<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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General Strike in Oaxaca: 80,000 Workers Participate in Stoppage to Support the Popular Movement

Former Chiapas Bishop Ruiz Makes Second Visit to Oaxaca for National Forum


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

August 20, 2006

The doomed “ex-governor” of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, has appeared on mainstream national Mexican television – both on Televisa and TV Azteca, the two major national networks. His grip on the spin is slipping. “Oaxaca is at peace,” “no pasa nada en Oaxaca,” are phrases no longer accepted even by the sycophants at Televisa.

Events are curiouser and curiouser – or, leaving Alice behind in Wonderland, things are furiouser and furiouser. So I’ll start with the summary: repressions accelerate. A national forum was convoked to discuss “Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca,” but the title didn’t spell out the thinking behind that forum. Here’s a hint: the former Bishop of Chiapas Samuel Ruiz García made his second appearance in Oaxaca.

Because of abductions and attacks by government thugs, the people got really pissed off. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) apparently thought that he could turn the people against the social movement by turning the screw. What URO doesn’t understand is that the social movement IS the people, and every time he ratchets up the repression the people get furiouser.

On Wednesday morning, August 16, the teacher-led social movement called a statewide work stoppage for Friday, August 18.

By Wednesday afternoon access to all the banks and ATM machines was blocked. The union of health workers declared themselves in sympathy with the movement and halted clinic services.

Since a national forum to discuss ungovernability and a new constitution was scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Oaxaca, the total work stoppage was scheduled for Friday, August 18, to allow guests to leave before the roads and highways were blocked. More than 200 civil organizations and academics from different parts of the nation were invited to participate.


Bishop Samuel Ruiz
Photo: D.R. 2006 Nancy Davies
Among the forum attendees was former bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz García. Don Samuel, as he is called, became well-known during the Zapatista years of rebellion. This was his second visit to Oaxaca since the June 14 attack on the teachers by government police units.

The national forum on “governability” was sponsored by fifty organizations within Oaxacan civil society, for the 16th and 17th of August, 2006, in the historic center of Oaxaca, as an opportunity to analyze the crisis and propose alternative solutions from the perspective of civil society, including a new Oaxacan constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the nation.

The forum opened with a traditional “consultation” with the Oaxaca elders – grandfathers and grandmothers, who spoke in the Plaza de la Danza (where the city hall is being blockaded) on Wednesday morning.

It was followed by the first public discussion, held in the law building of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca. I estimated that more than 1,200 people crowded into the area, sitting on chairs as well as on the floor and steps around the central patio. The entrance and exits were both guarded, and people entering presented identification when signed in. An organizer reported the sign-in at 1,500 people.

The fact that perhaps 70 percent of the Oaxacan population is familiar with government based on “usos y costumbres” (the native customs for community government still used in many indigenous towns) makes collective decision-making familiar and acceptable to the people.

Presentations by Pablo González Casanova (from the organization Peace with Democracy), Marcela Lagarde (federal congressman from Oaxaca), Luis Hernández Navarro (editorial writer for the Mexico City-based daily La Jornada) and Manuel Canto (of the Citizen Movement for Democracy) were followed by open discussion from the floor. This first plenary set the scene and presented the background. It was followed by open discussion from the floor, controlled more or less for length and relevancy by shouts, whistles and clapping on the part of the attendees.

The plenary then adjourned for work sessions. Each work session dealt with a separate issue:

  1. A new constitution.
  2. Strengthening social and political participation; constructing democracy from below.
  3. The politics of inclusion and respect for the diversity of Oaxaca.

Events playing out in Oaxaca will affect the national scene – maybe as a test case, maybe as a bigger movement toward participatory government. Mexico stands with one foot in the north with neoliberalism, and one foot in the south, with populism. Populism, as it’s being offered by Venezuela, for example, only partially dovetails with government by participation. The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) is promoting smaller assemblies everywhere within the state, giving the people spaces where they can choose their affiliation or interest group in a way that will then have statewide impact.

Meanwhile, URO is maintaining a steady stream of attacks on the known persons in the movement, including the abduction and imprisonment of four, one of them a paraplegic. Four people have been killed since the teachers’ strike began more than 80 days ago. An attempt on another member of the APPO, Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, in nearby San Bartolo Coyotepec, was foiled by citizens who rushed to his defense.

The summations of the work session were presented the following day, Thursday, at the closing ceremony, also in Plaza de la Danza.

Former bishop Ruiz, wearing sun glasses and a golf cap, spoke very briefly standing in front of the media in the hot sun. He said, “I am still not over my surprise not only for having been honored by an invitation to these events but also by having discovered a completely unforeseen situation which I have never experienced in all the long years of my life, or it might be that we are standing in two time dimensions, the past and the future. In these days we are living something that we are leaving, and cement is being placed beneath something that doesn’t come automatically but is the result of working together, of our construction. But I have seen also in the forum something unheard before, that suddenly in the forum not only is there very direct discussion of issues but it has gone a distance that never was foreseen, not articulated before… including that the future is here…”

Following Don Samuel’s words the Oaxaca priest Carlos Franco referred to the identity of the APPO. Many people have speculated on the origins of the APPO; speculations on “who is behind all this.” URO has accused the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which is the party of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of fomenting the popular movement, but URO is caught in the contradiction of saying nothing is happening while he’s accusing the PRD of directing whatever it isn’t. The PRD, in my opinion, simply isn’t oriented enough toward participatory government to be behind this social revolution, in which most people believe the words, “there are no leaders,” that “we the people” are directing this.

Father Carlos Franco said that APPO must address its own identity “know who it is and why it is,” and to address up front the “delicate” issues, such as the role of indigenous women, which historically in Oaxaca has been one of second class players in the lives of their men. However, Father Franco said, look at the women who took over Channel 9 – these are women who are now also risking arrest and reprisals. “So it’s not only a question of wearing the pants, but also of wearing the panties. “

Others who spoke briefly in the closing ceremony were Javier Francisco Rodriguez, the secretary of the assembly of taxi drivers from the Colonia Alemán neighborhood, and Eduardo Castellano, who referred to the resurrection of Radio Plantón, the pirate radio station founded by the teachers during the zocalo occupation, “which might not be legitimate in the eyes of the law but which is legitimate in the hearts of the people”.

A representative from the mountain town of Villa Alta reminded the audience that when the townsmen captured a full-grown jaguar, the government took it on the promise of bringing it back in a month, and that two years later the jaguar, sacred to the mountain people, has not been returned to its home.

The representatives of the work sessions presented their conclusions, including a call to punish the perpetrators of the repression and impeach the state Attorney General Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, and to halt the repression and abductions by getting rid of the state police and their chief. The significant statements by the work sessions included a call for a national assembly and the rewriting of the state constitution, the latter to be based on respect for each life and respect for the environment.

Many are thinking ahead to a national assembly. “Given the lack of credibility of the institutions for public order, it is indispensable that these be legitimate instruments to fulfill the will of the people; people are not made for the institutions, the institutions are made for the people,” read the forum’s formal written conclusions. This is not a local problem, but one that is national and international, the document said.

The final words outside in the bright sun of the closing ceremony were spoken by the wife of political prisoner and ornithologist Ramiro Aragon Perez, abducted on August 11. Ruth Guzman Sanchez stood simply in front of the microphone and said, “The forum has concluded.”

The next day, a nearly complete work stoppage involved 80,000 workers according to an estimate by Las Noticias, and represented many of the major unions in the state.

At least 20 organizations stopped work, allying with unions of the teachers, the road and airport workers, the health workers, local and national unions of Social Security (welfare) workers, malaria prevention workers, and the workers and employees of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca, the state university where the students in alliance with the movement took over the radio station.


March of Oaxaca union members on Friday
Photo: D.R. 2006 Nancy Davies
At 6:00 PM the march of the unions set out from Llano Park to the zocalo. I estimated that about 10,000 participated in the latest people’s demand for URO to leave Oaxaca. The woman at my side assured me it was 70,000. Well, anyway, it was thousands.

Out in the regions beyond the city, other protests took place, including blocking the main roads on a schedule of two hours closed, half an hour open.

Reports of additional assaults and abductions perpetrated by the government thugs are coming in. During the Friday stoppage one teacher, Benito Castro Juárez, from Huautla de Jiménez, was shot at a roadblock, and another attack occurred closer to the city, wounding Professor Antonio Marcos Santos Sarmiento.

The small businesses have declared their alliance with the movement, including the Benito Juarez market, which serves the center city and shut down for the work stoppage on Friday.

I like the slogans in Spanish: la lucha sigue (“the struggle goes on”); and now we’re hearing the quotation from Che Guevarra, hasta la victoria siempre. There’s no turning back.

Click here for more news from the Oaxaca revolution

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