Crisis Escalates as Marines Land in Oaxaca
Governor’s Departure Now a National Demand, as Political Figures Pledge to Travel to the State as “Human Shields” in the Event of an Attack
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
October 5, 2006
The events of this past week have left the population of Oaxaca in a state of fear, rage and uncertainty, with calls on all sides for human rights watchers, encampments, and marches.
In the most recent development, leaders of opposition leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s national movement pledged to mobilize their followers around the issue and to go to Oaxaca as “human shields” in the event of a military intervention.
On Saturday, October 1, two grey helicopters circled at 5:00pm, flying in circles around the city. On our short street three families ran out to look. One elderly woman was carrying a white pillowcase and waved it, as if men in the helicopter could see her. White is the color of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’ Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials) – peace at any price, one might say. Afterward she looked at me fiercely and declaimed, “We are hostages in our own city!” Referring to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials): “they can clean out these people!” Across from us, another house displays a white banner. The houses flying the Mexican flag of red, green and white are the APPO supporters. Most house show no signs, pro or con. Most people sit tight, waiting.
They are navy helicopters. Many people took photos. On Radio 710 AM, the APPO broadcasts in a pleasant voice: keep calm, there are 3,000 people at each barricade, they are probably more afraid than we are, keep calm, maximum alert, this is not Atenco, we are on our own turf and they are strangers here.
A call in to radio APPO came from a man in the town of Ocotlán de Morelos. He was weeping. He said, he “never thought that Fox would ally with the PRI against Oaxaca, to attack our Oaxaqueño people. We never thought there would be massacre of our people.”
And the next call: “We are not afraid, we have only our bodies and our sticks and they have guns. We are brave, we are Mexicans…we have the force of justice…I will defend my country. If we die, we die with honor, but they die with shame.” And then he began to weep also. The announcer replies, “Animo! Animo, compañero!” – “keep your spirits up, have courage.” Well, by now I’m weeping myself.
The announcer remains calm. They are organized, they are ready. The helicopters are doing military reconnaissance, and are certainly trying to terrorize. A press conference at 6:30 in the zocalo by the APPO said pretty much the same. We’re ready. Keep calm, don’t give in to provocations.
From La Jornada I learned that the helicopters arrived at the Oaxaca airport with military units, and the armed forces were also moved to Salina Cruz and Bahía de Huatulco, along with other military equipment such as tanks, and troops. When they landed “¡Bienvenidos, cabrones!” “¡Bajen, aquí los esperamos!”, were the shouts launched at them from people carrying sticks and pipes. “Welcome, bastards! Come on down, we’re here waiting for you!”
At 9:00 PM Saturday night the APPO closed off the historic downtown area, telling people who were caught away from home to present themselves as rapidly as possible to pass through the barricades. The APPO was determined to fight off any attack, asking people to unite in support, and at the same time telling those outside the city and around the state to organize their defense.
Radio Ley continued calmly presenting a lawyer’s account of what could happen next, as the barricades defended the city center, an island inside the highway roads.
Thousands gathered very quickly to defend the barricades. Among them, I was told, were some foreigners including Univision and CNN. The PRD was heavily represented. The radio voice asked for food, water, telephone lines. I went to sleep around 12:30 and could hear the people singing at the barricades, the basic revolutionary songs. It was kind of like being in a movie.
At 8:00 AM. On Sunday, October 1, I learned that a strong overnight mobilization of the popular teachers movement/APPO went unchallenged. No attack was launched by the federal government. The morning “shots” turned out to be rockets fired as the helicopters circled. Another strategy – is this high tech? – is to run out with mirrors to reflect back into the helicopters “to confuse them”. Yet another “solution” was to burn green wood, setting up a smoke screen.
Daylight lets everyone relax. APPO instructed the guards to take down the barricades, except for those around the radio stations and outside the zocalo. In the normal APPO response to challenge, another march was scheduled of the national health service workers this morning from several points to the zocalo. About 2,000-3,000 marched. Another day.
The state is militarized, although Captain Unda Pomposo, chief of the guard in the 10th Naval Military Zone, based in that port, was quoted as saying they are only doing “one or two routine flights” in the state. Over the weekend, three trailers arrived in Bahias de Huatulco, each one carrying three amphibious tanks which were placed in the naval base. According to La Jornada, this makes the biggest military operation the nation has seen since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994.
Another concentration of forces on the coast arrived by ship to Salina Cruz, where troops disembarked by sea, air and land. Usually, according to reports, the Army keeps 10,000 troops in the state, and there are 4,000 police from the different state units. Now, La Jornada calculates there are as many as 20,000 military and police. The state’s population is about three and a half million.
From Salina Cruz also came the four Puma helicopters to circle the city of Oaxaca. One of them circled overhead Sunday night when a PRI squad attacked the barricade located in the neighborhood of Brenamiel. Thugs kidnapped, beat and tied up three youngsters who had been on the barricade, one of them twelve years old. Two of the three youngsters rescued required medical attention. The APPO people saved them after a broadcast which generated the mobilization of hundreds of Oaxaqueños, by the middle of the night almost two thousand.
The flight was registered by the Institute of National Government Statistics; it was violating the rules of civil aviation.
Monday, October 2 after the commemorative march for the 1968 massacre, the PRI came out again like roaches. Two more abductions were reported, one of a law student and activist from the Benito Juarez Autonomous University, Pedro Garcia, also a member of the Revolutionary Front, who was walking on Sunday with a woman friend toward the university when he was snatched by occupants of a van. On October 3 he was located in the prison at Tlacolula, charged falsely with carrying explosives. It seems the police or thugs have reinitiated the use torture.
The other case is Alfredo Melchor Tirado Cruz, member of the Wide Front for Popular Struggle and of the APPO, who was grabbed at 1:00 on Tuesday afternoon, also in Tlacolula. His whereabouts are still unknown. These two abductions bring the total of arrests to eleven since the onset of the teachers’ popular movement.
The National Education Workers’ Union local Section 22 began intensifying the mobilization of the teachers in the Tehuantepec Isthmus region, occupying offices of the government and marching. In a press conference the union’s auxiliary secretary of organization, Eleuterio López Ruiz said that the teachers are in agreement to stick together until Ulises Ruiz Ortiz falls. He insisted there will be no return to classes, although some teachers are indeed in the classroom in some zones, thinking to hold onto their teaching jobs, in a dissent that chips off fragments of the union.
By Tuesday, October 3, dozens of organizations from civil society who belong to the APPO demanded that the federal government “order the deactivation of all possible operations and the departure of military troops from the Oaxaca territory”.
At the same time they rejected the “electoral reform” passed by the Oaxaca legislators (non-PRD members only) to lengthen the term of office for sitting legislators and other governing figures, to which in all the turmoil nobody gave much thought. If Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”) comes out on top, extended legislative terms will be only a minor annoyance in comparison to what many believe will be total repression.
Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal met with twelve National Action Party (PAN) members of the state legislature led by federal congressman Diódoro Carrasco, president of the Commission on Interior Governance the of the House of Deputies (Mexico’s lower house of Congress). Invitations to the meeting were not received by PRD members.
Carrasco admitted that the conflict in Oaxaca changes every minute. He listed three new ingredients: “the invitation of the federal government to build an agreement to restore governability and tranquility to the state; the military flights over the city, and, he claimed, the fact that the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) guerrilla group is calling for continued popular struggle.
Interviewed at am Inter-American Press Society meeting, Abascal had exhorted the APPO to look for an agreement within the institutional means. Before, in a radio interview he again hinted that the government could carry out “a peaceful occupation of Oaxaca” so that the citizens can carry out their activities with security.
With 20,000 military and police personnel looking over your shoulder, you might not give credence to guarantees that there will be no repression on the part of the federal government. Abascal offers a package of reforms to convert the state legislature (those guys who just voted themselves extended terms) into a space for talking amiably with the people, and a refurbishing of the current legal government. The departure of URO won’t be put on the table.
Neither the APPO nor the teachers attended the meeting scheduled with the Department of the Interior (known as Segob in its Spanish abbreviation) for October 4. In a live radio broadcast of an assembly of the Wide Progressive Front (FAP) from Mexico City on Wednesday October 4 it was averred that the problems of state ungovernability could be solved promptly after the removal of the powers from the three branches of government of Oaxaca. The departure of Ulises Ruiz is the only non-negotiable demand. The assembly was attended by the PRD politicians elected on July 2 as federal deputies, who are also members of the APPO. It was reaffirmed that the Mexican Senate has the constitutional right and obligation to remove state powers.
In a direct question posed by the Oaxaca radio contact, the secretary general of the PRD, Guadalupe Acosta, was asked if the National Democratic Convention – the opposition movement that “elected” Andrés Manuel López Obrador as “legitimate president of Mexico” on September 16 – would be willing to act as a human shield in Oaxaca. Acosta responded, “claro que sí” – “Yes, of course. We are inclined to participate. We had information that URO is planning a provocation today to bring in the federal intervention.” He went on to say, “Today our senators asked the secretary of the Navy not participate in any attack on Oaxaca.”
Tomorrow, Acosta said, there will be a national mobilization on the part of the National Democratic Convention to defend Oaxaca.
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