Organized Chaos in Oaxaca
The PFP Evicts Farmers to Construct Wind Park on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
March 28, 2007
On Monday, March 26 the taxi drives of Oaxaca – the state, not just the city – called a strike and road-block to protest the indiscriminate sale of taxi licenses which has prevailed since the last governor found it an easy way to raise money.
Ten thousand taxis blocked the principle access to Oaxaca City, while 250 “companies” of taxi fleets participated in the statewide protest. I asked a friend who was due to arrive at my house at 5:15, and actually arrived at 5:15, how the heck she did it. She got off the bus and walked.
When I came to Oaxaca City almost ten years ago I assumed the phrase “Oaxaca es muy tranquilo,” (“Oaxaca is very peaceful”) delivered with great sincerity by every Oaxaqueño who sat beside me on a park bench, was funny. To my eyes it was anything but tranquil – a daily march, a protest, a meeting, an encampment, fireworks by night, dogs barking, endless noise and traffic. It was nonstop chaos. The difference now: the chaos is organized.
On Tuesday, the newspaper Las Noticias featured articles as follows:
“Taxi drivers paralyze the state; No to pirates.” Ok, got that. “STEUABJO paralyzes the university.” This is the union of workers and employees of the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, which took over the university offices to demand the removal of the director of the School of Veterinary medicine, the administrative coordinator of that institution, and the academic coordinator; all on the grounds of having threatened the workers.
Moving down the page, “Section 22 (of the teachers union) strikes today, accompanied by the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca).” The national teachers union known as CNTE and the UNT which is the national union of workers, together are protesting in the capital and in the principal cities of the state, as well as in Mexico City, against legislative approval of changes to the Social Security law, which in neoliberal fashion will curtail access to health and welfare for Mexicans.
Moving to the inside pages (this is all one day’s newspaper) there’s a bit of dejá vú all over again. I remember last May of 2006 commenting on the protest of residents of Crespo Street who declared the stink of traffic fumes was intolerable. They’re still protesting, albeit with a May to November revolution interrupting the process.
Finally, here’s the article I’ve been predicting: “Teachers and APPO and communal land owners announce the boycott of Venta II,” accompanied in action by other organizations including The Front of the People of the Isthmus in Defense of the Land. President Felipe Calderon and Governor Ulises Ruiz are inaugurating the construction of the new wind farm to generate electricity, owned by a Spanish transnational, on Wednesday March 28 (see the video newsreel, The Windmills of Capitalism). About two hundred hectares of communal land and about nine sub-municipalities of Juchitán are in dispute. The wind farm is seen as a basic part of the development of the Plan Puebla Panama, and infringes on the autonomy of the indigenous residents of the area. The area is protected, according to Noticias, by a circle of military soldiers.
Ninety-eight wind generators already operate with a supposed capacity of 83.3 megawatts. In the second stage the transnational company, Iberdrola, has invested $100 million. The World Bank has recently loaned $20 million for the development of La Venta III, which confirms that regardless of who’s protesting, the project will go ahead.
On March 3 three-hundred-and-sixty men from the Federal Preventative Police, traveling in vehicles with dark windows and carrying high power weapons, evicted the communal land owners from the neighborhood Tres de Abril located within the polygon of Venta II, because they were an “obstacle to the project.” Many believe that the outcry against the wind generators has more to do with the offensively low rental and a voice for the people whose land has been “rented” for thirty years. The rental was reportedly carried out by agents who ignored the community assembly process and were in turn allegedly paid off handsomely by the government and/or Iberdrola.
It has been pointed out that not as much farming goes on as did in the past, but the acquisition process itself is a criminal offense taking place on indigenous lands. It is also reported that damage to migrating birds has been ignored. In any case, in my opinion what we are seeing is a last ditch defense against the neoliberalization of the Isthmus. Apparently, Felipe Calderon also called on Harvard University to come and help “develop” Oaxaca (see note by George Salzman).
This should be juxtaposed with the content of the agreements ratified by the State Extraordinary Assembly of the APPO this month, and reported on March 23. The bulk of the APPO meeting was dedicated to establishing the rules for APPO participation – or, as it turns out, non-participation – in the electoral process. At the same time, the accords reinforce national unity, which includes the National Dialogue ( El Dialago Nacional), The Other Campaign, and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico, “to stop neoliberal policies, the Ultra-Right, and Fascism.”
A friend who attended the assembly told me he feels that profound internal stress is being placed on the APPO by the militant hard left: communists, Trotskyites, and those who want power for themselves and/or the APPO. He reported that the assembly met for literally twenty-four hours non-stop, to resolve disagreements such as whether to run APPO candidates for political office. So I read the declaration of the accords in that light (posted on OSAG in Spanish), to see if I sense a hard-left tone. I do, but… the “but” is the reiteration of several APPO positions, such as “decision-making should be in a collective way, the people should construct the democracy of the people through the assemblies, which have to implement them.” This means the assemblies have to implement the decisions. I don’t feel as easy about that as I would if it said the people have to implement them, which indeed they do. The assemblies are not an abstract. I confess my antennas are up for trouble. My informant says that it will take all the APPO efforts to restrain the hard left from taking control of them.
Nevertheless, I’m not as pessimistic as this friend of mine because the widespread chaos is many-headed and all but unmanageable by a small group, even if that group is the Federal Police. If a few APPO participants have sold out to the government as some claim, or assume a hard top-down-line, they are few in numbers. The majority of Oaxaqueños continue the pattern that surrounded the APPO since the first few months of existence: do your own thing. They agree on the desired goals: Ulises out, down with corruption, down with neoliberalism. Those struggles are visible every day.
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