WE’RE OFF ON A JOURNALISTIC ADVENTURE:

In the eight years I have been writing about Oaxaca, and Mexico, I have touched now and then on the subject of the “War on Drugs”, and how it affects the people of Mexico. I didn’t then, and I do not now support that “War”. I don’t think it’s healthy for our country, or for the countries our government has coerced and / or cajoled into participating in it. Put simply, it isn’t working.

Carisa, a 56-foot trimaran belonging to Diana’s daughter and son-in-law, which has been a part of our Caribbean trips for years, has been sold. They just got tired of the constant maintenance (they do all the work themselves; they hand-built her). This picture was taken by Dan McWethy in the bay of Xcalak, way down the Caribbean coast almost to Belize.

Many of my fellow citizens support this effort, either actively or passively. Many do not. Some have been long engaged in a struggle to expose what they see as the harm caused by drug prohibition and interdiction as currently practiced, here and throughout our hemisphere. They include the conservative columnist and ideologue William F. Buckley, the present and past governors of some states, the Libertarian party, and economic guru Milton Friedman: hardly a bunch of stoned out hippies or flaky liberals.

In Mexico, as in much of Latin America, the proportion of “responsible people” who support some form of legalization or decriminalization of drugs is much higher. This makes sense, as the dislocation and terrorization of local populations is both more frequent and more violent. Politicians from all parties, including some in President Vicente Fox’s administration, have spoken out publicly, decrying the “Columbianization” of Mexico, a reference to the “Oro ó Plomo” (gold (money) or lead (as in bullet) ) way the narcotraficantes corrupt law enforcement efforts and subvert constitutional government. The papers and magazines feature almost daily articles with new revelations of corrupt drug czars, army commanders, and police chiefs. During the previous administrations of Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, suspicions were cast all the way up to Los Pinos (the Mexican White House).

That’s us, in the cockpit of Carisa. Dan McWethy took the photo.

There is a rapidly growing grass-roots movement in Mexico, especially among students, to break away from the failed U.S. policy of interdiction and prohibition, and toward legalization. This is to a large extent driven by the dramatic increase in the numbers of Mexican youth who are falling victim to cheap and easily accessible “estupifacientes” (drugs that make you stupid); and the widely accepted analysis that these drugs would not be so readily available if South American growers were not forced by U.S. interdiction policies to use Mexico as a pipeline to U.S. addicts and party-drug users: the largest — and largest per capita — illegal drug market in the world.

In the meantime, growing segments of South American society — and the politicians who represent them — are either beginning serious examination of the cost / benefits of participating in the U.S. “War”, or have already come out in opposition. They include the ex-drug czar of Columbia, and a large segment of the Brazilian, Bolivian and Ecuadorian legislatures, among others.

Very little of this information is available in the “corporate media”, such as the New York Times, the national TV broadcast networks, and allegedly “independent” cable news providers like CNN. In order to find out what is going on, one must turn to the Internet, or to a few brave but under- subscribed independent news sources such as the Progressive or NACLA magazine.

It is fitting that Mexico, which is beginning to regard itself as a victim of, rather than a partner in, the U.S. drug “War”, is about to host an important conference to tackle the very issues mentioned here. “Out From The Shadows” will convene in Mérida, starting on the 12th. It is an international symposium on alternatives to the present insanity and will feature representatives of several Latin American governments, as well as intellectuals, politicians and police representatives from both sides of our common border, and members of the press and wire services from all over the world. While they may not agree on the exact method to be used (for example, decriminalization vs. legalization), they all agree that the present system is so broke it is unfixable.

On Thursday, we’ll be basking in the sun (we hope — last year it was a little chilly in December) on Isla Mujeres. We’ll be there to meet with Al Giordano, our muckraking buddy and publisher of Narco News (http://www.narconews.com), and some of the other folks with whom we will ultimately rendezvous in Mérida for the first day of the conference, being held at Yucatán University.

This photo was taken on Guadelupe’s day, December 12. Carousels, and other kid rides are present at almost every major event, here in Oaxaca.

Al is a conference organizer, along with Mario Menendez, the publisher of “Por Esto”, a Yucatan-based daily paper with the third largest circulation in Mexico. As well, he has put together a “shadow conference” on the Shadows conference: a School of Authentic Journalism, composed of 26 young journos and wannabees whose job will be to cover the action and report on it. At this juncture, it appears that the faculty will outnumber the students, a novel situation for all. I have been assigned the task of Associate Editor for reports in English, and Diana will be helping Al with the administrative work, and taking lots of pictures. After the conference ends on the 15th, students and faculty will head for an “as-yet-undisclosed” location – if you know, you’re not supposed to tell – to work on the stories and workshop some sessions on ethics, disclosure, etc. until the 20th.

Expect a “conference extra” or two in the coming month…

A CORRECTION:

Last issue, I said that foreign ministry Jorge Castañeda had resigned, primarily because he lost an internecine struggle with PAN party head Felipe Bravo Mena. Actually, it was with Santiago Creél, who is an internal affairs minister and, like Bravo, an old PAN apparatchik (which Castañeda is not). Since then, I have received another of John Ross’ excellent newsletters, where he points out that:

“…Fox and Castaneda now appear to be at loggerheads over whether or not to support unilateral US dismemberment of Iraq and any other darknesses into which George W. Bush is headed. Speaking behind closed doors to the annual conclave of the Mexican diplomatic corps in early January, President Fox reportedly affirmed that his administration would no longer barter its vote in the Security Council to win Washington’s favor, nor bow to US pressure at the upcoming Jan. 27 showdown [referring to the UN Arms Inspector’s report]. The next day, foreign minister Castaneda tendered his resignation.”

My apologies for the misinformation.

DAN McWETHY’S FERRY BOAT EXPERIENCE:

[The following (edited) letter from our traveling buddy is being passed on as the best updated info I have found on getting from La Paz, Baja California, to Mazatlán with a vehicle, in this case a Toyota van.]

Web page www.ferrysematur.com.mx is useful for telephone numbers. Web information about schedules was out-of-date, but I didn’t really care which boat I was on. Rack rates normally seem to be discounted, and my web fee of $4,249.16 actually cost $2,105.61, a 50% discount. For that I got passage from La Paz to Mazatlán, and a roomy, comfortable cabina with two bunks w/reading lights, and a complete bathroom with shower – but no towels.

I had gotten my car import papers at the border, but for those who travel the length of Baja without them (allowed I understand), there is an office in the ferry terminal at Pichilingue (the actual ferry port, about 15km outside La Paz) where the required window sticker can be obtained. Procedures and paperwork are just as at the border…

This is another of Dan’s pictures, taken this year from the roadway above the Tolotango river in Hidalgo state. It is a “hot river”, fed by a volcanic spring.

With the car papers done, I was able to make a reservation by contacting the ferry office in La Paz to find the rate, making the deposit in pesos to their account in the Tijuana office of Bancomér, and faxing the deposit receipt and car permit papers to the ferry office in La Paz.

I got to La Paz the day prior to departure, and was at the office – “Agencia de Viajes Ahome” – when they opened at 8AM on Sunday. They matched my receipt to their papers, viewed my car permit and charged for the length of the car as specified in the owner’s manual. Then, STAMP STAMP and two tickets were printed, one for the car and one for me. I was told to be at the port at 12:30 for a 3:00PM departure.

I left La Paz at noon for Pichilingue, and got there in about 25 minutes. I was directed to the Aduana drive-thru office, where a bored agent glanced inside the car and accepted my explanation of the fully-loaded van as ‘tourist stuff’. I drove around the building and took fourth place in an obvious line to one side of the loading ramp onto the ferry.

Shortly after 1PM things started happening, and I soon followed the car ahead onto the ship, with the aid of many handlers. They had me set the hand brake and chocked one wheel, and then I took the overnight bag I had packed and was directed back off the ship, around to the front of the building and into the line for passengers. You can’t get to your car again until just before debarking, so don’t forget the bag and a book [and maybe a towel].

For those who are on foot, there is a bus ticket office right next to the line for mainland services where you can arrange for transportation once you hit the other side.

There is an Aduana for passengers, complete with stop/go light and button like at the frontier or in the airport.

Cafeteria food was just that, with choice of chicken or beef. Water and other drinks were available too. People wandered freely thru the ship, and we had a great sunset as we cleared Baja. Nice moonrise and a nice sunrise followed, and it was nice to wander the gently rocking ship.

About half an hour before scheduled arrival of 9AM there was a garbled announcement for car drivers to meet at the Passenger Service Office, from where we were escorted to the car deck below. It was quite difficult finding a way to the car, as there was minimal room between the cars and trucks.

Eventually the vehicles behind me cleared, and I was told to back off the ship, reaching land at 9:45.

DIANA AND STAN THROW IN THE TOWEL AT THE LIBRARY:

In her last act as Treasurer, Diana submitted a report on the state of the Library and a projection for the coming fiscal year. If the Library can maintain present fund-raising levels, and taking into account the Librarian’s projected expenses for the coming year, it should come very close to breaking even in 2003.

This is the flag of the Green Party. Diana took this photo years ago. I think the colors and symbols make for a flag that is really cool…

The organization lost a little money in all but two months of 2002, as membership decreased due to many causes, the most significant of which were probably the effects of the doubling of membership dues a couple of years ago (membership decreased dramatically in 2001, and slid a little more in 2002); the move to more out-of-the-way quarters; problems between volunteers and the Librarian; and the perception of many folks that the current Board are running the place by and for their own clique — a group whose more-than-average wealth encourages them to believe that they don’t need the great unwashed. Actually, only a minority of the Board are involved in this, but most of the rest go along rather than “cause a fuss”.

Those who do point these things out are vilified, as Diana has been several times. It’s no fun being the messenger, when the recipient is hostile and has a gun. Members sense when their opinion is not wanted, and vote with their feet. Along with diminishing membership comes diminishing volunteer participation and difficulty maintaining funding levels.

The “Library Clique” is readying a proposal for presentation at the General Membership meeting on the 7th, to double the dues yet again. It is being fueled by a propaganda attack that falsely posits huge losses unless the dues are raised. We predict that raising the dues will prove to be exactly the wrong move in the present circumstances.

Assuming this disastrous proposal is approved, the Library will probably run out of its’ cash reserves within three years. As this cycle becomes more pronounced over the next couple of years, there might be a groundswell to seize the Library and reincarnate it as a democratic membership / volunteer organization, with a Board that pays attention to the will of the Membership — as it was originally intended to be. If there is such an effort, we will probably support it — but we will not lead it.

We proved that people will support a more inclusive, more participatory approach to fund raising with the Christmas Day party (see Jan 1 issue). It was our last hurrah for the foreseeable future. We intend to sit back and lick our wounds, enjoying the advantages of our (paid for in a period of saner user fees) Life Membership.