See our Photo of the Week (and archive of more) books we recommend

Opinion Advertize Permission
To be notified of new articles Survey Store About Us
Recent Political Events in Oaxaca

Report: October 30, 2006

Notes by Gustavo Esteva
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

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 on private houses or offices downtown. 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 immediately joined the Assembly. Radical groups in the Teachers’ Union soon changed the relationship between the union and APPO. They imposed on the leadership of the union a kind of subordination to the Assembly, which is a very complex and heterogeneous body and 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 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 had 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, have 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 his 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 immediately reported 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 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 the man. “Don’t be stupid”, said the woman, “There are no police”. “You are right”, said the man, confused, “Let’s call APPO”.

2) “Don’t be stupid”, said a petty, corrupt leader to a young baker on a street in downtown Oaxaca, on the sidewalk before his shop, “If you do that I will burn down your place. These spaces are mine. You are in command in your own home but I am the boss here”. And he took out 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, so Diego exploded three fireworks, as APPO does at the barricades whenever something suspicious or threatening is perceived: it is the alert signal. That was enough. For now.

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 (dead, injured) than in any other month of the last 10 years … The people are taking care of themselves better than the government or the police.

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

The Ministry of the Interior finally intervened and convened conversations in Mexico City with the Teachers’ Union and APPO. They have been making 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.

A march to Mexico City

On September 21, a group of 5,000 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 the ousting of 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 adecision. 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 have 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 the fact that the PRI is currently in full disarray, after the humiliating defeat of July 2 (the presidential elections): there is no person or group with whom to 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 finally made 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, 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, which had been started on September 21, got great support on the way and arrived on October 8 at Mexico City. Exhausted, people 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

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 with 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 arrangement.

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 with Indymedia. There were violent confrontations in several parts of the city. In the evening, the President announced his decision to send in the Federal police.

The police arrived on October 28. APPO made the explicit decision to resist 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 on 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 to use nonviolence and avoid confrontations and provocations. The police started to selectively capture some people at the barricades or in 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, have been unable to visit the people in jail because they move them from one jail to another.

On October 29, APPO organized three marches. The police occupy 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 leave after dismantling a barricade, the people build it again. People coming from the villages in trucks to support the movement have been stopped on the way and often beaten and thrown in jail.

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 being intimidated, etc.).

Many people are afraid that we will not be able to stop the blood bath. In spite of the continual appeal to nonviolence, 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 with 0.5% of the vote. 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 with one million people, the other with two million people) to call 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 on one of the main avenues of Mexico City and in 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, which recognizes 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 transformation.

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.

Next, 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 have 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 have 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 he gets a solid rejection by different groups of people and must be surrounded by his bodyguards -- more and more every day.

Another issue is the position of the Zapatistas. In 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 for APPO, closing roads on November 1.

Published in In Motion Magazine November 1, 2006

Also see: