Rodríguez Junquera said that 15 of the 400 complaints filed at that time at the state Human Rights Office have come from residents of San Miguel de Allende and most of them are for abuse of power by authorities.
The local administration filed a new criminal complaint against former mayor Luz María Núñez because of the misuse of nine million pesos. “And there will be more complaints,” remarked Jaime Labrada, the treasurer.
The Urban Development Department closed a property in colonia San Antonio where a cell-phone tower was being set up without permission. Later, those responsible tried to obtain authorization from the municipality, but they were denied based on the municipal plan of development.
Changes in the municipal administration continued. Jaime Martínez Tapia Sánchez was removed from the Oficialía Mayor Administrativa (Office of General Administration), and the post was taken by Alejandro Castro Raya. Luis Francisco López Chávez was appointed municipal comptroller without the approval of the city councilors from his own political party (National Action Party).
Ulises Valenzuela Delgado, president of SAPASMA (System of Potable Water and Sewers of San Miguel de Allende), said that in San Miguel 30 percent of water lines leading into residences are not registered with SAPASMA, and some of them have alledgedly been uncovered in housing developments such as El Secreto, Rincón del Cielo and El Encanto, properties of Raúl Araiza. The president said that there will be criminal complaints against those responsible. Later, Araiza’s attorney told Atención that they would sue the Valenzuela for slander. The clandestine water lines have not been proven to exist.
The state government opened bidding on the construction of the Autopista del Bicentenario and announced that it would start construction in January 2014 and would be operating in 2016. The controversy surrounding the damage that it would cause to the tangible and intangible heritage of indigenous communities continued. The secretary of Public Works, Arturo Durán, told Atención that the project was authorized and there would not be more changes.
The GIFF “festival that never left home” returned to San Miguel with screenings of more than 170 short and feature films. The GIFF featured Colombia as guest country and Latin-American premieres, as well as homage to Fernando Luján, Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky. The festival was held in the city after its departure in 2012, when because of the lack of support from the authorities the directors chose Guanajuato.
The 35th edition of the International Chamber Music Festival took place in the city, featuring the quartets Enso, Deadalus and Parker with pianist Shai Wosner, the Onix Ensemble and the Gryphont Trio. It also featured a multimedia projection entitled “Luminico,” which mixed live electronic music, light and video.
The House of Europe in Mexico opened its doors. The Foundation San Miguel de Allende A.C, signed an agreement with the local government that would allow them to start working on projects with European countries. Fernando Balderas, president of the organization, commented that in the short term they would start teaching languages of European countries. He also highlighted that this was the only house of Europe in Latin America.
Magdaleno Ramírez, president of the State Council for Indigenous Communities, went before the state authorities to hand over a letter stating that they are conscious of the benefits that the road could bring to San Miguel and the communities. “We have never been against it,” the letter stated, but made it clear that they were against the layout, because it crosses through some ceremonial spaces, schools and homes. This project, noted the letter, would destroy not only physical spaces but also traditions, which although they have been criticized have been preserved. They proposed a new drawing.
In order to educate the population on the importance of the hummingbird to ecology, besides its meaning for the ancient Mexican cultures, the First Hummingbird Festival was held in the city. The event featured films, lectures and workshops.
The IVA Impuesto al Valor Agregado (value-added tax) paid by residents in Mexico is 16 percent. A proposal by President Enrique Peña Nieto to reform the law included, among other things, imposing this tax on real-estate transactions, the sale of pets and pet food, chewing gum and sugary beverages (especially soft drinks) and private school tuitions. Ricardo Villarreal García, a federal legislator in the PAN party (Partido Acción Nacional) from San Miguel, said that if Congress approves this reform the PAN legislators might ask citizens to protest the changes. Finally, the reform was approved with some changes. The IVA in tuition was eliminated as well as that on real-estate transactions.
Indigenous peoples from more than 25 rural communities managed to temporarily cancel construction of the Autopista del Bicentenario. The lawsuit remains in progress.
Approximately 30 people participated in a demonstration against the installation of a cell tower in Atotonilco, in part because the construction of the base caused flooding of some properties. Édgar Bautista, director of the Urban Development Department, commented that the Civil Protection Department closed and protected the construction site. The General Direction of World Heritage Cities conducted an inspection and would hand over official information to the municipality in order to start a parallel legal process against those responsible, because the structure affected the visual image of the area appointed as a World Heritage site. The legal process for removing the cell tower is in progress.
The Police Department received an emergency call from Manjarrez de Mexiquito, where her housekeeper discovered Marcia Dworkin unconscious in her home and badly beaten. A strongbox had presumably been stolen from her house. Dworkin was air-lifted to Canada and passed away days later. The district attorney of Region D in San Miguel, René Urrutia, told Atención that they had been working on the case since the report was received and they had several lines of investigation. Urrutia said they would continue the investigation even if no relatives or residents followed up on this crime.
Mayor Mauricio Trejo gave his first government report. He highlighted the macro-projects that he began in the city, such as the convention center, the center for retirees, the improvement of the aerodrome and the project to turn San Miguel into a wine-producing region. He announced that the local administration already had 180 of the 200 needed hectares for the construction of an ecological park, which would not pollute the city or affect the urban image. That park, he said, would generate more than 3,000 jobs. The mayor remarked that during his administration there have been more festivals that attract tourism and those events, he noted, generated a gross revenue of 190 million pesos.
The first Fringe Festival in Latin America took place in San Miguel de Allende. It offered accessible performing arts for all audiences in unconventional venues. In its first edition, this new festival in the city had some competition from one of the most important cultural festivals in the country, the International Cervantino Festival, FIC. The Fringe featured plays such as Adios Carlota (Goodbye Carlota), which uses special effects and live piano music to help tell its story of the actions that led Empress Carlota to insanity, through the fragmentation of episodes of her life. One of the highlights of the festival was the show by Joey Arias, a New York icon who for more than 30 years has been a performance, cabaret and drag artist.
For the first time during Mauricio Trejo’s administration, the director of the Public Security Department held a meeting with members of the foreign community. In that meeting, the main demand from the attendees was more patrols as well as the hiring of bilingual police officers. The director, Arturo Yáñez, acknowledged the lack of bilingual agents but told Atención that they would hire bilingual operators for the 066 emergency system.
The new district attorney, René Urrutia, granted an interview to Atención. He commented that San Miguel is a place where there are things happening that need to be solved but assured us that San Miguel has the best conditions to be a safe city. Urrutia said that the Ministerio Público will keep working with commitment and responsibility in order to pursue justice for Guanajuatenses. He made it clear that the doors of his office are open to all those who want to talk with him.
A Canadian resident of San Miguel and her guests (from California) were attacked and the house robbed. The victim told Atención that the criminals jumped a wall and got into the house by breaking windows and stole electronic appliances. When the police officers arrived they found three of those responsible in a car with the stolen goods and captured two more men later. The criminals were handed over to the Ministerio Público and later were released on bail. The district attorney spoke to Atención and said that there was insufficient evidence to put them behind bars.
The Ecology Department stopped trimming trees in Parque Juárez and El Chorro, but it will resume in the future to maintain the safety of sanmiguelenses and some nearby buildings by pruning or removing damaged trees. The administration said that a tree was cut down because it was hollow and rotten. The employees of the Ecology Department pruned 46 ash trees, eight jacarandas, three laurels and two pirul and tule trees. Information from the department also stated that some changes were also made in other plantings to enhance the landscaping.
The Day of the Dead was celebrated in the city with catrina parades, visits to the cemeteries and altars across the city. The Calaca Festival featured small catrinas decorated by local and foreign artists and paid homage to singer Chavela Vargas.
In is 19th edition the Jazz and Blues Festival paid homage to Paul Simon. This festival is the oldest and most successful of its kind in Latin America.
A group of foreigners and nationals, residents in the city, under the name of Sanmiguelenses Unidos (United Sanmiguelenses), held a meeting with local and state authorities. In that meeting Mayor Trejo said that if there is no communication it would be impossible to follow a common direction in security matters. He made it clear that to measure the improvement in security it was important “to acknowledge where we were in the past,” before his administration took office. He compared the city to a sick body, which had cases of kidnapping (six high-profile), one attack with Molotov cocktails at a gas station, some people burned in a car, burglary of residences, as well as a drug cartel in the city. That body, he said, “is being healed.” He remarked that he is very concerned about matters of security in the city and is trying to the best of his ability to solve the crimes that have been reported in the city. District Attorney René Urrutia said that good communication between the Ministerio Público (MP) and residents is very important to improve security and instill tranquility, peace and harmony. He explained that the Public Security Department has the duty of preventing crime as well as arresting criminals, whereas the MP (a state office) is in charge of investigations. Urrutia also explained that not all criminals are incarcerated during the investigation process because of the new criminal justice system, which now presumes innocence rather than guilt, but in certain cases suspected criminals are detained.
San Miguel was elected as the World’s Best City by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. The award was handed over in New York City to Mayor Trejo by the editor at large of the magazine, Hanya Yanakihara. After receiving the award, Trejo dedicated it to the private sector and to sanmiguelenses. He also commented that now Guanjuato is the window to Mexico in the world and remarked that now Mexico was not just sun and sand, but also culture.
Federal legislator Ricardo Villarreal gave his first report of activities in the congress of the union. He remarked that the PAN federal legislators approved—to benefit the population—a labor reform as well as a tax reform, with some modifications. Along with his brother, Luis Alberto Villarreal, who is also a federal legislator, he was accused nationally of extortion. A mayor, who wanted to remain anonymous, declared to a national newspaper that the Villarreals were asking for 10 percent of the financial resources that they could get from the federal government for municipalities—money that should be invested in public works. Luis Alberto Villarreal told Atención that he would not reply to an anonymous accusation and remarked that the doors of the Ministerio Público were tall enough so those who wish to complain could fill out a criminal report.
The Ángela Peralta Theater was selected, thanks to work by the Department of Education and Culture, by the National Lottery for Public Assistance to appear on more than two million lottery tickets.
Édgar Bautista, director of the Urban Development Department, commented that façades in the historic center, made up of 32 blocks, were being restored with federal resources. The public servant also said that currently his department and the National Institute of Anthropology and History are conducting a study to determine the colors that could be allowed in the city in the future. That study has shown that San Miguel was once a multicolored city and the colors chosen for houses depended on the homeowner’s wealth, because some colors were more expensive to produce than others.