APPO, The De Facto Government in Oaxaca, Moves Toward Permanence
As Both Sides Dance Around an Agreement, a Decentralized People’s Government, Based on Indigenous Traditions, Begins to Take Shape
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
October 10, 2006
Every night we hold our breath, peering out into the dark where some tote flashlights and rocket flares, and some cradle army weapons. Every day that goes by in Oaxaca includes a jostle for position.
The daily headlines offer rising and then falling “hopes.” On Monday, October 9 we read that the APPO, teachers and government reached first agreements. The woman in the bakery smiled and all but jumped up and down – this may be it! But the non-negotiable demand remains: the departure of the governor Ulises Ruiz. After four and a half months of maintaining this position, the APPO still binds together hundreds of social organizations, albeit with string and chewing gum. The teachers’ union, Section 22 has held repeated consultations with the “bases,” the grass roots of their movement, and each time comes back with the agreement to stay out of the classrooms.
The current “accords,” including the return to the classrooms, must go to the bases for consultation and agreement or rejection.
The strategy of the APPO has been to stall. The First State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, held September 27–30, said so very clearly in its written report, which includes resolutions for the Constituent Congress, to formalize the State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (AEPO, in its Spanish initials). The discussions on how exactly to form this new assembly will take place November 10, 11 and 12 in Oaxaca.
Stalling is an act of faith I can only admire. Time will turn faith into reality. For each “agreement,” four days elapse while the consultation with teachers occurs. The APPO hopes that with each passing day more of the nation and more of the international community who watch will put a damper on the Mexican Department of the Interior (known by its Spanish abbreviation “Segob”) before any federal smackdown begins. At the same time, by “negotiating” with the APPO, Abascal gives implicit recognition to the governing Oaxaca body, the one to make the deals with: the APPO.
According to the reports in La Jornada, both sides – APPO and Segob – agree to forming a citizen commission for security, headed by the sub-secretary of criminal policy of the Federal Public Security (SSP) who will assume command of the Oaxaca police. This implies the removal of the present Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) state and municipal officials of security and law administration, including Secretary of Public Security and Citizen Protection Lino Celaya, state attorney general Laura Lizbeth Caña, state police director Manuel Moreno Rivas, Preventive Police Chief Francisco Lopez, and Education Director Emilio Mendoza Kaplan.
It does not include the removal of Oaxaca’s interior secretary, Heliodoro Díaz Escárraga. He is the most hated after URO. The APPO demand also includes the military’s return to base, the cancellation of about 300 arrest warrants for social leaders, and the release of political prisoners.
The citizen council of security would involve the participation of the National Commission of Human Rights, social organizations, academics, the APPO, the teachers, the government, and others. Meanwhile, the impeachment of URO would wend its way through the “institutional path,” which is the national Senate. The Senate, which in the past refused to consider the removal of URO, may have changed its intentions. However, an agreement right now implies that the APPO accept on faith that the Senate will remove URO. It is reported that URO himself has agreed to these first accords – not a good sign for the APPO.
The AEPO, if it gains time to constitute itself next month, will reflect a deep and longstanding opposition to the politics of capitalism and neoliberalism, plus a gut rejection of the PRI that ruled for too long. As one of the popular songs of the movement says, “Ya estamos hartos, vamos a luchar” – “We’re fed up, we’re going to fight.” The fight is a social struggle, a peaceful movement.
“This is a movement that acquires a national dimension in its demand for the departure of URO, because he symbolizes repression and 38 assassinations committed against the Oaxaqueño people; the embezzlement of funds, corruption, the misery and hunger of the people; a situation which is lived out not only in Oaxaca, but also across the length and breadth of the country, thus the sympathy and feeling by the peoples of México toward our political project for unity,” the prologue to the convocation of the November meetings reads.
As weeks go by, the necessity for a permanent structure, formalized with objectives and methods, and guidelines for procedures, has become imperative. Foreseeing URO’s departure led to the publication on October 6 of the summary of the September 27¬–29 assembly. The document is a preparation for the permanent statewide assembly, AEPO. It outlines who and what the AEPO might be, and how its role is presently anticipated. APPO/AEPO is leading a socialist revolution based on the indigenous practice of usos y costumbres, with a graft added from the Zapatista dictum, “Lead by obeying.” In other words, a movement unique and homegrown, initially local, but rapidly spreading to other states in Mexico.
To date, the APPO has been a “temporary” structure run on an ad hoc basis. The new AEPO body will be made up of delegates chosen by communities, communal farm groups, indigenous peoples, organizations, union, outlying villages, towns, and municipalities. All these representatives will be chosen in face-to-face participatory meetings of the unit each will represent.
Many who wondered what will “fill the power vacuum” when/if URO goes have assumed that the lawful installation of another governor would be the answer, with the continuation of the same executive, judicial and legislative powers. Not in the APPO plan. And apparently, Segob also recognizes this won’t fly.
As the APPO document pointed out, “The central demand, for the departure of Ulises Ruiz, does not signify a struggle against a person, but against an economic and political structure…” The APPO call is for a new form of government, a new social pact, with full respect for the diversity of the Oaxaca peoples.
Accepting the formation of the AEPO will bring the National Action Party up against the averred APPO/AEPO goals of keeping Mexican resources in Mexico, and nationalizing many of the “essential” industries. However, the APPO articles also talk about economic and industrial development, about creating Mexico’s own infrastructure and technologies, its own pharmaceuticals, transportation systems, electronics – in short, all the industries which would require financial investment, even while NAFTA, the World Bank, the Free Trade Agreement, and the national debt are repudiated.
The APPO refers to the AEPO as “an alternative democracy to establish a new social pact, a new form of government which will also reconstruct the damaged social fabric,” referring to the intimate face-to-face politics of customary governing practices, usos y costumbres. The APPO very specifically is not a political party, and does not want to organize by party, but rather by geographical location, or work allegiance, or social project or organizational allegiance. The indigenous peoples are referred to often in the document, with respect for their autonomy and practices. Last month a forum was held to discuss constructing democracy and governability in Oaxaca, and the new framework incorporates some of those conclusions.
But the goals of the eventual AEPO will represent a form and method which, by its resemblance to usos y costumbres, holds good hope. For example, according to the document from the late September meeting, all elected representatives and members of the Directorate structures can be recalled, with a system of plebiscites and referenda. Those devices would also be used to ratify or negate the most important decisions. All decisions taken by the AEPO “should and will be analyzed and discussed at the base.”
“The character of the AEPO should be broad, popular, inclusive, democratic, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist… All decisions will be made by consensus… All members of the AEPO are equals, with the same rights and the same obligations, independent of creed, sex or social condition.” And on the topic of SERVICE, we read, “Lead by obeying.” Under INDEPENDENCE it says, “The AEPO is independent in its polity, organization, and ideology from the state and from the electoral parties.”
Furthermore, the APPO envisions a new national constitution, embodying “new forms of representation and a mechanism for direct democracy…”
While the federal Army, the PFP and the Navy marines are traveling throughout the state, the APPO is concerned with community radio. The radio station presently in APPO’s hands is continuously jammed by the government PRI faction, making local communication a high priority, as well as national and international communication. The APPO may recall how effective the Zapatista communiqués were in preventing military crackdowns. Also doing face-to-face communication are the APPO marchers, the caravan of people who walked from Oaxaca city to Mexico City, arriving there October 9. Along the way they have been speaking about the APPO and enjoying the welcome of local townspeople.
Part of the purpose of the march, in addition to uniting the movement already existing in Mexico, is to publicize a national slogan “if they try to crush Oaxaca, all of Mexico will rise up,” in order to fix a political position of total solidarity. The movement has also issued a flyer directed to the police and soldiers, with the title: “You should be with the people: don’t obey orders for repression.” A speaking tour by the APPO is presently in the United States, to seek support. The Mexican communities in the United States are demonstrating, using the radio and calling home, in a show of solidarity, as well as sending money.
Carlos Abascal is doing precisely what the APPO is doing, i.e., dancing. If the APPO is waiting for internal and international organization, Abascal must be waiting for exactly the opposite – that the whole movement fall apart and go away, without a shot, because a federal attack will constitute a huge gamble. Or, he may be hoping that URO will give up and leave voluntarily. Or he may be waiting for full deployment of the armed forces.
Meanwhile, public hopes for an agreement run high. On Thursday the APPO will hold a forum called Democratic Dialogue in Oaxaca, as an alternative to meetings called by Abascal. The music plays on, and everyone is dancing an elaborate minuet.
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