<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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Oaxaca’s Social Movement Develops Radical Vision for a National Government of the People

Despite Fatigue, Marchers Once Again Fill the Streets of the State Capital, as Social Leaders from Other States Visit to Learn from Oaxaca’s Example


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

September 3, 2006

The fifth Oaxaca Mega-March called by the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) for Friday, September 1, passed a fixed point for an hour and a half, with a total number of participants that I estimated to be at least 50,000. (The newspaper Las Noticias estimated more than 300,000.) The march began in the affluent San Felipe del Agua neighborhood, where normally one might really believe the refrain of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz (“URO”) that “no pasa nada” (“nothing is happening”).

The crowd crossed into the center of the city and finished its lively march by setting down their effigies of URO in the zocalo. One hung upside down from a trash bin.


Enrique Rueda Pacheco
Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
From the zocalo bandstand the crowd heard the leader of Section 22 of the teacher’s union, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, declare that the President of Mexico Vicente Fox had been obliged to withdraw from the chamber of deputies in the capital without being able to deliver his final Informe, (state of the union message). Instead, Fox’s speech was delivered later, by TV and print, while only a few hours after Fox’s ignominious departure, Rueda Pacheco declared that Oaxaca will not only fight forever until victory (“hasta la victoria siempre,” quoting from Che Guevara), but will fight on the national stage for a people’s government.

“We have a national movement,” he said. “We call for national unity, including the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), the Zapatistas, and all the nation.” But he made it clear that that the APPO has no link to armed groups: “We have no link, no relationship and no coordination with any armed guerilla organization… we respect all forms of struggle; people participate in their own ways.”

He also mentioned the participation in Oaxaca by people from Michoacán who will be holding their third Popular Assembly on September 9, and according to Rueda, stand ready for the national struggle.

This same declaration of the national struggle was echoed by other speakers, including the leader of the Federation of Democratic Labor Unions and Organizations of Oaxaca (FSODO). The repetition by at least three speakers made it clear that Oaxaca will first push to advance assemblies nation-wide, as a participatory political force, perhaps modeled on Oaxaca’s; second, support the PRD in the national convention September 16 (where the Oaxaca delegation has already staked out its camp area); and third, work toward a new national political system based on the state assemblies.

Rueda in his speech referred to this as an “historic day,” elaborating with phrases like “never before” and the list of “campesinos, students, personalities, the participation of the entire state,” people who “understand perfectly that their state is built on their individual strengths and are united in their demand for the departure of Ulises Ruiz.” The oratory was excellent, but the crowd was footsore and weary, plus they already knew all about it.

This moment was anticipated by the National Forum for Governability and Democracy in Oaxaca on August 16 and 17, which was interesting not only for its content, but for two other aspects: the presence of bishop emeritus Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, and the word “national.”


Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
As the forum declared in its summary, it is necessary to have a government that is more inclusive, plural, just, respectful of constitutional guarantees and human rights, more transparent, with more input and participation from the citizens, respectful of culture, languages, traditions and symbols of identity. It concluded that the government must take care of the needs of the people, without cronyism.

This certainly implied a brand-new government, both in Oaxaca and for the nation. The Oaxaca assembly publishes the results of each of its meetings on paper, reads them on the radio, posts them on their internet website, emails them to organizations, and sends press releases to the Oaxaca daily Las Noticias. The report of August 26 stated the plan for a new national program. APPO participation in the national democratic convention, which is also planned, is hardly a secret, either.

The APPO report of August 26 says, under the title of Agreements, that it will advance its national plan because although URO has been defeated, he is supported in office by the federal power. This national plan includes actions in Mexico City such as “takeover of embassies, pressuring the governor and the Senate.” Although it will participate in the National Democratic Convention (led by PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador), the APPO made clear its “lack of links to the PRD, López Obrador, or any political party whatsoever.” Responding to repeated accusations from the government, the non-violent APPO also denied links to “the EPR (Popular Revolutionary Army) or any guerilla forces.”

Then APPO’s paper goes on to commit to “push forward, as the APPO, a great Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico, involving different sectors and national fronts.”

The APPO sees power as an opportunity to serve the people, looking out for the well-being of all. Command by obeying: sound familiar? Welcome to the indigenous practice of usos y costumbres, plus the Zapatista caracoles. Oaxaca is talking about a profound change in economic, social and cultural affairs.

On the other hand, if the movement disintegrates or backs off, a lot of people will be murdered. I say that on the basis of familiarity with URO’s style of government.

The removal of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is not negotiable, but a special committee met with Carlos Abascal, Secretary of Internal Affairs, in México City on Thursday, August 31, and Rueda Pacheco at the Mega-March had just returned from that meeting held in hopes of finding a solution to the social conflict affecting Oaxaca.

A prior agreement, to meet with Abascal Carranza in Oaxaca, was scratched – Abascal declined to come. The APPO put together the Single Commission of Dialogue with fourteen members of the Political Committee of Section 22 (the state teachers’ union) plus an equal number of directors and members of different civil organizations who constitute the APPO provisional Coordinating Committee. These 28 members of the commission flew to Mexico when Abascal assured them he would guarantee their safety and that of the leaders who remained in Oaxaca. URO wasn’t invited. It is alleged that URO sat in an adjoining room and listened to the APPO commission explain how horrible he is and how ungovernable Oaxaca has become. In any case, nothing was accomplished; Rueda Pacheco reported that the APPO’s Single Commission for Dialogue, in addition to asking for the removal of Ruiz Ortiz, demanded the immediate freeing of four political prisoners (Catarino Torres, Germán Mendoza, Erangelio Mendoza, and Ramiro Aragón, a biologist and sympathizer of the movement). They also demanded the cancellation of arrest warrants for directors of the movement.

During the commission’s stay in Mexico, Oaxaca has enjoyed three blessed nights free of gunfire.

While the government of URO cannot call in the federal preventive police without an okay from President Fox, he can, and does, hire thugs and plainclothes cops to carry out selective repression. According to sources affiliated with the APPO, URO has taken to emptying drug clinics and arming the addicts for night jobs.

The most common government target has been the radio stations. Only four broadcast stations remain on the air for the APPO, since the movement abandoned some installations as being too many to guard and hold. The relinquished stations now broadcast normally. The guarded stations remain blockaded on all access streets, with buses, barbed wire, bonfires by night, and women sitting on the sidewalk embroidering by day.

Hanging over the heads of the APPO are not only 70 government arrest warrants, but also the “dead or alive” hit list on the Internet. “Crimes,” in the words of the state attorney general, committed by movement individuals, now include theft, assault, taking public property, disrupting public spaces, etc. Lino Celaya Luria, Secretary of State Public Security, declared that entering the encampment in the historic center of Oaxaca by force “would not be appropriate” (been there, done that). Instead, he said, he is confident that “chopping off the head of the APPO” – jailing or killing its leaders – would change the situation.

The movement, on the other hand, refuses to say there even are leaders – the people have charge of their own movement.

During this strange week of waiting, the APPO, seemingly with the skill of a puppeteer pulling strings, has caused a complete shutdown of the city’s business by “owners” on Tuesday, August 29. At least one thousand commercial establishments, big chains and banks, urban transport buses and private schools closed, in a call to URO to “do something” – in the APPO’s case for him to resign; in the case of the businessmen, to call in the state police or get out. The common shutdown was marked by hanging white flags on the part of the business owners sympathetic to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), nicely pointing out those shops and restaurants an APPO sympathizer might not choose to patronize.

And for another bizarre contradiction, the business community is threatening to stop paying their taxes, thereby starving the federal government of its resources. Teach ’em a lesson for not rushing in and restoring order. The APPO is discussing how to cope with the upcoming economic crisis.

Several churches also raised a white flag, causing debates about the role of the Catholic hierarchy – the archbishop of Oaxaca, José Luis Chávez Botello, is no Samuel Ruiz. He wants “peace,” meaning no struggle. However, it’s not the movement people who shoot and kill; discussions are taking place on the APPO radio as to why the church is once again on the “wrong side.”

The Tuesday city shutdown was followed by Wednesday calm, during which about 150 members of the APPO occupied the tollbooth of San Pablo Huitzo, the toll road to Oaxaca-México. Federal Employees for Roads and Bridges said the protesters arrived in six trucks and took over the tollbooths in both directions. The rest of us took our plastic shopping bags to the nearest market to stock up on vegetables and yogurt.

Thursday, August 31, a statewide work stoppage was scheduled, hardly visible in central Oaxaca City, where the small shops were open. In his speech from the grandstand on Friday night, the FSODO leader indicated the work stoppage is indefinite.

The risks are at least two: the situation in the nation will precipitate the use of force. Oaxaqueños know that troops are stationed nearby, just in case, but nobody seems to know just in case of what.

The second concern is fatigue. Although the APPO claims its strength is increasing, fatigue runs high. Furthermore, the financial costs are great. In 102 days of conflict, according to Noticias, nine hotels have closed, five restaurants, and another ten are on the verge, with a loss of 1,500 jobs in Oaxaca City. (Statewide, the impact is much less – and Oaxaca has a population of 3.5 million.)

Fredy Alcántara Carrillo, president of the Association of Hotels and Motels, said that hotels are practically empty, as are flights and busses into Oaxaca. After listening to the Mega-March speeches, we went to eat at our favorite Italian restaurant, where the proprietors, Flo and Alberto, were eating alone – the restaurant was empty. Flo told us that they are on the verge of closing; “not even a fly” came in all day, while they continue to pay electricity and rent. They do not own their own home, since they live in Flo’s family compound, and Flo told me “they don’t even have enough money for plane fare back to Italy.”

The teachers are not being paid, either. Many ordinary Oaxacqueños feel the economic pinch as well as the fear. The people, however, thus far appear to stand strong, ending many conversations with “hard!” – duro! And referring often to the benefits in the long haul, the “largo plazo” for the children. The special Commission to talk with Carlos Abascal will go back to Mexico for a Monday meeting. “We are fully convinced,” Rueda Pacheco said, in reference to the APPO demand for the removal of URO, “that a strike of more than 100 days deserves a reply.”

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