Second hand, Anyone?

For the impecunious among us, there are a lot of places to buy cheap, and second hand, clothing. Many churches have a room where volunteers display the goods, and many households open their front patio or garage. Look for a sign saying “Bazar”.

Handing out flyers, this guy can bend all the way down. Impressive.

More clothing, and goods that are more durable, can be found in stores run by various charities, NGO’s, and even the DIF, a government agency. Since they are most often donated spaces, they tend to move more often than you might expect. They are also good places to get rid of stuff you no longer want; or, just leave it at the curb, and it will be gone in no time.

Thanks to Nancy Davies, I now know that there is also a large Goodwill type store on Meir y Terán just north of Mina. From her description, it sounds very much like the Sallies of my youth: everything, including the kitchen sink. It’s run by the same organization that sends all those recovering junkies out with the cans. They’re an Evangelical bunch that I like to tease by telling them that I can’t contribute because I’m saving my money to buy drugs.

An apology:

I am a chauvinist. I keep talking about “us” as if we all live(d) in the U.S. As if there were no Subscribers from Canada, and other ex-colonies of the last great empire. I know better. Still, I am a lazy sort, and I don’t want to have to do too much typing just to be politically correct.

I could just substitute “gringo” for “U.S., Canadian, and other english speaking persons”, but some people do get offended when I use the word. I could just make up a term, such as “EngSpkrs”. I could ignore the whole issue and just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

What do you think?

Narco Wars, probably NOT coming to a neighborhood near yours:

<As we go to press, and for the last week, newspaper headlines, cable news pundits, and radio talk shows across both our countries are flooding our minds with pronouncements, warnings, and propaganda, both true and false. “Mexico is Collapsing”. “Mexican gangs taking over U.S. narcotics distribution”. Etc. I hope this rant is helpful to you in cutting through the fog. Writing it certainly helped me to clear my own mind.>

If you think Prohibition was neat, you’re going to love the next few years: the Mexican Drug Cartels are coming. Heads will, literally, roll in the streets. Or so the government and the main stream press would have you believe. It’s a lie. Part of the hype that precedes squandering more of our money on failed policies.

They tell us that chaos has taken over daily life in Mexico (while there is an increase in class-based crime due to the growing disparity between rich and poor, people here pretty much go about their business as usual); and that it is spilling over into the U.S; and that only militarizing the border and intervening in internal Mexican affairs will save us. Remember “the smoking gun” in Iraq? Remember Plan Columbia? Well, they’re doing it again. Plan Mexico (they changed the name to The Merida Initiative to avoid the inevitable (correct) connection in peoples’ minds to another failed “initiative”, Plan Colombia) will not make you safer.

[Often, when there is a demonstration or a teach-in on the Zócalo, the surrounding walkways fill up with a colorful assortment of sidewalk sellers.]

After the U.S., along with its’ junior partner, Colombia, busted up the trade routes bringing up cocaine and marijuana along the straightest line – through the Caribbean and Miami – the Colombian growing cartels made deals with Mexican gangs (and the police, politicians, and military that protected them) to use overland methods. Gradually, the Mexican cartels (a cartel may consist of more than one gang, and from time to time the gangs may war against each other) took over the trade, and, without their old Colombian partners to arbitrate disputes, began to fight among themselves.

Up until the PRI lost the Mexican White House in 2000, there was some control exercised at the top: Carlos Salinas is generally thought to have been the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of Narco largesse, through his brother Raul, whom many believe to have had their brother-in-law killed over a narcotics turf war. The new President, Vicente Fox, who appeared to be totally uninterested in getting involved, is generally regarded as having been ineffective in dealing with the mounting gang wars, preferring to give his attentions over to dismantling the “safety net” and the nationalization of all publicly held institutions, from the oil monopoly PEMEX to the public schools – at which he also proved ineffective.

Under Fox, the cartels continued to expand, fight each other, and – thanks to the supply of drugs (including Mexican made pcp, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and speed) outstripping U.S. demand – so much for the successes claimed in interdiction and eradication in the South American growing areas – more and more of the drugs that had been transiting out to the more lucrative markets of the U.S. remained in Mexico, causing prices to plummet, thus enticing more home-grown Mexican addicts.

[This and the next picture are of works by ASARO collective members, displayed on the Alameda in front of the Cathedral]

After Calderón “won” the election in 2006, he went to work immediately in an attempt to rein in some of the more egregious cartel warfare. He pinned his strategy on using the military to fight the police ex-police, and ex-military who protected the gangs; and – as past presidents had done – he picked a “favorite” cartel. In Calderón’s case, it was the Sinaloa cartel, an interesting choice given that they control the trade in Michoacán, his home state. This has had two predictable short term results: the further corruption of the military; and the widespread violence that has resulted from the other cartels’ attempts to preserve – if not expand -their own territory. The balance of this article is about the longer term.

George Colman has written an incisive article on the emergence of mercenary organizations as private armies in the service of the cartels; and the fraternity of players that are sometimes cops, sometimes narcos, sometimes politicians.

Mexican cartels have been spreading out, seeking more territory in Mexico (such as Oaxaca, which had been quietly going about raising crops under the watchful eye (and greedy outstretched hand) of the Army), and where there now are increasingly frequent killings).

As prohibition and interdiction of drugs continues to fail, our government has decided on expanding – and increasing spending and resources devoted to – the effort, as well as increasing the direct role played by the U.S. military in Mexico.

According to David Johnson, assistant secretary of State for hemispheric drug issues, there are 150,000 Mexicans engaged in drug trafficking, and 300,000 working on the cultivation end. These figures may be exaggerated as part of the hype for Plan Mexico; even so they are startling.

International Women’s Day. The print on the right says that when a woman advances, no man is left behind.

Dennis Blair, the “intelligence czar”, has proclaimed Calderón “incapable” of controlling the situation. This has sparked a very acrimonious exchange of statements by Calderón, mostly saying (rightly, I think) that the U.S. would be better off devoting more time to dealing with its consumers and less time putting down the country that is suffering the most while trying to solve the problems it faces because of U.S. demand.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has declared that we will not contribute uniformed troops, but he has said that he will order wider sharing of “intelligence” and “tactics” with the Mexican military. The multi-billion dollar “Merida Initiative”, which is modeled after the failed “Plan Colombia”, mostly consists of credits to buy high-tech weaponry designed to be used against insurgencies.

Texas governor Rick Perry was in D.C., looking for federal financing to deploy National Guard units along the border. The mayor of El Paso is opposed, pointing out that soldiers are trained to kill, not to do normal policing duties; and saying that he fears that such a move will kill the cross-border commerce upon which his city depends for much of its income.

[It’s Mango season (yum!) and time to get your carved-to-order palate-pleaser. Personally, we prefer to buy our mangos in the market and carve them ourselves using our own disinfected knives…]

Plan Colombia has failed to decrease the demand for or availability of drugs in the U.S., at the same time as the prices keep falling. Additionally, it has contributed to the crushing of social democratic organizations in Colombia, and the killing and torture of countless peasant organizers, union leaders, and NGO workers, not all of whom were victims of the repressive Uríbe regime.

It turns out that as much as the international corporate interests that depend on right-wing governments to help them strip natural resources at a bargain price hate the people who work for social justice and a popular voice, the cartels hate them even more. Putting all their energy into securing their “share” of the spoils of drug interdiction leaves them little time for dealing with the social problems of those over whom they rule by offering either lead (plomo) or gold (oro). Plus, the easiest way to trivialize movements for social change is to create a war zone, where “stability” is more important than “change”.

Recently, Calderón moved 5,000 more troops and federal elite police into the city of Ciudad Juarez, just across from El Paso, perhaps the scene of the heaviest fighting over drugs in Mexico. The local social justice movements objected, and held two rallies to oppose the militarization of the police, and the involvement of troops untrained for civil policing in day-to-day street operations. Then a third rally was held, which significantly disturbed the normal flow of business, apparently organized by narcotraficantes, who paid people to attend. The result has been a series of laws being passed which make it a serious felony to accept any payment for appearance at a demonstration or rally. This could include bus fare, a bag lunch, or a t-shirt. It will be much more difficult to effectively challenge the government’s policies in a peaceful way under these laws.

[The center courtyard in the archdicese building has been closed indefinitely after part of the giant tree broke off and did serious structural damage. Rumor has it that the “alternate Pochote” market will be relocating to Biznaga. The COMI office has relocated to Tinoco y Palacios #217.

Is there an increase in drug-related murder, and in kidnapping, in U.S. cities like Phoenix and San Diego? There is, but bear in mind that incidents of both homicide and kidnapping for ransom (as opposed to “express kidnapping”, where the victim is held long enough to empty out his or her bank account) appear to be declining overall. Are they being committed by cells of the Mexican drug cartels? Mostly not. Overwhelmingly, the dealer networks are loosely affiliated groupings of native U.S. citizens, and/or home grown gangs. No matter what they tell you, Juaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is not calling the shots in your neighborhood. By the way, he just made the Forbes magazine billionaire’s list…

Plan Mexico will further erode human rights in Mexico and in the U.S., and do nothing to halt the flow of drugs, while doing serious damage to “noncombatant” citizens and civil institutions in both countries.

Thanks to the cowardice of our politicians and the timidity of the main stream media we continue as a nation to follow the wrong paradigm for winning “the war on drugs”. Legalization with controls and taxation – we are back at alcohol prohibition, are we not?- is not even on the horizon, let alone at the center of a much-needed national debate in the U.S., even while there is a growing consensus among our southern neighbors that it is the correct way to go.

Meanwhile, Oaxaca is as safe for visitors as it ever was. As long as you’re not looking to score…

[I am indebted to the writings of many observers, most recently articles by Kristin Bricker and Laura Carlsen, for materials and analysis used here. Both are serious, dedicated investigators, and their writings are full of valuable insights and information.]

What time is it?

We had a date to meet a friend at our favorite sidewalk café at 12:30. We arrived at 12:35. She didn’t show. We got home and there was a message on the machine: “Where were you?”

We were there, where were you? “I was there! I didn’t see you! When you didn’t show up by 1:30, I left. What are we, in some kind of time warp?”

Ahhhh, time! Check the time in your computer, I’ll bet it’s an hour later than it is in mine.

You can avoid this problem if you have your computer with you in Mexico: make sure that your time zone is set to -06:00 gmt (Mexico) and not Central time U.S. The U.S. is on DAYLIGHT time now, but Mexico doesn’t go on until April…

I don’t know if the light was put up before or after the graffito was painted, but here is some “night-time art”.


**An interesting website (thanks to Jill Friedberg for the reference) about the continuing construction of the Plan Puebla Panama railway and industrial zone across the isthmus of Tehuantepec can be found at Check out the maps showing the relationship between the railroad, the zone, and the planned wind farms.

**The MACO museum needs to replace its vigas (the big beams that hold up the ceiling). It will be closed for “several months”, starting March 20.

**As those of you who have read our earliest posted story, “Do You Live Here?” already know, I’ve long been obsessed by the question almost everyone who first writes to me or visits asks: how many gringos live in Oaxaca? Mark Leyes, the special U.S. consul, was quoted recently in Noticias as saying that there are 5,000 full or part-time residents in the state of Oaxaca. I don’t have to think about it any more! If it turns out to be untrue, I can blame the error on him. Blessed relief…

**Recent government figures indicate that the migration of Mexicans to the U.S. has slowed way down, largely due to the worldwide recession. Half as many people crossed the frontier going north in 2008 as did in 2007, while returnees remained pretty steady. The next time someone complains about the “hordes” of Mexicans who are crossing the border to pollute “our” way of life, let them know that in 2008 the net flow (northbound vs. southbound) was around a quarter million, and shrinking. That’s way less than 1% of our current population.

**And furthermore: For a sobering view of Mexico on the verge of collapse, read Kurt Hackbarth’s blog . It ain’t pretty, but foreknowledge never hurts…

**Lila Downs will be appearing in concert in New York, Zankel Hall at Carnegie, on the 20th at 10:00. For more schedule information, go to her website.

**It’s official: summer is here. I’ve been wearing shorts, day and night, for the last week. Now, instead of complaining about the cold, we can complain about the heat…