IS IT A COUP? IS IT A PUTCH? WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE OAXACA LIBRARY?

The Oaxaca Lending Library is the center of the English speaking community of Oaxaca. For many of us, the Library has been the deciding factor in choosing a place to live, and the services it provides are invaluable.

In March, a general membership meeting was held, and it was the best attended meeting in the Library’s history: around 50 people — all the room could hold. Many of the people present were “new” faces, and many were old members who had never bothered to attend before. There had been no particular effort made to increase attendance, and nor were there any “burning issues” on the agenda. Nonetheless, there was a certain feeling of change in the air.

Two of the seven directors, who are elected in staggered terms, were up for re-election. They were being challenged by a younger member, and an ex-President who has for years been the grey eminence of the Library. The youngster got the nod, the ex-Pres got the door, and the oldsters took it personally.

Next Board meeting, there was a mass resignation of the “old guard” and their sympathizers. Everyone there was stupefied. To make matters worse, the oldsters accused the newcomers of conspiring to “take over” the Library in order to run it “for their own purposes”. OK, foks, now that we have been exposed, we may as well fess up, break out the Zapatista flag, and declare the Library a cacique-free zone…

Those who worry about irresponsible changes in the day to day operations of the Library can relax. Commissar Ruth Gonzales, gentle old white haired lady with a fist of iron, continues to run it just as she has for decades. Books are still checked in and out the old fashioned way, there are no computers to confuse everyone, and woe be unto the miscreants who fail to pay their fee for putting up an advertisement on the bulletin board or try to check out more than six books.

The changes, much more subtle and harder to see unless you are part of the behind the scenes workings, are nonetheless important ones. First, the Board is smaller: none of the resigners has been replaced. Second, everyone on the Board now serves on a (new) working committee, of which there are now three: book acquisitions, general fundraising (yrs trly, chair), and special events. Third, there has been a change in philosophy, from maintaining the old library as it was, to preparing for the library of the future.

Whether we like it or not, Oaxaca is a growing tourist destination, and the more people who come, the more who decide to stay. Our little community is growing, and just about everyone who settles here uses the Library. Some mornings the reading room (where the front desk is) resembles a pig trough at feeding time. We have more books than we have shelf space, and some of our members are dropping hints that they would like their spare closet back. We occupy a space that has long since grown too small for our needs. We are going to need a larger space.

Ruth is approaching 80, and that is the age at which she has long threatened to retire. We need to hire someone to replace her, and that person needs to train for several months before she leaves. Even though the new Board raised Ruth’s salary 50%, no-one else will do the job for what she gets, so staff salaries will need to be increased.

All this requires a more dynamic Board, so it’s good that things are working out this way. Meanwhile, the “dissident” ex-Board members have received little sympathy from the community in general for their complaints, but much praise for the job they did over the years in maintaining the Library as a marvelous community resource.

BY-BYE FIDEL:

Fidel Velasco died last week. Nothing he ever did for Mexico was as beneficial as his giving up the ghost after 97 years of life, 70 of which were spent oppressing the rank and file workers he claimed to represent. As head of the AFL-CIO of Mexico, the CTM, Fidel led the fight against dissent within and without the labor movement, and ruthlessly crushed demands for decent wages and working conditions. He urged the government to wipe out the Zapatistas down to the last sympathizer, a reprise of his praise for the bloody massacre of hundreds of university students in 1968 on the campus of the National University. The last great act of his career was suspending the Labor Day parade on May 1, 1996 (a tactic he repeated this year) because he could no longer guarantee an “orderly” (read docile) march.

It is doubtful that the CTM will remain a powerful force at the disposal of the oligarchy now that Fidel is gone. His underlings are sure to squabble — probably violently — over the succession, and the vast wealth that power in this most corrupt of Mexican institutions can offer. Good riddance.