A citizens group has filed legal appeals and staged demonstrations in an attempt to stop Wal-Mart from building a megastore near the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan, about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City.
The massive store, which would carry the logo of Bodega Aurrera, one of Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiaries, would be visible from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest Pre-Columbian stone pyramid in the Western Hemisphere.
Teotihuacan was a thriving city of 150,000 people about 2,500 years ago. At its core is a large religious and ceremonial complex, which includes several temples, the Avenue of the Dead, and the pyramids of the sun and moon. No one knows why, but around 700 AD, Teotihuacan’s population disappeared. The ancient city was discovered and named by the Aztecs about 600 years later.
Today, only the core religious complex is fully protected. Wal-Mart is building on farmland in a “buffer” zone adjacent to the protected area, less than a mile from the Pyramid of the Sun. Wal-Mart’s private archeologist insists that only a few isolated artifacts have been found on the construction site. The company says an unearthed altar will be displayed under Plexiglas in the store’s parking lot.
“We don’t want to prostitute our national symbols for the betterment of a corporation,” declared Emanuel D’Herrera, a school teacher and member of the opposition group, the Civic Front to Defend the Teotihuacan Valley.
Opponents contend the megastore will not only harm the ancient site, but will destroy local shops and open-air markets in surrounding towns and exacerbate the sprawl that is already creeping up from Mexico City.
The Civic Front has filed criminal and civil complaints alleging that local authorities acted improperly in approving the store. They accuse officials of corruption and note that the store was approved without a public hearing.
The Civic Front has also petitioned the National Council for Culture and the Arts to review the legality of the project. In 1993 and 1997, the group employed a similar strategy and succeeded in having two partially constructed shopping centers not far from the Wal-Mart site demolished.
But opponents concede they are waging an uphill battle. Wal-Mart won the necessary approvals from the city council and the National Institute of Anthropology and History, and construction is already well underway.
“We are prepared to take drastic measures, but sadly there are people living near the pyramids who support the store, because they say it represents progress,” said Lorenzo Trujillo, head of the Civic Front.
Wal-Mart has 650 stores in Mexico and ranks as the country’s largest retailer and largest private employer.