Doing it in the road:

The night before the second Monday on the Hill, otherwise known as the Guelaguetza II, dancers and bands from each of the seven regions of Oaxaca came a-marching, from the Fountain of the Seven Regions, to the Zócalo, and then back up the Alcalá, tootling and dancing all the way.

It was a madhouse. Carnavál with clothes on. Undaunted, our intrepid photographer plunged into the jam-packed crowds for the dancers’ photos displayed here. She reports that everyone was having a good time.

Curious Readers Want to Know:

I am asked, how do I decide what goes into a Newsletter.

I never know for sure what I’m going to write, until just before I start putting the Newsletter together. Between one Newsletter and another, I “stash” articles I’ve read and ideas that I want to follow up on, in a “stories in progress” directory.

Often, there are far more potential stories than I can use in any given Newsletter. Sometimes I let them “mature” and take another look while preparing a future Newsletter. Sometimes, I reject them because developing circumstances have made them moot. At the same time, I incorporate some of Diana’s more recent photos, often using them to hang a “short story” on; using them to illustrate an item; or I just slip them in because I like them.

In general, the selection process is affected by the urgency or “universality” of the story; but sometimes I allow a mood to inform those choices. Last Newsletter was written when I was in a “bad” mood. This month the tone is a bit lighter. Hopefully, it all works out in the end.

What goes around comes around:

Those of you who have been with us for a while may remember a feature we did a couple of years ago on Clinica del Pueblo (CP), a small hospital / clinic in the “poor” barrio of San Martín Mexicapan, just across the river from the Abastos market and the second class bus station.

CP was – and is – funded by a Catholic charity, although it is totally non-demoninational. For a time – and this is how we found it – it had a nurse-midwife program funded by an NGO based in the U.S. Since then, although the nurse-midwife program itself is not running, CP has grown, becoming one of the largest providers of health care and preventative medicine in the area. It continues to receive donations from across the border. This is the “what goes around” part.

The “comes around” part concerns a gringa acquaintance named K. K got very sick. She had an infection that she tried to self-medicate, and apparently took the wrong medicine, or the wrong dosage. Whatever, by the time she admitted to herself and others that she was getting steadily worse, she was practically comatose, no longer in control of her bodily functions, running a dangerously high fever, and too weak to walk.

One expat friend, knowing K had no extra cash (like many of us who live from one Social Security check to another), and knew of CP’s work, had her brought there for treatment. It took about two weeks to get K stabilized enough to be transported to the U.S. for further treatment. While friends, and family in the States, had to pay for necessary round-the-clock nursing, all other services and drugs were given without charge. From all we hear, the care was excellent.

One caveat: there are plenty of poor folks in need of CP’s limited resources, and it would be callous for any of us who can pay for services to further burden the Clinica. So, I do not recommend doing so except in extremis. For K, who was both broke and unable to travel, CP may indeed have been a life saver.

K, now back in the U.S., having been provided with a loan through the U.S. Consulate to cover her transportation, will be able to get free services under Medicaid.

[Update: A fund-raiser for CP has been announced. August 24 at 3:00 p.m., at Candela (Murguia and Pino Suarez). Food, music, and other entertainment, with a 50p cover, all going to the Clinica. If you’re going to be here at that time, you might like to attend.]

Speaking of Medicare:

For those of you who live in Mexico but have kept your “Plan B” Medicare, or those who are visiting, be prepared. Medicare will not reimburse you for what you pay for medical attention here. Nor is there a way your doctor down here can bill your secondary insurance carrier, although many carriers do technically reimburse you for such treatment. Be sure to get a receipt for services when you pay your bill, and then do your best to collect.

Diana tried to get reimbursed, only to be told that the receipt had to have some sort of “treatment code” on it. Since Mexico doesn’t have “treatment codes”, she was unable to collect.

The APPO is Dead; Long Live the APPO:

[The following commentary is strictly my own. Some people whom I respect disagree with it. I’ll plead guilty to a certain amount of hyperbole, but otherwise stand by it. After all, this is what you pay me the big bucks for, right?]

It’s time someone said it: the APPO, as an organization, no longer exists. Battered by two plus years of struggle against a ruthless and violent state security apparatus, and abandoned by a “leadership” of opportunists and political apparatchiks, this is, as John Cleese said, “a dead parrot”.

The government created a space for the APPO by attacking the teachers’ occupation of the city center on June 14, 2006, bringing out tens of thousands of Oaxaca’s citizens into the streets. Soon, hundreds of organizations, some “registered” and some not, from all over the state, joined in. For months, there was an air of – if not revolution – rebellion, whose anarchist nature (denying power to any hierarchy) quickened the heart of many and shriveled the privates of others.

It was rough, sometimes chaotic, and volatile. It was not always easy to pick out the government agents and doctrinaire subversionists, and so there were incidents of violence and aesthetic misfortune perpetrated in the name of APPO, although they were greatly overshadowed (except, of course, in the corporate press, both here and there) by the acts of solidarity and community, and the marvelous “people’s art”.

For some of us, quietly cheering from the sidelines, particularly those of us who’d had some experience of left organizations back home, the rebellion was a source of endless fascination and speculation, and – dare we say it – hope; although our experiences informed us that umbrella organizations don’t last too long once the battles for control have begun.

By the end of 2006, it became pretty obvious that it was all over but the shouting. Arrests, assassinations, beatings and death threats had removed most of the “political” leadership, either to prison or exile; and those that were left standing were constantly being accused, by one faction or another, of being “traitors” to the cause. The alliance between the teachers’ union and the APPO had been breaking down for a while, even while the union itself was undergoing its own internal schisms.

Still, every once in a while, somebody (mostly the teachers) put together a “mega-march” of tens of thousands of persons, to protest the worsening economic situation for electrical workers, oil workers, health workers, and – of course – teachers. At most of these demonstrations, APPO banners flew. There has been a long series of speakers who have declared themselves to be mouthpieces for APPO. Yet for some time now, when “APPO” declares a march or demo, hardly anyone shows up.

Take the first Monday of Guelaguetza, for instance. A march was called by “APPO” beginning at Llano park, and ending at the “People’s Guelaguetza” (organized by the teachers), and only a handful of people showed up. We didn’t follow the march, so we don’t know if it got much bigger as it wended its way through town, but my guess is probably not by much. About a tenth of the marchers wore anoraks with the hood up and a scarf across their face, carrying backpacks full of spray paints. You could tell they meant business, as later reports confirmed: heavy spray painting was reported all along the parade route and some art works in the Zócalo were destroyed.

When they got to the stadium of the Technical University, where the People’s Guelaguetza was being performed, after rampaging through the city, the security people from the teachers refused the “encapuchados” (covered heads) admittance. No hidden faces allowed, so the spray-painters left.

On Wednesday, the 23d, in response to the destruction of three large-poster-size reprints of the photos of Ariel Mendoza, the originals of which are on display in the nearby Oaxacan Painters’ Museum, the city put up about thirty more, all around the Zócalo. The local arts community was of course outraged by the vandalism, while the apologists for the mean-spirited misbehavior of the masked ones point out that Art in Oaxaca is a zero sum game for most artists, while only a few benefit financially. That is no doubt true, just as it is everywhere. We live in the last stages of Capitalism as we know it, what else should we expect? And anyway, there are damned few really rich Oaxacan artists, but there are a lot of rich businessmen, so why not pick on them?

Meanwhile, Flavio Sosa, one of Oaxaca’s celebrity political prisoners, having been released from prison without charge after about a year, has taken the opportunity of his freedom to launch a “new” political party whose effect will be to split the “left” even more (before he was busted, he headed the local branch of New Left, itself a split within the PRD). Flavio, the Stalinoid “Popular Front” (itself a break from the more orthodox Communist party), and others: fallen away APPO looking for masses to lead. The only exception to this seems to be avid David Venegas, whose organization, known by the acronym VOCAL, actually grew over the year that he was imprisoned; and whose “line” continues to reflect semi-Zapatista anarchist / populist principles.

So, for lots of reasons, external and internal, the APPO is dead – yet the idea of APPO lives on, in the hearts of the Oaxacans; and the story of APPO is told and retold. APPO was far more than the sum of its parts. APPO was an event and a historical process which changed the consciousness of the citizenry. We all had a taste of what it would be like to police ourselves; to organize self-security organizations in practically every neighborhood in town; to enjoy a sub-culture full of vibrant topical art; to begin to transform the local economy away from control by the wealthy and toward a smaller-scale model as witness the cottage industries that sprung up to service the occupation. Not all of us liked it – Gringo or Mexican – but we couldn’t help but notice.

There’s no doubt about it, when the APPO (which to my mind is just another way of saying “the people”) stood up in June of 2006, the political bosses blinked. Everyone saw them blink. They can deny it if they want, but people know what they saw, and that blink, in spite of the massive repression that followed (and still follows), allowed the citizenry a glimpse into the possibilities of deep cultural and economic change – a picture they hope to see again. La APPO vive!

Monte Albán shut down briefly:

On Monday morning, the 21 st , a group of about 400 folks from a couple of adjacent villages shut off access to Monte Albán for about four hours. They did it, they said, to call attention to the theft by curator Nelly Robles of INAH (the antiquities bureau of the federal government) and her boss, the INAH’s Oaxaca director, of about a thousand acres of ejido land that belongs to their villages.

INAH says the land is needed to create a buffer zone and stop locals from building houses too close to the archeological zone; and that the most vocal of the protesters just happen to be people who buy and sell real estate. The locals say that they have not been properly compensated for their land, which was illegally appropriated; and that there is a secret plan afoot to build a five-star hotel, shopping mall, and golf course funded by “Japanese interests”. INAH denies all knowledge of any such plan.

INAH says that there is a “negotiating table” already set up to resolve the problem of compensation for the land, and that the local folks are refusing to come and talk. The locals say there is nothing to talk about: the land is theirs, and not for sale (but they keep mentioning the low per-square-meter buyout price that INAH has offered).

And so the rhetoric ratchets up, and the blockade makes it into the pages of The News, and Google’s news alerts, joining drug warfare as another – unjustified – reason for visitors to shun Oaxaca.


*Moved: The State Tourism office on Murguia between 5Mayo and Reforma, has closed its doors. New office (re-opening after repairs following being trashed in the 2006 rebellion) is on Juarez, across from Parque Juarez (El Llano), next to the Teatro Juarez.

*Success: The teachers’ Section 22 and the APPO held their own Guelaguetza – for free – at the ball field of the Technical University in July, and drew 30,000 people. The cost of transporting all the dancers, the sound system, etc. came too about 140,000 pesos. It got paid off through assessing each teacher 20 pesos.

*Artisans: In a probably futile attempt to defend Oaxacan carvers against low-priced Chinese knockoffs, a commission has been formed to come up with some solutions. The problem is indeed a serious one, but I don’t see any good ideas coming out of it, let alone actions.

*Coco’s Kids: Cicely Winter has written of great progress being made in construction of needed facilities at CHILU, and we have posted the report for all to read.  Here’s a photo she sent along.


*Church / State: From time to time, we comment on the inroads that the PAN is making on the secular nature of post-revolutionary politics. Now comes a report that the Secretary of Education is demanding that the government of the Federal District (DF) remove a sex-education book from the public schools – not because it mentions birth control and homosexuality in a tolerant way (it does) – but because it is technically out of compliance with federal law which requires all books to undergo a lengthy (sometimes years long) “approval” process. The teachers in the DF have vowed to use this book despite being threatened with sanctions if they do so. Since all salaries are paid through the Education secretariat, this could mean some serious disruptions in the schools, and on the street, in MexCity.

Are we forgetting something here?

Recently, a conference was held in Oaxaca in which Xochitl Castañeda, a professor from the medical school of UC Berkeley, gave a talk, “Migrants’ Health: Context, Problems and Future”.

It has been reported that she said that migrant dollars have displaced tourist dollars as the number one source of income for Oaxaca statewide. Insofar as she’s pointing to the overtaking of turidolares by migradolares, she is of course right. However, in the report as reported (I didn’t attend), she fails to mention narcodolares, which by some measures have been, continue to be, and are likely to remain, the true number one source of Oaxacan wealth.

I mention this because it seems to me that not doing so is another case of ignoring the 2-ton gorilla sitting on your sofa. It’s one thing to attack the evil narcos, but quite another to pretend they don’t exist. Not only is narcotics big business in Oaxaca (as it is in almost all of Mexico), it is currently undergoing “consolidation”, which is likely to lead to more drugs coming from and going through the state, resulting in even higher narcodollar figures.

In the current “interdiction and criminalization” atmosphere, where there is money being made by the prison-industrial complex (and oh, yeah, shouldn’t we include that money in the “narcodollar” figures? Particularly with the big increase in U.S. “aid”?), there is reluctance to treat drug money as a real income for Oaxacan farmers, truck drivers, etc. Even if one believes drugs to be totally evil, necessitating shutting off the trade by any means necessary, shouldn’t we at least factor drugs in to any statistical analysis of Oaxacan economics? It seems to me that if we don’t do so, we will necessarily miss a lot of potentially helpful information with which to inform our analyses of current economic, geographic, and political realities.