Oaxaca’s State Offices Blocked
Fears of a “Dirty War” After Paramilitary Attacks; Movement Requests Constitutional Impeachment of Governor and Recognition of New Popular Government
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
July 28, 2006
After a successful display of organizing the general public to stage a free celebration of the traditional Guelaguetza festival, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) embarked on the hard work of taking the next steps to strengthen the struggle.
Backed by its majority membership of striking teachers, during a twelve-hour session concluding at 5:00 AM on July 26, APPO decided to blockade indefinitely the access to the State Congress, the Supreme Court, and offices of the Secretary of Finances and the Attorney General. The press office of Section 22 of the teachers’ union (known by its Spanish initials SNTE), through its spokesperson Daniel Rosas Romero, said the measure was being taken in order to increase the ungovernability of Oaxaca and hasten the departure of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz (referred to as “URO”). The occupation began at 6:00 AM. on July 26, according to news broadcast on Radio Universidad, affiliated with the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca.
The broadcast on Radio Universidad called for citizen participation to maintain the blockade. A citizen meeting was scheduled for 6:00 the same evening to receive ideas on what next steps to take.
APPO sent delegates to Mexico City to emphasize that APPO now holds the government of Oaxaca. A caravan left Oaxaca on July 25 for the national capital to demand attention to the petition for impeachment in the national senate. According to spokespersons for APPO, national support for the movement is growing. Teacher organizations from Michoacán and Chiapas came to Oaxaca to offer aid. International offers of support have come from the United States’ American Federation of Teachers, and from a group of Cubans and other Latin Americans who were meeting in Oaxaca.
It must be driving Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) people nuts. I ran into one Oaxaqueño of the middle class who was outraged because, as he complained, “a handful of people” can interfere with the business of Oaxaca.
On the part of the government, the new phase is dirty war. Thus far, men assumed to be government paramilitaries have thrown Molotov cocktails into the homes of two prominent movement leaders (indigenous leader Alejandro Cruz López, and Enrique Rueda Pacheco, Secretary of Section 22). Radio Universidad has been attacked twice. Their phone lines and signal are frequently blocked. The station has been the main avenue of communication for more than two months, since the destruction of Radio Plantón, the teachers’ small FM station, on June 14.
Witnesses at the radio station identified the attackers as “paramilitaries” based on their carrying high-powered assault rifles. Students and citizens thwarted the first attack; the second attack involved the burning of a bus outside the university, but did not penetrate the building, which is now well guarded by citizens. The fire department did not respond to calls from the university, but no damage was done to the radio station.
The following day, a delegation of students of the Technological Institute (the “Tecnológico”) of Oaxaca declared they would hold a student vote on July 28 to declare their support for the movement. The “Tecnológico” stadium was used for an overflow crowd of attendees, estimated at 20,000 by La Jornada, celebrating the people’s recovery of the original free Guelaguetza on Monday July 24. (The “official,” state-organized Guelaguetza had become a high-priced show for tourists.) For every government attack, three citizen groups align with the movement.
The removal of the three branches of government in Oaxaca, according to lawyer Juan Manuel Cruz Acevedo, would be completely legal. He cited paragraph V of article 76 of the Federal Constitution of the Republic, which says the government can be removed “if the government were physically unable to exercise the inherent functions of their positions, or were unable to because of situations or conflict unresolved by themselves, which affect the life of the State, impeding the full validity of the juridical order.”
“It would be a lot better all around if URO resigns,” Cruz Acevedo said. If he doesn’t resign, Cruz Acevedo predicted, the state will “fall into a climate of general disobedience.” At the present writing, twenty-four municipalities have evicted their municipal presidents in takeovers by their residents. Among them is Santa Cruz de Xoxocotalán (“Xoxo”), where the new state government buildings are located (moved there to avoid protests in downtown Oaxaca City), and its neighbor town of Zaachila. The struggle in Xoxo is a classic, involving the ouster of a municipal PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) president by the PRI, the installation of a PRI interim president, and now the uprising of the residents against her.
The more I learn, the less simple everything becomes. For example, on April 3, President Vicente Fox inaugurated a highway to link San Juan Petlapa with the rest of the state of Oaxaca. Petlapa is the only indigenous municipality without a road. But road was abandoned without completion, and one week ago the rains again isolated the Sierra North’s Chatina community. So the inhabitants of Petlapa added their town to the teacher-led social movement. This type of affiliation with the social movement invariably involves citing public grievances. When people speak of these grievances – the destruction of the cultural patrimony, the environment, the lack of water, schools, roads – they accuse URO personally, but they are really the accumulated grievances against the PRI, plus the impending privatization of even more public services and spaces. In a feeling of diffuse dread and anger one often hears “this is our culture,” “we are not like the northern cities”, and references to el raiz, which all reflect a sense of Oaxaca being unalterably changed for the worse. One person said, “If people want to see a modern northern city let them go to the United States.”
APPO lists its successes thus far as: the enormous popular turnout for anti-URO marches; the vast number of teachers who have maintained the occupation of the zocalo; the forced shuffling by URO of thee cabinet members; the “punishment vote” which on July 2 replaced nine of eleven PRI legislative delegates with people from the PRD; and the takeover of twenty-four (or is it twenty-five) municipalities fed up with PRI rule. Meanwhile, now that the school year is over, the teachers have returned from their duties re-occupied 52 blocks of the center of the city.
On the dark side, APPO cited the absence of public support from the newly elected PRD representatives. But on July 25 some did step forward in solidarity, at least verbally. They have not much choice but to do so – the situation is now “for or against” the movement.
Another sore point is the participation of police who are “working against their own people” in defense of the rich. INEGI (the bureau of national statistics) refused to make public the poverty statistics during the election period. Meanwhile, lies are promulgated by the TV, and newspapers are controlled by the government.
The state legislators are reportedly meeting in a hotel in the exclusive suburb of San Felipe.
No injuries of movement people have been reported since June 14, and Section 22 of SNTE also declared that no deaths occurred in the June 14 attack, despite many claims of between three and twenty deaths.
The movement expects an intensification of the dirty war. I see no way this cultural social revolution will end soon.
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