Huatulco development announced:

Each president of Mexico seems to “’discover” a new and better place for a super-resort. For Salinas it was Huatulco; for Zedillo Isla Holbox, in the Atlantic off the tip of Yucatan; for Fox the “Escalera Nautica” (the nautical ladder), a series of marinas and fancy condo developments lining the Sea of Cortez. For Felipe Calderón, whose government seems to have lost interest in the Escalera (Fox’s cronies having already extracted “their share” of the development money), the new “in” place is Huatulco – once again.

This is the beach in Arrocita cove, between Tongalunda and Entrega bays.  Very much in the middle of  the string of bays and coves that make up Huatulco, it’s small size had protected it from development.  With the new plans, who knows?

I remember the years-long permanent encampment cum teach-in, in front of the government palace when I visited in ’92 – still in place in ’94 when I came down to live here. There were pictures of bulldozers tearing down people’s homes, escorted by the forces of “law and order”. Families sleeping in the street bore witness to their forced eviction, necessary to make way for the Sheraton, and other grand hotels, on the beach of Tongalunda bay.  Relocation money, when it was paid, proved to be too little to buy anything but the smallest apartments in the hastily constructed buildings erected in La Cruzecita.

Huatulco, perhaps the first development of its kind to pay attention to infrastructure development, buried its cables, paved its roads, and built water and sewer plants before selling lots. The last time (admittedly a few years ago) that I toured the cliffs above the central few of its 13 major bays, you could look down into Tongalunda with its giant hotels and see the bottom through the clear waters. Since the whole place was owned by the government agency Fonatur, there was none of the haphazard, often disastrous development that had characterized other resort developments such as Acapulco. Don’t expect similar care in the coming “joint private / public” venture.

An airport was built north of town that could accommodate non-jumbo jets, and the government began to reduce flights from Mexico City on government owned Cintra (Aero Mexico and Mexicana airlines) to near-neighbor Puerto Escondido, and increase flights to Huatulco; flights which were often “on sale” in an effort to lure tourists away from the former and to the latter.

Another in our series of murals, this one on Calzada de Republica in Oaxaca. Photo by Dan McWethy.

Still, Huatulco never quite caught on. The hordes of tourists that were supposed to come down didn’t materialize, and the Tongalunda shopping district, of boutiques, upscale restaurants and night clubs that were meant to service the absent hordes languished until – driven by desperation over their low occupancy rates – the hotels began, one by one, to change from open plan to all-inclusive in order to milk every penny possible from the reduced number of guests; at which point the peripheral businesses closed their doors. Whole subdivisions went undeveloped. Cruzecita, the “central town”, originally built to house the workers and later the only place where tourists could find a cheap hotel room, never became the boom town of its developers’ imagination: not one “Mr. Frog”.

Salinas, fallen into disgrace for other reasons, and for a few years living in exile, has his house up on the cliff, along with others from his administration and their friends. I remember taking one of the “bay tour” boats – little more than a floating bar – west to San Augustine beach, and hearing the “guide” – little more than a drinks-pusher – point it out and saying “that guy up there, his next house will be in Almoloya” (then the most maximum security prison in Mexico).

Jacaranda season is over for this year, but here’s a reminder.

Now comes the news that the Calderón government will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into airport “improvements” such as longer runways to accommodate the jumbos, provision of water and electric services to as-yet-undeveloped bays, and a very expensive complex of highways from Oaxaca to both Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, cutting driving time to less than half the current figure.

None of this comes without dislocations and ecological affects. There are lots of people living around the “uninhabited” (read, undeveloped) bays where international hotel and resort developers are slated to build, and they will have to go. As will some of the mangrove stands and other nesting places. Then there are the new highways meant to service this development, with their tunnels and bridges, on which traffic will be whisked from A to B without need to visit the villages along the old route whose major source of income was servicing travelers.

The development is being covered by bloggers on the South Coast and Huatulco web sites. Reactions seem to vary with personal interest: old-timers wanting to be left alone to enjoy their uncrowded paradise, and younger and greedier folks slavering at the chance to make a big buck on the wave of speculation that appears to already be underway. I wonder which bay Calderón will stake out for his Xanadu.

This cartoon appeared in 2005.  In the intervening three years, the situation in the nation’s leading left center party, the PRD, has grown even more chaotic.  Two groups contending for control of the Party have become so vicious that it may not be possible to name a new Party boss without the losers leaving to form another party.  In the recent election, Oaxaca’s ballot count was stopped with only 30% of the ballots counted, and unless it is resolved, the argument may be adjudicated by the Federal Election Commission — not a body with much sympathy for the PRD.

New kid in the blogosphere:

In my time here, I have found only a few writers about Mexico whose clarity and connection with the place and its people (in English) have led me to recommend them to you. Among them, Al Giordano of Narco News, John Ross, Nancy Davies: much of what I write is constructed from the leads their writings provide. Sometimes I read their work and sort of kick myself, thinking “now there are Real Reporters; if only I weren’t so lazy – or had better Spanish – or whatever – I could have written that; I certainly knew instinctively that that was true…

Then I think again: that I am who I am, and that in many ways I am more like you than like them, and that this may be a plenty good-enough reason for me to do what I do, which as near as I can tell is, to learn from my elders (people who know more than me) and teach it to my youngers (some of whom might derive some benefit of it), as U. Utah Phillips, the folk-singer, vagabond philosopher, and IWW organizer, used to say.

Apropos of all this blather, I am pleased to announce that Kurt Hackbarth, an expat gringo teacher and writer, who is married to a local gal, has started a new blog on Oaxaca. Kurt’s analyses of the money trail on Mexican “Energy Reform” (read, international corporate ripoff) lays it all out in simple fashion, with a wry humor that appeals to me. So far, there have only been five articles posted, but they’ve all been brilliant.Bookmark this blog – just in case I miss something…

Ciudad las Canteras park has been suffering from inter-city politics.  This photo is a few years old.  Nominally in the city of Oaxaca, it is by a fluke of gerrymandering actually within the suburb of Santa Lucia del Camino.  I’m afraid that until the State of Oaxaca kicks in some money for repairs, it will continue to deteriorate.


** Sadly, Lowell Greenberg, one of our oldest expats, both in age (83), and in length of residency in Oaxaca, succumbed to a laundry list of physical failures last week. Lowell was one of the first people I met at the Library. He would come in every Monday morning, visit, and depart with a stack of magazines for his weekly read. The last time I saw him, a few weeks ago, he said “I know I know you, and I know that I like you, but could you just tell me your name?” I did, and he smiled and said, “See, I knew I liked you.”

** The film club at Pochote has begun a series of Saturday matinees. Curtain goes up at noon. The schedule is on the Oaxaca Calendar.

** A major infrastructure project has begun along Avenida Juarez. Half the street and maybe part of the boulevard will be torn up, ostensibly to provide a much needed system of new mains and drains for sewage, and new water pipes, for eastern Oaxaca and Jalatlaco.

** The Oaxaca city council has passed a “new” transit law, which once again allows traffic police to remove plates from cars illegaly parked.  With renewed opportunities to make a little money returning the plates to grateful motorists, transit officers have become much more aggressive in enforcing the regulations.

**  Diana is in California visiting with her family.  This issue and the next will be using file photos until she gets back.

“The Americano” a good read:

Aran Shetterly’s book about a Cuban revolutionary leader who was later executed for betraying the very same revolution probably would be less interesting if the subject weren’t from the U.S. Part of what William Morgan accomplished, aside from having been a brilliant battlefield leader in a key province, was through his appearance on radio, television, newspapers and in personal appearances, as “spokesperson” to the U.S. audience while the revolution was being fought and during the months after the fall of Havana. It was his insistence that the Cuban revolution was not Communist, but motivated by the desire to overthrow a tyrant (who just happened to have strong ties to the CIA) and replace him with a democratic system, that helped to keep the U.S. from sending in the Marines.

The book is a good piece of investigative journalism. The bibliography is extensive. And, as outlined in the introduction, it is also about the author’s own odyssey through the historical and political landscape of Cuba and Miami: Morgan, having become an official “non-person” in Cuba, was not viewed by most Cubans as a fit topic for research; canonized as an unsung anti-Castro hero by the Cubans in exile; and a troubling subject for his old comrades both in and out of Cuba.

Aran is a friend who used to live in Oaxaca and now resides in MexCity where he is co-founder of the English language “Inside Mexico” magazine.You can buy “The Americano” at your local independant bookstore, if you are lucky enough to still have one around.  If you don’t, then consider purchasing from Amazon through our website. We get a small cut, and you don’t pay any more than you would by ordering directly.

A Coco update:

Our impromptu Newsletter appeal was able to raise over $900 dollars for Coco’s Kids. We were glad to be able to help. Here, Coco is holding the youngest of her charges.  For those of you who would like to follow the progress of the efforts on the ground here in Oaxaca, we have posted a web page on the RealOaxaca site, but outside the Newsletter, so that anyone can access it. If you know others who you think might be interested, the “url” is

The Wondrous Toy Workshop:

The first time I visited Piña Palmera, a community-based care facility for “disabled” children, I was shown the carpentry shop, where the toys that were for sale on the premises were made.  Interested primarily in their innovative outreach program – going to remote villages, identifying families with “defective” children, and helping parents and community members to accept and integrate them into daily life, and in some cases to arrange for relocating them to to Piña’s facility on the beach – I really didn’t get it about the toys: about the role they played, not only in the “rehabilitative process” but also in the financial support of the organization.  No-one was working in the shop that day.

Years later, when I first met Hanni Sager, the woman (herself suffering the effects of Muscular Distrophy) that had started the workshop, I only vaguely connected her to what I remembered about Piñas toys.  Although we were by then contributors to the urban workshop she had set up at CANICA, a shelter and school for street children in Oaxaca, we were not aware of Hanni’s role in setting up a similar workshop with CANICA.

Still later, even though we had attended a lecture that Hanni gave on using her toys as a rehabilitative tool, I really only had a vague idea both of her own story and the significance of what she was doing.  As time went on, that understanding grew, but really it didn’t become anything like complete until I read Nancy Miller’s book.

“Wondrous Toy” is partly Hanni’s story of struggle and success; partly a how-to guide for starting your own toy workshop.  It includes templates for making the toys, and photos of some of the toys and children in full color.  Miller (a long-time subscriber to this newsletter, and a friend), like the good editor that she is, doesn’t get in the way of the story.  You can buy it at your local independant bookstore, if you are lucky enough to still have one around.  If you don’t, then consider purchasing from Amazon through our website. We get a small cut, and you don’t pay any more than you would by ordering directly.

A new feature:

Every once in a while, we will introduce you to one of our friends here in Oaxaca.  After all, life here is more than following politics and checking out the latest Italian restaurant.  This issue, we would like you to meet Bertha.  We met her through Anita Downs, Lila’s mom.  Bertha comes from the same area, near the very volatile regional market town of Tlaxiaco, up in the “Mixteca Alta”, where land disputes and corrupt officials have divided the indigenous Trique.

Bertha is an attorney.  While still pretty young, she became an administrative judge, working for the Civil Registry, adjudicating disputed documents.  A couple of years ago, she took a leave of absence and spent some time in the U.S., learning English and informally studying the very different way that the criminal justice system works on the other side.

After she returned, she applied for, and received, an appointment to the first group in the state of Oaxaca to be trained as operatives in the new system for criminal trials in Mexico.  Previously, all trials were held in in the judge’s chambers, and based on written submissions.  There were no witnesses called, no chance to cross-examine.  Because the defendant was deemed guilty until proven innocent, poor people languished sometimes for years in prison, awaiting trial.  Those that were already in, and “political” prisoners, languish still.

Under the new system, bail on recognizance is much easier to obtain, and defendants actually get “a day in court”.  Bertha is a defense lawyer, one of three in her office in Juchitan, down in the Isthmus of Tehuantepéc.  Others in her class handle the prosecution and the adjudication.  Once the system has been in place long enough to work the kinks out, her team will go elsewhere in Oaxaca state, to bring another judicial district on line, and to teach what they have learned.  Eventually, they will return to Oaxaca city – a much larger, much more complex place to tackle – and implement it here.

Considering the long hours and the rigorous work, the job doesn’t pay very well, and Bertha sees a future for herself in a more lucrative private practice as a criminal defense attorney.  “I make enough to feed myself”, she told us, “but who will care for my mother when she can no longer work?”