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Firing of Skyrockets Must Be Respected

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

During the early morning of October 4, like every year, San Miguel de Allende will celebrate its patron saint, San Miguel Arcángel, with a blend of skyrockets, fireworks, prayers, and dances in the trraditional Alborada (dawn celebration).

More than 300 thousand skyrockets are set off annually in this city. A letter recently published online is attempting to get signatures to request that local authorities stop the fireworks. The letter states that San Miguel is now Mexico’s noisiest city. Although there are no regulations related to gunpowder and fireworks, the local administration has taken a stand.

The petition

The online document states that firing skyrockets on Sunday morning is not well accepted by Mexicans nor by other residents in the city. It also notes that setting off fireworks is unnecessary and purposeless, and the noise is very dangerous to the health and well-being of many inhabitants. The letter assures that fireworks cause devaluation of homes, mostly those situated in the neighborhoods impacted by the noise: “It damages tourism and has a negative impact on San Miguel’s reputation as the world’s best city to live in.” This document states several supposed reasons why rockets are set off and finishes by saying that it is time to ask local authorities to intensify efforts to protect the health and welfare of all San Miguel by not allowing small groups of individuals “to damage life in this wonderful city.”

Municipal regulation

Felipe Cohen, director of the Civil Protection Department, commented that in 2013 more than 400,000 fireworks were set off in the city, making it clear that this was respecting approved schedules, which normally begin at 6:30am and end at 10:30pm. This applies only to the urban area. Cohen said that the government does not fight the traditions but supports them. For that reason, the duty of his department is to try to keep the population safe by applying local regulation to this matter.

The regulation of the Civil Protection of San Miguel de Allende was recently published in the official state paper. In its second section is a part dealing with explosives and fireworks that is targeted to protect the people’s buildings and their own personal safety. Independent of the quantity of gunpowder, article 85 of the regulation states that all those in charge of festivities, along with those who sell the fireworks, must request a permit for firing powder 15 days before firing it. If the permit is granted, the fireworks must be stored, transported, and fired by the professionals who sold them.

Those against the tradition will face a closed door

Mayor Mauricio Trejo spoke to Atención and made it clear that expatriates are respected in San Miguel like any other citizens because they are part of the community. Moreover, he stated that if a request to do away with fireworks is addressed to the city council, it will be received like any other. Nevertheless, he observed that traditions like the fireworks have been in the city for a long time, even before the arrival of those who want to eliminate them, “before I was born, and even before many of our grandparents were born.” The skyrockets, he said, “will keep taking Sanmiguelenses’ prayers to heaven.” Trejo added that the city council’s stand will be clear, and it will be in support of the local traditions.

Previously Atención had asked the opinion of some Sanmiguelenses about the topic. These were their answers:

Eleazar Romero, lawyer and traditionalist

The firing off of fireworks is a tradition that dates from the 16th century, and it is an expression of feelings, like happiness for the festivities, but it also means purification for the city to release it from evil. The fireworks were brought to the territory by the conquerors, and at that time, the natives wanted to find a way to connect with God. They found it in the fireworks. In some cases the fireworks are used to attract the rain. The city is renowned for its happiness and the sound of fireworks.

Those who want to fight against tradition do not have to talk with the local authorities but with the Secretariat of National Defense, which authorizes the burning of powder. Those who are annoyed because of the sound “can use ear plugs” because in San Miguel, we are going to defend our traditions, and the local government supports them.

Gloria Navarrete, dance teacher

Setting off fireworks is an ancient and long-established tradition. To eliminate it will be impossible. The topic has been discussed several times, and it has not succeeded because people oppose (the change). If somebody does not like the noise, he can look for another place to live.

Soledad Hernández, captain of an Aztec dance group from colonia San Antonio

Sanmiguelenses are the ones who make the decisions. Not even the presidents have been able to suppress the tradition. The favor of suppressing the tradition must come from God, not from groups of foreigners or from the authorities.

Alex Rojas, pre-Hispanic dancer

Their petition will not succeed because Sanmiguelenses are accustomed to the noise.

We love and participate in our traditions.

Natividad Jaramillo, captain of an indigenous dance group from El Valle

We do not go to other countries or cities to try to change their traditions. They wouldn’t even pay attention to us. They will not succeed.

Marisol Vidargas, member of the Tradicionalistas group

Be they Mexican or expats, all of them come to the city and fall in love with it. But when they move, they want to change what they do not like. I am surprised about these comments because fireworks are part of San Miguel. Sometimes the noise is harmful. I understand that, but I do not know anyone who is against the tradition. Those who do not like the noise can look for another place to live.

The letter points to some of the “so-called” reasons for firing off the fireworks and ends stating that it is time to ask the local authorities to intensify efforts against this type of activity for the protection of the health and tranquility of all in San Miguel de Allende.

The local administration schedules times for setting off these fireworks in the urban area. It starts at 6:30am and ends at 10:30pm, except for the Alborada (dawn celebration) that takes place yearly at 4am, and special events.

Federal regulation

Currently burning gunpowder in any presentation is regulated by the Federal Law of Guns and Explosives, and the SEDENA (Secretariat of National Defense) is in charge of applying it. That law advises how to control the sale, transportation, and storage of guns and gunpowder in general, but it does not specify the effects of burning it on health or how to control the burning of fireworks. Actually it does not mention the word “fireworks.” The law was published and came into force on January 23, 1972. The last reform was published in the same paper on January 23, 2004. The State of Mexico produces more than 50 percent of the gunpowder in the country, and it is the only state in the country that has a department in charge of the firing, storage, production, and sale of products that contain powder—the Mexican Institute of Fireworks.

In March 2010, federal legislators of the PRI party (Revolutionary Institutional Party) presented the federal congress with an initiative to approve the first law for controlling the use, sale, storage, transportation, and distribution of the powder. The initiative also included punishment for breaking this law that went from one to two years of prison or a fine from 50 to 200 days of minimum salary (3,100 or 12,400 pesos approximately) for not respecting it.

In the end, the law was not approved and was forgotten although it was a very complete document that included a classification of the fireworks in categories like civil use for religious, civic, and recreational use—as well as technical use in agriculture, industry, meteorology, and rescue. The law also classified fireworks according to their danger levels, from one to three. Those of very low, low, and medium risk  could be fired in closed (one and two) and open areas. Those of high risk included all skyrockets and fireworks displays, among others.

In addition, the law also included the forms and requirements for buying, selling, or firing fireworks. The initiative included a part with advice for protecting citizens from the burning fireworks in the open.

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