28 August 2007

Oaxaca's Ungovernable Nature

I did not know this:

The teachers union Section 22, mover of the Movement, was split by the governor so that a new small sector called Section 59 supported him and the PRI. Now two union sectors oppose URO’s [Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz] failing government. Section 59 is banging down the doors of the education building to protest the governor’s failure to fulfill his promises to these teachers. What a surprise.

I had seen Section 59 propaganda when I was in Oaxaca and failed to understand what it was. In addition to this insight, Nancy Davies posts a scathing laundry list of current problems in Oaxaca that make the state ungovernable, and prophesies "The year of the uprising has not yet come to an end." I am, unfortunately, afraid she's right. Read the whole article here.

Losing the Opium War

From The New York Times:

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew by 17 percent in 2007, reaching record levels for the second straight year, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

Despite a $600 million American counternarcotics effort and an increase in the number of poppy-free provinces to 13 from 6, the report found that the amount of land in Afghanistan used for opium production is now larger than amount of land used for coca cultivation in all of Latin America.

In Helmand Province, which produces more opium than any other country in the world, there are now 7,000 British NATO troops, the largest concentration of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Helmand had a 48 percent increase in opium production in 2007, the report said. The province, which is twice the size of Maryland, produced 53 percent of Afghanistan’s opium this year, up from roughly 42 percent last year.

The northeastern province of Nangrahar, which had reduced cultivation in recent years, experienced a 285 percent increase in opium cultivation in 2007, the report found. The Southwestern province of Farah, the scene of increased Taliban activity, experienced a 93 percent increase.

Emphasis mine. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to the nature of the relationship between opium profits and increased Taliban activity? I don't like to say "mark my words," but seriously: Afghanistan will come back to haunt us. Chalk another one up to the Bush legacy.

20 August 2007

Unnamed Sources

Note: This post was meant to be prepared for yesterday, but wedding planning imposes its own deadlines, it seems.

In an article today on the geopolitical morass in which George W. Bush finds his presidency and his presidential doctrines, Washington Post reporter Peter Baker points to the following as evidence of the President's troubles:

At this point, though, democracy promotion has become so identified with an unpopular president that candidates running to succeed him are running away from it. At a recent debate, they rushed to disavow it. "I'm not a carbon copy of President Bush," one said. Another ventured that "maybe going to elections so quickly is a mistake." A third, asked if he agreed with Bush's vision, replied, "Absolutely not, because I don't think we can force people to accept our way of life, our way of government."

And those were the Republicans.

Emphasis mine.

Baker makes a couple of things clear in this passage. The first is that, undoubtedly, he refers to current presidential candidates, known here as "candidates running to succeed him [George W. Bush]." The next item made clear is that the venue where those comments were made, wherein the aforementioned candidates distanced themselves from the President, was nothing less than a "recent debate." What debate other than among hopefuls of the 2008 presidential field would serve as the source for three separate remarks from three different "candidates running to succeed" George W. Bush? The last point Baker makes certain is that these are Republican candidates: "And those were the Republicans."

I am left slack-jawed and confused by the obvious: Why doesn't Baker name the Republican presidential candidates who made these statements at a recent Republican debate? Does he take if for granted that we already know? Were the comments made by second- or third- tier candidates who, by his estimate, don't merit attribution? Is Baker or the WaPo trying not to give Ron Paul any more press attention? Worse yet, were these statements made by top contenders, and the newspaper is for some reason diverting attention away? What is going on?

While not exactly reading like "Sources close to the White House . . . " or "Sources inside the Republican party . . . ," this example turns a bright light on the recent trend in print media of not naming names. I think in this benign situation there must be a reasonable explanation, yet I am troubled by the ease with which Baker omits this information. Has the media become so used to not identifying sources who make unfavorable comments about the White House that this will go unnoticed?

In fairness, I've been out of the country all summer. Maybe there's some background I missed. Please, somebody--help me understand what's going on.

19 August 2007

Democrats for NASCAR

It's great fun for me to spend time over at Talking Points Memo again. Today Steve Benen compared the spectacle of the Democratic candidates' debates to a NASCAR race, and I have to say I agree.

I watch all of these debates, in the hopes of catching something newsworthy, and routinely end up disappointed. Not only is the same ground is covered over and over again, but with eight candidates, even thoughtful answers are cut short by time constraints. I end up watching the events a bit like some NASCAR fans watch car races -- waiting for a stunning victory or a spectacular crash. In reality, both are pretty rare.

The important thing is at least one of the candidates seems to feel the same way.

Neglecting the Blog

Blogging will be sporadic these next weeks, as I should have perhaps pointed out before leaving Oaxaca and neglecting the blog for over a week. Please keep checking in for more about Oaxaca, tidbits from US politics as I reacquaint myself with what's happened over the summer, like how Congress has actually extended the President's power to spy on US citizens on US soil, and possibly even a couple new photographs as I sift through the shots I took this summer.

10 August 2007

The Lull

There's a post-Guelaguetza, post-election lull across Oaxaca right now. The last of the protesters have cleared out of the city center, the zocalo has been cleared of anti-government propaganda, and paint crews are on a rampage to whitewash graffiti from city streets. It's incredible how much different the place feels without the presence of political banners and public address systems broadcasting opposition views. This is the Oaxaca I hope for in the future, but I know that it will not stay this way for long.

There is a distinct and widespread brand of dissatisfaction among residents of the city. The record low voter turnout at the August 5 election is only the latest in a series of signals that people don't believe the current system of government--including all of the extant political parties--has anything to do with serving the interests of the people. While I find it hard to support the gross abstentionism seen here last weekend, I am sympathetic to the notion that any vote cast is a vote in favor of the current system, broken, perverted by corruption, this so-called democracy. The people find themselves in a very unpleasant position.

I do not have further analysis to add. Jenna and I leave the city tomorrow for eight weeks of travel in Mexico, the United States and Peru. We'll return to Oaxaca in October to go back to school and to begin work. In the meantime I will do my best to keep abreast of the happenings in Oaxaca and relay what items I find interesting. As always, thanks for reading.

07 August 2007

A "Quiet" Election

From The Mex Files (yesterday):

Oaxaca is reported to have had a “quiet” election. So far, PRI is receiving slightly less than half of those votes. Well, yeah… ballots were burned in La Ventosa and a reporter shot in Salina Cruz, which counts as an incident free election in that state.

This is the first I've heard about a reporter being shot, and I don't read anything in the link provided to verify the statement. Am I just missing it?


The chances that I misread or misinterpret what I read en espanol are still pretty high, but yesterday I made a bigger goof than usual. I printed the news, as I thought I read it in Noticias, a small paper out of Oaxaca, that members of APPO and Section 22 had erected a small planton, or encampment, in the zocalo, from which to demonstrate against the government. Such is not the case.

The Spanish word levantar means to lift or raise up. When I read the sentence "El Magesterio y APPO levantaron su planton" I thought it indicated the construction of a planton. Had I read more carefully, with attention to context, I would have understood that "levantaron", in this case, indicates cleaning up or taking away.

Apologies for the confusion this may have caused. It is interesting to note that APPO and Section 22 have removed their small encampment in the zocalo with a clear promise to return. "Nos vamos pero regresamos", one protester is quoted as saying. So we'll see where all this goes.

06 August 2007

Clean Sweep

By all accounts the PRI won yesterday's statewide election in a clean sweep. Also by all accounts, voting in Oaxaca was at a staggering low. Papers today report between 69% to 77% voter abstentionism rates, with El Universal, a major paper out of Mexico City, pegging the lack of turnout at 77.99%, the highest voter absentee rate I've seen in posted in any of today's papers.

Cynicism about democracy in Oaxaca seems alarmingly high. I've spoken with a handful of Oaxacan adults between the ages of 24 to 40, all registered to vote, all educated, and all currently working, and the consensus was that the PRI would not lose this election no matter how many people voted against them because the whole system is grotesquely corrupt. To that end, even, many Oaxacans with whom I've spoken about last week's bombing of a Sears store in the commercial district believe the government perpetrated the act as an excuse to militarize the city days ahead of the election, thus guaranteeing the delivery of PRI victories.

There's not a whole lot unexpected about the PRI victory. Noticias, a small paper out of Oaxaca, reports today that, in an action reminiscent of last summer's major protests, members of Section 22, the local teachers union, and APPO, the leading popular opposition group, erected a small encampment* in the zocalo over the weekend (no link available) from which to protest the legitimacy of the government and to rally for improved human rights in Oaxaca. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

*Correction posted above.

03 August 2007


It's an interesting week in Oaxaca. Here's a quick look at what's going on.

- Statewide elections will be held this Sunday, August 5, and quite a lot of attention is focused on whether the PRI will remain in power. The PRI, for its part, is working hard to attract a new voting demographic, as far as I can tell. All five of the candidates campaigning for deputy positions in the state of Oaxaca are women. Take that for whatever it's worth.

I think it's great that elections here are held on the weekend, when working people have time to vote, though I'm frankly surprised they'll be held on Sunday, not Saturday. I'm sure this isn't for nothing. Probably buses don't run as often or the PRI knows full well that Catholics may opt not to vote on the Sabbath. This is mere speculation on my part, and as yet I've done no research to support my theories. On a side note I learned today that the sale of alcohol is prohibited citywide (and presumably throughout the state) on an election weekend. I get the impression that that's not a very enforceable law, because there are at least three small tiendas on every block here and they all sell liquor. Still, though, that's bound to put a dent in the weekend profits in the touristy places. (Perhaps there's a waiver for these. After all, tourists can't vote in these elections.)

- In a follow up to an earlier post, the Houston Chronicle reports that Governor Ulises Ruiz did indeed meet with Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Ms. Khan presented a report Tuesday pressuring the government of Oaxaca and the federal government of Mexico to investigate human rights violations related to political unrest in Oaxaca over the past 14 months. According to the Houston Chronicle, the governor's response went like this:

Ruiz, who met with Khan on Tuesday, rejected Amnesty's report as one-sided.

"We don't agree with the report and we told them that we believe those who wrote it are advisers for the APPO," he said.

There you have it. Also on the topic of human rights abuses, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights announced today that representatives will be in Mexico City and Oaxaca next week. The group plans to investigate, if I read the Spanish correctly, the overall state of affairs concerning human rights issues in Oaxaca at this moment.

- A small explosion took place on Wednesday in the entryway of a Sears store in Oaxaca's Commercial District. The rebel group EPR (People's Revolutionary Army, in English), claimed responsibility. There were no injuries resulting from the blast. Apparently another device was discovered at a Banamex bank branch in the Colonia Reforma neighborhood, northeast of the city center. This was defused and disposed of without incident. I don't know very much about the EPR , but according to a friend here the group has been agitating for several years for the release of political prisoners. He assumes the bombing and attempted bombing were meant to increase pressure on the government as the August 5 elections draw near. It is my distinct impression that, while related to the oppressive regime of Governor Ulises Ruiz, these actions stand separate from the protests and public outcry witnessed here the past 14 months.

That's about it from here right now. I'm coming up a little short on diversity as I continue to read and learn more about Oaxaca, and I feel like I keep tapping the same sources again and again as I try to verify information for my posts. If anybody has tips on good news sources, blogs or .orgs relating to Oaxaca, please post a comment or send a note to mattplav@gmail.com. Thanks.

01 August 2007

Very, Very Quiet

The Guelaguetza concluded this past Monday without incident. In fact, the most notable element surrounding the Guelaguetza and all the hype is the absence of news about the event. APPO staged a peaceful march on Monday and if there were any casualties as a result I haven't heard about them. Tuesday's papers made little mention of the situation, as far as I read, either in favor of the government or the Guelaguetza's main opposition, namely APPO and Section XXII of the teachers union. Even after I trawled the Internet for a short time yesterday I didn't find much in the way of commentary worth passing on, a rarity given the controversy and tumult that has plagued Oaxaca on this particular issue. Of course the Guelaguetza and the proposed boycott are ancillary to the larger mission, which is to restore integrity to government, free political prisoners and respect both the specific and the broad human rights of all Oaxacans. (Oxaquenos is the preferred name for people here, but without that little symbol over the "n" it feels hard to get it to read right.)

So what now? That's would be the question on many minds as we near the August 5 statewide elections. Speculation has it (depending of course on which paper you read) that the PRI stranglehold on Oaxacan politics may be near an end. At the same time, conventional wisdom loudly declares that PRI, PAN and even the PRD, positioned as the people's alternative, are each the same as the other. On top of that, the parties hold alliances with one another to deliver blocs of votes during election season. There's a whole lot of smooth politicking in the city (read "greasy palms") and it's hard to get inspired about any of it. The one big factor that hangs in the balance, though, is that if the PRI gets a spanking--or even just a nudge off the podium--then perhaps Governor Ulises Ruiz won't find so much sanctuary in the state and could be forced to answer some uncomfortable questions.

To that end I read in La Jornada yesterday that Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, is in Oaxaca this week to look into evidence of human rights abuses in Oaxaca last year (and, if AI is paying attention, right now). I especially like this clip from AI's press release on the visit:

16:00 - 17:00 [Tuesday, August 1] -- AI’s delegation will meet with members of the State Cabinet. There will be an opportunity for media interviews after this meeting. Hotel Fiesta Inn, AV Universidad 140, ex Hacienda Candían, Plaza de Bahias

A meeting with Governor Ulises Ruiz is being confirmed.

Journalists are invited to join Amnesty International’s visit to Oaxaca provided they organize their own travel.

Emphasis mine. It should be interesting. Are the journalists invited to join the meeting, too? If AI managed to pressure El Gobernador into a meeting, it could be finishing up as I write this, though I'm not optimistic Governor Ruiz has free time just days before statewide elections to meet with a lowly envoy from Amnesty International. (The Spanish word for sarcasm, I learned this week, is sarcasmo.) As the elections draw near, Nancy Davies makes the strong suggestion that, due to complex bargaining and savvy, pan-American political maneuvering to ensure that the proposed expansion of the Panama Canal goes through, these elections may not be so local after all. I don't know enough about the issue to stamp my approval on the notion and call for more exposure, but it certainly bears consideration. Maybe those of you with a little more information about the Canal project can lend a couple comments?

And that's the news, as I have it, from Oaxaca at the moment. Sorry for the long delay between posts (and I'm thrilled that anyone noticed). Between learning the language, learning the city and surrounding parts, and blogging about it all, blogging gets kicked to the curb more often than not. I sincerely hope to have more soon.

Tags: , , , , ,

Pictures Are Fun; Captions Are Lame

Pictures from a weekend trip to Teotitlan del Valle, approximately 40 minutes, mas o menos, from Oaxaca. Apologies to those with slow connections.

Teotitlan del Valle

Tapeta Workshop

Tapeta in Progress


Extranjeros Go For a Walk

Summit Shrine