Lawlessness and the Boomerang Effect in Oaxaca
Status of “Ungovernability” Returns to the Southern Mexican State
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
February 13, 2008
I don’t think things are goin’ too good…
Given the wobbly dollar, would you think it clever of President Calderón of the sovereign nation of Mexico to privatize Mexico’s resources such as black gold, yellow gold, or even silver? How about water?
But that’s what’s being discussed in the February 9 edition of La Jornada. Chavez in Venezuela says he’ll refuse to sell oil to the USA if it doesn’t cease and desist in its economic attacks against Venezuela – ExxonMobil pursued a lawsuit against Venezuela, cheered on by the USA and Shell Oil (Netherlands owned).
But Chavez is no wimp, and he fights back.
In Mexico, on the other hand, there’s Calderón. The USA builds a steel wall claimed to be three meters inside the Mexico border, shoots Mexican citizens on the wrong side of it, and sends in NAFTA crops which undercut local growers. That’s ok. Canadians own the gold mines and expect the dollar to crumble. Mine stock-holders are heading for a gold rush; the gold is on Mexican lands. That’s ok. The mines’ excavation methods poison the local communities’ water and lands, but who doesn’t want ingots?
In a paid-for story placed in Noticias on February 12, Oaxaca’s governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) is quoted as praising the entry of new mining enterprises, and new employment opportunities.
Spain is doing damage with Iberdrola’s wind generators, which plant cement foundations in areas which used to have water. Local solidarity organizations claim that bribery of environmental agency officials in these situations is intense.
The firm hand of the national Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) vanished in 2000. The National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials) successors did not gain a majority in either state governorships or in Congress. Needing PRI support to legitimize his contested election, Calderón chose to declare a “war on drugs,” that is, a war on organized crime instead of on individual criminals whose votes he might need. Organized crime won’t surrender. Calderon opened a hornets nest.
Locally in Oaxaca, Sunday’s Noticias carries an editorial piece written by Amado Sanmartin Hernandez (Feb 9, 2008) who remarks on what he calls “the boomerang effect,” known to some of us as bad karma or “what goes around comes around.” The state looks ungovernable.
The number of bushwhacked uniformed state police rivals the number of dead gangsters. (This is not to forget the twenty-six movement people murdered in the social struggle.) The police, I believe, are overtly implicated in corruption, crime and paid assassinations. If a simple robbery happens, you’re better off calling Lassie for help.
My guess is that the push-back of organized crime tipped Oaxaca back into “ungovernable” because organized crime is compounded and confused by uncontrolled hired thugs or porros, widely believed to be employed by the government of Ruiz Ortiz, for political slayings and disappearances during state-sponsored terrorism of 2006-2007, plus individual caciques and bosses willing to kill.
For example, in the rural mountain community of Santa Cruz Zenzontepec in the Mixteca Sur, a battle has been going on since February 5, following an election for municipal president. Current counts as of February 11 are one dead, 12 wounded, and 19 arrested including three minors. The attempted installation of the Zenzontepec municipal president was by a PRI member, corrupting the usos y costumbres which governs with consensus, not parties, and gives the office to those who have proved their worth in other capacities. Some townspeople claim they were blocked from participation in the election. They objected; the PRI contingent raised the battle flag. According to a source wishing to remain unidentified, “The man they (the PRI) want to insert is originally from the pueblo, but does not currently live there.” One hundred armed PRI men attacked the municipal palace at 7:00 AM on Saturday, February 8 to dislodge the “non-conformists” who were armed with stones and sticks. In this game, who you call “non-conformists” depends on your political affiliation.
Trouble was expected. State police arrived but couldn’t access the town “because the population blocked the road. It’s possible that one of the teachers who had been camping nearby is a URO sympathizer and may be feeding information to the government,” the source says.
The encamped teachers engaged in their own part of this mayhem because a PRI deputy is demanding an exclusive supervision by the Oaxaca State Education Institute (IEEPO, in its Spanish initials) for the Zenzontepec municipality’s telesecundario school. These “supervisions,” while supposedly improving service in each school zone, actually serve to fragment the teachers union, since each “zone” corresponds to one union delegation. At this moment, the sources of confrontation between the PRI bosses and the teachers are too intertwined to unravel. However, teachers who are Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) members could not permit an imposed PRI cacique.
On Sunday, three men were wounded, one gravely, shot in the stomach. A government helicopter arrived to fly the wounded to a hospital in Oaxaca. The state police finally entered and took control. It was reported that two opposed groups dispersed into the woods. Nothing is resolved yet..
According to the federal deputy, Othón Cuevas, the local PRI legislator Heraclio Juárez Martínez, is responsible for the armed battles. The Sierra Sur is a region which suffers many conflicts. It’s extremely poor and under the control of regional caciques who don’t want to lose the municipal presidency, Cuevas said. The recently elected candidate was not chosen by Juárez Martínez, who Cuevas claimed initiated the struggle, including threats of hanging the new president. The state Secretary of Government, Manuel García Corpus, recognizes the new president, Antonio Merino Mejia, whom he declared has “the total backing” of the state government. The state has offered to “mediate” the struggle – which is not exactly the same as backing the legitimate president.
Similar struggles go on in the eight regions of the state, with mixtures of local rule, education, and PRI caciquismo (usually involving theft of municipal funds) at issue. All of these quarrels, plus land boundaries and unlawful sales, according to common knowledge, were provoked or exacerbated by government interference.
When known and recognized thugs were hired to interfere with university elections for director of the Law School, the same thugs who keep the university in a state of unmanageability, what emerged was shambles of the once proud Autonomous University Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO), Five days after the new director’s taking over, the struggle continues and no agreements have been reached regarding the (il)legitimacy of the election. The four recognized gang leaders involved in confrontations were arrested by the state police and released mysteriously later that same night. Exams have been delayed for 2,800 students, and law school classes were called off. Furthermore, last week came accusations of someone trying to shoot the rector. Nobody seems to know if that event was real, or faked like the “shooting” of Governor José Murat some five years back. The rector’s chauffer got shot “in the shoe.” Is that a clue, or what?
This is the university on which the public depends – it’s not private. But the corruption at UABJO is so widespread, and so taken for granted, that some of the private universities which specialize in graduating rich kids, wink at the same practice of purchasing of grades. Some students have told me that indifferent faculty depend on bribes to feed their own kids. Some university facilities, as one professor at Vasconcelos complained, lack books and/or library facilities.
Meanwhile, the Section 22 teachers march every week in what has begun to feel like endless mobilizations. They even march on behalf of ordinary people (objecting to raised bus fares, and reduced social security are two current complaints) who are slipping into the black hole of the Mexican economy. The teachers use mobilization as their primary weapon, especially now when Section 22 is battling Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the National Teachers Union and a PAN supporter. Movement leaders allege that hired porros interfere, burning buses rather than letting them roll, acting as infiltrators, sowing discord among the teachers and popular movement leadership – making retention of public support extremely difficult if not impossible. The public, who rose up so vigorously to march in 2006 now hovers near exhaustion. Protests to free the political prisoners draw hundreds, rather than the thousands as they used to.
If you find yourself in prison like Flavio Sosa, the presiding judge might be married to the cousin of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, the governor who won’t quit.
An APPO contingent of fifteen is sitting beneath a canopy at the side of the Catedrál, staging twelve-hour fasts in support of the political prisoners and particularly of Sosa, who is staging his own fast in prison. Joining the APPO effort are the New Left (Sosa’s party), COMO First of August (the women’s group), Frente Popular Revolucionario, the collective Dos de Marzo, university members and residents of the neighborhoods.
A hunger strike, ultimately ruinous only to one’s own health, may be the next to last resort. The very last is suicide. In Oaxaca, such solutions reflect the “cousin-judge” syndrome. Sosa may never get out because he committed the ultimate crime of making an enemy of Ulises Ruiz, whose tactic is to lodge a new charge when an old one is thrown out. Six political prisoners, four from the social movement, are still held. The International Civil Commission for Observation of Human Rights has returned to Oaxaca to have another look, and they don’t like what they see this time either: complete lack of remediation. Although there are not the massive numbers of brutal assaults and arrests that occurred on November 25, 2006, reporter Pedro Matías of Noticias writes, “The governor continues with selective detentions and maintains a permanent harassment of the social movement activists.”
The boomerang effect, very simply, is that URO has loosed lawlessness across the state and now he can’t fix it. It’s Lassie time for him, as well as for us. As the editorial by Sanmartin states, the economic and judicial situation of the last two years has not improved and now there’s the additional misery of uncontrolled crime. He continues, “if the Oaxaqueños are living on the knife’s edge with unchecked crime, it is also certain that when URO doesn’t know what else to do he’ll once again call in the PFP,” whose presence devastates the population. As for the ministerial state police, they are trigger-happy due to so many assaults made on them and on other police units. Angry and bored, they lounge in the shade of street corners, wearing heavy black bullet-proof vests and laced boots. They wipe their foreheads and drink cold sodas. They don’t smile. Last week state police shot to death two students on the Isthmus riding in a vehicle which failed to halt on demand.
Given the brutality of police, what Oaxaqueño would stop?
On the other hand, Sanmartin points out, if URO cannot control the situations he has himself perpetrated, such as the corruption of the university and the disruptive teacher marches, he may be “[become] ambassador to the Fiji Islands.” Around the clean, policed zócalo the situation remains tense. Expected investors such as hotel and corporate owners, including Fiesta Inn, have sent regrets: they’re backing off. (Feb 9, 2008, Noticias)
As I read between the lines of these and other events, I sense that Calderón is also trapped, and may not offer URO unlimited time to repair the damage he has caused.
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