New kid on the block:
Luz Daniela (picture above) is now in residence with parents Conchita and Jaime in their house across the courtyard. She has long fingers. Maybe she’ll be a musician. Diana is in full grandma mode while I pretend to be aloof from it all.
The new Saturday art fair:
The Cultural Fair of Liberty and Resistance features music, art, handcrafts, propaganda, – and of course the ubiquitous t-shirts – on Saturday afternoons at the north end of El Llano park. Lots of good home-made jewelry, plenty of “movement” posters, and works of “revolutionary” art. Good place to buy a set of funky ear-rings or a litho of Lenin.
A trip to Mexico (the city):
Mexico City is a really fun place to visit, if you’re willing to put up with a bit more noise, pollution, etc: all the drawbacks of any metroplex of over 20 million people. Our excuse for going was to check out the rules for Mexican citizenship with the Foreign Ministry, but we spent less than two hours doing that during a visit of three complete days and two half-days. Mostly we did what we usually do: walked around, visited museums and galleries, ate exotic food (for instance, you can get great all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet for about five dollars) and visited with friends who live there. We’ve included some photos from our trip in this issue.
[This grand edifice takes up about half the Zócalo of MexCity. It houses an exposition of photos and movie clips featuring humans interacting with large, often predatory animals like this leopard. For more information about Ashes and Snow, click here.
Here come the marines – again…
The latest “agreement” between Mexico and the U.S. is in the pipeline of the U.S. Congress. It’s causing a furor down here, where the Calderón government is being excoriated from the left and the right in a great paroxysm of nationalism.
A federal Senator proclaims that Mexicans must take arms to repel the coming Yankee invasion. Prominent social scientists predict that drug-related street crime could as much as double in the first six moths of operation. An influential union leader warns that the interruption of commercial trade in the early stages of the U.S. occupation will cause great social disruption.
Invasion? Crime Wave? Occupation? These are scary words. Are they justified? Maybe folks ought to be stepping back and taking another look at the situation.
The Act is the first stage of a two-part strategy to turn over a large share of Mexican law enforcement to the U.S. It started with a Billion-dollar-plus “assistance bill” to sell U.S. made sophisticated weaponry to Mexico by providing loans for purchasing U.S. armaments (exclusively); that included concessions by the Mexicans that effectively put U.S. authorities in charge of some law enforcement efforts, either as “observers” or as “participants”. The next law will deal with numbers and strategic placement of U.S. military and para-Military personnel.
The whole thing will, of course, be a miserable failure. It will fail to accomplish its main stated goal: to make the U.S. a safer place.
[It seems as if you can’t go more than a few blocks in any direction in MexCity without happening upon a park of some kind. This one is in the center of a traffic roundabout in the Roma / Condessa area.]
As long as the appetite for illegal drugs remains high, there will be adequate supply. Drugs generate a lot of money. Hundreds of illegal Mexicans figure out ways to cross the border every day, in spite the efforts of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Homeland Security, the Border Patrol and others; being shot at by alleged Minutemen; facing the “big wall”; running the no-man’s-land between the barbed-wired fences under the heat sensing alarms; crossing the Arizona desert; and they do it on their own, to seek a job paying less than minimum wage. If they can do it, how tough can it be for well-supplied, well-organized, well-equipped and well-paid organizations after the big money rewards that come with the drug trade to do the same?
It’s a cachet among many Mexicans, as well as their northern neighbors, that all Mexican law enforcement personnel can be bought. While there is a significant portion of personnel who refuse to participate on either side, preferring to be neither a narcotraficante nor a drug warrior, enough have chosen (or been extorted onto) the narco road to gum up any effort by the few who dare to act against them. Police departments at all levels are riddled with informers. Commanders and lesser officers hire themselves out to the Cartels to protect and facilitate shipments; and often to attack the shipments and personnel of rival Cartels. Bribes and payoffs go all the way to the top of state and federal administrations and, according to some reports, reach into the boardrooms of banks and airlines.
[This is the atrium of the Belles Artes building, one of the many ornate and expensive monuments to himself commissioned by turn-of-the-century dictator Porfirio Diaz. Aside from the marble and the magnificent murals, Belles Artes also hosts grand art exhibitions. When we were there, there was a very cleverly mounted retrospective on the work of famed film maker Gabriel Figueroa.
While big scale narcotics trafficking is a relatively new phenomenon in Mexico, official corruption is not. Some blame the origins of modern corruption on the early post-Revolutionary presidents, who believed in “set a thief to catch a thief”, and deliberately hired “reformed” crooks to run the police. By the time the politicians realized what was going on, the cops had organized the other crooks and no-one was safe. It is this tradition of institutionalized corruption that will defeat the force of undertrained, culturally insensitive young people that will be sent here.
The one thing in this equation that the U.S. never seems to take into account is that force, in the long run, never works. It didn’t work in Chile, arguably the most repressive regime in our hemisphere in the 20 th century; nor in Uganda under Amin; nor in East Timor. It can be horribly costly in lives and money, but in the long term – barring something approaching genocide – it will fail to achieve its goals. What it will do –and what it does – is to further alienate the Mexican people from their government – and from the U.S. – and endanger the stability of the Mexican government. And it won’t make us Ex-pats any safer, either.
[This is a subway entrance inside the Centro Medico Siglo XXI (The 21st Century Medical Center). Complete with friezes on the walls and an art gallery on the left, it is a nice change from the more gritty stations that one usually encounters.]
*Caroline Hill passed away last week, a cancer victim.
*Pierre Spenser died of an undiagnosed ailment, during a visit to his family in San Miguel. Pierre functioned for years as a translator of official documents from English to Spanish. He was the only “perrito oficial” (official translator) in the entire state of Oaxaca.
*David Venegas, a student leader during the uprising of 2006, has been released from prison after almost a year behind bars, charged with breaking various laws. He remains under indictment, and is out on bail while the investigation continues.
Upon his release he gave a speech in which he vowed to continue the struggle.
Changes in immigration procedures:
The Calderón government has tightened up the procedures for obtaining Mexican citizenship. For some time it has been possible to apply for “naturalization” after holding temporary residency papers for five years in a row. No distinction was made between FM-3 (non-immigrant) and FM-2 (immigrant) visas. Several people I know have become citizens while holding FM-3 or a combination of the two.
However, this turns out to have never been legally correct. According to the functionary I talked to in the main office of the Exterior Relations secratariat (SRE) in Mexico City, procedures had gotten “sloppy”, a situation which has now been corrected. Starting last November, the SRE is accepting applications for naturalization only from persons who have held an FM-2 for five years. FM-3 no longer counts.
[While we were in MexCity,, the Electrical Workers, the Communications Workers, and a delegation of teachers from Oaxaca held a massive march and demonstration in the “other half” of the Zócalo not taken up by the Ashes and Snow exhibit. After more than an hour of marchers filed past, our “hometown flag” came by.]
Revolutionary Art Collective has new website:
ASARO (the Association of Oaxacan Artists in Resistance) created some of the most moving and revealing posters, wall-painting templates, and banners that we saw here in 2006. Many of them have been displayed in previous Newsletters. As they age and experience more, ASARO’s work has taken on a maturity and depth of impressive dimensions.
ASARO’s work is prominently displayed at the Saturdays in Rebellion art fair.
Their website in English is simple but leads to a somewhat flashy and edgy MySpace production for those who understand Spanish; techno art that you would expect from young folks. Well worth a visit.
The “I Should Never Have Scabbed” blues:
A few years ago, the rank and file of Oaxaca’s teachers’ union, section 22 of the national, rose up and threw out their entrenched and corrupt union leadership. The old leaders and a small handful of their pals in the ranks, formed a new local, Section 59.
In 2006, as part of the effort to punish section 22 for backing – indeed, for being the backbone of – the Resistance, the bad governor and the bad national president of the union encouraged section 59 to reopen the schools, and the state apparatus, from the governor on down, promised them the moon. A handful of schools were reopened.
When, after almost a year of bitter and rancorous struggle, the bad governor made a sort of separate peace with section 22, the section 59 scabs were thrown away like socks with holes in the bottom. “There can be no payment of back wages, because the scabs never signed an agreement with the education ministry”, they were informed.
Now, they’re on a hunger strike in the Zócalo, and blocking highways, just like section 22 did; and they’re crying the blues about how the bad governor has broken his promises and abandoned them. Boo-hoo. What goes around comes around.