Plan Puebla-Panama alive and kicking:

In the midst of the usual political shenanigans, drug gang killings, soccer fever, anti-privatization struggles (and here I agree with Ralph Nader, that “privatizing” is a misnomer for “trans-national-corporation-izing” [I’m taking very small literary license, he actually said “corporatizing”]), a quiet but not un-noticed phenomenon is occurring: the Plan Puebla Panama is moving forward; and as it slithers along, it will leave billions of dollars in its wake for the enterprising members of Mexico’s elite political and economic classes, meanwhile sticking the poor and middle classes – of this and future generations – with the bill.

Briefly, here’s how it will work:

There are three “main” projects, all interconnected but being sold separately: the “trans-isthmus high-speed traffic corridor”; the turnpike being extended south from Oaxaca to Panama, and a high-voltage power transmission grid.

[The photos show some of the imprisoned members of the popular opposition, displayed in a silent march of thousands that took place on July 18. The masthead photo shows the back of the line, where the “radicals” usually form up (note the red banners), followed by vendors]

The trans-Istmo corridor will be constructed to move containers of goods, mostly on high-speed railroads, between Coatzalcocos on the Gulf and Salina Cruz on the Pacific. This “land canal” will do nothing to benefit the people of Mexico. It will be run by and for transnationals. It will destroy much of Oaxaca’s last old growth tropical forest. Sweat-shop assembly plants will be constructed along the right-of-way, to take advantage of quick access to seaports. Thousands of families whose stewardship of their lands go back hundreds of years will join the migrant stream going north.

The “fees” that are supposed to be paid to the Mexican government by the operators of the Corridor will be diminished by institutional corruption of the kind that has plagued the toll roads: lack of accountability, crony (or highest bribe payer) contract awards, under-building, and over-billing. “Costs” will eat up any profits, and if past experiences are any indication, the government will at some point in the future be “forced” to buy out the investors at a handsome rate of investor return (in order to “save” the project); fix a few problems; and then put the now-public project out for sale to “private” investors at a fraction of its worth.

[These beautiful Tehuanas are waiting for the signal to march to the Popular Guelaguetza on July 16. We hope none of them got tear-gassed…]

Much the same can be said for the other main parts of this scam, particularly the highway construction; but the real killer-diller here is the power grid.

This project was conceived and is being directed from Washington D.C. (mainly through the machinations of InterAction, an NGO); and funded in large part by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB), which put up a 2.5 billion dollar line of credit for openers. A north-south network of high-power direct transmission lines is projected, which will eventually connect the U.S. and Columbia. The MER (Spanish shorthand for “Regional Electricity Market”) will become a giant natural resource vacuum cleaner, Hoovering power from Mexican and Central American hydroelectric, wind, gas, coal and petroleum and sending it to the air conditioners and microwave ovens of Kansas (as well as the electric-powered trans-Istmo railway).

Run in the interim by another supra-national organization named “CEPAL”, the REM will – according to Carlos Fazio, reporting in La Jornada – be considered viable when “more than 50 percent of the state electrical generation in Central America has been transferred to transnational companies”. Meanwhile, some chunks of the project have already been farmed out for construction, mostly to Japanese and Spanish transnationals, – although Cemex, owned by a Calderón crony, and Grupo Carso, directed by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, have also been let in on the action. WalMart Mexico and Soriana are also planning to build generators of their own, supposedly to supply their own retail store chains – a simplification for selling power to the grid and then buying it back as needed.

The two most prominent pieces of the plan at this writing are the “stage two” and “stage three” wind farms in the upper Isthmus area, and a large hydroelectric dam in southern Guerrero. By the time they are “online” they will have displaced hundreds of farm families with little or no compensation or consideration of ecological degredation.

Which brings us to the real bottom line: the militarization of Mexico. As Tony Benn says in “Sicko”, governments can rule by Democracy or they can rule by force. Making Mexico attractive to transnational thievery will require massive increases in police and military repression, in order to overcome the reluctance of rural citizens to give away their property, their way of life, and the well-being of their children and grandchildren. The Calderón government has proven itself “up to the task” so far. The question is, just how far is the Army willing to go in the face of growing unrest?

[Taking a rest on the staircase leading (seemingly) endlessly upward on the 16th, these clown dancers were, like all of us, turned back by the state police at the entrance to the tunnel leading to the amphitheater at the top.]

Fidel does it again:

Earlier this month, it was announced that in the last five years, a corps of Cuban teachers working in the state of Michoacán have brought literacy to 200,000 previously illiterate citizens in over 25 municipalities.

A Cuban taxi driver once said to us, “Fidel will die, but Fidelismo will live on”. Score another one for the old gray-bearded enemy of transnational capital.

What’s it like to own one of the seven wonders of the modern world?

Ask the Barbachano family. They own a piece of Chichen Itzá that includes the “Castillo”, the great pyramid that has been nominated to be on the UNESCO list. According to an archaeologist friend of mine, the process by which the title was transferred from the government to a Barbachano ancestor is unclear, but probably involved a deal between the antiquities ministry and the family to build a hotel and other tourist attractions.

The family turned down a government offer of 8 million pesos a while ago, and counter-demanded a percentage of the gate proceeds. Procedures have been initiated to expropriate the land: standard procedure for major antiquities sites. There is bound to be a long legal battle. Meanwhile, there is some concern that UNESCO will pass on choosing Chichen Itzá, because of the uncertainty.

[Maria Sabina contemplating the Andador Turistico. A festival in her honor has been taking place in her home village of Huautla de Jimenez.]

The Official Guelaguetza:

The first Lunes del Cerro (Monday on the Hill) came off without a hitch on the 23rd of July. Protected by hundreds of armed enforcers of the peace, both within and without the amphitheater, busloads of government workers, each having been told to bring 3 or more friends, broiled in the sun for the greater glory of governor Ulises Ruíz and a chance to enjoy a day off in the big city.

The day before, we ran into Hector, an old friend, who regaled us with stories about what it was like 50 years ago, when the dance festival was held in a clearing on top of the Fortín hill, without the benefit of an amphitheater, government sponsorship, tourist money (which was plenty scarce this year, too) or police protection. “Now”, he said, “they have sold the sacred traditions to line the pockets of politicians and hotel owners. I don’t go anymore. It saddens me too much.”

The APPO and the teachers marched and rallied again on the 23rd, but they stayed far away from the Guelaguetza performance, ending at the Zócalo. During the march, a few of the leadership were culled out by plain-clothes police and “disappeared”.

As of today (July 25), things are deceptively calm. Everyone is worn out. APPO and the teachers say they will be back next weekend, including next Monday for the second “Lunes del Cerro”.

State elections:

On the 5th of August, Oaxacans will go to the polls to elect their representatives in the House of Deputies. If you had asked me a year ago, I’d have said that the PRI and the PAN would suffer ignominious defeat at the hands of a PRD-led coalition bouyed by the “punishment vote” which saw 9 of 11 districts vote PRD in the presidential election of 2006. Now, I’m not so sure.

Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the actual presidential winner in 2006, has spent a lot of time travelling the country building a personal following at the expense of the Party, and there is a lot of resentment among the old apparatchiks. That resentment boiled over in a recent PRD national council meeting in Mexico state, in which 400 of the 480 “directors” were elected from the anti-AMLO factions.

Add to that the large percentage of APPO members who follow the Zapatista line that says all political parties, including the PRD, are elitist and dictatorial, and perpetuate the system in service of the “political class”, and you have a Oaxaca PRD that appears to be in disarray.

There is no doubt that there is widespread anger at the “PRIAN” (the PRI and the PAN), but whether that will translate to sufficient votes to take the House away from URO remains in question.

On a lighter note, in San Juan Lalana, according to “Noticias”, the local APPO is warning that if anyone attempts to insult the intelligence of the voters by offering cement, tools, or other traditional bribes in exchange for votes, they will be paraded nude in the town square. Sounds like fun…

[Speaking of fun, Oaxaca played host to a national convention of Payasos (clowns) early this month. We went to a performance for children at the Cultural Museum in San Bartolo Coyotepec, featuring champion clowns from all over the country.]

Life after Guelaguetza:

Starting on the 31st of July, and running for a couple of weeks, there will be a music festival titled “Instrumenta Verano”. If this series is of interest to you, check withMargie’s calendar, where the events are already listed.

Coming up in November is the Oaxaca Organ Festival, sponsored by the Instituto de Organos Historicos de OaxacaIOHIO. In the next Newsletter, we plan to interview Cicely Winter, one of the founders of the Institute and the Festival chair; and provide more details as to dates, times, places and prices. This is a class act, so stay tuned…

If you are thinking about coming to Oaxaca:

You might think about following some advice from George Saltzmann, who posts often on the Internet. Like us, he does not feel in any personal danger, and does not discourage people from coming down. You can pick and choose among his suggestions. I post them here for your consideration.

1. Stay away from the Guelaguetza Stadium on both July 23 and July 30, when the government plans to hold its commercialized events.

2. Stay at smaller, less expensive places, like hostals and modest hotels instead of putting your vacation money into the hands of the big hotel owners.

3. Don’t patronize the elegant tourist-oriented restaurants. You can eat quite safely at small stands in the markets and at street stands if you choose soups or stews, because they are well cooked, or fried foods, which are delicious and are also prepared at high temperatures [and, I would add, scores of small restaurants with excellent hygienic practices].

4. Try to spend money intended for your travel purchases at small shops and from individual artisans, whose economic difficulties are causing much hardship and who the government helps not at all.

5. Tune in as much as you are able to the dynamics of what is going on here so that when you leave Mexico you can help inform the outside world of the reality through which the Oaxacan peoples are living.

6. As a foreigner your very presence here is an additional safeguard for the Oaxacans.

[As long as we were at the Museum to see the clowns, we decided to check out the collection. This is meant to be worn on the head when running through crowds of revelers, with the wheels spinning while rockets make noise and emit sparks – and occasionally get loose and spin through the crowd.]

Another political rant:

As time goes on, I am more and more amazed that the popular movements can absorb the beatings, arrests, disappearances and imprisonments, and keep on keeping on. Imagine the desperation – and the will – that it must take.

If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: the Guelaguetza is an excuse, not a cause. The roots of the current conflict are buried deep in the history of the Mexican people, and the current unrest is the fruit of centuries of oppression of the poor for the benefit of the rich. Ulises Ruiz is an instrument of the same people (a combination of historic oligarchs, super-rich entrepreneurs, foreign and domestic corporatists and others) who used Echeverria to put down student unrest over the corporatizing of the Olympics in 1968 and then awarded him with the Presidency; who ordered the Army to prosecute the “dirty war” of the early ‘70s (which really has never ended); who allowed then-governor Rubén Figueroa to walk free after he ordered the execution of 17 dissident peasants in Guerrero; who immunized the governor of Chiapas after his complicity in the deaths of 45 peasants at Acteál; who ordered Fox to send in the troops to terrorize, imprison and kill the leaders and sympathizers of a mass movement in Mexico state that had successfully resisted building a new airport there; who supported ex-governor Diódoro in his scorched-earth campaign against the people of Loxicha in Oaxaca’s southern mountains; who are preparing to put down the resistance to the “development” of southeastern Mexico with whatever meansmay be necessary. As long as he is willing to do as he is told, Ulises will be able to rely on the support of president Calderón, who is the equivalent of “head slave” in the plantation that is Mexico.

[Whew! After that heavy bit, I thought these flowers, growing on one of the cactuses in our patio, might be in order.]