Alejandro Santiago, Presente:

Creator of “2,501 Migrants”, an homage in clay to those whose lives have been lost on the journey to find a better life “on the other side”, Maestro  Alejandro was a sculptor, painter, teacher, philanthropist; and an alcoholic.

Dead at 49 from a heart attack, Santiago, like far too many of his fellow Mexicans, was a diabetic who drank.
Maestro Alejandro was by all accounts a generous, supportive and serious kind of guy who never forgot where he came from nor the principles that he learned there.

I recall attending the premier showing of the brilliant documentary, of the same name, in the patio of the Museo Rufino Tamayo a few years ago.  Santiago was there with members of his family and some folks from his village.  When called on to address the audience, he was visibly drunk.

Alcoholism is a serious problem here, as it is in many places.  There are scores of AA “clubs”: store fronts and houses, rented or owned, some of which are open 24/7.  Drinking is an accepted – and sometimes encouraged – activity, and the vast majority of alcoholics never seek help.  Most of the ones who die from the disease are little noted, and people who have died of diabetes and cirrhosis are being sent off with wakes that include binge drinking.

[This, and the next photo are “street art”. That is to say, they were painted on outside walls. The museum show came from this movement.]

A group for English speakers meets regularly, and if all the expats here who have a drinking problem were to get the AA urge at one time, they’d fill the room, spill down the stairs, and form a line around the block.

Fortunately, there are plenty of folks for us to hang out with who are both interesting and in control of their habits.  And still more fortunately there are lots of cultural events at which to greet them.  Of course the vast majority of our community stay home, maybe have a couple of drinks, and watch a movie or something.  We do a lot of that, too.

Welcome to the new, improved (old) drugwars:

Ex-president Felipe Calderon’s scheme didn’t work. The more military he put on the street, the more the drug business grew. The toll, including disappearances, was about 100,000, a little over 16,000 for each of the years he was in power.

Several books have come out recently detailing one aspect of the chaos or another, and the one theme that they all have in common is that the drug cartels are symptoms, not causes, of the corruption that permeates this country.

Corruption, like Capitalism, tends toward monopoly. In the process of making a corporation safe from competition, takeover of rivals and capturing markets are two of the favorite tools, as well as “owning” politicians and regulators through bribes, and the revolving door (in the U.S.) or the threat of severe consequences here. Plata o Plomo, they call it here: silver or lead.

The “drug lords”, like any other corporatist organization, prefer to live in peace. They are businessmen. They know that violence is bad in a free enterprise system, but understand the occasional need for making examples of those who get in their way. They threaten – and occasionally punish – jouralists, human rights workers, and law enforcement officers.

[This is the most elaborate Zocalo tableau I’ve seen so far. Give the mime(s) some pesos to see what they will do.]

Most of the media likes to portray the bosses as bloodthirsty crazed monsters, hungry for the blood of innocent civilians, and some are like that, but the vast majority are only somewhat like that. If they don’t feel threatened – adrenalin and cocaine can definitely raise one’s anxiety level – things are pretty mellow. Watching federal police and military acting on behalf of a rival can definitely push the fight-or-flight button.

The military Brass, who have effectively run the country (think Egypt) since the Spanish invasion, have their own agenda. They wish to preserve the present oligarchy for as long as possible, thus making themselves indispensible.While they are thus guarding the people that count, they reward themselves with vast acreages (so it is commonly believed) where they raise pot and poppy. When a general is appointed to run the anti-drug program, the odds are good that he will end up being charged with accepting bribes from the drug lords.

“Set a thief to catch a thief” is alive and well in Mexico. According to various observers the newly reinstalled PRI has resuscitated the old tried and true method of making alliances with whichever cartel seems most sympatico, and then moving against all rival cartels: less competition, fewer messy conflicts. Word is that the current administration has chosen the Sinaloa cartel, ruled at present by recently released (on a technicality) Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted of torturing and murdering DEA agent Enrique Camarena almost 20 years ago.

Writing about the nexus of the drug bosses and the politicians and jurists they control is at best rash, and at worst lethal. Putting it all into a book is beyond “brave”; more like foolhardy, and thank (your favorite deity goes here) that there are still fools amongst us.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wrote such a book, La mafia que se adueñó de México… y el 2012. It purported to identify the people that run a Mafia which controls almost everything in Mexico. It is only available in Spanish.

Recently, Anabel Hernández, a well-respected journalist, published an English translation of her book Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers, which is a “must read” for anyone who is interested in this topic.


**The “new Hierves el Agua”, said to be six times as large, takes about as much time to get to as the old one (around 90 minutes). Located in the municipio of Totolapam, just down the Pan American highway (190) past Matatlan, on ejido land, it used to be open for tourism. In 2006, the negative publicity around the popular uprising in Oaxaca city killed tourism; and a mine reopened which according to Las Noticias hired the entire working population of the nearby village (81 households). Being very conscious of their heritage, the villagers closed the site to tourism because there were not sufficient workers left to run and preserve the limestone seep with stalactites as much as 20 feet long.

Individual visitors wishing to visit the site must apply at the Agencia de Policia, San Jose de Gracia, San Pedro, Totolapam for permission. The site is still undeveloped, so it may be a bit arduous to get there from the road. Anyone have more info on accessibility?

[Sunday afternoons, the Italian Coffee Co. corner of the Zocalo is for drummers. The woman on the far right also hula-hoops at night…]

**How safe is Mexico? Oaxaca?: Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico, and Mexico is safer than 21 other popular destinations in central and south America and the Caribbean. Check it out for yourself at How Safe Is Mexico

**A subscriber recommends a veteranarian: Joel Trujillo Romano, at La Noria #211 (La Noria is one way going West to East and he is just east of Fiallo).Do you have a different favorite? Let us know, we are currently revising our “frequently asked questions” page…

**A new federal prison in Oaxaca: Built with money from the Merida Initiative (also known as Plan Columbia II), Oaxaca now has its first Federal prison, one of twenty or so in the works nationwide. Built with public funds and run by a private corporation, it displays all the worst features of its U.S. counterparts. One example cited among many in an articleby Kristin Bricker: although listed as a “medium security” facility, vistors can only speak to prisoners via closed circuit television…

**Volunteer opportunities in Oaxaca: A new website wants to be a complete and comprehensive list of organizations looking for volunteers, run by a group of folks who themselves have worked in Oaxaca. Read all about it

**New corn has more protein than milk: A new variety of maiz has been successfully produced on an experimental farm in the northern sierra by a team headed by Boone Hallberg. If it can be grown without having to pay tribute to Monsanto, it may provide a new source of cheap, plentiful corn grown in Mexico, by and for Mexicans. By the way, did you know that milk, along with corn and beans, is a net import here? The complete article is In Spanish

**The National Statistics Institute (INEGI) recently published state-by-state intentional homicide (murder) statistics for 2012. The values calculated by INEGI for rates/100,000 population rely on CONAPO’s estimates for the population each year. The INEGI report includes homicide trends from 1990 to 2012.

“From 1992 to about 2007, homicide rates in Mexico declined to 8/100,000 in 2007. However, during former President Felipe Calderón’s “War on Drugs”, the homicide rate almost tripled. In 2010 and 2011, the national rate averaged 23/100,0000. These national averages mask a huge difference between males and females. For example, the 2011 rate for males was 43/100,000, about eight times higher than the 5/100,000 recorded for females. It appears that the homicide rate for males is beginning to fall again”…

**A reader writes: “I wanted to let you know that free Spanish tips and refreshers are being offered by IDEAL (Spanish Language School) on Thursdays at 4 pm at Ninos Heroes de Chapultapec (2 doors to the left of Office Depot).

“The topics for the next 4 weeks include:
09/05 – Indirect object pronouns in three basic tenses.
09/12 – Correct usage of “por” and “para.”
09/19 – “Hace” and “desde hace” to talk about starting times/duration of time.
09/26 – The present subjunctive, including irregular verbs.”