Politics, Politics:

I’d love to write about other things. I’m about up to here with ferment, unrest, confrontations, he-said-she-said. Picking my way through all the information, all the lies, all the half-truths, all the self-serving propaganda on both sides of the various conflicts, has given me a headache. But what’s a person to do? Ignoring the current situation won’t serve anyone, including me. Writing about our house, culture, whatever, I am constantly aware that there is an insurrection underway out there; that the health, safety, and enjoyment of being here may depend on whether or not I – and others – can accurately evaluate what is going on. After all, ultimately, that is what this publication is about: survival; enhanced experiences, based on accurate intelligence.

These thoughts are reinforced by the barrage of emails I get every day from folks asking if it’s safe to come down; if it’s o.k. to bring the kids; if perhaps they should postpone their visit to a later (presumably more tranquil) time.

So this issue, once again, is dominated by political themes. I wish it weren’t; that we had more time to travel, to be entertained, etc; and to pass on what we learn to you; but the times just won’t allow it. Change, insurrection, destabilization: politics is in the air.

The (as yet undecided) election:

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is a rock. Felipe Calderon is a hard place. The electoral system is taking a helluva beating. While the pundits wail about how AMLO is subverting democracy and extorting the oh-so-holy and unbiased judicial panel hearing the case for declaring the election a fraud – and is this ironic or what? – by turning out over a million people for a Zócalo pep rally in MexCity, AMLO is busy upping the ante: let’s go for double or nothing, he says about an upcoming gathering he has called for the 30th.

The country is outraged by the evidence (perhaps not “legal” evidence, but plenty evident to the average Juan) describing how the election was stolen: shaved vote tallies in AMLO precincts, inflated counts in Felipe’s districts; widespread cases of it-don’t-add-up (for example, where AMLO’s PRD won in local and state elections by a wide margin but AMLO came out barely ahead; or where Felipe’s spread against AMLO far exceeded the spread between winning PAN deputies and their PRD challengers), “lost” ballot boxes; and vote totals that exceeded the sum of all the votes cast in the voting booths in PAN districts.

Calderon is pursuing a double-tongued strategy. On the one hand, he is insisting that he was the winner, and that a recount would show that; on the other hand he is refusing to go along with a recount, and is in fact calling for a recount of his own, in several AMLO states. Why would he do that, if he were so sure he would win?

If AMLO can keep it up, and there is no indication that he cannot, anything short of a complete recount, vote by vote, will likely result in destabilization of the government. Insurrections are already underway in Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Guerrero and Chiapas. Michoacan may explode at any time. Calderon can no more govern than Fox has done. AMLO may be able to: although he will have serious opposition in the legislature, he will not have the kind of constant agitation on the streets that Calderon will have to face should he be installed without a recount..

The vultures have descended:

Led by the New York Times and the Associated Press, the attack dogs of the mainstream media have turned their attentions to Oaxaca in yet another attempt to portray the call for change sweeping Latin America as some sort of cross between gangsterism and a communist plot against the forces of political stability (read, pro-US politicos).

[Interesting bit of information, posted in “occupied central Oaxaca”. Figures are in pesos. Note, for example, that the person responsible for administering the Courts earns almost 300 times the average health ministry pensioner. 50 pesos a day is below the official minimum wage, and only about 10% of retirees get any pension at all.]

The most egregious of the mainstream attacks came this last week from Joan Grillo. In a cleverly crafted pastiche of half-truths and misrepresentations, Grillo presented a picture of Oaxaca guaranteed to alarm even the most liberal of tourists, echoing “advisories” from the State Department and the pronouncements of Oaxaca’s large tourist hotel owners (all of whom live elsewhere). Think of this:

We are told that the Guelaguetza was canceled. The truth is that there was a Guelaguetza this year. It didn’t take place in the stadium and didn’t cost thirty-five dollars. It was free, happened in the streets (parades, fireworks, festivities and dances in the various “barrios” of the city and in many of the surrounding commercial centers) and in the stadium of the Technological University (where over 20,000 citizens and visitors gathered on Monday). Because it was put on by the Oaxaca People’s Council, the leader in the “impeach the governor” campaign, the interludes between dances resembled a political rally, but people who attended seemed to have enjoyed themselves anyway, according to feedback provided by one b&b owner, some of whose guests were present, and a couple of friends from the gringo community.

We are told that the teachers are spoilers, whose dirty habits are responsible for heaps of garbage all over the city center. The truth is that the city, in an act of calculated provocation, has refused to give any services to the occupied areas as long as there are strikers there. After two months of occupation, there is garbage, and it is unsightly, and it does smell. But it is mostly concentrated in piles at intersections, and looks like no more than accumulates at pickup points all over town when the garbage collectors fail to come around for a few days, due to either labor disputes or blockades by the communities near the dump fighting for delivery of water and sewage services. Considering that as many as 70,000 people have been hunkered down over the last two months, the amount of unremoved garbage that remains is a testimony to how clean and orderly the teachers are.

We hear that the teachers are destroying property as a tactic of occupation. The reality is that some property has been damaged, mostly government buildings, but it is unclear who is responsible. For example, it is widely believed that the damage to the Guelaguetza stadium was done by thugs loyal to the governor, a point of view that is reinforced by eyewitness testimony from citizens of the barrio above the amphitheater, who had a clear view of the action. Here’s another b&b owner, talking about his experience with yellow-dog journalism:

“When that AP [editor’s note: Joan Grillo] story hit the US papers on Friday, some people emailed
me; I told them it was way overblown, and recounted my and our guests’ experiences and views.  For example, the AP story quoted a tourist who went to the Teatro Juarez for a performance, to find it cancelled, and a bunch of people blocking the access; the tourist was quoted as saying that the protesters, “people with masks and sticks and slingshots breaking the auditorium windows and setting the building on fire.”  Well, nothing like that actually happened; they were blocking the adjacent entrance to the Tourism Office, where people had to go to get Guelaguetza ticket refunds (we got our refunds earlier in the week without any problems).  The protesters neither wrecked nor burned anything.  I drove by on Saturday morning, and the huge glass doors to the theater were intact.  So much for lazy, sloppy, sensation-seeking journalism!”

This particular host encouraged his guests to go to the village of San Antonino, near Ocotlan, for their Guelaguetza experience, and they had a wonderful time. Oaxaca is still a wonderful destination, for even the mildly adventurous.

The media shows us a picture of a couple of masked youth hauling a box of Molotov cocktails across the Zócalo. We also have a picture, courtesy of our friend Max. They don’t tell us that teachers present in the area intercepted the incendiaries, which they removed from the area; nor that there have been no cases documented where the occupiers have employed such devices. The house of teachers’ union leader Rueda Pacheco, on the other hand, was (unsuccessfully) fire bombed. Wonder who would do that…

[This photo appeared in “El Imparciál. Beautiful day, festive crowd. pretty dancers, and it was free.]

The media tell us that the teachers had a stockpile of automatic rifles when the police invaded their headquarters on June 14. However, there have been no documented cases of such weapons being used against the forces of the State, while dozens of shots were taken this weekend at Radio Universidad, a key communications channel for the occupiers, while women and children were sheltering inside. Likewise, a blogger of dubious provenance here in Oaxaca has transformed the generosity of the University students running the station offering shelter, into a “takeover” of the facility by the teachers…

The media repeat the lies told by the hotel owners’ association that over 75% of the tourist flow has shunned Oaxaca. The truth is that while tourism is definitely down, Monte Albán authorities are saying that it is up at their site, a phenomenon that suggests that there has been a shift in the pattern of tourism rather than a huge net loss. This drumbeat of half-truths continues almost daily, as the association puts out press releases purporting to show how “damaging” the occupation is to the livelihood of average Oaxaqueños.

[This is the infamous “molotov cocktail” group. Our pal Max took the picture. Note the destruction, executed earlier by the forces of the State.]

The media tells us that the teachers have set up checkpoints, and are demanding i.d. and a reason for being there before allowing tourists to enter “their” territory. The truth is that there were a few checkpoints for a short time on the day of the police attack (June 14): a precaution, teachers say, made necessary by the fear of further attacks, and concern that non-combatants might, if present, be caught in the confrontations. There are no checkpoints now, nor have there been for over two months.

Much of the damage done during the occupation has been caused by youthful nihilists whose hormones exceed their good sense. Controlling these formations while not repressing their right to be heard is a challenge that the leadership of the occupation needs to address. It is complicated by the fact that the more “radical” groups are probably the ones most infiltrated by agents provocateur, government plants whose job it is to make the occupiers look as bad as possible. Still, it is necessary, and the teachers and their allies should take a firm stand against destroyers.

C’mon down. It’s cool (both in terms of weather and in terms of ambiance), the rains have made everything beautifully green, the people are swell (including those pesky teachers), the Zócalo colorful (if a little noisy: those cd sellers really need to tone it down). The noise is worst around the Primavera, so if you’re looking for us, try the Bar Jardin…

Music to catch pneumonia for:

Saturday night, we attended a concert in the salon of Cuicacalli (in Nahuatl, “house of song”), a music school and performance space located on Guerrero street just off Libres. Directors Daniel Cruz and his wife Dula Cedillo, who teach violin and piano respectively, have been holding concert events here since 2003. It is a perfect space for small-group concerts, holding about 50 people comfortably. The lighting is good.

When we left the house to walk the four blocks to the concert, it was raining pretty hard. As we walked, the rain got harder. By the time we got there we were both thoroughly soaked in spite of our umbrellas. Since the hall was unheated, as are almost all venues, we sat through the entire affair in our own little puddles of water. Even so, we thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

Mozart and Beethoven shared billing with Puccini (a non-operatic piece) and Miguel Bernal Jimenez. As our friend Max noted, all the pieces were “muscular”: dense, assertive, intense. Not the usual choice for chamber music hereabouts. All the more special then, for the marvelous performance by a talented bunch.

As is the normal modus operandi here, there is a mix of local and imported musicians performing. This time it was a string quartet: two violins, one viola and a cello. Next weekend it will be two guitarists. After that, a soprano with pianist, then three flutes, and last in the series will be a duet with the two directors performing.

All performances are 100 pesos, well worth it, although a friend who has attended many presentations there says that some that she has heard were not of high quality.

[Migues Sampiero (on sax) and friends, playing in the garden at Casa Coloniál. Well worth the 50 pesos. Performances on a Sunday, once a month.]

Back in the 21st Century:

We have a phone! We have DSL! It’s like rising from the dead. Hallelujah!!!!!

It wasn’t easy. We knew it wouldn’t be when we found out our upstairs neighbor had been waiting since August for her phone. After many visits to the Telmex office, over a period of weeks, a trip to the suburb of Santa Rosa to try to appeal directly to an installer, and phone calls to that office as well, we gave up and hired a “fixer”.

About ten days after we contracted with him to wire our house for telephone plugs (the wiring was done by somebody else, about one day after we made the deal), he showed up with an installer, who connected us to the pole. I believe if I had paid the fixer when he installed the plugs, we would still be waiting for a connection. However, having heard too many horror stories (and experienced a few ourselves over the years), we stood firm: no dial tone, no pay.

It cost us 500 pesos for his services, plus another 100 to the lineman. We introduced him to our neighbor, who already has wiring and plugs from a previous tenant. He said he could get the lineman to come back for her for 200 pesos (so, by subtraction, our installation was 300 pesos, not a bad price for the work), but as of now (ten days) they have not shown up for her. I’m not sure how these things work…

We also have new kitchen cabinets, and shelves in our office closet. I guess you could say we’re about done, now that the shelving for the cd / dvd storage, the cup storage in the kitchen, and a few other pieces, have been ordered. It certainly feels like home.

If you want our phone number, just write and ask for it.

Advances on the medical front:

Almost 40 years after the first corneal transplant was performed in Guadalajara, doctors performed two such operations here in Oaxaca this spring. The reason for the gap was not to be found in lack of expertise: some ophthalmologic surgeons here were trained long ago to perform the procedure. It was lack of proper equipment. Clinica Las Rosas now has the capability.

As we have observed before in these pages, only lack of equipment prevents many treatments from being carried out. While many doctors here are hacks ( a status which is not unknown on the other side of the border), there are some good ones, and it’s good to see them so empowered.

On a completely different level, the Oaxacan agency in charge of child and family protection, known as DIF by its Spanish initials, signed a pact with Cuba this spring, which should result in the arrival of a contingent of experts in audiology, physical therapy, speech development, and other issues affecting special needs in the poor and remote communities in the state. The plan is for the teams to disperse to the seven regions, along with equipment which they are bringing with them. The state will help defray expenses from existing funds, and the treatments will be free. As well, the Cubans will train Oaxacan service-people. I hope that by October, we will have traveled to one of the sites to report first-hand.

Oaxaca sets another unenviable record:

As if displacement of farmers, percentage of people suffering from malnutrition, illiteracy, and absent (because they are working in distant places) men in villages were not enough to distinguish Oaxaca state from more affluent locations in Mexico, the INEGI (the institute that publishes maps and statistical reports) recently reported that Oaxaca leads the nation in widowhood. Hmmm…