Oaxaca, Mexico:
An Expatriate Life

Writing by Stan Gotlieb
Photos by Diana Ricci

THE OAXACA / MEXICO NEWSLETTER
Volume 14, No. 6: June 28, 2009

 

[The masthead photo was taken outside the Three Rivers Historical Society gallery. With July 4th coming up, it seemed timely.]

Still in California :

For various unavoidable reasons, we have had to extend our stay “al otro lado” (on the other side) for a while longer. We miss the smell and sound and taste of Oaxaca and expect to be back home before July 15. Meanwhile, we do our best to keep up with the major goings-on through the internet, and by conversations with friends, using Skype and the much-improved talk feature in Live Messenger.

[One of the many critters that wander into our front yard]

“None of the above” (revisited):

As we mentioned in the last Newsletter, the disaffection of the Mexican electorate is wide and deep, making it likely that the PRI will regain old ground in the upcoming off-year elections. Recent developments suggest that we underestimated the disgust and frustration of the average Juan at the corruption and indifference of the current crop of politicos.

Indications are strong that many of those who do vote will mark their ballots for “none of the above”. A movement is growing to mark the ballot with a big circle and strike through, like what you see in “no passing” signs. Judging from the reactions coming from the politicians, this scares the hell out of them. Simply not voting leaves us to guess about the electorate's disaffiliation. Marking a big NO sends a clear message, even though it doesn't change the outcome. The question is, will these ballots be counted and reported?

Nuclear fruit, coming to a market near you:

The ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA), in collaboration with the agency that oversees nuclear issues (ININ) has announced a plan to treat export crops with gamma rays. Noting that 39 countries irradiate their crops to kill infestations and slow natural ripening, as well as preserve color and make unnecessary the normal treatment of methyl bromide – which, they say, is far more deleterious to the atmosphere as well as a contributor to greenhouse gases – SAGARPA announced that that a couple of dozen treatment stations will be built between now and 2012, mostly in ports. First in line is guayabana, to be followed by mango, and then a whole list of other fruits and vegetables.

[Some animal photos from a trip we took with traveling pal Dan McWethy a few years back to Lake Catemaco and Rio Lagartos.]

Just get with Jesus:

Felipe Napoleon the First, pious president of Mexico , announced this week that the solution to his nation's rapidly growing youth drug problem is prayer. As Joe Biden would say, I couldn't have made that up, folks. The head of a nation about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its' revolution for, among other things, a separation of Church and State, has publicly stated that it is a loss of Faith - not endemic unemployment, cheap drugs, decreased opportunity for education, massive dislocation of rural populations to squalid shanty-towns on the fringes of large urban areas, the perceived venality and hypocrisy of politicians, and a misguided and destructive “war on drugs” – has used his bully pulpit to (as one national Deputy remarked) elevate the Confessional to the same status as the helicopter gunship.

Hey, don't get me wrong: I have no use for religion, but I try to be tolerant of those who do, as long as they don't crowd into my personal space. Everyone has a right to go to Hell – or Heaven – in a hand-basket of their own choosing, as long as they don't try to tell me what mine ought to be. But the idea that all the social, economic, and cultural influences of the current social order can be ignored when looking for a solution to the growing use of drugs among the nation's youth, in favor of severe violent repression on the one hand and prayer on the other seems a bit disingenuous to me.

I have mentioned in the past that Felipe owes a lot to the money and influence of the right wing of the Catholic church (including and especially some of the t.v. and print media tycoons). His party, the PAN, was founded by small business-people, and wealthy oligarchs belonging to secret societies of charismatic reactionaries such as Opus Dei. In Jalisco, and other states where the PAN has a controlling interest in the political hierarchy, billboards showing scantily clad women have been banned, and women's right to abortion is under attack.

The "war on drugs" provides a smokescreen for State repression of dissent, and a profit center for cynical politicians who profit from both the drug trade and the arms trade. If Felipe really made a dent in the money flow, he'd end up where martyred 1994 presidential candidate Luis Colosio did: mouldering in a mausoleum in his home town. He knows the "war" is not winnable: name me one place where it has been "won". This latest pronouncement is both a sop to his ecclesiastical bosses and a way of washing his hands of responsibility while obscuring the underlying social and political causes of the youth drug problem. He should ask Nancy Reagan: "just say no to drugs" didn't work, and neither will "just say yes to Jesus". Blaming the victim never does.

“The News”:

In yet another reversal of fortune, the daily newspaper in English from Mexico City has been sold by the O'Farril family. The new owners, in typical tycoon fashion, fired almost all the native English speakers, prompting others to quit, and – after he wrote an editorial describing the angst – firing the editor in chief as well.

Reading the paper on-line last week was like grading Cambridge test papers written at best at a “b” level. Not bad, but not excellent, either (although this week, it seems to have improved). Add to this the 50% hike in the purchase price last spring, (now, at 15 pesos, the most expensive daily in Mexico ), the shorter publishing schedule (Monday through Friday only), and on-line seems more and more like the appropriate way to read it.

Mexico in a time of recession:

On June 25, the government office of statistics and geography (INEGI) published a report indicating that since our beloved Calderón successfully stole the office of President in 2006, the unemployment rate has risen by 50%, to a current level of almost 6 percent. While that may seem pretty low to you, the devil, as they say, is in the details.

The “official” unemployment rate does not include anyone who works as much as an hour in any given month. Working age begins at 14 years. While there is an attempt to estimate the shift in the numbers of people in the “informal” economy – chicklet sellers, the tone-deaf singers plying the buses, etc. – it is very difficult to do since nobody is reporting their change of fortunes to the treasury. By various estimates, these folks amount to as much as 30 to 50 percent of all workers.

Based on current statistics, INEGI estimates that the economy will shrink about 8% in 2009, throwing even more workers to the curb by year's end. This is far higher than the official estimates given out by the ministries of economics and development, whose ministers are cronies of the prez and therefore likely to minimize the bad news.

Meanwhile, ponder this: the largest, and fastest growing, segment of the population is between 14 and 25 years of age. With already minimal prospects likely to be further reduced, they are a large and volatile – and increasingly angry – bunch.

Eduardo Galeano:

Having been a long-time fan of Eduardo Galeano, through his writings in The Progressive and other journals, we were pleased to see him recently, spending most of an hour with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now . Galeano is a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction; a fighter for human rights who has been imprisoned for his efforts; a fascinating raconteur. Plus, he is a lyrical prose writer whose use of language is both spare and profound. Besides which he's a real mensch.

Galeano's right-on political analysis results from a lifetime of research and time spent on the front lines of progressive social movements throughout south and central America, and after watching him on DN we decided to purchase his nearly 40-year-old Open Veins of Latin America, an analysis of the roots and branches of the current “neo-globalist” exploitation and destruction of natural resources, community organizations, and dissent, among our southern neighbors. Somewhat dated (Allende is still president of Chile, for example), it is nonetheless as useful today as it was then, in understanding how we got to where we are today.

Ulises blames it on Felipe:

In a feature article in Despertar on the 27 th , Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz blamed the president of the republic for the lack of tourism in our fair city. Felipe's closing of Mexico City schools, museums, government offices, restaurants and sports events during the initial phase of the NAFTA Flu outbreak scared everyone away, he said. Having ruined everything, said Ulises, Felipe then failed to invest enough in tourism promotion to rectify the problem, citing as an example the far-too-small amount awarded to the states for advertising and development.

Never mind the bloody and unnecessary “war on drugs” that has made traditional tourist meccas like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta into slaughterhouses. Forget about the stories of police brutality against aggrieved peasants protesting the appropriation of their land and the ruination of their water sources for mines and wind farms run for the profit of foreign transnationals. Just give Ulises more money and everything will get better.

His outrage is of course as phony as it can be. It has little to do with money for tourism: until Mexico regains its image with the travel writers, the U.S. department of State, the wire services and the talk radio hosts, no amount of money spent on “come to Oaxaca ” t.v. ads will make any difference. One article in the Houston Chronicle or the Dallas Daily News about beheadings and shootouts in Matamoros and Laredo is easily worth a million dollars in ads, and Ulises knows it. What this is really about is the 2012 presidential and gubernatorial elections, and the hopes of the PRI to regain the presidency. Not that Ulises would mind getting more dough from Felipe. He could spend it lining his own pockets and those of his cronies through even more “public works” projects such as the unnecessary “beautification” of streets in the historic center, while contributing more to the PRI's political war chest.

[Some of the flowers for sale on Fridays outside the Pochote organic market. The ladies sit on the sidewalk and avoid all the politics and angst that went on among the vendors inside. I wonder where they will go when the market closes. Rumor has it that the market will reopen in front of the church in Xochimilco.]

 

Guelaguetsa, anyone?

Coming up in July (the 20 th and the 27 th ), the traditional dance festival will probably go off without a hitch. The teachers and their affiliates do not appear to be planning any major disruptions, blockades, or other street action, although they have called for a boycott of the event.

Plans have been announced for an “alternative Guelaguetza” to be held on the first festival day, the 20 th . In past years this event has been very well attended, and the reports I have received say that the dancing was every bit as good – and the admission is free.

Notes:

** For a pretty good analysis of the controversy surrounding the University of Kansas human mapping project, click here.

** Here's an interesting article on the involvement of USAID in attempts to destabilize the government of Bolivia.