Guanajuato City is the capital of the state with the same name. The city has many affluent Spanish casas and public buildings attributed to the areas mining interests. The mines still account for a large percentage of the states GDP today with silver being the highest producing ore. Many of the mines are owned by Canadian companies and workers are none too happy about the way they have been treated. In 2010 there was a strike against Gammon Gold over unfair treatment of its workers. The company reacted by firing all of the 397 unionized workers. The union fought back by locking down the equipment preventing contract workers from being brought in. The strike lasted 9 months and in the end the company was ordered by the labour board to pay 100% of the striking workers salaries through this period as well as 90 days additional pay. This is a powerful statement attesting to how exploitive foreign companies treat second world workers. When Mexican companies ran the mines workers benefited along with owners through profit sharing. The Mexican owners also donated contributions and building materials to construct local schools and churches. Safety conditions also declined under the Canadian company with 10 deaths occurring over a 6 year period. This example shows the difficulties that unions face in dealing with foreign interests especially considering the Mexican government’s determination to cater to wealthy multi-nationals at all costs.
The most unique aspect of the city are the network of underground tunnels running underneath the city. The city was originally constructed above an underground river. Tunnels were built to assist the flow of the river and prevent flooding. In the mid-twentieth century, engineers built a dam to redirect the water into caverns. The tunnels have since been lit and paved with cobblestones to accommodate automobile traffic. I spent approximately half my time in Guanajuato horribly lost in these tunnels praying that I would again see daylight.
To the west of the city are ancient catacombs where bodies were interred vertically and, for some unknown reason, 1% have experienced natural mummification. Between 1865 and 1958 some of the bodies were exhumed when relatives could not pay a city instituted burial tax. The mummified bodies were placed on public display in a purpose built museum. Bodies are still added to the museum to this day. Two children who died in 1984 were recently added when their families could not pay the tax. Today the museum is called El Museo De Las Momias and the ticket revenues provide a big boost to city coffers. Super creepy (especially the baby mommies) but I couldn’t resist a look.