Happy New Year, 1998:

a partial, irreverent and highly biased summary of where it’s been and where it stands for Mexico:

IN OAXACA:

Touristforming (like terraforming (making Earthlike) in sci-fi) continues at a dizzying pace. Fueled by low-cost loans from the federal Tourism ministry set aside for the purpose, several downtown buildings are in the process of being rehabbed as bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and artesanias (craft shops). Streets are being torn up, paving bricks put in, and parking restrictions added.

Our old diesel buses, the worst polluters in town (there are no smokestack industries to speak of), are being replaced by newer models. Unfortunately, the new buses use the same technology, so they in their turn will wear out and begin to foul the air as badly as the ones that preceded them.

Coffee houses are proliferating, as are internet cybercafes. Speaking of food, we hear there is a middle-eastern restaurant open in one of the suburbs, and hope to have a report by the next newsletter.

This Christmas was by general agreement the most crowded on record. While, as usual, the town got taken over by Chilangos (as the Oaxacans affectionately call the denizens of MexCity), it also seemed that the gringo population increased. Oaxaca has definitely been discovered by travel agents.

I have also noted an increase in the numbers of people who are buying and building in this area, and in the coastal areas.

CHIAPAS:

Last week, the “dirty little low intensity war” in Chiapas got out of hand. Not content to follow the lead of other paramilitary death squads in the area, the mayor of Acteal, in northern Chiapas, ordered the wholesale killing of people he suspected of being Zapatista supporters. When the smoke cleared, 45 people were dead, including 36 women and children. Embarrassed by this overly ambitious bit of honest barbarity, the government of Ernesto Zedillo bleated some sanctimonious singsong about human rights and promised an investigation. As of this writing, 40 suspects are in prison awaiting trial, including the mayor, who is accused of abusing his office by delivering the AK47 rifles used in the massacre to the killers, in his official vehicle.

One interesting phenomenon: whatever happens, the solution is always more troops. When the Zapatistas rose up on this day four years ago, the government response was sending more troops to Chiapas. The buildup has reached, by government estimate, the point where one in five persons in the “Free Areas” is a soldier. Now, in response to the massacre, the army is – you guessed it – sending in more troops. So here is the formula, folks: attack the oppressive police, get more soldiers; be attacked by the police, get more soldiers.

Coming as it does on the heels of the attempt on the life of Archbishop Samuel Ruiz, the primate of Chiapas, the massacre may force the caciques (bosses) to abandon the systematic killing and terrorizing of opposition leaders for a while – if they can control the paramilitary groups they have created. Whether they can put the genie back in the bottle remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: the influx of journalists in the wake of the massacre will undoubtedly be good for the hotels and restaurants of San Cristobal and Tuxtla Gutierrez.

MEXICO CITY:

Still short on district leaders due to having so many of his nominations rejected by the city legislature, mayor Cardenas has survived the ambulante (street vendor) rebellion, only to be faced by striking workers at the local branch of the national pawn shop, Monte de Piedad (literally, “mountain of pity”). Since many poor Mexicans rely on this institution to scratch up some money for Christmas giving, this is a more serious crisis than it might at first blush appear to be.

Coming as it does on top of the total collapse of the “opposition bloc” in the nation’s lower house, where the PAN deputies broke ranks with the PRD and joined the ruling PRI to pass all Zedillo’s budgetary requests virtually intact, the strike delivers yet another blow to the new Cardenas regime, and – more importantly in the eyes of some – to his chances to be the next president of Mexico in 2000.

[late breaking story: in the early morning hours of December 31, the city legislature passed a 17.7% city tax, violating Cardenas’ campaign promises to hold it at 12%. He said it had to be done, or the level of social services had to be curtailed. Originally, he said he could achieve enough savings out of rooting out corruption and malfeasance to make a raise unnecessary.

Also passed, the last five borough directors; the new City Ministry of Tourism, and a series of resolutions to audit just about every major agency’s past fiscal conduct.]

PERSONALLY:

Our household is recovering from the flu, as are most of the households we know. The tourist influx (I am convinced this stuff breeds on airplanes. Just yesterday, there was a wire service story quoting the WHO as claiming airplane cabins are ideal incubators for some forms of tuberculosis) came just exactly at the same time as a major drop in temperature (which, thankfully, did not last), and everyone began to hack and wheeze.

We are beginning to make plans for our annual trip with our friend Dan. It will be earlier than usual this year, since Dan (and his van) has to be home in NH in time for Maple Syrup season. Tentative destinations are Vera Cruz, Morelia, Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, and the Copper Canyon. We are planning stops at the ruinas in VC, the butterfly sanctuary, and possibly Mazatlan, where a friend has perched for the winter. Any suggestions you all might have will be greatly appreciated, but please, in order for us to be able to digest it all, limit yourself to one or two tips for each location. Particularly sought: hot mineral springs.