HOME AT LAST:

After a long day and night of travel, culminating in a “red-eye” flight from Tijuana, we arrived in Oaxaca to discover the Zócalo temporarily free of squatters, the air fresh and clean if a little rainy, and our casa intact if dusty. A few days’ work cleaning and shopping, and it feels as if we had never left. All the pictures in this issue are new, and taken in the last few days. Enjoy.

HE’S BAAAAAAAAAAAACK:

Also back, in spirit and soon in the flesh, is Mexico’s favorite bad boy, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Yesterday’s La Jornada revealed that as a result of negotiations began in April of 2002 in Brussels between ex- Foreign Secretary Jorge Casteñeda and Salinas, the self-exiled ex-president will return to the land from which he robbed a larger sum than any other president in history.

According to Jornada, the quid-pro-quo is Salinas’ promise to whip his loyalists in the Chamber of Deputies into supporting the efforts of current president Vicente Fox Quesada to privatize oil and electricity. So much for “reformist” president Fox.

FOX BUILDS A 740 FOOT BUSINESS TOWER:

The new “Torre Mayor” (Major Tower) opened last week in Mexico City. President Fox declared it a shining symbol of Mexico’s recovery, saying that Mexico’s new prosperity made it possible to complete it after construction was suspended in the peso crash of 1995. Nice for him and his cronies, no doubt. Below is a story I wrote for a newspaper in Minneapolis. Judge for yourself…

GOING NORTH:

Matías lost his job. He had been working on his uncle’s farm, but when Mexico lifted all farm subsidies this winter, to comply with NAFTA rules, his uncle shut down the farm operation and went to work for a cousin in the Abastos market. After months of searching and working low-paying pickup jobs, he is still unemployed.

Last week, he showed up in the Zócalo, looking for money to buy a bus ticket to Tijuana and to pay the “coyote” (smuggler) for passage to “el otro lado” (the other side). He was introduced to me by a mutual friend.

“I’m a little nervous”, he said. “I speak no English, and I understand that you gringos are shooting Mexicans all the time, just like in the movies.” I assured him that only a small percentage of his countrymen get shot; that the odds against it happening to him, especially in the California area, away from the vigilante racist ranchers in southern New Mexico and Arizona, were pretty good. But what of being left locked in a truck to starve or die of heat stroke?

“For me, that is not a problem”, he assured me. “The coyote is a friend of my sister’s husband, from the town next to the one where I was born. He has been helping my family and friends to cross for years, now. He doesn’t take more than one or two at a time, and his charges are small: only one thousand U.S. dollars.”

What about the “crackdown” by the Mexican army and national police on Mexicans attempting to enter the U.S? “Not a problem”, says Matías. “These arrangements are of long standing duration, and everyone understands that everyone needs to make a living, including some “Migra” (U.S. Immigration Service). As long as everyone keeps it cool and doesn’t get too greedy, it works well. The people who are dying in the desert, they don’t know anyone they can trust. They pay too much, and they are abused by their coyotes. In Mexico, it is always better to deal with people you know.”

A view from a friend’s house across San Felipe to the mountains east of town.

My friend lends a small amount of money to Matías, and I do, too. Matías promises to return the money and we believe him – but if he can’t, we will not miss it. “How many like him do you know personally?” I ask my friend. “Maybe fifty”, he tells me.

I am not surprised. I am aware that whole villages are empty of most working-age males and many females, leaving the young to be cared for by the elderly. There is a lot of new construction in these villages, as money comes back for bricks, plumbing, and satellite dishes. There is also an increase in trouble, as teenagers living with grandparents, with too much time on their hands, find outlets that parents might have closed off to them. The social costs of expatriation are almost never talked about, like the social costs of two-parent working families in this country. Matías, with two small children at home, worries about this.

Matías is joining an ever-increasing stream of his country-men and -women who, unable to make a living in their native land, are living in economic exile. Money from abroad is now among the top four sources of income for the Mexican economy, and perhaps one of the top three sources of hard currency for the Mexican government. President Fox, in a speech in Hidalgo state last month, underscored this dependency, announcing that money from expatriated Mexicans increased by 40% in the two years between 2000 and 2002: a remarkable statistic when one contemplates the huge increases in U.S. expenditures on Border Patrol – and other means – meant to keep them out.

“From here, I send a very fond salute, with my affection and respect for those families and for those migrants who are in the United States. Last year, they sent 1 trillion pesos to their families in Mexico, in small amounts: 100, 200, and 300 dollars, to increase the incomes of their families”, Fox said. “The success in the battle against poverty is not merely a government achievement, but that of everyone who participates.”

These demonstrators showed up a day after we arrived.

Statements like this put the lie to other statements made by government officials about stemming the flow of illegal migration. It’s simply not going to happen as long as NAFTA rules and globalization of national economies in developing countries continue to impoverish small farmers and entrepreneurs. Where there is a will, there is a way, it is said, and all of us who have the luxury to sit around the Zócalo and observe the local scene wish Matías – and the hundreds of Oaxacans who join him every day – the best of luck.

THE NEW ENGLISH LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER:

“The Herald”, a product of the Miami Herald, in co-operation with the Mexican newspaper El Universál, is surprisingly informative, and a welcome replacement for the “News In English from Mexico City”. It’s not “The Nation”, but it’s not the Washington Times, either. For us, as the News did, it acts as a “first impression” of what news is breaking in Mexico. If a development looks interesting, we seek out more information in La Jornada and on the Internet. It doesn’t have a lot of Mexico City gallery openings or theater listings, which we – being provincials – aren’t that interested in; but it also, thankfully, lacks the endless self-congratulatory pictures showing how many important people the publisher hung out with yesterday. It carries the New York Times crossword, and that gives us an excuse for going down to the Zócalo every day.

FROM THE FIELD:

The summer edition of George Colman and Michele Gibbs’ quarterly offering of prose, poetry, photography and art is now posted. This is one of the images. Entertaining, inspiring, and just plain good stuff. To read, just click here

NEW POLLS SUPPORT INTREPID REPORTER’S PREDICTIONS:

As predicted in earlier editions of the present rag, the PAN is losing ground to the PRI. Blame for this is being laid directly on the welcome mat at Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential residence. Fox, it is said, has not been able to deliver on his promises, and his personal style – “I will bring an end to the Zapatista problem in 15 minutes [after I am elected]” for example – has made his failures even more glaring.

Several polls have indicated that the upcoming July 6 election of district representatives to the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – will send more PRI and fewer PAN to do their duties in MexCity. On the other hand, the adjustment will be minor: not that many seats will change hands, and neither party will have a majority.

A new house with an “authentic” Oaxaca look to it.

MexCity mayor and PRD leader Lopez Obrador on the other hand, has managed to survive his first three years in office with an 80% approval rating. Lopez, a man some describe as better at image than at politics, has not made appreciable headway in solving the disastrous crime rate, nor has he lifted the economic future of his constituents. Instead, he has made a series of cosmetic changes intended to soften his city’s image as a dangerous, decaying and unruly place to be. These include an “urban renewal” project in the historic center intended to yuppify the area. This, combined with giveaway programs for needy elders and a city-sponsored tortilla subsidy to replace the Fox – sponsored removal of same, gets Lopez points with both the middle class and the poor.

In a column in the Herald last weekend, Lopez was touted as the “front runner” for the 2006 presidential election. His ascent in the political heavens was also predicted by yours truly, although I never expected it to be as smooth as it has been…

WEATHER ALERT:

Tropical Storm Carlos came through early last Friday morning, touching the Oaxaca coast from the gulf of Tehuantepéc to Pinotepa Nacionál, and forging inward along the southern Guerrero coast, to spend itself on an assault of the mountains. While damages are not light, they have not reached the severity of Pauline, three years ago. Many bridges and parts of highway 175 have been affected, and flooding has made Puerto Angel, Mazunte, and Puerto Escondido less enjoyable. Assuming that no new storms come along – always a big assumption in the Tropics – things should be back to some semblance of normality in the next few weeks.