Bay area street art:

While visiting with a friend in Berkeley recently, we were taken to an area of the San Francisco Bay shoreline known as “the Bulb”. Formed by landfill, the spit of land sticking out in to the bay just west of Albany has reseeded itself in native grasses and flowers. It sports walking trails, beaches and art made with “found” objects, most of which are hatch covers and other large pieces of wood that have floated up from the Bay. A couple of the photos in this issue were taken there.

On our way back to “civilization”, we picked up a copy of a local newspaper. It contained an article that announced the integration of that section of the East Bay walkway / park with the completed sections above and below it. The price extracted by the walkway “authority” or whoever they are, is the removal of the “unsightly” constructs, as well as permission to allow dogs to run free there. After reading this, we were doubly glad Diana had taken the pictures: another endangered species sacrificed for “progress”.

[This wooden figure guards the Bulb. He is made from washed-up wood. The sculpture in the masthead is part of a trio of similar works.]

Some Things Never Change:

In the mid-nineties, shortly after I moved to Oaxaca, the nation was rocked by the massacre of 17 peasant farmer ecologists from Guerrero, on their way to a rally to protest clear cutting of their forests by Boise Cascade, a U.S. transnational corporation. In a Watergate-like denouement, a video tape of the shooting surfaced, allegedly shot as part of a “training film” for the state judicial police. It showed the executions, and the planting of weapons on the unarmed farmers’ corpses. Later, an audio tape surfaced, on which the (PRI) governor, Rubén Figueroa, was clearly heard to tell his chief of state police to use any means necessary to stop the protesters. “Am I not the Governor?” he said by way of justification. Figueroa personally benefited from the lumbering deal: his family owned most of the trucks that hauled the logs to mill, and the milled wood to market.

In 1999, two leaders of the same movement were arrested on phony weapons and drug charges, tortured into “confessing”, and given lengthy sentences. Fortunately for them, Amnesty International took an interest in their case, and turned up the heat. Later, the Goldman Fund awarded them a prestigious (and lucrative) award for their work. A lot of pressure was put on the government, and they were released in 2002 – for “humanitarian reasons”, a resolution that is so far short of “innocent” that they can be picked up at any time and thrown back into prison. The governor was also a PRIista, and also tied to lumber interests and to the Figueroa family.

[This fine cow is grazing within a right-of-way owned by the BayArea Rapid Transit, in north Berkeley. This particular strip includes historical displays, murals, and a walk/bike path].

Earlier this year, in a stunning upset, the PRI lost the governorship to a PRD candidate who ran on a reform platform. Many expected things to change.

In 1998, thirteen men, all peasant ecologists organizing against the cacique (boss) in their area of the mountains of Guerrero, were arrested and accused of killing the caciques son. All but one have since been released because the evidence against them was found to have been tainted by torture. One of the released men was Alberto Peñaloza. Last week, a dozen men armed with assault weapons attacked Peñaloza’s home, severely wounding him and two of his sons, and killing two other of his children. The state judicial police launched an immediate investigation. The result: the arrest of three members of Peñaloza’s group on “weapons charges”. Given the opportunity to stop the death squad activity in the area, the police always find that the perpetrators are part of the group that is being attacked.

A few days ago, an official statement was issued: the entire affair was a “settling of accounts” between factions of the ecology movement. Case solved.

[ That’s San Francisco in the background. This shot was taken from down near the Oakland Bay Bridge, along a parkway running south of the Ferry Building]

Rifaximin: should you leave home without it?

Rifaximin, recently ballyhooed by the researchers who investigated it as a cure – and a preventative – for travelers’ diarrhea, may or may not be the magic wand we all hope to be able to wave when we travel in the tropics.

According to an article recently published in the Herald, this drug not only cures the trots, but it acts as an “inoculation” against coming down with the vacation-spoiling condition. We are told that in a recent blind study of a couple of hundred foreign students in Guadalajara, only 15% who took Rifaximin starting two weeks before leaving home got sick, as opposed to about half of those who took the placebo.

Rifaximin is an anti-biotic. It is, like all antibiotics, specifically meant to attack certain bacterial infections, in this case including those that sometimes are ingested along with exotic fare. Like all antibiotics, it carries with it the possibility that long-term use can grow immune strains of the malady it is treating. The researchers claim that this particular antibiotic has “properties that make it unlikely to cause resistance”. If this is true, for those of you who ALWAYS get sick when you travel, this may indeed be a great break-through. If it’s true.

I find myself with as many questions as answers. For example, have they tested Rifaximin against other antibiotics such as Doxicyclin, which we know works in certain cases, to prove the “no resistance” claim? Since, by their own admission, the key researchers acted as consultants to Rifaximin’s parent company, is it reasonable to wonder if maybe their objectivity has been at least a little damaged?

[ It may be a little late, but the Mission District version of Carnavál gives nothing away to its February cousin. Floats and bands and dancers from just about every Central American country and a few others strut their stuff in the finest fashion]

I still believe, based on anecdotal evidence, that most people who come to Oaxaca and then get sick actually contracted the germ in the airplane coming down, and not in the streets and restaurants of their destination. Still, there are some people who seem to get hit with a dose every time they walk out the door, and if it comes to a choice between medicate or stay at home, I bet you can guess which choice I would make.

What I won’t do is make your choices. I’m not a doctor, or even a very well informed patient. What I can and do urge is that you “Google” Rifaximin and check it out for yourself; and of course (here’s the part where I deny liability), consult your physician.

Teachers Have Gone Home:

After only five days, Oaxaca’s perennial summer visitors the teachers, decamped their ranks of some 60,000 educators and returned to their classroom duties. This, the shortest strike in my memory, was, by some accounts not even necessary: they ended up accepting a new agreement which included all their demands – and which the government had offered to them before they swooped in. So why did they do it? Explanations vary, but the two most likely are that they wanted to make sure the government felt their power as a ploy for next year (favorable) or that they just wanted some time off with pay (unfavorable).

A Zócalo Update:

I am chagrined and disappointed to have to admit that long-distance journalism – at least in my case – has not worked very well lately. In spite of numerous pleas to lots of friends, acquaintances and organizations in Oaxaca via e-mail, and daily on-line checks of newspapers, I have been able to garner only the sketchiest of information, some of which I will pass on to you here.

Appeals to “higher authority” have apparently failed. INAH, the antiquities secretariat, which stopped the redoing of the Carmen Alto plaza for months, some years ago, while they mapped an old aqueduct system, has refused to intervene in this case. Apparently, they have decided that there is nothing of archeological value to be found. This decision was taken after the INAH representative for the Centro Historico abruptly resigned his position, which he had held for 12 years, in favor of an unspecified promotion elsewhere. However, not only the agent and his boss are saying that the two are not connected: so does a prominent professor / ecologist, who also mentioned in a recent “Noticias” interview that the new agent comes with 15 years’ experience as an “investigator” for INAH in Oaxaca. On Tuesday, the new INAH representative announced a “special partnership” between the city and the secretariat aimed at forming a working group to oversee the progress of the installation.

UNESCO, the UN agency that the opposition was counting on to stop the project on the grounds that it violates the terms of an agreement granting Oaxaca “World Heritage City” status, has proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. A note was filed with the government, not weighing in against the project design, but rather objecting to a failure to properly notify UNICEF of the proposed changes: a “timely reporting” clause which is designed to protect bureaucratic turf, and which cam be “made right” by doing a filing.

Inexplicably, the federal government (which many expected would launch an investigation into the financial dealings surrounding the project, since the current governor, Ulises, is a protégé of the old governor, Murat, with whom Fox has had a serious feud going for some time) has awarded about 1.5 million dollars to the Centro Historico, to be spent on “infrastructure”, which may be a buzzword for the rumored plan to tear down the Juarez Market to build a multi-level public parking facility.

Meanwhile, there was a demo about 10 days ago, that drew less than a thousand people, and did not result in any form of promised “sit-in” style civil disobedience. PRO-AX, Francisco Toledo’s urban design group whose most visible action was stopping a McDonald hamburger stand from invading the Zócalo area a few years ago, weighed in late and without much support from the Maestro himself. Toledo is rumored to have favored the replacement of the Indian Laurel trees with native plants, grasses and cacti: botanical provincialism.

Last week, a second Laurel fell down. City landscapers are saying that the cause was severe root rot from a fungus known to invade these particular behemoths. Tree huggers are claiming that the roots were damaged by de-construction equipment used to remove the sidewalks, streets, and other flora and fauna from the Square. Renewal-ists are saying that at least half the trees need to come down before they fall down. Protectionists are saying that with proper care, almost all can be saved.

As I write this, on the AMTRAK taking us from Berkeley back to the Central Valley, there is little that I can say with any certainty. In ten days, we will be home again, and I will be making it a priority to seek whatever clarification I can. Hopefully, around the 15th, we’ll be able to synthesize what we will have learned into an article for the next Newsletter.

A Roof for the Guelaguetza?

Plans are afoot to roof the Guelaguetza amphitheater, home to one of Oaxaca’s most important cultural / tourism events, which takes place every July. Reasons given include excessive wind (how does an open roof prevent that?), oppressive sunlight, and potential rain (in our eleven years here, the July dances have never been rained out). Coming as it does on the heels of the Zócalo debacle, one is bound to be suspicious of the second of a series of “mega-projects” being pushed by the PRI-dominated state and federal governments. Like the Zócalo project, it was kept secret until after the contract had been let, in this case to an outfit in Great Britain (probably through a middle-person in Oaxaca: follow the money). Cost: 285 million pesos (about 2.5 million US). This is a diversion of needed funds from health, housing, water delivery and sanitation. Aside from what appears to be fiscal irresponsibility if not outright theft, the government needs to answer for the esthetic ruination of a landmark that has graced Oaxaca’s hills for decades.

Tuesday, it was announced that the local equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce has approved the project – providing that the roof be constructed in such a way as to not interfere with the panoramic view of the city and valley now afforded to anyone sitting in the uncovered current version.

[ Wending our way from breakfast at Albahaca to the Friday organic market at Pochote. We’ll be doing that again soon. Travel is nice. Being home is also nice. Photo by Anne Costello.]

Never Mind, You won’t be able to get there anyway:

Plans are afoot – once again done in the dark – to “expand” the section of the Pan American Highway that goes uphill to the Fortín Plaza hotel, from the monument where the road from Mexico City splits, with the other branch going into downtown via Independencia. A two-lane road, it is due to be four lanes wide. The road goes past the entrance to the Guelaguetza amphitheater. It is the only way to get there by car.

This is another project whose time has not yet arrived. The bottleneck for traffic does not occur until several blocks after the road becomes the four-to-six-lane street known as Calzado de los Niños Héroes de Chapultepec. The real problems are the major intersections with avenidas Juarez, Pino Suarez, and Vasconcelos. This smells like another boondoggle to me.

The project will divert all the cross-country traffic to Independencia, already choked with cars and buses. The only possible explanation for such stupidity is profit. Road projects are notorious for the opportunities they provide for kickbacks, shoddy materials and workmanship, and phony cost over-runs.

What Oaxaca needs is a “ring road”, well outside the city limits, that will take through traffic along the southern side of the valley, but no plans exist – so far as we know – for such a project.