Big changes at the Ethnobotanical Garden:

Word reaches us that the director imposed upon the Garden by the governor has resigned, and that the staff he imposed has gone with him; and that the old director, demoted as punishment for refusing to employ an otherwise unqualified family member of a politician close to the governor, has been reinstated in his old position. Apparently, all the old staff have their old jobs back. How this came about, and what, in the arcane and Byzantine relationships of power, these changes signify, is yet to be revealed.

[The masthead photo was taken in the garden. All the photos this issue will feature flowers and trees. We are in California at this writing, having gone through our annual round of medical checkups (everything’s fine, by the way) and family visits, so some may be repetition of old photos, but all are particular favorites of mine. The next Newsletter will be from home…]

May 15 goes off without a hitch:

The teachers marched again in Oaxaca, as they did all over Mexico, in celebration of “Teachers’ Day”. Sticking to what appeared to be an agreement worked out with the government, they entered the Zócalo, listened to speeches from the bandstand, and left in an orderly fashion. No tarps, no tents, and no cops.

[This photo and the next one were taken at the orchid gardens, located on the road to Huayapam, a private project involving decades of work.]

This year’s march was more in support of the efforts to block the changes in the Social Security laws (these changes affect all government employees, not just the teachers) than to demand salary increases, school repairs, etc. The Popular Assembly (APPO) also was represented. This sharing across organizational and ideological lines is seen by many to demonstrate how the events of the last year have welded the teachers to a broader social agenda.

So far, the government’s offer to the teachers is a 5% increase in salaries. No mention of school repairs, meals and shoes and books for students, or “regional differentials” (base salaries based on local cost of living). In the May 16 edition of Jornada, it is mentioned that along with the salary increases (which do not match the increase in the cost of tortillas and other staples), the national union will be awarded a 20 million dollar “incentive package” to – so they say – be spent on improving teacher training and to fatten a couple of trust funds. Of course, with little or no oversight, there is a possibility that – dare I say it – corrupt officials (if any exist; what do you think?) could divert some of the funds to line their own pockets…

Elba Esther Gordillo, the ex-PRIista head of the national union, and president Calderón, were pictured on the front page of Jornada in what looked like a love-fest at Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, as they announced their mutual respect and admiration. They continue to appear together at virtually all national level meetings having to do with education issues. Nine state organizations have already rejected the deal, including Section 22 (Oaxaca). Schools in Oaxaca closed for the week while meetings took place to formulate a response, which appears to include blockades of Ministry of Education offices and some highways. Schools appear to be open as of this writing.

The state of the APPO:

The only sour note during Teachers’ Day demonstrations came when a member of VOCAL, one of the currents of APPO, grabbed the microphone during the speechifying in the kiosk of the Zócalo, to read a letter from David Venegas, an imprisoned youth leader who served on the barricades and is a member of the APPO council, denouncing the current “spokesperson” of the APPO, Florentino Lopez, and those in the APPO state council said to be pro-voting, of being stooges for the PRD, looking for patronage if the PRD wins the state (July) and municipal (August) elections

Whether to support the PRD (the PRI and PAN are out of the question) or to abstain from voting is a big bone of contention in the APPO. Accusations across currents of the APPO are nothing new. Flavio Sosa, the currently imprisoned “voice of the APPO” last year, was accused by many of being a tool of the ex-governor, José Murát. Many believe that Murát, a current PRI deputy, is secretly bankrolling PRD candidates. APPO moderates and “ultras” battled over control of the radio stations and marches last year.

Many in the APPO argued that banners with Joe Stalin’s likeness should be banned from marches and demonstrations (presumably out of distaste for the young Communists). Others denounced the tendency that advocated support for the PRD candidates. The teachers showed a lot of distrust of the APPO, and the APPO wasn’t too happy with the teachers.

The real question underlying the sectarian differences has to be “so what?”. That is to say, are these disagreements making the APPO stronger or weaker? Are they even relevant? Here, as in all issues in this realm, the answer seems to depend on who’s talking. When the PRD supporters are gaining ground, the politicians applaud. When the “plague on all their houses” tendency gains ground, the Zapatista sympathizers applaud. And, as long as we’reasking, just who is the APPO, anyway?

[Jacaranda and buganvilla splashing their colors in colonia Xochimilco.]

Some say the very fact that the APPO is still demonstrating, issuing position papers, and calling for action, is proof that they are growing stronger. How else could they be withstanding the brutal repression practiced against them? Others say that the APPO is directionless, bogged down in the ideological nattering of its constituent organizations; that the visible leadership has a secret political agenda; that there are two APPOs (or more). As for me, I am – if not clueless: goodness knows there are plenty of clues – without a clear picture; and aware that – as Al Giordano points out (see the exchange of letters in theNarcosphere) – repetition of negative rumors about social activists and resistance organizations probably only serves the interests of the rulers. So why do I bring it up at all? Principally because the press reports and the rumor mills are busy being “definitive”, throwing APPO in this that or the other pigeon hole; and treating APPO as if the social changes that must occur at some future point or points will succeed or fail based on what the APPO does or does not / will or will not do. Politics are short, and history is long. Vamos á ver.

Thai food, anyone?

A new restaurant has opened in San Sebastian Etla, about 20 minutes from the center of the city. “Nam Pla” is the creation of Marieke Bekkers, from Holland, and Cheryl Camp, who has worked as a caterer and spent several years as right-hand of chef Susana Trilling. In the interest of full disclosure, both are long-time friends. Nam Pla is located on the road between San Sebastian and San Augustín, next to “La Buen Mano”. They are open Saturday and Sunday only, from 1 to 6 in the afternoon. Phone 521-3160.

[These fine examples of the tulipana provide shade for those taking a rest on the wall in front of the Santo Domingo complex.]

The Guelaguetza:

APPO has announced it is resolved to prevent the annual Guelaguetza from happening this year – at least, in the form favored by the tourism folks. They reason given is that preventing the festival – which goes on for two weekend in July and the week in between – will provide a demonstration of the inability of Ulises to govern. This seems to me a questionable tactic.

If APPO couldn’t “prove” ungovernability last year, while occupying the center of the city and blocking all government offices, what makes them think they can do it this year, in the new atmosphere of deal-making and politeness? All stopping the Guelaguetza will do (in fact, just announcing the intention might already have done it) is to discourage needed tourist dollars from coming to Oaxaca, thus alienating a large segment of the middle class and those who work in the industry, until last summer the largest legal source of income in the state.

Ideologically, there is a sound argument for rejecting the Guelaguetza. It’s a rip-off of indigenous culture, being sold to tourists for the benefit of the corporate class: the hotel and restaurant owners, the airline and busline shareholders, and the Ministry of Tourism, all of whom will bank the largest share of the sheckels.

In previous years, those who objected to the whole enchilada leafleted, held marches, and otherwise informed the attendees about the true nature of the Guelaguetza, and other spectaculars held in the name of the people; and about the oppression, poverty and marginalization that goes on under the surface of Oaxaca’s biggest tourist attraction. That should happen in a big way this year; but sabotaging the event, either by burning the stage (an act, by the way, that was broadly attributed to thugs in the employ of the governor when it happened last year) or making scary pronunciamentos, just seems to me the wrong way to go about it.

[In spite of the hundreds of spewing buses that climb the hill on Crespo street every day, this hardy tree has bloomed every year since I’ve been in Oaxaca, while the wall succumbs to the pollution. This may be my favorite Oaxaca photo]

No more Herald:

According to Ron Mader, man-with-his-ear-to-the-media-ground, it is likely that the Mexican edition of the Miami Herald will bite the dust by the end of the month. If so, we will miss it: Diana for the crossword puzzles, and me for the easy access to the latest AP “be scared of Mexico” lies and hysterics.

Radio Plantón back on the air:

Thanks to Jill Freidberg, documentarist and Oaxaca analyst, for the news that the teachers’ union radio station is now broadcasting (in Spanish) between 8am and 9pm at 92.1; and outside of Oaxaca you can listen online by going to: http://radioplanton.mx.kz ,scrolling down the page, and looking for where it says Radio Planton Sonoro in the left side bar. There you can either click on Escuchanos ogg or Escuchanos mp3 to listen.