Oaxaca one year later:

Thursday, June 14, was the first anniversary of the attack by police against the annual teacher occupation of the city center. It was quite a fiesta.

At about four in the morning (the hour at which the first police attacks occurred), in every neighborhood in the city, sympathizers of the teachers and their allies came out of their houses and fired “cohetes” (large, loud, rockets on a stick) into the air. Judging from the noise, it was a goodly number.

Starting about nine in the morning, tens of thousands of citizens, some of them from Chiapas and Guerrero, began a march from the vicinity of the airport to the Zócalo. While there are widely varying estimates of the size of the march (from 30,000 to 300,000), a couple of facts are agreed upon: when the march reached the Zócalo, there were still people waiting to leave the staging area (the march route is about five miles long); and two hours after the first marchers arrived, there were still a few blocks along Guerrero street on the southeast of the square jammed with people waiting to get in.

[The red star is a clue that this banner comes from one of the “left vanguard” formations. While I try to avoid sectarian politics, I sure do like the art, which in this case even includes (on the far right) Subcomandante Marcos, along with Zapata and Ché]

The subsequent demonstration was peaceful and festive. The Stalinoids provided new banners showing the usual suspects (Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin), made of porous material which probably doesn’t blow about as much in a wind as the old flags did. The kiosk was festooned with banners and a great many marchers carried signs as well. Tarps were strung along the north side of the square, and in the Alameda in front of the Cathedral.
Speakers shouted into amplified microphones from the kiosk, while meetings were held all around the area. Refreshments of various types were vended by push-cart entrepreneurs; and t-shirts, cd’s, dvd’s and books were available from various groups, the most impressive of which was the mothers of the political prisoners, the disappeared and the dead, raising money to support the “martyrs” with food and legal fees (see below).

The crowd dispersed slowly and in an orderly manner. At about 8 p.m., about a thousand people watched a movie projected on a screen hung from the side of the Cathedral. The movie, “Compromiso Complido”, was made by local media group Mal de Ojo http://www.maldeojotv.net/ and documents six of dozens of cases of human rights violations by the government during the rebellion. All profits go to the families of the victims.

[“We are here, we are not invisible”, the banner says; “We are more than voices”. Dedicated to the liberty of the political prisoners, it ends with “when a woman gets ahead, no man gets left behind”]

“Symbolic” barricades were erected in various neighborhoods in the late afternoon. None were attacked, no tires or buses were burned, and even the “unauthorized” Cinco Señores barricade (Cinco Señores was the scene of the most pitched battles between radical University students and their neighbors, and the Federal Preventative Police) was dismantled without incident.

I visited the Zócalo the next morning. It had been cleaned up, including the graffiti, much of which had already been removed: they use a pickup with a large plastic container (the kind you see being hauled across fields spraying insecticide on crops) full of some sort of solvent. Efficient, but controversial: some environmental groups and some folks in INAH, the agency in charge of antiquities, say the stuff is harmful to the surface upon which it is applied.

There were no uniformed police visible anywhere – except for a few unarmed “tourist police”, all women, and a few traffic cops on the main streets – although some folks reported seeing plain-clothes intelligence units observing the goings-on.

[Banished to the back side of the Alameda by the “bad government”, many vendors such as this balloon seller have returned with the “occupation” of the Zócalo by the APPO and the teachers. Diana shot this from our table at Primavera. How can the “powers that be” not see what a wonderful addition this splash of color is?]

On Monday, a handful of teachers, APPOistas, and others, marched from El Llano to the Zócalo, set up a few signs, a few tarps, and a few tables. The teachers announced that the “plantón” would go on until their demands – which have changed little in the last year – are met. About a hundred of the promised 7,000 demonstrators showed up. While we were told that the numbers grew during the day, the dissidents in the Zócalo at 8 a.m. on Tuesday numbered in the few dozens. The numbers appeared to increase slowly but steadily all week, and by today there were more tables, tarps, banners, and booths. It was a pleasure to take a cafecito amid the gentle ferment.

On Monday, at first through an official spokesman and later on in his own words, Ulises Ruiz issued an apology to the people of Oaxaca for the actions of his police on June 14 and subsequently. However, he did not offer to arrest and try those known to be responsible; nor did he free any of the ten or so remaining political prisoners from that time; nor did he agree to quash the outstanding “apprehension orders” still outstanding against alleged rebellion leaders.

On Tuesday, the federal supreme court issued a statement that it would form a non-binding commission to look into the widely attested-to acts of the Oaxacan government in violation of human rights and the constitution. While it sounds good, this commission is unlikely to improve on the findings of U.N. reporteurs, Amnesty International, and others. Ulises’ office immediately issued a response, “welcoming” the inquiry (they have deported foreign reporters and investigators and intimidated local press). It is hard to take such an “inquiry” seriously.

A word on graffiti: it is curious that, while the municipal and state authorities respond quickly to remove spray painted criticisms of the ruling authorities, they do not seem interested in removing the gang-tag graffiti that infested the city before the rebellion, and have reappeared in even more concentration since the movement was dislodged from the center in the fall. At least the rebellion produced some art. The current graffiti has no redeeming social value whatsoever.

This article is being written on Thursday, June 21. At this point, it is hard to see where things are going in the short run. There is a sense that whether coming battles are won or lost, the war has been decided; change is in the air; an election is coming up in August (state) and October (city) which is expected to repudiate the ruling PRI; the government has changed its’ attitude from immediate repression to negotiation, which some say indicates that Ulises feels more vulnerable.

The Culture Corner:

Word from Ron Mader is that “The News” from Mexico City is about to be resurrected to fill the void left by the demise of the Mexican edition of the Miami Herald. Staff will include some of the newly-unemployed Herald folks, and some resuscitated News workers. Projected starting date is August or September. Is it possible that it will include the ineffable insights of Juan Ruiz Healey? Be still my heart…

“From the Field”, George Colman and Michele Gibbs’ collection of observations, analysis, poetry, prose, and art, has been added to. Three submissions, one an analysis by George of what effect if any Andres Manuel López Obrador, unofficial winner of the 2006 election for president, will have on post-election Mexico (posted belatedly by an apologetic forgetful editor – me); one a commemorative poem on the anniversary of the rebellion by Michele; and a third by 12-year-old Rebecca Clemente about the roots of intolerance against indigenous people. All can be found by going to From the Field .

“Cuevas and Two Other Geniuses” is on exhibit at the Museum of Oaxaca Painters, on the corner of Independencia and Garcia Vigil. Bracketed by the etchings and line drawings of distinctly non-Oaxacan painters Rembrandt and Picasso, are framed works by still-living (and still working) Cuevas, and a few of his smaller sculptures. Scaffolds are up for a glass enclosure on the roof of the building, and there was a lithography class going on in the courtyard when we were there. The children paint their pictures on tin, and take them to a hand press for transfer to paper, which they get to keep.

Bill Wolf, our pal, and founder of the Frente Común Contra el SIDA,, is rapidly expanding his blog of memoir, commentary, historical and cultural submissions by friends and admirers, and unique graphics (including some photos from Diana) on the blog. Well worth exploring.

The APPO and the teachers have reaffirmed their intention to boycott and blockade the Guelaguetza festival in July, and to hold an unofficial, free (seats in the “reserved” section of the amphitheater cost upwards of $30 u.s.d.) performance earlier in the month. The government insists the festival will take place as scheduled, and blockades will not be tolerated. Either way, there will be plenty of dance performances, so if you are a dance aficionado and are wondering if you should cancel your reservations, don’t.

The Historic Organ Institute of Oaxaca (OHIO), after cancelling last year’s organ festival because of safety concerns, will resume the event this November. The next Newsletter will give more of the details, including an interview with OHIO founder and leader Cicely Winter.

The Sachmo Gallery and school of art plans a month-long series of workshops and performances for young people in July, to be held at their building and in the nearby music school and performance space Cuicacalli. For more details, write to her directly.

The People will decide?

A commission has been formed by the municipal government to study the issue of parking meters. Hearings will, we are told, be held for citizen input, and the new contract – if one is issued – will be negotiated in the open.

You may recall an item a few issues back in which I wrote of citizen resistance to the meters, contracted for secretly and installed without discussion; and the heavy-handedness with which the offending system was enforced. Since then, popular furor led to the removal of the ticket-dispensing machines. My guess is that we haven’t seen the last of the despised contrivances; that this latest ploy represents another attempt to revive the scheme – but probably not until after the October municipal elections.

A contradiction in terms:

Add a new oxymoron to your dictionary: an affordable French restaurant in Oaxaca. At the upper end of our Comida Corrida $$ comfort zone, Restaurant Royal presented us with an excellent 50-peso comida recently: a large bowl of cream of carrot soup; a plate with rice, chilled steamed vegetables, a filet of fish rolled in a light “black pepper sauce” and grilled; followed by a generous slice of torte and served with a glass of fruit drink.

Christophe, the owner, was the chef at Oh La La. Opening in the former “Cavendish” on Garcia Vigil and Bravo, at a time when many are complaining of “poor business”, was an act of bravery that appears (if the amount of customers that we saw in the hour and a half that we were there is any indication) to be paying off.

And that’s not all:

It is easy to fall into a sort of general funk about Oaxaca and its prospects. There are many reports of established businesses going under, or suffering due to lack of funds on the part of consumers or because of the drop in tourism.

On the other hand, like Christophe, there are others entering the market in acts of sheer optimism. Today we feature just three:

Kaffénetto, employing still another reincarnation of the three-wheel Chinese scooters that we first featured as rural taxis, is a sort of cross between a Seattle-style coffee cart and a midget industrial catering truck. The one pictured here resides every morning on the Juarez side of Llano park, across from the federal courts building. I happened upon it during one of my morning walks.

Cappuccino is 15 pesos (reasonable by local restaurant standards). A full line of the usual custom coffees is available, along with sandwiches, croissants, donuts, fruit, and snack items.
The Oaxaca unit is a franchised version of the original cart, started by a couple in MexCity during the five-month occupation of the center and the Paseo Reforma by the PRD; a business that quickly grew to include several units that roam many of the city’s neighborhoods. It’s an idea whose time appears to have definitely arrived. No doubt we provincials will be seeing more of these little yellow eateries as time goes on.

Tamaleria recently opened on Libres, a few blocks up the street from us. I first noticed it because of the pink sign posted out front, offering a “promotion package” of 8 tamales, a liter of champurrada (a chocolate atole), a half-liter of rice pudding, and salsa, for the astounding price of 99 pesos, eat in or take out. We haven’t eaten there yet, but at first glance it is a very clean place with lots of seating although the chairs are that ubiquitous Oaxaca-style hard-seated and straight-backed model. Bring your own cushion.

They also sell packaged sauces, coffee, and other goodies, under the El Convite label.

Café Nam Pla is located in San Sebastian, Etla. Run by caterer and long-time office manager at Susana Trilling’s cooking school Cheryl Camp, and Dutch partner Marieke Bekkers, it is open on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 pm and features Thai and southeast Asian food.

Better late than never … I hope:

Somehow, I didn’t get around to doing the inspection and revision of the pages dealing with books and cd’s; links to other sites; frequently asked questions; and the glossary, as promised. I had put them off until our California trip, but they didn’t get done. I intend to make an effort to complete those tasks by next Newsletter. Your patience is much appreciated.