Mexico celebrated Independence Day without big public ceremonies for the first time in 153 years Tuesday night due to restrictions on public gatherings caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Each year, the president rings the bell that marked the call to arms during the 1810-1821 struggle to win independence from Spain, and shouts “Viva Mexico!” This time, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador did it to a quiet Zocalo before a select number of invited guests.
That shout, or “grito,” gives the ceremony its name. Independence Day is formally Sept. 16, but has been celebrated the night before for over a century.
The event has not been cancelled since 1847, during the Mexican-American War, when U.S. troops occupied Mexico City.
López Obrador usually has no problem with crowds and dislikes wearing face masks, but with over 668,000 cases and almost 71,000 deaths — the fourth-highest number in the world — the president apparently thought twice about packing the usual 100,000 rowdy revelers into Mexico City’s main square, known as the Zocalo.
“It is ceremony that you can watch on television,” López Obrador said Tuesday. “We can all participate from our homes.”
The coronavirus pandemic will be mentioned during the ceremony this year, he said. “We will remember the dead and their families,” he said, adding, “We are going to light a torch in the Zocalo, a torch of hope.”
Security has been so tight in the main plaza — soldier were dispatched to provide security and prevent gatherings — that it sparked a warning by church authorities that troops had “taken over” the area around the Roman Catholic Metropolitain Cathedral, which sits on the northern edge of the plaza. The Archdiocese later clarified that it had been a misinterpretation, and that worshippers would be allowed access to the cathedral.
The pain hasn’t been felt only in Mexico City.
Merida’s Plaza Grande was quiet and citizens watched on television or social media as Yucatan’s governor broadcast the traditional “grito” from the balcony of the governor’s palace. No fireworks display followed cries of “Viva Mexico!” this year.
Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco — the state famed for tequila and mariachis — had to cancel a decades-old Sept. 14 parade of “charros,” or Mexican cowboys, and said Independence Day “will be without gatherings or mass events, to keep us safe from COVID-19.”
Alejandro Murat, the governor Oaxaca, said the most patriotic thing people could do Tuesday is to stay home and wear face masks. Murat wrote that “it is important to care for our health and everybody else’s, and that is an excellent way to demonstrate our love for Mexico.”
Michoacan Gov. Silvano Aureolles, who himself is recovering from COVID-19, wrote that “this year we will celebrate our country’s liberty in a different way, to care for your health, that of your family and everybody else’s.”
With information from The Associated Press