THE WILD WEST IS ALIVE AND WELL IN MAZATLAN:

Last week, the Mazatlan police arrested three federal anti-drug agents and charged them with shooting off their firearms while careening down a local street in their car under considerable influence of alcohol.

The criminals were later released, with all charges dropped, when 25 of their colleagues surrounded the police station with drawn guns… IF YOU DON’T THINK CALIFORNIA BELONGS TO MEXICO, TAKE A LOCAL BUS TO TIJUANA:

While searching the Web for a cheap and/or convenient way to get home from California, I discovered an Aeromexico nonstop from Tijuana to Oaxaca. While $202 one way is not cheap, it sure is convenient, and I reserved. Now the question was, how to get to Tijuana? Well, in spite of one nerve-shattering experience coming up to California (see last newsletter) I decided to risk the bus going back.

Three Rivers, located at the west gate to Sequoia Park, is about 35 miles from Visalia, which is about equidistant between Bakersfield and Fresno, in the Central Valley of California. This is the richest producer of agricultural products in the world, and therefore populated mostly with farm workers, almost all of whom came from Latin America at one point or another in their family history, most of them fairly recently. In southern California, most of the merchants either speak Spanish or have hired someone who does. “Se habla Espanol” signs are everywhere except where the store signs themselves are in Spanish.

In the small farm-oriented city of Tulare, just outside Visalia, there is a travel agency that acts as a depot for Golden State bus lines, a California line that goes to Tijuana. The plane leaves at around 1:30 in the morning. The bus connection with the least layover time in Tijuana, that arrives at 10:00 pm, leaves Tulare at 2:30. When I bought the ticket ($33), the agent assured me that I was getting a first class express bus. When the bus arrived, it was a beat-up ex-Greyhound with a hole where the emergency exit plug is normally to be found (in the roof toward the front of the bus). The air conditioning doesn’t work too well with a two-foot-square hole in the roof. The sign on the front said “Local”, and so it proved to be. All during this trip, I was the only anglo on the bus; everyone spoke Spanish as the language of choice.

After stopping in several towns along the way, we arrived at a depot in south L.A., where we were told to get off the bus, claim our luggage, and wait. A half hour later, we boarded another bus — this one with a plug in the roof, but broken springs on the right side — bound for Tijuana. AFter several more stops, two to let friends off in out-of-the-way places, the driver pulled up in a parking lot in San Ysidro, where a stretch van was waiting to take us to the airport.

As we approached the Mexican customs area, the driver pulled off in the “something to declare” lane. The customs agent made us unload all our baggage, and then go over to the semaphore that determines who gets searched. I sauntered over and pushed the button, careful not to betray my nervousness (I was loaded with computer parts, household appliances and supplies,and a video tape). Green. Gracias a Dios. Reload the luggage, and back in the van for the drive to the airport.

At the airport, in order to gain access to the passenger concourses, you have to go through Customs. “I just did this at the Frontier”, I told the agent. He smiled and gestured at the button. Green again. On a roll! The Immigration desk was empty, so if you plan to go this route, get your tourist visa from a consulate before you leave. I have a temporary residency (fm3) multiple entry and exit permit, so I was ok.

TJ airport is small, and at night there are virtually no services offered in the A concourse where Aeromexico is housed. If you want a sandwich or a drink, or just to see other people, go hang out on the B concourse for a while. If you want to nap, stay with A.

The flight itself is a dream. 3.5 hrs flying time, in a stretch MD80 with only 20% of the seats taken. Passengers are really secondary to this flight, which offers drinks but no food. The plane is being ferried to Oaxaca to be used for the first flight of the day to MexCity, when it will be packed with businesspersons and tourists. That’s why it is cheaper than other flights that transfer in MexCity on their way to Oaxaca: a few passengers is better than empty.

Would I do it again? Yes, but differently. I would take advantage of the several good quality buses that run from the LA greyhound terminal directly to the TJ airport, by taking a later bus to LA and transfering there. Say, one that leaves around 5:00 from Visalia; probably a Greyhound. I would take an Estrella del Oro bus from LA to the TJ airport if I could; if not, some other Mexican bus. If you take the Greyhound, you have to transfer buses at the border, and if you take a through bus to the airport you don’t.

ANTONIO LOZANO GRACIA THE NEXT TO FALL INTO NARCO DOO-DOO?

On July 16, a small but perhaps significant item appeared on the pages of La Jornada. Lozano, the ex-Attorney General who functioned as Zedillo’s token PAN-ista in the Cabinet, is being asked to resign his high party position by PAN party heavies Vicente Fox and Hinojosa, each of whom have their own candidate for the job. Fox, the governor of Guanajuato and the odds-on favorite for the PAN nomination for president in 2,000, and Hinojosa, the party’s national chair, may end up duking it out over this placement, and that in itself is newsworthy. But what caught my attention is how soon this whole move comes after the revelations that a disgraced and imprisoned Mexican PGR commander has been spirited to Texas by the PGR, to testify before a federal grand jury, and that it is believed that his testimony will implicate Mario Ruiz Massieu (still under house arrest in New Jersy) — and other high officials — in the drug money circus.

Gotlieb predicts: Lozano, and other high government officials, including Raul Salinas, will be named in the latest round of revelations, and the PAN is just trying to scotch-guard its skirts.

THAT FOBAPROA SCANDAL JUST WON’T GO AWAY:

In spite of concerted opposition from the PRI, the opposition-controled House of Deputies is getting even more insistent about calling the head of the Mexican Nationl Bank, Guillermo Ortiz, to testify.

A banking subcommittee whose brief it is to investigate and report to the House regarding the anticedents of the proposed 65-billion usd bailout of the Mexican banking structure is insisting on taking testimony from Ortiz and other high-ranking officials, and the PRI fears — I believe rightly — that such testimony will kill any chances the bill may have between now and the 2000 elections, and could send some of its’ biggest fundraisers to prison for malfeasance or worse.

Fobaproa wants to convert the debt it has assumed to the taxpayers, and as has been pointed out by various economic pundits, the failure to do so with dispatch cost the Indonesians as much as 7 times what it would have cost if they had done it right away, so there is little political opposition to some kind of public debt restructuring. The problem the opposition is having is that the same people who presided over the debacle that created the debt through fraud, mismanagement, and incompetence, are the very ones that propose to make things better; and that included in the bill are new autonomous powers to set peso value and interest rates, giving even more power to people who by all indications should probably have less, if any.

Interior Minister Labastida (the IM is usually considered to be the second most powerful political figure after the President) was still stalling and attempting to block the appearances as of the 28th. The opposition’s response was to declare that until they got the witnesses they wanted, there would be no bailout bill. Period.

By today, Labastida had met with Munoz Ledo and other opposition leaders, had an extremely acrimonious exchange with Munoz, and nonetheless more-or-less promised to consider allowing the bigshots to talk. Meanwhile, Jornada has been running a series of exposes detailing who got the money and how. Stay tuned, this is a BIG story.

TRANSITIONS:

Gentle Ben, the town drunk of the Oaxaca expatriate community, passed away a couple of weeks ago, in the States, of complications from cirrhosis [sic?] of the liver. A wake was held at Roberta French’s place, where he had an apartment for many years. Many toasts were drunk to his memory…

Oaxaca’s first and only Russian restaurant folded after a few months.

Antonio’s Hotel vacated its lobby, which has been taken over by a travel agency featuring Greyhound bus tickets (as yet not opened; when it does, I’ll have more to tell you). The hotel now has a small reception desk on Independencia, but no lobby.

A second “french” restaurant has opened on Libres street, off Murghia. It is actually a music bar (at night) featuring a daily comida corrida with French overtones, and on the day I was there the fricatellas were quite good…

Piano y Sofa (or is it Sofa y Piano), on 20Noviembre street just off Hidalgo, has been featuring Vicente Castaneda from 2 to 4 pm, and on the day I was there, he was joined by a fantastic bongo player named Jacobo and the owner, Fausto, on piano, for an afro-cuban jam. Excelente!

Grace Bishko, an excellent artist, leaves for Santa Fe NM in late August. Meanwhile, her oils are selling at half price at the Saruco gallery here, and Mizrachi in MexCity.