28 December 2007

Suspiros cortos para silencios largos

Suspiros cortos para silencios largos: short sighs for long silences. It could be the turning phrase of a poem, or a whole poem intact. Instead it is the title of the newest exhibition by Oaxacan artist Santiago Martinez, featured here in El Imparcial.

Bien echo, Santiago. Felicidades!

Brattleboro, USA

Last year Brattleboro, VT made news for all that nudity in the aptly named Harmony parking lot. Today it's the would-be arrest warrant aimed at the highest levels of government.

A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put an item on a town meeting agenda in March that would make Bush and Vice President Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they visit the southeastern Vermont community.

"This petition is as radical as the Declaration of Independence, and it draws on that tradition in claiming a universal jurisdiction when governments fail to do what they're supposed to do," said Kurt Daims, 54, a retired machinist leading the drive.

As president, Bush has visited every state except Vermont.

Ah, Brattleboro. Last year I described Vermont as "the greenest state with the most gun racks," and I stand by that observation yet.

Juan Cole

Here's Juan Cole on Pakistan, overnight:

The seriousness of the situation in the streets of some of Pakistan's important towns and cities doesn't seem to me to be being reported in the US press and media. In contrast, Pakistani newspapers are giving chilling details of large urban centers turned into ghost towns on Friday morning, with no transport available, hundreds of thousands of persons stranded far from home, shops closed, and banks, gas stations, police stations and automobiles torched. Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur, Jacobabad and many others in Sindh Province fell victim to the violence (Bhutto was from Larkana in Sindh but had a residence in Karachi). The police seemed to be AWOL for the most part in these cities, allowing the rioting and looting to go on unhindered.

Here is a tally of violence in the major port city of Karachi (population 8 million) overnight, resulting from riots to protest the killing of Benazir Bhutto:

Number of vehicles burned: 150
Number of streets where tires were set afire: 26
Number of banks set on fire: 16
Number of gas stations torched: 13
Number of persons shot dead: 10
Number of persons injured: 68
Number of PIA flights coming in: 0
Number of shops and businesses closed: Most

He concludes:

Folks, I've seen civil wars and riots first hand, and revolutions from not too far away, and this situation looks pretty bad to me.

20 December 2007

The Price of Admission

From Mexico Solidarity Network, via Oaxaca Study Action Group:

The US State Department announced this week a 31% increase in the cost of temporary visas, to take effect in 2008. The price will increase from US$100 to US$131. Mexicans applying for a visa must deposit the funds in a bank in advance of a required interview, and the money is not refunded in the case of a failed interview. Nearly two-thirds of Mexicans who apply for visas are denied after the interview process. Mexicans who schedule a second interview appointment to present additional information must pay an additional US$131.

Emphasis mine. And it gets worse. According to the U.S. State Department website, applicants who have already paid their original $100 visa application fee and scheduled their interviews will still have to pay the $31 difference if their interview isn't held before after January 31, 2008. That's just poor sportsmanship, changing the rules in the middle of the game. Not sure what the logic is here, but obviously the State Dept. has figured how to squeeze the most from people. Want to take bets on how many interviews are scheduled for the month of January?

The government states that the current fee does not actually cover the cost of processing the applications, and claims the increase will pay for "costs of security and other enhancements to the non-immigrant visa application process." I wonder, though, if the State Dept. might be making up for lost revenues as a result of Congressional investigations into passport costs for American citizens?

More on rising visa costs here.

18 December 2007

Fallout From Supreme Court Ruling in Puebla

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, in a country so dominated by macho culture, Mexico has a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women. At least, Mexico did have a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women, until this week.

Anna Maria Salazar reported Monday:

And the Supreme Court’s decision practically absolving Puebla governor Mario Marín in the Lydia Cacho case continues to spark discontent.The Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women, Alicia Pérez Duarte, resigned saying she could no longer continue with her work after the ruling by the Court. And a group of children and adults threw eggs at the Supreme Court also as a protest in the Mario Marín ruling.

For background on the Lydia Cacho case, read this from Mexico Reporter. As for egg throwing, you've got to love an activist culture.

17 December 2007

Following Up on Teachers, Sort Of

A quick scan of the headlines tonight at Noticias offers nothing new on the subject of teachers' bonuses, so I resort to sharing what I've got. What follows is hardly responsible journalism, but I've yet to make that claim here.

Among the random stuff in my inbox: this today, from somewhat known sources, acquaintances through the Oaxaca Study Action Group, a Yahoo group open to anyone with a Yahoo username. I don't know who added the English text summarizing each paragraph, but I figure it's worth a read. If nothing else, it's sort of fun to observe how information moves in this community. See for yourself:

14/12/2007 12:56:06 PM
Autor: Rebeca Luna Jiménez

Oaxaca, México. Diciembre 14- El Secretario General de Gobierno, Manuel García Corpus informó que el gobernador Ulises Ruiz logró canalizar recursos por el orden de los mil 350 millones de pesos para el pago de los salarios de los más de 70 mil trabajadores de la educación, luego de sostener reuniones de trabajo con los titulares de Gobernación y Hacienda del gobierno federal en la ciudad de México. He managed to find the money to pay salaries.

Dijo que el mandatario destrabó la problemática derivada de la insuficiencia de recursos económicos para el pago de salarios y el correspondiente al primer pago del aguinaldo de los maestros. But there's not enough to pay the bonus

En tanto, los maestros por segundo día bloquearon tres partes de la capital oaxaqueña, además que maestros de la región de la Cuenca cerraron la carretera federal en Tuxtepec a la altura del puente El Caracol con la finalidad de exigir el pago de su aguinaldo. Therefore the teachers blocked three fourths of the city of Oaxaca and closed the highway in Tuxtepec

Ruiz Ortíz logró el pago correspondiente a las dos quincenas de diciembre, por lo que a partir de las 14.00 horas estaba subsanado el problema, sin embargo a las 15.00 horas las manifestaciones continuaban con sus bloqueos por trabajadores administrativos y educandos.

Había bloqueos sobre la carretera federal Cristóbal Colón frente al Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (IEEPO), en el puente del Tecnológico, la gasolinera Bautista, la Secretaría de Finanzas. Dos puntos fueron desbloqueados el del monumento a la Madre y de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN).

García Corpus dijo que el gobernador sostuvo entrevistas con el titular de Gobernación, Francisco Ramírez Acuña, y el de Hacienda, Agustín Cartens para que de acuerdo a la normativilidad se les pagará el aguinaldo a los maestros el próximo martes, en tanto que los salarios del mes a partir de las 14.00 horas de este viernes. Pay the aguinaldo next Tuesday, is what the secretary general of government came up with

Se hizo la inmediata gestión a efecto de cumplir en términos generales con el magisterio en su conjunto, por lo cual destacó que el jefe del Ejecutivo local así como los titulares de la SEGOB y la propia SHyCP, acordaron canalizar recursos por el orden de mil 350 millones de pesos.

No hay un tema tan sensible que tiene que ver con el salario", razón de ello, subrayó, la atención inmediata del mandatario con los servidores públicos del Gobierno Federal quienes en una actitud de corresponsabilidad con la administració n estatal, hicieron una negociación extraordinaria para cubrir los adeudos por concepto de salarios y aguinaldos". So Ruiz is doing right by negotiating for the release of extraordinary funds

I couldn't easily offer the English in red, as it appeared in my inbox, so I bolded it. Lack of terminal punctuation is faithful to the original.

U.S. Fires Teargas into Mexico

From the AP, via 9News.com: Border Patrol fires tear gas into Mexico.

16 December 2007

Christmas Cheer, Teachers Demonstrate

UPDATE:My friend Adam tells me that, as of Friday, the government scrambled up some money, borrowed from next year's budgets, to pay the teachers and get them off the streets. So crisis averted, for now.

I've been pretty swamped this week between grad school applications, teaching and tutoring, and running around to all the holiday parties that have sprung up in Oaxaca this Christmas season. So when I read today that there's a teachers' demonstration in Oaxaca this week, I'm not exactly surprised that I didn't hear about it.

Demonstrations are not taking place in the zocalo, as did the strike of 2006. This article from Saturday's Noticias only says:

Las manifestaciones originaron un enorme caos vial en la ciudad capital, al establecer bloqueos en seis accesos carreteros y calles de la capital, algunos de los cuales se mantenían hasta anoche.

In a nutshell (and my translation is always questionable): "Demonstrations brought enormous chaos to the capital city, establishing blockades along six access roads and streets in the capital. Some protesters have been out since last night."

I didn't observe this "enorme caos" during my workday Friday, which took me from the south end of the Periferico at 20 de Noviembre, through the center, back out to Cinco Senores, passing by the road to the airport, and down Universidad to Plaza del Valle and Simbolos Patrios. As of 4:00 pm Friday I didn't have a sense that anything unusual was happening at any of these points, but that easily could have changed in the evening or during the day Saturday. If anybody knows where the demonstrations are happening, comments would be welcomed and appreciated.

I received this English language summary of events from Ronald Waterbury, of the Oaxaca Study Forum:

Conditions have indeed returned to “normal” (at least in the statistical sense) in Oaxaca. The government does not fulfill its obligations, and in response the teachers’ union blocks the streets and produces vehicular chaos. In this particular example of the ritual, the federal government (which provides the vast bulk of the money to pay teachers) didn’t release funds for the regular December paychecks nor for the first installment of the traditional Christmas bonus (due December 8). At least the state government appears to have learned a lesson from the 2006 conflict because rather than crack heads, as it did on June 14, 2006, it simply returned to the years-long practice of ignoring the protests. They didn’t even send out traffic cops to help the besieged motorists maneuver through the mess. This way the government hopes that the public will blame the teachers for the inconveniences, and from my own very unscientific survey of vendors in one of the public markets, the government was successful. Even people who sympathized with the APPO movement of last year, in frustrated anger used phrases like: “the teachers are at it again!”

Emphasis mine. Nancy Davies offers this, via the Oaxaca Study Action Group:

. . . we have another situation here with the teachers, who have been blockading the roads for two days to demand their pay AND their usual annual "aguinaldo", the Christmas bonus. The bonus for most workers is part of the
pay package, not a nice gesture at the will of the employer. In this case, the governor-employer URO says he's so sorry but there's no money to pay it.

Emphasis mine. Jill Freidberg, of Corrugated Films, adds:

In addition to concerns people have about traffic and losing money, there may be some hard feelings left over from 2006. Folks might feel like the teachers are willing to mobilize on a large scale when it comes to them getting paid, but not when it came to sticking with the "fuera URO" mobilizations in the last couple months of 2006, after the teachers had lifted their strike. This is a long-standing complaint - that the teachers are usually only acting in their own interest when they take to the streets, not in the interest of civil society in general. I think it's important to remind people that, during 2006, thousands of
teachers who DO place civil society's demands and needs above the teachers' union demands, saw the formation of the APPO and the subsequent mobilizations as an opportunity for teachers to finally rebuild that tie with civil society. But not all 70,000 teachers feel that way, and there are quite a few of them who really are much more likely to hit the streets over their salary than over any other demand.

Emphasis mine. Okay, that's a lot of information to digest. And here I am oblivious to all of it until I wake up Sunday morning and check two days of mail in my inbox.

Let me throw my two cents in, both of which might be highly uninformed at any given moment. It seems to me that Ronald Waterbury has it right, that Governor Ruiz would rather wait for public opinion to turn against the teachers than to send in troops to clear the streets. Especially now, when tourism is on a gentle but sustained uptick, and the festival season creates commercial opportunities for so many businesses. Even for a guy with his record, Ulises Ruiz can't want images of police in riot gear and protesters with bloodied heads on the news pages of the Mexican papers during the holiday season. I've heard (wildly) unsubstantiated speculation that Calderon may consider removing Ruiz from office before the end of his term, and another round of violence in the streets won't bode well for the governor's political future, assuming he even has one.

Nancy Davies points out that the Governor says he's "sorry but there's no money" to pay for teachers' bonuses this year, which are part of a negotiated pay package and not a true bonus in the first place. The issue of bonuses aside, the way I read Ronald Waterbury is that December 8 salary checks haven't even been issued, so we're not merely talking about a bonus problem but an actual failure to pay teachers what they are owed for work completed. Imagine a similar problem in, say, Michigan, two weeks before Christmas. I think we'd hear an uproar, and nobody would suggest that the teachers were in the wrong. As far as the "no money" thing goes, I point you to this article in today's Noticias, wherein the state reveals it has invested "tres mil 11 millones de pesos" in roadway improvements in 2007. (Can this possibly be right? 3,011,000,000 pesos? Over 300 million dollars toward roads in the second poorest state in Mexico!?) Some of that money has been used to tear up the existing streets in the center of town and replace them with historic looking, pedestrian friendly streets that don't appear to make anybody very happy, least of all shopkeepers who have lost all their drive-by traffic and deal with the daily construction process.

Finally, Jill Freidberg's observation that public opinion may see teachers as more likely to mobilize on their own behalf--and on their own bottom line--than that of the greater human rights sweep in Oaxaca, seems like a no-brainer to me. Teachers didn't come to the capital in 2006 to demand the removal of the governor. They came, 70,000 strong, to ask for wage increases, better health insurance, and more government support for impoverished students. While addressing human rights violations in Oaxaca has become the order of the day for many, it is preposterous to assert that this should be the teachers' main objective. That perception, however, plays nicely into what Ronald Waterbury points to as the government waiting for public opinion to turn against the teachers.

There is much to consider today in Oaxaca. Stay tuned.

13 December 2007

Good Reading

Iraqis fleeing to Mexico? And my favorite Oaxacan food actually migrated from the Middle East?

All that and more in this very interesting post from The Mex Files.

12 December 2007

Welcoming the Dawn

My wife and I live in the centro, so it's bound to be noisier outside our apartment than in, say, San Felipe de Aguas (a beautiful suburb nestled among green hills just north of the city).

That said, can somebody please explain to me why there are firecrackers going off every day this month between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning? Is there some Oaxacan-Christmastime-welcoming-the-dawn-festival about which I am completely unaware?

10 December 2007

Courting Hispanics

The major '08 Republican presidential candidates gathered in Coral Gables, FL, to address Hispanic voters.

"The sky's the limit for Hispanic Americans but you know something, the sky's the limit for all Americans if we have the right kind of leadership," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Uh, good one, Rudy, and way to stay on message.

Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, campaigning on an unrelenting platform of zero tolerance for illegal (and possibly legal) immigration, was notably absent.

08 December 2007

Will Work 4 Food

Want an idea how the Oaxacan economy is doing? Noticias reported Friday that the state has yet to recover some 21,000 jobs lost as a result of the teachers' strike and ensuing social unrest of 2006.

On the upside, says one government employee, "this year there has been more calm and peace."*

Thanks to Oaxaca Study Forum for the link.

*My translation.

Human Rights Worker Assaulted in Oaxaca

CORRECTION: In the text below, I refer to a group of poinsettia flowers as "buenas noches," in Spanish. That should read "noches buenas."

Here's a post that ended up in my box (you may need a Yahoo account to click through, I'm not sure). In a nutshell, Mexican human rights worker Nancy Mota Figueroa was abducted on December 2, forced into an unmarked vehicle, blindfolded, harassed at gunpoint, interrogated about her work, and threatened with further assault, rape, and murder if she continued her activist work. She was then released in an abandoned lot.

Nancy Mota Figueroa, who is a leader of a women's organisation in Oaxaca and an activist with the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO), was temporarily abducted by unknown armed individuals on 2 December. She was questioned about other APPO activists, threatened with death and rape and was told that she could be abducted again. Amnesty International is gravely concerned for her safety.

According to Nancy Mota, she was walking in a street in Oaxaca when a white SUV vehicle with tinted windows and without number plates stopped next to her. Two men who had their faces covered, got out of the vehicle, forced her in and then blindfolded her. The blindfold was impregnated with a liquid that irritated her eyes.

According to her testimony, while the vehicle was circulating Oaxaca's streets, the two men questioned her about what she knew about other APPO activists, some of whom are currently in detention. They forced her head between her knees, then pulled her hair and pointed two guns at her head. She heard them pull the trigger and say they would shoot her. They told her to stop her activism or they may abduct her again and rape her. She was also hit in the stomach. She was held for one hour and then freed in an empty lot near the city centre with the warning that she could be abducted again. The abductors also reportedly downloaded all the telephone numbers saved on her cellular phone.

Nancy Mota filed a complaint with the Oaxaca State Attorney General's office (Procuraduría General del Estado de Oaxaca) and has spoken out about her abduction in a press conference.

Walking through the zocalo last night to meet a group of bilingual Christmas carolers, I caught part of a small protest under the pavilion at the center of the public square. There were signs posted on behalf of Nancy Mota Figueroa, broad red flags waved above the gathering crowd, and the amplified speech of human rights proponents and political activists competed with flashing Christmas lights, government sponsored holiday concerts, and local mariachis playing for pesos to diners at sidewalk tables. Flower beds in the zocalo have been planted with poinsettias, or buenas noches, en espanol, from one end clear to the other, a red sea of holiday fervor.

El Enemigo Comun has more, and here is Nancy Mota Figueroa's statement, in Spanish.

07 December 2007

Party Lines

Planning to vote Republican or Democrat? Why limit yourself? In Mexico, for instance, one has a choice between PRD, PAN, PRI, PT, Convergencia, Alternativa, Greens, plus many smaller, lesser knowns which we can loosely label Zapatista, Maoist, and Stalinist; and almost any combination therein, given the ever-changing, coalitional political landscape of Mexican politics.

The Mex Files offers a rundown on how to read between party lines, and how the latest round of practical alliances could play out--or not--for the next federal election.

06 December 2007

Mass Exhumations in Mexico

So is it a good idea to exhume as many as 4,000 bodies for DNA testing and identification purposes?

I'm torn. On the one hand, if it leads to an investigation of police tactics, as the article suggests, solves some old murders, improves future law enforcement training, and is helpful to anti-corruption campaigns within Mexico's political and law enforcement bureaucracies, then I can see the benefits. Also, it's not a bad thing to resolve mysterious deaths, and hopefully give families opportunities for closure.

At the same time, I read this article and immediately think of the massive opportunity to bungle the results (my wife calls this line of thinking the "Plavnick family optimism"). Mislabeled remains, mistaken identities, and misinformed families all strike me as possible problems in an endeavor such as this. That doesn't mean I'm against it, I'm just not sure I'm for it. In the end, I want some confirmation that the process will serve to help bring justice to the poorest of the poor in Mexico (which strikes me as the project's unstated goal, as represented in the article), whom I suspect are often the victims in these unsolved crimes, especially crimes against women as the article details.

I'm curious about the costs of exhuming, identifying and reburying so many victims. To my mind these could go a long way toward combating the causes of poverty, which also inherently helps bring a measure of justice to poor communities.

05 December 2007

Election Season Follies

This is a little dated already. From La Politica, I find both these remarks interesting, and offer them without comment.

Last week, Howard Dean issued a statement regarding Hispanic, [sic] which included the following:

“Today Democrats are building momentum across the country, and building stronger ties than ever with the Hispanic community. The Democratic Party shares the Hispanic community’s values centered on family, faith, and hard work, and our candidates offer the new direction the American people want.

Today, Hessy Fernandez who is the Republican National Committee’s Director of Hispanic Communications sent me the following statement in response:

“Actions speak louder than words, and the Democrat Party [sic] have failed to put forward accomplishments that resonate with Hispanic working families. The reality is that Democrats would say and do anything to win political points and will conveniently forget their promises. Hispanics will continue to reject their policies, which propose dramatic spending increases, massive government growth and higher taxes for hard working families and small businesses. On issue after issue the GOP and the Hispanic community share the same values and priorities”.

Emphasis mine.

Pork Chops?

Today's riddle provided by Laura Martinez. And no, I don't know the answer.

03 December 2007


Blogging will be light as I meet deadlines for graduate school applications. Please continue to check back.

01 December 2007

In New Orleans, a New Kind of "Waiting"

It's never been so breathtakingly clear where Samuel Beckett's reknowned absurdist play "Waiting For Godot" should be performed: in New Orleans, where the levee broke.