Oaxaca Voters Punish the PRI
Citizens Denounce Electoral Fraud In a Show of Democracy from Below
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
July 3, 2006
Why was this election in Oaxaca different from all other elections?
For one thing, the students at Radio Universidad, the station of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials) opened their phone lines for citizens to call in with accusations of electoral fraud throughout Election Day.
I monitored during one hour, from 2:15 to 3:15 P.M.. In that time eleven citizen calls from different areas of greater Oaxaca City were aired. Three reported that there were no ballots available: voters had been waiting three hours, six hours and seven hours, respectively. One caller said her credentials for voting were rejected. Four calls reported that the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was handing out food and staples in exchange for votes. One reported that in the town of Zaachila nobody marked off names of those who had already voted.
And then there was a call saying that the state police barracks at Santa Maria Coyotepec held thousands of ballots which the troops were busily marking for distribution to the polls at the close of the day – a believable scenario given that so many polling places had “inadvertently” run out of ballots. The caller said his uncle, a police officer, just couldn’t bring himself to do it and blew the whistle. The uncle said the police had been working for three days to mark the ballots. The caller’s voice wavered with emotion as he described his uncle’s information.
As Radio Universidad announced each of the possible trouble spots, the public was urged to get there with video cameras, personal cameras, and cell-phone cameras, to document the potential fraud. And they did.
Citizens responded to the marked ballots by surrounding the police quarters into the evening, to prevent the transfer of the stolen ballots, neatly marked for the PRI, to closed polls. The newspaper Noticias featured the story on its front page July 3, adding details of how people stood outside the police building shouting, “fraud, fraud”.
In other polling sites citizens refused to permit officials to take away boxes of marked ballots without the presence of an official from every party –i.e., if the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) wasn’t represented. Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’ boast – that he would delivering a million votes for Madrazo – failed.
Radio Universidad also announced which rumors had been shown to be false, and called on everyone to remain calm. As a result of their enthusiasm for a free and fair election, the radio station was told it may be taken off the air. This was reported by Oaxacapolitico which is a website that reports hour-by-hour bulletins, usually right-wing. The PRI accused students of telling voters how to mark their ballots, by using a “password.” That’s an action which would negate the vote, an act deserving sanctions as well as possible cancellation of their broadcasting license.
Although I was listening carefully with pen in hand, I must have been in the bathroom at the precise moment when UABJO transgressed the Federal Code of Electoral Political Procedures.
The areas (the town of Zaachila, the neighborhood Colonia Volcanes) which received air time at Radio Universidad for their nefarious goings-on, did the best in voting punishment for the PRI.
Enrique Rueda Pacheco, the leader of SNTE Section 22 (the state teachers’ union whose strike led to the current social upheaval in Oaxaca) said, “…this is democracy from below. We have done what we set out to do.” The winning candidates will know who put them in office, he said. The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de Pueblo Oaxaca, or APPO) will meet in the former government palace, which was converted to a museum by Ulises Ruiz and has now been retaken for the people’s use.
Oddly, some cling to the belief that this massive movement is still a teachers’ strike. Wilfrido Mireles, Francisco Toledo and Arturo Lona withdrew after their last meeting as members of the Commission for Intermediation, which was created to find a solution to the educational demands of the teachers’ strike going on now for more than a month. Arturo Lona Reyes, Bishop Emeritus of Tehuantepec and commission member, complained of the APPO: “it cannot be that the educational demands have been a side-show and now APPO demands an autonomous government, as well as taking over the government palace and the Government House.” His lamentation – and dare we say, surprise – was reported by Mexico City daily La Jornada and the local newspaper Noticias on July 1.
APPO is urging everyone to organize popular assemblies at every level: neighborhoods, street blocks, unions, and towns. “No leader is going to solve our problems,” members of APPO repeat. The announced goals, in addition to forcing governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz to resign or be impeached, is to retake the wealth of natural resources to benefit the people. APPO plans to present the popular demand for the removal of Ruiz Ortiz to the state legislature this week.
Meanwhile, Section 22, assisted by the citizenry, is blocking government offices such as the Secretary of Finances, the Attorney General’s office, the new Government House located in the municipality of San Bartolo Coyotepec, the offices of the Federal Electoral Institute, the State Congress, the office of State and Metropolitan Traffic, and the state television station, Channel 9.
Statewide, 25 municipal town halls (palacios municipales), are occupied by teachers.
The next mega-march is scheduled for Wednesday, July 5. A celebratory fiesta will take place on July 6 in the downtown area when the museum-former-government-palace is inaugurated as a space for APPO.
There are one hundred days until the inauguration of the new President of the Republic – whoever that may be. Within all the celebration, extreme precautions will be maintained until the outcome of the presidential election is resolved. The PRI governor of Oaxaca – with no national backing, and his state in the hands of the people – has nothing left to lose.
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