Don’t be fooled:

While the national media and the candidates whip up ever more hysteria about the (very real) “immigration problem”, proclaiming it to be your number one preocupation, and the issue on which the election will be decided, others are reporting that according to recent surveys, only 15% of Americans would agree. The economy, particularly the mortgage crisis; the endless war; education; and of course el numero uno, the health care crisis, are far closer to our hearts. Those issues just don’t lend themselves to sound bites of “talk tough” the way the Brown Peril does.

[The masthead photo is of a textile work by Francisco Toledo’s wife Trini. It is one of scores of international works on display in the Casa de Arte in San Augustín Etla. Much of this show will be remounted in the yet-to-be-completed Textile Museum in downtown Oaxaca. While this space is pure industrial, the new space will be a colonial – era building.]

One person, making a difference:

(This from Diana): A common belief is that rich people are tight with money and that is how they stay rich;  the poor are more generous and I guess you could say that is how they stay poor. I don’t know if there is validity in that but it certainly would describe someone in Oaxaca I just met.  Cicely Winter took me to visit a woman who has devoted the past 6 years to taking care of small children whose mothers are unable to provide for them.

Coco is a mother-surrogate in her own house and property and with her own funds. With her own children grown (but around to help when they can), she  is running a nursery for about 8 children from the ages of 2 -10, and except for inadequate aid from governmental agencies,  she buys food and other necessities out of her own pocket.

Coco asks no questions of the mothers, who may be prostitutes,  who may be in jail,  who have no money or no home.  There is a limit on how many children she can care for at the same time but she knows the need is out there.  Some children have grown up under her care, others are with her for shorter periods of time. Some come to her malnourished, some come to her physically abused.  She gives them tender, loving care to the best of her ability,  asking nothing of the mothers, not even when they will return for their children.   Most of them, however, do return when they can.  She doesn’t run an orphanage or an adoption agency.  She is there to care for the small and neglected children – her heart goes out to them.

Coco has reached a point where she needs help to continue her work.  Help is needed to remodel the unfinished building that would provide more room to house the children; and to buy the milk the kids need. The government food bank supplies only rice, beans, and crackers.  Helpers are needed to wash the clothes,  to supervise the small children,  and to offer the children cultural and educational activities; more than just physical care.  Supplies like children’s  books,  in Spanish, or puzzles or  coloring materials are needed.   But what is primarily needed is money.  She is receiving some help to become a legal Mexican non-profit agency, in order to continue to care for the children without having to worry about running afoul of the law and to have more established financial conduits.

[This is Maria. She, her mother, and her younger sister work the Zócalo, selling candy, gum and cigarettes to the tourists. We think by her “traje” (costume) that she is from Chiapas.]

If you live far away and wish to make a contribution, just go to our donations page. I  will guarantee that any donations you make will be delivered directly to Coco. We take nothing for exchanging your dollars into pesos and delivering them.  For those of you coming to Oaxaca for the winter, please think about bringing  what you can and contact me when you get here.   For those of you who are or will be in Oaxaca,  a trip to the house to see the children can be arranged.   Thank you.

[Editor’s note: word just reached us that the local branch of SorOptimista, a national women’s group, has awarded Coco a small grant (1,000p). This places her on the State list of grant applicants, and, if she is chosen, a larger grant and placement in the national list. I know one of the Directors of the local group, and she is not a frivolous or vacuous person. They make a thorough investigation, and only grant to the most worthy of the dozens of groups that apply to them for funds.]

Mapping Dissidence in Oaxaca:

In Mexico, it’s a case of “close the doors, they come in the windows”. Even as “The Merida Initiative” (NewSpeak for Plan Mexico, a rehash of the “failed” Plan Columbia) is being debated in the Mexican congress, the invasion of Mexican territory has already begun.

Plan Columbia, you may recall, was sold to us as a way to reduce the production and importation of illegal drugs that daily flow into our cities and towns in ever greater volume and potency, at ever cheaper prices. I put the word failed in quotes, because if we believe the liars in Washington who sold us this multi-billion dollar boondoggle – that drug interdiction was the real purpose – then it has indeed failed.

It has also failed as an “anti-guerrilla” plan. The FARC, once a revolutionary group, and now just another drug cartel, has become vastly more wealthy even as it has become vastly more violent and tyrannical within it’s territory. The dozens of high-profile “political captives” who are the subject of the latest wrangle between Columbian president Uríbe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez are a small part of the enslaved population of the area, as the FARC, the right wing paramilitaries, and the Columbian army prepare to fight it out down to the last innocent Columbian peasant.

On the other hand, if we have a more correct understanding of the purpose of selling all those helicopter gunships, crop spraying equipment, and millions of gallons of herbicide to the Columbian army – along with contracts to hire U.S. mercenaries (otherwise known as “civilian contractors”) – namely to destroy the rural-based, pro-democracy, anti-globalist resistance (along with the crops which they need to feed themselves) – then the program has been, in the short run, a huge success. It has propped up the right-wing government of strong-man president Alvaro Uribe for longer than he might otherwise have ruled. It is a classic case of repression of dissidence in the name of drug interdiction.

Mexico is being devastated by the neoliberal globalist policies so beloved by the radical right here and in the U.S. A good measure of how bad things are is that in spite of the collapsing economy and the falling dollar, and not withstanding the ever larger number of border patrol, army and national guard units, and vigilante groups, not to mention the ever taller and longer fence backed up by satellite surveillance and infra-red sensors, Mexicans continue to pour into the U.S.

Past efforts to “bring the drug war to Mexico” have failed. The reason is obvious: the past governments of Mexico have never seen it to be to their advantage to stop the flow of drugs. Mexicans know that the current “crackdown” on drug trafficking amid the violence committed by various gangs squabbling over territory, is a sham; that the real goal is to suppress anti-government speech and behavior. Nobody believes that the politicians, the “law enforcement” agencies, or the Army will altruistically give up the river of money flowing their way for ignoring (or in many cases, being involved in) the drug trade. The occasional seizures are seen for what they are: one government agency, operating as an arm of one drug gang, grabbing the goods from a rival gang (and their protectors in some other government agency).

Surely, if the average citizen in Mexico knows this, it cannot be a secret from the intelligence-rich legislators and administrators of our own government. Surely, the DEA knows this, as do the various agencies of military intelligence. Still, they cling to the political line that Plan Mexico is about drugs. Why do they do that? Because they don’t dare tell the truth: that Plan Mexico is about suppressing rural resistance to strip mines in Oaxaca state that will destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, pollute major rivers and aquifers, thus driving people whose ancestors have lived there for hundreds of years off their land (and most likely into the migrant stream); that it’s about the privatizing and corporatizing of Mexico’s last remaining resources; that in order to accomplish this, dissidence must be suppressed; and that the soldiers and private contractors that will accompany the gifted helicopters and intelligence gathering equipment and money will be training and supervising Mexican “law enforcement” in “counter-insurgency” techniques (read: repressing dissent). Wonder if there will be a class in “water-boarding 101”.

{For those of you interested in a more “scholarly” and detailed (footnoted) analysis of the current state of political repression, I have posted an article by Claudio Albertani, “The Return of the Barbarians: Resistance and state of exception in Mexico”; and for getting a realpolitik understanding about the history of the relationship between Mexico and the U.S., John Ross’ “The Annexation of Mexico” is invaluable.}

[We continue our fascination with “people’s art” with the series of posters, banners and wall decorations above. The bicycle thingie is a traveling oven, roasting and selling chestnuts. The piece below is not political, actually. It’s an advertisement for a tatoo parlor.]

Meanwhile, it’s not all uniforms and assault rifles. Here’s just one insidious example of how it’s done: a project funded by the Department of Defense and run from the University of Kansas, has come to Oaxaca to map “changes in land ownership [and] …attitudes” in strategic areas of the state. The grant proposal cited “failures” in intelligence gathered by satellite and electronic eavesdropping. A project run by the geography department with a large “sociology” element, it will identify dissident families by name and location and provide that information to the Mexican authorities, either directly or through cut-outs. Good academics in the service of transnational capital.

In the midst of all this, it is good to remember that the current president of Mexico, and the current governor of Oaxaca, are in office following elections that were strongly tainted with evidence of fraud, murders of opposition leaders, and acceptance of illegal outside funding. Oaxaca, while recovering from the police violence that ended a months-long popular rebellion a year ago, is still seething with unrest, as is most of southeastern Mexico.

The cost in human suffering as a result of Plan Mexico will be enormous. Some in the U.S. congress are raising questions. They should be supported.

That which goes up, must come down:

Our governor has a love of helicopters. His elite police patrol the city in a particularly noisy one which often sounds like it’s about to come in through our front door. He himself uses one to commute from the airport (where he keeps the private jet that takes him back and forth from his home in Mexico City) to his official residence in the upscale neighborhood of San Felipe, landing in a nearby park to the delight, no doubt, of his rich neighbors. Lately, however, there have been some problems.

Last month, a raid on a “dissident” town in the northern Sierra that included both a convoy of automobiles and trucks and a helicopter, resulted in the capture, by the local citizens, of some 30 or so persons, and their transport. All were turned over to the federal police after they agreed not to do it again.

[This year’s official Chrismas tree. Steel tube rings and potted poinsettias. When asked to name the style, I answered “Contemporary Dictatorship”. It matches the thousands of potted plants redecorating the Zócalo at a reputed cost of over a quarter of a million dollars.]

Also last month, the governor’s helicopter was barred from landing him to deliver a speech in a nearby town by hundreds of determined protesters; and a couple of weeks ago -in an incident remindful of the last governor’s staged “attack” on his SUV in which one policeman was killed when he fell out of the pickup truck which was speeding to the governor’s rescue -Ulises’ copter crashed, seriously injuring the two pilots, while hizzonner walked away unscathed. Some irreverent witnesses are saying that’s because he never was in the bird in the first place.

Cheap Chinese Cars:

Ground will soon be broken for a new automobile plant in the state of Michoacán. It will, once up and running, be able to produce 100,000 small, cheap Chinese cars per year. The price, at somewhere between 6 and 7 thousand dollars, will beat the current low-priced crop by as much as 10%. Meanwhile, direct imports of the vehicle will commence by year’s end.

The plant will be a joint venture between FAW, one of China’s “big five” auto manufacturers, and Grupo Salinas, a giant Mexican holding company that, among other businesses, owns the retail electronics firm Elektra as well as Banco Azteca. Azteca has a branch in every Elektra store, and as well as giving instant credit on Elektra purchases, operates a Western Union – type service for transferring money from abroad. The cars will be sold exclusively in Elektra stores. Mexicans will now have a one-stop shop in which to buy Chinese cars as well as Chinese blenders, Chinese bicycles and motorcycles, Chinese furniture, Chinese etceteras…

[This little critter is one week old. He lives in the Etlas.]

Off to the beach:

Oaxaca has been swept up in the Navidad (Christmas) season, which will go on until Tres Reyes (Epiphany) on January 6. Lots of parades of church relics, accompanied by oompah bands, dancing Monos, and fireworks. Lots of fireworks. We will miss most of it this year.

Starting at week’s end, we will be in Isla Mujeres, one of our favorite places. I use the word “in” instead of “on”, because we won’t be living on the island itself. Diana’s daughter and her husband have their boat anchored in the lagoon there (they live on it full time), and we’ll be staying aboard – although most days we’ll probably dinghy in to town for one thing or another. We’ve heard that there has been an increase in the pace of development there, and we will be checking it out to see how it feels first-hand: we haven’t been back there for four years. Expect a “travel special” around the first week in January, with lots of pictures.