Sunday, December 19, 2010

Military presence in Oaxaca?

A friend in Ukiah recently asked, The Big Question:
"No military presence?"

Short answer:  Yes; military presence!

Slightly longer answer:  Everywhere we go we see uniformed and mostly armed government law enforcement personnel, who range from the Tourist Police (often women, usually unarmed and, unfortunately for us, often uninformed), through Traffic Enforcement Police (w/ or w/o/ arms), and up to the Police (City, State, and National), and Para-military and out-and-out Military folks who are heavily armed, which includes helmets, full-body armor, assault rifles, and even (sometimes) face masks.  They are definitely scary  folks, and to us, they look like they are mostly indigenous (and probably indigent as well) short, dark men (always men), who (we have been told) come from other parts of Mexico so they won't have emotional or financial ties to the locals.  Oh, there are also Private Security people in front of many private businesses, and not just banks and cambios (places to exchange currency).

This said, we feel, and have been told, that these myriads of "protective/controlling personnel" are mostly here to provide safely for tourism and political dissent and not (at least down here in Oaxaca) to fight drug cartels.  The scariest ones wear camouflage or, more often, all-black clothing and all-black equipment and drive around in large, black military pickup trucks ( Humvees ) with machine guns.  There are about eight to a vehicle, they look very serious, and twice we've seen them come to an abrupt stop, race out, and surround a Mexican and then pick him (both times a "him") up and take him away.  They leave the driver and one of the soldiers in the vehicle, probably so that someone doesn't drive off with it.  Both times, we thought it advisable to watch but not take pictures.  They're all business and exude a "don't mess with us" aura.  We've been told that they're picking up people who they know and are already on the lookout for, such as political activists or drug users.  ¡¿Who knows?!  ¿Quién sabe?

So here are some relevant pictures:

"Neither your jails
Nor your rifles
Will intimidate the rage
Against inequality"
 This man supported the banner and wanted to be in the picture!

These municipal police were up in the Cerro Fortin (a big park above the city).  They just seemed to be enjoying the solitude and said that the park was safe in the daytime but that they wouldn't recommend coming back after dark.

When we first met, they kept their hands on their pistols, but after talking with them for a few minutes, they relaxed and talked of the anti-government civil unrest.

The scariest of them all!
Note the assault machine guns on the top of the first Humvee's cab and the full-face masks on the soldiers.  They were in camouflage, but more often we saw them in all back attire.

The two men in orange shirts and the one in the stripped shirt are plain clothes city police.
While looking around from the bandstand (kiosko)

Multi-domed bandstand in center-left of the picture.
in the center of Oaxaca's Zócalo, (another Zócalo link ), these cops grabbed the man in the red shirt and then removed him from the park.  As he walked away with them, he blew his cigaret smoke in their face.  Good for him, but he should quit smoking!

Bottom line:  We definitely feel very safe here, unless we accidentally get caught in a machine gun crossfire.

Maybe more than you wanted to know, but there you have it.  We're realize that we're "not in Kansas anymore."  Despite all this, it's our opinion that Oaxaca is a fantastic city to visit or live in with all its culture, food, music and visual arts and crafts, climate, and (most of all) wonderful, friendly, and helpful people.

We're off to our local Sánchez Pasqua Mercado for fresh tamales  Yum!