|English | Español||February 23, 2018 | Issue #41|
In Oaxaca Mega-March, 400,000 Send A Firm No to the Repression by Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz
Blockades and Occupations Throughout the State; San Blas Atempa Takes Back its Autonomous City Hall
By Nancy Davies
Photo: María Meléndrez Parada, La Jornada
Oaxaca united in a very disciplined and focused show of strength against the governor.
The struggle by Section 22 of the National Education Workers’ Union has not been a simple question of teachers’ salaries, nor of the pitiful level of education in this, Mexico’s second-poorest state. From the first days of the strike nearly four weeks ago, the idea of impeaching URO was mentioned. The calls to oust him gain strength even while renewed labor negotiations take place.
Since the attack on June 14, a civil movement has emerged and coalesced around Section 22’s aggressive demand that URO go, an event which would break the grip of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials) in Oaxaca. The demand has united all levels of Oaxaca society.
The next presidential election (Mexico has six-year terms) takes place on July 2, and URO is best buddies with PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo. According to popular accounts, URO siphoned off hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds from the extraordinary number of undesired public works undertaken in the city of Oaxaca in the past year. The funds are alleged to have gone toward the election campaign of Madrazo.
The extraordinary convergence of support for Section 22 has produced an unprecedented set of events:
Enrique Rueda Pacheco has been relentless in calling for URO’s impeachment. The night before the super mega-march URO was presented with a social movement quickly growing beyond his control. He then offered to negotiate with Section 22, using the monetary figures which last week he claimed were unaffordable. A truce was mediated by the Secretary of the Interior, between Section 22 and the state government.
After Radio Plantón was destroyed, left-leaning students of UABJO took control of Radio Universidad, 1400 AM. The students have been supporting the strike twenty-four hours a day as a news center. They broadcast calls for food, water and clothing to replace the destroyed and burned belongings of teachers who had been camped in the zocalo. They broadcast phone calls from students and teachers, calls from people shouting or weeping. They broadcast information, meeting places for groups, speeches by students and professors, declamations of stories and poems, and a teacher singing Venceremos inside the radio station. During the astonishing civil society response, the students maintain guards outside the studio. Radio Universidad has been the closet thing to free radio Oaxaca has experienced.
Today a weeping teacher exclaimed on the air, “We avenge our dead!” One of the unconfirmed dead was a child from the town of Villa Alta. Names of the dead and injured were not released for family security reasons, and true numbers remain a secret. Gossip is everywhere, including the assertion that URO has the bodies under lock and key in a morgue. Although the names of the wounded, including police, have been made public, the names of the alleged dead and their numbers have not.
According to the leader of Section 22, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, 20 teachers were arrested, and eight “disappeared”. According to Noticias on June 15, Pacheco said that two teachers and two children were killed. Between 30 and 100 were wounded from both teacher and police sides of the fight, according to various unofficial sources.
URO has claimed there were no deaths. He also lied about the police carrying arms, saying there were none. Noticias published on June 15 photos of the Ministerial Police carrying an AR-15 assault rifles.
On Friday, Radio Universidad maintained a steady stream of information about where various sectors would meet for the march. The civil response included doctors from the public hospital (IMSS), medical students, sociologists, electricians, professors, taxi and bus drivers, lawyers and parents of families, landlords as well as retired teachers, and many more. Most denounced URO for theft, repression, assassination, and failure to consult the citizenry about the public works that are destroying Oaxaca’s cultural patrimony. Others denounced him for the lack of state works for potable water, drainage, classrooms, and basic needs. One teacher said she was conducting classes under a tree.
Dozens of non-governmental organizations within civil society have signed letters of solidarity published in both daily newspapers. (Noticias is generally slanted against the governor, Imparcial is generally slanted pro. Both accept paid ads.)
URO’s actions were supported by private business organizations whose incomes have suffered during the prolonged occupation of the fifty-block city center. A “congratulations” to URO was signed by Publisorpresas (a publicity agency), Cafeina (a cafeteria), Rosso (a restaurant bar), PROFAS (Forest Products of La Asunción), Servicios de Outsourcing de Antequera, and El Mundo de los Globos (organizing and decorating social events). URO’s own radio speech implied that he was ready to come to some agreement but “always putting the education of the state’s children first”.
The national teachers’ union took out a full-page ad in support of the Oaxaca strikers. The archbishop of Antequera-Oaxaca, José Luis Chávez Botello, deplored the violence of the police. Non-governmental organizations published declarations in support of peaceful resolution of differences.
Around the state of Oaxaca, sympathizers and teachers occupied seven municipal buildings. The southern towns of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, such as Matias Romero, Tapantepec, Zanatepec and Juchitán, have a long-standing quarrel with the PRI because of the neoliberal development project which took communal land for private development and destroyed farmlands for highways. Sympathizers blocked the federal Pan-American highway at Jalápa del Marques. From Salina Cruz to Puerto Escondido to Tehuantepec and Pinotepa, along the southern Pacific coast teachers mobilized. In San Blas Atempa, the site of repression on March 1, the residents took back the municipal building. To the north, the highway was blocked on the route to Huahuapan.
Teachers in other states have called in with support, including Michoacán and Mexico. The PRI must know that their last chance to rule is rapidly slipping away.
Some say the order for URO to attack the encampment with 1500 police, armed and with dogs, came to URO from Madrazo. Whose idea was it to have helicopters shooting gas canisters into the crowd?
Clearly Radio Universidad is in the hands of students on the left. Many see themselves as socialists, Maoists, supporters of the Zapatista Other Campaign, and sometimes all of the above. Many teachers also adhere to La Otra, and have joined the national struggle to free the political prisoners in Oaxaca and the nation.
In my view, this struggle is not concerned with supporting goals of either the teachers or La Otra. It is a citizen movement to rid the state of the PRI, whose control has been repressive and abusive, both physically and economically, beyond what seems supportable. The calls for “destitución” (that is, either resignation or impeachment) have grown louder. Today they were literally a thunderous roar.
The two sides drawn up within the city seem to fall into merchant-class vs. everyone else. In other words, it’s not an income division, but a business-owner vs. non-owner division, indicative of the government’s connections with capitalism and globalism. NAFTA and capitalist development have been a plague for rural Oaxaca, where the majority of the population lives, including the teachers.
The “developments” of Oaxaca follow WTO and World Bank demands — that is, put profits not social benefits first. The lack of social benefits includes the miserable education most children receive. The current president of Mexico is a former Coca-Cola executive, and Coke is the biggest consumer product in Mexico where potable water is not free. The development of natural resources, petroleum, gas, forests, tourism, etcetera, as the teachers’ demands indicate, does not trickle down to most people. The complaint that the damage done to tourism during the month-long occupation of the historic city center puts hotel workers and waiters out of jobs borders on naiveté. One of the speakers against URO on Radio Universidad spoke of Plan Puebla-Panama, a perfect example of the government’s desire to create a vast zone safe for capitalism on the Oaxaca isthmus.
The city itself, the seat of political power, is rarely visited by the majority of rural people in the state, and they don’t care much about its discomfort or its tourism. For those who do live in the city, especially the old wealthy who regard URO’s arbitrary changes to the character of the old colonial city as an affront to their sensibilities and their self importance, URO is hated.
The word “democracy” comes up over and over. Most of the voiced complaints against URO have to do with his “not consulting” before he embarked on the public works which destroy the city’s quality. But what people are really complaining about is public funds siphoned off for Madrazo. The majority want health, education, sewage and drainage. In the city itself they want water projects. The ruling oligarchy thrive, while in Oaxaca directly across from the new Chamber of Deputies people live without electricity or drainage
The majority of Oaxaca residents, whether financially well-off or not, are still very much connected to their families, family obligations which serve as the social security network. They are connected to lands, patrimony and roots. They have not yet become attuned to individualism, and the blatant self-serving greed of the PRI is a moral offense, along with the endless murders perpetuated by the bosses still holding control of the municipalities.
Today I learned that three prior governors have been ousted in Oaxaca’s history. During the first mega-march of this strike I saw some Other Campaign signs carried, but not a great number. The Other Campaign and the Zapatistas may have solidified the ordinary Oaxaqueño’s sense that his ire is justified. But this civil rage is not newly-conscious since January when La Otra launched itself; rather, the Oaxaca rage parallels the Chiapas rage, and for many of the same reasons. That has long been known, hence the fierce crackdowns on anything remotely suggesting rebellion.
What is truly different in Oaxaca here and now is the moment: the convergence of so many streams of the population united against the PRI.
As Marcos says, the wind comes from below.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism