I received the following email from Judith Radtke, a subscriber and activist who brought me to the Clinica del Pueblo, about which I wrote in the last Newsletter.

Somehow I guess I wasn’t clear about the role of Circle of Women/Circulo de Mujeres, AC in the development of the birthing clinic.  From the beginning this has been a joint project between us and the clinic.  (Mexicans don’t do birthing clinics and this will be the first in Mexico).  Pia Scognamiglio, my Mexican partner and a Swiss trained midwife, is on the board of the clinic and has worked ENDLESS hours with them strategizing, doing protocols, now catching babies, hiring a midwife etc etc. etc. to make this dream of ours come true.  We have also had the consultative help of me and Heidi Fillmore-Patrick director of Birthwise Midwifery School in Bridgton Maine.  It has been very collaborative in development and they have depended very heavily on our expertise.  It is truly a joint project.

I hope you will be able to correct this in your next newsletter.  We have also done a significant piece of funding and will continue to do so.  Maybe you would like to write an article about the Circle and our other projects, particularly the weavers.  We are about to branch into some literacy work which will cover the weavers and probably the users of the birthing clinic.  We are currently embarking on research to assess the need in the barrios.

I apologize for my oversight. Judith’s generosity in sharing her time and her contacts should be recognized, and her worthwhile projects promoted. I intend to visit at least one of the other projects she mentions later this year, and will feature it (them?) in a future Newsletter.

The Circle of Women has a website at http://www.circulodelasmujeres.org/. For more info about Birthwise, just Google “birthwise bridgeton” – they don’t yet have a website, but many other sites carry collateral info about them.

Since the last Newsletter came out, we had visitors new to Oaxaca at our house, and Diana, ever generous with her time and expertise, took them around and showed them the sights. The photos in this issue were taken on various excursions, starting with the masthead photo of an elaborate topiary depicting la danza de las plumas (the dance of feathers), in Sta Maria del Tule; the ballcourt at Yagul, above; and the young oxen for sale at the Zaachila market, held every Thursday, below.

Paying More and Getting Less:

For some time, I have been receiving e-mail from people who are unsure about the status of Hierve el Agua, a natural limestone seep near the town of Mitla. They want to know if it is open to tourists, is it dangerous to go there, etc. Mostly, I have been temporizing, because the status seemed to change from month to month. Based on what I have been reading in the local press, particularly an article in a recent edition of Noticias, and my attempts to follow the changes over the last couple of years, here’s my best shot at explaining the situation.

In a dispute that came to blows, and an occasional gunshot, two groups of local people have been squabbling over the spoils of tourism. One group is from the nearby town of San Lorenzo, and they claim the right to charge entry to the site because –they claim- the site falls within their town limits.

The other group, which appears to be made up of vendors and others living close to the site, and has in the past been doing the work of maintaining it, claims the right to charge admission based on the work they do, and their physical possession of the site.

Both are charging admission.

The road we used to take to get there has been blocked by large stones, forcing visitors to detour along a much-less-improved gravel access. Visitors complain of dust and loose gravel. At one point, there is a rope set up across the road, and citizens of San Lorenzo ask 10 pesos for every person in your vehicle – including children. In exchange for your money, you get a slip of paper that declares your entitlement to enjoy the pleasures of Hierve el Agua, free of further charge.

This burl is one of many that appear on the great cypress tree in el Tule. If you look carefully, you may “see” a face or an animal. If not, you can always hire a “guide” who will take you around the tree and point them out to you.

After a little more rough road, there is another taquila (ticket booth), where the other group demands 10 pesos for each person in your vehicle. Showing them the receipt does no good: they profess that the first group are banditos, without right or authorization to charge admission. So, now that you’ve paid double, what do you get?

Not as much as you used to. There are no guards, no guides, no garbage pickup, and little maintenance. There are still the bathing pools and the natural beauty, according to recent visitors.

I don’t know what it is like now, but when we were there years ago, the view was quite spectacular. There are rumors that small forest fires have made the view less appealing, but even so I can’t imagine that Hierve is not worth seeing under normal circumstances.

Both sides have taken their grievances to the Governor, and so far there has been little aid from that quarter.

Is it safe to go? Definitely. Is it a spectacular site? Yes, even if all the negative stories are true. Is it worth the effort? That depends on how much time you have, and how much patience and tolerance. Meanwhile, if the issue ever gets resolved, you’ll read it here.

While well known for it’s giant tree, Sta Maria del Tule deserves some notoriety for fine empanadas, available from many “fondas” (food stands) that vie for your business in the food court next to the municipal artesania market.

PAN Shoots Itself in the Foot; PRD not Far Behind:

Both of the “minor” parties elected Presidents recently. Each hurt itself, in different ways.

As we have been reporting for some time, president Vicente Fox Quesada, the most prominent member of the PAN, has been pushing the agenda of the Catholic church, starting with his campaign appearance in front of the flag of Guadalupe in 2000 (up until then, it was considered a violation of political protocol to inject religion into political appearances). Beholden to the most conservative (richest?) of the Church’s faithful, mostly members of Opus Dei and the Society for the Preservation of the Faith (sic?) for their contributions to his campaign, Fox has pushed a right-wing agenda, but without being too overt or strident about it.

A few days ago, that cat came all the way out of the bag, as the party leadership named Manuel Espina, a party apparatchik believed to be a member of El Yunque, a secret Catholic society, because of his admitted stint in “Mexican Youth”, an El Yunque front group. This has to dismay the liberals who joined the Party in 2000 mostly to get Fox elected (nobody thought perennial PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas had a chance) and end the 70-some-year reign of thePRI. Espina’s elevation will probably be an embarrassment to Santiago Creel, Fox’s hand-picked PAN presidential candidate, in 2006: Mexicans, 88% Catholic, have an aversion to the Church mixing directly in politics.

The PRD, on the other hand, held an election to name its new President, a move that would seem at first blush to be a good idea: see the democratic leftists do it the “right” way. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as hoped. Balloting in Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas states was suspended due to election irregularities: burned ballot boxes, altered voting lists, physical violence (a few faction leaders in the countryside were shot), and polling places switched at the last minute (Cárdenas himself went to his usual voting place, to find that it had been secretly relocated in the night, and that no-one knew where it had gone). In Mexico, you may not vote anywhere except your assigned polling place. What with one thing or another, about 50% as many perredistas voted in this year’s internal elections, compared to 2000. Lionel Cota, the new President, will rule the Party without a mandate, amidst charges of corruption and voting irregularities.

PRD, formed in the wake of the 1988 election, won by Cárdenas but stolen by Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the “counting”, is a coalition of groups representing the entire spectrum of left-of-center politics. The internal struggle has always been pronounced, and the inter-personal relationships of party leaders often acrimonious. This, however, represents a new low, one that may have bad effects on the expected candidacy of Andres Manuel López Obrador, present mayor of MexCity and front runner for president in 2006. AMLO, a wily politician, has understood this all along, and takes comfort in the fact that Mexicans, in recent polls, say that they will vote for “the candidate” and not “the party”.

Dario Castellejos’ cartoon in “El Imparcial”. Titled “Fragile”, it shows the “aztec sun”, symbol of the PRD, being blown apart by the winds of its factional strife.

There’s Good News, and There’s Bad News:

The good news comes on two fronts, practical and aesthetic. The practical is that the three bus lines that control transport around the city and it’s suburbs have voluntarily agreed to install a system of counting devices that will notify the company if a driver overloads the bus; and a reduction of hours that drivers are allowed to work. The aesthetic is the introduction of a new high-gloss paint for the fronts of buildings that allows anyone with a damp cloth to remove graffiti.

The bad news is that broken counters are unlikely to be repaired; the bus companies will have to be a little more generous if, as is expected, driving fewer hours means fewer tortillas; and the high-gloss paint costs about $85 dollars per five-gallon can.

Rounding off the bad news segment of this broadcast, we go to the streets of Oaxaca, where ambulantes (unlicensed, uncontrolled vendors who “amble in”, set up shop and then “amble out”) are increasingly more apparent, particularly at holiday time (and Oaxacans have lots of holidays), and most particularly this Easter season in Llano Park, where it is no longer possible for the crowds of strollers, runners and joggers to do their thing because the sidewalks are blocked. “It’s payback time”, one particularly savvy friend told me. “The Caciques (bosses) who run these gangs turned out their people to support Ulises, the new governor, and Jesús Ángel Díaz Ortega, his PRI compatriot who became municipal president; and now they are reaping their rewards”. “Don’t forget”, he reminded me, “Gabino, who lost the election to Díaz, is the son of a merchant, and had the backing of a lot of the merchants, and it is those merchants who suffer when ‘low overhead’ street vendors undercut their prices while paying no taxes and stealing their electricity from the lines.”

Who can resist taking a picture of such cute kids?

On the “good news” front, the just-ended Easter season appears to have attracted a lot of paying customers to town, particularly from other areas of Mexico. The Festival Primavera, timed to fall on the spring Equinox, provided visitors and residents alike with a full week of music and dance. Parades, processions, and other special Easter events were religious, political, and entertaining by turns. The weather co-operated, cooling down at night. All in all, an active and exciting time to be here. The even better news is that it’s over, and we can go back to our more relaxed – not to say indolent – lifestyles.

Library Redux:

There may be good news on the Library front. Flush from their victory in the annual General Meeting, the new Board has – as was predicted here – tapped themselves and their friends for about 3,500 bucks, part of which was invested in a badly needed water delivery system (now the toilets work), and part in a DSL wireless connection which should draw laptop-toting tourists who presumably will drop a few bucks in connection fees while spending on a coffee and some baked goods from the coffee shop. Savings generated by the resignation of the Librarian will also help to put the Library back in the black. A “book committee” has been formed and it has apparently made significant progress in weeding through the backlog of books waiting to be catalogued, and others that have remained on the shelves unread for years.

While all this is positive – and goodness knows, nobody wants more than I do to report something positive about the Library – I remain unconvinced that the Board has the will – and the know-how – to run a successful campaign to woo disaffected ex-members back into the fold: an essential element of building a strong and united membership base. The Library must have a greatly expanded membership list so that its survival does not depend on the generosity of a few deep pockets. Nothing wrong with deep pockets; it’s the “depend” part I don’t like.

In order to build a broader base, the Board must appear to be run openly and democratically. Decisions cannot be made between a few people operating behind closed doors. Unless the current Board starts making its decisions at regular Board meetings open to the membership (and this means authorizing and budgeting for the Newsletter, for example), many of the “old members” who have dropped out will elect to stay out – and continue to criticize the Board from the outside, with the effect of discouraging new members. The last crisis was triggered by the resignation of a few Board members who did not feel their generosity was adequately appreciated, and took their toys – and their deep pockets – home with them. We can only hope that this Board will not make the same mistakes.

Local artist Boris Spider, who lives down the street from us, builds altars for many occasions. This one, displayed – as his creations often are – in the driveway of his home, was for the Friday before Good Friday, otherwise known as “Viernes de Dolores” (Friday of Sorrows). The “flowers” around the top are woven from hearts of palm.