Interview with Berta Elena Muñoz, the Voice of the Movement at Radio Universidad, in Oaxaca
Oaxacans Have a Dream: “To Have a Just Government,” She Said From an Undisclosed Part of the Country
By Emir Olivares Alonso
January 9, 2007
Since she left Radio Universidad – over a month ago – the doctor Berta Elena Muñoz has been in hiding because of the death threats she received for having actively participated in the Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca. She defines the movement as a people’s movement, rather than one of political organizations, with one dream: “to have a just government, not a repressive, corrupt government.”
From an undisclosed part of the country, the former radio announcer gave an interview to the International Civil Commission of Human Rights Observation (CCIODH in Spanish), in which she commented that, as a result of the threats she received, she was forced to separate herself from her children, who have also been threatened. “I haven’t seen them in over a month, and they haven’t even seen each other, because each of us is hiding in a different place.”
Because of this, the doctor, who was also working with the APPO’s health clinics, is demanding that the federal and state governments guarantee her safety and the safety of her family, “because I haven’t committed any crime; I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t stolen or kidnapped. How is it possible that, for simply having expressed my ideas, I have a death threat over my head and those of my children? Are they really that afraid of words?”
“Since the day that Radio Universidad was handed over to the dean of the Autonomous University Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, I have basically had to stay in hiding because the threats against me were so intense. They weren’t going to detain me, they were going to disappear me,” the doctor emphasized.
The doctor explained that, because of these threats, she proposed to the council of the APPO the possibility of handing herself over to the authorities publicly, with the presence of the press. But members of the APPO council made the observation that “with things the way they are, no one could guarantee that they wouldn’t try to disappear me, even if I handed myself over publicly.”
For that reason, she explained, she has been in hiding in an undisclosed part of Mexico, since November 28th.
She added that she doesn’t know if there is an arrest warrant for her. But she wouldn’t rule it out, because “when you look at the crimes of which they are accusing the compañeros who have been detained, you wonder if they are going to accuse you of burning the feet of Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec king.”
Muñoz doesn’t think that the deaths that have occurred over the last seven months of conflict will be investigated, because “the governor is directly responsible.” She adds that, despite the “anger and rage” that those murders have caused, the movement “never responded with violence.”
She openly admits that the Oaxacan people didn’t expect that the federal and state governments would respond “so violently” to peaceful mobilizations; to marches, protest encampments, blockades, actions that she admits created difficulties, including for APPO participants, but that they carried out because “we were left with no other option.”
Even though she didn’t have any previous experience as a radio announcer, Muñoz won the sympathy and admiration of various sectors of Oaxacan (and national) society for her narrative style and her “calls” to defend the movement.
“It’s not about hate, that isn’t what moves us. What moves us is, quite simply, a desire for justice. In the 21st century, we can’t keep living as if we were still in the era of Porfirio Diaz, when caciques had dissenters killed and everything went back to normal. And that is the current situation in Oaxaca,” she added to explain the reason that a lot of Oaxacan citizens joined the APPO’s struggle.
She considers that, during the seven months of conflict, the population’s human rights were violated, especially with the “death convoys” made up of paramilitaries shooting at protestors from vehicles.
In describing how she felt during those attacks, the doctor said: “I couldn’t believe it, because it was as if we were in the Chile of Augusto Pinochet, or in the Argentina of Jorge Rafael Videla, or in Franco’s Spain. There were over 20 trucks full of police armed to the teeth, shooting.”
The doctor believes the conflict can be resolved through dialogue, and calls on the federal authorities to “wake up” to that possibility: “It’s the only hope.”
She insists that the first condition for resolving the conflict is the resignation of Ulises Ruiz as state governor, because without that, “nothing” will be resolved in Oaxaca. “When he had the chance for resolution, he resolved nothing; he chose repression instead. Furthermore, you can’t enter into dialogue with someone who is no longer recognized by the people.”
Despite official versions, the APPO struggle continues. “No matter what happens, the citizens of Oaxaca can’t be stopped. It would cost them a lot to extinguish this movement. This movement isn’t about revolution. It’s just a question of respecting the laws that already exist.”
She explains that civil society joined the teachers’ movement, transforming it into a social movement, after the state government tried to uproot the teachers’ strike encampment on June 14th, sending local police to attack the teachers in the Oaxacan capital’s main plaza. She adds to that a list of injustices: “In Oaxaca we don’t have enough schools, water, pavement, electricity, the most basic necessities.”
“They can continue the repression against us, and maybe in a week there will be 50 people in hiding, instead of 10, and maybe they will start to fill the prisons again, and maybe they will start shooting at us again. But I repeat: the people decided to walk this path, and they won’t be stopped, the struggle continues and will continue.”
Translated from Spanish on January 8
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