THE FINAL THREATS
GOING TOO FAR
Those days also saw a lot of attention given to Oaxaca's "transparency
of government," or lack thereof. Oaxaca was rated last among the
31 other states of Mexico in transparency of government spending.
"Transparency laws" had moved through all the other 30 states but ex-governor
José Murat had claimed state "autonomy" in the matter and refused to sign
it (obviously large amounts of money was disappearing into private
coffers). This hadn't bothered the ex- Murat, nor his successor,
the now- Ulises Ruiz, but was stirring up a good amount of press
THE “TRANSPARENCY” COMMISSION
Then one day out of the
blue, we got a letter from Dr. Gabriela inviting us to a meeting
at COESIDA on Thursday the third of March. The letter said they were
forming a “commission” to oversee the “transparency” of the AIDS
medicines given out by their clinic. I was a little (!) nervous and
didn’t know what to expect.
Dr. Ramírez was out of
town, but I talked on the phone with Nancy and Sergio, as well as Ayax
and Esperanza and a couple others. I also called our friend, Pina
Hamilton, who knew Gaby well, and invited her to accompany us. She said
In the end, Ayax,
Esperanza, Pina and I entered the doors of COESIDA at 1:00 sharp, like
the invitation said. Well, Dr. Gaby was not there and we could
find no one
who knew anything about the meeting and in the end they said, well, it's
been canceled. A Doctora Margarita came to us and said, well, they didn't
have time to invite all the other groups, well, because they had just
received the "requirements" for the attending groups from CENSIDA, in
D.F. (!?). It all seemed flakey to me, you know? We left.
Nancy was furious when she heard about
the meeting being canceled without even informing us. “Write a note,
Bill,” she said.
I did write a letter to
Dr. Gabriela, which was pretty rough, I tell you. But then Sergio and
Ayax came over and helped me smooth it out a bit. In the end, Dr.
Ramírez read it and said he thought it was a very good letter,
"Courteous" he said.
“Well, I was thinking of
you, Doctor,” I said.
He thanked me.
We sent it off and, of
course, didn’t hear anything more about it for quite a while, several
weeks. Then one day we got another invitation to the inauguration of
this “Transparency Commission,” this time to take place April 6. And
more specific: it said that only our “legal representative,” which of
course is Lilia Palacios, and one other person who must be HIV positive
(!) can attend. If we didn’t have anyone HIV positive, it said, we must
find someone and “delegate” him or her to be our representative (!).
So, I called Sergio and we
got together with Ayax and talked about it. We thought the
“requirements” for this commission were disgusting and just done to keep
us out of it. Also, the HIV requirements reeked of a gross violation of
the confidenciality rules we had set down long ago and always followed.
In the end we decided to skip the
stupid meeting and prepare an “open letter” to the press about this
It was a good letter and we sent it out
to the papers the next day, calling for transparency in COESIDA and
calling attention to the gross violation of confidentiality of HIV in
their committee. And a few other things. It ran on Wednesday,
April 6, the same day as their planned meeting.
We were anxious to hear
something about the meeting but didn’t and so we forgot it for a
Then suddenly, there was a
pounding on our office door one morning before we opened and there was
Pina Hamilton, “Bill!” she said, “I have an important message for you.”
“Come in, Pina!” I said,
opening the door.
Pina said that her friend
Christina Herrera, an administrator at COESIDA, had called her and said
that Dr. Gabi was “muy, pero MUY” molested by our open letter. I
smiled. “This is making you very excited, isn’t it?” said Pina.
“Well, sure, Pina.”
“Dr. Gabi wants a meeting
with you as soon as possible, just you and her. She thinks that you’re
always against her. She wants to explain that she’s a good person and
doing her best.”
I said, fine. “Tell her to
come by my office anytime, that here we have good gringo coffee always,
and we can have a meeting. Whenever she wants!”
“I’ll tell her, but she
won’t like it.,” said Pina, turning to go, “And by the way, your open
letter was marvelous!”
“I love you!” I shouted to
her as she hurried off.
Of course there would be no
meeting with Dr. Gaby in our office.
* * *
It was a couple weeks later
that a letter was hand-delivered into our office. It was addressed to
me personally, in the form of an “invitation” to meet the following day
(!) with a certain Licenciado Javier Fuentes Valdivieso, some “Director
of Government” to talk about “matters pertaining to the activities of
your organization, Frente Común Contra el Sida.”
I immediately called
Nancy. “Oh, Bill,” she said. She handed the phone to her
“Don’t go, Bill,” advised
Alfonso. “They can’t make you go, and besides, everything of the Frente
Común is perfectly in order and you have nothing to worry about, right?”
“Let me ask you one thing,”
“How is your immigration
It so happened at that
time, that Esperanza was wrapping up this year’s paperwork for my “FM-2,”
permission to work in Mexico. There had been no problems.
“Fine,” I said, “all taken
“Well, good, you have
nothing to worry about.”
“What if I send
Esperanza?” I asked.
“Good idea. And you have a
good excuse, your brother’s in town. She can explain.”
So the next day Esperanza
went, along with her landlord and our friend Lic. René Arragón. I hung out in
my studio. I didn’t want to be in the office.
“He had a file on you an
inch thick,” said Esperanza when she got back. “And he said, no, he
didn’t want to talk to me, and, no, he didn’t want to talk to Lilia
Palacios or anybody else, he wants to talk to YOU.” So he said he
would plan another meeting in a week’s time. She said he was
Well, the invitation
promptly came again, this time naming Friday next, May 3, at 11:00
o’clock in his office. I thought well, I have a week to worry.
“Bill, don’t go alone. You
have every right to take whomever you like,” said Nancy. So I started
talking around and Sergio came over and Dr. Ramírez, and some others and
we planned some strategy about what we would say. I called Pina
and she agree to go with me. I
stopped by Claudio and Martha’s for a little support.
“Bill, do you want me to go
with you?” asked Claudio.
“¡Sí!!!” I answered.
So, we were Claudio,
Sergio, Pina and I. On time and looking good. Well it soon became
apparent the guy, Director so and so, had been given the fear of God
(Dr. Gaby!), knew really very little about the situation and even less
about AIDS or medicine, was very nervous and was looking to us for some
way out of this meeting. Pina suggested he call another meeting this
time with Doctora Velásquez, the head of COESIDA, and us. She said,
there we could work everything out.
He thought that was a good
idea and closed the meeting.
BELOW: Licenciado Javier Fuentes
Valdivieso, “Director of Government”
Ten days came and went.
The Dr. Gabriela Velásquez does not want to talk with us, we knew. So
we wrote another letter to this director so-and-so and said by the way,
10 days have passed and we are expecting to hear about the upcoming
meeting that were supposed to have and by the way we think that he
should also invite the members of this new transparency commission. The
same day we sent a formal letter to COESIDA, addressed to the members of
the “Transparency Commission,” soliciting copies of the full inventory
of AIDS medicines in their pharmacy, for all twelve months of the
previous year (!), and seven other questions.
That very afternoon (how
fast they can if they want, no?) we got a reply from the Licenciado
inviting us to a meeting with the Dr. Velásquez, and, this time, in the
offices of COESIDA, in one week. “That’s NOT a neutral location,” said
Doctora Martha Meléndez, a good friend of our group. But we would go.
This time we were Claudio, Sergio,
myself and, with Pina out of town for a few days, the Doctora Meléndez.
We were on time.
Well, it was a stupid
meeting, really, nearly two hours (!).
The Licenciado hadn't a clue what was
to be talked about and turned the whole meeting over to Dr. Gaby and
her team. The first thing they did was bring in a guy they said was the
"state accountant." He reported at length that all the funds for
COESIDA had been carefully analized and everything found to be perfectly
correct and so forth. We sat silently listening and at the end quietly
pointed out that we had never asked about the moneys of COESIDA, and we
were only interested in the inventories of medicines, that is the number
of doses of what medicines had moved through the clinic of COESIDA
during the last year.
Dr. Sandra Pérez spoke up, "Why? Why
do you want to know?"
Dr. Gaby said, "You're always
criticizing us and never saying anything good about us!”
Another one said, “You have
no right to that information!”
“You wouldn’t understand it
anyway, you’re not doctors!” (I refrained from pointing out our own
Dr. Melendez, sitting there taking notes, by the way!)
“It is all too complicated for you! Dosages and medicines and … This is NOT ‘two plus two is four.’
It’s much more than that!”
They were now screaming.
I had to speak up. “I beg
your pardon, Doctora, but it IS two plus two is four. It’s mathematics.
We can add. We know it’s very complicated, but we also know about
medicine and dosages and mathematics. Listen, just give us copies of
the inventories and we’ll see if we can understand them. If so we’ll be
able to confirm the number of patients you have and if we can’t
understand them, well, we can’t. OK?”
Licenciado Javier was
trying to smile and looked over to Dr. Gaby.
Dr. Gaby spoke with the
finality of authority. “I’m sorry. That information is confidential.
You can’t have it.”
No one spoke. That was
Licenciado Javier looked to me for some
way out of this impossible meeting.
I said, “OK, let’s say that future
requests for information will go first to Licenciado Javier, here, and
he can pass them along to you as he sees fit.
He thought that was a great idea and he
gladly closed the meeting.
I felt a great bit of
relief that it was all over and hadn’t been any worse than it was, but
then, too, feeling sort of pissed at such a waste of time and energies
by everybody involved.
Claudio said he was going
to write it up in his column on Saturday and we’re thinking of
“rephrasing” our request and getting it over to the Director in a few
days, and we’ll see.
On Saturday, Claudio’s column came out in the largest paper in Oaxaca,
Las Noticias. It was called “The Frente Insists on Transparency.” He
wrote about the meeting and said, among other things:
”The battle by our civic society in
Oaxaca, for transparency in the activities of our government
institutions is being stubbornly fought on many fronts… This, too, is
the case with official information HIV/AIDS in our state.
The Frente Común Contra
el SIDA, through agonizing months of soliciting information from COESIDA,
did not tire before receiving a partial response or at least a gesture
that could be interpreted as a promise of a response. Though pioneers in
the information and prevention of this incurable disease, the Frente
Común has encountered an insurmountable barrier of “happy statistics”
from COESIDA and the Secretary of Health, with their “healthy” official
monopoly and the “success” of their efforts to fight this disease.
Intervening as mediator, was the Director of Government, Javier Fuentes
Valdivieso. If that weren’t enough, the head of COESIDA is the Doctor
Gabriela Velásquez Rosas, Woman of the Year, the “doña” known not only
for her recognition by the company Longines Swiss watches, but also
recognized by the Mayor of this city for her incredible human virtues
and sacrifice. … However, in the area of informing the public, COESIDA
has been discriminating against the Frente Común.
There were such
absurdities as this: To be formally a member of the Combined Commission
on Transparency of COESIDA, one must be a declared person with HIV. Gulp!
And not only that, you must have experience in medicine, law, forensics,
pharmaceuticals, etc. All that the Frente wants is to oversee that those
patients who live in this state receive the medical attention, treatment
and complete medicines that can help to improve their quality of life.
For this reason, they are asking to see the supply and movements of
complete doses of antiretroviral medicines and other substances in their
pharmacy. How many patients are receiving attention? How many cases have
been reported, how many of those have died, when will the Commission on
Transparency be meeting, when will they issue their report, and how much
do these services cost?
The interview began
tense; they said “you only use this information to attack the government”
(this was one of the only arguments they used to justify their opacity),
and only promised transparency and collaboration in the future.
Oaxaca has been selected as the site of this year’s National AIDS
Congress happening at the end of November, with the attendance of
experts. This is one of the positive accomplishments of those who work
at COESIDA, but why not try to “get by with a little help from my
friends” as Joe Crocker sang, in the words of Lennon and McCartney?
Though they might try to clam up in front of the NGO’s, our community
groups are not going to tire in their public criticisms."
May 22, 2005
* * *
Meanwhile, a couple
interesting items had been mentioned at the meeting, which we hadn’t known.
First, there is going to be a meeting in Oaxaca next June 3, of some
representatives of NGOs from Mexico City, many of whom we know, with
Doctora Gabriela, about plans for the national convention in December.
We were “thinly” invited to attend.
Second, that the national
convention, set for 1-4 of December, will be preceded by a five day
“international” convention of some sort, with persons from US, Canada and Mexico. They mentioned some groups attending, but I didn’t
recognize any names. Interesting.
So, all this sort of goes
into our general “strategy” for the fall and leading up to the
convention. We’re looking at a couple of projects and some strong
statements with press coverage, first local and then national. You
remember a lot of us are from the theater and are thinking of some
stunts and a sort of alternative “performance” timed for the convention,
blood on the steps, that kind of thing. We started by drawing some
altrnative "mascots" for the convention (BELOW).
We also looking into renting a
flatbed truck and loudspeakers and making a sort of “vox populi” mobile
television station and inviting radical conventioneers to sound off (BELOW).
* * *
So, as had been suggested
at the end of that horrible meeting with all the Doctoras yelling at us,
we rephrased the last four questions on our original request, those
dealing with this “Comisión de Transparencia” and sent it off to the
Licenciado Javier and about a week later we got a response, signed by
Doctora Gaby, no less, with four answers to our questions:
One, the Comisión would be
meeting on the last working day of every third month (!).
Two, No, the public could
not attend the session as observers.
Three, No, the press could
not attend, and
Four, the official report
of each meeting would come out the day after the session.
Well, it was something. We
sent a letter thanking Licendiado Javier for his productive
intervention, and looked at the calendar.
The first meeting of this transparency commission would be on September
30, over two months away. We had plenty of time to plan.
* * *
So then September 30 was
coming up, the day which Doctora Gaby had announced would be the first
session of the “transparency commission.” We decided a little “gorilla”
tactics would be in order.
A few of us got together
again and wrote up this “press release” sort of like it was from COESIDA,
in a very ironic tone, announcing how the upcoming Friday was going to
be an “auspicious” day in the state of Oaxaca, and how the eyes of the
nation were going to be on this, the first ever meeting of a
transparency commission, and that, no, the press could not attend, nor
patients nor families of the patients, all the stuff Gabi had written in
her letter to us. I even took a bus out to COESIDA and took pictures of
the building. We sent it out on that Tuesday, the 27.
The next day it appeared in
the papers, well two only, and small ones, but we felt sure it probably
got somebody’s attention in COESIDA. We would find out shortly.
A couple days later
happened to run into Pina Hamilton, and she said she had run into Dr. Gaby the night before at some sort of
tribute or something for Francisco Toledo, and that she, Gaby, was
“Pina! We have to talk!
We have to talk, Pina!” the doctora had cried.
“What’s wrong, Gaby?”
“Pina, I never stole a
cent! I never stole a cent! Tell him! You’ve got to tell him, Pina,
please!” was how Pina related the story. “I never stole a cent!”
Pina asked me, “What did
you do, Bill? You really got her upset, you know?”
I showed Pina a copy of the
story about the commission. She read it silently.
“No wonder she’s mad,
Bill,” said Pina.
October came and went and
we didn’t hear any more from COESIDA, but we worked hard on our plans
for the upcoming convention. We were having meetings, Sergio, Ayax, the
volunteers from Pacific Lu, a few others, and felt good about the work.
We also began work on a "NO-Official Convention Website" to run on our
site and tell our side of the news. We took the official program
and did "our version" (BELOW).
plans were divided into several themes; “promotion,” for example, featured
mostly Señor Condón, and photos of him welcoming the delegates, checking
the hotel beds, addressing the Convention, and such. Chuy and I were
setting up the shots. “The public debate” featured articles and
statements by us, sent to the press, and posted on our site. We were renting a flatbed truck and making a mobile television
studio for our “Voz Populi,” that sort
of thing. As well as some silly stuff like staging photos of Señor Condón openening the
Then “action” and
theatrical events and protest performances during the days of the
convention. We were planning to clog the entrance of the hotel at the
opening session with hundreds of giant “money bags” all over the street
and sidewalks when the keynote speakers tried to enter. We already had
a couple of sample money bags sewn and everybody liked them a lot.
One of the first actions
was to send out, shortly before the convention, an open letter to the
national press, questioning the choice of Oaxaca to be the host of the
convention and how it really shouldn’t be, because of the government
policy of opacity, and such. We started drafting it.
We were excited and active.
* * *
November had barely opened
when into our office there came a hand-delivered request from COESIDA to
please send to them the number of volunteers from the Frente which we
were planning to send to help at the convention, as well as an
invitation to a meeting the following day, Friday the 4, to discuss our
“participation in the convention.”
We talked about it and
decided to screw the meeting.
The next morning, the day
of the supposed meeting, we received by e-mail, the first ever from
COESIDA, a brief letter announcing that the meeting had been cancelled,
but would we please send to them the number of our volunteers we were
promising to loan them. We decided not to answer.
We felt it was time for our
open letter: “The national convention should NOT take place in Oaxaca”
… and why! Over the weekend, Sergio and Ayax and I went over the text
several times in preparation to sending it out on Monday.
Monday came and I was a
little nervous so I took it by to show Claudio Sánchez at his shop. He
“Go for it, Bill! Somebody
has to say it!” he said.
So, I went to the studio
and sent the letter by e-mail to nine national papers and about 30
copies to heads of organizations in Mexico City, Carlos de León,
ColectivoSol, Frenpavih, others, to health officials, including the
Federal Secretary of Health, Julio Frenk, and to the directors of
CENSIDA, personalizing the one to Dr. Jorge Saavedra, and a bunch of
The next day I got a nice
reply from Jorge Saavedra, mostly saying well, the choice of Oaxaca was
made at a Federal level, not by the state of Oaxaca, but that he was
interested in what I had to say and that he would be in Oaxaca on
Sunday, the 27 and could we meet? He also suggested others from “the
people in Oaxaca” might be invited too. I thought, Oh, sure!
Ayax and I sent off a brief
response, thanking him for his letter and saying yes, let’s meet on
Sunday in our offices.
Right about then, I had
scheduled a meeting with Gabriela Pascal of Banamex, wanting to keep her
up with what we were doing and sort of report on how we were using their
money. I went to see her with the letter we had sent and Saavedra’s
response. It happened Pina was there. Well we all talked and they were
both very encouraging. I told them about our plans and how our site was
doing and that I wanted to prepared some questions for Alfredo Harp and
make a kind of interview for our “public debate.” Gabriela thought that
was a good idea and yes, send her the questions.
That afternoon, Chuy and I
were working in the studio on some photos of the money bags when I got a
phone call from the office of Lic. Javier Valdivieso (!) inviting
me to come to his office the following day, Friday, at 10:00 in the
morning. I was a little startled but said “Sure!”
we had a meeting at
the studio. Sergio, Ayax, Martha Elena, Julian, me,
Lauren, about all the work and plans we had going. We turned
immediately to the call from Javier. Everybody said Bill, don’t go
alone, but none of them could go with me the following day.
I called Pina. She said
the same thing, don’t go alone. She said she couldn’t go on Friday and
that I should ask to change the meeting until Monday or Tuesday and she
could go with me, and we should try to get the others to go too. I said,
So, Friday morning early,
went to talk with Esperanza and she said we could send Elena, one of her
helpers to say that Bill could not come today, but Monday or Tuesday
would be fine. She went and came back with the answer, OK, Monday at
Saturday, I tried to relax,
but mostly I worried.
* * *
the bummer happened.
PART FOUR: AN UNHAPPY CONCLUSION