Death Squads go High Tech in Oaxaca:

[I wrote this piece for Oaxaca Streets, a “Yahoo” user group. It reflects the wear and tear on my psyche after three months of waiting for “the other shoe to drop”, and not being at all sure how, or when, or in whose favor the drop will come. Frankly, folks, I’m tired. Tired of the daily grind of rumors, articles, propaganda and counter-propaganda. Tired of dealing with the contradictions involved in the whole business. If this article is a little too alarmist, or a little too negative, or whatever, well, maybe it’s time for me to take a vacation.]

Their flag is white, with a dove rampant. The name of the organization is “Oaxaca en Paz”. In spite of their claim to be made up of “average working people”, their leadership – according to La Jornada, one of the four largest circulation newspapers in Mexico – is from the “business class”, and associated closely with the campaign of presidential winner-by-fraud Felipe Calderón of Acción Nacionál. They are at present the most dangerous people in Oaxaca.

[I still have a fascination for banners. The one at the top asks for a world free of imperialism, and this one exhorts the people to defent their rights.]

Take a look at their website, . (It is not always “up” on the web, so if you get a “can’t find” error message, try again later.) The people shown on it (and where, exactly, did they get the rather official looking photos?) are – or were – in the leadership of the teachers’ union, the People’s Congress (APPO) and various peasant self-help organizations. They are people marked for death, disappearance, and arrest (most often proceeding from torture to transportation to far-away prisons where they are held without bail or family contact).

Note that the addresses of the “non-conformers” are published, so that anyone who wishes to can find them – or their family – can easily do so. Click on the photo, and read the list of “charges” made against them: belonging to (LEGAL) communist formations; taking part in (LEGAL) encampments; being “associated with” someone involved with an armed political insurgency; etc. Note that the “biggest fish” such as Rueda Pacheco, the head of the teachers, is not present, probably because he is too prominent (or too well protected).

[Where there are tarps, there are ropes. Where there are lots of tarps…]

Savor the similarity between this method of spotlighting the “enemy” and the deck-of-cards strategy in Iraq. Think about the posters put up in Guatemala, and elsewhere, during the “dirty wars”. These are the equivalent of “wanted, dead or alive” notices, folks, and many of the people who are executing these warrants are not in any way part of the official system of law enforcement – at least not officially. This is vigilante “justice” on behalf of the rich and powerful: nothing new in the southern two-thirds of our troubled hemisphere.

So far there has not been one single killing, kidnapping, or disappearance of anyone arrayed against the insurrection that is building steam here in Oaxaca, while several cases of murder, torture, and disappearance have taken place against the protesters. There has been property destroyed, there have been some agents of the State detained when they showed up among the protesters to cause trouble (all were turned over either to the Red Cross or to the federal authorities within hours, and showed some bruises from scuffling but no signs of torture). There have been some injuries, but none requiring long-term hospitalization (unlike among the victims of police violence). Up until recently, the demonstrations have been, if not always peaceful, mostly short on personal physical attack. But that is changing: Oaxaca could be moving toward a state of civil war, brought on by strategies such as that of Oaxaca en Paz.

A couple of days ago, the more-or-less defunct People’s Liberation Army (EPR) started making noises about reconstituting itself and joining the struggle as a “defense force”. Other paramilitary organizations may spring up if more radical elements within the opposition conclude that the situation is “kill or be killed”. Whether you agree or disagree with the legitimacy of the insurrection, or its methods, or its goals, it would be valuable to understand that the Paz website is a serious provocation and an escalation of a situation that has so far maintained a delicate, if not always pretty or convenient, balance. One article on the website, for example, advocates “adulterating” food and drink and then giving it to the occupiers.

The “center”, in Oaxaca, may not hold much longer. We are not yet prepared to leave, but we are exercising a lot more caution than we used to. We walk around the center and enjoy the festive Zócalo, but we have one ear cocked for helicopters. When I see a car without license plates (the “disappearance” squads travel thus) or a group of muscular men in plain clothes and police style boots, I think about crossing the street or ducking into a nearby shop. We are journalists, and we are aware that our ilk are usually among the first casualties of state oppression (in fact, several journalists have reported incidents of abduction / torture / intimidation).

You can help. Write to Amnesty International. Demand they investigate “oaxacaenpaz”. Don’t send them this article, just ask “what are you doing about the rise in death squad activity in Oaxaca?”. This is our home. These are our neighbors. We will leave if we have to, but that is still a long way away – we hope.


Since I wrote this piece, two more protesters narrowly escaped capture and one more was shot. On the other hand, more unions have joined the resistance, and the bus drivers – who suffered a half dozen dead organizers in a failed unionizing attempt many years ago – are talking about unionizing now. Many banks have been closed (no ATM) and strike leadership has called for a complete blockade of all major roads leading into the city today (August 18).

Still, all this is not happening in a vacuum in which the vast majority goes on about their business while the “fringes” battle. The cost to just plain folks is enormous. Small shops and restaurants, small service businesses, and others dependant on teacher income (a lot of Oaxaca’s liquid assets come in the form of teacher salaries) or high-end tourism money, or government supply contracts, are going belly up at an alarming rate according to some of the local folks I’ve been talking to. Disruption of government means, among other things, reduced vaccinations for kids, reduced mosquito control in the face of increased incidents of dengue fever, no city police if you are being attacked, no city ambulance if you have an emergency, etc. While private services take up some of that slack, still, there are a lot of eggs being broken to make this omelet.

In no way am I advocating an end to the insurrection. Nor did I advocate having an insurrection. Like most of my expat friends and acquaintances, I’m just trying to get by and wondering when it will end, and what it will look like when it does.

Returning home:

When Diana first came to Oaxaca, she shopped at the Merced market. When I joined her in our first apartment together, a trip to the Sunday market at La Merced was part of our normal routine.

Through seven years and two moves to other parts of town, our shopping patterns changed. Now that we are back in “the old neighborhood”, we are becoming reacquainted with the “old market”, and if anything we find it even better than it used to be.

La Merced is one of several “permanent” markets in Oaxaca. The walls, floors, and ceiling are of concrete. So are most of the counters. It’s a small market compared to the Juarez, and miniscule compared to the giant engine of commerce known as the Central de Abastos, but you can get – aside from the normal complement of fruits and vegetables – just about everything for your day to day needs. And if you need something esoteric, like incense (which I just bought at a nearby store named “Esoteric”, believe it or not), there are individual stores surrounding the market itself.

Like most of the “mercaditos” (small markets) in Oaxaca, La Merced has undergone extensive renovations, aimed at upping the hygiene level and the eye-appeal (those that have not yet done so are scheduled for cleanup this year). Far enough off the beaten path to have so far avoided a lot of the tourist trade (there are few nick-nacks), La Merced is a gem worth showing off. We are glad to be back.

As time goes on, we will be featuring various aspects of “our” market. For example, there is a great “fonda” (cheap eating place) there. Expect more pictures, too…

[We just had the patio painted, and are beginning to arrange our ceramic decorations and our masetas (pots with plants). Nice blue, no?]

Could this be the answer to your snail mail problem?

There are two new services available for sending and receiving mail in Oaxaca. If they fit your needs, they are just the right thing to treat the MexPost blues. However, there are many exclusions listed on their web pages, the chief among which from my point of view is “no prescription medicine”. Of course, you can always lie (did I say that?) and call your meds “documents”, and that will probably work. Look their web pages over and decide for yourself how useful they might be.

One is MailBoxes Etc. which keeps a box for you in Florida, and flies in and out of Oaxaca once a week. The basic fee is $30 u.s.d. a month. The Oaxaca office is in the Cinco Señores neighborhood, just off the Periferico on Avenida Universitaria. Their email address is

The other, which is puro Mexicano, is called Merkalink and operates through Texas. Check them out too.

We still rely on the kindness of strangers (and friends) to bring down the stuff that we need between trips to the U.S., but we don’t have a lot of magazine subscriptions, nor an extensive snailmail correspondence…

[As you can see, we have a lot of artesania, collected over about 50 years if you count each of us. For the moment, we have plenty of wall space, but my guess is that that’s only a temporary condition, as we seem to have a hebit of adding things now and then.]

A subscriber recommends a good cheap room:

Stan, [Hostal Paulina] is the top-rated youth hostel in the Moon Oaxaca Handbook. It’s at V Trujano #321 951/516-2005. “best of all possible hosteling worlds” the book says. male and female dorms about $9-10 and includes very good breakfast. I found them to be very clean, friendly and accommodating…with an inside garden/patio. Single rooms about $20-25. There were some recent comments on the TripAdvisor web site about “institutional” and “noise from outside.” But I think these comments came from people who were not used to staying in hostels. We have backpacked all over the world…staying in hostels and guesthouses and this was one of the nicest we have seen. It is not a place for extended stay with a lot of amenities…there is a reason hostels are inexpensive. I stayed there the night I got in on the plane one night until I could get into my apartment. A consideration: many hostels have kitchens where you can prepare your own food, however this one did not. Hostels are good for young people or older people like me who are traveled and are “troopers.”

[I checked out their website, and it looks very good. Reserving in advance would probably be a good idea.

Thanks to Eunice for the heads-up on this and for the Mail Boxes note.]

Don’t Forget the Piano and Organ Concerts:

Every first Sunday of the month, the Music Academy affiliated with the Oaxaca Historical Organ Institute puts on a concert, performed by faculty and guest soloists. Alternating from one month to the next, the piano concerts take place at 6:00 p.m. in the Oaxaca Cultural Center next to Santo Domingo church; and the organ performances are at 1:15 or so in the Cathedral. The next concert, on September 3, is at Santo Domingo.

As are most of the performances organized by IOHIO, there is no fee, but a voluntary contribution is accepted. Many of the attendees are students and other folks less able to afford to pay, so this makes attendance by visitors and expatriates even more crucial (they tend to be able to afford at least a little: we, for example, genreally contribute 50 pesos each).

So, if you are in town, or coming to town, consider attending one of these fine events. Good music, good cause: can’t lose.

The Cubans have landed:

As promised, Cuban specialists have arrived in Oaxaca state to help deal with the problems of persons with special needs. Sixteen rehabilitation specialists, among them doctors, and mostly women, will train 64 local practitioners in advanced methodology, set up clinics in 23 different health care facilities around the state, and give hundreds of workshops for families, communities, and affected individuals.

Almost all the money comes from the Cuban government. Way to go, Fidel…