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            There is no question the Common Front Against AIDS has become another casualty of the corrupt and repressive government of Oaxaca.  High officials in the health department have no interest in the health of the people.  The current Secretary of Public Health, appointed by Ulises Ruiz, in one short year has become one of the wealthiest men in Oaxaca, recently buying an enormous mansion in San Felipe de Agua, the rich enclave a dozen miles north of Oaxaca city.  The director of COESIDA, Gabriela Velàsquez, is the wife of the largest contributor to the political campaigns of both ex-governor José Murat and current governor Ulises Ruiz. 

            Ulises himself was head of security for José Murat during the first wave of political killings that swept Oaxaca several years ago.  In the past year alone, 34 opposition figures have been assassinated in the state.  Five indigenous leaders were killed on the very weekend we received the final threat from COESIDA.

            This is not a government to be criticized.


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            On Sunday was the incident.


            We later met and it was agreed I would sign a document with the government promising to have no part in the national convention, to cease activities concerning HIV/AIDS in Oaxaca, to not speak with the media, and to not mention the above "incident."


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            Shortly after, there appeared the following comments from Internet Website, RealOaxaca, by Stan Gotlieb:


" ...Whether in the streets of New York by uniformed police, or Oaxaca's state university by unidentified "porros" (non-students hired to go in and kick ass), against demonstrators, dissenters, or journalists, the goon squad is a standard response of tyrannical bosses aiming to bust up unions, secret governments suppressing dissent, or any one of a hundred different kinds of "troublemaker". Dictatorships and would-be dictatorships all honor similar terroristic methods for controlling their populations.  Hardly a country in the world that doesn't unleash the dogs (figuratively and/or literally".  We all "know" such things go on.  However, there's "knowing" and then there's "knowing".  When the knock comes on your very own door, your world changes forever.  Last month, they came knocking on the Frente's door.  They showed up at Condón Mania, the highly successful store that sells condoms at just enough over cost to stay in business.  They gave a little demonstration by smashing the windshield on one of the workers' car.  They gave everyone some advice about how to avoid these kinds of visits in the future. ..."



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            At this point we do not know the future of our organization.  Our activities have been greatly reduced during the past year and look to be further diminished.  If need be, the organization is well prepared to discontinue its existence at any time.


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            I feel bad that we can not continue our important work in the way we would like.  But perhaps I can mention some of the positive accomplishments we have noted and feel a little better about where we are and where we have come.


            It must be said we observe in Oaxaca an educated public.  The discussion about HIV/AIDS has been opened and opened wide.  People, and especially young people, speak openly and positively about AIDS here and the work being done. 


            Surely one of the most important achievements of the Common Front has been the positive and enthusiastic involvement of the press and communications media.  Our early “Agreement of Five Points” laid out the responsibility of a truthful and helpful public debate, the importance of verifiable reporting, and the complete avoidance of negative terminology, all raised the public discussion and awareness of AIDS to a high respectability in the community.  Lengthy and thoughtful articles, radio and television interviews, and graphic promotions on billboards and street posters had an enormous impact on the general population.


Recently a visiting health worker devised a simple survey to evaluate knowledge about AIDS in young people.  For a period of one month, our education program made arrangements with a number of schools where we were giving our talks.  A short questionnaire of some ten questions was distributed to the class before and then again, after, each talk.  We were happy to see an increase in knowledge on each question as a result of our presentations.  However, the more notable aspect was the high level of correct AIDS information that the survey showed in the pre-talk results.  We realized we were speaking to a youthful population already becoming informed and involved in the movement against AIDS.


The following year another short survey was conducted to look at the population in general, the “man on the street.”  On one Saturday, five teams of volunteers were sent out to busy intersections and commercial hubs of the city.  With yellow clipboards and a smiling face, our people asked passers-by to answer eight simple questions.  Fully seven hundred persons responded.  The survey examined mainly “name recognition” of our organization and of our various programs and campaigns.  A whopping eighty percent knew of the Common Front, and 85 percent of all men knew our campaign symbol of the condom and heart.  More women than men were able to identify our famous “AMOR” poster, and an impressive, we believe, 18 percent of all responders said they had attended a Common Front talk on AIDS.


Another one of our “indirect” indicators which we sometimes note concerns the wide proliferation of our over-sized street posters.  In Oaxaca, many buildings have an old, wrought-iron “cartelera,” a frame for posters and announcements.  They’re about three feet by four and ostensively the only place it’s legal to put up posters.  Over the years we’ve designed a dozen or so of our “safe-sex iconography” the size of the street frames and plastered the town.  The image features a big condom.  Now one might expect, in this little, dusty, conservative town in southern Mexico, a certain amount of opposition or at least some resistance to a blatant symbol such as this.  Never have we received a negative word from our (quite vocal) public!  On the contrary, many say, “Hey, saw your new posters!” of “I like the Christmas condoms, Bill!” or “”I see AMOR is sweeping the country!”

The press too, always give us a good coverage (BELOW).




            A few years ago, we noted that to buy a condom in the corner pharmacy, the lady behind the counter always had to go looking around in the back room, and sometimes yelling out about Where are the prophylactics, Joe? and such.  It was a barrier for young people and kids if they wanted to pick up a condom, like, well, coolly.

            We staged a workshop specifically for agents and workers of pharmacies in Oaxaca and had a good group show up for the theme “How to sell a condom.”  Today, in all the pharmacies of Oaxaca, the condoms are proudly displayed next to the cash register, next to the aspirins and candy.  We feel good about that.


            We have a little game, or exercise, we do occasionally, or ask our friends and visitors.  We’ll mention casually to taxi drivers or waiters or such, that we are here in Oaxaca, helping out the work of the “Frente Común Contra el SIDA,” being careful to always say the complete name.  And then gage their reaction.  Often, in this world, the reactions to AIDS can be a bit grim, a shudder or shaking of heads.  We’ve found, on the contrary, the locals here know about our group, about AIDS and about the efforts to fight it in this town.  They smile and congratulate us.  “Good for you!” they’ll say.  One young visitor told a group of ladies he was working for the Frente and they stood up and applauded.


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            Then too, we can look at the numbers.  They say numbers don’t lie.  In the Common Front, we’ve always been well documented, always noting our activities and our work and counting our achievements.  Our little organization gave 3,744 talks about AIDS in schools and workplaces throughout the state of Oaxaca (BELOW).  We distributed 2,850 of our complete AIDS Education Packets, in our state and elsewhere, in Mexico, Latin America and to many organizations in the United States with work in the Hispanic community.  We were particularly pleased when one even went to Kenya.



            Our little popular store, Condón-Manía, sold fully 345,288 quality condoms, everyone a potential barrier against the AIDS virus.  And of those who bought our condoms, an impressive 14 percent were women, an interesting fact given the anatomical nature of the product, one must admit.


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            Finally, my friend, Russell Ellison, relates a simple story that happened to him one day while he was sitting in the zócalo drinking a coffee and reading the paper.  Under the spreading laurel trees, he could enjoy himself and watch the lovely people strolling by.  Out of the corner of his eyes he spied a young couple walking his way, a boy and girl, teenagers, perhaps.  He smiled as he noted their gentle flirting, the boy, a handsome young man, leaning in to the pretty girl and whispering into her ear.  The girl smiling and enjoying his comments, rewarding him with her big eyes twinkling up at him.

            As they passed Russell’s table on the edge of the path, he heard one small sentence the boy was saying to the girl.  He said, “Come on, let’s go to Condón-Manía …”  and they walked on past.

            Nobody knows the rest of that story, of course.  Did they go to Condón-Manía?  Did the boy get the girl?  Were the happy then, and are they happy still?  And we’ll never know of course.  We don’t even know their names.

            But a few things we can say, at least.  What a nice young man.  And what a nice idea to suggest to his girl.  And how nice that that young couple can mention condoms, and protection, and prevention, already, in their relationship.  They’ve opened the conversation and they are speaking with each other about important things, things that are often missing from a discussion between a couple.  Sometimes people will say things like “Oh, come on, you don’t have to worry about that with me!” or “Hey!  Look at me, I’m no fairy!  I don’t have to use no rubbers,”  or “You can trust me, Baby!” and such, as we all know.

            No, that day, in the shade of the old laurel trees in Oaxaca, one couple of fine young people were making the right decisions in their lives, to take control of their bodies, of their lives, to protect themselves and their loved ones, and making a relationship based on honesty and realism.


We wish them all the best in the world.






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 Bill Wolf

Oaxaca, Mexico

January, 2007