The New, Improved Casa de Mujer:

Thanks to a free 10-year lease, the Casa has moved to new quarters near the Abastos Market. A modern 3-story building constructed originally as a house, it will allow them more room for their offices, meeting rooms, media library and consultation room, plus provide housing for the Becas (young women receiving scholarships and stipends to continue their education). The savings of $10,000 pesos per month in housing cost will help to keep the program going. The front is shown in the masthead photo. As you can see in the accompanying photo below, the plaque on the front wall reflects the new arrangement by renaming the building.

This year, there are four new Becas in the program.

Trump, NBC say NO to Oaxaca:

Donald Trump and the National Broadcast Company have finally awakened, sniffed the air of Oaxaca, and canceled the “costume contest” of the odious and misogynous Miss Universe contest, scheduled for Monte Albán, the Zapotec shrine that is part of the national indigenous patrimony.

This news is revealing for what it shows (the strain between the governor, the president, the tourism industry, all of whom blame each other for the fiasco) and what it minimizes: the power that the APPO and other segments of the civil resistance still have in spite of the repression; and the apparent impotence of INAH (the government antiquities ministry) when it comes to protecting the sites under its control from the predators of international capitalism (the pageant, and the “site improvements” it would have required, cannot have been good for this holy place; INAH kept a low profile).

The nub of the conflict, according to the corporate press, is money – not concern for the site, the environment, or the danger of further civil unrest. Our beloved governor says Trump demanded 1.5 million dollars from Oaxaca for the dubious privilege of hosting this misbegotten freak show. The governor refused, the tourist-industry organization – while bellowing about the loss of “hundreds of millions” – did not step up to the table, and the federal government remained mum.

For my money, it was “ungovernability” (read, the inability to stage this disgusting event without turning out massive amounts of police and army to further repress the popular will) that turned the tide. As e e cummings once said “there is some sh.. we will not eat”.

Homage to Corn at the Curtaduria:

In March, we attended another interesting and provocative show at the new artspace in Jalatlaco known as the “Curtaduria”. Diana took a few pictures, and some of them are in this issue. As most of you know from past Newsletters, the hundreds of strains of native corn to be found in Oaxaca are being threatened by the incursion of GM (genetically modified) corn, which, while nominally illegal to plant in Mexico, has proliferated by windborne pollen from “experimental” plots, and other “accidental” methods.

[This dress is made from blue corn tortillas.]

Just in the last few days, it was announced that studies of lab rats fed on GM corn appear to be revealing a very high rate of cancer. Greenpeace Mexico is calling for an immediate moratorium on all imports (GM feed corn particularly), with criminal penalties for violating the ban.

The Frente Común is being disbanded:

It is with a truly sad heart that I must report to you the coming demise of the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (the Common Front against AIDS) – not because of mismanagement; not because of misfeasance; not because of lack of enthusiasm on the part of the staff and friends; not because their work has been ineffective; not because of lack of funds: but because they put the mirror of truth to the corrupt, inefficient, and ineffective practices of the “official” Oaxaca state AIDS organization.

Over the years of its existence, the Frente has saved hundreds if not thousands of young lives through its programs of education and condom distribution; encouragement and help in the formation of other similar groups in other parts of the State; and direct financial contributions to enable AIDS sufferers in the countryside to come to Oaxaca for needed treatment.  When asked what the Frente does, Bill Wolf, the driving force behind the organization, invariably responds “we save lives”.

One of his main jobs, as Bill has seen it, has been to be a thorn in the side of COESIDA, the official state group.  The problem of AIDS in Oaxaca is so large that it is likely to be resolved only if a large government-connected agency such as COESIDA, with much more generous resources, marshals those resources toward effective action.  However, tweaking the tiger’s tail is one thing; getting right in front of its face and pinching its nose is quite something else again, and that’s what finally brought the Frente down.

[An altar to the God of Corn, part of the show at the Curtiduria]

To understand what happened, one needs to factor in the institutionalized corruption of the Mexican government at all levels.  I am hardly the first to recognize this phenomenon: trade association after hopeful entrepreneur after hapless victim of police extortion have documented it.  But there are lots of aspects to official corruption, and not every one of them requires kickbacks and / or payoffs.  Some aspects are more subtle than that.  I believe the Frente underestimated the fear of ridicule that permeates any system of “spoils distribution” where appointments to high office are made on the basis of influence; where executive staff competence can be a deterrent to getting an appointment, since one of the first rules of such a system is that under no circumstances can an underling suggest something useful that the boss has not first suggested.

In such a system, secrecy is the key to everything.  Mistakes are covered up; mismanagement is swept under the rug (Mexicans actually have a name for this: carpetazo) not because the money has been pocketed by someone (although it may have been) but because it may disclose incompetence.  At all costs, the boss must be seen as being competent, efficient, compassionate, and a decisive leader.  Therefore demands to “see the books” carry not merely a threat of criminal action (which most rich and powerful people avoid by buying an “injunction” from a friendly judge) and the threat of exposure as an incompetent, but more importantly such demands threaten the very system of corruption itself.

[Various strains of corn, displayed in matates (grinding bowls) of their region, most quite old. Part of the collection of Mari and Guillermo Olguin]

For years, the Frente took “unauthorized” surveys of patients, held marches, put on pageants, and regularly published its concerns in the local newspapers, without any hint of a threat from the government.  This was partly due to some influential friends, themselves part of the power establishment; and partly because they were seen by COESIDA as a sort of pet poodle, yapping around the yard and pissing on the rug, but not really very threatening.

Then, in 2005, COESIDA was chosen to be the host of the National Conference on AIDS treatment and prevention, and the Frente, frustrated by the evasiveness of the COESIDA folks about how many patients they were treating, how many were getting a full program of treatments, how many doses of this and that they were coming in and how many were being distributed, decided to take a stand.  The Frente made it clear that they were going to expose what they saw as official incompetence that cost lives.  Plans were hatched for holding demonstrations and leafleting the delegates (COESIDA had made it clear that the Frente was not welcome to attend the conference), and the hammer came down.  Embarrassment of the powerful simply would not be tolerated.

After the usual threatening phone calls and some pretty nasty official correspondence, some goons showed up at the Condón Mánia store which acted as the Frente office, the outlet for at-cost condoms, and a distribution point for educational materials in several native languages as well as Spanish.  They menaced the staff, smashed one staffer’s windshield, and made homicidal threats.  Bill and the Frente had little choice but to back down.  The conference went off with no interference from the Frente.

While the Frente was debating its next move, the Oaxaca uprising occurred.  A naked demonstration of what can be done with a determined terror campaign that includes the killing of movement leaders, the disappearance of dozens of citizens and a total disregard of human rights, the repression by the government left little doubt what could be in store for the Frente, if they continued their work.

Partly because the seven months of civil unrest made their customers unwilling to come to the center of the city, Condon Mania  closed its doors; and partly because friends who were in a position to know advised them that the powerful had not forgotten them, the Frente decided to shut down.

[Rodolfo Nieto painted this. It was on display in the Painter’s Museum recently as part of a Nieto retrospective.]

The process of disbanding is not an easy one.  There are lots of rules and regulations about what to do with current assets, how the books must be closed out, etc.  The Board and the accountant hope that it will be completed fairly soon.  Meanwhile, the Frente still exists, at least on paper.

I wish I could tell you that there was something we could do right now that could make a difference, but I can’t.  It’s a damn shame.  The Frente did good work.  Many of you contributed at one time or another, as did Diana and I.  Maybe one day there will be another innovative and dedicated organization that will take its place.  “Ojalá” as the Oaxaqueños say: it should only be.

Meanwhile, Bill Wolf is writing his memoirs and documenting the history of the Frente.  His web page iswww.frentecomunoaxaca.org/01.htm

The New ADO is (half) here:

In spite of political maneuvering, neighborhood organizing, and citizen protests aimed at getting a major source of exhaust pollution and traffic congestion to move to the suburbs, the “first class” bus depot has remained in place in the historic neighborhood of Jalatlaco, and expanded its property – by tearing down a block of adjacent housing – to accommodate more inter-city behemoths.

The new terminal is bigger, brighter, airier, more spacious and better organized than the old one – and it’s only half done. When we grabbed the red-eye to MexCity airport a short while ago, the bus docks numbered from 13 to 25, with construction going on apace.

The entry is now on 5 Mayo around the corner from the old one. There is a driveway loop off the street for pickup and delivery, and a parking garage for visitors. As usual, the outside vendors have suffered from “progress”, being relegated to a narrow sidewalk area at one corner of the building.

The airport bus:

For those of you who can handle the overnight trip (we have decided that we have done it for the last time), saving what amounts to about a hundred dollars by not flying from Oaxaca, the “airport special” is definitely the way to go, particularly if you have an early departure scheduled from Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City. Leaving at 10:30 p.m. and arriving at 4:30 a.m. at a hotel on the periphery of the airport, our GL super deluxe bus was met by a porter with a two-wheeler who loaded our luggage and guided us through a short series of overhead walkways, into the terminal departures level, and to our (Alaska Airlines) ticket counter. Very slick.

Aero Tucán not flying:

The Mexican bureau that certifies the airworthiness of the nation’s passenger airlines has revoked Aero Tucán’s privileges until late June. The reason given is a lack of complete and prompt reporting on such issues as maintenance of aircraft. The closure stranded some 25,000 passengers, who were re-routed via other carriers. AT is a popular carrier on the Oaxaca / Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca / Huatulco routes.

Amate Books goes national:

Amate Book Store is without doubt one of the finest small English language literary outlets on either side of the border, thanks to the intelligence, customer service orientation, respect for and help given to authors, and attention to details, of co-owner and manager Henry Wangemon. That it survived the upheavals in Oaxaca is a tribute to Henry’s dedication and tenacity.

Recently, Amate announced two new projects: a store at the corner of Calles 60 and 51 in Mérida (more cities are being considered as well), and a web-based mail-order service at http://www.amatebooks.com.

While Amate is in no position to compete with the likes of Amazon, it does offer folks who live in Mexico an alternative they didn’t have before. If you live in Mexico and outside of Oaxaca, you could do worse than to support this worthwhile locally owned business.

Margie Barclay takes it one step further:

The excellent calendar of coming events that Margie has been putting out via email has now gone online. It’s an easy to read, easy-on-the-eyes production full of important and easy to extract information. Bookmark the web address: http://oaxacacalendar.com

Chapulines could be bad for your health:

A recent study by a university in California claims that Oaxacan immigrants to the U.S. are poisoning themselves with harmful levels of lead by eating grasshoppers, particularly from the Zimatlán area. Apparently, the little buggers hide underground until they start emerging in the spring; and the ground around Zimatlán is loaded with lead. Drying and/or roasting them and adding lime and chili before packaging does not change this.

As the study points out, such news is unlikely to affect the eating habits of Oaxaca’s largest segment of grasshopper eaters: the extremely poor. Turns out that in addition to lead, the bugs contain high concentration of protein, vitamins and minerals which are necessary to prevent starvation, and the very poor – the ones who can’t afford beans – have to eat something…

[They were replanting the Zócalo in early April. The poinsettas which were put in for Christmas had been removed. While floral decoration surely does enhance the city’s image for the tourists, many locals are quick to point out that the cost – 1 million pesos – is a bit steep, especially as the money might be better spent for schools, water infrastructure, etc.]

Plan Puebla – Panama back in high gear:

A few days ago, the presidents of Mexico and all but one of the Central American countries (Nicaragua sent a vice-president) met in Campeche, the oil-rich “capital” of Mexican crude. Not surprisingly, they made an oil deal: to build a refinery in an as-yet-unnamed CA country. Mexico is to supply the oil.

This is not a new project. Ex-president Fox proposed it early in his term, pledging 230,000 barrels a day. The new figure is 80,000. A rather significant reduction, it can be explained largely by the faltering reserves in the Cantarrel offshore field; and the likelihood that the U.S., which takes most of Mexico’s production, and then sells the refined product to these countries, feels jilted.

Travelling with his usual high-profile mega-security detail, Mexican president Felipe Calderón came to Campeche not long after dedicating another of the PPP projects, the “phase II” wind-farm on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where hundreds of peasants involuntarily donated their land to a consortium of foreign corporations headed by a Spanish energy developer, in order to provide electric power to the projected trans-Istmo high-speed railway project, which will itself displace thousands and tear out a big chunk of Mexico’s oldest-growth rainforest.

Breaking news: it was just announced that Chinese firm Arias Asia is sending a delegation to Mexico this month to follow up on a “letter of intent” inked by them and the Mexican government in which Arias will build the railway using private funds in exchange for a 25-year operating concession. According to the article, published in Business News Americas, all surveying, environmental impact studies, and other preliminaries are already finished.