Self-Defense Drills in Oaxaca
Neighbors Prepare to Resist State Violence
By Diego Enrique Osorno
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
September 26, 2006
A silence loaded with tension envelopes everything; the city has fallen silent as if under a spell. Not one voice, not one sound, comes from anywhere.
They must be here already. Someone has just announced in the old city center that they’re on their way in a Hercules airplane and fourteen buses. There are doubts, but these are silenced when the rebel radio station cries out the alert: “Compañeroooooooos! It’s time. We must reinforce the barricades. We must defend our street, our neighborhood, our family, our children… we must once again prevent the fascist government of Vicente Fox and Ulises Ruiz Ortiz from repressing us.”
A pile of Molotov cocktails suddenly appears in the HSBC ATM machine in front of Section 22 (the local chapter of the national SNTE teachers’ union). About 100 teachers arrange themselves on the corners of the neighboring street, bracing for the worst. On the radio, the increasingly fired-up announcer continues providing “information.” “Compañeros,” he says, “we have a report that the police are now coming through Miahuatlán…”
A few young teachers charged with giving medical attention to the injured now feel something getting closer, something that has been warned of for some time, and it is easy to see that they await it quite fearfully. The security committee people from the teachers’ union hall talk endlessly through radios and cellular phones.
The morning stillness has gone and will not return, not even a half-hour later when the rebel teachers receive confirmation that the presence of Federal Preventive Police (PFP in its Spanish initials, a mobile riot police force) in the city was merely a false alarm. The practice run of the people’s self-defense has now been carried out.
* * *
No one knows for certain which was the first barricade installed in the city, nor who exactly ordered it built, nor whether the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) had planned it ahead of time.
What nearly everyone does remember is that a group of gunmen, later identified as judicial police, cruised the streets one recent night in a convoy of 30 vehicles, and during their tour killed Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, one of the dissidents guarding the occupied facilities of the radio station “La Ley.”
The following night, the people began erecting barricades in the streets of their neighborhoods. They prepared for an imminent siege of the city by federal forces, or at least, as they say here, for another “Caravan of Death.”
That first night of barricades in the city was August 25. During those hours, a few women – mostly teachers and housewives – began stockpiling food in the barricades, while student brigades from the Benito Juarez Autonomous University covered the walls with graffiti reading “Oaxaca is not Atenco.”
The leaders of the union and the APPO met behind closed doors and the rumor spread that the PFP was on its way, but nothing happened. During the following days and nights, however, the rumor continued. Or rather, it continues.
* * *
He told me, with a hint of sarcasm, that he had nothing, in the most literal sense of the word. We were talking about poverty, especially about the poor in Oaxaca, and he answered a question that I had asked him with another: “Do you know what money means in a poor state? Money in a poor state like Oaxaca and in a rich state like Nuevo León are two very different things.”
“In the rich state, money is something of value you can use to buy certain products at the market. You are simply a consumer, even if you are a millionaire. You may be able to get more stuff but you are still a consumer, no more. On the other hand, in a poor state money is something wonderful, with which you can be part of anything.”
He was a retired teacher from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, whom I did not see again at the barricade where we had talked. I was told that one night he abandoned his post to return to Salina Cruz, because he had received the news that his daughter and granddaughter – his only real riches in the world – had died in a car accident.
* * *
The leaders of the dissident movement say that there are 2,000 barricades in the city. But what is a barricada, a barricade? The dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines it as, “a type of parapet constructed of barrels (barricas), or of overturned vehicles, boards, logs, cobblestones, etc., used to block the path of the enemy, more frequently in popular revolts than in military strategy.”
Here in Oaxaca, the definition of a barricade changes a bit, depending on where one visits. If, for example, one wishes to speak of a barricade in the downtown area, one must say that these are made with benches from public parks, or with enormous rocks that got here who-knows-how, or with pieces of a wrecked or burned official vehicle.
On the other hand, if one wishes to speak of the barricades on Fortín Hill, like the one that Mrs. Minerva put in front of her general store, one would have to say that they are built with leftover construction materials from half-finished buildings, but above all with an endless supply of nails that, despite their small size, are lethal to any “Caravan of Death” trying to navigate these winding streets.
And so, every neighborhood or street that decides to join the APPO forms its own barricade in its own way. For that reason, there are some that are unbreachable walls, and others that pose a mere inconvenience to any enemy convoy.
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