Too much fun:

Oaxaca has been jumping this month. Aside from the usual Easter Week events (Friday of the Sorrows, where everyone is supposed to visit at least seven churches to view the Altars constructed for the occasion, featuring ceramic pots holding chia seeds and seedlings; Palm Sunday in San Antonino; the silent procession on Good Friday; and the parades on Easter Sunday) , residents and visitors have been taking advantage of a major musical event (the annual Rodolfo Morales Festival, which goes on for over a week), a major traveling national film festival (the Ambulante Documentary film fair, occurring this year all over the city and its environs over a ten-day period), two craft village extravaganzas (black pottery town San Bartolo Coyotepéc and alebrije center San Martín Tilcajete) and a month of Tuesday nights celebrating the Witches of Xoxocotlán (featuring lots of carnival rides, concerts by Oaxacans like Susana Harp, and according to many the best tamales in the metropolitan area). And that doesn’t include the scores of lectures, art exhibits and other cultural activities going on all over the central valley.

When people ask “but what do you DO all day” we laugh: it takes an hour just to go through the list of the day’s upcoming events, and decide which we will attend.

[One of the fountains in El Llano. We visited there last week while waiting for a demonstration in support of APPO adherent David Vinegas, who was being tried on the federal courthouse across the street. Turns out the government decided to postpone his trial for another week…]

Is the U.S. government arming the Mexican drug cartels?

This is the issue raised in an article by Bill Conroy, in the Narco News Report. It’s not a pretty story. It does, however, put yet another nail in the coffin of drug prohibition (which by now has to be more pot metal than wood).

More than one billion dollars in LEGAL weapons shipments, approved by the relevant federal agencies, have moved from the U.S. to Mexico. Ostensibly, all of these military-style, high destruction weapons went to Mexican police or military units (the only ones allowed to receive such weapons). Yet, time and again, in the Mexican newspapers, we see pictures of these weapons, including grenade and rocket launchers, displayed on a table or a blanket, while the alleged drug gangsters who were allegedly caught with them glare at the camera.

[A little piece of the country just down the street from our house. It’s a nice break from the very urban cement ambience of much of downtown Oaxaca.]

How these alleged miscreants obtained the illegal armament is a mystery easily solved, since the only source is the notoriously corrupt governments and public safety forces of the Mexican state. They sure didn’t come from straw-man sales by east Texas gun dealers, as the U.S. government and their mass media sycophants would have you believe: such sales would be highly illegal, and are small potatoes compared to “attrition” from Mexican government stockpiles.

Of course there is a brisk trade in small arms and “hunting” guns, as well as some stolen military equipment, flowing toward Mexico, but as Conroy says, and I have observed in newspaper and t.v. stories, almost all of the assaults on politicians and police in recent years have utilized high-power military weapons.

So meanwhile we – that’s you and me, our tax money – pay to arm the Mexican narco-state, further destabilizing the country, which we may have to invade some day in order to protect ourselves from the hordes of brown people who will otherwise come pouring across our borders looking to steal our jobs and corrupt our children. It’s a good thing that there are all those natural resources for our corporations to expropriate: otherwise, how will “we” ever recuperate “our” losses?

[Recently, an alternative, clean energy, and organic produce market was held along the Alcala just up from Carmen Alto Plaza. One of the demonstration projects featured bicycle driven (non-electric) applications such as this blender. Diana bought some earings made from tin cans, and I got a jar of mango jam.]

If you blink, it’s gone:

I don’t envy Margie Barclay, whose Oaxaca Calendar is a source of both information and misinformation, the former by dint of assiduous research and an eagle eye for posters; the latter because nothing so exemplifies the old computer chestnut “gigo” (garbage in, garbage out) as does occasional information from “official sources”. Of course almost all the events happen as advertised, but that is “normal”, and we tend to remember the “abnormal”.

When folks show up on time and find out that the event started an hour ago; when events are canceled without notice, even while the poster outside the venue agrees with the Calendar; people who don’t know any better are apt to blame Margie, even though the fault lies elsewhere. I sympathize with her, not that I’ve ever heard her complain.

[This vendor has set up shop at the top of 5 Mayo, just around the corner from the market at Labastida Park. So far, rumors that the Triqui who sell here are about to be displaced yet again have not proved true.]

Recently, I had a “Margie experience” of my own. Having been advised by a couple of different local artists that the Contemporary Art Museum (MACO) was closing on March 20, due to the need of months of repairs on its vigas (roof beams), I went to MACO and asked the information person on duty to confirm or deny what I had heard. I was told the rumors were correct. Therefore I duly published said information in the last Newsletter.

When I saw that the museum was still open after the advertised closing date, I inquired again. “We do not know when the Museum will be closed”, the clerk said. So, I take it all back, folks. Sorry. If the MACO ever does close (or if it falls down because the termite-eaten vigas collapse) I’ll let you know.

I’ve often said that if Oaxaca was a school, it could offer a PhD in patience – with a minor in flexibility.

“Protest Graffiti Mexico Oaxaca”:

A hardcover 7.5 x 10 inch book about all of the above, with narrative by Louis Nevaer, photos by Elaine Sendyk, and an introduction by Lila Downs. Sendyk’s photos of wall art in Oaxaca during the uprising of 2006 and beyond were all taken with a throwaway cardboard camera, and are presented without any cropping, photo-shopping, or editing of any kind. Nevaer’s narration gives adequate context: while I could pick a nit or two over his analysis of the “movement”, it succeeds in filling in some important spaces, particularly where he talks about the various individuals and collectives that were responsible for much of the work that Elaine preserved on film. Downs captures much of the feeling that I experienced at the time, in an introduction aptly titled “See the Walls Scream”.

While there are a few images that may be familiar to you from Diana’s coverage, I was amazed at how many I had not seen, a tribute both to Elaine’s energetic determination (she spent hour after hour, day after day, trudging around the city in search of graffiti) and her eye.

This is a posthumous publication. Elaine died suddenly from internal bleeding last year, and her executor arranged for the book. All proceeds go to the Mesoamérica Foundation. To buy the book from Amazon you can click HERE. We will get a cut, and it won’t cost you a penny more.

Porfirio Muñoz Ledo honored:

Muñoz, one of the founders of the PRD along with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, celebrated his 50th year in the trenches of Mexican politics by donating his personal papers to a new archive (which he helped establish) dedicated to their preservation for academic study. Among others that similarly archived their papers are politician, diplomat and attorney Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, the composer Luís Herrera de la Fuente, and Luís H. Alvarez, who served for many years as the government’s negotiator with the Zapatistas.

“There is no nation without a shared consciousness”, and “there is no democracy without memory”, Muñoz stated. Since the split between himself and Cárdenas, he has proved to be the more durable public activist. While some vilify him for having broken with the Left, supporting Vicente Fox’s successful 2000 campaign for the presidency, others credit him with having been instrumental in Fox’s defeat of the 70+ years of PRI rule. Fox rewarded him with an embassadorship, an “honor” that has the effect of removing potentially disagreeable allies from the scene.

[Standing in front of Santo Demingo, using thread on canvas.]

Now emerging once again as someone to be reckoned with on the Left (he is a leader in the FAP coalition that includes Convergencia, the Labor Party, and some elements of the PRD), it will be interesting to watch his relationship with Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) as we go into the off-year elections in July, and then to the 2012 presidential campaign. While not electable himself, Muñoz is a powerful backstage politician and deal maker.

Things are heating up:

Here are a few stories to watch in the coming months:

**Even as Mexico City has declared a 36-hour shutoff of water, San Pablo Etla is threatening to close the valves from Oaxaca’s main water supply source. Increasingly, water is becoming a major issue here, as in most places in the world. We have been relying on supplemental “pipas” (tank trucks) trucked in from as far away as Mitla over the last few years, and our apartment is downtown (a relatively high municipal water delivery zone).

So far, the price of a pipa has remained pretty steady, but as supply goes down and demand goes up, the price is sure to rise.

**Gold and silver mining concessions are meeting increasing citizen resistance. Recently, residents of several small towns in the Municipio of Ocotlán closed the road to the town of San José del Progreso, where a new mine is being planned, prompting threats by authorities to send in federal and state police. It appears that teachers’ union local 22, while not formally involved in the organizing of the protests, has committed to support the campesinos. With millions of dollars in profits pitted against the preservation of rivers and streams affected by dumping of tailings and cyanide poisoning (cyanide is used in the extraction process and one mill can use as much water ever hour as is needed to provide for a family for as much as twenty years) the situation may get very hot indeed. There already is an ominous growing police presence.

Water wars have occurred in many places in recent years. In Bolivia, the fight over water supplies resulted in the revolution that installed Evo Morales.

[This poster is an ad for a tatoo parlor. Aside from the sado-masochistic theme (appropriate for the tattoo process?) we thought it a rather good piece of 60s-style poster art.]

**The teachers have vowed to stage a 2006-style major strike in May of this year. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will respond with 2006 levels of repression in the event that they do. My guess is that at the very least we will see a strong military presence.

**AMLO is planning a major campaign in Oaxaca, starting later this month, and lasting perhaps up until the July elections. The teachers have already declared a “punishment vote” (anyone but the PRI) effort. It will be interesting to watch him maneuver among the various factions. What happens here may provide a clue as to how he will handle the 2012 presidential elections campaign. I don’t know anyone who believes he will not run.


**The occupancy rate during Semana Santa (Holy Week), according the the hotel and restaurant association, is 70% in Oaxaca and 90% in Huatulco. While not as good as hoped here in town, it’s an improvement over last year, and judging from the occupancy rate at the Primavera sidewalk café (our other office) that figure may be conservative.

**The Peso is regaining its strength, going from about 15 to the dollar in March to 13 at our last ATM withdrawal on the 9th, and bouncing back to near 14 today. This makes me both right and wrong: I predicted the 15 to 1 ratio by the end of March, but expected the spread to hold or get wider in April.

I didn’t count on the IMF loan of more than 50 billion dollars promised to Mexico earlier this month. Of course this “loan” will be a curse in the long run, as it has in almost every country where the World Bank and the IMF have spread their largesse which comes with heavy monetarist quids pro quo such as privatization of education, health care, and energy and resource development. Remember Argentina? They found it so odious that the people revolted and put in a president (Kirchner) who defaulted.

**”Inside Mexico” has changed its format from full tabloid to half-tabloid, bringing it in line with sister-publication “In andOut Mexico”. So much easier to handle…

**A few years ago, colectivos going to and from San Martín Tilcajete left and returned from a remote, difficult to get to stand near Parque del Amór. Recently, it came to our attention that this is no longer the case. The SMT colectivos have gone “uptown”, with a terminal at Arista 107, just off Bustamante. I came by this information while perusing a new information packet put together by artist and church tour guide Linda Martin.

Nobody who uses buses or colectivos should be without this really thorough, labor intensive guide, most especially new visitors. Copies are (or will soon be) available at the Oaxaca Lending Library and Amate Books; I just purchased 10 to be sold in my Orientation classes.

It’s a work still in progress, and will have to be updated from time to time to account for changes in bus routes and street closings, but at 50 pesos (that’s what I charge) it’s a bargain.

By the way, the maps also include the current fares (bus, colectivo, and taxi) to various destinations, and other information of great concern to local gringos, such as the locations of Pizza Hut and Sam’s Club…

Here we go again:

California, here we come, on our annual round of visits to family, friends, and medical professionals. The next Newsletter will come from there. If all goes as planned, we will be telling you about our encounters with Oaxacans living and (hopefully) working on “the other side”. June’s Newsletter should be from home.