The Case of Lydia Cacho:

In the latest of his missives “from the field”, Oaxaca writer George Colman discusses the trials, tribulations, and revelations of Mexican reporter Lydia Cacho. At a time when attacks against radio and print media reporters are once again increasing, Cacho’s case is particularly relevant.

Lydia Cacho is a reporter based in Cancún, who uncovered the story of a super-wealthy clothing manufacturer named Kamel Nacif, and his apparent involvement in a ring of wealthy and influential men engaged in pedophilia and trafficking in children and pornography. A series of articles which she wrote on the subject were a national sensation.

Cacho, citing transcripts and copies of taped conversations, which have been vetted by various human rights groups and other investigative sources, Nacif appealed for help to the governor of Puebla state, where much of his manufacturing (and wealth) was concentrated; and the governor’s response was to send agents of his state police to Cancún to “arrest” Cacho and transport her to Puebla, where she was put in jail.

Due to tremendous pressure from the press and the international community, and the leaking of transcripts of conversations between the governor and Nacif in which they talked about her kidnap (and a planned in-prison rape and torture, thwarted by a sympathetic prison guard), Cacho was released pretty quickly, and has since written two books about her experience and the general state of law and justice in Mexico.


George Colman and his wife, the artist and poet Michele Gibbs, are occasional contributors to this Newsletter, writing in their own web magazine, “From the Field”. Colman’s article details some of the machinations of the elites who tried to keep Cacho quiet, including excerpts from the taped conversations; and explores the context in which these events occurred. You can read the entire piece on the “From the Field” website.

[This photo, and the one below, were taken on an outing to the wood carving village of San Pedro Cajonos, far up in the Sierra Juarez]

Sharks prowling the Oaxaca coast:

Google Alerts is a sort of informational Russian Roulette. Anyone can sign up for it, and Diana and I have (she has her own computer and webmail address). On any given day, we might receive from ten to twenty alerts, referring us to print media stories that have the word “Oaxaca” in them. Of those, maybe half will come to each of us; the other half will be totally different; and a lot of them are not of interest to us (for exemple, restaurant reviews in which the owner – or the reporter – have the family name “Oaxaca”). Still, every once in a while, a nugget emerges. Take this one, for example:

It seems that, for the first time in local memory, tiger sharks (definitely man-eaters) of more than 10 feet in length, have been spotted at surfer beaches along the Oaxaca coast. Yet there are no warnings, no instructions on how to behave if you encounter one, and – although my perusal of the local media is almost daily, it is not always front-to-back – not much in the news.

The article Google sent me to was posted on “Surfwire”, and to get more information, just click HERE.

Cheap airlines (depending on what you mean by cheap):

Another gleaning from Google was an article in SFGate on how to fly in a more “budget conscious” way while in Mexico. Although almost all of the airlines have a limited number of destinations (and not all fly into Oaxaca just now), and although the “no frills” choice is sometimes more expensive than the more established carriers, it is still a valuable resource for those who are not happy about the limited choices on the U.S. travel sites when it comes to finding internal flights for Mexico. For example, for those who don’t want to endure the bus ride, there is an airline which, for about 170 dollars, will fly you direct to Tuxtla Guttierez, Chiapas in an hour, without going through Mexico City. Pretty soon, I will post the list as part of the  “Frequently Asked Questions” page.   Meanwhile, you can take a look at the article by clicking  HERE.

Murder, close to home:

I’ve lived here for 14 years, and in that time I have happened upon crime scenes three times. The first occurred a couple of years ago. Diana and I were walking home from our weekly Friday shopping at Pochote, and encountered a still-bloody puddle where an act of political revenge had taken place that morning.

The second occurred about a week ago. I was leaving our buddy Max’s place about 10 o’clock at night and police and tow trucks were in the last stages of disassembling a scene where one irate motorist blew away another during an argument about who was the worst driver, following a near-miss traffic incident.

Today made three – or so I thought. Once again, walking down Garcia Vigíl from Pochote. The block that includes Carmen Alto church, and the Civil Registry, was blocked by contingents of everyone from the local beat cops to an army squad. This was at high noon. Lots of people on the street. Across the street, many shops, a hotel, a restaurant: many places with windows on the street. Everyone’s attention focused on the entrance to the Registry.

As it turned out, my immediate reaction was incorrect. It was a bomb scare, not a murder; apparently phoned in by jokesters. Interesting, though, that in the present atmosphere, I assumed that it was another killing…

[The next three photos were taken on June 14, 2006, just after the citizenry had taken back the city’s historic center from URO’s police.  This is 5 Mayo street, in front of teachers’ headquarters]

Teachers’ Day has come and gone:

Every May 15 in my memory, the teachers of Oaxaca’s union local have marched en masse in furtherance of their collective agenda. Most years, there have been other formations that marched with them. This year, as last year, it was APPO, the organization of popular assemblies of Oaxaca. In fact, APPO preceded them to their journey’s end at the Zócalo.

Not only are all demands back on the table – more money for salaries, books, lunches, etc; release of all “political prisoners”; cancellation of all outstanding warrants for arrest of dissidents; the turning over of all classes run by members of rival union local 59 to local 22 – so is the threat: that if no agreement is reached by Monday morning, the teachers will return to Oaxaca for three weeks, during which they will establish a camp in the historic center and engage in acts of disruption and civil disobedience. This is a very bold stance for them to take, given the beating (literally and financially) they took during the summer uprising of 2006; and the listless showing last year.

When the teachers announced their demands and their threat on May 1, the governor responded that he was sure he could negotiate a settlement, since he had been prepared to make a fair offer, hinting that he might have been prepared to offer even more than the maestros demanded. By the day of the march, he was no longer inclined to be so generous, saying that salary issues are the purview of the national union, which must negotiate with the Ministry of Education: basically, refusing to negotiate. It’s an amazing piece of daring-do, a virtual invitation to the teachers and the APPO to stand up and fight. The merchants and tourism businesses are already howling that a confrontation will stick the final knife into the still-weak economic life of a slowly recovering Oaxaca.

In the last month, Ulises’ sub-secretary of state police, the secretary’s chauffeur and a police agent down on the Coast (who happens to be Ulises’ cousin) have all been placed under arrest, and helicoptered to MexCity to be interrogated about their roles in the disappearance of two top members of the People’s Revolutionary Army a couple of years ago. Large quantities of confidential police files and personal computers have been seized.

[ The street outside the Bar Jardín, on the south-west corner of the Zócalo.  The strikers return to a scene of massive police destruction of their belongings.]

The EPR is an armed revolutionary group that targeted police and military for years, and is believed to be responsible for several oil pipeline explosions in the last year. To think that Calderón would waste one second of his time to bring the police – who arrested them and then presumably killed them and disappeared them – to justice is sheer lunacy. This cannot be about justice, so what is it about?

I think it’s about positioning. Calderón can’t remove URO just now. If he does, the PRI just might stop supporting his efforts to sell Mexico to the transnationals. On the other hand, Calderón can’t afford a reprise of 2006, especially now, when so much of the army and national police are tied up in “drug wars”. If Ulises feels strong, with his inner circle intact, he just might turn his “white guards” (the term generally applied to the organization of out-of-uniform ex- and not-so–ex police that carry on extra-judicial operations at his behest) loose again, which will mean a revival of the barricades. URO is also under attack by the federal congress for his appointment of Elizabeth Caña, to be the state Auditor even though she has no degree or experience in the work. Her most infamous act in her last job, as state prosecutor, was ruling that journalist Brad Will was killed by APPO even though he filmed his URO-affiliated assassins in the act of shooting him.

On the other hand, if he’s feeling weakened by Calderón’s ploys, he might decide to make a deal with the teachers.

Here’s my prediction: if things stay relatively amicable and the governor strikes an early deal with the teachers, the “charges” against URO’s pals will evaporate.

The Maryknolls:

Sisters of the Maryknoll order killed and raped by death squads at the behest of Central American dictators backed by the U.S. government: my introduction to the Maryknolls coincided with my introduction to liberation theology and to the personal bravery and dedication to service for others by ordained and lay members of some Catholic orders, even in the face of death.

[Determined not to abandon the Zócalo again, and vowing to use any means necessary, these angry and impetuous young folks were going about distributing molotov cocktails.]

Years later, not too long after coming to Oaxaca to live, I attended a public meeting of representatives of communities in the southern Sierra of Oaxaca state, held in a warehouse outside Oaxaca city, full of food and other supplies collected as aid relief for an area devastated by hurricane Paulina. The gathering was not only to celebrate the loading of the trucks, but also to celebrate the manner in which, through their elected representatives, these communities had decided among themselves, who would get what.

The sponsor of this effort was an NGO called EDUCA, and the co-ordinator of EDUCA was a guy named Joe Regotti, who was a lay missioner of the Maryknolls. Joe and his wife Jean are gone, but EDUCA lives on. Still active in helping the villages of the area develop self-governing, co-operative structures, among other activities, it has also been one of the most visible and active elements within the APPO.

This year, Maryknoll once again was brought to my attention when a farmer and tree planter from the Mixteca Alta won the prestigious Goldman Prize for ecology. Turns out the main advisor, and a major helper in fashioning the project and sustaining it, is a Maryknoll lay missioner named Phil Dahl-Bredine. Along with Stephen Hicken, he has written a book about the project, “The Other Game: Lessons from How Life is Played in Mexican Villages”, which we will be reviewing in the next Newsletter.

As I investigated further, I discovered that there are other Maryknoll-assisted projects flourishing in Oaxaca, including another ecology project in the Sierra Juarez (led by Stephen Hicken) and two social service projects in the city of Oaxaca.

On Friday, I sat down in the offices of COMI, a civil association nominally under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Oaxaca. COMI, whose main work is to provide assistance to migrants from Central America on their way to the U.S. or Mexico’s agribusiness north, maintains a house where migrants can receive up to 3 days and nights room and board, provides an “orientation” on the legal and social problems they may encounter on their trek, and – through a special relationship with the hospital “Clinica del Pueblo” – free medical attention if needed. COMI also helps with phone calls to relatives in the States, setting up safe methods of money transfer, repatriation of bodies, and other needs of those left behind. Director Susan Hinthorn, in her mid-sixties the youngest of Oaxaca’s Maryknoll lay missionaries, and her husband Randy, gave generously of their time to fill in this old gringo about who they are, and what they do.

Randy directs the NGO “Flor y Canto”, also located in the diocesan office building. Flower and Song is a “human rights” organization that works to protect the rights of indigenous communities and individuals, with an emphasis on leadership training, resolution of disputes, and the rights of women and the developmentally disadvantaged.

Randy and Susan have been down here for just under six and a half years, and will soon go back to the Ossining New York headquarters for a refresher course, some debriefing, and to sign up for another three year contract.

I have been invited to join a college group from the States in June, for a one-day marathon of presentations by the Migrant House, and by EDUCA, about their current and planned activities. I’ll let you know what I learn.