Welcome to The Oaxaca / Mexico Newsletter

Writing by Stan Gotlieb and Photos by Diana Ricci

Volume 8, No. 2: January 15, 2003

World-class Mexican artist Rubén Leyva has graciously offered all the proceeds from the first 100 copies of a new painting to the Frente Común Contra el Sida (the common front against AIDS) as a fund-raising effort.

Done on very heavy cotton, and silk screened in seven colors, the new work, titled "Son del Corazon" (Heart Song) was produced by volunteers at the Frente's offices. Using silk screening equipment donated by local gringo supporters, the two main workers spent weeks getting the setup just right, at which point maestro Leyva came over to mix the paints and sign the finished product.

The first copy was purchased by Mary Jane Gagnier de Mendoza, owner of the Galería Mano Mágica, a very knowledgeable and astute collector and critic. She said she expected to sell many of this very reasonably priced artwork.

The purchase price is $500 u.s. dollars, or 5,000 pesos, including shipping and Mexican tax. If you are interested, you can contact me by email and I will pass the enquiry on.


Today at 5:00 p.m., at the restaurant La Olla, long-time Oaxaca visitor and sometimes resident Nancy Miller opened her latest watercolor show. We have watched Nancy's prowess grow over the years, and today's show was the best yet. This Newsletter features her works, photographed just hours ago.


Secretary of External Relations (State Dept.) Jorge Castañeda resigned his post last week. Castañeda, a leftist ideologue and writer turned right-wing hard liner, was under fire from a great many directions, and his resignation, if not requested by el Presidente, Vicente Fox Quesada, certainly had to have pleased him.

On the domestic front, the secretary was being excoriated by the farm sector, which blames him for Fox's decision to comply with NAFTA regulations calling for lifting all trade barriers by the end of 2002. While many others, including PRD grey eminence Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas were insisting that the NAFTA rules were only a guideline, Castañeda insisted the Mexican government was duty- and treaty- bound to abandon its subsidies of domestic corn, beans, chicken and pork, thus driving tens of thousands of small farmers out of business and onto the road "north".

In other ways, the secretary was being criticized as too "pro U.S.". Failure to negotiate a more favorable set of rules regarding immigration, or to secure any kind of amnesty for Mexicans already in the U.S. illegally, has been laid directly at Castañeda's door. His inability to move the U.S. on the issue of Mexican trucking also became a liability.

Perhaps more significant, although less talked about, was his decision to deport several Basque political refugees back to Spain where they face imprisonment and possible death. This was a break with a tradition of open borders for political dissidents that goes back to before Leon Trotsky came here in the '30s. It had been understood that as long as they did not agitate within Mexico, foreigners could live here safely. In a clear capitulation to U.S. influence, Castañeda knuckled under to George Bush, who had labeled Basque dissidents "terrorists". Rumors are circulating that dissident Columbians are next. By becoming a partner in Bush's "war on terrorism", Mexico is inviting terrorism. It's a stupid move, and many in the congress and the opposition parties are saying so.

Add to this the terrible stink Castañeda caused by going to Cuba and scolding Fidel, while the Mexican ambassador refused to fund (as is traditional) the annual May 5 Havana parade and rally to show Mexican - Cuban solidarity, as well as his meetings with Cuban dissidents, and the opposition's cry that he wishes to see Mexico a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. becomes more believable.

While true, all this was also true a couple of months ago. The real reason for his resignation: he lost his ongoing power struggle with Felipe Bravo Mena, the current president of Fox's PAN party, over who would get the nod from Fox to represent the PAN in the 2006 election. The two had been taking pot-shots at each other from the minute Castañeda was named to State.

The opposition wasted no time pointing out that Castañeda had been "only following orders", and predicted that the next Secretary's programs won't look much different from Castañeda's. The real problem, they say, is Fox's commitment to economic globalism and to the Bush administration.


but I'm not making any of this up. I wish I could write about how happy the Mexican people are, but the fact is that they are getting screwed and they know it.

At the top of the list this edition is the Peso. Since the last Newsletter, the Peso has slipped by nearly 3 tenths of a Peso against the U.S. Dollar. This in spite of the National Bank's move to use hard currency funds to buy Pesos in hopes of stopping the slide. Inflation appears to be one of the major culprits, as is the crashing farm sector, the bleeding away to China of the "maquiladora" assembly plants, and the perception in money markets that Mexico is unable to prevent increasing incidences of insolvency and outright bankruptcy.

Oliver Sacks is a writer, and a devoted fern chaser. Oaxaca has a greater variety of fern than any other state in Mexico. The combination is a natural. While this book is mostly for plant lovers, it does not lack description of the larger ecology -- human and floral - that he discovers along the way. Plants are illustrated with line drawings, not photos, and Sacks clearly loves Oaxaca. A short, sweet, easy to read book. Diana is a "plant person", and recommends it. To buy it, just go to our book page and click on the cover.


This year, the Casa de la Mujér (woman's house) annual benefit concert will take place on February 14 and 15. The profits go to the Guadalupe Musalén fund. To read more about Guadalupe Musalén, check out "A Festival of Guadalupes". The beneficiaries are young women from indigenous villages who, without assistance, would be forced to work to support their families. Lila will have a new band and new material (along with some old favorites). Tickets will be sold out. If you have vague plans for a trip to Oaxaca this winter, these would be good dates to work around. If you know you will be here, order tickets in advance. Email me and I'll tell you how.

We, unfortunately, will not be in town. We are going to Mérida for a conference. More on that in the next issue.