Sunday, July 4, 2010


Today will see elections play out for various levels of local government. In particular, of the 31 states in Mexico, 12--including Oaxaca--will vote for new governors. The current climate is a big deal for several reasons.

Brief history lesson to contextualize this:

Shortly after the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution, a political party called the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI... Partido Revoluciario Insitucional) came to dominate Mexican politics. From the late 20s till 2000, in fact, it held a Chicago-style, political-machine stanglehold on the country, and Mexico was considered an authoritarian state (not a democracy... by name only) during this time. Some may recall the name Vicente Fox (2000-6), and, more recently, Felipe Calderón (2006--). Fox became the 1st non-PRI president in Mexico, and Calderón is the 2nd. It is pretty much agreed that, although these two men are non-PRI, they were and are at the mercy of a PRI-dominated Congress ... kind of like a Democratic US president facing a Republican-dominated Cogress, or vice versa... though worse. So a president's initiatives can be easily struck down if not in line with PRI ideology.

The state of Oaxaca has never seen rule outside of the PRI. Today will be the first opportunity ever that a non-PRI governor has the opportunity to unseat the PRI political machine here. He's leading in several polls. This is both exciting and unsettling.

If you guys think the Fox News-MSNBC bickering is bad, it's peanuts to bickering around here. Some might have heard that, last week, a PRI gubernatorial candidate was killed in the northern state of Tamaulipas. A few days before this incident, a pro-PRI rally in the state of Chiapas (Oaxaca's neighbor to the east... the last state before entering Guatemala ) saw an eruption of violence and a few bodies fall cold to the ground. Just this past Wednesday, a mayor in a municipality close to Oaxaca city was murdered, and around that day, in the state of Puebla (just northeast of Oaxaca), two journalists lost their lives.

Thus there is a concern that if this non-PRI front-runner doesn't win today (via election fraud), some stuff could go down, as many Oaxacans despise the PRI leadership. Some may recall some violence that occurred in 2006 here between teachers and the government... well, the PRI leadership eventually attacked the peaceful protest (that was demanding more pay, resources...) from helicopters, and this incident is ingrained in many minds here.

Anyways, the city of Oaxaca is made up of "colonias" with our house, the university, and all the other homestays in "Colonia Reforma," which is one of the wealthier sections of the city. As is the case in the States, where there is wealth, there tends to be little threat of violence. Thus, the real threat of violence in this neighborhood is low. However, we're going to watch and wait to see how the elections play out tomorrow. If it turns ugly, then obviously AU will pull the plug and fly us home.
Politics is ugly, especially here, so I'm going to turn to different news.

I'm very happy with how the study program is working out. We mix classroom classes with "field trips" made throughout the state. On thursday we made a trip to the mountains of the north (Sierra Norte) to take a tour through an indigenous town and learn about how they run things. The state of Oaxaca hosts 570 municipalities, with 418 of these being recognized as officially indigenous. That is, these indigenous communities are self-sustaining and have their own system of land tenure and politics. The idea is community ownership of resources and destiny. Thus, Oaxaca is unique in that it hosts formal democracy with 100s-of-years-old indigenous tradition, and this is a peaceful coexistence.

Week 3 in the bag (of 8). I'm crossing my fingers to see the end of it from here, and not Detroit.


  1. "The real threat of violence in this neighborhood is low." Indeed, wealth insulates and isolates. Your post helps me to understand the "touristy" nature of this blog. Safety, after all, is priority 1. I look forward, however, to a lengthier discussion regarding your thesis of how "community ownership of resources and destiny resides in peaceful coexistence with (PRI) democracy.

    John Porth

  2. Dude, your dad just took it up a notch....