Hardly a day has gone by in the past month without the local press running a front-page panic story–sometimes two or three–warning of an impending invasion of what are routinely called globalifobicos, or globaphobes. A favorite international convention site, Cancún will host the Fifth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference on September 10-14, and something like 20,000 people are expected to stage a series of protests and marches–demonstrations the local tabloids giddily predict will turn into a south-of-the-border version of the 1999 Battle of Seattle [see Tania Molina Ramírez, page 18].
The protest agenda is long and complex, but the demonstrators can all agree on one point: Cancún itself is one of the world’s most dramatic showcases of the gross inequities of the global economic system. The WTO–the controversial agency that sets the rules of international trade–certainly didn’t intend it to be this way. But when the demonstrators are asked by reporters why they’re rallying and marching, they’ll be able simply to point to the city around them. “Cancún is a prime example of a type of foreign investment and a type of development without any rules to protect the work force, the environment, or to guarantee public services,” says Fernanda Castejon of the Mexico office of the antihunger group Oxfam. “Cancún is everything that should not be done when it comes to economic models. If the goals of an expanded WTO are ever achieved, the world will be full of Cancúns.”
It’s not only the widening gulf between rich and poor that’s on vivid display in Cancún. In an ironic twist, some of the wealthier “haves”–the same entrepreneurs who have long profited from Cancún’s rich natural resources and cheap and abundant labor–now also find themselves threatened by the hurricane forces of globalization.
This beach resort of 100 luxury hotels crowded onto a narrow thirteen-mile sandbar sits strategically perched on the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, making it the Caribbean tourist destination most accessible to the greatest number of US cities. That’s no doubt the primary reason Mexican government planners conducting computerized surveys chose this site for tourist development thirty-five years ago–a time when Cancún was uninhabited swamp, everglade and jungle.
Now drawing almost 3 million visitors a year to its white sands, 85-degree turquoise seas and no-rules cantinas, this city that was built from scratch is the most popular vacation spot in Mexico. While still a distinct minority among the visitors, the number of domestic–Mexican–tourists continues to grow. One reason is rapidly falling hotel prices. But other cultural observers say, wryly, that the reason for Cancún’s increasing popularity among Mexicans is that coming here is sometimes the easiest, no-hassle way for Mexicans to “leave Mexico” for a weekend or so.