former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to install his draconian antipoor people’s “Zero Tolerance” police policies here. But the Centro Historic may soon be rid of its poorest residents without Giuliani. Perhaps 20,000 central-city slum dwellers who continue to inhabit approximately 850 vecindadesrows of one-room hovels grouped around a common courtyardare now threatened with mass evictions. A rent freeze that has endured since World War II and kept vecindad rents as low as 50 cents a monthif they were collected at all was vacated by the city’s legislative assembly last January, and long, painful eviction processes loom for the largely elderly tenants, particularly so if the new rescue effort proves a success and the Centro Historic becomes a hot property again. Indeed, the vecindades are already being transformed into commercial goldmines. On Mesones Street, once known as Flophouse Row, eager young entrepreneurs have moved the residents out and established a mini-mall that now houses two restaurants \(not franhead shop with a huge selection of hemp products, and a much-needed neighborhood laundromat. Another ominous sign for lowincome residents: commercial real estate in the Centro Historic is now being negotiated in dollars, an arrangement legitimized under the North American Free Trade Agreement that brought such yanqui real estate dynamos as ColdwellBanker and Century 21 to Mexico. Nonetheless, the potential boom is tempered by the old neighborhood’s decay. Despite the projected spruce-up, the interiors of many structures are crumbling-1,500 teetering historical monuments threaten collapse at any given moment. One cause is the eternal, infernal traffic: 350,000 mostly gasoline-powered vehicles move through the Centro daily. Their emissions stain the surfaces of the precious old structures and their vibrations undermine ancient foundations. One obvious solution is to bar the cars and turn the streets into pedestrian walkways, but many merchants remain resolutely opposed. “The ambulantes will turn the walkways into street markets,” predicts Carlos Diez, proprietor of a popular downtown cafe, referring to the thousands of street venders who descend on the neighborhood daily to hawk their wares on the cluttered sidewalks For a reporter who has lived in the Centro Historic for 17 years, this fecund old quarter continues to be a source of much fascination. Behind industrial doors, one discovers colonial the walls of public markets, and lunch times are always a culinary treasure hunt. Small white hand-painted tiles designate the birthplace of Chuchu El Roto, the fabled Mexican Robin Hood, and “The former House of Demented Women.” But it is beneath the street where the real treasures are to be found. In 1978, workmen laying electricity lines under the sinking Metropolitan Cathedral came across remnants of the Templo Mayor, twin temples of the Aztec sun and rain deities that centered the culture’s cosmography, and the site has blossomed into a museum complex on one corner of the great ZOcalo plaza. Construction of the subway system under the central city yielded a bonanza of artifacts. In fact, each new project threatens to obliterate an older patrimony. Discovery of a cache of offerings and a shrine to Tlahuac, the rainmaker, has halted construction on the Casa de Las Aljaracas, the proposed new residence for Mexico City’s mayor \(Lopez Obrador has refused to take up lodgGuatemala #18 where the Spanish government is putting the finishing touches on a brand-new cultural center to be inaugurated this November by King Carlos and Queen Sofia.The con struction rush worries investigators from the National Anthropology and obligated to watchdog every Centro Historic construction projectthe INAH investigators have dug up an ancient rubber ball on the site used in the Aztec ritual game of pelota and believe a pelota court to be under the new center. Similarly, the recent street digs to install new drainage lines have turned up fresh finds, including a portion of a wall that once surrounded the ZOcalo when it was a sacred Aztec precinct. At the height of this past rainy season, a four-story building, overlooking a celebrated row of used book shops on Donceles Street, suddenly came tumbling down with a great woosh \(merciA block away, behind her desk in an elegant old colonial building that serves as the city archives, Ana Lilia Cepeda heard that woosh as a wake-up call. “We’re racing against the clock to rescue the Centro HistOrico,” she tells me. In the end, though, the physical rescue of the old quarter may be a lot easier than saving this crumbling neighborhood from the transnational real estate speculators poised to pounce when the price is right. “Carlos Slim and his friends are trying to run us out of the Centro HistOrico,” complained Juan Acevedo of the Indigenous Artisans Movement venders on downtown streetsas he and 150 associates blocked traffic in front of City Hall one day in October. “He forgets this is still the Gran Tenochtitlan, our home.” John Ross, author of The War Against Oblivion, the eight-year saga of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, has lived in the Centro HistOrico since the great earthquake of 1985, and worries about its future. He is currently on the road in California searching forfunds to underwrite his survival as an investigative reporter in Mexico. 11/22/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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