<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Guelaguetza Redux

The State Government of Oaxaca Is Having a Hard Time Again with Its Annual “Indigenous” Festival


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

May 31, 2007

The Popular Movement plans to boycott the Guelaguetza of 2007, living up to its promise of holding a people’s free Guelaguetza each year, following the 2006 cancellation of the commercial event. The president of the National Tourist Confederation, (CNT) Miguel Torruco Marqués, is seeking guarantees from all three levels of government that the event will go on. Somehow, the PAN “ought to guarantee the Guelaguetza.”

A threat to boycott, issued by the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) and Section 22 of the Teachers Union, is not a threat to shut it down – last year, the 2006 event was cancelled by the governor. One must include among the reasons that the stadium was pretty well trashed beforehand, with a lot of damage done to the bathrooms. Who done it? Take your choice: the teachers, the porros (government hired thugs), or the APPO. This year, the APPO asks that tourists don’t purchase tickets, or if they already have, to send them back for a refund. In other words, don’t attend.

The tourist industry, especially hotel occupancy, suffered losses from the lack of tourists in 2006 during the height of the struggle. However, and not to be too snippy about it, during the eight years I have lived in Oaxaca the rate of hotel construction seemed to me to burgeon toward speculation madness, given that the city cannot sustain its traffic and water shortages. In a press conference reported in Las Noticias, the industry reported that while the hotel occupancy reached 45 percent in July of 2005, it achieved only 38 percent in the same month of 2006, due to the conflict. At some point there was zero occupancy, according to the president of the state Tourist Federation, Fredy Alcántara.

Excuse me, but why is 45 percent considered a high occupancy rate? The good news, according Alcántara, (May 25, El Universal), is that for the first time in twenty-seven years the month of May has not been “chaotic because of demonstrations and encampments by the teachers so there is peace in the state”. Alcántara and I differ. On May 31, reported by Noticias, Alcántara hopes for 180 million pesos to be spent here.

Section 22 has put pressure on the federal government to resolve the teachers demands and those of the APPO; the “or else” is a return to occupation of the streets, according to Zenén Reyes Gómez, a member of the union, quoted in La Jornada on May 22.

Reyes indicated that the government of Felipe Calderón has not approached the representatives of the teachers nor of the APPO. “The federal authorities,” Reyes was quoted as saying, “think the conflict is resolved, but the demands remain outstanding, and we will do whatever is necessary to obtain them. And if it’s necessary to resume the strike, that’s what we’ll do.”

He was interviewed in Mexico City before the assembly of the National Coordination of Education Workers. The assembly also discussed the new Ley del Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado (ISSSTE), a social security modification (reduction in benefits, privatization of pensions) opposed by government workers.

We have now reached the one-year anniversary of the teachers strike of 2006, which led to the formation of the APPO. The second annual state assembly of the APPO will take place this first weekend in June. Close observers will be watching to see if the APPO holds together as a functioning body despite internecine squabbles over control (which the APPO as an organization of the bases ought not to have) and the August elections. The lure of political power caused some members of the council of the APPO to step down to run for office. However, the state Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) governing committee refused to put on their ballot Aldo Gonzalez, a highly respected figure in the Sierra Norte; Zenén Bravo was given position number 10, which means he’s not going to receive a seat. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, supposed honcho of the PRD, came to Oaxaca and was unsuccessful in persuading the old-guard of his own party to make way for the new people emerging from the APPO. Some organizers, like Aldo Gonzalez say simply, “We go on organizing,” regardless of the August elections or the APPO. However, Gonzalez said, the internal fighting can only harm the organization which ought to strive for unity.

In this context, Reyes stated that the first of the APPO opposition actions to achieve their demands will be to “boycott the commercial Guelaguetza organized by the governor of the state and to replace it with the popular Guelaguetza organized by the teachers and the APPO.”

The demands of the popular movement are the departure from office of the governor, freedom for those imprisoned during the conflict (note: on May 28, 14 more were released), better support for education in the state, cancellation of the arrest orders for members of the movement, and a return of schools taken by the PRI Section 59. (Section 59, incidentally, has also stated opposition to the Law of ISSSTE, but they don’t “join” Section 22 in their protest, they just happen by chance, I guess, to have the same objections.)

June 14 is the deadline for the work stoppage and “taking the state.”

Alcántara also noted that during the past six months ten travel agencies and one hotel closed down. One hotel in the center of the city, on Cinco de Mayo street, is for sale – perhaps this is the same one. It’s very fancy and in a high-priced area.

The Sub-Secretary of Government, Joaquín Rodríguez Palacios, urged Section 22 of the SNTE and the APPO not to boycott the celebration, saying that “this is a festival for all the Oaxaqueños, and it reflects our ethnic diversity.”

The original zapotec word guelaguetza means sharing, or mutual aid. It came to be associated with parties and festivals with an upper-case G because in order for poor people to have a wedding celebration, for example, everyone in the town pitches in with food and music so they can dance the night away. Since the decade of the 1950s the upper-crust Guelaguetza has been celebrated in Oaxaca City. Only since 1974 has it been presented in the auditorium on Fortin Hill. The APPO’s call is for the alternative People’s Guelaguetza, as occurred last year, a free festival.

Here is the history of 2006, a chronicle written by the UABJO Sociology Department investigator Victor Raúl Martínez Vásquez. note: THIS IS MY TRANSLATION, NOT AS YET AUTHORIZED BY PROF. MARTINEZ. I TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY ERRORS.

Autoritarismo, Movimiento Popular y Crisis Politica
by Victor Raúl Martínez Vásquez
taken from page 89 first edition, 2007
translation by Nancy Davies
La Guelaguetza Popular

The Popular Guelaguetza

Another struggle (Martinez presented previous events) is related to the matter of the Guelaguetza. Even a week before, the Secretary of Tourism, Beatriz Rodríguez Casasnovas, had affirmed to the press: “Yes, there will be a Guelaguetza” and added that it was not in risk in spite of the teachers conflict. The new Secretary of Citizen Protection, Lino Celaya, had said that an operation was underway to secure the Guelaguetza. [1]

The Guelaguetza, called “the maximum festival of the Oaxaqueños”, is an event of national and international fame, which attracts thousands of tourists who leave behind an important economic contribution, not only for the hotels and restaurants of the city, but also for the artisans of the Oaxaca Valley and the small merchants of the markets in which their products are sold.

This festival is now accompanied by other economic and cultural events such as the Mezcal Fair, which permits the producers of this drink to commercialize their product also; free presentations of dance troupes; dozens of meetings of the Papaloapam basin; gastronomy shows; the Juchitán night festivals (for various saints, called velas) based in Oaxaca, etcetera.

The Guelaguetza also has been a space for political audience where the governor, as a reminiscence of the grand tlatoani, (Aztec emperor) receives in turn offerings from different regional delegations, in the midst of the approval of the political class and guests from the federal government and from the cultural, social, and economic life of Mexico.

The teachers decided to boycott it, for which they took possession, several times, of the auditorium in which events are annually staged, until the day when finally, given the risks, the Guelaguetza was cancelled by the authorities.

I must add another reason, which is not mentioned with sufficient emphasis, and that was the severe effects that the structure of the auditorium suffered during the widening of the highway which runs along the side of the Fortin Hill. Some people pointed out that the road was not completed, including studies of the soil, which were never carried out. The damage has now been revealed. It affects not only the auditorium, but the base of the Benito Juárez statue located nearby, and the dwellings of people who live on the slope of hill. One must remember that Oaxaca is earthquake prone.

In compensation for the cancellation of the official Guelaguetza, the teachers again took the initiative and called for an “Alternative Guelaguetza”, which took place the 24th of July in the stadium of the Institute of Technology in Oaxaca.

On inaugurating the alternative Guelaguetza, Enrique Rueda Pacheco emphasized the cultural history of the city and volunteered that this alternative Guelaguetza would be repeated every year, encouraged by the teachers and the social organizations.

The newspaper La Jornada estimated that twenty thousand people attended. At 11:40 on the morning of that day, July 24, three-fourths of the Technology stadium was occupied: the stands, the soccer field, and the track. In addition to seats in the stands, eight thousand chairs had been added. [2]

At the alternative Guelaguetza other towns and dances appeared which certainly had not participated in previous shows, like Santiago Chilantongo, which presented carnival pieces with women covered in small veils while a solitary person, also shrouded both on face and head, accompanied the couples in their movements.

San Juan Yolotepec, for its part, parodied the struggle of Moors and Christians, including military leaps, wooden swords and the simulation of hand to hand combat.

The ballerinas of Macuiltianguis danced “the little bullfight” and butted their partners until they were knocked down. The festival continued until nightfall. [3]

It only remains to be said that the Guelaguetza fiesta was also altered by the governor in his first year in office. He ordered that the fiesta, which previously only took place in the mornings, on the last two Mondays in July, also would be given in the evenings, which without doubt broke with tradition.

Additionally, one might add that these fiestas were always held the last Mondays of July to memorialize the anniversary of the death of Benito Juárez, which is observed the 18th of July. In this occasion, exactly at the bicentenary of that distinguished man, the Guelaguetza was programmed for the Monday of July 17, a day before the date so symbolic for the Oaxaqueños. Another affront to the cherished icons of this state.

Although the union offered to carry out the traditional “eighth” of the Guelaguetza the 31st of July, it didn’t do so since the political circumstances were worsening after July 22, the day on which Radio Universidad was shot up by “persons unknown” and the homes of several directors such as Enrique Rueda, Alejandro Cruz, Rogelio Vargas, and Macario Otalo Padilla were attacked with Molotov cocktails. [4]


[1] El Imparcial, Oaxaca, 14 de junio de 2006.

[2] The antecedent of the present Guelaguetza, which managed to root itself in the popular feelings was “Homenaje Racial” which was the name given to a show on the 400th anniversary of the City of Oaxaca celebrated in 1932. This act sprung from the framework of cultural nationalism of the Mexican Revolution. Afterward it was promoted by the government and the commercial class in search of an economic alternative for the capital city and its environments, whose economy was affected by the results of the Revolution. Tourism was presented after the 50s in the 20th century as alternative to pursue for the capital city of the state. The business of tourism and culture is nothing new. A doctoral thesis has been written on the subject by Jesús Lizama.

[3] A synthesis of the work of Jesús J. Lezama Quijano entitled “La máxima fiesta de los oaxaqueños. Algunos comentarios sobre la Guelaguetza de los lunes del cerro”, Cuadernos del Sur, magazine of social sciences, Oaxaca, No. 19, julio del 2002.

[4] La Jornada, México, 23 de julio del 2006.

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