HARD TIMES AHEAD FOR LIBERATION THEOLOGISTS

On January 8, Oaxaca will get its’ long-awaited new Archbishop. José Luís Chávez Botello, 63 year old bishop of Tuxtla Gutierrez (capital of Chiapas state), who will be invested by the archbishop of Durango, a known conservative, will be the eighth of his line in Oaxaca, replacing Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño, who died some months ago.

Carrasco was one of four highly placed members of the “ministry to the poor” in Mexico, the other three being bishops Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Arturo Lona Reyes, and Raúl Vera. Ruiz was forced to take retirement at age 70, and immediately relocated by the Church to the far north of the country, away from his diocese in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. His replacement, Raul Vera, who had originally been sent to Chiapas to be Ruiz’ second in command because of his conservative views, and who later became a disciple of the so-called “red bishop”, was exiled to a northern state as well, and the program Ruiz started, of appointing lay ministers among the Lacandón forest indigenous, is being dismantled.

Apropos of church business, here is a natural-light picture of Santo Domingo in the late afternoon

I’m not a theologian, but basically, I think that Liberation theology works like this: a priest goes out to a village where the people are being oppressed by the local cacique. All their lives, they have been told by other priests that God wants them to submit, to suffer, to have less concern for this life than for the afterlife. They are uneducated, but not stupid: they can see what is happening to them. They will pay lip service to the priest who backs the system that oppresses them, but do not trust him, since he only offers relief after death. Only the very old, mostly women, attend services, and the congregation does not grow.

Liberation theologists, while not advocating revolution, tell the poor that Christ wants them to have a better life here on Earth, and often help them to organize themselves to change their circumstances. As well as appealing to the parishioners, this satisfies the priest’s desire to be of use in a more immediate and material way. He is rewarded with a growing congregation and the openness of his parishioners.

I know this is simplistic, but it seems to work that way, and anyway this is not a scholarly tome…

Since the government in Mexico is very stingy when it comes to money for the Church, and since the rich have money, and are loathe to give it to “socialist” priests, Liberationists are expensive to have around. Without support from above, progressive priests have trouble finding gas money to get out to their villages, or even to buy food for their chapter houses.

The damage done to the movement for ministry to the poor during the reign of the current Pope has been grave, particularly in Mexico, where arch-conservative ruling-class Catholics belonging to powerful, wealthy, and secretive orders such as Opus Dei and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith are on the rise and seemingly connected to the military and para-military forces that form the front lines of the oppression.

The current president of the Republic and his party the PAN, are beholden for much of their finance and influence to these conservative Catholics. Vicente Fox was the first modern presidential candidate to be seen on a platform adorned with the flag of the virgin of Guadalupe: until then all politicians avoided mixing state and religion). Add the squeeze that the Papal nuncio puts on Noriberto Rivera, the head of the Church in Mexico, and the pressure against progressive priests is enormous. Msgr Rivera, by the way, is on the shortlist to become the next Pope. He is unlikely to encourage Liberation theologists.

In Oaxaca, where only 56% of the residents profess the Catholic faith (the rest are predominantly evangelical protestants, with a mix of Moslems, Buddhists, animists and other faiths thrown in), the decision to suppress outreach to the remote poverty-stricken places may result in a non-Catholic majority for the first time in 500 years.

SOME FAVORITE PLACES REVISITED

We had visitors for a week, and spent a lot of time showing them around. Not only was it fun to play “expert”, but it also gave us an excuse to revisit some of the places we never seem to get back to.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the Ethno-botanical garden at the Regional Museum. The amount of development in the interim was very impressive. We’ve been observers of the evolution of the whole site – long ago a monastery and for generations after that a military barracks – ever since, back in 1995, we heard the first tap-tap-tap of the stonemasons’ hammers as they began the restoration that is still going on. A couple of the photos are from there, including the masthead picture, a frangipani flower.

The last time I saw the garden, it covered about a third of the vast yard, and now there is very little empty space left. Split into a “dry” and “wet” section, all the plants are Oaxaca natives, and generally tourable twice a week with an English-speaking guide (more often if your Spanish is pretty good). Our guide, Jody, was a little too detailed for my taste: the tour, which others complete in less than an hour and a half, was only half done at the end of two hours; but if you don’t mind taking the extra time, she was quite thorough. Other docents are said to be more time-conscious…

Santa Maria del Tule, home to the cypress tree which bears its name, is also a work in progress. Once a dusty town languishing along the road to Mitla (and Panama), it has flowered into a little jewel box of a place, complete with welcoming arches, many new restaurants, and andadores (pedestrian walkways). The empanadas (large tortillas folded over various fillings and cooked on a comal: a sort of Mexican calzone) are still delicious in the food market, and bargains are still to be had in the vendors’ market next door.

MURAT OUTLINES THE STRUGGLE FOR MEXICO’S FUTURE

I don’t like José Murat Casab, the governor of Oaxaca. Behind his façade of liberal concern for the indigenous, he pursues the old agenda of land grab (the Istmo project) and repression. Still, the devil should be given his due, and his has been one of the few voices among state governors for indigenous autonomy, and for stopping the giveaway of Mexican resources to the so-called globalists.

Recently, he wrote an article for the daily newspaper Imparcial, in which he more or less called for a new political alignment of all forces, both within his PRI party and without, to prevent the sell-off of oil monopoly PEMEX and CFE, the national electrical grid. In the article, he pulled no punches about how the last three presidents – including the present one – did and do destroy the national economy to please their wealthy friends inside and outside the country.

Diana and grand-daughter at the ancient tree. Photo, V. Andrus

The article comes on the heels of an extremely narrow defeat for the globalists headed by Fox and seconded by a “runaway” faction of the PRI loyal to Elba Esther Gordillo, the ex- Party leader in the legislative House.

Last week, the Party replaced Gordillo with Emilio Chuayffet, the man who was Ernesto Zedillo’s hard-line interior minister when the Acteál massacre occurred in Chiapas. The margin was narrow, and the rancor that exists between the Gordillo faction and that of PRI party chairman RobertoMadrazo has not yet peaked. If, as some predict, the PRI fractures along globalist / anti-globalist lines, then it can only strengthen the presidential aspirations (which he denies, but where have we heard a politician do that before?) of Mexico City mayor López Obrador.

SURPRISES AWAIT YOU AT EVERY TURN

You never know what you’re going to run into, walking the streets of Oaxaca’s “historic center”. One night, on the way to a dance performance at the Stamp Museum, we stumbled on a group of acrobats from the mountains of the Mixteca, performing on ropes hanging from a high scaffolding, just as the sun was setting. The performance wasn’t Cirque de Soleil quality, but it didn’t cost anything, either…

Last Sunday, we went down to the Zócalo for the band concert, but the State band wasn’t there (it is the “normal” band, but is irregularly replaced by other entities). Instead, there was a “youth band”, the youngest musicians of which were eight years old, and they were pretty good. The m.c. introduced each one of the members, telling their name and age, and everyone applauded. The entire business was broadcast, as usual, by the State radio station, so everyone back home got to hear the performance.

NEW MARKET OPEN AT “POCHOTE”

Tucked away at the “foot” of the aqueduct (“Los Arcos”, the arches, the first distinct neighborhood above the center of the city along Garcia Vigil, the street that anchors the west side of the Zócalo) is one of artist / philanthropist Francisco Toledo’s generous bequests to the city and the culture of Oaxaca.

In what used to be his home, there has, for a few years now, flourished a free cinema and presentation space for international movies and convocations ranging from new book presentations to public information sessins on the latest Zapatista strategies.

Three generations of Ricci women at Monte Albán. Photo, V. Andrus

About a month ago, the huge patio, previously planted in a bamboo-like native grass, was cleared and converted into a space that is now being used on Friday and Saturday by a small but robust “organic” market, where small growers and kitchens can bring their wares for direct sales to the public.

We go there before we go to our old standby Friday market at the nearby Conzatti Park. This week we bought goat cheese, bread, lettuce, yoghourt, sweet potatoes, a slice of pizza (my snack, a reward for toting that bag), some amaranth cookies, and more. Recently, some potters showed up with traditional-design bowls marked “without lead glaze”. It’s a wonderful addition to the city, one of those things that, while we don’t NEED it, makes our lives richer and more interesting.

We have been so busy shopping, we haven’t gotten around to taking pictures yet. In the near future, Diana will do an “album” for her Photos section , but in the meantime, you can see some excellent snaps on Planeta , friend and neighbor Ron Mader’s web site.

FAMOUS WRITER TAKES ON NEW CAREER

About a year ago, good friend and subscriber Carol got rear-ended at an inspection site on the highway near Querretaro. After spending weeks under virtual house arrest in San Miguel, and getting screwed by the Consular Agent and his recommended lawyer – and getting no help from her insurance company Sanborne’s – she did something desperate: she approached the judge in the case directly, and spoke to him (one is supposed to submit documents to his clerk, and never sees the judge, in most cases).

As a result, she was allowed to leave the country, and returned to her home in Berkeley minus her van (for which she had just paid five thousand dollars). She had asked for collision, and thought she had paid for it, but it turned out that through clerical error, she didn’t have it.

After returning, she was contacted by Sanborne’s to return to Mexico and stand trial, which in spite of their threats she refused to do. I wouldn’t have, given the state of Mexican justice. Unfortunately, she was – and is – engaged in the business of exporting and selling painted wooden animals and other goods. Not being able to return to Mexico, she needed someone on the scene who could pick up, concentrate, and ship the orders she places with various artisans.

A sample of some of the fine work put out by the family of master carver Jacobo Angeles of San Martín Tilcajete.

I am now Carol’s helper in Oaxaca. In the interests of full disclosure, I get paid well for my work. It keeps me busy about one or two weeks every quarter. Not only is it remunerative, it’s fun. I get to go out to the villages, play Patrón (not really, I’m more the humble type) and “do business” – something I’m pretty good at – using someone else’s money: the best of both worlds…

Both San Martín Tilcajete and Arrazola, the two main carvers’ villages, have gotten comfortable, if not prosperous, off the “figuras”. With demand, the prices have gone up. Stuff that we used to see for 150 pesos now goes for as much as 400 – but 400 probably comes closer to a fair price, so what the heck… Carol sells her stuff on EBay. It’s not cheap, but it’s good value. If you’re interested, you can find her items by going to the “search by seller” page, and using the name oaxacadog .

I don’t do retail, sorry…

LAST NEWSLETTER OF THE YEAR

This brings the eighth volume to a close. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to make a few general comments about the Newsletter and where it is going in the future, and to solicit your comments as well.

It is a constant – and happy – struggle to maintain a balance between “politics” and “tourism” in this publication, which I expect to be doing for some time to come. Some of my readers have asked me to drop the politics and concentrate on tourism, and others the opposite. There have been suggestions that I should produce two separate newsletters, but for now that is just too much work – although I would consider it if I could see the subscriber base increasing a whole lot as a result.

Monte Albán in the dry season. It had rained less than a month ago when this picture was taken.

What do you think? Is the balance right for you? If not, how would you like to see it changed? Clearly, I can’t satisfy everyone, but I will do anything I can reasonably do to keep your patronage (and better yet, to get you to give / recommend the Newsletters to others). Please respond, I need the feedback.

MORE MEMOIR

I’ve posted a few more segments of life in the weird lane to my memoir site. Still waiting for a publisher to contact me, so if you know one, tell him/her I’m still available.