Oaxaca Teachers Organize “Popular Assembly” to Oppose the State Government
Talks with Federal Negotiators Cancelled as Teachers’ Strike Dedicates Itself to Ousting the Governor
By Nancy Davies
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Oaxaca
June 21, 2006
OAXACA CITY, June 20: Section 22, the Oaxacan local of the Mexican National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE in its Spanish initials) held the first Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca on June 17 to create a permanent space for citizens to exercise their guaranteed constitutional rights and assume a political position in analyzing the social and political realities that presently prevail in the state.
The first Popular Assembly (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) was attended by 170 people representing 85 organizations. Also invited to attend were all the SNTE delegates, union members, social and political organizations, non-governmental organizations, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca.
Negotiations with the federal Department of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, or SEGOB in Spanish) came to an end with no satisfactory conclusion. SEGOB refuses to deal with Ruiz’ removal because it is not an education issue. The teachers refuse to agree to anything less.
The second Popular Assembly took place today, Tuesday, June 20.
The Zócalo and three blocks in each direction surrounding was once again under the control of the teachers. Because their camp tents were destroyed in the police attack on June 14, teachers sat on the sidewalks on pieces of newspaper or cardboard. They plan to sleep in a safer area and return by day. The Zócalo is also adorned by artisans selling their blouses, skirts, huipiles, etc. Most of the shops on the Zócalo are open and a few cafes also; a few tourists were in sight.
The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca calls for the removal from office of Ruiz Ortiz as its first goal. Ruiz, for his part, is apparently paying people 1,000 pesos each to march in a “silent march” in his support on Thursday, June 22. The University radio station also broadcast a presentation by a professor confirming payments of 400, 500 or 1,000 pesos ($35, $44, and $87 dollars, respectively) and recommending that people not sell their dignity. One person reported a message left on his cell phone offering the 1,000 peso payment, which is more than Ruiz usually offers. As Victor Cruz Romero, a teacher from Loma Bonita in Oaxaca, put it, “a bag of food for a vote is what the poor receive.”
As one of its first actions, the Popular Assembly will convoke more than 500,000 people in the next few days, according to the Section 22’s secretary of “alliances and social administration,” José Antonio Hernández Santos, in a press conference held in the Law and Social Science Building of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca after the assembly.
The fourth SNTE Section 22 mega-march is scheduled for Friday, and supporters from the states of Chiapas and Zacatecas are expected, according to Cruz Romero.
The SNTE members have received no salaries since May 30, when their checks were cut by five days’ pay. The strike began May 22. Teachers are receiving food and other assistance from the residents of Oaxaca. They say that this struggle is worth it and they won’t give up until Ruiz is out. Cruz Romero indicates, as does the SNTE leadership, that if Ruiz does not resign by July 2, presidential elections will be blocked by the SNTE in Oaxaca.
That Ruiz must go, as have three of his historic predecessors in this volatile state, is an opinion held by many people, excluding the hotel owners of Oaxaca City who suffer 1500 room vacancies at this time. Owners believe that the SNTE is responsible for destroying tourism, the only industry in the state, which supports “thousands”, according to Charles Gray, an American expatriate who referred to the importance of “trickle down” economics. However, I spoke to three wait-persons, a baker and a house cleaner, and heard from them clear support for ridding the state of Ruiz’ dictatorial regime, despite the personal sacrifice they are now enduring along with the teachers.
The holding of a Popular Assembly echoes the Oaxacan tradition of “uses and customs” (usos y costumbres) by which many towns still govern themselves in open citizen assemblies. The presence of political parties within such assemblies is not permitted; it is also forbidden in the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca.
The justification named in the first Popular Assembly document states, “Given that sovereignty resides in the people and for the people who have the inalienable right to expel their governments when those do not comply with the mandate for which they were elected, the people of Oaxaca are justified in soliciting the revocation of powers in the State of Oaxaca.” This reflects the traditional idea that the leaders are supposed to respond to their people’s will.
“Furthermore, the conduct of Ruiz has generated all types of antipathy and repudiation by the different sectors of Oaxaca society.” The marches of June 2, 7 and 16 are mentioned. The popular voice, as repeated by Cruz Romero, does not forgive the attack on June 14 in which he claims three children died, one was blinded and one is gravely ill. In addition, Cruz Romero believes, seven teachers died, including one by a heart attack and a pregnant woman who suffered an abortion (a week later, there are still no confirmed reports of deaths).
Arbitrary detentions of leaders of social organizations throughout the state have increased. The destruction of the historic patrimony, both natural and cultural, was cited.
The declaration of the Popular Assembly also states they will fight for the revocation of judicial, legislative and executive leadership powers within the state.
Tables were set up in the center of the Zócalo to collect signatures demanding the ousting of Ruiz.
Meanwhile, ten municipal town halls have been taken over in Oaxaca state, among which are Juchitan, Zimatlan, Huautla de Jimenez, Teotitlan de Flores Magon, Matias Romero, Huajuapan de Leon, Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido. Farmers have marched in from Tuxtepec. Inhabitants of San Salvador Atenco, in Mexico state, have made their way towards the Oaxaca City. Followers of the popular uprising in San Blas Atempa retook their municipal building in solidarity with the teachers’ movement. The government buildings of Pinotepa Nacional, Tuxtepec, San José Chiltepec, Valle Nacional, San Pedro Pochutla and Asunción Nochixtlán have all been occupied.
The Popular Assembly organization says that assemblies will take place statewide.
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