31 January 2008

Tragedy in Oaxaca

Upon hearing yesterday that armed men drove into the popular sports park El Tequio and killed a police director and his bodyguards with a barrage of gunfire before driving away again, my first thought was "narcotrafficking." Apparently I'm not the only one who assumed that. Ronald Waterbury at the Oaxaca Study Forum seems to think the same thing. I received a link from him in my inbox today, along with a note that read "La narcoguerra ha llegado a Oaxaca": the drug war has arrived in Oaxaca.

The officer who was killed, Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, was head of the powerful Policía Auxiliar, Bancaria, Industrial y Comercial. This branch of the police force, I was informed by a student, protects banks and businesses where large sums of money frequently change hands. Though many security services are privatized, police guards are posted with assault rifles in bank lobbies and powerful business centers. These are the officers who stand guard at the doors of the bank when the armored truck pulls up and private guards remove or deliver the money.

Given Barrita Ortiz's role as head of the division, and given the slope of the playing field in Mexico, my first assumption was that Barrita Ortiz was probably corrupt, and when you talk about banking, business, and government in Mexico, the conversation eventually comes around to drugs.

In the first report I read yesterday, from El Enimigo Comun, the suggestion was made that the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) had taken responsibility for the killing:

Unofficial reports have surfaced indicating that a phone call was made to the local emergency services hotline by someone claiming to represent the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), and that the caller clarified there were “two more left to go”.

Suggesting the EPR is involved in a political crime is like suggesting a patient has a virus; it's the catch-all for what ails you, whether you know what it is or not. It is possible that the EPR is involved, but it is equally possible, if not entirely more likely, that powers that be want the public to believe that the EPR is to blame.

This is where things get tricky. An acquaintance who was here throughout the conflict of 2006 told me this morning that Barrita Ortiz was the police boss responsible for the kidnapping, disappearance, and torture of political dissidents during the height of the siege. Dozens of people were arrested, kidnapped, assaulted, and tortured in 2006. Some are still missing today. The man was hated, I am told, and there would be any number of people in Oaxaca who would want to see him done harm.

Also, while not directly related, news broke yesterday that Flavio Sosa, the APPO figurehead imprisoned since December 2006, has been charged anew, despite reported pressure from the federal government to release him as a gesture toward reconciliation in Oaxaca. Instead it seems that the new charges (something like destruction of property and interfering with police--recycled versions of the original charges) have been pushed through despite testimony that places Sosa in jail at the time of the alleged crimes. Welcome to Oaxaca.

Narcotrafficking now seems like such a simple explanation. Variables become slippery; best guesses are only that. Maybe a revolutionary terrorist group is to blame. Maybe angry, vengeful citizens, or splinter groups from the conflict of 2006 (which is far from resolved), carried out a retribution killing.

In addition to Barrita Ortiz and his two bodyguards, athletic instructor Virginia "Vicky" Galan Rodriguez was killed while exercising nearby in the park. Another bystander was also injured. Galan Rodriguez was an active member of the community, by several accounts a strong role model and teacher dedicated to providing youth with healthy options instead of leaving them to drugs, violence, and crime. She worked to promote health and happiness with people from all over the city, independent of political organizations or activist groups. Two vendors who I see regularly at the Mercado Juarez tell me that Vicky's death comes as a shock to Oaxaca and a monumental loss to the community.

More news and analysis to come as events unfold.

30 January 2008

Police Boss Assassinated in Oaxaca

I'm still learning more about this. Early yesterday morning the director of an "obscure police agency" was killed at a popular sports park near the airport. 3 others are dead and 1 injured. Initial reports differed as to who the other victims were.

Articles appeared immediately yesterday in La Jornada, out of Mexico City, and Noticias and El Imparcial here in Oaxaca. El Imparcial reports that Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, director of the Auxiliary Police for Industry & Commercial Banking (Policía Auxiliar Bancaria Industrial y Comercial; please correct my translation if I have that wrong) was killed along with two escorts (bodyguards), and that a local sports promoter, Vicky Galan Rodriguez, was the fourth victim. La Jornada refers to Galan Rodriguez as an "athletic instructor."

More to come.

Spanish For Your Nanny

Every now and again one of the various Oaxaca listservs will dish up a little levity, a nice break from the often turbulent, troubling, or simply petty discussions and articles that make up much of the current discourse in Oaxaca.

In this case, I have to preface the link with the following disclaimer: So wrong, and yet so right. Enjoy.

Flashpoint: Brattleboro?

Will Brattleboro be the next flashpoint in the War on Terror? If a handful of reactionist Americans have their way, the answer could be yes. From the AP, via Yahoo! News:

The petition prompted Brent Caflisch to go to his computer in Rosemount, Minn."Maybe the terrorists will do us all a favor and attack your town next, our country would be much safer with several thousand dead wackjobs in Vermont," he wrote.

It went on to say terrorists could kidnap the three Select Board members who voted in favor, "cut their heads off, video tape it and put it on the internet."

Ah. Yes. Good old American vitriol. Plenty more of that to be found on Drudge, I'm sure.

The petition mentioned above is for the arrest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney on charges of crimes against the Constitution. It garnered the 5% of registered voters needed to make it onto the agenda of the most recent city Select Board meeting, and the Select Board voted 3-2 to put the measure to vote on a March 4 ballot.

This has prompted outraged Americans from all over the U.S. to call the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce and email the Chamber website. Brattleboro police say they are prepared to take any threat seriously.

29 January 2008

Oaxaca Today, Part 2

CORRECTION:I say below that we walked by the law school on Saturday night and saw hundreds of police in riot gear patrolling the University election. That actually took place on Friday night, January 25.


In a follow-up to her informal update last week, which I republished here, Nancy Davies offers the latest on what's happening at the federal level regarding Oaxaca and Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. She summarizes an article by Luis Ocejo Martinez from Sunday's Noticias, stating that we now know Ruiz did indeed meet with Secretary of Government Juan Camilo Mourino, and that the expectations for Ruiz run as follows:

1. guarantee governability in the state and attend to the teachers and social movement demands before there's another uprising; 2. free Flavio Sosa as a way to lower the temperature of the APPO; 3. re-establish normality in the government and re-occupy the palacio gobernmental which was turned into museum by URO and used for private fiestas; 4. deal with the problems of University Autonomous Benito Juarez of Oaxaca (which just suffered an election for rector of the Law School. Each candidate hired his own thugs. I happened to be walking outside the law school building Friday night and saw a couple of hundred armed riot police waiting on the sidewalk. The two who spoke with me said they were waiting for the election results and the explosions. The police actually arrested four known porros (hired thugs), but later released them. Apparently all elections at UABJO are conducted in a similar way, the rival groups represent the faculty, the students, and the union of university workers. The fourth group, hidden from view, is the governor. UABJO is considered to be among the worst public universities in the nation because of corruption and lack of resources.)

The big number 5 is that Governor Ruiz consider accepting an ambassadorship to some foreign country. This was slipped into the conversation as a measure to re-establish governability, and Ocejo offered no further details about this federal government proposal, except that it seems genuine. Rumors of such offers abounded under Fox, too, along with URO's refusal.

I have heard this rumor about the governor maybe leaving town, and have no sense of whether it's any more likely to happen now than was rumored in the past. Davies goes on to cite the candidates vying for the post of interim-governor, since Ruiz still has three years left on his term. By the look of it, things don't exactly improve for Oaxacans if Ruiz takes on the ambassadorship to nowhere. The picks to follow him are pretty grim, and Nancy articulates why in her update. I tend to think the list of names could change a couple dozen times, too, between now and whenever an interim candidate is needed, however this may be naive. Like everywhere, the political community in Oaxaca is deeply entrenched, so you see the same handful of faces vying for the same handful of positions for decades, as is the case with one of Ruiz's would-be successors, a loyalist to former governor Carrasco, who, Nancy argues, is the real force pushing for Ulises to be removed.

On a sidenote: We unwittingly walked by the Law School on Saturday night as well, and had a similar experience of arriving between columns of troops in riot gear with machine guns bordering the entire facade of the building, working at various outposts all around the block, and standing ready at staging areas across the contiguous streets. Also present were the requisite support squads for each candidate, made up largely of youth. A Oaxacan law student friend of mine told me that candidates pay youth, who may not even be students at the law school, to rally on the candidate's behalf, and also promise to deliver the youth their law degrees, regardless whether they are students in the university or not. Incidentally, my friend is not a student at UABJO, but at URSE, a different (and more highly regarded) law school in Oaxaca.

28 January 2008

26 January 2008

"What Were They Thinking???!!!"

Ah. Yes. Indeed. You'll have to see it to believe it.

Immigration Enforcement & Your Rights as an American Citizen

This is disturbing. From McClatchy, via Steve Benen: "Immigration Officials Detaining, Deporting American Citizens."

The quotes:

Unlike suspects charged in criminal courts, detainees accused of immigration violations don't have a right to an attorney, and three-quarters of them represent themselves.


Although it took only minutes for McClatchy to confirm with Minnesota officials that a birth certificate under Warziniack's name and birth date was on file, Colorado prison officials notified federal authorities that Warziniack was a foreign-born prisoner.


"We don't want to detain or deport U.S. citizens," said Ernestine Fobbs, an ICE spokeswoman. "It's just not something we do."

McClatchy goes on to report that

Proving citizenship is especially difficult for the poor, mentally ill, disabled or anyone who has trouble getting a copy of his or her birth certificate while behind bars.

Okay. I feel ready to face the world. I'd almost rather take my chances down here with Mexican immigration, you know?

25 January 2008

Oaxaca Today

Oaxaca defies categorization. On the surface a sleepy, postcolonial capital, the city exudes a laid back, as you like it, touristy-yet-authentic appeal. Scratch the surface, though, and you won't be sure what you've found.

Bus prices went up over the holidays, from 3.5 pesos to 4.5 pesos, roughly 10 cents in US dollars. What strikes me isn't the actual, one peso price increase, but the percentage increase. Oaxaca's mass transit fares just jumped approximately 30%! No wonder a handful of student gangsters decided to test their mettle last week protesting the rate hike. Not sure they went about it the right way at all, hijacking a couple buses and involving police in a standoff on the campus of the Universidad Autonomo Benito Juarez, but there are others in Oaxaca with similar sentiments.

Also in Oaxaca these days, the holiday cheer has worn off and demonstrations take place on a regular basis. Some of the marches are so poorly executed that it's hard to tell what the cause is. A rag-tag group of sixty or seventy demonstrators, talking and laughing, strolled past parque Llano last week, half of them holding banners and posters at their sides rather than in full view for public consumption. Something about something, no doubt, important to someone.

As long as we're on about demonstrations, albeit of a different stripe, the lawyers are all vying for positions on the UABJO (Universidad Autonomo Benito Juarez) board, and it's pretty ugly to watch. The noise on the Alcala is unbearable (candidates blasting the centro with their slogans) and accounts of bitter fighting have been splashed all over the papers.

Things have been quiet since the new year, on the whole, but that's bound not to last. I just received this most interesting rundown of events regarding Governor Ruiz, the federal government, and Oaxaca's ongoing political woes, as told by Nancy Davies, via the Oaxaca Study Action Group:

An article which appeared in *El Universal* on January 23 (attached) says that the new Secretary of Government, Juan Camilo Mouriño, called Ulises Ruiz onto the carpet and read him the riot act. Mouriño insisted that Ruiz attend to the teachers Section 22 demands, and to the demands of the APPO – to at least listen and negotiate.

Mouriño was pissed off because there was a demonstration in front of the Bucareli government offices in DF. The federal government wants no return of the open conflict in Oaxaca. Mouriño said URO had better demonstrate governability in the state, and (my favorite part) return his office to the Palacio de Gobierno which he abandoned in May of 2006.

Former governor Diódoro Carrasco Altamirano has been stirring up the fire against URO, leaking to the federal functionaries some facts about his government, and claiming that Ruiz has no contact with the former governors of Oaxaca; he lacks interaction with representatives of the APPO, and, if I am translating correctly, had some cheek to run for governor (and may have been elected via fraud).

Needless to say, URO denies the meeting with Mouriño, and the scolding. An article written by Pedro Matías appears in *Noticias* January 24, page 8A with the headline: " 'No me reuní con Mouriño', dice URO". Translated: "I didn't meet with Mouriño", says URO". Anything which URO denies I suspect to be true. Matías interviewed URO and Ulises reported that he had requested assistance from the Secretary of Government in May, 2007, but there's no record of that request being received. In fact, in the entire article, it reads to me like URO is whining; claiming all he did and tried to do to resolve the conflict. For example, he says he did have dialogue, with the
APPO and its civil organizations.

Matías also interviewed the secretary of Section 22, Ezequiel Rosales Carreño, who declared, "If the gentleman (referring to Mouriño) is accustomed to people coming bowing down with petitions in hand, that's not the case with Oaxaca." The popular movement had asked for interviews and gotten no reply, Rosales says. "The actions of the teachers are going to continue until we have replies to our demands and if the gentleman doesn't want mobilizations he has to attend to the demands of the workers." He added that the Secretary of Government attends to party leaders, to businessmen, to deputies, to senators, to structural reforms; but he pays no attention to the people of Mexico.

Mouriño was appointed to the post of Secretary of Government just this month, so most of what transpired regarding the movement in Oaxaca preceded him. Thus he may be taken aback to see the APPO and Section 22 literally banging on his door. The APPO decided to go to Mexico to hand in to the Supreme Court their accusations against URO on January 24, and clearly their presence in Bucareli set off alarms.

One must assume from history that the PAN is not concerned so much for the people of Oaxaca as it is for the peace necessary to induce foreign investment along the Plan Puebla Panama corridor. Foreign investors don't like local protests and road blocks, and even less do they like unions. Calderon may be thinking he has to placate the social movement for now, and perhaps eliminate it at a more convenient moment.

Emphasis mine. I love it. A whole lot of something-something going on, but if you know what it all amounts to you're a big step ahead of me. Mostly I think Oaxaca has a reputation as a quaint little burg, Mexicana style, and the Tourism Office intends to keep it that way and keep the tourism dollars coming. I also think Nancy is right, and there's a bigger political picture to consider. Perhaps, however, Ruiz is just proving himself less and less likely to be much good to anyone, and therefore less likely to keep his post in Calderon's Mexico. If the meeting actually happened in the first place.

That's the spin from here. To be honest I've lost some of my interest in the internal dialogues (and monologues, and spats) echoing around the Oaxaca Study Action Group. I've also learned that I can't possibly keep up with all the reading I get from Ronald Waterbury and the Oaxaca Study Forum, though I still try and take a look every day. I have officially entered the "keep my head down and work like hell" stage of my Oaxacan experience, which unfortunately makes for less blogging. So be it. I do hope to improve at least a little in February when it comes to blogging, so I hope you'll check back. As always, thanks for reading.

14 January 2008

Campaigning on Health

I haven't been available to do a whole lot of blogging lately (and my Dell hasn't exactly helped me out, either), but this caught my eye.

Curious which candidate's healthcare platform might translate best for you? Ask a campaign employee.

10 January 2008

Creative Financing, Anyone?

I'm confused. Can Ben Bernanke and the Fed forestall a recession by dropping interest rates another tick? And do we really want them to anyway?

I'm no economist, but this feels like a whole lot of "Let's do anything we can to delay the worst until 2009." The naysayer in me fears that, while cutting rates may be superficially good for business on a macro scale, it will only lead to deeper personal debt for many Americans. And isn't that how we got into this mess in the first place? Somewhere in the proposed solution I see a snake swallowing its tail.

Kevin Drum takes a look at the situation and says "The chickens are coming home to roost."

Deadbeat Surveillance Blues

This is rich. Apparently the government will lose some of its spy privileges due to bad credit. Read about it here.

04 January 2008

Talking or Non-Talking?

Forget the notion that a cell phone might turn your passenger jet into a screaming ball of flames. The real problem, says this pilot, is that air travel is hard enough already without a planeful of people blabbing incessantly, whether for work or from boredom, at 35,000 feet.

While the article's author hopes the airlines--when one day the cell phone ban is inevitably lifted--will at least offer different seating sections, as in the old days when smoking was still allowed on flights, I'm a bit more cynical. My fear, of course, is that chat-free seating will be available at a price, the sonic equivalent of 5 extra inches of leg room sold for a "nominal fee," as in United's Economy Plus seating. That will be a black day indeed for air travel.

03 January 2008

Photo Posting

I've been trying to get some photos uploaded for several weeks, and every time I make another attempt I get the same, bad result. For some reason I can't figure, all my photos appear pixelated and grainy. Blogger has simply dropped some of my photos, as well.

I currently use about 3% of my allotted memory, so there's no reason Blogger should be minimizing information from my posts. It also doesn't seem to matter if I upload photos direct to my blog, or upload a link location such as Flickr or Picasa.

Is anybody else having photo problems on Blogger?

In the Fields

While most of the U.S. watches Iowa for other reasons today, The Mex Files has a provocative post about new NAFTA regulations regarding the import/export of agricultural products, enacted January 1, 2008. According to the site, as corporate corn producers in the U.S. and Canada flood a Mexican market that can't compete, the end result will be higher illegal immigration rates and increased production of crops "the U.S. does not grow competitively," such as marijuana.

The post also points out that previous fluctuations in corn prices in Mexico have had more to do with U.S. speculating, and not anything to do with ethanol production, which is made from a different corn entirely and was not the culprit behind rising tortilla prices in 2006 and 2007.

All that and the seemingly inevitable infiltration of GMO products across country lines. I am happy to declare my ignorance and admit that I don't know enough about any of these issues to make predictions, but if The Mex Files has it right then 2008 stands to be a pivotal year for further economic downturns in Mexico.