Home > All Newsletters > Volume 18, No. 1: June 1, 2014

Volume 18, No. 1: June 1, 2014

Noblesse Oblige:

Alfredo Harp Helu is one of Mexico’s wealthiest people, worth over a billion dollars.  His cousin, Carlos Slim Helu (their mothers are sisters), is one of the top two rich guys in the world.  Harp sits on the board of Banamex, while Slim owns TelMex, the nation’s communications monopoly.  Each of them has built public spaces with a small percentage of their money, Slim in MexCity and Harp right here in Oaxaca.

Harp is responsible, among other things, for the remodeling of the San Pablo complex, once part of the first mission in colonial Oaxaca, now a museum, a restaurant, a coffee bar, a library, performance spaces, and galleries; a children’s museum and library in Xochimilco, and the stamp museum (MUFI) – all financed by his personal charity, the Harp Helu Foundation, which also funds tons of cultural and social events and organizations.

Next door to the San Pablo complex is a textile museum, also built by Harp.  The photos of textile objects were taken recently at an installation there.  The street sculptures were installed on the street in front of the modern history museum (MACO), which is publicly owned.  Both events were photographed on the same day: so much to see or do…

These masks, made from various materials, are hangin in the courtyard of the Textile Museum. Visitors can walk on either side of them. The tiny woman standing behind them is our friend, the backstrap weaver Eufracina Vasquez.

It’s raining:

The long dry season is over.  We are all much relieved.  While we celebrate the cleaner air, the greener foliage, and the lower temperatures, a little nagging thought fights to rise to the surface of our thoughts: that it won’t be long before we are complaining about the dampness, the overcast, and the need to carry umbrellas.

My umbrella is a giant London Fog bumbershoot with a thick wooden cane-style handle, outfitted with a rubber booty on the bottom.

Shoes, too, are an issue.  I have to replace my sandals with a pair of loafers, which I keep good and greasy to keep out the wet.  Thank goodness there are plenty of shoe shiners around.

Why can’t it rain only at night, or like it used to: between 4 and 6 in the afternoon?  Is that too much to ask?

We expats are by nature and the fact of our expatriation a bunch of malcontents, and the problem with malcontents is that they are never satisfied…

Raising wages:

A new study has been published by the most prestigious investigative organization in the country, the research institute of the national university (UNAM).  The results are alarming: that since 1987, growth in inflation has out-stripped growth in wages by as much as 3 to 1.

To better understand how this works, I will break the story down a little.

The federal government sets the minimum daily wage (“salario minimo”: SM) for the whole country.  The highest is paid in the Federal District (zone 1) and the next highest in zone 2, etc.  Oaxaca is in zone 2.  All actual wages are negotiated locally, and are expressed in multiples of the SM.  Thus a day laborer might make only one SM, while a file clerk, for example, might be offered two, or three times the SM.

Fines for breaking the law, compensation for injuries or bad practices, etc.  are calculated based on the SM.  Violating the rules against driving your car on days when you must leave your car at home (‘hoy no circula” in MexCity, for example) might cost 6 SM, while throwing garbage into the street would cost only 2.  The SM in 1987 was 6.5 pesos.  This was for a day’s work,  no matter how long.

The basic market basket (MB) necessary for survival in 1987 was about 4 pesos.  This meant that the lowest wage earners could fill their needs, with funds left over for a few extras.
Today, the SM has risen to about 185 pesos – but the market basket is now over 220.

Whereas the SM amounted to 167% of the MB in ’87, it is now only 78%.  The difference, about 80%, illustrates how Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, has seen the number of households living below the poverty line rise from 50% in 1987 to 75% today.

Oh, to be gay in Oaxaca:

Oaxaca law banning same-sex marriage has been struck down by the Mexican supreme court.  Oaxaca was one of a few states that reacted to the legalization of gay marriage in the Federal District (DF) a few years ago, by institutionalizing one-man / one-woman.

The suit that changed that was brought by a lesbian couple. While Oaxacan LGBTs still suffer from the ingrained macho tradition, the ‘muxi” (MOO-shee: transvestite) culture practiced by los Istmenos (people from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) for hundreds of years has made the state relatively tolerant of LGBT people.  The Oaxaca law, passed only after the DF legalization, was said to be prompted by fear that Oaxaca might become a “Mecca” for gays…

Michoacán update:

In a stupid move that may set the scene for some pretty serious rebellions in the historically rebellious state of Michoacán, the president of the Republic has ignored the old saw about ‘those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it”.

Pena Nieto, faced with an ugly war between the druggies and armed citizens in western Michoacan, decided to send in Federal troops to disarm the vigilantes and take over the effort to eradicate the drug gang La Familia. The vigilantes refused to disarm.

Pena Nieto, little more than Carlos Salinas’s sock puppet, should not have started his ill-fated interference, since he never could have controlled it.  The strategy is failing (the vigilantes refused to turn over their weapons), so he has doubled down, taking the vigilantes into the state police apparatus as a separate autonomous unit, badges, guns, uniforms and all.

Early in the last century, a president created the Rurales, and hired thieves and murderers to run it, on the theory that ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief”.  The robbers, turned cops, did what they knew best: rob, steal, and slaughter; a tradition which still exists in most of the states of the Republic. I guess Pena forgot about that.

Reports of infiltration by members of La Familia are most probably true, as this is the way it has ‘always” worked. What will he do when the paramilitary pseudo police force he has created turn on him?

This article is based on two sources: The LA Times, and ABC News Australia.

Business as usual:

The Trique are back in the center of Oaxaca.  They have taken up their demands for resettlement after a months-long absence.

Back in December, governorGabino Que promised them that the state would build them houses to replace the ones they lost when they were forced out of San Juan Copala.  At the time, they were occupying the space in front of the government palace, complete with giant banners, amplified rallies, cooking fires, and sleeping bags; and the tourism industry was complaining that what they saw as an eyesore  would hurt their Christmas rush.
There are many different Trique.  There are three main political currents:  MULT, MULTi, and UBISORT.  These are MULTi.  You can learn more about them by searching past Newsletters.
As has happened repeatedly in the past, with many other organizations, most notably the teachers, the governor welshed on the deal.  Scattered over several states, and longing to be back in community, they are back, and more determined than ever to achieve their demands.

This gentleman has been a fixture outside the MACO since before I got here. He used to perform with a mandolin player and another guitarist, but we haven’t seen them around much lately. All the bus drivers know him and we often see him waiting at the bus stops in our bario.

Transitions:

**”Pritch” Pritchard, a ong-time resident, passed away last month after a prolonged battle with a neurologic disorder…

**Ke Ken, one of Oaxaca’s best least-known restaurants is closing its door this month. Sadly, Noe and his wife Fatima couldn’t make a go of it. They tried, and in the process they went through all of their savings.

Rent was too high, the space too small, and the location less than ideal. The food and the service were outstanding, the prices were very affordable. Their signature Cochinita Pibil is rarely seen in the other venues.

They are relocating to Querretero, where employment is more plentiful. We will miss them as, I am sure, will many of the snowbirds…