Oh, no, not the Library again:

There has been another Library blow-up recently, and rumors and some acrimony have resulted. While real people have suffered some real hurt, “The Library is going down the tubes; the sky is falling” should be largely ignored. The Library will survive. In fact, I think it will be the least divisive and least damaging of past dust-ups, having been handled with a minimum of public exposure. Several people – including some of the principals – have approached me to “not damage the Library” in my reportage; or better yet to not report on it at all. I’m not sure I could damage the Library if I tried, and in any case I certainly have no intention to do so. On the other hand, there’s no stopping me when I see a chance to pontificate…

[Another in our series of wall paintings and other graffiti.]

When I first settled here in 1994, one of the first places I headed for was the Oaxaca Lending Library, the center of the Oaxaca gringo community. I was green, spoke little Spanish, devoured books at the rate of about 4 a week, was desperate for people to talk with, and on the prowl for some “female companionship”.

There were a lot less of “us” (English speaking expatriates) then. The thought that I might be unable to accomplish at least some of this – Diana and I didn’t form a bond for almost a year – sent a chill up my spine. I wrote a “Letter From Mexico” about this: Do You Live Here?

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I needn’t have worried, because the community needed me almost as much as I needed them: to inject a little fresh blood (although mine turned out to be a little too fresh for some, an ongoing lifelong condition); to do volunteer work; to make financial contributions. We were, after all, a very small onion in a very large urban stew of nearly 400,000.

[The Guelaguetza amphitheater, just after Gabino completed the roof by adding the right and left wings of what more and more people speak of as “Ulises’ Folly”, which would be funny if there weren’t so many people without basic services. It didn’t last long: there was a basic design flaw, and the “wings” had to be removed. Unlike Ulises, Gabino is going after the company, claiming they should have known it wouldn’t work.]

I was very fortunate to fall into an apartment in the old “Rancho San Felipe”, which had a good mix of expats, snow-birds (and some sun-birds: Floridians who came here to get away from the heat), and locals; and was home to a 35-year expat named Marie Vegty, who, along with a gay guy from San Francisco, became my good friends and active supporters.

Volunteering to re-shelve books, always a task that is looking for a worker, and treating the Librarian, Ruth Gonzalez, with the deference and respect she deserved but didn’t always get, was also helpful in my quest for personal comfort, and I quickly became accepted into the “Library crowd”. Within a year, I was on the board of directors, and – along with my late friend Thorny Robison – chaired the Fund-raising committee. Like almost everybody who ever worked in the Library, I reached a point where I was no longer willing to participate in the process.

[I imagine the palm frond weavers have plied their trade in front of the Cathedral ever since they realized they could make an escudo or two from the Catholic invaders. Every Palm Sunday, there they are. Who needs a calendar?]

After a lot of time in the “new wave co-op” movement, the anti-Urban removal movement, the no-nukes movement, the communes, and of course the civil rights movement, my experiences, reading, and the advice (in print) of such disparate thinkers as Chairman Mao and Ross Perot, had convinced me that healthy organizations develop a life of their own; that they wax and wane but rarely stay the same for very long; that everyone comes with their own set of stated and unstated intentions and prejudices. It certainly seems true at the Library.

Now come the caveats: the people who are running the Library do not always appear to have the same goals as the people whom they are supposed to be serving. People, like organizations, also evolve; and their loyalties may shift. Unless I specifically say so, you can pretty much assume that everything I write has exceptions. (How’s that for weasel-wording? I’m not a famous writer for nothing…)

Oaxaca, meanwhile, has undergone huge changes: the PRI lost its 80-year grip on the governorship, there is a revolutionary activist from the troubles of 2006 in the state House of Deputies, the extension of the Cuota (toll road) from Puebla to Oaxaca in the late-mid ’90s has vastly increased the number of visitors from the Mexican interior, along with concomitant growth in the number of new residents – foreign and domestic; U.S. style food franchises and big-box retailers have arrived, new arrivals from other countries have started a variety of ethnic restaurants, and new returnees who worked in restaurants in other countries have done likewise.

[The view from the top row at the Parador Santo Domingo de Guzman apartment hotel, facing north toward the Sierra de Juarez]

Ex-pats from older havens such as San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic are coming here to live. We can go to simulcasts of grand opera from the Met at the Macedonio Alcala opera house. There is talk of light rail. No longer do we have to import our horseradish. Two new bakeries, and a new gourmet shop, have sprung up just in the last year. It’s hard to remember what toilets were like “back then” (and just as well, ugh!)

OK, this is more or less the background. What’s it got to do with what’s happening today? And what exactly IS happening today? Nothing urgent, I would maintain. Probably not fundamental. Still, there is a cautionary tale that must be told, and I will try to tell it – but not all at once. Stay tuned. Next issue, part the second, “pot-lucks and benefits” in which historic events are recounted and analyzed, and the bones are tossed in attempted divination, which, depending on how long-winded I get, may spill into yet a third installment…

[Part of an exhibition of top-level alebrijes, this collection features at least three different artisans from two different villages.]

He’s back:

Diodoro Carrasco Altamirano, governor of Oaxaca when I arrived, has returned to the state where he infamously and violently squashed a peasant attempt to take back some of their freedomfrom the notorious motorized state police, that was terrorizing their town, Loxicha.

After having resigned from the PRI party shortly after being replaced with Jose Murat, a political enemy, Diodoro moved to Mexico, where he was one of the founders of a “moderate” new party, Convergencia (Convergence), whose name has since been changed, a sort of PAN Light, advocating “development”, but cooling it on the social issues front. It is the party of our current governor, and the early mover of the political coalition – which can be defined as let’s everyone get together and beat the PRI – that won the governorship in 2010.

Since the right-wing PAN is the largest bloc in the coalition, it is not surprising that they have been calling some of the shots. Since they are strong, it is not surprising that Diodoro is now running for Senator on the PAN ticket…

[Every other Monday evening, there is a jam-session at Cafe Dulonay, at 310 Colon in San Felipe del Agua. You never know who might show up. I am usually there, with my kazoo…]

Speaking of development:

There is a growing international pressure being mounted to close down the mines at and around San Jose Progreso, in the mountains southeast of Ocotlan. Long disputed by most local residents and some environmental organizations, Fortuna Mining and others’ plans to mine and smelt gold and silver on site are receiving more attention lately, after the most recent murder of a dissident and his sister, said by many to have been carried out by mercenaries in the pay of the corporations – an accusation denied by official corporate spokespersons.

Virtually all the mining companies are based in Canada –most in Vancouver. Their often fraudulent, and occasionally violent, acquisition and retention of property; and the ecologically disastrous extraction and refinement of precious metals, are well documented, in Canada and more far-flung locales such as Peru and Bolivia; and virtually all the action is on Native (tribal) land: those whose low status and isolation enable the transnationals to buy cheap, and reap enormous profits.

Not surprisingly, it is the Canadian indigenous, often through ngo’s, who are leading the charge internationally, having been among the earliest victims of corporate bad practices that were looked upon benignly by successive governments: I don’t know what it is called now, but a few decades ago, the Canadian federal agency most similar to our Bureau of Indian Affairs was called The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Resource Development.

[We held a “garage sale” in the entrance to our apartment complex. There were three sellers, and the whole affair was successful: we got rid of almost everything, in about 3 hours: we hung around longer, but by then pickings had gotten somewhat slim.]

Meanwhile, the local folks, having gone to meetings all over Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, have created a serious support system, and the whole issue of fair play is very much in the public spotlight, along with a new kind of dialogue about costs and benefits. One result: the governor of Veracruz rescinded an open pit mining permit last week, citing the environmental damage that would result from the operation, and saying that tax income would not come close to the costs.

I read the other day that some folks from SJP are now in Canada, talking to Canadian anti-mining organizers and sharing their experiences with reporters, funders, and others. Even if nothing comes of this, more folks down here will be engaged, and waiting for the next money-hole to open; and they will be better prepared and better connected…

Meanwhile, San Jose Progreso is a town divided, but perhaps harder for the gold diggers to conquer than it was before the murders.

[Easter week traffic was a mess. The city had to close off two major arteries downtown in order to keep out a mob of over a hundred tschotschke sellers who blocked the pedestrian routes and made it difficult for tourists (both national and international) to get around — atthe busiest time of the year. Local merchants suffered greatly, if you believe the local Chamber, which has been known to exaggerate the numbers.]

Did somebody say development?

On another front, it looks like years of struggle to stop the construction of a mega-dam / hydro-electric project / reservoir and leisure area lake may have worked.

Pasa la Reina is on the Oaxaca / Guerrero border, just northeast of Pinotepa Nacional. The federal electrical monopoly, CTE, picked the spot for its own convenience, in the way that government agencies sometimes do. Oh, were there really people there? We’ll just have to get them out of the way…

The native peoples of the valley do not want to move. They do not want to abandon their ancestors under hundreds of feet of water. They have resisted at every possible turn, and, practically on the eve of destruction, they may have been saved by Mother Nature.

Pasa la Reina, it turns out, is to be built right on the tippy-top top of the San Andreas Fault, one of the worlds’ most active; and very close to the area that produced quakes of serious magnitude last month (and a fairly serious one last week). This proximity brought up a new voice: isn’t building a dam on a fault jut a little bit dangerous? Of course not, says CFE. We build unbreakable dams these days. So that’s that, right? Not this time, Charley.

All kinds of experts have weighed in, and the majority say that there isn’t any way to know in advance what a quake will do to a dam, because it is so dependent on water pressure, construction practices, functionality of the monitoring system. What we do know for sure, they say, is that a major rupture in the dam will kill perhaps tens of thousands of people downstream. It’s in the courts, and I believe it may well be a dead doggy.

[Sunday is market day at our neighborhood mercadito (little market), which is actually pleanty large enough for our needs. The folks who are selling these flowers travel from weekly market to weekly market, so this was set up in the morning, and will be gone before nightfall.]


**Interjet is now flying one-a-day flights to Oaxaca and Huatulco to/from MexCity. Touted as a no-frills, low-priced airline, it does not appear to be living up to its hype. VivaAerobus is a good deal cheaper, based on what I have gleaned from the web…

**Damage from the big earthquake last month turns out to be more extensive than at first thought. Few deaths, but lots more widespread – and numerous – cases of property damage. In Oaxaca, over 40 buildings, including the Merced church and the fourth floor of the Hospital Civil – where the ob/gyn clinic is located – are closed indefinitely pending a thorough investigation. My question is: which will get fixed first, the masculine church or the feminine health service? Vamos a ver (we will see)…

Also, there have been several shocks in the last few days, the latest in the Pacific just off the northwestern Oaxaca city of Pinotepa Nacional…

[The photographer caught taking pictures of our serving table, from which about 15 participants fed each other a sumtuous pot-luck on December 25.]

**In late March outside Puerto Vallarta, a bus containing more than 20 cruise boat passengers who opted to spend their in-port free time visiting a green site was held up at gunpoint, and the passengers relieve of their money and jewelry. There was much talk about moving the port of call from PV to Manzanillo, and a lot of worry about what might happen with the annual Tianguis Turistico, Mexico’s biggest tourist industry extravaganza, scheduled to start a few weeks later. It had only recently abandoned the dope-war ravaged streets and hotels of Acapulco for what was seen as a much-less dangerous Puerto Vallarta.

The Tianguis went off without a hitch: no reported incidents. While some cruise lines have opted out of the entire “Riviera Mexico”, none of those that have decided to keep visiting the Riviera have specifically abandoned their plans…

**El Yaguar Xoo (the jaguar zoo), out past Tlacolula on the way to Mitla, has announced the birth of three tiger cubs, to a Siberian father and a Bengal mother. Now they are looking for a Siberian female: the Siberian is one of the most endangered tiger species. If you go, try to go early: we’ve been getting daytime high temps in the 90s, and there is very little shade…