"Attention!" read hastily written notices posted around the city last week by self-styled housewives' unions. "Don't buy anything on Aug. 30 and 31, 1982. Let's see the shops and markets empty and all Mexicans united for the first time."
But as today wore on, people began showing up in stores throughout the city, and the symbolic protest against Mexico's dramatically rising prices failed. It was clear that Mexico was not going to heed the call to protest, regardless of widespread frustrations caused by the fall of the peso and by the inflation rate that has soared to more than 60 percent.
But many people were united in their concern about the future and in their desire to place the blame for the current economic crisis.
Mexico, with an oil-fueled economy that was tied to an ambitious development plan financed by major international loans, has been caught by the fall in prices and demand for oil. The government moved this month to try to bring the situation under control by asking for a 90-day postponement in its foreign debt. It also froze dollar accounts in Mexican banks and imposed exchange controls.
The resulting economic chaos has reached to the individual level as the prices of many basic items, including staples such as tortillas, bread and gasoline, have doubled since the beginning of August and tensions have risen in the country. The buyers' strike today failed after a massive consumer panic yesterday when shoppers fearing food shortages and still-higher prices picked many stores clean.
This is the eve of President Jose Lopez Portillo's last state of the union address before leaving office on Dec. 1, as Mexican presidents have been doing every six years since 1934. It is traditionally a time of self-evaluation, more than a little jingoism, and, for at least the last two presidential terms, anxious talk of plots and coups.
But the seriousness of the economic crisis has emotions running higher than usual, and the reaction by the press and the government to any attempt at protest or criticism is increasingly short-tempered.
By early afternoon today newspapers were proclaiming "The Boycott Fails." Many in the news media were denouncing "antipatriotic" rumor mongers, and talk of a "destabilization" campaign against the Mexican government continued to grow.
The president of the Confederation of Small Merchants was quoted in a financial tabloid this morning calling organizers of any boycott "enemies of the fatherland" and adding that "these rumors are assaults on our social peace."
Some editorialists have likened the attempt to mount a consumer strike to U.S.-sanctioned actions that led to the overthrow of an elected communist government in Chile and the establishment of a dictatorship there almost a decade ago.
Accounts of Mexico's problems in the U.S. press are bitterly criticized by Mexican officials and the Mexican news media. They say the stories are part of an effort to undermine the governmental system and are written because Mexico disagrees with Washington over its policy toward Central America.
Columnist Manuel Buendia, in response to an ABC television documentary that reported on widespread graft in Mexico, said "part of the program was aimed at demonstrating that Mexico is a country as corrupted as the United States."
Washington's policies certainly do have effects on the economy here. But one of the most serious problems would seem almost impossible to control.
Some diplomats call this phenomenon "dollarization," and it is pervasive here. Many Mexicans, even many of the poorest, think of the pesos they earn more in terms of how many U.S. dollars they will buy than in terms of their domestic purchasing power.
Weakened by the economic crisis, the peso has been devalued twice this year, dropping from 49 pesos to the dollar to 100.
In some cases there is a direct correlation between devaluation and the need to raise prices. About 50 percent of the parts in many Mexican manufactured cars, for instance, are imported and must be paid for with American currency.
But the dollar mentality goes far beyond that.
As an example, an egg vendor is charging for each pound an extra two pesos over the new price fixed by the government because "the dollar is so expensive." Yet all his eggs come from Mexican chickens.
A 60-year-old construction worker fondly relates how he labored as a contract worker in Los Angeles for a year during World War II when "the dollar was only worth eight pesos and a bit."
"Now," the worker said with disgust, "What is our peso worth next to yours? Nothing."
Another construction worker said his future looks bleak. "If the dollar hadn't gone up we would have been all right," he said, even though he said he never has bought any dollars and never planned to buy any.
Part of the crisis comes from the fact that so many Mexicans who could buy dollars did so and shipped them out of the country.
"It's a curious kind of schizophrenia," said one diplomat. "On the one hand they're very proud to be Mexican and they're even anti-American, but when it comes to dollars and cents or pesos and centavos, their personal interest comes first."
It is that kind of thinking, many economists believe, that is the most destabilizing factor in Mexico today.