Presos Politicos, Libertad:

“Free Political Prisoners”; “No to the Educational Reform (a precursor to privatization of education)”; “Show us the ‘disappeared’”; “Stop the mining”: only some of the many banners hoisted this weekend in the Zócalo of Oaxaca in the lead-up to the occupations, work stoppages and disruptions scheduled for the 28th and 29th of this month by the teachers’ union section XXII .  We can’t be there, but sources tell us the Z is once again filled with vendors, information booths, and teach-ins.

The pictures in this edition were taken during a one-day teach-in in early April.  According to the folks “on the ground”, the demonstrations – and the harassment of social-change activists by the government – have been going on pretty steadily in our absence; and the feelings of disaffiliation and frustration have been growing and broadening across various sectors of society.  Interesting times…

Politics and food, a satisfying combination for the young (and the not-so-young)

Those pesky mosquitoes:

The rainy season has come at last.  As is often the case early in the rain cycle, it has brought clearer air without reducing the temperature much, and so it is “muggy” according to some reports we have received here in post-rainy-season, dry California.

Along with the rains come the mosquitoes, and with them the various plagues that they carry.  In California it is West Nile Virus  and in Oaxaca it is Dengue Fever.  These sometimes fatal inflictions are relatively new to where we live, having been more prevalent “further south” before the advent of “global warming” or “climate change”.  In the case of Oaxaca city, while we used to get a few cases, the bulk of the Dengue pestilence occurred in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and the costal lowlands, Dengue was less ubiquitous and less potent, but this year – according to announcements in the papers by the health officials – there has been a marked increase in the number and severity of reported cases.  Particularly alarming is the increased percentage of hemorrhagic cases: along with the “normal” high fever and bonecrushing pain, there is internal bleeding.  Of four common strains of Dengue, this is the one that causes the vast majority of deaths.  One should note that very few people die of Dengue, however.  Like the NAFTA flu (otherwise known as A/H1N1 or Swine flue – see Al Giordano’s article at ) the numbers are tiny compared to common ordinary influenza.

The valiant efforts of public health officials (everyone we know has been visited by inspectors seeking sources of standing water where mosquitoes breed and educating folks on why it is important to clean up these repositories) notwithstanding, agencies strapped by lack of adequate funding and stymied by some officials who are either corrupt or indifferent or incompetent, have not been as effective this year as in years past, and the result is more – and more virulent – cases.

Again, we want to emphasize that the numbers, while they are going up, are still relatively small; and should not prevent you from visiting Oaxaca provided you take normal precautions such as using mosquito repellant, avoiding hotel rooms that do not have screens on the windows (or screens over the beds), and wearing long pants and shirts at night, and especially during the dawn and dusk periods when the little critters are most active.


New kid on the block:

Since the “settlement” with the governor in the wake of the uprising of 2006, the newspaperNoticias has gotten noticeably less pugnacious.  There are more government handouts being printed as news, a common practice which they had previously eschewed.  There is less investigative journalism, and way less provocative accusations.  When the governor is mentioned, you hardly ever see the words “tyrant”, “corrupt”, or “assassin” any more.  It’s understandable:Noticias is, after all, a for-profit business, and having their offices shot up by unidentified persons, their warehouses raided, their rolls of newsprint destroyed, and their vendors harassed and beaten is bad for the bottom line.  They took it as long as they thought they could, performing yeoman service during the uprising, and now they’re regrouping.  With the exception of Por Esto in the Yucatan peninsula, there are few if any major newspapers that do otherwise.  Still, their more independent and strident voice is missed by many.

Aside from the other major Oaxaca daily, El Imparciál, which is anything but impartial, there are a few small-circulation papers serving various parties and private interests; and weekly and monthly news magazines like Tucán publishing from a “people’s” perspective.  Thus it was with great interest that I started paying close attention to the new – to me; somehow it had escaped my attention for months, much to my chagrin – daily, “El Despertar” (the wake-up).

El Despertar first came to my attention when it broke the NAFTA Flu story back in April.  I have been reading the online edition ( ) ever since.  What I’ve found is a mixed bag of straight and seemingly even-handed reporting and highly conservative editorials, with very little identifiable government info-mercials.  Today (May 24), for example, there are articles on corruption in the social security hospital system and the failure of authorities to adequately handle the city’s garbage, and an editorial that called the leaders of Section XXII of the teachers’ union “corrupt hypocrites”; but no pictures of Ulises cutting a ribbon.

One valued source informs me that the word on the street is that there is a lot of private money behind El Despertar.  There would have to be, since one of the major income streams newspapers can dip into is for reprinting government info-mercials, and reporters – who depend on bribes to supplement their meager salaries at other newspapers – would have to receive better pay to compensate for their loss.

There is some speculation that PAN-istas are behind El Despertar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle the upcoming election.  Meanwhile, it remains on my daily reading list.  Aside from everything else, it is easy to navigate, loads quickly, and the pages are clean (Noticias fails on all these).

The drawings at their feet are of the “disappeared” and the politically imprisoned.  The speaker is from a support organization.  The mother and children are the family of one of the victims.

What if you hold an election, and nobody comes:

We have entered the official off-year election cycle, and as far as I can tell the real winner will be “none of the above”.  This could well be the lowest turnout in Mexican history.

The PAN is suffering from the public belief that president Calderón is losing the “war on drugs”, a perception that is at odds with the mostly center-right to right mass media’s propaganda effort to turn Felipe Sow’s Ear into Felipe Silk Purse.  On any given day, you can read at least one feature article about a drug lord arrested and another one or more about another drug enforcement person assassinated in broad daylight on a major street.  Most folks think that all the talk about saving Mexico from becoming a Narco State is too little and way too late, as more and more revelations about politicians and police in high positions taking bribes come to light.  Just last week, over 50 prisoners in a maximum security facility in Zacatecas walked calmly out of the joint, got into a long line of waiting cars, and were driven away while guards and administrators watched.  Nobody sounded the alarm.  Video cameras showed a cop at the door, directing individual prisoners to the proper vehicle.  Stories abound of lavish celebrations attended by whole families of narco-traficantes.  To say they have gotten bolder is almost to understate the situation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to pour more money into Mexico, supposedly to fight the phony drug war (I don’t mean that people are not dying; but most Mexicans view the action as more of a struggle for turf than a genuine attempt to curb narcotics trafficking), and the money gets used by the army and the federal police to buy weapons that are then turned against people who are practicing non-violent civil disobedience.

Even as the PAN and its’ little Napoleon (he really does like wearing military-style tunics) are losing favor, other parties are also languishing.  Last week senator Monreál, one of the most celebrated of the “young Turks” on the political scene (while nominally in the PRD, he is the legislative leader for the Labor Party (PT in its Spanish initials)), temporarily suspended his political activity when it was revealed that two of his brothers had been arrested as major traffickers.  It seems that they were using the family’s chili drying plant in Fresnillo, Zacatecas to dry a few tons of marijuana when they were raided.  He claimed to be totally surprised by the revelation, of course.  He has since rescinded his withdrawal from political life.  The PRD has issued statements saying “well, he really isn’t part of us, you know; he stopped being in the party when he took up with the PT”; which puts them in an awkward position in the few places where the PRD and the PT still have electoral alliances.

Then there’s the PRD itself, split so many ways in so many places that nobody thinks they will be able to come out of the July skirmish without suffering major losses.  The PRD is still suffering from the ongoing internal war which has badly damaged party unity, created when Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was cheated out of his victory in the 2006 Presidential election.  His call for the Party to refuse to have anything to do with the “illegitimate” president and the government he heads – thereby denying the PRD apparatchiks a chance to share the spoils – quickly brought out the opportunists, who more or less took over what’s left of the PRD.

The split has gotten so rancorous that AMLO himself is reduced to campaigning for local PRD candidates (and himself, one supposes) in only two states, Tabasco and the Federal District.  In the rest of the country, he will probably ally with the Convergence party coalition, under whatever name it is operating.

The current PRD head, Jesús Ortega, is a lackluster leader with a second-in-command from the opposing faction, and is rarely heard from.  The most popular person in the Party is probably Marcello Ebrard, the current mayor of the Federal District (DF).  He was handpicked by AMLO to succeed him in 2005 when he resigned to run for president, has always been a staunch AMLO supporter, but is himself increasingly under attack from within and without the PRD over various issues including some mega-public-works projects.  Still, it is hard to imagine that he won’t make a try for the PRD presidential nomination in 2012, thus denying AMLO much of the DF vote, the biggest block of votes in the country.

From our front yard in Three Rivers, California, taken with Diana’s new camera, a pocket sized Sony Cybershot W230.  If we can’t be in Oaxaca for the moment, this is not a bad place to be…

Then there is (as we mentioned earlier this year) Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, operating from within the Labor Party (PT), a small but very well disciplined party that has been coalescing with Convergencia.  No doubt they will make some gains, but they’re relatively small, even in combination.

Add all this together, and the center-left looks too fragmented to make much of a showing in July, so who’s left?  That venerable and well-disrespected old PRI, the party of Carlos Salinas (who just got dumped on in a kiss-and-tell bio-epic by his old pal and predecessor Miguel de la Madrid), and all the other Padrónes who aren’t in the PAN.  It’s like The Shining:  they’re baaaaaaaack.

Plan on the PRI sweeping the July elections, nationally and in Oaxaca.  The general sentiment seems to be “they may be crooks, but at least they do a better job of sharing the wealth than the PAN, and they are an organization with predictable behavior, unlike the PRD”.  Sigh……..


**”Making Rights a Reality: Oaxaca Social Movement, 2006 to Present”, a new site by Lynn Stephen and friends from the University of Oregon  can be found at . Take a look.  Lynn is at the forefront of those documenting the lives of Oaxacan immigrants on both ends of the Oregon connection.

**The organic market at Pochote has been evicted by benefactor Francisco Toledo, who owns the property.  Where – or even whether – the market will continue to function is still unclear.  They have been told to leave “as soon as possible”, so it could be days or weeks or months until they clear out.  With the “alternate” organic market having been displaced when the big tree fell on their courtyard, that venue is no longer available.  Whether the vendors can overcome their disagreements over “certification” and other issues in order to even agree to look for alternate space is unclear at the moment.

**What with medical appointments, family doings, and other distractions, we just haven’t had time to work our connections here in the Central Valley, so – with apologies – we weren’t able to put together a report on the state of immigrants here.

What we can tell you is that ICE raids have increased in numbers and scope ( for instance, local police departments are providing needed interpreters for non-English speakers, who turn out to be ICE agents; “suspects” find themselves on the way to deportation centers for the crime of a broken tail-light); that money for aid to immigrants – legal and illegal – is drying up in the current crisis; that programs are being cut; and that agency workers, often working for low wages to begin with, are in many instances being required to take days off without pay