The Big Picture in Oaxaca
In 2009 Resistance Increases as Teachers Union Section 22 Comes out “in Defense of the People, and Against Privatization”
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
February 6, 2009
The bishop of the dioceses of Puerto Escondido stands with dissidents against the construction of the dam Paso de la Reina. The 29 parishes of the area, headed by Bishop Eduardo Carmona Ortega threaten to enlist international tribunals to prevent this project, which they perceive as another assault on indigenous populations. The area to be flooded is indigenous land, including territories in the municipalities of Santiago Ixtayutla, Santa Cruz Zenzontepec, Santiago Tetepec, Santiago Jamiltepec, Tataltepec de Valdés and San Pedro de Tuxtepec.
Indigenous lands all over the world supposedly shelter under the protection of international bans and treaties regarding external incursions, whether by a government or to profit outsiders.
The work will cost up to a billion dollars. The effort to raise the awareness of the local people has been a long hard process, as I was previously told by a worker in the organization EDUCA. She told me that EDUCA drove young people from the villages to look at what had been done to disappeared towns under water, but she despaired of them becoming sufficiently alarmed. Two unknown persons had allegedly arrived in the region to bribe the residents with perhaps 100 pesos each, to support the dam which they were told would bring them a lot of benefits.
Bishop Carmona Ortega spoke at a press conference in Oaxaca city on February 4, 2009. He said the church, which in this area includes thirty-two priests, opposes the project because “it is not viable for the peoples native to the region” In addition to the enormous debt the state of Oaxaca and the Mexican nation will incur for construction, the displacement of the indigenous population will destroy their culture, sending people into the cities along Oaxaca’s southern coast, where they will face economic misery and alienation. Furthermore, the dam will alter the Rio Verde’s path, change the water systems of the area, affect the complex environment of the lagoons fed by the river, and damage the ecosystem in and along the new dam basin.
The bishop, who is based in the city of Putla de Guerrero, affirmed that these dams cause harm all across the country, injuring primarily the poor whose lives are disrupted. Along with EDUCA, environmentalists working with the people on water education projects view the massive projects as ecologically ruinous. Small dams work as well, so far as electric generation is concerned, with less damage to people and environment. The bishop cited the damage done in Chiapas with Peñitas, Malpaso, Agostura and Chicoasén, where flooding increased as the river-ways were altered. He mentioned that the people are now more conscious of potential harm, and like those in Guerrero, are ready to resist. Along with them, the diocese itself will resist if the project goes forward. The bishop remarked that the government would be held responsible if any harm came to the priests, the religious community, or the inhabitants of the region for defending the people’s struggle.
This time not from the church, but from the National Education Workers (SNTE ) Section 22 which is coming out on all fronts in defense of the people, and against privatization.
The union incorporates 70,000 members, the largest single force in Oaxaca. Recently it announced that those 600 or so teachers who want to renege on their commitment to Section 59 (the union sponsored by the government of Ulises Ruiz) and rejoin Section 22, will be accepted back into the fold. Who won’t be accepted, are the leaders regarded as traitors, and the 600 or so non- professionals brought in to conduct classes by the opposition PRI supporters during the 2006 teachers popular movement strike.
According to columnist Ernesto Reyes reporting in Noticias on February 4, last weekend in the town of Ocotlán de Morelos the “National Forum For Life: We Defend Our Mother Earth” discussed the negative impact of mining which has been carried out for years by private enterprises such as Continuum Resources of Canada. With the assistance of the teachers union, the inhabitants of about fourteen villages in the district talked about the destruction to health and environment they have suffered.
Since 2006 hundreds of hectares of land have been granted by the federal government to various mining enterprises in concessions for extracting gold and silver from the subsoil. According to the residents at the forum, the first stage of the next incursion will be concluded by the end of the year and will operate for a period of fifteen years, starting in 2010, Reyes reports.
The inhabitants of the affected region, in addition to Ocotlán de Morelos include the Ejido San José de Progreso, San Pedro Taviche and ten other villages. Illegal exploitation has gone on for years on another property owned by Continuum Resources called the Mining Company of Natividad. As far as I can figure out, their permission goes all the way back to colonial days, and was never reviewed nor rescinded until the population itself took up arms (literally) a few years ago to prevent the resumption of mining.
Due to improper disposition of residues according to residents of the Sierra Juarez, the soil and the water have accumulated polychloride biphenaline, which is a carcinogenic substance. Entire towns have been wiped out due to loss of land and water use. With that in mind, the people of Ocotlán demand that the authorities clarify the operation of these corporations. They referred to the case of San Jeronimo Taviche, where of forty miners only three survive. Thirty-seven died of “strange causes”, two of the survivors are invalids. Some attribute this to the use of the chemicals.
Furthermore, if a gold mine uses 250,000 liters of water per hour, very soon no water is left.
Reyes reports that at the forum the mining company Cuzcatlán was denounced for its campaign of pressure, lies and threats in order to access lands held by campesinos, ejido residents and communeros.
In Oaxaca in 2008, 24 children died of cancer. The cancer rate statewide has overwhelmed available medical services. Section 22 is assisting at education and organization. As far as I know, for the first time the union has taken up the environmental cause of an entire region as union business.
So where, you may ask, is Part One? I don’t feal ready to post it yet because I hope next week to have an interview with a guy from UNOSJO , which Part 1 discusses. I see the pushback from indigenous communities as being part of the same picture, and not only in Oaxaca but throughout Mexico. The economic stress of higher prices and unemployment adds to the non-indigenous sector’s resentment as well – this is a nation with the worst extremes of wealth and poverty. I went downtown today and saw women sitting on the sidewalks selling lettuce and radishes, innumerable vendors at their portable counters (puestos) peddling everything from kids’ socks to batteries, to roach poison and pirated music. This is not new, but outstrips what I have witnessed in other years.
The beggars who hit on the tourists occupy the sidewalks north of the zocalo, and the vendors occupy the south, the poorer side of the city. In the zocalo itself there are licensed peripatetic vendors, some of whom have been there for decades, but now we also see more kids. Children, who accost the tourists and move around the square, hour after hour.
Along the poorer south side streets shops opened which are clearly upscale (judged by Oaxaca standards). The roads were dug up and paved by the governor who intended an extension of the pedestrian tourist area. You know, paved with fancy brick patterned blocks all laid by hand. Our governor’s inclination is to use, and skim, public money for the benefit of the ownership elite. But along streets paved with vendors of grapefruit and t-shirts, only the bravest tourists push through the Oaxaca crowds.
At the same time, signs for houses for sale or offices for rent have multiplied, just, I suppose, as in other parts of the capitalist world.
Being able to count, I know that 2009 comes directly before 2010 – the 100 year anniversary of the Mexican Revolution – , and while I deeply hope there is no violence, now or in the future, I do sense that strength is gathering, and the teachers union is everywhere, rolling the ball uphill.
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