|English | Español||April 30, 2016 | Issue #43|
In the Other Mexico City, the Ghosts of Tlatelolco 1968 March in Defense of Oaxaca and Atenco in 2006
After 38 Years, Government Repression and Media Simulation Still Fail to Silence the Voices from Below
By Simon Fitzgerald
Conference in Pantitlán
Photo: D.R. 2006 Erwin Slim
As Al Giordano has written, the focus on Oaxaca as the Other Campaign heats up again carries with it the possibility that the spirit of the Oaxacan movement –as well as that of Atenco – spreads up north with the tour. Just as the march of teachers and APPO representatives has been making connections with local populations on its route from Oaxaca City to Mexico City, the Other Campaign will take the issues of Oaxaca and Atenco to the peoples in its sixty stops between Nayarit, Tijuana, Juarez, Monterrey and Mexico City. Massive repression against the people of Oaxaca, the idea goes, could cause a reaction not just in Oaxaca, but across the whole country.
While the ongoing demand of the Zapatistas, as articulated by Marcos, remains the freedom of the Atenco prisoners, the events this Sunday, as Marcos and seven Zapatista comandantes arrived in Mexico City, repeatedly turned towards Oaxaca. Two representatives of Oaxaca’s APPO kicked off the afternoon conference, in the Pantitlán neighborhood of Mexico City, of adherents of the Other Campaign. One speaker, a member of the popular Assembly of Union Hidalgo, Oaxaca (adherents of the Other Campaign as an organization) pointed out that many Oaxacans who would like to be on The Other Campaign tour are instead manning barricades at home.
The federal government has spent the last week, since a confrontation with the repudiated governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and others ended with live rounds fired against APPO activists, leaking supposed plans for a massive police invasion and the arrests of the leadership of the Oaxacan teachers union and the APPO, whose primary goal remains the resignation of the state governor. Unidentified gunshots in the Oaxacan capital two nights ago caused a massive mobilization of burning barricades armed with Molotov cocktails. Since then, military aircraft have been flying low over the state taking reconnaissance photos and intimidating locals.
As the meeting progressed, all speakers, including leaders of local political organizations and Subcomandante Marcos (representing the seven comandantes from the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command of the EZLN present) touched on the tense situation in Oaxaca, where people exercise autonomy and thus face the threat of violent repression.
Many of the attendants of the conference then went to the Santiaguito prison in the state of Mexico where 27 of the Atenco prisoners are still held.
At the march on Monday, October 2, the primary call of many survivors of the violence three decades ago was to remember of the victims of that repression and to demand justice through the prosecution of those responsible. However, the reoccurring theme when talking to representatives of that generation was that the problems related to the protest of 1968 “remain the same” today.
One local woman, who says her father witnessed a tank run over a teenager thirty-six years ago, gave the example that “those students had their rights taken away in ’68, but what about the children living in the streets today, where are their rights? …It remains the same; we still have a boot against our throats, while the three or four people that want to govern don’t solve anything… they just want the power and the money.”
Just as that common frustration with the leadership of elected officials echoes the motivations of the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, the crowds today also echoed the Zapatista demand for the freedom of political prisoners. While this call has historical roots in the fight for the political prisoners who were “disappeared” decades ago in Mexico, it resonates with the current struggle to free prisoners of Atenco’s Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land.
A contingent from this nearby town in the state of Mexico was present today, carrying its signature machetes, and punctuating their demand for “freedom for the prisoners” as well as “land, liberty and justice” by scraping the machetes on the pavement with a metallic screech. The student activists shared this call to free the Atenco prisoners and universally compared the repression of October 2, 1968 to that of May 4, 2006 in Atenco.
Among the many chants, banners, cartoons, and graffiti illustrating this comparison was a caricature of President Vicente Fox. Responding to the heading “October 2, 1968” Fox’s speech bubble reads “what massacre?” while the weapon in his hand still drips with the blood of Atenco. The T-Shirts with the image of Alexis Benhumea, a local youth killed in Atenco, eerily represented the many images of those killed and disappeared in 1968 that the ’68 Committee handed out on sandwich boards for students to wear for the march.
June 14 was another date repeatedly referenced by protesters. On that date this year, the Oaxacan state government under Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz tried to break a teachers’ strike and encampment in downtown Oaxaca City with a violent eviction.
One member of the APPO spoke about the “repression” on this date, and the community’s decision to defend the teachers. Since July, this women said, fighting back tears that repeatedly shook her voice, “Oaxaca today is living through a time of psychosis from war, a psychological warfare in which we always have a gun to our heads. There have been fatalities and people disappeared. Mothers have lost their children because of the violent response, under the Fox government, to a peaceful struggle. This is the start of another war, but a war of the government against the people, just like ‘68, and that is what we don’t want.”
This feeling of Oaxacans that they are living a revival of 1968-like repression is only part of the relationship that the present movement in Oaxaca has with the movement of 1968. Omar Sierra Paredes, a survivor of the 1968 repression, spoke about how he first became involved in the movement of the late sixties because, as a first year teacher, he was fighting against the imposition of unrepresentative leaders in the teachers union. Years later, many teachers achieved the creation of an alternative union structure from the government “charros” (corrupt union bosses) that are a typical tool of disenfranchising Mexican labor. The Oaxacan local of that independent union was the driving force in the current movement against the imposition of the hated governor of Oaxaca, widely believed to have been fraudulently elected.
The theme of Oaxaca also carries a duality that was reflected in the many banners. Though June 14 represented the initiation of massive repression in Oaxaca, the federal and state governments have been leaking to the media for a week that a much larger operation involving federal police and military is imminent (or so they want the protesters to believe).
As the APPO member commented, “we are awaiting another repression, but we are not alone.” That perhaps was the most pressing purpose of the events of today, to remind the federal government that those in Atenco, Oaxaca and elsewhere are not alone, and that many Mexicans are prepared to defend such people to prevent a repeat of 1968.
The crowd also carried a warning to incoming president Felipe Calderon, also widely seen as “imposed” after a fraudulent election. As the march neared the Zocalo, before increasingly heavy rains caused some the marchers to seek shelter, the APPO members leading chants by megaphone alternated between “Ulises has already fallen” with “Felipe will fall.” Whether that carries any truth will be known after “The Other Campaign” tour of Mexico’s North ends in Mexico City on November 30, as Calderon is scheduled to officially take power the next day, on December 1.
The events of the coming days and weeks in Oaxaca and elsewhere will haunt the calendar of “those up above” much as those of 1968 weigh upon the events of today.
Kristin Bricker and Murielle Collin contributed to this report.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism