Celebrating the dead while silencing the living

BP and the Mexican Government sponsor the Day of the Dead

A member of London Mexico Solidarity writes about why we’re gatecrashing the British Museum’s event tonight…

London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year's Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS
London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year’s Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS

You really couldn’t make it up. This week, BP and the Mexican government are co-sponsoring a four-day-long Day of the Dead festival at the British Museum. Both are trying to improve their public images by associating themselves with Mexico’s world-famous festival and London’s world-famous museum. But behind the sugar skulls and colourful shrines to the dead there is a much darker tale of greed, corruption, death and pollution. On Friday evening, the London-Mexico Solidarity group and BP or not BP? plan to crash BP and Mexico’s deadly party and expose the truth.

The event is part of a much bigger and extremely expensive marketing strategy: the Dual Year of UK and Mexico 2015. Officially described as ‘a year-long celebration of cultural, educational and business exchange’ between the two nations, the #UKMX2015 (as it is known) gives a false image of democracy and economic progress. Made possible through two decades of collaboration between the UK government and a succession of mercilessly corrupt Mexican politicians, today it is using art and culture to further its underlying aim: to allow Mexican oligarchs and transnational companies like BP to privatise previously state-owned companies, and get hold of natural resources.

This economic consortium can only thrive in an increasingly militarized Mexico, in which drug cartels collaborate with the government and foreign corporations to ensure their profits. This is worsening a humanitarian crisis that has already taken the lives of more than 151,000 people, and seen the disappearance of more than 25,700 people, and the forced migration of millions, while 80% of Mexicans are trapped in poverty.

London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year's Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS
London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year’s Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS

Hosting corruption

The British Museum has a long-standing relationship with Mexican politicians. Former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari raised millions of dollars with leading business figures in Mexico to open the ‘Mexico Gallery’ in 1994. In that very same year, the devastating NAFTA trade agreement took off, and de Gortari was involved in war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the state of Chiapas.[1]

The Museum also has a long-term relationship with BP, which has been a major sponsor for 20 years, and puts its brand on high-profile exhibitions from Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation to Vikings: Life and Legend. Campaigners from the Art Not Oil coalition have staged a series of performance protests at the museum, calling for the non-renewal of the current BP sponsorship deal when it expires in 2017.

BP has an even longer history of collaboration with corrupt Mexican governments. Indeed, another former president, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León – responsible for the Acteal,[2] Aguas Blancas[3] and el Charco massacres[4] – is today one of BP’s international advisors.[5]

The oil giant has been in the country over 50 years, and has a long-standing partnership with Pemex, the state-owned oil company. However, current president Peña Nieto’s controversial recent energy reforms have sparked attempts by BP and other international oil companies to dramatically expand their involvement in the country.

Energy privatisation

The ‘Energy Reform Act’,[6] passed in undemocratic circumstances by deputies and senators, essentially privatises Pemex and opens up vast swathes of Mexico to oil exploitation for the first time. The government is now actively encouraging foreign companies to come in and exploit, extract and transport oil, profiting from a tax haven and favourable royalties. They will enjoy total legal impunity when it comes to damaging the environment and aggravating Mexico’s political and humanitarian crisis.

In September, BP won its first bid to drill in shallow waters off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. But its main interest is in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, despite its responsibility for 2010’s Deepwater Horizon spill which was one of history’s most terrible environmental disasters. Neither the current nor the previous Mexican government has held BP to account for this. There has been no compensation for Mexican communities affected by the spill, including thousands of fishers. Some are now independently suing BP. Despite all this, BP is being allowed to bid to drill more deepwater wells in Mexico’s waters next spring.

BP is mainly investing in Mexico through its partnerships with Ienova, PanAmerican Energy, E&P Hidrocarburos and CFE. These and other oil and gas companies are not only pushing to introduce fracking and other destructive extraction techniques, they have also caused multiple conflicts with Indigenous and rural communities.[7]

The oil industry uses the Mexican state as an arm to repress public opposition. Peña Nieto is not only known for promoting privatization, but also for using the state to commit crimes in the interest of the rich and powerful. During his period as governor of the State of Mexico, he enhanced femicide and oppressed peaceful demonstrations in Atenco.[8] He is responsible for at least ten massacres during his period as president, where the practice of extortion, enforced disappearance and torture by state forces have become the normal techniques for suppressing all opposition to its reforms.

Bring back the students!

The Mexican embassy in the UK is also responsible for using public money to hide the political and economic crisis in Mexico, and for helping the government mislead the public in the case of the 43 missing students.[9] On September the 26th 2014, the municipal police of Iguala, Guerrero, conspired with organized criminals, the federal police, and the army, to attack students from the rural teacher-training college Raúl Isidro Burgos, in Ayotzinapa. Six people were killed, more than 20 injured, and 43 students were forcibly disappeared.

Peña Nieto ordered embassies to repeat the official version that the state had nothing to do with it, and to hide Mexico’s human rights crisis in order to attract foreign investors.

But thanks to world-leading forensic experts and to the intervention of the OEA (Organisation of American States), the lies told by the Mexican government about the case have been exposed. Peña Nieto, and all those who have been misleading the investigation and giving a false image of Mexico have been shown to be responsible for this crime of the state.

Respect migrants

The British Museum’s Day of the Dead festival will include a shrine to migrants. This is deeply ironic given the tragedies that Central American migrants are facing when they encounter the Mexican authorities. Rape and torture are as common as water in a situation where many children have died in their attempts to cross the border.

Today, Mexico is increasing the deportation of migrants, in some cases even returning more migrants than the USA.[10] The San Fernando massacre of 72 immigrants is a reminder of the treatment that migrants receive in Mexico, and the total impunity that goes along with it.

Decolonise the British Museum!

We would like to see the British Museum stop collaborating with BP, which seeks to destroy ecosystems and human life for profit. It must also stop partnering with the Mexican government until there is peace and accountability in Mexico. And it must stop benefiting from making Mexico seem exotic, while omitting any mention of its past and current struggles against the state and private companies.

We can only create better relationships between our countries if we decolonise our institutions completely, here and there. The British Museum and other cultural institutions will continue to be agents of colonisation until they stop taking decisions about cultural collaborations on behalf of communities without their input. Communities should be allowed to take these decisions. Museums are not companies but public spaces. Visitors are not consumers but citizens.

In protesting against this partnership between BP, the Mexican government and the British Museum, we recognise it is connected to many other struggles.

We stand in solidarity with migrants trying to come to the UK and Europe, and the migrants crossing Mexico. We stand in solidarity with all those who are fighting transnational companies and oil development in Mexico. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities everywhere who are defending nature, and fighting against pillage, land-grabs and pollution.

We also stand in solidarity with museum staff fighting against privatisation, trying to achieve greater collaboration between communities and museums, and who want to get rid of BP as a sponsor. Together, we can crash this deadly party, and take a stand for the living. This is the other #UKMX2015.


The Day of the Dead celebrations at the British Museum will take start with a free party on Friday 30th October from 6.30pm – 9.30pm. London Mexico Solidarity and the theatrical action group BP or not BP? will be taking creative action at the party, and invite anyone who is interested to join them – see https://www.facebook.com/events/1199456966736429/



[1] This is according to the EZLN. But the problem is that: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/1995/12/14/demanda-de-juicio-historico-contra-carlos-salinas-de-gortari-y-sus-complices/

[2] Visit: http://acteal.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/pronunciamiento-conjunto-del-foro.html

More info here: http://aristeguinoticias.com/tag/zedillo-y-acteal/

See also the OEA: http://search.oas.org/en/iachr/default.aspx?k=Acteal&s=CIDH

[3] ‘Further undermining the credibility of Zedillo’s commitment to prosecute those responsible for the Acteal massacre is the outcome of the investigation into the June 1995 Aguas Blancas massacre in the state of Guerrero. In that instance, state police ambushed and shot to death 17 unarmed peasants belonging to an opposition group. Though the incident was videotaped and the Supreme Court found evidence that the police had acted on orders from Gov. Ruben Figueroa Alcocer, Figueroa was never charged.

Zedillo has also ignored two recommendations by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, both of which could help keep Mexico from drifting further into civil conflict. One is to reopen the case of the 1994 execution of civilians from the Ejido Morelia in Chiapas. An independent inquiry would put the army on notice that improper treatment of civilians will no longer go unpunished.’ http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jan/04/opinion/op-4817/2 Zedillo was actually law suited, but a court dismissed the case in 2014: http://eleconomista.com.mx/sociedad/2014/10/06/corte-suprema-eu-desecho-demanda-contra-zedillo; there’s an interesting reflection here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/21/comment.commentanddebate

[4] See also this long piece: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=384938

[5] Zedillo is the advisor of British Petroleum through Everis and through PRISA. This was poorly documented by La Jornada.

See: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2015/04/03/politica/009n1pol

[6] See for instance Nobel-prize winner, Stiglitz, warning about the reform: http://aristeguinoticias.com/2808/mexico/el-diablo-esta-ahi-en-los-detalles-joseph-stiglitz-sobre-reforma-energetica/

And also about TTP http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2015/10/03/mundo/018a1mun

[7] See for instance: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2015/03/06/politica/024n1pol

Many conflicts between indigenous and rural communities and the land can be traced using this tool: http://www.grieta.org.mx/palabras-del-ezln/

[8] I recommend the video, ‘Breaking the Siege’, for more information: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ae9_1354885922

[9] The case of Ayotzinapa should always include the info of GIEI: http://prensagieiayotzi.wix.com/giei-ayotzinapa Thanks to this group, and national and international preassure, the government’s lies are falling apart.

[10] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/nacion/seguridad/2015/10/14/mexico-supera-eu-en-cifra-de-deportaciones-de-migrantes. In only 8 months, the USA detained 22869 underage people trying to cross the border (http://www.milenio.com/internacional/EU-menores-acompanante-frontera-ultimos_0_534546544.html). It is estimated that around 140,000 migrants cross the border between Mexico and Guatemala trying to get to the USA (http://mexico.cnn.com/nacional/2014/08/18/mexico-sabia-del-aumento-de-ninos-migrantes-desde-hace-dos-anos-cidh)

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