<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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Two Years Later in Oaxaca: Part II

What’s The Difference? - Networking and Local Autonomy: The Thigh Bone’s Connected to The Knee Bone



By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

June 2, 2008

Read Part I of this series here.

Part II

Oaxaca, Mexico now serves as the crossroad for national social movements – and perhaps international ones as well, according to David Venegas, the former political prisoner and activist of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials).


David Venegas
Photos: D.R. 2008 Nancy Davies
The annual occupations by frustrated members of Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE in its Spanish initals) in their 2008 strike add to the frustration of the population. Permission to convoke a statewide teachers assembly to legitimize new officials for Section 22 within SNTE is clearly a union-busting maneuver, and a dangerous one at that. Stymied by the unsavory Elba Esther Gordillo, abetted by Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) in not yielding on this most important union piece, the tension grows in Oaxaca as we approach the June 14 anniversary of the movement.

Section 22 in the midst of their struggle incorporated other concerns, particularly the privatization of the petroleum industry. This is the legitimate task of teachers – they plow the ground; the social movement plants the seeds. Inside the teachers’ plantón, education proceeds. Alongside the encampment in the Alameda, another anti-privatization forum took place on May 29, sponsored by the National Democratic Alternative (ADN) of the National Democratic Party (PRD).

And if the avalanche of initials and organizations overwhelms you, so does it me –organizations and sectors of organizations are multiplying like rabbits.

Barring another not impossible social explosion, the changes in Oaxaca answer this query:

Where is the APPO? My response, and the difference after the 2006 events, is people organizing on the ground. A network of activists spread across the state who are all, in some sense “the APPO.” As David Venegas told me, when the youth caravan El Sendero del Jaguar arrived in small communities on the Isthmus in May, although the youngsters do not identify themselves as APPO (many don’t belong to the APPO), the townspeople rushed out to meet them shouting “the APPO is coming! The APPO is here!”

We Are All The APPO

The main body of the APPO, those thousands who took to the streets in 2006, are not attending quarrelsome ideological meetings – but they haven’t vanished. “The head bone‘s connected to the neck bone, the neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone…, now hear the word of the Lord!” Good song. The word of the Lord in Oaxaca is that everything and everybody is connected, in a cascade of inter-related events and movements. The APPO has been described as a movement of movements, and morenow than ever, that seems accurate.

I postulate that a two-fold change in consciousness in Oaxaca has taken root. One involves networking. Civil society caught on to the government policy of deliberate isolation and separation of communities and groups, often accompanied by PRI-provoked violence. That power tactic is being discussed and acted on via cross-cultural communication. The other change is confrontation of authoritarian top-down control. Local control, horizontal control and autonomy leap up within town after town. They create in-your-face challenges to the resident caciques.

This is not to disregard the fact that many social organizations retain a top-down internal structure, many consist of not more than two people, many hold conservative positions. Nor could I disregard the cost in lives: for example the two Triqui radio broadcasters. Nor government harassment. Nevertheless, as the APPO shouted “elbow to elbow”, the social movements spread like water, very strong and not only horizontal, but respectful of each others programs and priorities.

The Journey of the Sendero del Jaguar

I met the sisters of David Venegas Reyes while they were working to get David out of prison. Sonya was raising money, selling calendars. Natalya was speaking and traveling; both attended meetings of the APPO.

As for David himself, I met him for the first time at a public forum regarding political prisoners on the day after he himself was released. He spent eleven months in the hands of the government, grabbed off the street in April of 2007 and framed with a sequence of false criminal charges, then re-charged, and re-charged again, until finally the courts declared an end to it and he was released.

The siblings live in Oaxaca with their parents, and David graduated from a Oaxaca university with a “agricultural engineer” degree, a title he finds now to be totally useless. As he explained, all they were taught was from the north: agribusiness and chemicals. David is a committed anarchist (in the best sense of the classic political tradition), and a member of VOCAL, the APPO-anarchist socialist faction. In person, he sizzles with energy, a handsome twenty-five year old, seemingly tireless and fearless. When I met him the second time he was heading a march to demand release of other prisoners.

According to David, “The Path of the Jaguar for the Regeneration of our Memory” is the result of the collective work of activist boys and girls who participated in the first youth meeting of the social movement, convoked by the APPO in its third state assembly. This meeting of youngsters, carried out in the month of February of 2008 in the town of Zaachila, organized the caravan of thirty young people who have as their fundamental objective “the reorganization of the Oaxaca social movement.”

On May 27 Las Noticias displayed a half-page ad entitled “Pronunciamiento Politico.” It was signed Caravana “El Sendero del Jaguar por la Regeneración de Nuestra Memoria.” In part it reads:

”As in Mexico and the world, many peoples are struggling and resisting (neoliberal) development and progress because they know it will only benefit some few and those few are not the legitimate owners of the land nor of what is found in it. In the region of the Isthmus de Tehuantepec, towns such as Jalapa del Marqués, Juchitán, San Blas Atempa, Zanatepec and Benito Juárez Chimalapas are located at strategic points for the development of mega-projects like the Plan-Puebla-Panama, the Area of Free Commerce of the Americas (ALCA, or NAFTA), the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the Alliance for Security and Prosperity of North America (ASPAN).”

The youngsters’ caravan with David Venegas on board left Oaxaca City on May 5, 2008 from in front of the teachers’ building. David’s opinion piece/explanation appeared on the internet blog “Kaos en la Red” and in the newspaper Las Noticias.

The Oaxaca Social Movement: Local Control as a Political Model

Public acknowledgement of issues regarding privatization vs. community ownership – autonomy, local control, indigenous rights and cultural identity – emerged as an integral part of the discourse in 2008. The lawsuits on the Isthmus filed against foreign contractors for the wind generators charge fraud, failure to obtain local input, unfair rental payments as well as misleading environmental studies and failure to observe indigenous rights. It would be a model for the nation if it were won and enforced. It is legally based on violation of the Mexican constitution, closely related to the prohibitions of turning oil over to foreign investors. In the words of Sendero:

“ ... this (2006) movement against globalization not only touched the gates of heaven, took them by storm, which meant that the antagonists–”the governor”, “the state”, “neoliberalism”– were recognized. The demands were direct, they were pressed by solidarity, but also by the insults and discontent of an immoral economy.

The APPO …underlined the necessity of thinking about a new type of authority, one far from Persons governing and Persons governed, but instead (based on the model) “lead by obeying”, as followed by the Zapatistas…to imagine what forms of life suit them, their own beliefs, ...without repeating authoritarian socialism…acting with alliances in which they could fully call themselves “communities”... the APPO simply put forward the idea of returning to “the customary” (usos y costumbres) which expresses alternative forms of possession and of doing politics, in the search for different senses of justice and autonomy for everyone, not for just some.”

The first caravan visited five communities in the troubled Isthmus region, communities on the receiving end of neoliberal assaults. As David explained to me, the misinterpretation that indigenous people oppose “development” is founded on their unwillingness to accept the capitalist model of private gain, which inevitably leads to greed and individual power-grabs. Instead, they seek “development” which evenly benefits the entire community at the same time, leaving nobody side-lined.

As for the Sendero’s caravan, the point was to listen and learn, an attempt to understand. It sounds like the Zapatista caravans, but with a definite difference. In Chiapas, David claims, only one model, the caracoles, prevails. But in Oaxaca each community provides its own model, it’s own version of how to live. Oaxacans, he continued, are much more territorial, not only in the countryside but in the city where the assemblies of colonias meet. “Community” is personal and face-to-face.

Santa Maria Jalapa del Marquez on May 5 observed 47 years since the town was submerged to create the Benito Juárez Dam, an event allegedly achieved through threats and false promises – no surprise there. The relocated population slowly rebuilt, many becoming fishermen. In 2003 the government sprang the idea of the construction of a hydroelectric generator on the dam. Before protests were launched, the government divided the town by handing out lands to those who would vote in favor. Nevertheless, the community won, really because studies showed the hydroelectric project was not feasible. Nevertheless the state and federal governments didn’t let go: the army and police arrived to maintain order.

The Benito Juarez Dam provides water to irrigate farmland in Region 19 of Juchitán and Tehuantepec, among other towns. But something has gone wrong. There’s no water. The Pemex refinery in Salina Cruz receives its quota, but after April nothing went to the campesinos and agriculture. The crop loss is reported at 100%. As the dam’s water levels drop, the church and houses of the drowned town appear like ghosts on the cracked dry ground. The town of Jalapa, now radicalized, alerts other towns threatened with similar mega-projects.

San Blas Atempa, site of a nasty repression and assassination allegedly authored by the PRI cacique Agustina Acevedo Gutiérrez, an ally of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, was visited on May 6. The people came out to greet the Sendero young people, with the women speaking in public assembly against the ambitious, corrupt and criminal woman who is the cacique.

In Juchitán de Zaragoza on May 7, the Sendero met with the Assembly in Defense of Land, involved in the confrontation with the installation of the Eólic Corridor. Endesa, Hiberdrola, Gamesa and Union Fenosa are the transnationals, which installed “La Venta I” starting with eight generators; now La Venta II occupies 850 hectares of land. The electricity generated is sold to the Federal Electric Commission. The goal is 5,000 generators on more than 3,000 hectares of land previously used for agriculture and cattle gazing.

A decade ago in a sweet Oaxaca landscape, cream-colored oxen grazed by the side of the lagoon road, a dreamy vision of peace. Wind-generators are not un-pretty, and the trade-off for clean energy is evident. But it’s not so simple. The noise of the generators effectively drives out every living thing. La Venta IV is projected for another 2,300 hectares – on Zapotec lands. Protests have resulted in 76 orders for arrest.

The Sendero also visited the community radio in Juchitán, “Radio Totopo” which discusses in both Zapotec and Spanish the problems of the various communities on the Isthmus. Neighbors sustain Radio Totopo personnel with food and necessities. Another resistance campaign formed against Wal-Mart and its outlet, Aurrera. Community radio provides another networking link.

May 8 the caravan arrived at Benito Juárez, in the municipality of San Miguel Chimalapa. This community guards the jungle against exploitation and handing over of concessions. It’s on the border with Chiapas, the Chiapas government forty years ago began to give concessions for cutting wood, and sent Chiapanecos to settle there. The governments encouraged battles between the newcomers and the residents. On their own, the rival groups recognized they observe the same spirit of maintaining the natural environment. In one of the first environmental victories, the Chimalapa territory, covered in woods and virgin jungle and with immeasurable biological wealth and water, held back the government and its commissions. The peoples’ maintain the area.

As an aside, in the midst of the electricity-generation wars, these Chimalapa territories have no electric service. The land legally belongs to Oaxaca; the two state governments collude in privatizing the once commonly-held lands as the relentless neoliberal assault continues.

The caravan ended its first tour on May 14. The final day, the ministerial police of Zanatepec stopped and searched the caravan out in the country, away from any population. According to the caravan spokespersons, the cops came out of the woods to threaten them. Nevertheless “reorganization” of the APPO, that is, the population base, goes on as links are forged. The Sendero youngsters, raging in age from 14 up to “elder statesmen” in their late twenties, plan to visit the entire state, region by region. As David told me, they don’t need to speak with civil organizations, which already have their own agendas. They listen to the indigenous people, the campesinos, the ones trying to guard their lives and their visions. They learn what it is so unique about Oaxaca, which inspires the world.

Related information: For Narco News – Oaxaca Archives or Order a Copy of Nancy Davies’ The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly

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