The alphabet soup thickens:

The incredibly rapid deterioration of the PRD since their loss of the presidency (while delivering all but one of Oaxaca’s federal districts to PRD candidate López Obrador) in 2006, combined with the severe repression of the participants in the 2006 rebellion, leaves the “political left” in Oaxaca (and in much of the rest of the country) in a state of disarray.

Nowadays, when someone talks about “the APPO” it’s important to ask “which APPO”. There have been so many splinterings and re-groupings, all with voluble spokespersons; and tenuous agreements that are announced before they are ratified, that it is easy to get confused.

Two “organizations” have come forward lately. One is what appears to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers union, calling itself the APPO – teachers alliance. As this is written, a week of “cultural events” is being held as a run-up to the week-long conference starting this weekend, in the Hotel Magisterio (teachers’ union building), to promote the alliance. The teachers’ position appears to be that without their 70-thousand-strong participation (not to say leadership) there will never be an effective APPO. They may be right, but it remains to be seen whether or not anything will come of it.

A combination of various “players” within the old APPO are also organizing a new group, with the Spanish acronym FOSDI. This alliance will probably fall afoul of the ideological rift between the anarchists and the commies.

Meanwhile, Doctora Bertha, the Mother Teresa / Joan of Arc of the Oaxaca resistance of 2006, continues to conduct her weekly Sunday meetings with “Survivors” to share memories, reflections, analysis and healing; and weighs in heavily on the side of co-operation in spite of sectarian differences. Judging by the peaceful and busy scene today in the Zócalo, where the cultural events and information booths are located, some of the groups may be listening.

Bubble, bubble…

[This weaving, in the style of Rodolfo Morales, was actually made my Rodolfo Morales]

Last in, first fired:

The Pew Hispanic Center just released a study that shows that immigrant Hispanics (their word) have been hit harder by the current recession than any other ethnic group. While native-born Hispanics and African Americans have suffered severely:

“The unemployment rate has increased more and the share of the working-age population that is employed has fallen more for immigrant Hispanics than for other racial and ethnic groups in the first year of the recession. Trends in other indicators during the one-year old recession, such as the change in labor force participation or the growth in the number of unemployed persons, also reveal a more severe impact on foreign-born Latinos.”

I pass this on, not as startling news, but as confirmation: the lowest caste suffers the most.

Hands across the border:

Fourteen years ago, Diana took me to the offices of the Farmworker Project in Visalia, California, an organization that was funded by the American Friends Service Committee (and where she had been on the Board until she relocated to Oaxaca). I was instantly “home”. From the controlled chaos to the posters and notices on the wall, to the organizers’ attitudes and analysis, except for the bilingualism, it felt just like so many efforts I had been involved with in Minneapolis in the 70s and 80s, from No Nukes to Native American rights to “community control”.

Proyecto Campesino was doing – and continues to do – a lot of work around immigrant rights: voter registration, citizenship for those who are qualified, right to contact the nearest consulate if arrested, right to decent compensation, housing, and other human rights. Their clientele was a broad swathe of Latino immigrants, documented and not, a mezcla (mixture) of Central Americans, and Mexicans of various origins: Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mayans; Chiapanecos, Guerrerenses, Zacatecans.

As immigration has grown in the intervening years, groups have been established that relate more to aiding and connecting specific subsets of the Latino population, most often by place of origin, operating on both sides of the border.

For example, in a single article I read recently, four such organizations are mentioned: the Oaxacan Regional Organization (ORO); the Union of Oaxacan Mountain Communities (OCSO); the Organization for Assistance to the Macuitianguenses (OPAM), which relates to one town in Oaxaca; and the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB), which operates in California, Baja California, Mexico City, and the villages of the Mixteca Alta where it has an office in Juxtlajuaca.

[The Zócalo continues to be a busy, interesting place. Musicians are often to be seen busking for pesos, but this is the first time I’ve seen a rock and roll band with the hat out.]

Bowman Project controversy continues:

The back-and-forth over two studies completed by the Bowman Project team in the Sierra Juarez continues to rage among the academic community, and between the academicians and the social change activists and NGOs.

For those of you who haven’t been following this brouhaha, both the Bowman studies and the Human Terrain project are funded by the same Army Intelligence office. The HT data are designed specifically for military purposes, as stated in their own proposal. The Bowman teams operating in Oaxaca deny having anything to with the Human Terrain project. The back-and-forth can be found by joining Dr. Ron Waterbury’s listserve (to receive it, send an email to ronoax (at) or the usergroup of the Oaxaca Study Action Group, among others.

Critics say that even if the Bowman project isn’t designed to obfuscate the nefarious doings of the HT studies by changing the name and downplaying the role of the military, it takes a real stretch of credibility to believe that the Army won’t end up using the data that Bowman provides, in order to serve the paramilitary purpose of crushing dissent, and dissenters.

I’ve run into an anthropologist and an archeologist both of whom professed shock that such a fuss is being made. They point out that academic research – and most academic researchers – are government funded in one way or another, starting with stipends and scholarships for graduate school projects. That they don’t see that this could be corrupting (even though I’m confident that they would never accept funding that they believed was going to end up doing harm), is I suppose yet another proof of Mao’s saying that material circumstances dictate consciousness.

[Called “Goalball” here in Oaxaca, this activity started out as training for folks who have trouble seeing. Everyone is blindfolded, and the ball has a bell in it. Here, on the paving stones surrounding the Zócalo, these kids taped out a court and played a game or two.]

While arguments can be made for the benign nature of taking Army funds (mostly they get a result that is not useful to them; their projects are notoriously badly designed; there is a lot of spin-off into useful civilian technology), a recent La Jornada article pointed out it is a lot harder to dismiss the connection between the kind of field research done in emerging countries by scientists whose funding comes from pharmaceutical companies or agribusiness conglomerates and subsequent exploitation and patent registrations that violate native rights to control their own communities.

In any case, it has to be a good thing that – whichever side one comes out on – the whole issue is seeing some daylight.

Update: Recent articles about Pentagon plans to invade Mexico in the event that the so-called drug war destabilizes the government, and current agreements to provide more “advisors” in said “war” make the mapping activities of the Bowman Project look a lot more sinister. If I were an academician engaged in field research in Mexico – particularly in southern Mexico; or in the Tarahumara territories where giant resorts are being planned (and fought by locals) – I’d be a little nervous about now.

Another update (how am I ever going to get this Newsletter done, when the news won’t stop breaking): — An anthropologist, serving as a member of a team doing a Human Terrain survey, died recently from an attack a couple of months ago in Afghanistan. The team was “mapping” use of cooking oil in a village in order to estimate Taliban activity in the area: it is useful for occupiers to know to what degree any of the occupied may have given their hearts and/or minds to the “enemy”.

[This guy is way cool. He plays old standards with just a little jazzing up. Very relaxed.]

Three Books on Mexico:

***Tony Cohan’s new book, “Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico” is a travelogue for the professional travel writer. That is to say, many of the places he stayed in and the restaurants he went to, tend to be places that come with higher price tags than I can normally afford.

Still, if you don’t find the “pay attention to me” details of his personal feelings too distracting, and I didn’t, this is a well-written and evocative series of snapshots of some worth-visiting Mexican destinations, including Oaxaca. Cohan is an accomplished wordsmith with a fine eye for detail and an obvious appreciation of his subject.

*** Gods, Gachupines and Gringos:

I’m not a historian (or any other kind of “ian” that takes a lot of study and discipline). I appreciate the work of those who are. I especially appreciate it when the work is “accessible”: easy to read, easy to follow, revealing of its assumptions and prejudices, and informative. This book scores high on all four criteria.

Like the history of any entity as big as a country, Mexico’s has a scope and a depth that is impossible to analyze in any definitive way in one book (even one as thick as this). For this reason, any “short history” will be limited to a particular sector, period, or point of view. For me, this limitation is also a liberation, because I am not going to sit down and work my way through a five-foot shelf, but always have some time for a thoughtful one-book presentation. Agreed, this means that my knowledge will be more limited, and subject to the author’s viewpoint; but it also means that – unless I’m being naive, something I haven’t been accused of for some time – I come away knowing more than I did when I started. Along with Lynn Foster’s “Short History of Mexico” and John Ross’s “Mexico in Focus”, an informative historical read.

Incidentally, these and other books and cd’s that we review, can be bought from Amazon by clicking on ourbook page. You don’t pay any more, but we get a cut…

***John Gibler, “Mexico Unconquered”:

“In Mexico, it’s not an accident that the country’s 12 million indigenous people are some of the poorest people in the land or that government statistics show that the poorest municipalities in the country are all heavily indigenous municipalities. The legacy of colonial invasion and conquest in the creation of poverty is apparent. Indigenous people were literally pushed out of the valleys they were farming and cultivating. They were enslaved and brought to Spanish haciendas [estates] and mines to work.

“That legacy of colonial violence was transformed slowly through the independence and post-revolution eras but never ended. That legacy is actually the engine of the creation of poverty.”

Gibler is a freelance journalist who, along with Jill Friedberg, Nancy Davies, among others, was on the ground and with the people during the 2006 rebellion. His contextualized coverage of Brad Will’s death contributed greatly to the understanding of who the players were during the great upheaval. His in-depth look into the circumstances of the murder of human rights worker Sali Grace is, so far, the definitive work on the subject.

I have not read this book yet, but I’m going to. Don’t wait for my review, you can’t go wrong with Gibler.

[Spotted at the Casa Coloniál last Sunday, Lila Downs. Husband Paul Cohen was sitting in with the Miguel Sampiero quartet, who play there once a month, and Lila favored us with a rendition of “My One and Only Love”. That, and the cold weather apears to be gone: what a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.]


**Correction: As we discovered when we attended an opening there a few days ago, ASARO did not move into the old Sachmo space. In fact, they are in a new gallery space, Espacio Zapata, at Melchor Ocampo 116. They sell t-shirts as well as prints and other art. The artist gets 30% of the take. The other 70% funds the space, and outreach programs to start “people’s art” collectives in the villages.

**El Circulo de Mujeres (The Circle of Women) will hold an open house on Saturday, February 21, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at José Vasconcelos 104 (betw. P. Diaz and TyPalacios). Great nosh, beautiful rebozos (shawls) and live backstrap loom weavers. Bring money.

**Oaxaca will host a triple-header world championship boxing match at month’s end. Plans are to hold it in the Guelaguetza amphitheater. I can already smell the testosterone.