Skip to content

Alas poor Oaxaca — too close to the tourists, so far from Mexico City (apologies to Porfirio Diaz)

30 August 2006

I don’t necessarily agree with all the poster’s conclusions and assumptions, but “pelon” at the Lonely Planet Mexico Message Board referenced this post from Frommer’s Travel Forum. It offers a well-written, frightening — or frightened — view of Oaxaca from the perspective of the foreign residents.

From my friend who lives in Oaxaca. Dated 8/27/2006

“Many friends and relatives have advised me to get out of Mexico because of the unrest. Others report that they have only heard very little of what is happening. I thought I should give you my perspective.I think the situation here is not being covered because America is already involved in two wars of her own and people aren’t ready to deal with more unrest. Also, there isn’t a large body count here, so its problems fly under the US radar. I do get daily bulletins from Google with links to papers all over the world which are reporting on the Oaxaca situation. The reports vary. They all agree that the situation is volatile but each source wants to blame the other side.

First, my friends who live here and I closely monitor the situation. We don’t deem it dangerous enough to warrant our leaving. Remember that most of us have homes here and all of our possessions and friends are here. Unlike a volcano or other natural disaster, this unrest is centered in the heart of the city although roads leading into town are closed. At this point, we don’t consider that it warrants our leaving. We stay in touch with the U.S. Consulate and will follow his advice should evacuation become necessary. He spoke to the Library Board last week and said there is no need to leave but cautioned us not to go out at night.

Let me be clear, this is not about America or Americans. Yes, America has lost the respect of most other countries in the world and yes it has isolated itself in the world community, but Mexico’s situation has nothing to do with a back lash against tourists or Americans living here. An American friend was just telling me that when he drives into town everyday the strikers tell him the best detours to take around the closed streets. This disturbance is about Mexico achieving democracy. For more than 70 years PRI was the only political party in Mexico. Party members lived like kings and plundered the treasuries . They didn’t provide services for the common people. The election of President Vicente Fox, former head of Coca Cola Mexico, changed all that. But Oaxaca, as one of the poorest states in Mexico, remained one of the holdouts of PRI. The last elected governor is reported to have stolen the election. Sadly, if you ask a Oaxaqueno who their last good governor was, they will say Benito Juarez in the late 1860s. He is revered as Mexico’s greatest president and drove the French out of Mexico. Only the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, the two poorest sates, are not required by law to account annually for state expenditures. Each governor is rumored to have looted the treasury before he left office. For more than 25 years, the powerful teachers’ union has occupied the zocalo (the city center) to lobby for a raise and always gets one. This year the PRI governor refused to even meet with the teachers. But it isn’t only about their salaries. Many schools throughout the state have no books, no lights, no blackboards, or running water. It is next to impossible to teach under those circumstances. Even in East Africa in the mid-60s, education was better supported. When the governor refused to meet the protesters, they remained in the center of town and closed the schools. Three months have passed. I have heard that they did receive a modest raise but they were so angered that they began calling for the governor’s removal. In June, the governor sent in troops to dislodge the protesters but they fought back and the effort failed. After that other groups and, I am sure, most Americans here, started supporting them. The drawback is that in their attacks, the strikers have done major damage to the center of this beautiful colonial city. Businesses have closed and thousands have become unemployed. That is where I disagree with the protesters, two wrongs don’t make a right. But, after the failure of the troops to dislodge them, they realized the extent of their power and they don’t want to relinquish it now. There may be one out; there is talk of giving the governor a federal or embassy post allowing him to leave somewhat gracefully.

The center of town looks worse than Baghdad but not as bad as Lebanon. The strikers have closed all major highways into the city and frequently close the airport. There have been parades with tens of thousands participating. Each march gets larger and larger. At night major intersections are blocked and tires are burned. Cars and buses with links to the governor can be seen burned out around the Centro.

Why doesn’t the president send help? Up until the end of July, neither the governor nor the president would confront the problem because there was an upcoming election and they didn’t want to cause problems for their respective parties. PRI lost every position in which they ran a candidate in this State, a first in history. Also the Mexican president who is from the PAN party wants the PRI governor to suffer so he won’t intervene. The Mexican President also has his hands full in Mexico City with major protests over the Presidential election in which the top two candidates were only 250,000 votes apart and the loser wants a recount. The PRI governor contends the Oaxaca crisis is a federal problem. Reports say that the major leaders in the strike have agreed to mediation in Mexico City with the Bishop of Chiapas serving as moderator. We pray that something can be worked out. If police and army troops are called in, there will be much blood shed and many deaths, for sure. Meanwhile the Oaxacan economy is destroyed. This year for the first time in more than 25 years the world famous Guelaguetza dance festival was canceled. Many hotels and restaurants are empty or closed. If peace came tomorrow it wouldn’t matter for the economy. The latest report I read said that Oaxaca has lost over $200 million since the madness started. But I see this as a necessary step for Oaxaca to move closer to real democracy. When American friends talk about the violence I remind them of destruction in America, such as in Watts and Washington at the end of the Vietnam War. America has gone through similar tense times and survived. I am sure Mexico will do the same. I live in Mexico for many reasons, foremost is the people. I don’t think I have ever known a kinder people than the Mexicans. I love the food, the music, the climate, the history, the slower pace of living. I have never regretted choosing Mexico. Someone asked me recently if I were Mexican (obviously my Spanish has improved). I told them, “Yes, my heart is Mexican.” As they say in Texas, I wasn’t born here but I got here as quickly as I could.

Many people feel that we are living in Armageddon. The world certainly seems out of control and there are no leaders anywhere in the world. I have great faith we will get to the other side. In the last 20 years since I started returning to Mexico I have seen constant change. I asked a Mexican friend last night if life is better than 5 and 10 years ago. He replied it definitely is. A solid middle class seems to be emerging. This is like puberty for Mexico, a difficult time but Mexico will be better and healthier in the long run.

Pray for Mexico and Oaxaca when your pray for Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and other troubled parts of the world. Viva Mexico!!!

No comments yet

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: