Fishing for Peje: The Search for Mexico's Living Dinosaur

Reyes likes eating peje, but doesn't fish. "It's risky," he says. Carmen Hernandez, a 72-year-old fisherman gave up going out in the boats and now just sells peje at the market clarified, "they're not aggressive... just when they're in the net they get mad."

* * *

Speaking quickly and confidently as his timeslot expires, Enrique Peña Nieto, the young front-running candidate, with his black hair combed and gelled, looks directly towards the camera and says, "It's the moment to take the road to peace and growth."

The moderator interrupts. "Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has the floor, get on with it, Andres Manuel," he says, shuffling his papers on the table in front of him.

Lopez Obrador  with his gray hair swept to the side and his tan tie fastened awkwardly under his loose fitting white shirt, looks out at the cameras.

"Good evening," he says, swaying from side to side slowly, his mouth hanging slightly open during the break between his sentences. "We're just a few days away from," he pauses to lick his lips, "achieving a great transformation to the public life of [this] country." His mouth cracks open into a barely perceptible smile.

"For the good of all and the glory of Mexico," he continues, nodding his head slowly and pushing his hands in front of his body.

"It's going to be a TRANQUIL change...with ORDER," he says, snapping his neck and enunciating his words.

* * *

Just before midnight on July 1, after the preliminary vote count, as Peña Nieto celebrated his victory inside his party's headquarters, Lopez Obrador, his face bloated, his eyes puffy, stood alone in front of a podium and slowly and slowly adjusted the microphone.

"The posture that I assume," he said, pausing and looking down at his notes, "is that of -- " he paused again, jerking his head backwards. "Waiting," he finished, nodding his head.

A few of people in the audience clapped their hands.

Behind the podium, a splotchy banner announced, "Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador  PRESIDENTE: 2012-2018."

* * *

On July 7, tens of thousands protesters marched down one of the main streets in Mexico City, calling the country's recent presidential election a fraud, and denouncing the return of Peña Nieto's party, the PRI.

The crowd, forcing its way down a main avenue towards the main plaza in Mexico City's center, chants "no more fraud!!!" One marcher holds up a sign that called the IFE, the "Electoral Fraud Institute."

Newspapers, on sale on the sidewalk stands and convenience stores alongside Reforma Avenue, explain that Mexico's election regulator has confirmed that Peña Nieto received 38 percent of the vote. Lopez Obrador, "El Peje" from Tabasco, garnered only 31 percent of the vote.

In the crowd, a band of teenagers with spiked and gelled hair and black clothing hold up flags that display the logo of the anarchist movement.

One protester holds up a sign that says, "In a Dictatorship Revolution is a Right."

"Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!" the crowd chants.

* * *

Although the PAN and the PRI are increasingly swimming in parallel, proposing nearly identical economic platforms, Lopez Obrador has led his supporters in a different direction. While both the PAN and the PRI have co-opted the type of ambitious social programs traditionally promoted by left-wing parties, Lopez Obrador has refused to change his economic arguments to account for Mexico's evolution. Over the last twenty years, the country's economy has shifted away from inefficient protectionism and become an exporter of aerospace technology, vehicles, telecom equipment, and engineering services. During an interview in his office, Hector Murgia, the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, an industrial city that sits just south of the Texas border, told me that Juarez used to be a destination for "the poorest of the poor" who came north from isolated towns and cities in underdeveloped parts in southern and central Mexico to find work in factories along the border. "Now," he said, "the city focuses on heavy and semi-heavy industries."

PEJE 5-200.jpg.jpg(Nathaniel Flannery)

Mexico is now competing in global markets in a number of high-tech export sectors. Mexico's economy grew by 5.5 percent in 2010, the fastest rate of growth in a decade. In 2011 and 2012 Mexico reported higher GDP growth than Brazil, a country that has long been viewed as the economic juggernaut of Latin America. Inequality and poverty, two of Mexico's oldest and most entrenched problems, have not been eliminated, but the fact that two thirds of the electorate voted for the PRI and the PAN, two parties with similarly orthodox economic platforms, should serve as an indicator that most voters are optimistic about the potential of the country's current economic policies. Christopher Sabatini, a Latin America researcher from the Americas Society, a think-tank in New York, explained that the 2012 election result "basically signals the extent to which a large segment of Mexican voters are comfortable with the gains they have made in recent years and don't want to risk uncertainty and potential economic upheaval which [Lopez Obrador] represented to many."

After two failed presidential bids, Lopez Obrador is still fighting against the currents of popular opinion. In 2006 after narrowly losing the presidential election, Lopez Obrador called his supporters out into the streets. He staged a similar protest in 2012. On August 31, 2012 Mexico's electoral court dismissed Lopez Obrador's complaint of electoral fraud. "There is no proof of vote-buying, there is no proof of coercion," Judge Flavio Galvan Rivera told the tribunal. Lopez Obrador  refused to accept the tribunal's decision, calling the judges "people without conviction." A few days later, he announced that he was breaking ties with his party, the PRD, to form his own political movement. "We are fighting for ideals...It is a matter of honor," he said. In November 2012, a few weeks before Peña Nieto took office, Lopez Obrador told a Mexican journalist, "the citizens are going to keep helping. There are a lot [of people] who want a real change and know that there are no options in the PRI [and] the PAN."

"El Peje" has written a new book. It is called Don't Say Goodbye to Hope.

* * *

Don Lupe shows the white scars on his hands. They remind him that the lazy Peje fish can be dangerous once it is pulled out of the water. Out in an open lagoon, as the sunlight peeks through a pink corner of the horizon, breaking the darkness, we come to a stop, resting against a stick that has been planted deep into the lake´s muddy bottom. Don Lupe, who injured his leg playing baseball 30 years ago, grips the green net and pulls it in. "It's 75 meters," long he explains as he works. A 15-inch-long silver fish drops into the boat. Don Lupe yanks in the net, pulling it up into the boat in smoothly, deliberately. Tangled in the nylon strings, small, black, fish wriggle at his feet.

There's no peje in the net. Don Lupe hasn't caught a big one in two weeks. He keeps pulling, standing carefully in the narrow boat. Finally, a two-foot long fish flops heavily onto the skiff's floor, its bright white belly visible in the low light.

"It´s a peje," Don Lupe says, the corners of his mouth curling into an almost imperceptible smile. "It´s fresh, but dead," he says. He pulls the net in.

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Nathaniel Parish Flannery is a Mexico City based writer who has worked on projects in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, India, China and Chile and written articles for Forbes, The World Policy Journal, The Nation, The Global Post, and Lapham's Quarterly.

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