Oaxaca Women Tap for Hope with Their Fingernails
As Stalemate Continues Between Federal Government and Popular Uprising, APPO Holds a “Dialog for Peace,” PRI Supporters Burn Indigenous Radio Stations, and Soldiers Shoot a Protester Dead
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
October 17, 2006
Let’s look at ten recent developments here:
1. Oaxaca’s interior secretary issued another ultimatum for the teachers to return to classrooms today or face the consequences. This is the fourth such ultimatum. Each one has carried a threat – either for loss of contract pay for the school year, loss of future pay offers (including rescinding an increase in base wages for Oaxacan workers, which the teachers had fought for and which would benefit all salaried workers), the firing of every teacher who doesn’t show up, or the use of armed forces. Today Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the Institutional Revolutionary Party-dominated Mexican National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE in its Spanish initials) but also close to PAN president-elect Felipe Calderón, threatened to cut Section 22, the Oaxacan local of the SNTE, from the union body. Section 22 referred to this as a “declaration of war,” and a parallel national committee is now on the table. Omar Olivera, spokesperson for the teachers camped in Mexico City outside the National Senate, repeated his repudiation of Gordillo as leader of SNTE. He stated that the behavior of Gordillo is an “action of ‘Calderonism’ to break the Oaxaca movement.”
2. Over the weekend in the capital city of Oaxaca, during a forty-eight hour period, ten different marches took place. They followed a public funeral in the zocalo’s central pavilion for Alejandro García, who died from a gunshot wound to the head while he was at the barricade in Colonia Alemán, bringing coffee to the night team. A car with four military men in civilian clothes, recently seen leaving a local cantina, tried to beak the barricade. During the ensuing scuffle two members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) were shot, the second victim in the arm. The accused soldier, Jonathan Ríos Vásquez, declared himself innocent.
3. The federal senators who visited Oaxaca to check on the state government’s “loss of powers” opined that there seems to be increased rancor in Oaxaca. According to Noticias of October 16, the senators, Alejandro González Alcocer (PAN), Tomás Torres Mercado (PRD) and Ramiro Hernández García (PRI), though not drawing conclusions about ungovernability, nevertheless reached that astonishing conclusion.
As I understand it, the Mexican constitution says that the Senate can declare the state “ungovernable” by observing that the three branches of government are no longer functioning. In other words, with state powers having disappeared, the Senate sees that basic functions are no longer being carried out.
This is not the same as declaring that powers which exist should be nullified. Hence why Ulises Ruiz Ortega showed up with boxes of papers that he claims prove state functions are continuing.
4. The state director of the National Action Party (PAN in its Spanish initials), Jorge Valencia Arroyo, opined that the governor should consider resigning or taking a leave of absence, because if the National Senate decrees that there is an absence of powers, the shit will eventually hit the fan for him. No, he didn’t say that. Excuse me. What he said was, that once there is an effort to call on people to be accountable for their crimes, there are crimes aplenty to go around – including the really nasty ones like assassination and torture ordered by the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”). The crimes of the APPO consist of delinquencies such as damaging the cultural patrimony with spray paint and blocking the free transit of citizens. They have been trying to maintain a peaceful movement and, with some exceptions (like beating up firemen who tried to destroy a barricade over the weekend of October 13), they have succeeded.
5. The Alliance of Business Owners and Civil Society states that they are not with URO, that violence is not the right solution to a problem that reflects 70 years of authoritarianism and abandonment. Thus, URO’s presumed base is coming out against him.
6. The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca has been reproduced in at least eleven states, among them Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacan, Veracruz, Jalisco, Puebla and Quintana Roo. Each assembly has its own name, but more or less the same social problems. Twenty-three states signed on to send people in defense of Oaxaca should there be a federal intervention. Four assemblies have formed in the United States: in Chicago, New York, Texas and California.
7. An indigenous Nahuátl and Mazatec community radio station, Nandia, was attacked and destroyed by government agents. The women who ran the station belong to an organization of Mazatec indigenous women. After the attack they tried to leave the small northern town of Mazatlán Villa de Flores to travel to the capital, hoping to make known their outrage (non-licensed indigenous radio stations are presumably guaranteed in the Oaxaca state constitution), but the only road out of town was blocked by people identified only as Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) loyalists. The Mazatec women were planning a hunger strike in the atrium of the Cathedral in Oaxaca. La Jornada of October 7 indicates that the attack was called for by the state interior secretary and was carried out by the local PRI. Now the women are calling on international support for the community.
8. In other areas of the state, rumors and threats abound, not only in small towns but also in the larger cities such as Tuxtepec, Matías Romero and Miahuatlán, as reported in an October 16 article written by Carlos Beas Torres, the leader of The Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (UCIZONI). In Matías Romero, PRI loyalists burned the radio station La Consentida. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, operators of the indigenous radio stations have been held hostage and have received death threats, along with their families. Radio Huave, the most powerful community radio in the Isthmus, was first to be threatened, followed by the coordinator of Radio Ayuuk, and now the mayor of San Dionisio del Mar has threatened the directors of Radio Umalalang. This is the communication war, Beas Torres says, which has attacked the newspaper Noticias and reporters. The “dirty war” also encourages groups like PRI members and police in civilian clothes to open schools by force on the Isthmus.
The mainstream media, Beas Torres observes, place their emphasis on the big events such as the helicopters flyover and the massing of marines at Salina Cruz and Huatulco. In Oaxaca there are two wars; one has the aspect of military invasion, and the other is carried out by local political bosses (known as caciques) and local government officials who are desperate to hold on to their seventy-seven-year-old privileged role.
9. In order for the Oaxacan people, authorities, and indigenous organizations to come together for discussions, the APPO and other various sponsors held the Dialogue for Peace on Friday October 13 in Oaxaca City. The importance of that meeting is that the former bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz, once again showed up and spoke for five minutes. This indicates that Ruiz – who has come three times that I know of – has put his whole moral weight behind the Oaxaca movement, most likely because of the movement’s importance for indigenous peoples.
The inauguration was celebrated with a band and several speeches, including the brief address by Bishop Ruiz, who said, “Oaxaca is like the body of all the nation, where something new is being born. We are celebrating with happiness, music and singing because we understand that a new world is coming; not only for the state of Oaxaca but for the very nation… In this new stage of our history we are beginning by having respect for our differences; the world is watching our peaceful construction of a new participatory government and dialogue.”
In addition to the well known public personages, the event was attended by sociologists, academics, campesinos, women, men, children, and representatives of national and international civil organizations, as well as statewide indigenous authorities and the Triqui women, who are always so visible in their red beribboned overdresses. More than 1,000 people signed up as participants.
The opening hour unified the crowd with symbols, such as blowing conch shells to summon the people, wafting incense over the plaza and offering prayers in several languages. The leader of the religious ceremony told the people, “we align ourselves with nature, from which we take our dual representation of god and goddess, of heaven and earth, male and female. We call the forces of the universe to aid and support our road.” As the woman lead the prayer, the audience turned to salute each of the four cardinal directions. Directly in front of me stood three older women who expressed their private prayers in a low undertone. Then began the drumming – a spontaneous light tapping that rippled across the entire audience. The women near me had taken out small plastic compacts and were tapping a steady rhythm with their fingernails.
After the ceremonies the meeting broke apart to several tables where serious discussion took place. Just how serious we don’t yet know because they will not report until later this week. The best hope is that whatever they decide will be included in the November constitutive meetings to establish a State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (a new, permanent state government based on the APPO model) .
10. Stress, fatalities and tension abound. Neither the APPO, nor the teachers who belong to the APPO, are backing down. The departure of URO is not negotiable. The indigenous communities are organizing, as well as the nation. We’re all drumming with our fingernails.
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