Saturday, August 19, 2006


January first, 1994: the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (ELZN) made itself known to the world by taking over several municipalities in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. That was the day NAFTA began, considered a death knell for small Indian farms unable to compete with lower agricultural production costs in the US and Canada. Reacting to this latest in a long history of fiscal and cultural marginalization suffered by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico (also to seventy years of PRI politics: nepotism, corruption, and graft), the ELZN announced plans to march on México City, ratified an insurgent constitution, and held the capital of Chiapas hostage for twelve days before instigating a ceasefire and fading back into the jungle--all without one fatality. The goal of the Zapatistas was to promote indigenous equality through nonviolence: many in the ELZN carried wooden replica weapons. The presumed leader of this action was a masked man identified only by name and rank: Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos*. Wearing military fatigues festooned with ammo and communications gear, Marcos was only ever seen in public in a black ski mask, his pipe sticking out of the mouth hole. This became the ELZN's de facto uniform. Talks between the government and the ELZN ran for three years before the Zapatistas were finally able to come safely out of hiding. I visited San Cristóbal during this period, witnessing a daily martial display of dueling demonstrations from the military and the Indian population. To raise awareness, the Indians in southern México were selling little wool Zapatista dolls* with wooden rifles, but I was too concerned about PRI customs officials to buy one. This evening Sunshine returned from Durango and presented me with one of these dolls, eleven years after I had given up on ever owning one. [Cavin]

Friday, August 18, 2006


Interesting stories about boats abound this week. Three Mexicans, who apparently sailed from San Blas (located about 200 kilometers south of Mazatlán on the Pacific coast), were discovered adrift in their twenty-five foot fiberglass boat earlier in the week. The Mexicans had set sail in the storm-ridden month of November 2005, promptly running out of gas. They were then carried by wind and tide some 8,000 kilometers across the ocean over the following nine months, to be finally rescued by a Taiwanese fishing trawler east of the Marshall Islands. The sailors lived mostly on raw birds who were foolish enough to land on their star-crossed vessel. Vagueness in the reporting is due to the Taiwanese-Spanish language barrier, but apparently the sailors report that they never lost hope because they saw boats passing by them regularly. From Reuters:
"They passed us by, but we kept on seeing them. Every week or so, sometimes we'd go a month without seeing one, but we always saw them so we never lost hope" It was not clear why none of the boats stopped for the Mexicans earlier on [...]
In other boat news, the remaining co-kingpin of the Arellano Felix family, Javier (who, along with his incarcerated brothers, Benjamin and Ramon, ran the fearsome Tijuana Drug Cartel*) was arrested by the US Coast Guard in international waters fifteen miles off the coast of La Paz in Baja California. Arellano Felix was enjoying an afternoon of deep sea fishing with friends on the unfortunately-named sport fishing cruiser Dock Holiday. The brutal and notorious cartel tsar is now being officially processed in San Diego. All of this just goes to prove the old saw "setting sail from Mexico is no way of guaranteeing where you’ll end up." [Cavin]

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Sunshine is off on a business trip to Durango as of this morning. The capital of Durango State is nestled right up against the other Sierra Madres, just about as far away from the Pacific coast as I am from the Atlantic. Durango is primarily known to tourists as the place where Hollywood built all its Mexican sets during the heyday of cinematic westerns. There are movie sets still crouched in Durango's rocky landscape, moldering away in the Chihuahua desert. Sometime when the trip is longer than one eight-hour workday between two seven-hour drives, I'd like to go there and see that. Today, however, I will sit here and read the news to you: there was a federale crackdown outside the Chamber of Deputies in México City Monday injuring fourteen pro-PRD demonstrators and sparking instances of reprisal. ALMO urges his forces to react non-violently. Yesterday, hundreds of riot police sealed off the congress building with barricades and steel walls anticipating outgoing President Fox's national address to be held there September first. This is just the first date of concern in the upcoming month. September sixth is the day the tribunal must legally announce a president elect, and the sixteenth is the annual Independence Day celebration, usually marked by the president ringing the bell in the National Palácio bordering the Zócalo. But the PAN leader is persona non grata in that Zócalo, now. In 1810 Miguel Hidalgo rang the same bell on the same day to rally a popular revolt against the Spanish in the little town of Dolores in Guanajuato State. If you're listening, Mr. Fox, I say it is high time the celebration moved back to its roots. Of course, he'd have to ring the replica they installed when the real bell was moved to the DF. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I don't know if I have mentioned this, but I am trying pretty hard to forget I am going to Vietnam soon. This is not because I am unhappy about it, but actually the opposite: I am so excited that I feel steps need to be taken to keep my focus on the exciting country I am still living in. While I still have opportunities to learn about and enjoy Mexico, it seems silly to pin my eyes on the Southeast Asian horizon. There is a lot to learn about before we go, but that is what the eleven or so months in Washington DC are all about. I have done a pretty good job if this, so far. We own the Vietnamese Lonely Planet guide book, as well a few books with travel essays and histories, but I have not been reading them. Early on, I did a thorough online photo search just to get a good aesthetic impression of the place; but since then I have not loaded a single Saigon-themed webpage. The closer we come to leaving post, though, the more difficult this is becoming. Especially since we are now making friends with Nga, who we went to dinner with again tonight. I like Pacifica, and it seemed like a good place to reenter the culinary world of seafood again after last week's fish-themed self-poisoning. I ate lobster burritos and an oyster cocktail, had a Solera and Coke and the requisite restaurant cappuccino. During dinner, of course, the conversation was all about Vietnam (which is my fault sort of: I brought it up). Nga coached Sunshine in the pronunciation of Vietnamese words for uncle or aunt, brother or sister, rice, Nga, Vietnam, chicken meat, dog, and puppy meat. Good times. [Cavin]

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The Mexican tribunal in charge of all the heavy decision-making after the July second national election has still not released, as far as I know, the results of the partial recount concluded yesterday. The Felipe Calderón camp issued a press release stating that they expect that, with only minor fluctuations in numbers reported, the recount will strengthen Mr. Calderon's claim on the office of president. The strange news is that the AMLO camp seems in tacit agreement, issuing statements that they plan to continue protesting, for years possibly, and naming the building where Calderon will be announced president elect as a probable target. Here is an interesting Christian Science Monitor article on the festive air of the entrenching protest. Here is an interesting piece about the infiltration of the protest by the legitimate government. Meanwhile, kooks on the internet report the recount as sheer proof of obvious fraud here. Apparently, the protest clogging Mexico City's arteries is not hurting the peso as much as I thought, although everyone held their breath at this week's market opening after the recount: México is gripped with fear that news of an AMLO victory will tank the economy. But no, the peso is holding its own at 10.8 to the dollar. Of other interest: have you got your tickets to Monterrey Metal Fest? Coming soon, the opportunity to see Stryper and Slayer in Monterey’s Coca Cola Auditorium. Tonight we ate at Don Pascuale's, and I had spaghetti pomodoro with basil and caprese. Dinner conversation revolved around Old Yeller, probable post curtailment (more later), and the evil red tower of wax developing between the table candle and the port bottle it was teetering atop. Why to restaurants do this? A red splattering of wax look like something to be cleaned away, not décor. [Cavin]

Monday, August 14, 2006


Today was just one of those days. It isn't as if we did nothing--Sunshine especially: she made it to the one-third mark on her book draft today, finding her well over a hundred pages into the final project. I did somewhat less, but managed to make us some pizza bread and bagel sandwiches for dinner. There are now over a hundred and thirty photos up at my Flickr place, mostly with captions, and I am going to put a real push into doubling that next week. Sunshine will be traveling to Durango for two days, and that means I can work on it for twenty four hours a day if I want (carefully employing my sandwich-making skills whenever the mood strikes me). It will probably mean that there are more entries in the Update Stuff like this one, I fear. Little new to report in the news: the protestors in Mexico City, after weeks of stopping the beating heart of the Mexican capital by closing roads, barricading the stock exchange, and hassling media sources, are branching out to area toll highways to restrict access to popular beaches and other vacation destinations. The officially ordered nine-percent recount must be finished by this evening at midnight, legally, so the nation is holding its breath as I type. Good luck nation. If there is significant numerical change versus the previous outcome (and one side says there is, and that everything should be annulled; and the other says there is not, and that everything has been fine all along), the judiciary will have to sit to decide how many more sealed ballots to open this coming week, and this story will drag on. Remember, they cannot drag on past the end of September. Things are coming to a head. [Cavin]

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Dinner with Olga tonight at Muelle 17 (MWAY-yay de-ESSay see-ETTay; Pier 17), where we talked about the lack of news lately and she looked at our vacation photos. We haven't seen her in weeks. Except for the linked item above, there has been a rather dry spell, news-wise, in north México. I guess all eyes are focused on the partial vote recount and the large southern protests. I complained that I was tired of mentioning the same old teachers and ALMO supporters day after day, but she was unable to give me a scoop. I ate several grilled fish tacos and some lobster soup. I had a cappuccino. Then, we came home where I discovered that last night there was a decent-sized earthquake in Michoacán (mitch-wah-KAHN; where we hope to go for el Dia de los Muertos this November) which rattled and shook buildings in downtown México City 125 miles northeast, forcing some evacuations. There have been no reported injuries or large structural damages, but hey, these things are getting closer and closer to real. In September, 1985, an earthquake centered in the Pacific Ocean hit México City and killed nearly ten thousand people, wounded thirty thousand, and left a hundred thousand more homeless. Read about it here. That one measured 8.1 on the old earthquake scale. Richter has yesterday’s at only 5.9, but it was closer and landlocked. Plus, just outside of México City, a bus went off the road early this morning, rolling hundreds of feet down an embankment of volcanic rock. Thirteen people killed, many more injured. Maybe it is not the most appropriate thing to sit around under the thatched roof of the fish taco place and wish there were more news right now, you know? I’ve learned my lesson; so back off, disasters. [Cavin]