A Teacher in Every Town
Forty Percent of Oaxaca’s Municipal Governments Are In the Hands of Educators’ Union Supporters, as Mobilizations and Assemblies in the State Capital Keep Growing
By Nancy Davies
Narco News Opinion Column
June 29, 2006
Rumor on the street has it that Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) has already agreed with the teachers’ union to take an extended leave from office as governor, directly following the presidential election July 2, three day away.
Nobody expects Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Roberto Madrazo to win from third position. Daily radio spots on the part of the teachers’ union, aired non-commercially on Radio Universidad, urge people to “vote punishment” to the PRI and National Action Party (PAN). That was repeated at the Popular Assembly the night of June 28 to an overflowing audience in Benito Juarez Stadium.
The wave of revolt we’re seeing is the heritage of 70 years of PRI repression, theft and neglect. People who may not know Madrazo’s name can tell you of the bad activities of URO, who embodies his party’s infamy. According to my same rumor source, 80 percent of the state population stands in opposition to the PRI. I don’t doubt it – coincidentally 80 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
If URO’s bowing out is not a true rumor, my guess is it will be true soon. By state law, if the governor is absent for some months, a new election to fill his term is required. Given that the Asamblea Popular de Pueblo de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) is planning not only for a new government in Oaxaca, but looking forward to forging a new national constitution, I think it’s safe to assume that the Asamblea will choose the interim government and the legislative program the state.
My observations (that’s why this is comment, not news) lead me to believe that a statewide revolution has been in the planning for quite a while, waiting only for the correct moment. The plan to get rid of URO was surely on the agenda from the first day – I saw placards among the strikers calling for his removal. More important, the plans for bringing the state under popular, not party rule sounds like a longtime effort.
Ulises Ruiz helped, by attacking the teacher encampment on June 14. It was the spark that ignited the revolt and provided the moment to initiate the expulsion of the PRI.
As of today, teachers occupy the offices of Government House where Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) operates in the Isthmus, the barracks of the Director of Public Security, the Attorney General’s office, the Chamber of Deputies, the municipal offices of Oaxaca, the state Transportation and Traffic office, the firemen’s headquarters and the facilities of Channel 9 of Oaxaca television, according to reports published in the daily newspaper Noticias June 28.
The airwaves of Radio Universidad, where students have been maintaining open lines in support of Section 22 of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), were busy with bulletins with announcements such as the governor shutting down all urban transportation after 2:00 p.m. – and announcing meeting places for people seeking private volunteer transport. Busses arrived from all regions of the state, while blockades by both sides roll back and forth like dice.
A representative of the Government Workers’ Union went on air, gave his name, and announced his union’s support for the teachers.
The struggle (now in its 37th day) of Section 22 of the SNTE presented a formal petition in Mexico City for judicial intervention against URO. The petition was handed to the Permanent Commission of the Federal Congress, accompanied by the first box of citizen signatures: 146,000 out of a goal of 1,000,000.
PRI Congressman Heliodoro Díaz Escárraga confirmed that SNTE has presented a demand for an impeachment of URO, and explained that the application “will follow the formal process”.
The fourth mega-march to oust URO moved along fifteen kilometers distance, from the airport road to the Oaxaca sports stadium. The marchers extended for five miles, starting with a motorcycle cavalcade and about fifty automobiles. Along the route supporters handed the marchers food, water and refreshments. When the first marchers arrived at the stadium, many were still at the airport road. Sound systems were erected outside and the largest session of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca ever was convened. It was more like a soccer rally than a reasoned discussion, but I doubt anybody there held an opposite point of view. It was OUT OUT OUT all the way.
In Oaxaca, the historic custom has been local assemblies, usually meeting on the level of communities and cities – and, rarely, regions (Oaxaca is divided into seven regions).
A statewide meeting is significant not only for the vast show of popular opposition to the entrenched PRI domination, but as a preview of national assemblies. The talk is of a constitutional changes.
The present coalition – and this is not a teachers’ strike; it’s a social movement spear-headed by Section 22 – hopes asambleas will replace the elected legislature controlled by the PRI. The custom in Oaxaca, as in Zapatista territory, is that the leaders are those who carry out the commands of the people.
The first meeting of APPO on June 14 elected by vote the Comisión Directiva Provisional, the Committee of Provisional Directors, which is comprised of three representatives each from the Front of Democratic Unions and Organizations of Oaxaca (FESODO); the Promoter of National Opposition to Neoliberalism); Section 22 of the teachers’ union; students of all levels; the non-governmental organizations; and all seven of Oaxaca state’s regions – 36 people. The Provisional Directors formed the base for establishing the Popular Assembly. The APPO, as the Assembly is known in its Spanish initials, after its initial formation, now claims to function by consensus.
Approximately 40 percent of the state’s local municipal government offices have fallen into the hands of supporters of Section 22. Oaxaca contains 570 municipios, or county seats, some of which serve large territories in the mountains and encompass perhaps 20 or 30 small towns. Towns in the mountains which are also designated municipios contain smaller villages called agencias, like Russian dolls within dolls. The mayors of 80 towns are teachers by trade, some party-affiliated and some appointed by traditional popular processes (known as usos y costumbres).
The towns in the mountains, which include speakers of 16 different indigenous languages, have long been ripe for organized opposition to the PRI. Some of them contain sophisticated populations like the people of Guelatao. Guelatao is the birthplace of Benito Juárez and the home of Jaime Martinez Luna, one of the original social philosophers on the implications of traditional usos y costumbres in confrontation with individualism, NAFTA and neoliberalism.
In the more passive, poor and repressed towns, a PRI vote is bought with a bag of cement. These are the people who obey PRI caciques (local bosses) in order to obtain the minimum for survival.
One might wonder if remittances from the United States and other cities in Mexico are having another unexpected result. With this new source of income from relatives abroad, has the PRI lost the leverage to buy families’ votes with small hand-outs?
By June 27, the day before the fourth mega-march, teachers had occupied the municipal offices of 22 of the larger county seats, which had been previously governed by political operatives. PRI officials were locked out. The 22 towns in rebellion include some from the southern coastal tier, and from another tier that crosses the Sierra Norte to the Cuenca de Papaloapan, reaching to the border with Veracruz.
Ulises Ruiz forgot there’s a teacher in every town. Maybe he forgot that the number of teachers statewide is nearly 70,000. The population of the entire state is between 3,500,000 and 4,000,000.
The national election for president takes place on July 2.
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