MARCHING FOR PEACE IN OAXACA:

Here I am, writing on the eve of invasion, about a peace march that, at least in the short run, failed to affect our government. Still, depressing as it all is, it may be good to remind ourselves that there is a movement of conscience; and that our fellow countrymen abroad are up to more than exploiting the low wages of the hired help.

All this month and last, there have been marches and vigils in Oaxaca. They have varied from graffiti-scrawling anti-gringo rants to silent candle-light vigils. About 200 participated in a march on Sunday. The majority were Mexican, but a significant minority were foreigners. It was eerie to walk past the sidewalk cafés and see tourists drinking and carrying on, getting a puzzled look on their faces as we went by with our candles.

As usual, there was little attempt to publicize the march, which began at the Cathedral, wandered around past the Zócalo, and concluded at Santo Domingo. Some of the marchers were folks who had wandered by while we were at the Cathedral, asked what was going on, and decided to join. The photos in this issue are from that march.

According to the polls, over 80% of Mexicans are opposed to the war. As they see it, Iraq is about oil, and in Mexico, a country which the U.S. has invaded many times in the past, and which is dependent upon its oil revenues for about 25% of spending, the lesson of Iraq is not being lost.

Just for the record, I have extended family members who are being mobilized to serve “their country” (read, their corporate masters). I fear for them and for all the innocent Iraqi women and children. In the last “war” of 1991, the vast majority of “Coalition” battlefield deaths and injuries were caused by friendly fire, and inadequate protection against nuclear and biological dust raised by bombings and use of spent-uranium shells. We will continue to march and to speak out. I hope you will too.

RANCHO ESMERALDA UPDATE REVISITED

It appears that I may have unintentionally passed on some misinformation in the last Newsletter as regards the situation at Rancho Esmeralda in Chiapas. Certainly, I got some “facts” wrong, and should have been more careful about identifying sources. Meanwhile, I have changed the phrase “have come to know” to “have come to believe”: a small thing, but a more accurate characterization of my knowledge.

I received more emails on this one article than on all the articles I had written in eight years of publishing the Newsletter. They camefrom non-subscribers after a good and loyal subscriber reprinted it in a supposedly confidential newsgroup (correctly believing, through my own error, that she had permission to do so[see below]). They range from reasoned to impassioned to hateful. To see them, click here.

I could bother defending against each criticism, but what would be the point? Everyone has their own experience, filtered through their own prejudices, and in any case I am not and never was engaged in an argument about who is “right” in the situation at Rancho Esmeralda; nor will I be so engaged.

From their viewpoint, the owners have been victimized by their neighbors, who call themselves Zapatistas and have stolen their land by force. This viewpoint is shared by many of their visitors and supporters, including some whom I regard as good friends. Appeals to the constituted authorities for help appear to have been fruitless. For more of what they have to say, check out their Website. To say the least, it will give you a different perspective on events…

From my viewpoint, I – with my low-level Spanish and populist prejudices, none of which I have hidden from my (limited distribution) readers – gathered some information which I had gotten from various sources, mostly Herman Bellinghausen’s articles in La Jornada, and used that as a “hook” to argue that buying rural land in Mexico can be a dangerous proposition. After reading Ellen Jones’ response (a local official told her “there is no law here”), I am more convinced than ever that this is true.

Could I have been more cautious about repeating the conclusions of others? Yep. I might have been a little more careful about using quotation marks to emphasize that the “facts” expressed were not my own. Should I have checked with the owners before writing the article? Perhaps so. It would certainly have changed some of the “facts” presented. It would not have changed my conclusions.

A NOTE ON REPRINT RIGHTS

After the email I sent out a week or so ago, I had some time to reflect on the whole issue of confidentiality. I have concluded that treating this Newsletter as “restricted material” is bogus. I should not, and will not, try to keep any reader from forwarding excerpts of the Newsletter to whomever they wish. As an old friend and comrade pointed out, I have no practical way of enforcing such an edict, even if I want to. For that matter, I have no way of preventing anyone from sending my Newsletter on to their hundred closest friends, in its entirety, and would have no way of knowing they had done so if nobody receiving a bootleg copy ever wrote to me. It’s a matter of trust.

To my knowledge, none of my subscribers has breached my trust. Since my livelihood depends on the continued modest growth of new subscriptions (most subscribers renew repeatedly), I appreciate your discretion. Thanks.

JOHN ROSS THROWN OUT OF IRAQ

John Ross and a few other “human shield” volunteers were deported from Iraq last week. They were being punished for having published stories of being forcibly relocated from “domestic” (hospitals, schools) to “military” sites (factories, army bases, oil refineries) by elements of Saddam Hussein’s personal guard. He was deported even though he had accepted his relocation. When last heard from, he was somewhere near the Iraqi border…

THE “NEW” ZÓCALO

A local newspaper has confirmed our suspicions: demonstrations in the Zócalo have fallen off by more than 60%. These days, you rarely see a bunch of campesinos shouting slogans and lofting banners as they wend their way past the sidewalk cafés, and “plantones” (occupations) which go on for weeks appear to be a thing of the past.

Complaints by “powerful downtown interests” (sounds just like your own town, no?) have pushed the state and local governments to move the dissidents to the area around the Chamber of Deputies and the Courts building, across from Parque Benito Juarez (known to most locals as Llano Park). Better for tourism, they say.

After a year’s time, Diana revisited the church restoration project at Zagache. There are two pictures here, one “macro” and one “micro”. We are sad to report that work on this project has apparently halted after the death of benefactor Rudolfo Morales. She got the information from a docent, after observing that the rooms that had been used by the restorers were closed.

No doubt the teachers will return to the Zócalo in May, in force, as they have done each of the last several years. I doubt that the government will remove them forcibly, as there will be so many of them. The same probably holds true for other union groups, but the smaller and more impoverished delegations that come down from the mountains to lay their complaints before the people will no doubt receive the social equivalent of being shuffled off to Buffalo.

Meanwhile, after well over a year of redecoration efforts, the new restaurant and sidewalk café of the Marquís del Valle hotel on the north side of the square has reopened. Gone are the Mordida sandwich stand, and the Pizza Pasta y Más restaurant. The entire space, with the exception of the travel agency on the corner nearest the Cathedral, is one large eatery / bar. We tried the sidewalk part last week, and can report that generally, and much to our surprise, prices are not higher than at the Primavera, our old hangout; that service is better than most; that the chairs and tables are comparably comfortable; that the whole place lacks any “Oaxaca” ambiance, in favor of a more sterile “international” kind of motif.

One good thing: it appears that our old friend Vicente Castañeda, a native Chapulino (citizen of Oaxaca, symbolized by the grasshopper (chapulina) that is served fried all over town), will be the house musician. Vicente, his wife Kyna, and son Elias, just returned from four years in Philadelphia. Vicente is a guitarist and singer of great accomplishment, and it is nice to have him back on the scene. Even if the gig at the Marquís falls through, he will be holding forth somewhere in town…

AND SPEAKING OF “ZÓCALO”

The magazine of the same name, after months of delay and accusations of misused funds, has managed to appear, thanks to an ad-hoc management / artistic team who announced as they were handing out copies the other day that they would not be doing it again anytime soon. With all its production problems and editorial confusion, it turns out to be a surprisingly good effort, and certainly well worth the 15 peso purchase price.

A few typos aside, the quality of the production, given the need to keep costs down, is satisfactory, although the graphics suffer from a grey-scale reproduction of low resolution. Most of the pictures in the photo essay manifest this problem, while Michele Gibbs’ curandera graphic and John Barbato’s primitivist / minimalist paintings come off pretty well.

The articles, a mix of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, are generally of high quality, by accomplished writers; and the interview of Francisco Toledo (can he really be two years younger than me? I always thought him lot older), while three years old, nevertheless provides some new (to me) insights into Oaxaca’s enfant-terrible artist and philanthropist.

We will be out of town while the next issue is being produced. Hopefully, the next “team” will do at least as good a job. This one is to be congratulated.

If you want to subscribe (and save 5 pesos a copy – but add shipping costs), let me know and I will forward your request to the appropriate person.

NOTORIOUS AUTHORS NOW FAMOUS

With great humility and modesty, we report that our website is now listed in the Lonely Planet travel guide to Mexico. Our names and web page appear on page 175 of the 2003 edition, under “media” in the Oaxaca section. We didn’t solicit this listing, nor did we know it was coming, until a friend came back with a copy of the book. We are curious to see whether or not our subscription rate goes up as a result. So far, it’s holding pretty steady…