[OPE-L] Recent political events in Oaxaca

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Nov 03 2006 - 22:40:31 EST

The following was written by Gustavo Esteva, a radical intellectual who
lives in Oaxaca. / In solidarity, Jerry

Recent political events in Oaxaca

The people of Oaxaca have been in turmoil for almost two years, in view of
the barbaric administration of the psychopathic, corrupt and authoritarian
governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, who took office on December 2004 after a
fraudulent election.

On May 22nd the teachers union (70 000 teachers in the whole state)
started a sit-in at the main plaza of Oaxaca, as part of their struggle
for economic claims. In the city, the people reacted with indifference or
anger to the sit-in and the blockade of some streets; they were used to
these annual demonstrations, which always end in a negotiation producing
some additional perks for the leaders of the union and for the teachers,
at the price of disrupting the life in the city for weeks or months. The
people were also angry because the teachers abandoned the schools – and
many families did not know what to do with their children.

On June 14th the governor ordered a violent repression of the sit-in,
including bombs of tear gas thrown on the teachers from a helicopter –many
of which fell in private houses or offices in down town. The episode
changed the nature of the movement. ¡Fuera Ulises! (something like Ulises
out of Oaxaca) became the unifying slogan for all the people discontented
with his administration. The teachers union, observing such impact,
attempted to articulate those social forces as support for their movement
and convened a Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO, for its
name in Spanish). Hundreds of social and grassroots organizations joined
immediately the Assembly. Radical groups in the teachers union changed
soon the relationship between the union and APPO. They imposed to the
leadership of the union a kind of subordination to the Assembly, which is
a very complex and heterogeneous body which has been leading the uprising
since June 20th.  Many marches have been organized. One of them gathered a
million people, almost a third of the population of the state.

It is a very long and complex story, with very impressive episodes. Two of
them may illustrate the nature of the struggle:

1)      Given the usual use of the media against the movement, a group of women
of APPO peacefully invaded the public network, which operates radio and TV
for the whole state. It was continually used by the governor for
propaganda against the movement. The group started to disseminate the
ideas, proposals and initiatives of APPO and opened the network to the
people 24 hours a day. Thousands of them started to call the station,
which of course had every kind of technical problems (the women occupying
the network had no previous training for this). One night, a group of
undercover police agents and mercenaries came to the facilities with
weapons and started shooting. They destroyed the equipment and injured
some people. A few hours later, as a reaction, APPO occupied ALL private
radio stations and TV networks in the city. Instead of one, they suddenly
got 12 options to disseminate information about the movement…and to give
voice to the people. A few days later they gave back the stations to their
owners, but kept one, powerful enough to cover the whole state. They have
been disseminating information about the movement 24 hours a day…but it
does not represent all of APPO: the station is controlled by some radical
groups inside it.

2)      After several skirmishes, the governor kept the police in its barracks
(apparently the policemen refused to follow instructions to repress the
people, who were very well organized for self-defense and some of them
resigned). Since June, no police, not even traffic police, has been seen
in the city. Night and day members of APPO stay in sit-ins before every
public agency in the city and all the private radio stations and networks
in its hands. (The governor and all its officers meet secretly in hotels
or private houses; no bureaucrat can come to work). One night, a convoy of
35 pick-up vans, with undercover agents and mercenaries, came to the
sit-ins and started to shoot. They were not shooting at the people, but
trying to intimidate them. APPO reported immediately the situation,
through the occupied radio stations. In a few minutes the people started
to organize barricades, to prevent the arrival of the convoy. In one
place, they were able to close the street with a truck and thus “trapped”
a pick-up van. Its occupants escaped. The vehicle, with the official signs
of the police in the doors, is now exhibited in the main plaza. In another
street one guy died; apparently he was not involved in the sit-in and was
only passing by when the attackers started to shoot. Since then, every
night, at 11:00pm, more than a thousand barricades close all the streets
around the sit-ins or in critical crossroads. At 6:00am the barricades are
partially dismantled, to facilitate the circulation.

Two stories may illustrate the mood in the city.

1)      In August, in a street of a lower middle class neighborhood of the city
of Oaxaca, there was a big fight in a private party. A couple came out of
the house, very drunk. “Perhaps we must call the police”, said him. “Don’t
be stupid”, said her; “there is no police”. “You are right”, said him,
confused; “let’s call APPO”.

2)      “Don’t be stupid”, said the petty, corrupt leader to a young baker in a
street in downtown Oaxaca, in the sidewalk before his shop; “if you do
that I will burn your place. These spaces are mine. You are in command in
your own home, but I am the boss here”. And he took his gun, threatening
the baker, while his bodyguards surrounded him. But Diego Hernández was
not intimidated. “I am not afraid of you”, he said; “behind that gun a
coward is hidden”. They were going to beat him, when Diego exploded three
fireworks, as APPO does in the barricades whenever something suspicious or
threatening is perceived: it is the alert signal. That was enough. For

In spite of the guerrilla attacks of the police, a human rights
organization reported that in the last months there was less violence in
Oaxaca (deads, injured) than in any other month of the last 10 years…The
people are taking care of themselves better than the government or the

Organized business had organized several “strikes” without much success.

The Ministry of the Interior finally intervened and convened conversations
in Mexico City with the teachers union and the APPO. They have been taking
decisions to reduce the tensions in the city and the state. Neither the
union or APPO accepted to negotiate the ousting of the governor (this is a
non negotiable claim: he should leave), but they were ready to negotiate
specific agreements to avoid violence or advance on specific issues.

On September 21 a group of 5000 people started a march to Mexico City to
present their claims to the Senate.

In the last week of September the Teachers Union organized a massive
consultation with the teachers. There was universal consensus about the
continuation of the movement until ousting Ulises, and a solid majority
(not consensus) about not returning to classes. (Many teachers think that
it will be good to continue the strike but open the schools again, because
the parents and communities support the movement but don’t know what to do
with the children).

In order to legally oust the governor, the Senate should declare
“desaparición de poderes” (meaning that the constituted powers are no
longer governing). The Senators leaving office on September 1st rejected
the formal petition for such decision. The new Senators are fully involved
in the national turmoil. Both PRI and PAN have expressed their full
support to the governor and refuse to oust him. They transformed Oaxaca
into one of the pieces to negotiate in the very complex negotiation in
which they are currently involved. Among the difficulties of such
negotiation is that the PRI is currently in full disarray, after the
humiliating defeat of July 2: there is no person or group with whom
organize a serious negotiation.

For several weeks, the sit-ins and the barricades were attacked during the
night by paramilitaries.

On October 10 the Senate took finally the decision to study the case. On
October 19 the Senators produced an oxymoron as their conclusion: they
explicitly recognized that the governor should be ousted, and desaparición
de poderes declared, given the conditions of the state, but they refused
to do so, in the name of some juridical formalities. After this shameful
document (no one dares to defend the psychopathic governor), on October 29
the Senate joined the Chamber of Representatives in a “petition” to the
governor for him to resign…and the governor reacted immediately with an
appeal to the Supreme Court accusing them of power abuse! He declared that
he will never resign.

The march started on September 21 got great support in the way and arrived
on October 8 at Mexico City. Exhausted, they established a sit-in near the
Senate. Thousands of people and many organizations are now supporting
them. On October 15, 25 of them started a hunger strike. They have been
suffering the consequences.

On October 4 the Minister of the Interior convened a meeting in Mexico
City of a hundred prominent people of Oaxaca – basically from the
political classes but also including some well known characters, like the
famous painter Francisco Toledo—to sign a Social Pact. Three great
Indigenous leaders, two famous intellectuals and Toledo abandoned the
meeting, as soon as it started, denouncing that in it there was no real
representation of the people of Oaxaca (for example: the Indigenous
people, two thirds of the population of Oaxaca, were not represented).
Many of those remaining in the meeting, very close to Ulises Ruiz, asked
explicitly for the repression of the movement. The meeting could not
fulfill its function, no pact was signed and a second meeting convened for
October 11 was cancelled.

Back in Oaxaca, the group that abandoned the meeting and perhaps provoked
its collapse convened, with many other organizations, a Dialogue for
Oaxaca, which started with great success on October 12, through an
Indigenous ritual and people representing all sectors of the society. An
open, democratic space was thus created to articulate the efforts of the
civil society and organize the political transition.

Businessmen, particularly at the national level, increased their pressure
on the Federal Government and President Fox to “solve” the problem –
meaning to send federal forces to Oaxaca.

During the third week of October, there were great advances in the dialogue
among the people of Oaxaca and also in the negotiations with the
government. The Teachers Union finally agreed to come back to classes (the
main request of the government) and to accept the offers of the government
to satisfy their economic claims and the liberation of their people in
jail. Apparently, a political space was created for a new kind of

On October 27, paramilitaries and municipal policemen loyal to the governor
violently attacked many barricades. In one of them, they killed Brad Will,
an American journalist of Indymedia. There were violent confrontations in
several point of the city. In the evening, the President announced his
decision to send the Federal police.

The police arrived on October 28. APPO took the explicit decision of
resisting without confrontation. The people showed impressive
self-restraint before the police, with their tanks and all the
paraphernalia of power. In many cases, the people stopped the tanks with
their own bodies in the pavement. The adults controlled the young people
trying to express their anger, but in some cases they threw stones and a
few molotovs. The police reached the main plaza and APPO abandoned it. The
people concentrated in the university city, protecting their radio station
- which had been transmitting the decision of using non violence and
avoiding confrontations and provocations. The police started to
selectively capture some people in the barricades or their homes. At the
end of the day, we had three dead, many injured, lots of people
disappeared. The people kidnapped by the police were transported to
military barracks. Human rights organizations, including the official one,
had been unable to visit the
people in jail, because they change them from one jail to another.

On October 29 APPO organized three marches. The police occupies the main
plaza and a few points, in which they have their equipment. They are
surrounded by the people, who have established many new barricades. As
soon as the police leaves, after dismantling a barricade, the people build
it again. People coming from the villages in trucks, to support the
movement, have been stopped in the way and often beaten and thrown in

Selective repression continues.

The governor organized a big march on October 30, with his followers and
people forced to come (bureaucrats, people getting some money to come or
intimidated, etc.).

Many people are afraid that we will not be able to stop the blood bath. In
spite of the continual appeal to non violence, the people feel a very
serious offense and are very angry. They don’t want to be cowards… They
know that they are not alone: people all around Mexico and the world are
offering their support. But what to do before this barbaric, irrational
violence on their own people, their elders, their women?

The first report of the balance of violence in these days, produced by a
group of NGOs and grassroots organizations identify 17 dead, 138 injured,
57 in jail and many disappeared.

Recent political events in Mexico

For two years, the whole establishment conspired to prevent the victory of
the leftist candidate in presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López
Obrador (AMLO), which took place last July 2nd. The President, the
government, the political parties, the media, private corporations, the
Catholic Church…all of them used illegal tricks in a very dirty campaign
against AMLO, who any way had for 18 months, in most polls, an advantage
of 10 points over Calderón, the candidate of the right.

The electoral journey went without special incidents. At the end of the day
both candidates declared victory. A few days later the official electoral
body announced that Calderón won for 0.5% votes. There were very strange
manipulations in the processing of the votes. Apparently a very
sophisticated fraud was implemented.  AMLO immediately organized two
marches in Mexico City (one of one million people, the other with two
million people) to claim for the cleaning of the election. He asked for a
recounting of every vote. He also organized the longest sit-in in history:
seven kilometers in one of the main avenues of Mexico City and the main
plaza. He settled in one of the encampments of the sit-in in the main
plaza for more than a month. And he convened a National Democratic
Convention for September 16th  (Independence Day in Mexico), in order to
create a kind of alternative government or government in resistance, with
the purpose of reorganizing all Mexican institutions from the bottom up.
He appealed to one article of our Constitution, recognizing the right of
the people to change at any moment their political regime. AMLO also
proposed a Manifesto to be discussed and approved in the Convención,
challenging all institutions, announcing a kind of peaceful uprising and
describing some basic political goals for a profound social

On September 1st President Fox came to the Federal Congress for the
traditional ritual of reading the annual report to the nation – in this
case his last. A few days before, anticipating the marches and blockades
announced for that day, the buildings of the Congress were surrounded by
tanks and thousands of policemen and troops. Fox, however, could not read
his report. Senators and representatives of the PRD occupied the podium in
the Congress, claiming that they would remain there until the army and the
police, illegally establishing a siege to the Congress, abandon its
facilities. Fox remained in the lobby of the Congress and gave the written
report to its Secretariat. A little later the army and the police
abandoned the place.

The Electoral Court rejected all the claims submitted by the political
parties. On September 6 it confirmed the victory of Calderón. The document
recognizes that all the irregularities denounced by AMLO were true: it
admonishes President Fox, the Electoral Body, the businessmen, the church,
Calderón’s party…but still certified the validity of the elections. Legal
experts had already exposed the contradictions of the document. The law
does not allow for an appeal (the tribunal is the last instance) but the
judges can be accused of violating the law. Anyway, the decision provoked
profound frustration and rage in millions of people, particularly the
poor, who nourished many hopes about AMLO. AMLO took thus the lead of a
kind of
uprising, trying to moderate and control a movement of those millions in
the whole country.

The word fascism has been circulating in these months in order to describe
attitudes, ideologies and behavior of the group that may take office next
December. It is not the word to use, as yet, but it gives an idea of the
humor in the country.

The Convención Nacional Democrática (National Democratic Convention)
elected AMLO as Legitimate President and defined a program of activities.
More than a million registered participants attended the meeting on
September 16. The parties of the coalition supporting AMLO (PRD, PT and
Convergencia) assumed the risks of participating in the Convención…but are
playing the “institutional” way in the Congress and the States and
municipalities where it holds power. AMLO will “take office” on November
20. And the congressmen of the coalition affirmed that they will not allow
Calderón to take office on December 1st.

In early October there was a very dirty negotiation in the Congress – for
PRI and PAN to get all the important committees and exclude PRD.

Whenever Calderón appears in public gets a solid rejection by different
groups of people and should be surrounded by his body guards – more and
more every day.

Another issue is the position of the Zapatistas. Since January,
Subcomandante Marcos started a tour around the country for The Other
Campaign, organized by the Zapatistas with the conviction that the
political classes (including the left) were clearly unable to listen to
people’s claims and will use and abuse the law to remain in power. It was
conceived as a campaign for the people themselves to listen to each other
and to organize their struggle without the political parties and the
government, in a national, coordinated program. They
stopped the campaign in solidarity with the people of Atenco, severely
repressed in June. In late September they announced that several
comandantes will come to Mexico City, to continue the expression of such
solidarity, and Marcos will continue the Other Campaign in the northern
states on October 7. On September 28 a long communiqué explained the
Zapatistas position about the elections. They consider that AMLO won the
election, that there was a fraud, but they will not join AMLO’s
mobilization, because they don’t share that path
and that orientation. On October 8 Delegado Zero (Subcomandante Marcos)
traveled to the North of the country to continue the Other Campaign. On
October 29, in a communiqué, they asked for national support to APPO,
closing roads on November 1.

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