CHIAPAS UPDATE:

The low intensity war in Chiapas is continuing without any slowdown, I am sorry to have to report. The new Interior Secretary, Labastida, is if anything more of a hawk than his predecessor. The “peace talks” are stalled, still; the killings of peasant leaders and opposition PRD politicians go on; there have been no identifiable “Peace and Justice” paramilitaries arrested or relieved of their weapons; the army continues to terrorize remote villages believed to be sympathetic to the EZLN. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration praises Zedillo for his “democratic” reforms and his “defense” of human rights in Chiapas.

As they do from time to time, the authorities sent a message to the foreign community in Mexico to keep their heads down. A woman from the US was summarily deported from San Cristobal this week for walking with her neighbors in a peace march. She was charged with violating the terms of her visa by engaging in “political action”. She joins a long line of Jesuit priests, human rights workers, and international observers that the Mexican government found threatening to peace as they define it.

Meanwhile, the government keeps talking out of both sides of its mouth about Bishop of San Cristobal Samuel Ruiz. While negotiating with him as head of the Peace and Reconciliation Comission, he is being accused of everything from fomenting revolution by translating Latin church texts into indigenous languages, to distributing arms to the EZLN.

In a speech that some found newly ominous (I am not among them: it sounded like business as usual to me), Zedillo praised the military and declared that the excesses in Chiapas were “just” and that the prognosis for peace was good thanks to the Army’s actions. Some of you may recall that I pointed out, a couple of years ago, that his decision to include the Army directly at the La Realidad negotiation table was a clear sign of the continuing power of the Military in Mexico. This latest is, therefor, nothing new. It is just another sign that the civilian government of Mexico continues to be at the allowance of the military, who are, as they always must be in all societies where a few families rule and a majority of the people are poor, the real right hand of the ruling class.

One interesting note: On Saturday, Juan Ruiz Healy, in his daily column of PRI apology and anti PRD invective in the News in English from MexCity (owned by PRIista media mogul Romulo O’Farrill) is calling for a peaceful settlement in Chiapas, based upon elevating the San Larrainzar Accords (granting limited autonomy to indigenous peoples) to Constitutional level — a solution that Zedillo has so far rejected (even though the two-year-old and never implemented accords were signed by his own people). Ruiz Healy also calls for virtually every demand the EZLN has made, and warns that failure to resolve the problem in Chiapas will result in hostilities breaking out in other places in Mexico.

Finally, anothe development: on Friday, the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR), self-declared Marxist armed revolutionaries, began a campaign in Chiapas to woo Zapatista supporters away from the EZLN and exhorting them to take up arms and begin attacking their oppressors. The EZLN has long held that the EPR is correct in analyzing the problem, wrong in the solutions it advocates, and would do well to stay out of Chiapas. EPR’s emergence passing out literature on the streets of Ocosingo and other mountain towns is sure to make the waters even more murky.

JOHN ROSS DOES IT AGAIN:

John Ross, who as many of you know is one of my true heroes, has a new book out. “The Annexation of Mexico, From The Aztecs To NAFTA” is extremely thoughtful and very well annotated. Interspersing historical sources with personal experiences and on-the-spot observations, this is a don’t miss book for anyone interested in how the Mexicans came by their “attitude” toward their northern neighbor, and where things may be going from here.

I particularly enjoyed the last sections, where Ross — as another of my favorite authors, Guillermo Gomez-Peña has done — talks about how Mexican migration has begun to annex parts of the US, spiritually if not physically. I mean if you think that east LA, and the border regions of Texas, NM, Arizona and CA are not to all intents and purposess Mexican, then take a look at the surnames of the border patrol supervisors named in the news articles you see in the LA Times and the Mercury News; and digest the news, which Ross passes on, that Mexican salsa has surpassed Ketchup as the gringo’s favorite sauce.

Buy this book. Support one of the few alternative voices coming out of Mexico. If your bookstore doesn’t have it, go to the source: Common Courage Press.

DRY POLITICAL HUMOR:

Found on a wall in Pachuca, Hidalgo: A political announcement touting “Jaime para Deputado” (Jim for House of Deputies), changed by liberal application of white-wash to “Jaime para D Puto” (Jim for the Whore).

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: THE TOUR CONTINUES:

PAPANTLA was our next destination, broken by a stop at Zumpoala (Cumpoala, locally), a nicely cleared small ruin. Unfortunately, neither the museum or the bookstore were open that day, but we were intrigued by the round (really exactly circular) structures we encountered.

Papantla is a fascinating place, one of the cleanest towns we have seen. The Zocalo sports a large, modern band stand, well maintained. The walls around the park, and the stone benches, are inlayed with tile mosaics depicting town history, the ruins at Tajin, and a volador (flier) – a statue of which looks down on the town. A don’t miss wonder is the frieze on the wall beneath the church, across from the park. Our hotel, the Premier, was a little pricey at 285p, especially as they did not have any hot water available (a fact they did not reveal until we tried the faucet after unpacking). The Restaurant Enriquez, a couple of doors down, did live up to its substantial prices, however, with excellent seafood comidas. Vanilla is the big local crop and as well as extract, one can purchase pods of vanilla beans, unadorned or done up as scorpions, flowers, and other objects.

Next day, it was off to the nearby ruins at El Tajin, quite extensive but totally unidentified by any markers, with a small but interesting museum and a totally unremarkable set of artesanias. At 11:00 am (actually noon, by the time they got it together), the Voladores did their flagpole flying. The real star of the show is the guy with the drum and fife who dances atop the 10-story pole on a 3-foot-wide platform, while four others launch themselves into the air, tethered to revolving drums by a rope tied to their ankle. After thirteen revolutions, they all four land in unison.

We talked to one of the fliers before the performance, and he told us that he had trained for his job since he was a pre-teen, and had entered school (the product of an arduous selection process) at fourteen. There is no sense of side-show here: these are serious folk artists, performing a traditional dance, albeit in the air – and incidentally making a decent living for themselves.

From El Tajin, it’s a hundred km of winding roads following snorting behemoths hauling the nation’s goods back and forth from the coast to MexCity, at an average of about 20mph, to get to Pachuca.

We made a brief stop on the highway outside of Tulancingo where we found the first fern bar I’ve seen outside the capital. It’s easy enough to spot: an aluminum and glass atrium in front, in contrast to the adobe and brick buildings around it, it is right on the main intersection. In spite of the ambiance, the tortas were good, and cheap, and the coffee was excellent.

On our way into Pachuca, we detoured to San Miguel Regla, to tour an old steel making hacienda that now serves as a resort and conference center. We didn’t stay there, as the price – 399p per person (including 3 meals) – was a bit out of our range.

PACHUCA:

Amazingly clean of air for a town in a bowl surrounded by mountains with a population of over 200,000, Pachuca is not a place you’d head for as a destination. The streets are a rabbit warren, and getting from “a” to “b” is a frustrating and dangerous experience: the drivers here are very aggressive, and the streets are mostly one-way, that change directions from time to time. Aside from the fancy clock tower in the Zocalo, there is nothing to see, and while hotel prices are slightly lower than average, food is much higher. People are nice, however.

Here, we found one example of “guide book error”: a hotel, recommended in one guide as the bargain of a lifetime, turned out to be cold, drafty, dark, dirty and smelly. The front desk was adorned by two Ladies of the Night waiting for customers to show up. We went on, to Ciro’s hotel, on the square. Modern to a fault, Ciro’s is one of the most expensive hotels in town, which nonetheless cost under 200p, including parking at a nearby garage.

Finding the garage, after three other garages turned out to be the wrong one, and maneuvering the van through the maze to do so, was probably the low point of the trip for Dan. You can avoid the same problem (as we did in Puebla) by insisting that the hotel send a bellman along.

A MINORITY REPORT:

Or, perhaps I should say, a majority report? Both Diana and Dan objected to my characterization of the aquarium in Veracruz. Diana thought it pleasant, and worth the visit. Dan thought it as good as any between Boston and Baltimore, and was particularly impressed with one round room in which the visitor can lounge on a raised platform while the fish swim around you. I don’t know why I was so underwhelmed while they were pleased: perhaps it was having to walk through this big indoor mall full of tourist junk and fast food, to get there, that turned me off — or maybe it was just one of those days…