<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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The Battle of Oaxaca in the Context of Mexico's Post-Electoral Crisis

“I Never Wanted to be a War Correspondent When I Grew Up”


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

August 26, 2006

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced the forthcoming Mexican revolution, on the front page of La Jornada of August 24, 2006. He said that as of September 12 there will be two presidents of Mexico. On TV local channel 11 last night, he amended that to September 16. A small detail. It’s on…

…Unless the Election Committee unexpectedly decides to somehow avert the chaos sure to result if Felipe Calderón is crowned. How about if the court annuls 4,000 precincts and declares AMLO the winner?

I never wanted to be a war correspondent when I grew up.

Here in Oaxaca, dirty war already cruises the streets, and it is due only to the non-violent posture of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) that the death toll remains relatively low. But the list of dead, wounded, abducted and disappeared grows daily, aided with a website called Oaxaca en paz (“Oaxaca in Peace,” operated with government support, according to claims by the APPO) advising free-lance killers who to shoot and where to locate them – a hit list.


From the website “Oaxaca en paz” – note the red X over Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes
The latest death is APPO adherent Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, a 52-year-old public works employee, murdered August 22 in another pre-dawn incursion by government thugs against the radio stations captured by the movement. A means to broadcast authentic information is essential, and both sides know it.

Today in central Oaxaca I can find two commercial stations still functioning with the voices of the movement – down from ten. Both of them are located in better sections of the city – ORO (1120 AM) near the government clinic in central city, and La Ley (710 AM.) in Colonia Reforma. La Ley was the site of the murder of San Pablo Cervantes, who was guarding the street when he was shot. Radio Plantón 98.1 FM is still broadcasting. A young friend from the movement tells me there are actually five operating (three inside the one ORO station –but I can’t pick up their signals.)

The MO of the government is to use plainclothes, heavily-armed men who roam in vans and shoot their way into radio facilities; they kill the machinery as well as whomever stands in the way. The MO of the movement has evolved to include bus-blockades at every important intersection, to protect both the remaining radio stations and the lives of important APPO figures, both men and women. Neighborhoods organize to defend their sections, with heaps of stones stockpiled behind the thrown-up barriers of bedsprings, wood, rocks and wheels.

By day, one could almost believe that nothing, as the “ex-governor” Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”) says, is going on – until you see the busses crossways on the streets, the uncollected garbage heaped on the corners, the shutters on certain shops and restaurants, and an eerie lack of traffic.

Our newest source of information would like to have a nom de guerre so I’ll call him Pedro. He’s a Zapotec, from the community of San Miguel Alvaredez in the Sierra Norte, and he belongs to a student organization in Oaxaca called Gresetec – students from the technological university. He’s a good-looking young man (in my elderly female opinion) with straight black hair and skin the color one often sees in Oaxaca – dark honey.

“The most serious problem is misinformation,” Pedro said, referring to the multiple problems faced by the social movement. The youngsters have established certain ways to share information, but Pedro knows that a large part of the state’s population doesn’t listen to radio – haven’t got one, or have no interest in remote events, or are passive. But since the situation is serious, APPO is disseminating information every which way it can, including to Europe and the U.S. through the web, and with phone calls to people in Oaxaca. The cell phone is a major weapon in this war, used to call each station and encampment, to collect and disseminate news.

In Pedro’s opinion, the only solution possible is for URO to resign. According to Pedro and many others, URO doesn’t live in Oaxaca anyway, he’s only here three days a week, and his other four days are in Mexico City. Truly, without Pedro to prompt me, I can say decisively that URO just doesn’t get it, doesn’t know diddly about Oaxaca profundo or its people. He wanted to clean out the zocalo of the only features that made it interesting: indigenous vendors, protest marches, and encampments in front of the state government palace (made over into a museum, then shot up by the police on June 14, then the symbolic seat of the APPO government, and now a stone hulk draped with banners) and oh, yes, the heavy bell on top to ring for alarms. URO wanted it pretty for the well-promoted tourist trade.

The U.S. consul in Oaxaca predicts that the US travel advisory warning coming out this week will suggest Americans bound for Mexico should go elsewhere.

“Is it better, “ asks Pedro, “for the tourists to see reality, or is it better for them to not come? Tourists believe what they see on TV.”

The governor, Pedro continues, imposes his will and defends the interests of capitalism and socialism, both of which may have their theoretical good points, but neither of which has a role here in Oaxaca. “The Mexican revolution never arrived here in the south”. And then he adds, “the group (Gresetec) has adopted more or less the social philosophy of César Chávez. No ideology. Everything for peace.”

Hey, you mean Hugo Chávez of Venezuela? No. He means César Chávez, leader and hero of the American Farm Workers movement.

The PRI government has promoted a lot of internecine killing; territorial boundaries for decades have been manipulated to set off one group against another, and land ownership which should have remained communal was undercut by Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s neoliberal amendment to the Mexican Constitution, allowing privatization. Oaxaca is largely rural; Oaxaqueños refer to themselves as “people of the corn”.

“But this social and teachers’ movement is pacific,” says Pedro. “The theory that the people are sovereign – he (URO) doesn’t understand that. There’s no reciprocity. The government knows only violence. He aids his capitalist friends.” A sore issue is Plan Puebla Panama, which would affect nine states. It is opposed by the indigenous people whose lands and lives would be destroyed by the super-superhighway and industrial and commercial development alongside it. There would be no benefit for them; low-paid labor in factories cannot compensate for siphoning off natural resources, polluting the southern coastal waters and pushing people off their land. As one person said to me, we can have development without self-destruction.

Designating the local community as the decision-maker for future development will be written into a new Oaxaca constitution, as presented to the National Forum on Constructing Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca, which took place August 16-17. Why a national forum?

And I haven’t heard anybody connect the dots on this one: if the Oaxaca teachers achieve “re-zonification” in their request for a pay increase (that is, raising the official cost-of-living figures and therefore the minimum wage in the state), that re-zonification would affect the labor costs for Plan Puebla Panama as well – it’s a minimum wage increase across the board by geographical zone, not just for teachers.

Before URO’s inauguration he pledged development, progress, and peace with no more protest marches. What a campaign pledge. “He believed that indigenous ignorance would protect him. He made a ‘Social Pact’ with many municipalities that he would give them what they need (cement, roads, food) as long as they let him (URO) go ahead. Then the repressions began, because some would not agree. Political prisoners – three in the Sierra Norte who would not sign on – now forty-five in number, nine dead, thirty disappeared. Did you see the website Oaxaca en Paz? It names people as criminals, to be grabbed and killed.”

URO practices selective repression. That leads to redoubled organization, to an extent which appears almost miraculous, like a tree full grown overnight.

But there is another side. “Unfortunately, many people speak in favor of the government, without knowing what it means for indigenous people,” Pedro stated. Oaxaca is 70 percent indigenous. Many guys like Pedro speak Zapotec or some other indigenous language as their mother tongue. “Things are getting worse – the last two nights – now it’s like a curfew. We are trying to put out the truth but we are attacked.”

That’s the truth.

The second big truth is that plans are going forward to support the national “revolution” – whatever form that may take. With “two presidents,” AMLO may find his firmest base in the south. I was chatting with my pediatrician yesterday (he also does gerontology) and asked him flat out if he thought a civil war might come to pass. This guy is moderate in his views, a doctor with youngsters attending private universities. And he answered yes. In my personal poll of unimportant persons, that view was repeated by several people, including members of APPO. There’s a lot of nervous anxiety, especially because of repeated reports of troops and further attacks. APPO’s official take on it, reported on the radio, is that everything now depends on how the feds respond to the contradictions in Oaxaca, not least of which is APPO simultaneously asking for and rejecting federal intervention – to take out URO, to take out the federal military, to agree to the removal of URO before any negotiation can take place, and anyway, who can negotiate? Not URO, he’s the “ex.” That leaves the Secretary of Government (or Secretary of the Interior, if you prefer the US analogy), Carlos Abascál Carranza, arriving in Oaxaca to talk with the former bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz. Whoops, that’s over. No mediation group can take on the task, it’s impossible. Okay, APPO will talk to the Department of the Interior directly.

APPO has reiterated dozens of times that until URO is out, there’s nothing to discuss. The social/teachers’ movement glues itself together on that bottom line, putting authoritarianism on the chopping block, and recognizing the will of the people as sovereign.

What will it take on the national stage, to make clear Oaxaca’s position and its ability to stand by it? If the electoral tribunal incites the national uproar by designating Calderón president, AMLO will declare himself president too, on September 16, Independence Day.

What scale of civil disobedience will that bring?

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