CHIAPAS UPDATE: IT’S STARTING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE GUATEMALA:

Recent arrivals from Chiapas are bringing depressing news. Long term residents, some of whom have lived there as long as 30 years, are selling up and moving out. Business owners are closing their doors and starting over in other states. Between their neighbors and the Migra, life is a little tense.

People in Sn Cristobal are being asked to choose, by their Ladino (mixed race) neighbors, as anti-indigenous feeling among the middle and upper classes increases. Folks who have been involved for years in helping the poor (in Chiapas, that means short, dark and speaking Spanish as a second language) are getting flack for doing so. Na Balom, a decades-old collective of archeologists, anthropologists and teachers, has been raided by the Migraci¢n, looking for “illegals” from other countries.

A friend, recently arrived from Chiapas, discussed the situation with me at a table in one of the sidewalk cafes along the Z¢calo. “I would not speak this openly in Sn Cristobal”, he said. “Conversations like this are best had in private, back there”.

Some believe their phones are tapped, and everyone acts as if it is true, said another new arrival. “Discretion” is the order of the day. No-one leaves their house or hotel without their passport and visa.

Here is an example of what can happen:

A woman who had lived in Chiapas for several years was wandering down the street one day in 1996. She ran into a pro-Zapatista march, which was halted for one reason or another. One of the young women in front holding one side of the banner asked her if she would hold up her end while the woman used the bathroom in a nearby public building.

Last month, the Migra sent her away. Seems she had been photographed by State political intelligence forces…

AID WORKERS ATTACKED BY PRI MOBS IN CHIAPAS HIGHLANDS:

A delegation from Pastors For Peace, attempting to deliver medicine and food to refugees from the Acteal area who had fled to a nearby town in the mountains outside Sn Cristobal, had their bus stoned by a mob they identified as anti-Zapatista locals. At one point they were threatened with burning the bus. According to one witness, who was on the bus, they had been surrounded by the police who had been following them all along, until at one point the police just melted away, leaving them exposed to mob action. They escaped without injury.

NEWER, CHEAPER CYBERSTORE IN OAXACA:

Compurenta, in the 400 block of Murguia street, has a full line of services, at “only” 40 pesos (a little under $5 usd) per hour, no minimum. That means that if you bring your own computer and hook it up, you can upload and download all your email for pretty cheap, according to a friend who uses it. Bringing a disk and using their machine is 5 pesos a message. They can be reached at: yoyo@antequera.com

SAFETY IN MEXICO AFTER 20/20:

Unfortunately, violent crime against foreigners has been increasing in Mexico, as have crimes in general. Fortunately, vis a vis the tourists, the levels have yet to reach those of Miami. (Killing one’s paisanos has always been a sanctioned sport down here, but of course hardly anybody in the US cares about that.)

The recent reports on ABC, and in the NY Times, have sold lots of products, which is the purpose of programming content. They have not bothered much to put the sensational into a broader context, and that’s a disservice to everyone.

Personally, I don’t go to MexCity if I can avoid it. I don’t like always having to be on guard against pickpockets, muggers, rogue taxi drivers, etc. On the other hand, I don’t have much reason to go there: the culture, food, etc. of Oaxaca is enough for me. If I did have reason, I wouldn’t hesitate to go, however. My threshold for anxiety is lower than my threshold for haute cultur, so I don’t bother.

Meanwhile, I am getting an average of a couple of queries a day from folks who wonder if they should cancel their Mexico plans, based on the latest negative publicity, and I am advising them to come on down, but be smart about how and where they go.

The chat rooms and newsgroups are full of the same sort of anxiety, and ultimately the tourist trade will suffer, especially as the US State Department is making noises about issuing travel advisories on Mexico (they have not yet done so).

The Travel Tianguis ended a few days ago in Acapulco, and the word is that while new bookings were up, they did not achieve desired levels, and the biggest gainers were the airlines (foreign) and the enclosed, guarded resort hotels, in the “safe” places such as Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.

WEDNESDAY WAS DIA DE LAS DANZAS

in Mexico, and here in Oaxaca, there were stages erected downtown, and major folklorico at the Plaza de las Danzas in front of Soledad church, as well as modern dance performances in the Alcal theater. Soon, tickets will go on sale for Guelaguetza, the two all-day Mondays of folk dancing in the amphitheater built for that purpose on a hill above town. The festival, which takes place in July, draws folks from all over the world, and the town fills up for about 10 days of opulent display and performance.

THURSDAY WAS DIA DE LOS NIÑOS

the day of the children, and the Z¢calo area was taken over by information tables, food stands, and play areas. In a country where the everyday fixation on children approaches the level of clinical, this “special day” seems like overkill. The number of balloon sellers doubles, as do the cotton candy vendors. Governmental and non-governmental agencies specializing in children’s health, pre-natal care and inoculation were passing out information, along with some more adult themes like AIDS.

TODAY IS LABOR DAY,

and the faithful duly marched in the nation’s capital. It was the first march in three years, the previous two having been canceled by infamous PRI dinosaur and labor hoodlum Fidel Velasquez , who finally did the decent thing and died in the last year at age 97. Fidel feared disruptions by dissident unionists, so he just up and declared that the workers needn’t march at all. The dissidents did march, however, and rallied as well, perhaps in even larger numbers than would have been the case had the CTM, Mexico’s equivalent of the AFL/CIO, gone ahead and paraded.

This year, in MexCity, two million are expected to rally for the PRI, and a few hundred thousand for the dissidents. With careful planning and no goofups, the two groups will not occupy the same space at the same time.

In Oaxaca, the march was jolly and uneventful, consisting mostly of government workers. When they finished, at the Z¢calo, however, they were greeted by a hefty set of loud speakers, broadcasting pleas from the left of the spectrum: dispossessed people from Loxicha, groups demanding to know where their loved ones had disappeared to, labor socialists asking them to stop acquiescing in the sweetheart contracts their labor bosses draw up with the owners and the officials for whom they work.

In typical Oaxacan fashion, the authorities did not interfere in this exercise of free speech, while in the portales, Mexican tourists taking advantage of a long weekend, ate and drank and made merry. Specially noteworthy: a busload of Lions Club folks from Comitan, Chiapas.