<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Bishop Samuel Ruiz Visits Oaxaca

An Ungovernable State Seeks Historic Solutions


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

July 15, 2006

Bishop Samuel Ruiz, well-known Bishop Emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, moderator of peace talks between the government and the Zapatista rebels and chairman of a leading human rights monitoring organization there, has come to Oaxaca for two days to meet with citizens of Oaxaca and the teachers union.

The presence of Don Samuel is both symbolic and strategically significant, given that since the attack on teachers by police on June 14, Oaxaca has been in a state of civil rebellion, with town after town falling into the hands of the new popular movement (movimiento magisterio popular) – see our examples below.


From left to right: Bishop Arturo Lona, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, and Miguel Alvarez
Photo: D.R. 2006 Nancy Davies
Miguel Alvarez, Don Samuel’s secretary, set the tone by saying that he and Don Samuel had come “seeking ways to make links during this profound crisis of national proportions.” He asked the listening representatives of civil society, “How does Oaxaca relate to Atenco?”

On Thursday, July 13, Don Samuel Ruiz, accompanied by Miguel Alvarez and Arturo Lona, the bishop emeritus of Tehuantepec, undertook back-to-back meetings. The first meeting drew fifty representatives of civil organizations, with participation of the two bishops and of Padre Uvi, the priest of San Pablo Huixtepec, known for his human rights work in Oaxaca.

During the day, meetings took place with the Ricardo Flores Magón Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca, women, the teachers, and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) in the capital city – an unmistakable show of Don Samuel’s moral weight in support of the popular movement.

Both Miguel Alvarez and Don Samuel placed Oaxaca in the national context, emphasizing a history of repression and the destruction of the people’s culture. Don Samuel called for “sincerity and solidarity” as the popular movement tries to negotiate the specific difficulties it faces, such as how to coordinate the differing agendas of the teachers’ union and the civil society which has consolidated around it. Making more visible the reasons behind the desire to have Ulises Ruiz Ortiz removed as governor is essential, Alvarez said. This must be followed by delineating the separate roles of political, magisterial, labor, and non-governmental organizations, while establishing inclusive participation.

Long-term agendas are required, both bishops said, and a firmer structure for the APPO which confronts problems that are “long-term, not local, facing bad media, and very complex.” Desperate short-term actions won’t work; the struggle must become a solution with different dynamics – civil, and naturally linked with the national movement. APPO needs to assume the moral authority as well as the political authority.

Neither Don Samuel nor his secretary referred to the Zapatistas directly.

“The struggle cannot be negotiated,” stated Miguel Alvarez, referring to the failed mediation efforts. Bishop Emeritus Arturo Lona spoke on why the efforts at mediation between Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) failed – he declared that the teachers’ struggle had morphed into a social struggle, setting the participants onto different paths. Referring back to the statement by Alvarez, he said, “The logic of mediation is different from the logic of APPO, which needs to achieve national prestige, explain what it is, and explain its proposals.” Bishop Lona exhorted the people to take the high road, be non-violent and yet still face the government. And, he said, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Twenty arrest warrants outstanding against the teachers were dropped the preceding day, a movement success added to the electoral defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on July 2.

This week Enrique Ruedes Pacheco, the General Secretary of Section 22, announced that he will present to the National Congress the Oaxaca petition to remove all state powers from the ruling government. Oaxaca state is presently ungovernable, as both bishops agreed. A news blackout, which is very evident when one turns on Channel 9, the TV channel of the state government, creates a split in perception – as if we live on different planets – some on the ground affected by what is happening, some in front of the screen oblivious until they come upon a road blockade.

Then, Channel 9 repeats lies as disseminated by the PRI partisans, assigning violent actions to students and teachers. The post-June 14 struggle to profoundly alter Oaxaca is thus far bloodless, as it erupts across the state. For its spread of false information, the popular movement threatens a take-over of Channel 9. It is not yet clear if that means a shut-down or popular use, as is the case with Radio Universidad, the radio station of the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca which is in the hands of the movement.

Some examples of the situation confronting the visiting bishops and Padre Uvi:

The town of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan, reconstituted its dormant General Assembly, saying that this is necessary to guarantee citizen participation. The upwelling of popular participation springs directly from the teachers’ popular movement. “Xoxo” is a town where the neglect of neighborhoods is a scandal – no drainage, no pavement, dubious provisions for water, and the continuing lack of bathrooms in the public school, an issue that had been contentious for two years and finally caused parents to occupy the municipal building.

San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, population 205,595 with 8.85 percent of the state’s credentialed voters, was also taken over on July 4 by the teachers’ popular movement. The teachers occupied the government building and the two bridges that give access to the city.

But the example that will be the test case for the entire state is the municipality of Villa de Zaachila. In an attempt to throw out political parties and formally reinstitute government by popular assembly, Zaachila is the first entity to approach the state legislature for a change of status. On July 7 adherents to the teachers’ popular movement occupied the town hall and threw out Mayor José Coronel Martinez, known as a PRI operative who sent local police to assist the forces of URO (already being widely referred to as the “ex-governor”) in the infamous attack on the sleeping teachers on June 14. Coronel, who admits to wearing a bullet-proof vest, refuses to leave town.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) carried Villa de Zaachila in the July 2 presidential election by a 3-1 margin.

The situation of Zaachila, population 30,000 and located 15 kilometers from Oaxaca City, can best be understood in the context of Oaxaca state government. Oaxaca has 570 municipalities (similar to U.S. counties, containing several towns and villages each), of which 360 are governed by tradition (usos y costumbres) using the non-political general popular assembly. That leaves 210 governed by some political party, some PRD. As Joel Aquino Maldonado, a campesino member of APPO said, “100 municipal presidents have no interest [ín the people]. They are corrupted.” Of the forty named by the popular movement as most-corrupt PRI presidents, 22 have lost their municipal buildings to the movement – keeping in mind that no shots are fired; the movement is taking over their municipalities armed with sticks and righteous anger.

As one of the 22 “captured” municipalities, Zaachila could make a good criminal case against its president José Coronel; he’s apparently a prototypical PRI thief, using municipal funds for his own use, buying votes for the PRI, and practicing land fraud, repression and corruption. Six town councilors resigned of their own will, and their substitutes will take their places according to municipal law

But taking it one step further, Zaachila chose – in its first twenty-first century popular assembly – a new president, Miguel Ángel Vasquez, on July 10. Then the assembly took a 300-person caravan of taxis and buses to the state legislature to seek Coronel’s official removal from office, PLUS register the change of Zaachila’s status from a municipality using political elections to one governed by popular assembly. And not incidentally, the Vasquez followers called for the removal of URO.

When the caravan arrived, the president of the 59th State Congress, Bulmaro Rito Salinas, received the demands. Rito Salinas told the 20 Zaachila representatives headed by Vásquez that “the intra-municipal conflict will be analyzed and a solution will be given according to the constitution.” The petitions were handed over to the director of the Juridical Department, Patricio Dolores Sierra. In other words, the state legislature sloughed off the petitions, despite blockades and rallies. Finally the legislature scheduled a meeting for Thursday July 13 – the same day that Bishop Samuel Ruiz arrived in the city.

Those hundred corrupted municipalities in Oaxaca referred to by Aquino could also be in serious difficulty as entities, for diverting public funds for the campaign of Roberto Madrazo. They are facing judicial problems in case of an investigation, said Benjamín Hernández Silva, the federal congressman elect of the district of Miahuatlán. (Oaxaca is divided into 30 districts.) Both the state and the federal government could call for investigation.

Only Tabasco and Oaxaca states have no Law of Transparency and Access to Governmental Information. That law means, exactly as it does in the United States, public records available to public scrutiny. At present, the effort to make Transparency a federal requirement is stalled, but with the nine new delegates from the PRD, the balance of votes will shift, and along with the shift will come federal pressure on the two states that have no state law. In Oaxaca public resources vanish with no accounting. That’s about to change, affirmed Hernández Silva, as soon as the new representatives of the PRD-led Coalition for the Good of All assume office in the House of Representatives. “We are going to become a stone in the shoe of the state legislature until it passes the Law of Transparency for Oaxaca.”

Rueda Pacheco of Section 22 has spoken of “recovering the power of the people for the people.” The intention is to install an APPO as the foremost authority in the state. The recognition given to the popular assembly by Don Samuel may provide further impetus for strengthening its structure, as he observed must be done in order to govern statewide.

The gathering in Oaxaca City of municipal presidents from as far away as eight or ten hours journey down from the mountains to participate in the APPO, is a sure sign that plans for municipal, state and national assemblies are underway.

A strong APPO has to be in place if the movement intends complete removal of judicial, legislative and executive powers which were firmly controlled by the governor, as Don Samuel pointed out.

How likely is that? The PRI lost not only in the presidential vote, but also seats in the national Senate of the Republic, and nine of the 11 federal House delegations, as reported by the Preliminary Program of Electoral Results (PREP).

The biggest fear is that URO on his way out will sell whatever he has left of power among his PRI operatives, who are very likely to abandon the sinking PRI ship. If they ally with a National Action (PAN) president, the PAN, via Calderón, may decide to restore order in the state with a mano dura (“hard hand”), i.e., military repression.

Don Samuel’s simple presence is meaningful, as well as his emphasis on a national link.

However Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz proceeds, the repercussions of the June 14 repression have extended beyond Oaxaca.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America