Elijah Wald’s book on Corridos:

Corridos are stories told in short rhyme, about real life or made-up life, or just about anything that has happened, is happening, or might or might not happen. Depends on who’s paying for the song, or what the composer feels like at the time, or both. While a lot of corridos are about – and sometimes commissioned by – narcotics traffickers, corridos are also written to celebrate weddings, deaths, famous people and famous bulls.

Elijah Wald, a sometimes-vagabond guitarist and writer, whose book on folk-singer Josh White, “Society Blues” graces our bookshelf, set out to capture the history, spirit, motivations and tribulations of the music and its practitioners, particularly the composers, and most particularly those who have become famous for their songs about narcotics dealers and smugglers.
Wald doesn’t stop with the narcos, however. There are chapters about the (non-trafficking) gunslingers along both sides of the Rio Grande / Rio Bravo; Mexico City; even Zapatista corridos.

While it is probably true that this book contains more than you’ll ever want to know about the genre, it is certainly true that it contains some fascinating and moving testimony by people whose names are household words in their area of Mexico, and in L.A., whose stories might have been lost if not for Wald’s research; and it is certainly true that it presents a different – and more human – perspective on narco-life along the border and in Sinaloa state, where mountainous terrain, climate, poverty, and lack of economic alternatives sprout more supply and more suppliers than any other state in Mexico.

The title of the book is “Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas”. If you want to have a copy for yourself, just click HERE. It won’t cost you a penny more, and we get a very, very small cut…

[A small corner of the Ethno-Botanical Garden. Everything in it is a “native Oaxacan” plant. Even though some fear for its future (see story below), it has so far been growing nicely. The masthead picture was also taken there.]

Toledo and Alfredo Harp vs. Ulises:

Francisco Toledo, world famous artist, whose gifts to Oaxaca’s cultural scene have been both prolific and often self-congratulatory, and one of his major partners in cultural development, the billionaire ex-director of Citibank, Alfredo Harp Helu (through his own charitable trust, and through the Banamex foundation), seem to be running afoul of our governor, Ulises Ruiz.

As reported in these pages some time ago, one of Ulises’ first acts after taking office was to declare the Ethnobotanical Garden in the Santo Domingo complex a state cultural resource, and to remove the AC (Asociación Civíl; like a “Chapter S” U.S. nonprofit corporation) which Toledo and Harp – with some others – had formed to develop and run the place. Word on the street has it that Ulises did this because the then-director, an appointee of the AC, refused to “hire” the mother-in-law of a big PRI contributor, even though she had no skills which the Garden needed. Ulises then “reorganized” the place, bringing in his own Director (and demoting the old director), who hired the mother-in-law (such persons are known as “volares” (fliers), because they “fly in” every payday to collect their check) and fired over half of the gardeners; opened up the very sensitive ecological preserve to weddings, etc.; and removed the small but informative museum because he wanted to put his office there (next to a side gate, so he can come and go with minimal contact with the grounds and the staff; with a place to park his Jaguar). Toledo and Harp were very discreet about the whole business at the time.

[Sweet mamey fruit, peeled and put on a stick by someone who looks like she could be anybody’s grandmother. Hard to resist while strolling down Macedonio Alcalá, Oaxaca’s main walking street.]

During the “troubles” this summer, Toledo did his best to remain “neutral”, preferring a role as peacemaker. After months of attending highly publicized “negotiations” that didn’t seem to go anywhere, he abandoned this role in dramatic fashion, walking out of a meeting with the likes of Carlos Slim (even richer than Harp, his cousin), and the then-minister of Indian Affairs, and telling the press that there weren’t enough indigenous people there. From then on, his relationship with Ulises deteriorated rapidly, until one night in late November, unidentified gunmen opened fire in front of his house, and “citizen radio”, a voice of the PRI death squads, started threatening him and his two most visible cultural organizations, the Alvarez Bravo photography museum and the IAGO art library and gallery.

By the end of November, Toledo had stopped talking about closing the IAGO, and instead turning it into an aid station and meeting place for APPO. On the 5th of January, when the federal police rousted some APPOistas who were collecting toys for poor kids on the plaza in front of Santo Domingo church, Toledo opened the IAGO as a collection point. Harp, so far, continued to be silent.

A couple of weeks ago, another Toledo / Harp organization, a gallery and performance space in the neighborhood of Jalatlaco, re-opened after a hiatus of a few months, with a specially commissioned show of pen-and-ink drawings by dozens of local artists with a decidedly pro-APPO point of view. There was a panel discussion, and Toledo was part of it. Harp was in attendance. In a town where every action is parsed by the PRI to see whether it is “loyal”, this was indeed defiant.

Within days of this act of “disloyalty”, two old members of a workers’ collective that at one point owned the old defunct white-elephant yarn factory in San Augustine Etla where Toledo- and the Harp Foundation – had, with some government funding, established a space for art, performance, and teaching, announced that they were suing to “get back” the building, on the grounds that they had rights to the property which they had not signed away. The timing was distinctly suggestive. Toledo, knowing harassment when he saw it, resigned his position on the Board of the building, and publicly washed his hands of the whole mess, saying that defending against the suit would be too much of a distraction from his many other affairs. Harp, as far as I know, has not commented publicly.

In an interview with La Jornada, Toledo admitted that he has never voted in any election, preferring, as do many artists, to “stay aloof” from politics. This year, he said, he is getting a voter card, in time to vote in this summer’s state and municipal elections. Seems Ulises has succeeded in politicizing el Maestro…

Casa de Mujer benefit concert has been cancelled:

Busy with their impending move to new and larger (and donated) quarters, the Casa evaluated its resources and decided that it could not adequately prepare a concert event in Mexico City later this month. They are looking into a possible alternative fund raiser in Oaxaca, or a rescheduling for the autumn.

[Waiting at Plaza de la Danza on February 2 for the Ninth Mega-March to arrive. This entrepreneur is all stocked up and ready to do business, selling drinks made with Italian fruit syrups.]

Nancy Davies’ new book:

Unflappable and indefatigable ex-pat Oaxaca resident Nancy Davies, whose sense of justice kept her going from dawn to dusk and then some since the beginning of the teachers’ occupation that began on May 22 (in spite of a painful spinal condition), is much too busy to write a book. When the police invasion occurred, on June 14, she had already written a dozen articles for Narco News, and since then has added dozens more to that list, while also moderating the website “Oaxaca Action Study Group” and acting as a one-person information clearing house.

Others, however, most notably her partner, activist and political philosopher George Saltzman, having seen the importance of her body of work to an understanding of what has been – and still is – going on here, have put her writings into book form for her.

None of what Nancy has written has earned her any money. She’s been in it for “the truth” (always an elusive quantity, as she would be the first to admit), and to make sure the story gets told by someone who has no hidden corporate agenda. There isn’t an ounce of bullshit anywhere in her writing.

I’ve already ordered my own copy. So should you. The cost is $20 dollars. All profits will go to support the Fund For Authentic Journalism, which helps dedicated independent reporters by sponsoring training sessions and paying (very very minimal) expenses associated with getting the story – the real story, not the corporate media story.

To order your own copy, due to hit the streets in April, just click onhttp://www.authenticjournalism.org If you prefer to pay by check (the first proffers are PayPal buttons), just scroll on down to the bottom where there is a “snail-mail” address given.

[Part of the crowd of twenty thousand folks marching for, among other things, freedom for the political prisoners in Oaxaca prisons. Unlike the last march, this one featured Flavio Sosa, a movement leader (or gross thug, or both, depending on your take on things) salted away in the top security federal prison at Las Palmas in Mexico state. He was arrested while on his way to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the federal Interior minister.]

Many Oaxaca restaurants in danger of closing:

According to a recent announcement by a major association of restaurants and food distributors, as many as half the licensed restaurants in Oaxaca may be forced to close because they are unable to pay their taxes, particularly the Social Security payments due for all full-time regular employees.

The spokesperson, quoted in Las Noticias, said that most of the funds committed by ex-president Fox, to help rehabilitate the tourism industry after this summer’s “troubles”, have gone to a few large (and presumably more politically connected) establishments, leaving the smaller venues in a deep hole.

To understand the situation a little better, you should know that businesses are required to file an income declaration on a regular basis, whether or not they are making a profit, or actually active for the reporting period. Depending on the class of business, this can be every month or every quarter. The forms must be submitted by a licensed contador (accountant), who of course must be paid, along with a hefty filing fee.

So far, there has not been a wave of forced closings, but the prospect is frightening a lot of entrepreneurs.

[4,000 state and local police in full riot gear, behind barricades and razor wire, “guard” the Zócalo area during the march.]

A letter from Lila Downs:

Join Me in Supporting Grassroots’ Human Rights Work in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is living through a horrifying moment of wholesale human rights abuses. Police and paramilitaries are instilling fear in people opposed to the questionably elected governor, Ulises Ruiz.

Both the current repression and historic neglect of Oaxaca’s poor majority are on the rise. Scores of activists and ordinary Oaxacans are unjustly jailed.

Protests in Oaxaca began in May, 2006 with a strike by a local teachers union and have since grown into a broad-based movement, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). The people are calling for the removal of Ruiz, who is accused of systematic corruption and human rights violations. At least 17 have died in the protests, including independent American journalist Brad Will.

The grassroots organizations involved in this human rights initiative will cover the costs of lawyers and legal assistance and provide support to families of prisoners. We have received an urgent request to raise $25,000 by March 1st to provide legal assistance and support.

Please join us in extending a hand of solidarity to persecuted Oaxacans and their families. Your donation will bring justice to the families of the unjustly jailed and hope to the people of Oaxaca. (http://grassrootsonline.org/give_oaxaca.html) Please donate now.

In solidarity,

Lila Downs

[Editor’s note: Grassroots International should not be confused with the Grass Roots Street Children project, a completely separate organization. I have checked with Newsletter subscriber and outgoing GI Director, Judith Lockheart Radtke, and she has assured me that, as in all their emergency, one-time campaigns, Grassroots International takes only 10% of each donation, to cover banking and processing costs.]