THE DYNOSAURS ARE WINNING:

The strong showing of Manuel Bartlett, governor of Puebla state and close political ally of ex-interior minister Chuayffet, is the front runner for year 2000 presidential candidate in president Ernesto Zedillo’s ruling PRI is but one of many signs that the liberal, technocratic wing of the party is losing its grip.

During his predecessor’s six years in office, 12 governors and governors-to-be were removed from office for corruption or general bad behavior. In Zedillo’s first four years, only a few have been bounced. Chief among the long-lived crooks has been the self-proclaimed hard-line governor of Quintana Roo state. Openly investigated by federal authorities for more than a year as a cohort of drug kingpins in his state, which, with its extensive and relatively unpopulated coastline is becoming the foremost entry point for drug shipments to and through Mexico, the guv has remained in power because of policies that Zedillo implemented to bring about decentralization of power in Mexico.

The irony is that it may be the very policies that Zedillo implemented that will bring down his faction of the party. The other faction, known as “Los Dinosoros”, are poised to reclaim their places of influence, and when they do, the first order of business will be the dismantlement of Zedillo’s liberal reforms.

A READER WRITES TO TELL ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE WITH CULTURAL DIFFERENCES:

Geri Anderson, a colleague on the pages of Mexico Connect, sent this along and I thought you might find it interesting. Incidentally, if you have not read her columns, I urge you to do so. Just put her name in your search engine.

This morning I went to get soap from under the kitchen sink to wash the dishes. All the cleaning supplies had been put on a shelf way in back and to the left, out of easy reach. Alma, our muchacha was here yesterday. She is also the muchacha of our landlord who “loans” her to us on Fridays. I wondered why Alma had moved the cleaning supplies to such an inaccessible place. As I was putting them back where they belong, I noticed about an inch of water under the sink. There was a leak in the pipe. I mopped up the water and put a bucket under the leak. Anne, my roommate, and I decided that Alma probably hadn’t told our landlord. It wasn’t her place. It also wasn’t her job to put a bucket under the leak. You are the one who helped me understand this. Anne and I discuss cultural differences it a lot, and she is reading “Inequality of Social Classes in Oaxaca,” which helps explain this phenonmenom. Anyway, we called our landlord and Alma answered and said she would tell him. (She did, because NOW it is her job, her place, right? She is very good at relaying messages. This is what she is “supposed” to do!) Sure enough, our landlord got the message (I think he was at work. He sells cars.) He had a plumber here within an hour. He had not been told of the leak, as we suspected.

At this point, it had been 24 hours since Alma discovered the leak. Anne and I both got in late last night, so didn’t go into the kitchen. We very conceivably could have both left early this morning as we often do, without going into the kitchen, in which case this situation would have turned into a disaster. If you have read this far, thanks for hanging in there. And, above all, thanks for helping me understand what is going on. If I hadn’t read your articles, I would have been pissed at Alma and, based on my cultural background, would have assumed that she was either a: stupid and incompetent or b: trying to cause us problems. I think she was just knows her place and does her job.

A SUMMING UP, AND SOME MUSINGS ON OUR TRIP: Today is Christmas, and last night we went down to the Zocalo to watch the Calendas (parades sponsored by local churches, complete with floats on flat bed trucks). Wednesday nite was Noche de los Rabanos (The night of the Radishes). The Zocalo was humming with folks setting up their carved radishes, dried flower constructs, and corn-husk tableaux. It is time to put the 1998 Newsletter to rest. I thought before we head off to watch the action from our favorite sidewalk cafe, it would be appropriate to pass on some travel observations.

1. Don’t pay too much attention to guidebooks, or commercial internet sites. We relied on “Let’s Go” Greece and Turkey, 1998 edition, and did about as well as we would have done by flipping a coin. In Kalambaka, the nearest town to the monastery-laden pinnacles of Meteora, we went to a recommended hotel that had not been been running for 2 years. In Turkey, two of the recommended hotels were closed for renovation.

Martel’s Guest House, another Internet pick, was cheap by London standards, and we didn’t get more than we paid for. The room was truly tawdry (the owner had tried to switch us to a “better” room, at $15 more per nite, representing the room as “threadbare”, after we had made a reservation by email).

We chose the Pink Palace Hotel in Corfu based on their internet ad, only to find that it was a “backpacker” hotel, full of rowdy young punks with too much alcohol in them. The whole place is set up to sell booze, as that is clearly where the money is (the accommodations are cheap). Coming as we did after the season, we found we could have done as well in a small hotel closer to the nearby village.

We followed the super-strong recommendation by Matt Barrett, a “Greece Guru” with an extensive internet site, and spent a miserable night at the Adams Hotel, where they baited and switched us on the price (instead of 12k drachma with breakfast it was without). The toilet in our bathroom was almost unusable due to very cramped placement. In Dan and Deb’s room, the toilet smell was so bad I don’t know how they managed to sleep. The nearby Omiros, one of George the travel agent’s recommendations, was only 9k including breakfast, and came with cable tv, heater and a comfortable bathroom.

In fairness, LG scored some winners for us, too. Most notable was Bahaus, in the rabbit warren of streets below the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Nice folks, reasonable rooms, and a pleasant breakfast room / lounge with a view of the straits of Marmaris.

Use the guides to find an area where there are a lot of hotels, and go there and look for yourself. Unless it is high-high season, or you just hate not knowing where you will be sleeping ten days from now, don’t pay in advance for a room you haven’t seen, no matter how pretty the pictures are.

2. Don’t sit down to eat in Italy. Of course, you have to do it now and then, but remember that take-away is about half the price of sitdown. This is true even on the ferry boats: if you buy from the waiter, it costs more than bellying up to the coffee bar.

3. Stay away from German hangouts (Ischia, off Naples, is one; Side, on the Turkish mediterranean is another). This is true even in Turkey, where they were neutral but pro-Nazi during the big war. There is something about dealing with German tourists that turns shopkeepers and waiters the least little bit surly…

4. Internet is absolutely everywhere. We did not stay in one single town that was without an internet cafe or store, and we stayed in some pretty small places. Virtually all of them use Hotmail as their home page. All use Windows, but in Greece Netscape is a more common browser than Explorer; in Turkey the opposite. Prices vary between 3 and 5 dollars per hour (4.50 is pretty common).

5. Just because we arrived home exhausted doesn’t mean we didn’t have a wonderful time. We did. But it’s nice to be home, too.

ARMY DISSIDENTS ARRESTED FOR DEMANDING DEPOLITICIZATION OF MILITARY:

A small group of disaffected officers are under investigation for possible violations of Mexican law which could lead to prison terms, expulsion from the army, or both. Their leader is charged with desertion, sedition, damaging the armed forces, and other high crimes, after they marched in Mexico City on the 18th.

Under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Hildegardo Bacilio Gomez, the group, calling itself the Comando Patriotico de Concientizacion del Pueblo (CPCP; The Patriotic Force for Raising the National Consciousness), the group is calling for an end to civilian control of the armed forces (de-politicising), saying that it is the Army’s job to defend the nation against attack but not to pursue hapless peasants, and that this change will not come about as long as the military is subject to the whims of the politicians.

As far as I can tell in my abysmal Spanish, these dissidents are caling for the Army to be withdrawn from pursuing Zapatistas in Chiapas, on the grounds that the government is so corrupt and so out of touch with the needs of the people, that they should fight their own battles.

For those of you whose Spanish is better than mine, the web site is: http://www.geocities.com/pentagon/bunker/6289. I would appreciate your checking it out and getting back to me with what you think is going on. The English language press is not reporting this phenomenon at all.