The teachers and the Guelaguetza:

As part of the deal they made with the governor, the bosses of the Oaxaca teachers’ union will not call for a “boycott” of Oaxaca’s biggest single money-making event, the “Lunes del Cerro” (Monday on the hill) dance extravaganza known as the Guelaguetza. In past years, they have disrupted the events (the last two Mondays of July) in an attempt to “prove” that Oaxaca is “ungovernable” – and that therefore the governor, Ulises Ruíz, should be removed from power. After two years of bitter and fruitless struggle, Ulises – in spite of mountains of evidence of corruption, violent repression of dissidence, and personal enrichment – has proven unshakeable.

Instead, there will be a “people’s Guelaguetza” on the playing field of the Technological university, free of admission (the fee for a reserved seat in the stadium is nearly 35 U.S. dollars). In 2006, a similar event drew 20,000 spectators.

[There is a tremendous amount of ballyhoo leading up to the main events.  These youngsterrs are marching in the rain, on their way to the opera house to perform in a “young person’s Guelaguetza”]

In addition, there are many local festivals being held all around Oaxaca. For those that like their fiestas “pure” – there are many who decry the “consumerist” nature of the official affair, seeing it as a rip-off of popular culture in the service of greedy hotel and restaurant owners – these may be the best choices.

Meanwhile, the teachers are gearing up for a long (three years) overdue state election of new leadership. National teachers’ tyrant Elba Esther Gordillo had been refusing to grant a “charter” (permission) for an election, but conceded as part of the deal that ended the annual strike last month. However, she managed to ram through a significant change in the structure of the voting process.

[This shot was hard to get, because of the telephone pole directly in front; but it’s one of the better examples of wall art we’ve seen.]

In most of the teachers locals (a state is a local in the SNTE (teachers’ national union), voting is done statewide, by secret ballot. In a few, primarily Oaxaca, voting has been done by electing delegates in open meetings first on a local, then a regional level, and finally in an open (but closed door) meeting at the “teachers’ hotel” here in Oaxaca city. Some say this system prevents the kind of shenanigans – stuffing ballot boxes, for instance – that permeates politics throughout Mexico. Others say that dissidents who might find it dangerous to stand up in an open meeting and defy local bosses would be more comfortable voting anonymously.

In any case, as part of the “settlement”, the state bosses agreed to having the secret ballot imposed upon them. No matter who wins, there are bound to be accusations of fraud and intimidation (no doubt justified; the teachers’ union is the largest in the state, and there is a lot of money at stake for the winners and their friends).

[Daniel Cruz and his wife Dulce, who own the nearby Cuicacalli music school, perform along with two colleagues, at a benefit for a primary school.  Normally, they do not “electrify”.  The poster on the wall is of the most famous saying of Oaxaca’s most famous native son, Benito Juarez.  It says, “Between individuals, as between nations, the respect for the rights of others is peace”.]

The Eagle’s Throne:

I am not a fan of Carlos Fuentes. I find most of his books to be too dense for my taste. However, at the suggestion of a subscriber, both Diana and I read “The Eagle’s Throne”; and I actually managed to get through it – and it was pretty interesting. Framed through a series of private letters back and forth among the various characters, it is an ironic tale of “realpolitik” at the highest levels of Mexican government. Like the insider reportage of Juan Ruiz Healy in the old “News”, it is both a condemnation and an exposé of the System, as the mechanism of the longest running dictatorship of the PRI was known; and – as any student of recent Mexican politics knows – has changed but little under the PAN since 2000.

OK, so it’s a little tedious in places, but it serves to remind us that, in spite of the glitz and the p.r. hype, it’s the same old Mexico, and probably will be for some time: the book is set, not in the Byzantine past, but in the near future.

[La Curtaduria, an avante-garde performance and exhibition space in Jalatlaco, has had several shows to promote the fight against transgenic corn.  This screen was in the latest one.  You can’t see it clearly, but there is a pull-chain on the right side.  A “scroll” that you don’t have to hold in your two hands: a nice invention.]

Land and inheritance:

Four years ago, we wrote about a land dispute that involved Alejandro Gertz Manero, who was then the Interior Minister for then-president Vicente Fox, while at the same time holding his title as rector-for-life of University of the Americas, located near Puebla: Gertz owned the institution. Aside from the possibility of it being unconstitutional to be both the Minister and the Rector, Gertz’ behavior (he arrested three gringos living on the land in order to pressure the elderly and increasingly infirm owner to move out), which brought down a full-court press for their release by then-U.S. ambassador Garza, cost him at least temporary possession of the property in question when the municipality, upon the owner’s death, occupied it and opened a law-suit of its own.

Now, it turns out that that isn’t the only instance of greedy expropriation of which Gertz is accused. According to a sworn affidavit presented to current president Felipe Calderón last month, Gertz broke a trust agreement with the estate of Ervin and Gloria Frissell, who had left their major collection of local pre-Columbian artifacts, and a building to house them, to University of the Americas on condition that they be preserved as part of the patrimony of Mitla, where the Frissells lived. According to the affidavit, Gertz signed the collection over to the federal agency responsible for antiquities, INAH, and “gave” the building to then-governor Murát. Now a senator, Murát is constitutionally protected from criminal or civil prosecution as long as he is in government service.

[These sculptures by Claudio López were also part of the Curtaduria show]

Meanwhile, INAH appears to be dragging its feet on coming up with an accounting of the pieces they received (the municipality claims 80,000) and how many now remain (the affidavit says that half have disappeared, with the best pieces now in U.S. and European museums and private collections).

In both cases, foreigners, with the best of intentions, thought that their donations were fireproof, carefully worded and duly recorded. Unfortunately, bending and breaking the law – or simply smashing and grabbing – by people with influence or family connections makes even the most careful efforts a precarious process.

[Flash update:  just this morning, an official of INAH met with some of the complainants in Mitla.  He said that talk of 80,000 pieces was a gross exaggeration; that they could have all the pieces back just as soon as they finished remodeling the building, including air conditioning and special windows; and that he believed that that work should be paid for by the state or the city, but not by INAH.]

ASAR-O show at UCLA:

For those of you who live in southern California, Oaxaca’s premier revolutionary art collective is having a show at the Fowler Museum, on the campus of UCLA. ASAR-O’s wood-block prints and stencils reflect the spirit and the hopes of the people of Oaxaca, and were featured – and influential – in the uprising of 2006. To see more of their work, visit here.

Money talks and ecology walks:

In the dark of night, protected by private security and the Oaxaca police department, a gang of workers destroyed what is described as the last old-growth forest in urban Oaxaca, in order to build a supermarket. As word got out, citizens began arriving to protest the action. By morning, they had driven the workers away, but the vast majority of the destruction had already taken place.

Chedraui, a national supermarket chain, had acquired the land and applied for permits to build. As knowledge of the plan, which included the destruction of the trees that covered a hectare (about 2.5 acres), began to spread, groups began to form to save the trees, and the hundreds of bird and squirrel species that made their home there. The one that appeared to be getting the most traction had applied to have the plot declared a recreational area and nature preserve. The clear cutting has made that plan moot.

An environmental impact statement is required before construction (or destruction) begins, but none had been filed in this case. It is ludicrous to think that the city administration knew nothing of Chedraui’s plans, especially as there was clear co-ordination between the private security force and the city cops. So, what we are left to wonder about is who paid how much to whom.

[This is one of the gardens at the Children’s Library.  We used to walk by this property all the time and it was a terrible eyesore and a prime mosquito breeding location.  As this photo, and the following one illustrate, it is possible to build and beautify, while preserving and integrating the trees.]

It should be noted that many find the claims by protesters that the small patch of woods was a vital “lung” for a city which everyone agrees is awash in pollution, to be a bit hyperbolic. About the need for urban parks and recreation areas, almost everyone agrees.

Outraged citizens and earth-defenders are calling for a national boycott of Chedraui stores. That didn’t work when liberal-icon retailer Costco leveled the Casino (a national architectural treasure) and its’ adjacent woods to build a warehouse in Cuernavaca, and it’s unlikely to do much good in this case; and in a sense Chedraui – which was just behaving normally for a greedy corporate entity – is really not to blame.

The clear culprits here are the city administration, and the state and federal agencies that stood by (or, more likely, actively participated) while this happened; but of course nothing will happen to them.

Who are those masked men?

Last week, a group of men in military-style uniforms, wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles, attacked and killed a high official of the state police of Sinaloa. The killing took place in broad daylight, in the middle of the tourist hotel zone of Mazatlán. Unlike almost all the killings and kidnappings that are taking place on a daily basis in much of the country, the police response was prompt, and the murderers were chased into a large shopping center where they entered a restaurant and took all 40 customers and staff hostage.

After several hours of negotiation, the kidnappers left the restaurant and boarded a police-provided vehicle, taking eight hostages with them. Seven were later released. The whereabouts of the kidnappers is unknown, as is the fate of the eighth hostage.

In June, a young man later identified as a low-level local drug dealer was captured, tortured, and beheaded. His body was dumped “outside the city”, and his head was delivered to the residence of a high state public safety official, along with a note announcing that the Gulf Cartel had come to Oaxaca, and threatening a similar fate for the official and two other ranking PRI big-shots including the party’s head (and former public safety chief, until his violent repression of public dissent became too much even for his boss, governor Ruíz). Following, as it does, the kidnapping of the extremely wealthy chairman of the plumbing megabusiness Romasa by persons unknown, who killed and severely wounded his two bodyguards – in the “sports park” Tequio, the second killing there this season – it gives one pause.

Of course there’s no way of knowing if the perpetrators of any given public atrocity are who they say they are – let alone who the government says they are – since for the most part they –to quote a former PAN honcho referring to Zapatista subcomendante Marcos – “wear a sock on [their] head”. All that is known for sure is that the killings are coming after smaller intervals; that they tend to be more violent; and they more often occur in broad daylight, in public places.

Is Ocotlán cutting off its nose?

Rodolfo Morales, as well as being a world-famous painter, a great philanthropist, and the most famous person ever to come from Ocotlán, was outspoken and active in the political culture; so much so that at one point he required the services of a bodyguard to protect him from death threats that he had received. He made enemies. Memories are long here.

Admittedly, I’m just guessing; but I don’t know how else to explain the lack of attention given by the new municipal administration to the “patrimony” of the maestro, to the point where they are being accused by townspeople of deliberately allowing the buildings and art works he funded and made, to deteriorate. Of course there is some money being pocketed, since the funds that have come to Ocotlán for their preservation don’t appear to have been spent; but there are plenty of opportunities for self-aggrandizement without overseeing the destruction of the far-and-away most important tourist draw in town.

This news just broke, so hopefully the tourist industry and the appropriate government agencies will step in. While there are many, more tragic losses to talk about, such as the continuing displacement of indigenous peoples from their land, and the high rates of poverty and illiteracy, the destruction of Rodolfo’s legacy would be a serious loss for mestizo culture in Oaxaca.