Every day hundreds of peddlers of trinkets, crafts, and other objet de turista flood the archaeological zone at Chichen Itza, begging visitors to the site to buy their wares.
But rather than being a ragtag group of individuals, the “vendedores” are organized and of late have been flexing their political muscle.
Over the winter, the state and federal governments made noises about evicting the vendedores, who responded by holding a demonstration at the entrance to Chichen Itza and blocking roads. These tactics forced the government to enter into discussions with the leaders of the vendedores.
All was going well until March 30, when the vendedores called for a meeting and no one from the government showed up. The next day, Federica Sodi Miranda, the director of INAH, the federal agency in Yucatan that oversees the ruins of Chichen Itza, reportedly resigned.
According to Villevaldo Pech Moo, the former INAH director at Chichen Itza and today the legal representative of the vendedores, a new meeting has been called for April 17, and he hopes government authorities will be “más sensibles”–“more sensible”–about resolving the conflict with the vendedores.
Pech Moo told reporters that he believes that INAH will have named its new director for Yucatan by the time of the meeting. The reason the former director left INAH, he said, was because she refused to take any action to move forward with expropriation of Chichen Itza from one of the site’s private owners, Hans Thies Jurguen Barbachano.
Much of the Chichen Itza archaeological zone is owned by the Barbachano family, which bought it in 1944 from the heirs of the previous owner, American Edward Thompson. The federal government has been exploring options to acquire the property, including expropriation, that is, the action by a state to take property or to change the rights of the owners of property.
The word “expropriation” is a red flag to nations outside Mexico. In the late 1930s Mexico expropriated the oil industry within its borders, removing it from American and European ownership and paying only pennies on the dollar. As a result, Mexico regained its biggest resource, but it made it harder to attract investment by foreign interests which feared the government would expropriate again. Today, this fear has been somewhat allayed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which specifically outlines remedies for expropriation, including payment by Mexico of full value of property or rights it takes (similar to the US version of expropriation, “eminent domain”).
According the Pech Moo, the vendedores are considering suing Sodi Miranda and her former boss, Alfonso de María y Campos Castelló, the director general of INAH for all Mexico, for “negligencia” by failing to pursue expropriation.