The photographer returns:

Diana will be back on the 14th of this month, after a little over a month in Europe, touring Slovenia, Croatia, and Sicily. Since there are no “fresh” pictures available, I am indulging myself in displaying one of my favorite subjects: the posters and banners of protest. The masthead photo is actually of a poster we acquired in California, but a propos nonetheless. I can hardly wait to see the photos from her trip. Stay tuned.

[Loxicha is a “municipio” (county) in the southern mountains of Oaxaca. Identified by former governorDiódoro Carrasco Altamirano as a stroghold of the now-pretty-much defunct People’s Revolutionary Army guerrillas (EPR), it was invaded and occupied by the army and the state judicial police who rounded up all suspected “terrorists” and sent them to far away prisons, thus disconnecting them from their family and community support systems. After years of agitation, including a weeks-long encampment in the Zócalo, the last governor, José Murát, at the urging of newly elected presidentVicente Fox Quesada, released all but a few of the “suspects”.]

Burger King on the Alcalá:

Now that I think back on it, it seems like a logical progression of sorts.

When I arrived in 1994, Restaurant Quickly was a prominent feature on the gringo eatery list, a perennial favorite of the “Lonely Planet” crowd. As well as cheap, filling meals of Mexican “típico” (tamales, tostadas, enchiladas, etc.), they also had the largest (although arguably the greasiest) burger in town.

A few years ago, Quickly’s owner (who also owns the “Panoramica” restaurant up on the Fortin hill just below the Guelaguetza auditorium) closed the place down. It was reopened as a fast food operation by the guy who used to own the short-lived Lebanese restaurant over on Crespo, and after a brief period it too closed. It underwent a new incarnation as a burger joint, and soon joined its’ predecessors in the dustbin of history.

Last month, it reopened, as a Burger King outlet. No signs went up: “Burger King Coming Soon”. In fact, the actual sign was put up in the middle of the night before opening. Neither during construction, nor after opening, was a single voice heard objecting to the installation. Perhaps Maestro Toledo and his pet project, PROAX, are not so incensed by this particular symbol of U.S. global capitalism as by MacDonald’s, or perhaps they feel its location a block and a half from the Zócalo is sufficiently distant, or perhaps it’s relatively small size gives it a certain immunity from civic-minded outrage.

What I hate about it is that I walk by it almost every day, it being on the Alcalá, my path to the Zócalo; and I am a recovering Cheese Whopper addict. It takes all the willpower I can muster, let me tell you…

[In the midst of all their travails, the children of the political prisoners of Loxicha painted this banner to show us what a beautiful place their home village is.]

No More Hermanos:

We reported here a few months ago that “Los Cinco Hermanos”, the quiche capital of Oaxaca, whose delicious dish of the day was posted on a monthly calendar so you could pick the days you wanted to eat there, had closed, along with the take-out branch they were running in Reforma, so the brothers could open a newer, larger place in the courtyard of La Mano Magica. I also reviewed the new place, and expressed my disappointment that the monthly calendar had disappeared and that the prices had gone up a little (understandable: the new location is higher-rent); and that I missed the more intimate, informal ambiance of the old place. I also expressed our sympathy with the brothers, who, because their place on Hidalgo was so small, were not able to prosper in spite of their excellent food. (I use the singular here because Diana thought the new place was charming, didn’t mind the more formal dining arrangement, and – and here we agree – thought the quality of the food undiminished.)

Because the new setup couldn’t support five brothers, two of the family returned to France. The other three entered into “a sort of partnership” (her words to me) with Mary Jane and Arnulfo. After just a few months of existence, the remaining brothers are packing up and returning to France, to regroup and contemplate a foray into the U.S. One of the brothers told me that “we just didn’t have a clear enough understanding of the nature of our partnership” with Mary Jane. Aside from their fine food and their pleasant demeanor, we will also miss their occasional jazz performances at Casa Colonial.

The restaurant, “Cocina Magica”, will remain open, with new staff.

Oba’s Story:

Even before I began reading, I knew this book was something special. The prose is presaged by the product: a well crafted paperback edition that uses good quality paper, an easy to read font and type size, and enough space between the lines to make it comfortable.

The introduction, which outlines the story and the rationale without any extra verbiage, tells you that this author, George D. Colman (who happens to be a friend, subscriber, and neighbor in Oaxaca) has the kind of spare writing style that gets the job done without falling in love with himself.

The story is a complex but compassable tale of the parallel development
of one man, one family, and two renaissances, one religious and the other political. It takes place against the background of the waxing of Rastafarianism and the waning of British colonial rule in the eastern Caribbean, and recounts some of the ways that the one influenced the other.

It is not a stale tale for academics, however. Far from it. Colman is as interested in the players as the game; in the complex realities of current affairs in the region; in the forces that shaped a young tear-about from St. Vincent into the man who marched onto a cricket field during a
welcoming ceremony for an African prince in the Vincentian capital, dressed in the colors and waving the flag of Africa.

Africa World Press put out a fine book, equal to (and, I feel sure, reflecting their pleasure with) the fine work it contains. Congratulations all ‘round.

To order “Oba’s Story” from Amazon at no extra cost to you (but a small cut for us), just click HERE .

How Mexican political structure influences Mexican political realities:

Nancy Davies is an ex-pat living in Oaxaca who has been closely tied to the Zapatistas, and connected to some of the progressive political currents on the Mexican “Left”. A contributor to NarcoNews, a poet, and a writer, Nancy has recently put together an article that, among other things, explains the relationship between the “modern” political divisions of municipio (county) and agencia (town); and how these structures work to break down the communities they are supposed to serve, and to enhance the power of the PRI and its’ political spoils system.

[Like folks in virtually all parts of the world, Mexicans have a love-hate relationship to the U.S.A., particularly as it is represented by its President. This poster was up all over town on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.]

Rather than reprint the whole article here, I am furnishing a link. Just click HERE. When you are done, just hit the “back” button to return to this Newsletter.

I don’t agree with everything she has to say, and if you want to read my criticisms, just click HERE. When you are done, just hit the “back” button to return to this Newsletter.

Elba Esther Gordillo’s long, strange trip continues:

Elba Esther is not a nice person. If she were a male, the newspapers would call her a “strong man”, someone who rules the 2-million-strong national teachers’ union (Sindicato Nacionál de Trabajadores de la Educación; SNTE) with “el mano duro”, the strong hand; a “dinosaur” within the Jurassic infrastructure of the long-ruling PRI. So why should we care what happens to her?

The SNTE has traditionally been a “backbone” formation serving the PRI. In spite of the immobilizing marches and rallies they hold at least once a year to protest their low pay and benefits, the SNTE has always been one of the more reliable unions at turning out the votes for their PRI bosses. In a few places, such as Oaxaca (the state SNTE building flies huge banners against the corruption), dissident factions have sprung up in recent years that have mounted significant challenges to these practices, but by and large the national apparatus is still loyal to the PRI.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) her reputation as the “intellectual author” of several assassinations of her rivals, and because of her close ties to the Salinas family (Carlos Salinas de Gortari and brother Raul may be vilified by the “official” line, but lots of their friends remain in the top levels of the party), Elba Esther had risen steadily within the ranks of the party’s leaders. Until, through miscalculation or stupidity, she ended up on the wrong side of PRI “numero uno”, Roberto Madrazo.

[“We are struggling for Justice and Liberty. End “neoliberalism”, reads this banner set to face the government palace a few years ago. Chafing under the constant barrage of demonstrations and encampments, governor Ulises Ruiz decided to move most government offices out of the center, where they can be dispersed without a bunch of tourists observing.]

Some months ago, Carlos Salinas, allowed to re-enter political life under the protection of president Fox in exchange for his (aborted by popular mobilization) attempt to frame 2006 presidential front runnerAndres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on some trumped up charges that would have disqualified “El Peje” from running, hosted a meeting at his palatial mansion in suburban MexCity. Among the attendees were Gordillo, Madrazo henchmen (his people have denied any Madrazo presence; she says there was), and representatives of the Fox government. The subject of the meeting was how to get Fox’s “fiscal reform package” through the legislature, where it had been being blocked by a coalition of PRI and PRD representatives because of clauses which would, among other things, have expanded the present sales tax (IVA) of 15% to cover such items as food, medicine and books: seen correctly as a regressive tax whose burden would fall mainly on the poor.

Believing that she had the approval of Madrazo, and some of his “dinosaur” lieutenants such as Emilio Chauyffet, Gordillo, who at the time was both the Secretary General of the PRI (second to Madrazo) and the PRI whip in the senate, declared herself to be in favor of the Fox package. Whether or not – as some believe – she had been set up in a classic Lucy-promises-Charlie-Brown-she-won’t-move-the-football maneuver, the groundswell of PRI rank-and-file anger created an opportunity for Madrazo to sink Elba Esther as a power within the Party, and he took that opportunity faster than you can say “that will teach you to befriend my rival for the presidential nomination, Arturo Montiel”.

[One of many ad-hoc formations that come and go on the Oaxacan left, the “Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca, named after Ricardo Flores Magon, a popular revolutionary figure from history, painted this statement of endurance and the certainty of victory: “We are older than our problems, and so we will triumph”]

First, Madrazo stripped her of her role as legislative leader, and appointed his old buddy Emilio (who, as Secretary of the Interior, resigned under pressure after he was accused of apparent foreknowledge of the Acteal massacre in Chiapas) to take her place.

Next, Madrazo went after her position as number two person in the PRI, delaying his resignation as Party head, so that he could declare himself a candidate for the party’s Presidential nomination, until he could marshal enough forces to ram through the very unusual and probably illegal “interim appointment” of a political crony to replace him, thus preventing her succession.

Rumors keep flying through the political stratosphere: Elba Esther is going to join the PAN; she’s going to form her own party; she’s going to go to work for Montiel; but so far, she has not made any moves, other than to resign from her post as Secretary General of the PRI. She’s not the type to admit defeat, however, so her next move is eagerly awaited. Remember, those 2 million teachers are a big gift to bestow on whomever she decides deserves her largesse.

Meanwhile, within her own union, Elba Esther is in a whole ‘nother mess. Dissident elements have filed criminal charges against her for illegal enrichment and a host of other charges, which, given the corruption of the judicial system, probably won’t come to much; but can hardly be welcome at this particular juncture in her career. One thing you have to say for her: she’s a muckraking reporter’s dream…