Today’s Photos:

Diana has returned from her trip to Slovenia, Croatia, and Sicily. The masthead photo was taken in the city of Rovinj. Like a lot of that part of the world, ownership of Rovinj passed back and forth over the centuries This particular gate was put there by the Venetians.

Unfortunately, almost immediately upon her return, she fell victim to a case of the Shingles. Fortunately, her condition has improved enough so that she could sit at her computer and download / edit some photos for us. The commentary is hers. She hopes to be out and about in time for the December edition…

Will Roberto Madrazo deliver the final blow to the PRI’s hopes?

As major defections among Party leaders continue, while Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)maintains his solid double-digit lead in the polls, Mexico appears poised to elect its first left-of-center president since General Lazaro Cárdenas, some 60 years ago. While anything can happen between now and June, all indications point to an AMLO victory.

The roots of the PRI’s problem lie in it’s structure, its history, and the personalities and ambitions of its most prominent members. Structurally, the PRI was conceived as a “perfect dictatorship”; a one-party national socialist (fascist) system where everyone’s interest was represented through a series of affiliated (and party-loyal) organizations. Thus, unions were formed of farmers, teachers, industrial workers, even the military, the police, doctors, etc. The goal was that all disputes between interest groups would be mediated within the Party structure, thus avoiding any serious public ruptures, in order to present a unified and consistent face to the electorate and the world. Ultimate power would reside in the President of the Republic, who would present his programs for approval by the legislature, and designate his successor (the Mexican constitution allows for only one six-year term).

While that sounds like a swell idea, in practice what happened was that genuine grievances – most often of rank-and-file against their so-called “leaders” – were repressed, first by promises of change, then by pleas for patience, and finally by expulsion and / or jail and / or beatings and disappearances: the “mano duro” (hard hand) applied with impunity.

This olive tree, in Brijuni national park in Istria (a peninsula in Croatia), is 1,700 years old.

For decades, the PRI ran the country without any serious political opposition (in fact, many of the so-called opposition forces were financed by and reported to the PRI – a great way to isolate and keep an eye on dissidents). Within the Party, there sometimes were huge and bitter struggles between opposing “tendencies” or interest groups, but they were most often settled by adjustments in the allocation of spoils, and the Party’s face remained a placid and smiling one.

In 1988, largely as a result of the massive earthquake that struck in Mexico City in 1985, exposing the inability of the Party to provide even the most basic relief, Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas, son of reformist ex-president Lazaro Cardenas, broke with the party and ran for president against Carlos Salinas de Gortarias an independent. Cardenas was winning when, – in classic PRI fashion (emulated in part by George W. Bush in 2000) – a brief shutdown of the ballot-counting computers, turned a solid Cardenas lead into a narrow Salinas victory.

These two events were of landmark importance. Although the PRI “won” the 1988 election, things would never be the same again. Scandals, a couple of assassinations, and Salinas’ need for a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the coming (1995) devaluation of the Peso, resulted in his choosing Ernesto Zedillo to be the next President in 1994. Zedillo was a “technocrat”, having never held elective office. In a private conversation in 1996 with Charles Krause, who had just met with Zedillo, I was told that Zedillo despised politicians; that Zedillo believed that if the politicians would just step aside and let the bureaucrats run the country, it would be to everyone’s benefit. Small wonder then that Zedillo introduced electoral reforms in the PRI voting process that culminated in the nomination of Francisco Labastida, a moderate PRIista, to run in 2000; a race he lost to Vicente Fox. The loss of the Mexican White House, and their failure to get a majority in either house of parliament, devastated the PRI. The Party bosses blamed the loss on Zedillo, and called for a “strong man” to bring back the days of glory – while at the same time trying to sell the voters on the notion that a “new” PRI, more modern and democratic, was emerging.

This rather old and poor example of an Adriatic tour boat was, unfortunately, the one we spent a week on, cruising the islands off the Dalmatian coast.

Into this vacuum stepped Roberto Madrazo, ex-governor of Tabasco state, who had spent more than ten times the legal limit to buy his election, and who won the party presidency by promising to “get tough”. Other caciques (strong people) moved in with him, most notably Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the one-million-strong teachers’ union, who became the Secretary General of the PRI (second in power to Madrazo) and, for a time, the party whip in the congress. Inevitably, they clashed; and Madrazo won, stripping her of both jobs. Whether Elba will keep her union in the PRI orbit remains to be seen. Many of her rank and file have been engaging in a poster campaign: “Do you believe Madrazo? Well, neither do I”.

The small-boat harbor in Porec. Lace and cheese are featured products here.

Meanwhile, within the Party, a new movement had appeared. Unofficially known as “anybody but Madrazo”, it’s leader was Arturo Montiel, ex-governor of the state of Mexico, the most populous state in the union. Madrazo got rid of him by dredging up some highly suspect land dealings involving members of his family. Since then, there have been a great many defections from the PRI. Roberto Campo, a 28-year apparatchik from Mexico state announced for AMLO. So did Juan Carlos Barrón, a wheel in San Luis Potosí who resigned his position as director of a foundation named for Madrazo’s father. Ex-president Zedillo felt it necessary to write a letter to “La Jornada”, chastising Madrazo for approaching his son while at dinner in Quintana Roo state, and making it clear that Madrazo is no friend of his.

Add to all this the consistent polling results that show the Mexicans intend to vote for candidates and not for parties (this is, by the way, consistent among all the leading parties), and Madrazo is taking on the image of the boy standing on the burning bridge as the boat slowly sinks into the sea. Many believe that he started the fire himself.

Culture and Charity at the “New” Library:

Financially, the new Board appears to have turned the corner. Membership, while still down from previous levels, has grown. The coffee shop appears to be better attended (although there are still no profit / loss figures available). Books are pouring in (although the cataloguing appears to be way behind the influx). Re-arrangement of the site has made some improvement, and brought some criticism, thus emphasizing the need to look for another more accommodating home. The Library Newsletter is “perkier”, but needs to be available to members who do not have a computer and a telephone.

One aspect seems to shine out: the Library is in the black. A series of fund-raising efforts, spearheaded by the recent auction of art objects, organized by Barry and Jacque Scheinberg which raised around $13,000 u.s., and the upcoming (November 19) annual “garage sale” at Casa Colonial, should be able to pay back the money borrowed from the capital fund by previous administrations, with some left over to be used both for operations and – it is rumored – a contribution to Libros Para Pueblos.

A monument to “fighters and victims of fascism”, in Rovinj, Croatia. Rovinj is a very touristy town, and if it weren’t for this monument, you’d never know a war had taken place here.

This month (on the 25th), and once every month, the Latin American Book Club meets in the patio. This month’s book is “Opening Mexico” by Sam Dillon and Julia Preston (Dillon, you may remember, was recalled from his post as NY Times chief in Mexico when it was discovered that he had been sitting on information that would displease his high government sources). Judging from our experience of a Friday meeting of the Unitarian Universalists (a non-denominational lecture on worker-owned industry), the patio is not the best place to hold a discussion, due to street noise and the conversations at nearby tables among folks who have no interest in the discussion topic.

Other events:

LILA DOWNS gave a terrific concert at the top of Llano park, just in front of the church of Guadalupe, in mid-October. As usual, the band was tight; and the sound and light left a little to be desired: a seemingly inevitable occurrence when doing a charitable event where the crew is furnished by someone else and there is little time to practice together. Nonetheless, the music was great, and notable for two things:

Last year, when we went to see Lila perform, both here and in Fresno (not far from where we visit when we go to California), her voice was showing the strain of a crushing performance schedule. This year, having (we think wisely) cut back on the number of her performances, her voice was clear, strong, and totally enchanting.

In September, when I was in Minneapolis on another project, Diana had comida with Lila, her husband / keyboardist / sax man / arranger / you-name-it Paul Cohen, and Lila’s mom, Anita. At that time, Paul had his arm in a pressure cast. He had fallen through a green-house type roof, and sliced the tendons in his left arm. He had been on the operating table for five hours. The prognosis was for months of physical therapy before he could begin to play again. By the time we heard the band in October – about six weeks later – he was back on stage. A miracle of sorts. I asked him if he was completely healed. He said that there were two fingers that still had little feeling, but that it just meant he had to concentrate harder. I forgot to ask him if he can still juggle…

THIRD MONDAY, the free-form monthly gathering of writers and performers at the Casa Colonial continues with a meeting on the 21st of this month. Now in its third year, having grown out of a writers’ group which still meets seasonally, third Monday also spawned the literary magazine “Zócalo”.

The harbor entrance to Dubrovnik. The bridge carries the main coastal highway traffic. Split is many miles to the left (north).

IOHIO, the organ preservation and performance group founded by Cicely Winter, continues to give free concerts every first-Sunday of the month, in the atrium of the Cultural Center at Santo Domingo Church (known to us old-timers as the regional museum). The last concert, featuring (as usual) faculty members from the performance school of the IOHIO, was really spectacular. There will be another in December. Also, IOHIO just finished putting on its’ annual international conference, in which, among the workshops, etc., there were performances at several churches, both in and out of town.

ESTANCIA FRATERNIDAD will host an art auction soon. For those of you who do not know it, the Estancia is a residence open to patients – and their families – who are receiving treatment at the Hospital Civíl (city charity hospital). A sort of “Ronald McDonald House”, it provides a bed, two meals a day, and whatever else families need to survive while their loved ones struggle for their lives and better health. Once again, the organizers of the event are Barry and Jacque Scheinberg. Over a hundred pieces will be on display, many of which have been donated by internationally known artists and artisans.

The Fourth Estate:

After a brief absence from the world wide web, the Mexican edition of the Miami Herald is back on line. No longer parked under the home page of the Spanish language newspaper “El Universal”, it now has found its home with the Herald. The result looks little different, although there are fewer articles posted.

Oaxaca’s “opposition news source”, “Noticias”, is still locked out of its building on Libres street, and producing its editions in a plant located in Tuxtepéc, way up north near the border with Veracruz. For the last few weeks, visitors to their electronic pages are restricted to the same series of articles and letters, advocating their position against what they call government persecution.

“Zócalo”, our local “independent” magazine of arts and letters, appears to be moving into the orbit of the Oaxaca Lending Library. It remains to be seen if there will be significant changes in the format or content.

Safer on the streets:

According to recently published statistics, Oaxaca state has the highest per capita incidence of spousal abuse in the nation. Like most of the “bad stuff” that goes on here, it is not something that is apparent to tourists. However, and this is ironic, other recently released crime statistics would indeed suggest that for the average Oaxacan woman, it is safer on the streets than at home…

These are the red tile rooftops of Dubrovnik as seen from the wall that surrounds the old city. I walked the entire wall, about 2 kilometers.

Next issue:

If at all possible, next issue will be mainly devoted to travel and cultural subjects, including a trip or two to nearby destinations. Hopefully, Diana will be sufficiently recovered to furnish more of her fine photos.

A gentle reminder:

The next issue, number 17 of this year, will be our last edition of volume 10. Starting the first of the year, with volume 11, we will be publishing only 15 issues a year: one every month, and three “extra” editions. This will enable us to put more time into each issue, which hopefully will be longer and more informative. We hope this will please you.

We will be sending out renewal notices to all whose subscriptions are up between now and the end of the year. Please let us know as quickly as you can, whether or not you are renewing. It will help our book-keeping a whole lot.