Transition to Democracy Forum Cancelled in Guelatao
La Santísima Virgen de las Barrikadas Appears Instead
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
October 12, 2009
One of the forums for Transition to Democracy, scheduled to take place in Guelatao, was cancelled. Rumor has it that Governor Ulises Ruiz threatened the town council of Guelatao with a withdrawal of town funding if they permitted the forum, whose main focus is the opposition political alliance. Interesting, because Guelatao annually hosts a government celebration of the birthday of Benito Juarez. The town consists of several clean blocks of homes, beside a small park and lagoon where the boy Benito Juarez grew up. Political trips to Guelatao by governors always reek of opportunism, as they invoke the hero of Oaxaca, the first and only indigenous president of Mexico, at his birthplace (March 21, 1806). Juarez was a well-loved Zapoteco, who served five terms as president of Mexico.
The current main man in Guelatao is Aldo Gonzalez Rojas, coordinator of the Area of Indigenous Rights of the Union of Social Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO). Gonzalez is also known for his team’s exposure of the geographic Bowman Project in the Sierra. The Sierra Juarez still appears heavily militarized.
La Virgen de las Barricadas
D.R. 2009 Noticias
This year Gonzalez, who once served as municipal president of Guelatao, and prior to that as advisor to the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), was awarded the post of Mayordomía of the Santísima Virgen de las Barricadas (alternative spelling Barrikadas) festival, a festival not recognized by the Catholic church, but with its own, shall we say, following. The celebration this year occurred in the home town of Gonzalez and of Benito Juarez, in an outdoor community space used often for celebrations. Traditionally a mayordomo
acts as host and offers food, drinks and the ever-present mezcal to the invited, in this case the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, (APPO) including originators of the barricade image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
. Oaxaca’s foremost saint in her current guise wears a gas mask and a necklace of barbed wire. On her mantle gleam burning tires; beneath her folded hands the lettering reads, “Protect us, Most Holy Virgin of the Barricades.” On her special day the virgin’s image stood in a clay altar adorned with colored banners and the words “justice”, “liberty”, “organization” and “brotherhood”.
Gonzalez says that the Virgin of the Barricades has become a symbol for Oaxacans who struggle against the government, because in 2006 “she was the only one who offered her mantel of protection”.
“And this is our symbol,” he continued, “we need to keep on struggling because the people of Oaxaca have been betrayed by the institutions of the State.”
As the latest example of betrayal, after three years of complete impunity in Oaxaca, the Supreme Court justice Mariano Azuela, in regard to the case brought by the popular and teachers movement, delivered his opinion that no government officials were responsible for the murders, tortures, and illegal detentions of 2006 and 2007. Lesser police and commanders committed all the crimes, on their own.
La Virgen de las Barricadas
D.R. 2009 Noticias
Gonzalez noted, furthermore, that this is the Virgin’s first such festival outside of the city of Oaxaca, coinciding in time with the cancelled Transition to Democracy forum; the sidelined visits of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose Revolutionary Democratic Party has been high-jacked by former PRI
men; and with yet another example of betrayal, by the nation’s highest court.
The festival of the Virgin of the Barricades in Guelatao asserts the importance of those beyond the big cities, usually indigenous peoples, whose lives and poverty have been so often ignored that indigenous autonomy in Oaxaca, no matter what the UN says, requires a daily and fierce struggle, whether against highways, dams, wind generators, mines, biosphere destruction, forest clearance, or imposed mayors and caciques. The neoliberal privatization of communal lands continues. The symbol of La Virgen de las Barrikadas confronts vast and heedless government powers.
Pray for Oaxaca, folks, the situation doesn’t look good.
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