AN UNLIKELY ALLIANCE

With ten governorships up for election later this year, out of a total of 31, the “minority” parties are intent on defeating the long-ruling PRI, even at the cost of “sleeping with the devil” (as it surely must seem to stalwarts of both the liberal PRD and the conservative PAN). The central committees of both parties have voted for alliance in the five states having the most entrenched PRI administrations, including the state of Oaxaca.

As of this writing, the alliance is still “unofficial”, and does not have a name; and to say that not everything has been worked out is a gross understatement. Nonetheless, the will seems to be there, at least at the top, and there have been interesting developments.

Two perrenial performers, sitting against their favorite wall outside the Contemporary Art Museum.

Last week, the mayor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cue Monteagudo, resigned to devote his full time to the campaign. He is a member of the Convergencia, a split in PRI ranks which emerged during the last election campaign, and the most popular of the potential candidates. Convergencia is the brainchild of ex-governor (and ex-national Secretary of the Interior) Diódoro Carrasco Altamirano. Rumor has it that Convergencia will join the new alliance, once it is formed. If that is true, as seems likely, Gabino is surely the front runner to represent it in the election. Incidentally, Gabino’s resignation resulted in the ascendancy of a woman, Alicia Pesqueira de Esesarte, to the mayor’s office: the first of her gender to lead a town of Oaxaca’s size. One of her first priorities: reducing the amount of ugly gang graffiti that mars the city.

Just a few days ago, the present Secretary of Government Affairs (the second most powerful post in the state, controlling all the police powers), Hector Mafud Mafud, resigned to announce himself as a candidate for the PRI’s nomination. The present PRI governor, José Murát Casab, is of the party’s “old school” and very much an “imperial governor”. Mafúd was replaced by his male assistant.

Also a few days ago, the state chapter of the Party of Labor, allied since 2000 with the PRI, announced that they would rebel against the wishes of the national party by abandoning their alliance with the PRI and joining the new opposition formation.

This sort of alliance is not new in Mexico. In 2000, a similar coalition brought Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía to power in Chiapas, defeating an entrenched PRI machine that everyone – including the opposition – regarded as nearly unbeatable.

LILA IN CONCERT

Continuing an annual tradition, diva Lila Downs and her band will return to Oaxaca in February to perform for the benefit of the Casa de la Mujer (Woman’s House). This year’s concert dates are the 27th and 28th, along with a reception for sponsors on the 26th at the Casa.

All the profits from the concert go to support the Guadalupe Musalén Merhy scholarship fund, named for one of the founders of the Casa, who passed away some years ago from cervical cancer which might not have been fatal if diagnosed early enough – a fate shared by many of Oaxaca’s women, and one which the Casa works to prevent. Guadalupe was a friend, and one of the subjects of “A Festival of Guadalupes”.

The Fund provides educational opportunities to young women who might otherwise be unable to attend school. Currently, nine indigenous women from various communities in the mountains that surround Oaxaca, are beneficiaries, largely due to the generosity of Lila, and the hard work of the Casa staff and “Las Amigas de Casa”, a group of gringas that gather every winter to help promote the event. Diana is one of their number.

If you are interested in becoming a “sponsor” (if you can’t attend, your tickets would then be given to worthy persons who would otherwise find it difficult to buy them, or turned back into the Casa for resale), or in otherwise donating to the Casa, you can contact Diana for details.

THE MORNING AFTER

It just may be the first major split between presidentVicente Fox Quesada and his conservative Catholic supporters. Last week, Fox backed his Secretary of Health in endorsing the “morning after” pill, on the grounds that since the pill keeps the egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus, using – and promoting – the pill is not taking a fetal life.

The reaction from the clerics was immediate and powerful. Interference with potential life is as bad as termination of life, said Noriberto Rivera, head of the church in Mexico. Those who use the pill are, he said, subject to excommunication.

In a country where something over half of all mothers are said to be malnourished, and over 75% of children in the more remote villages are believed to be sufficiently malnourished as to result in massive reductions in their ability to learn and to think; where 12% of births are “premature” (less than four pounds weight); where forcible sex is widely practiced, and even approved in some areas as a legitimate way for a man to get a woman to marry him; it is not surprising that most Mexicans welcome this “pill”. Fox is being torn between his desire to be seen as a populist, and his debt to the conservative Catholics who founded his party, and donated most of his election campaign money. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, as the pressure mounts on both sides of the issue.

See all the tubing. That is going into ditches they are digging. Then they will fill the tubing with telephone wires and electric wires and fill up the ditches. See the overhead wires. You won’t be able to see them much longer. They are going to come down. Go, Oaxaca, go!

A TRAVEL REPORT FROM A FRIEND

[Our pal and traveling buddy Dan McWethy submitted the following report, exerpted from a longer communication. He is traveling from Oaxaca, down to Guatemala and back. This part is from southern Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border.]

Cascada Chiflón is a beautiful blue river flowing out of a gorge, originating as a waterfall that drops a long, long way.   It isn’t Yosemite, but puts you in mind of some of the falls there.    You pay 30p and after parking walk up a paved walk along the river about 1.5k to the upper falls.   Several intermediate falls are also very nice, and the walk starts passing roofed picnic palapas beside the river, each complete with grill.   A very lovely place I would recommend when you get down this way again.

Martín Melchor and his wife at work in their home/workshop located in San Martín Tilcajete, outside of Oaxaca. They created the Gift that we gave Lila and Paul for their wedding.

The frontier road [is] about 10k before Palenque.   The bad news was a lot of topes (speed bumps).   Each collection of three houses seems not to feel they have arrived unless they have one or two on the road, and many of them were unmarked by paint or warning sign.   We turned off the road after about 100k for the short side drive to Bonampak, where we had to hire a Lacandón shuttle to take us the final 9k to the ruins…   At 4pm we were alone at the ruins, and the murals were very nice.   I asked the driver if the Lacandón word for money translated as “the shit of God” and he verified that it did. (pa-khán).

We drove on 30k to the 15k turnoff to Frontera Corozal and the Usumacinta River, where we stayed in a very clean cabaña with bath at Escudo Jaguar (330p for large cabaña with hot water), a village co-op that offers a place to stay, a restaurant and the launches to take you to Laxchilán.   Another project to allow the people to make a living at something other than cutting down more rain forest.   We joined four others to hire a launch (125p each, r/trip) to take us the 30k downriver to Yaxchilán in the morning, and were the first to the ruins.   Howler monkeys could be heard in every direction, and the ranger told me that when they have a certain tree drop it’s fruit, you can hardly move for all the guacamayas and loros that come for the feast.

The ruins were nice, with well-preserved stellae and carved door lintels.   The launch waited for us, and we returned after two hours, the trip downriver taking 45 min and the trip back an hour.   On the return we saw a 2 meter crocodile sunning on the river bank, as we motored along 5 meters from Guatemala. You can also get a launch to take you the 30k upriver to cross into Guatemala in Frontera Corozal.

This large polar bear / panda by Jacobo and Maria Angeles – also from San Martín – is carved from one piece of copal wood.

In the afternoon we continued along the roads that are so straight on the map along the frontier.   Probably there were 15 military puestos de control the whole way around, with the most aggressive writing our passport numbers onto a clipboard, and the least waving us thru without a stop.   Not a big bother, and the road is a great surface the whole 425k.

We stayed that night at Las Nubes, in a cabaña beside a waterfall (150p with bath, but still being constructed by a village co-op)     It will soon be a beautiful place to stay with camping and day facilities as well as cabañas.   The road to Las Nubes is 12k and takes 50 minutes…rough.   One of the co-op women brought us caldo de pollo (chicken stew) from her house, and quesadillas in the morning with coffee for breakfast.    I doubt it is on any map, maybe 200 people in the pueblo, but near the town of Jerusalem in the mountains after leaving the flats, about 100k before Lagunas de Montebello.

We drove past the Lagunas, where most of the major ones can be seen from the car as you drive along the side road.   Yup, the lakes have different colors … We visited the Mayan ruins at Chinkultic, and then came on the final 45 k to Comitan. Comitan is just as nice as I remembered from our trip thru in December ’99.   Very clean city and friendly people.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A few days after Dan left this area, there were some major disturbances, in which several people were killed and injured. For many years, there have been “squatter” farms in the Lacandón, supported by the Zapatistas; and constant threats and menaces aimed at clearing them out. Last week, that was partially accomplished, but not peacefully. Visitors need to be aware (as I am sure Dan was) that they should be cautious – but they should definitely not rule out going…

A NEW PHOTO ALBUM

As promised in an earlier Newsletter, Diana has put together a set of photos taken at the Friday Organic market on the grounds of the Pochote movie house. They can be viewed by clicking here