LAYLA, A LEBANESE RESTAURANT, OPENS:

There is a large Lebanese community in Oaxaca. As far as I can tell, it is completely assimilated, although I intend to return to talk about it with Layla herself some day when she can take time from her duties as hostess. A return would be worth it, just to bask in her smile and flashing eyes.

Layla is located on Mexico 68, along the northern edge of Colonia Reforma, about a 10 minute bus ride from the center (take the “Infonavit” bus). It is a small (five tables, 20 chairs) clean cheerful place. There is a small selection of canned and baked specialty foods available for takeout. Prices are high-medium (50 pesos each for five of us, with tip).

All the food is home-made, and the portions are reasonable. We had tabouleh (too much clove), humus (not enough garlic or mint), baba ganouj (bland), pita (tough) and kibbe (nice), with two kinds of baklava (very good) and Arabic coffee (ditto). Still and all, I would recommend Layla as a place to go every few months, just for the change of cuisine, as the one thing Oaxaca lacks from the standpoint of a resident is authentic international cooking.

IF YOU GET A CHANCE TO SEE LILA DOWNS, DON’T MISS HER:

Oaxaca native Lila (LEE-la) Downs Sanchez, whose mom is Mixtec from Tlaxiaco and whose dad was from Minnesota, is a totally bilingual, bright, well educated (anthropology) and incredibly sexy composer, arranger and singer, with a range of styles and notes that will send little shivers through you.

Recently returned from their MexCity gig to help El Sol y La Luna open it’s newest location (Av. Reforma 502), Lila and her partner Paul Cohen, a fine keyboard and saxophone stylist, are now back in MexCity to gig, cut a new cd (“Sandunga”, their last cd, is a gas) and, hopefully, go on to bigger and better things.

The performances I saw ranged from old Jazz standards to Mexican canci¢n to Lila’s own settings of Mixtec codices. If you ever get the opportunity, go out of your way to see Lila. It will be well worth the effort.

PASS THIS ON:

Flights for Humanity

Do you know someone in need of an operation, possibly because of an accident or a birth defect? If this person lives in the Caribbean but lacks the funds to travel to the US for the surgery, then Flights for Humanity can help. Flights for Humanity is a non-profit organization set up to provide free transportation to indigent individuals to come to the U.S. for necessary surgery, or specialized radiation or chemotherapy, not available in their native country.

Hi:

I’m Dr. Weinberg. I am a Family Practice doctor in Massachusetts, USA. I also am a pilot of a single-engine Piper Cherokee. I am planning a trip down to the Caribbean in February 1998. I have been in touch with several hospitals, which perform charitable operations for no-cost to the patient. I am looking for any patient who has a congenital or complex orthopedic problem (with their bones), which may have resulted from an accident or some trauma, who is unable to obtain the proper surgical operation that they need in their native country. If that surgery can be done in the US and they qualify for a travel visa for medical necessity, I will provide free transportation to the United States in my airplane during my trip in February 1998. If you would like to advertise this charitable offer of free travel to the US for someone with such a medical problem and their significant other, whether their mother, wife or husband, maybe we can help this individual obtain needed medical care to improve the quality of their life.

I can be reached in several ways: Dr. Robert Weinberg

email: RWeinb6379@aol.com telephone: 617-840-2352 mail: 81 New Estate Road Littleton, Massachusetts USA 01460-1116

CHIAPAS REVISITED:

The biggest story in Mexico (and one of the biggest in the world, as it turned out) during the Christmas season, was the wanton slaughter of 45 indigenous refugees who fled their native village because of marauding death squads, only to be machine gunned and hacked to death by machetes in the hands of “paramilitaries” who entered the refugee camp where they were living. Organized by local caciques (bosses) loyal to the ruling PRI, and supplied with AK-47 assault weapons, the assailants’ attack lasted for hours while a police barracks only 200 yards away turned a deaf ear.

As I said in the last newsletter, the army was called out, some 5,000 of them. On the 2nd of January, they occupied La Realidad, the center of Zapatista “free territory”, with the announced intention of bringing Subcomandante Marcos back dead or alive. Their “legal” excuse was searching for concealed weapons caches among the Zapatista sympathizers. According to witnesses, they interrogated local citizens, asking them to name Zapatista sympathizers, tell them where the weapons were hidden, etc. At no time were there any indications that the soldiers made any attempt whatsoever to identify death squad personnel or confiscate their weapons.

As of Sunday, the army announced that they had withdrawn from Realidad, Las Margaritas, and other Zapatista strongholds they had occupied over the weekend. Eyewitnesses, however, claimed that this was only partially true. On Saturday, a group of indigenous women confronted the army in a village near the one in which the slaughter occurred, and literally pushed them out of the town square. Today’s La Jornada featured many pictures of tense confrontations between the army and groups of villagers intent on blocking entrance into their villages, amid many stories of new army occupations in the highlands.

It is now widely believed that the paramilitaries are being trained in terror and torture by remnants of the CIA supported – and US School of the Americas trained – Kaibiles death squads that operated so effectively in Guatemala. If true, this represents an escalation which could lead to total anarchy in Chiapas – and will likely result in the assassination of Archbishop Samuel Ruiz (the paramilitary group “Peace and Justice” tried but missed a couple of months ago), a la Oscar Romero in Salvador.

As I have said before, I know that some of you think that I overemphasize the “bad news”. It is sad to have to report these occurrences, but so many of you have been writing to me asking about it, and asking what I think it all means for the future of Mexico, that I feel I must respond.

The main thing to keep in mind is that nothing much is changing, at least not soon. Firing Interior Minister Chuayffet, and replacing him with Francisco Labastida, will do no good whatsoever. Labastida’s reputation is if anything more reactionary than that of his predecessor. A heavy handed autocrat when he was governor of Sinaloa, a chair that he won by virtue of massive electoral fraud, his stewardship of Mexico’s agriculture appears to have been characterized by concentration on export crops for hard currency, while abandoning the small farmers to their fate. As far as the “war on drugs” is concerned (the other half of the Interior Secretariat’s brief), it would be well to keep in mind that Sinaloa fostered the gang that during his governorship expanded to found the Juarez, Gulf and Tijuana cartels.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Chiapas governor Ruiz Ferro was being replaced, and that some members of his cabinet, particularly in the security secretariat, were under investigation for failing to act to prevent the massacre. This is what happened in Guerrero, where the notorious Ruben Figueroa went free while his underlings were punished after he had ordered the massacre of 17 peasants at Aguas Blancas. The PGR ( Mexican FBI) is investigating a rumor that shortly before the December 22 massacre, Ruiz personally gave a government grant of half a million dollars to the most notorious death squad group, “Peace and Justice”. If substantiated, it may be grounds for prosecution for malfeasance.

The replacement of Ruiz Ferro last will likely prove an empty gesture: there is simply no way the large ranchers of Chiapas will support anyone less repressive than Ruiz – and they have the say. His replacement, Roberto Arboles Guillen, is a long-time apparatchik of the Chiapas PRI, currently serving as a Deputy in the national assembly. Mexico, despite the strides she has made toward democracy, is still in the hands of a small elite who rule with impunity. No amount of whitewash by US public relations firms and Clinton administration NAFTA apologists will change that fact.

Zedillo is no more in charge of national policy than is Clinton. He, like Billy, is a mere figurehead, allowed to dabble in economics because his policies are in line with ruling class objectives; but when it comes to serious social challenges to the oligarchy, he either shows the iron fist or else. The last real reformer, Luis Colosio, was assassinated on the campaign trail for stepping too far out of line, and this lesson is not lost on Zedillo.

I interviewed an expatriate who lives in San Cristobal the other day, and he said that everything is calm within the city itself, and that there were no reports of serious delays getting there from either Tuxtla or Palenque. He expressed some concern about travel off the main highway, however. When I asked him how it is for foreigners living outside the city, he responded that to his knowledge, aside from “peace encampments”, there are no non-clerical foreigners living in the Chiapas countryside. When I asked him if any of the latest developments was a surprise to him, he said that it had been common knowledge in Chiapas for months that this was coming; that opposition leaders have been being executed with regularity, particularly in the northern part of the state.