Pochote grows:

The organic market, held every Friday and Saturday on the grounds of the Pochote cinema, is bigger and better than ever. Starting out as a “gringo thing” over three years ago, it has morphed into a “Oaxacan thing” as more and more local folks discover the combination of fresh produce and lifestyle products, and food booths featuring standard Oaxaca cuisine such as quesadillas and tortas alongside more exotic mushroom tamales, blue corn tortillas and vegetarian pizza.

[The masthead photo is of “Rosie”, who was born in the market’s first year. Her mom sells organic coffee, bananas, and tomatoes.]

It seems no matter how many tables are set out to eat on – and the number has steadily been increasing – a vacant seat is always hard to come by. One nice byproduct of this is the opportunity to squeeze into a table mostly filled with Mexicans, and practice a little Spanish while finding out how folks feel about the latest events. A pleasant place to meet friends and schmooze a little, Pochote draws most of the (reduced number of) snowbirds every weekend, as well as visitors, and residents of the Oaxaca foreign community.

Valentina, “the lettuce lady”, is still there, and still sells out, but now there are many other booths offering garden greens. Andrea and Noé still provide wonderful dairy products, but there are others offering them as well. We love the greater choice we have.

[Newly emerged on the scene, the folks at Tierra del Sol farm, near Tlacochahuaya sell pre-washed packages of mixed salad greens as well as individual ingredients.]

A couple of years ago, there was a split among the vendors at Pochote, and as a result, a second market was formed nearby, at first in the state artisan’s store (ARIPO), and lately in the courtyard of the Archdiocese building across the street. It’s been a bit of a struggle for them, but when we visited last Friday, we noted the expanded number of booths, and products, available there. Simon and Gudrun, “the sausage Germans” are still the “anchor booth”, and Ymma, with her colorfully painted cabinets made from recycled materials, has become a regular.

We hear rumors that the two markets may merge again. If they do, that will about fill the Pochote space. Meanwhile, their proximity allows one to easily go from one to the other; and together with the Conzatti market, make for a complete urban shopping experience.

[Sunday band concerts under the Indian laurels of the Zócalo have resumed. Broadcast live from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m., they should not be missed]

NAFTA and the price of tortillas:

Do you remember the “gas crisis” when Jimmy Carter was president? How there were huge long lines of cars in Miami, waiting for their turn at high priced gasoline pumps, while just offshore sat long lines of tankers prevented from offloading, and gas reserves were at an all time high but not being released for “security reasons”?

Well, it looks to me like Felipe Calderón (known as FeCal by his opponents) is pulling a similar shell game with corn.

First, his predecessor, Vicente Fox, lowered the government subsidy on tortillas, the staple of the Mexican diet, “forcing” Mexico’s two huge monopolies to raise the price of masa, the corn flour from which tortillas are made. Subsequent “adjustments” drove the price even higher. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Mexican farmers, their crops genetically modified by illegally imported corn and forced to buy higher priced seed from Monsanto, and unable to compete with government-subsidized corn being imported from the U.S., went out of business.

Lately, FeCal took off all controls over the price of tortillas, and predictably, the price has at least doubled in much of the country. His solution for slowing the price rise? Taking all tariffs off imported corn, thus “encouraging” more imports.

Having manufactured a crisis, FeCal and his toadies in the Mexican mainstream press and television are “solving” it by turning more of the Mexican economy over to transnationals.

Two Noches de Rabanos:

First we went to the Zócalo, for the traditional event. I give it a “c”. Limned by crowd control barricades, surrounded by police, and displaying more mediocre work than in past expositions, with a smaller crowd and a total absence of puestos (booths), it was an orderly, sterile, and underwhelming event. On the other hand, there was a shorter wait, and the lines moved smoothly. The Primavera was crowded and lively, and folks generally appeared to be in a festive mood.

As has been their practice since the “People’s Guelaguetza”, the APPO put on a separate festival December 23. Held, as most of their activities recently, in the park alongside the church of Carmen Alto, it began in the morning with a carving workshop for children (pictured above). The themes had to do with recent events, and so instead of carving crèches and castles, the children produced helicopters, PFP, and other symbols and acts of state repression.

In the evening, while poets, musicians, and polemicists entertained the almost impenetrable crowd, we came back to see the results. No police were present (although there were lots of them immediately outside the area, to contain the no-doubt dangerous rabble). There was food for sale, as well as cd’s and dvd’s of the rebellion, t-shirts, and other souvenirs.

Two “Day of the Three Kings” celebrations:

January 6, not Christmas, is the time when Mexican children receive gifts. This, in accordance with the date on which the “three wise men” are said to have arrived with lavish gifts for the baby Jesus.

Each year, the local chapter of the Department of Children and Families (DIF) distributes gifts to the poor children. This year, the official “collection” took place on the Alameda in front of the Cathedral, along with loud music, lots of balloons, clowns and official homage to the governor. The gifts were later distributed at El Llano.

The APPO, once again, proclaimed their own toy collection on the fifth, and distribution on the sixth. Meeting in front of Santo Domingo church, they were soon confronted by companies of state, local, and federal police, who evicted them in spite of their having permits from the city, and the permission of the church, to be there. They retired to the IAGO graphics museum, opened to them by order of owner Francisco Toledo, and continued collecting.

On the sixth, we walked from the Zócalo, up Garcia Vigil street, to the top of Carmen Alto park where the distribution was taking place. As we proceeded up the street, streams of children and adults carrying toys came down the street. When we got there, there were piles and piles of toys, balloons, and other gifts, and once again the park was packed with people. In fact there were so many gifts that after everyone had taken what they wanted, several trucks were loaded with the remainder, to be taken to more remote villages for distribution. Pictured below is a small part of the mounds of toys collected.

The teachers’ strike and the rise of the APPO:

The overwhelming reality of the last year was the rise to the top of the always-bubbling social unrest which – for most of us visitors, long and short term – lay out of sight, just beneath the surface of Oaxacan life. It “began”, in recent historical terms, with the annual mid-May march, demonstration, and occupation of the core center of the city by section 22 of the national teachers’ union (SNTE), led by their General Secretary, Enrique Rueda Pacheco (ERP).

Normally, the “plantón” lasts a couple of weeks, and then some kind of deal is cut with the governor, and everyone goes home. This year, the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), refused to deal, claiming that there was no money to increase salaries, buy school lunches and books for students, or to meet any of the demands of the state’s educators. Incensed by this refusal, and in the light of the huge amounts spent to “beautify” the Zócalo, El Llano park, and the Fountain of the Seven Regions, much of which went to the campaign of fellow PRIista and losing presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, the teachers vowed to stay on – and out of school – indefinitely.

URO, a heavy-handed ruler in the tradition of his predecessor, José Murát, sent in state and city police forces in the middle of the night, to tear-gas and beat the men, women and children who were sleeping; to drive them off and burn their tents, sleeping bags, food, utensils, etc.
Within hours, an incensed citizenry descended on the Zócalo and drove out the police, beginning a six-month siege that ruined the tourist industry – one of the main sources of local income – and caused deep divisions among friends, family members, and local gringo residents.

A focus of a lot of controversy has been the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), which was formed by hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGO), peasant self-help groups, social justice and human rights groups, leftist political parties, and other disaffected formations. Their demands were simple, and profound: the ouster of URO (who, it is generally agreed, stole his electoral victory in the first place) and the freeing of all political prisoners; and a dialogue with the federal government to agree on a method and a timetable for “normalizing” the Oaxaca situation.

APPO was an ad-hoc group that was trying to affect change while at the same time trying to figure out its relationship to the teachers, to the various constituent groups, and to the citizenry of Oaxaca. Inevitably, with lots of help from political opportunists, agents provocateur, an inimical press, and guerrilla-style attacks by right-wing death squads, APPO stumbled into error now and then. Unfortunately, the government and the press were able to capitalize on APPO’s errors in such a way that APPO, not the repressive actions of the government, became the issue.

When Brad Will, a now-canonized free-lance journalist (regarded by some as a “revolution tourist”), was shot by a group of PRIistas in a nearby village, the federal government of now-ex-president Fox sent in the army and the federal police to “pacify” the situation. APPO abandoned, one at a time, all the parks, government buildings, radio stations, and city streets that they had controlled; some voluntarily, and some not. Once they were out of the way, URO ordered all the graffiti (most of which said “URO out”, URO is an assassin” and other such) to be painted over. The state and municipal police, with the assistance of the federal cops, have begun to patrol again, for the first time since they were driven out in June.

[These last two photos were taken recently in the ethnobotanical garden behind StoDomingo church. Considerable work has been done to improve the space, and for those of us who are Spanish-impaired Carol Turkenick conducts tours every Tuesday and Thursday, starting at eleven]

APPO is no longer an occupying force, but in spite of massive arrests of their leadership and the leaders of many of their constituent groups, it has not faded away. Quite the opposite: it still stages marches and rallies; it continues to organize resistance to the police state that exists beneath the new paint and the happy face created from bussing in hundreds of peasants to attend staged rallies in homage to URO; it has inspired several other formations in other states, and within the state of Oaxaca, calling attention to the causes of marginalized and nearly-forgotten peoples.

Nor has the social ferment that created the APPO gone away: last week, there was a march of 4-5000 (some say more, that’s our estimate) supporters, ending in a rally at Plaza de la Danza. Earlier, there was a rally in Carmen Alto park sponsored by “Women Without Fear”, mc’d by Ofelia Medina, a big Mexican star of screen and soaps, with poetry, music (Lila performed) and chants of “Ulises Fuera (out)”. On Saturday, a peaceful march from the center of Miahuatlán, of 500 supporters of the families of APPOistas imprisoned in a nearby facility, was attacked and dispersed by the State Preventative Police (PPE). Later, a hundred PPE drove off an encampment of 60 family members outside the prison, and destroyed their tents, cooking pots, etc. Sunday, some 4,000 protesters marched yet again through the streets of Oaxaca. Ulises has petitioned the Interior Secretariat to send back the PFP, but he was turned down.

Inspired in large part by the “Other Campaign” of the Zapatistas, new APPOs will be springing up all over Mexico. Is there a Revolution coming? Some day. Will it be soon? Who can say? Will it be bloody? Probably. Will we foreigners be affected? Maybe, but probably not fatally. In the meantime, will visitors be safe? No more or less than they have been in the past (pretty safe, indeed). Oaxaca is still a fascinating place to be. C’mon down and see for yourself.

Take the bus from Oaxaca to the MexCity airport:

ADO GL offers direct service, once a day in each direction. It leaves Oaxaca at 10:30 pm and arrives about 4 am or so. Just right for catching one of the many 7:00 planes. Cost is 532 pesos.

The bus coming to Oaxaca leaves at noon, not a very convenient time since most arrivals come in later in the day, but for those of us who come in on night flights and are willing to spend a few hours waiting at the airport, it just might work.

Alternatively, there are still the UNO and GL buses that run at more convenient times, and connect with a shuttle service direct from the arrival salon at TAPO to the airport.
One thing for sure: with prices of up to $200 u.s.d. to fly one way, the bus has become a marginally more viable alternative now that the new service is available.

Strip mining for gold and silver at Taviche:

The town of Taviche is located in the mountains above Ocotlán. When we first got here, there was a train that went there once a day from Oaxaca, and we used to like to take it on Friday to the Ocotlán market. It has long since stopped running.

Taviche has gold and silver deposits, and up until a few decades ago they were being actively mined. As the quantity of ore in the veins depleted, the mines ceased to function.

Inspired by the recent increases in price, Gold Resource Corporation of Canada has announced that it plans to strip mine the mountain. The expected yield is ONE HALF OF ONE OUNCE of precious metals per METRIC TON of soil. The resultant destruction will probably make parts of West Virginia look like Eden, and is sure to poison the water table that feeds Ocotlán and the eastern valley with cyanide and other lovely chemicals used to extract the gold and silver. Building a road that will be able to carry the heavy equipment necessary for the operation will no doubt wreak its own brand of havoc. The railway, which is narrow gauge, and unused for years, will probably not be suitable. So far, I’ve heard little in the way of protest…

Rural Tourism Fair:

On January 27, from 11 to 6, there will be food, displays, workshops and other activities at Amigos del Sol, located at 107 Libres in downtown Oaxaca. An annual event, it has never failed to please. Good tamales and no admission, how can you lose? For more information, go to the website of co-sponsor Planeta.