HAPPY HOLIDAYS (BURP):

At several household gatherings, and in a few restaurants, local gringos and a few well-traveled Oaxaqueños celebrated Thanksgiving. We ended up with 18 at our tables (we had to rent them, as well as the extra chairs) in a cooperative stuff-a-thon that was a test of our patio (passed) and our gastrointestinal capacities (some did better than others). The turkey, a 10.5 kilo bird, was smoked by a German couple who have developed a nice little business selling to the foreigners and the local upper class. They come around once a week and peddle smoked and baked pork, chicken, fish and sausages. The cranberries and the pumpkin pie filler were carried down by friends. Everything else came from the local markets.

The mezcal was Don Amato, a local brand that is being exported by the distiller, a friend from California. The wine, a gamay, is newly being bottled by a winery in Baja, and has been on promotion at a local supermarket.

Attending were 10 “residents”, 6 “snowbirds” (people who maintain a residence (or store their stuff with those who do) and come down regularly every winter), and two “tourists” (one the son of a resident, the other an old friend who chose to rent in Mazatlan this year).

Also drawing a lot of the foreign community was the annual turkey feast at the Hosteria Alcala, a local upscale restaurant. For about $20, they put out a “traditional” spread. Only jarring note this year: the sweet potatoes had a purple hue to them. Our source said they tasted just like the real thing, but looked like smashed rutabega…

RECOVERY ON THE COAST PROCEEDING AT ACCELERATED PACE:

While it is still a mess in Puerto Angel, both Huatulco and Puerto Escondido are operating at near-normal. The Pochutla road is open, although rough and with delays, and the Salina Cruz highway is clear. The 2d annual international surfing contest went off as planned in Puerto, as did the regional dance contest the week before.

Word reaching Oaxaca is that the logoon at Chacahua, north of Puerto Escondido, has recovered. One traveler told me that it is actually in better shape than pre-Paulina, having had Mama Nature perform the cleansing that the coastal authorities had planned for this winter.

Also, quite surprisingly, the coastal areas near Pinotepa appear to have been lightly touched both times, and the area is open.

TOURIST AREAS IN CHIAPAS UNTOUCHED BY VIOLENCE ELSEWHERE IN THE STATE:

Friends returning from San Cristobal, Palenque, and points in between, report that they encountered no hostility, saw no incidents, and were stopped only infrequently at army checkpoints. This included areas such as the ruins at Tonina (incountry from Ocosingo), Lagos de Montebello (near Las Margaritas), and Sn Juan Chamula (where the Catholics and Evangelicals have been conflicting). Remember, if you are going to Sn Cristobal, take warm clothes…

DECEMBER 5 IS CARDENAS’ DAY IN MEXCITY:

The PRD leader, and likely candidate for President of Mexico in 2000, is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire on Friday. He is taking over a city crippled with debt, riddled with crime and corruption, short of usable water and waste treatment, and polluted beyond the worst nightmares of Los Angeles.

In a unique speech before the American Chamber of Commerce this week, he announced that his administration will seek private funding for public sector projects such as sewage, street repair, and water treatment. In exchange, he pledged, he will act vigorously to clean up the corrupted and unproductive civil service.

On arrival at his new office, he will be handed a public and private sector debt amounting to 1.6 billion pesos, about 8 times as much as was owed two years ago. Assuming income and outlay remain about the same, he can expect about 2 and a half times as much debt by 2000.

Already, he has had to backpedal on his promise to reduce the IVA (sales tax) by 1/3. There is simply no way he could cope with the concommitant reduction in federal payments to MexCity. The outgoing (PRI) mayor is insisting that the new governor will need to increase taxes withing MexCity by almost 20% to keep up with inflation in 1998, but Cardenas is adament that the average chilango (MexCity citizen) is already paying more than he or she can afford.

Cardenas is saying (rightly) that MexCity is already getting enough money to take care of its needs, and then some; that corruption and mismanagement are the problem; that if the money only went where it was supposed to go, and received full value, MexCity could be turned into, if not a paradise, at least a livable city. Whether he can pull it off is the big question, and the smart money has him as an underdog. On the other hand, the smart money had him as finished politically when he got stomped in the 1994 Presidential election…

STAN’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS:

First a recap of previous prognostications: I was RIGHT about Cardenas’ coming quandry in MexCity: he is being put in a lose-lose situation, and already he has sharply backpedaled on his demands for a reduction in the IVA.

I was WRONG about Zedillo’s willingness and ability to deliver home rule to Cardenas: he gave him the ability to name his own public prosecutor and police chief.

I was RIGHT about the peso’s slide: it went from 7.6 to 8.3. I was WRONG about the peso’s slide: I predicted a bigger loss.

Now, for a couple of new soothsayings:

By the end of January, the USDollar will buy 9 pesos. PRI unions in MexCity will stage major strikes in the first two months of Cardenas’ governorship, and the city will approach the brink of anarchy. The Barzonista debtors movement and the PRD will keep the pressure on the Zedillo administration, and prevent the re-purchase of the banks from the private hands that have bankrupted them since the privatization. The bailout cost will be enormous. The privatization of the railroads, the ports and other nationalized industries will be completed by Zedillo, except for Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Although Pemex is in a shambles (it is considered one of the least modernized oil processing and distribution systems in the world) due to lack of maintenance and inattention to environmental problems, and could probably benefit from large infusions of foreign capital (which the Mexican government cannot spare) and management (so the money actually gets to the plant and not to a Swiss bank), it is seen as a symbol of national sovereignty. Given the thrashing his party took in the July elections, Zedillo understands that this is not the time to look like an opportunist technolog bent on selling out the patria (inheritance, wealth) of his country — whether such a description is accurate or not…