Another Guelaguetza has come and gone…

and things in Oaxaca slowed down for a while, returning our city to its normal hectic, noisy self.

[All the photos were taken at past Guelaguetza parades down the Macelonio Alcalá walking street]

By all accounts, this year’s ten-day extravaganza went off without a hitch, in an atmosphere of relative calm. The new sun-and-rain shield over the amphitheater didn’t blow away, the sound and light systems functioned properly, and Oaxaca’s premier semi-professional dance and drama extravaganza played to mostly-full houses.

As did the more traditional festivities at the Technical University (sponsored by the Teachers), the ever-more-crowded hilltop in Záachila, and the PRI-sponsored performance in San Antonino. It was noteworthy that foreign tourism was down, while national tourism was up.

This year, a new wrinkle was added: a laser show played against the front of the Cathedral. A video was made, and can be seen online in two parts: and Poetry in technology, followed by the obligatory giant fireworks display.

The governor shows his teeth:

Gabino has been quietly but determinedly going after the thugs and robbers that Ulises surrounded himself with.  An “audit” of each of the agencies of government has revealed tens of millions of dollars of government funds diverted by ministers and sub-ministers into their own pockets and those of their cronies.  Everybody “knows” about official corruuption, but I think most people had no idea of the extent and brazenness of the looting.

Gabino has promised to prosecute wrong-doers, and appears to be making a real effort to do so, but it is proving difficult.  Some have fled the country, others are in hiding elsewhere in Mexico, and some are using the corrupt judical system to obtain “ámparos” (like a habeas corpus order) to stop or throw out prosecutions.  Ulises remains untouchable, having gotten the last state legislature to vote him a blanket pardon for any crimes which he might have committed.

The Grito is coming:

September is the month of the homeland (El més de patria). On the night of the fifteenth, Independence Day eve, our governor will stand on the balcony of the government palace nearest the Bar Jardin corner, and pronounce the grito (shout) of Fra Miguél Hidalgo: Viva Mexico! While the crowd responds Viva! Viva!

There will be the usual obligatory fireworks display over the Zócalo which will be jam-packed with revelers, many of them drunk (but, in all our time here, none of them owly), packing confetti-filled egg shells to be broken open on whatever head happens to be handy; and aerosol cans of foam which they will spray liberally on each other (and perhaps you). It’s not a place to be if you suffer from agoraphobia or are too fastidious; but it is Oaxaca at its most communal.

Hint: old hands who haven’t – as I confess we have – grown too jaded, often reserve a table at one of the second-floor restaurants, with a good view, safe from the madding crowd; be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege, however; and don’t even think about leaving until the crowd is pretty well dispersed.

I couldn’t say it better:

David Corn, a well-respected and intrepid investigative reporter, has recently written about crime, poverty, and official corruption in Mexico, with a focus on the ongoing civil protest in Mexico City’s Zócalo.

Here’s just one choice statistic from this article for your consideration: just ten (not just ten percent) of Mexicans own ten percent of the wealth! The article, which has some great photos included, can be found at:

Attention, New England:

On the sixth of November, good and generous friend Susana Trilling will be cooking – and serving – a meal, as a benefit for the Circle of Women, a worthy project that supports self-determination, reading, health, and education, among the women weavers in the state of Oaxaca. We have followed – and supported – this project for many years now. Circle also helps the weavers to find buyers for their products. For more information,

Crime in Oaxaca:

Statistics published by the government for the first 7 months of 2011 show that Oaxaca is still a relatively safe place to visit (excepting of course those out-of-the-way places that most of us are unlikely to wander into). Of course the actual incidences are higher, because many go unreported (as is true in all states), but in general the reports indicate that there were fewer crimes reported than in comparable previous periods.

One interesting statistic: Oaxaca has a fraction of the crime rate of Tabasco, which one rarely hears about in the constant drumbeat about how dangerous it is to be in Mexico. Estimates are that Oaxaca will place tenth in the most violent places this year, well behind Mexico City which reported six times as many felonies.

This is not to say that everything is sunshine and jacarandas. It is now openly admitted that the fearsome Zetas have moved in to Oaxaca state, and are operating in Putla in the northwest and Ixtlan in the southeast; and that they are now extracting protection money from merchants in Oaxaca city.

In order to get some kind of handle on the pickpocket gangs that infest the Abastos market, the city has introduced surveillance cameras, which have also been mounted throughout the centro historico. We’ll see how well this works…

The people’s campaign is in Oaxaca:

Since the death of his son in an apparent random shooting in Monterrey, Javier Sicilia, a prominent poet and social critic, has been organizing a “people’s campaign” to shame our diminuitive presidente into calling off the useless and destructive “war on drugs” that has been the centerpiece of his probably stolen six year term.

This is a pretty big deal.  There is a lot of popular support for him personally, and for the cause.  Oaxaca, always a hotbed of dissidence and progressive currents of resistance, is expected to welcome him and his broadbased coalition of unionists, agrarian reformists, and other organizations agitating for an end to the phony “war” and the corruption and impunity that go with it.

His caravan arrives today, for a big rally tomorrow.  Diana will try to get some photos for the next Newsletter.

Lila Downs gets a big break:

Sony Records Mexico has just announced that Oaxaca’s songbird sweetheart has signed a recording contract. This follows on the heels of her new (last?) release on the Blue Bird label of a live concert she did in Paris.


We are saddened by the passing of Shirley Gray, painter, singer, wife of drummer Charles Gray, and good friend to so many of our good friends.

Also gone, Tomás Vasquez Cuevas, born in Yalalag, state of Oaxaca, who returned after a career in the U.S. to live in the Teotitlán area, where he taught English to the local kids and, among other things, found time to contribute to the activities of the English language Library.

And speaking of change:

As many of you know, Diana and I have had to extend our annual two-month sojourn to Visalia, in California’s San Joaquin valley, while I worked my way through the bureaucracy of the medical establishment to be treated for a swollen prostate, and what was thought to be – and in the end was not – cancer of the bladder.

Still, it involved several invasive procedures, and ended(?) in a serious surgery from which I am still recovering; and while the recovery is much slower than normal because of the radioactive seed implant I had two years ago for prostate cancer, I am noticing some improvement.

Diana has at long last returned to Oaxaca, while I await a follow-up exam at the end of this month. If all goes well, I too will be back home shortly thereafter.

All this by way of explaining why the Newsletter has been so slow in coming this year: I was not able to sit at the computer as much as I need to (ouch), and distance not only makes the heart grow fonder, it makes the sights, sounds, and smells of home harder to remember and write about.

Thanks to those of you (almost all, thank goodness) who have stuck with us through this fallow (and for us somewhat scary) period. Your support has been invaluable (as well as valuable, of course).

With any luck, the next Newsletter will be from home…