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

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.

Back on the shore, Don Lupe puts on white rubber boots and a leather glove and starts pulling the fish out from the openings in the net, using an awl that he keeps on a string around his neck to help him. One at a time, he pulls out the carcasses of several dozen dark fish and hurls them back into the lagoon. "Devil fish," he explains.

The peje lies stomach-up in the net. Don Lupe holds up the fish, still wrapped in a web of nylon strings. It weighs "a kilo and a half," he says.

He pauses, pulling the strands of the net over the fish's slimy red fins, looking at the peje's rough scales and alligator mouth. The fish is still and its sharp teeth are clamped shut. "Sometimes they really move when they are in the boat," Don Lupe says. "A big pejelargarto is so dangerous it can hurt your stomach. One bit me in the leg... it really hurt," he adds.

PEJE 4-200.jpg.jpg(Nathaniel Flannery)

He slips a long strip of tree bark into the fish's gill and hangs it over a tree branch. A man named Moses in an orange t-shirt walks by, "how lucky you are to find one, and such a beautiful one," he comments. "Will you sell it?" he asks Don Lupe.

"Well yeah," Don Lupe says.

"How much does it weigh?" Moses asks.

"More than a kilo," Don Lupe responds.

The vendors in the city will pay him 50 pesos for it, about four U.S. dollars. Until fish farms start winning over consumers, Don Lupe and his peers will continue to serve as the sole suppliers for the Pino Suarez market. The peje, so important to Tabasco's culture and so woefully unable to fight off attackers, will continue to try and fend for itself.

Don Lupe sits on the side of his skiff and nods at his catch for the day. "I thought there weren't any big ones [now]. It's a rarity," he says.

Meanwhile, "El Peje," Lopez Obrador, continues to contest the election results and fight for his place in Mexico's history.

"He's still a tough guy. He still might get to triumph. Anything's possible," Don Lupe says. Smiling, he lets out a slow, quiet laugh.

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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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