WE ARE STILL ON THE ROAD

But, with any luck, the next Newsletter will be from Oaxaca, where we expect to arrive in about ten days. Meanwhile, we offer a collection of information gleaned from news sources in both of our countries of residence, and “special intelligence” from e-mail correspondents. The pictures are from Minneapolis, where spring brings out the residents as well as the new blooms. The figure in the header, above, resides in the new Asia Museum in San Francisco.

ADIOS, VOCHO

Long expected, but nonetheless mourned, the “people’s car” will soon join the Tucker and the DeSoto in the “classic / collectables” section of the want-ads. Volkswagen of Mexico announced last week that it will stop making the VW Beetle, after more than 50 years of continuous production.

With recent sales down to only a fifth of the far more expensive Jetta model, the company says, it is time to shut the doors on the cheapest automobile available in Mexico.

Part of the problem has been the refusal of the Mexico City authorities to license new bugs for use as taxis. With only two doors, and the front passenger seat removed, fares trapped in the back seat are favored victims for knife-wielding robbers.

A date certain has not been announced. Company spokespersons are only saying “soon”.

OAXACA: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

It’s raining. The forest fires are out for another year. The air is clear. The temperature has dropped. Most gardens don’t need much watering. That’s good.

The water shortage has not improved. The city water authority still delivers water at about 80% of last year’s level. That’s bad.

The teachers are in their 36th day of occupation. They are still blocking access to the airport, the Plaza del Valle shopping center, and the Zócalo. Even art maven and social gadfly Francisco Toledo has spoken out against their tactics (while advocating they be given what they are demanding). Neither the government, nor teachers’ union 22 (Oaxaca) have given an inch. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you come from, this situation is either good or bad; but no matter what your political beliefs, there is no denying that it is ugly…

GOVERNOR MURAT COMES TO FRESNO

A few weeks ago, the city of Fresno placed a statue of Benito Juarez on the Courthouse square, a clear obeisance to the sensibilities (and the votes) of the soon-to-be majority of citizens whose roots are in Mexico, where Juarez is revered as the great-commoner (indigenous)-who rose-to-the-top.

Although Oaxaca’s governor, José Murát Casáb, from whose state Juarez came, couldn’t get here for the unveiling, he did manage to show up last week for a little ceremony put on by local Oaxacan émigrés, who make up a very large part of the Mexican community in the central valley of California where Fresno is located. So many Mexicans live in this area that there is a special Mexican consulate located here.

When he got here, the governor toured the “new” barrio of Casas San Miguel, named by residents for the city in the Mixteca Alta they left behind: eroded and logged-out land that can no longer support its impoverished farmer inhabitants. The paisanos wasted no time putting his feet to the fire. Go home, he was told, and do something to help the friends and relatives we left behind. Build them schools, hospitals and roads. Stop protecting the caciques (bosses) that cheat and rob them. Most importantly, fight for the passage of the legislation that gives Mexicans living abroad the right to vote in Mexican elections.

MEXICO UNITES IN OPPOSITION TO “SENSE OF THE CONGRESS”

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution which it tacked on to an appropriations bill to benefit the Department of State. In simple language, the bill says that opening up the national oil monopoly PEMEX to U.S. investment will be the price of any legislation for immigration relief.

“Imperialism”, cried the average Juan. “Extortion” said the local newspapers. “Arrogant” could be heard on the radio. “Bullying” was denounced on the T.V. In short, the “sovereignty” button was pushed, good and hard, and the predicable firestorm of rhetoric occurred.

Meanwhile, Mexican president Vicente Fox is sending even more troops to the Sonora – Arizona border, in what will probably be a futile attempt to staunch the flow of Mexican workers to the U.S. A couple of days ago, federal police raided the town of Altár, about 60 miles south of the border, arrested several townspeople, and returned triumphantly to wherever they came from. Fifteen minutes after they left, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune, dozens of vans left Altár for the border. According to the mayor, 85% of the townspeople make their living from the 1,500 hopefuls who come through town every single day of the year.

While politicians on both sides of the border posture, 300 people have died so far this year, trying to cross the desert in search of work, or to be reunited with family members already in place “al otro lado” (on the other side).

MEXICAN HEROIN COMING TO A DEALER NEAR YOU

A recent NY Times story confirms what “the street” has been saying for some time: the use of heroin in the U.S. is growing (almost doubled since 1990); and an increasing percentage of the product comes from Mexico. While Columbian and Mexican heroin still account for only a small part of the world trade, they have captured almost all of the U.S. market, due to their higher quality and lower price. White Columbian powder dominates east of the Mississippi, and Mexican brown to the west.

Poppies, unlike coca, can be grown in very small plots, very high in the cloud forests where they are difficult to spot, and require no husbandry until harvest time. Rough terrain makes it necessary for herbicide-spraying helicopters to get very close to the crop, exposing themselves to attack from the ground. Few pilots are willing to be shot down.

Here’s a prediction: as supplies of heroin exceed the demand, a new market will open up for opium, the material from which heroin is made. Opium will be the next big fad in junksville.

A NEW POLITICAL PARTY

Organized by women like Margarita Dalton, who served as minister of culture under former governor Diódoro Carrasco Altimarano and spent at least a part of every day fighting the machismo built into the political system, Partido México Posible is emerging as a new force in Mexican politics.

While avowedly feminist, the party’s candidates for office include a large minority of men. A significant portion of the communities of art and literature appear to be signing up. In Oaxaxca, artist / philanthropist / political activist Francisco Toledo recently met with party leaders to discuss a “culture law”. Describing itself as “leftist but modern”, the party’s platform includes many expected positions, and some surprises, especially in the area of economics. Some key planks are:

*That NAFTA and the whole issue of globalization needs a new slant, one which departs from the “usual” call for an end to NAFTA one hears from all other “left” formations: In an increasingly interdependent world, and given the realities of technology, it is pointless – and even counterproductive – to attempt to reverse the trend toward globalization. The problem is, rather, that market economics are not being informed by local realities. In the area of agriculture, for example, Mexico must find ways to support and encourage growth in the farm sector even as it eliminates all protective tariffs. The same is true in other sectors of the economy which have been directly impacted by NAFTA. [This is a position that is getting increasing play in global meetings of poor countries. I hope to talk more with Margarita about this issue when I return.]

*That a wider separation of Church and State is a requisite for broader participation of women in the national life, and in daily living.

*That a new cabinet post must be created to support and encourage the emergence of women into places of power, both in the public and private sectors, and to oversee the dismantlement of the macho “old boy” system currently in place.

*That the consumption of marijuana must be legalized.

Throughout the “platform” of the Party, a feminist viewpoint is at work. The majority of voter-age Mexicans are women. The majority of Mexicans are under 25. México Posible is a development worth following, so expect further reports from time to time…