Police Forces Enter Oaxaca with Water Cannons and Gunshots
IMSS Nurse Jorge Alberto López Bernal, Teacher Fidel García, and an Unidentified Minor Die; Eight Are Injured
By Enrique Mendez, Blanche Petrich, Gustavo Castillo and Octavio Velez
October 30, 2006
OAXACA CITY, OCTOBER 9: The Federal Preventive Police (PDP) occupied this capital city and its historic center beginning at 2 in the afternoon, after breaking barricades with armored trucks that shot high-pressure streams of water, firing live bullets, launching dozens of rounds of teargas and clashing for more than two hours with residents of the San Jacinto Amilpas neighborhood and protester “brigades” from the Channel 9 barricade. IMSS nurse Jorge Alberto López Bernal, teacher Fidel García and an unidentified minor of approximately 14 years of age all died during the occupation.
Although the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca abandoned the central city square (the “zocalo”) at 7 p.m. and fell back to the state university campus, after a failed telephone negotiation with the Department of the Interior (which manages such domestic security operations), the persecution of citizens demanding the fall of Governor Ulises Ruiz extended throughout the night to nearby areas like Santa Rosa, Amor Park near Porfirio Díaz Bridge, and Valerio Trujano Street.
After the incursion, police officers raided individual homes and detained some 50 people, who – according to a statement by APPO spokesman Florentino López – were taken to Military Zone #28. Some were apprehended near the university and taken by helicopter to the military facility.
As this edition went to press, there were eight citizens reported injured plus an unknown number of police, although three were confirmed injured by burns from Molotov cocktails and improvised rockets. In the clash at Channel 9, one federal policeman took a direct hit from a Molotov, setting him on fire, and his comrades helped him to put out the flames. The police did not report which hospital their injured were taken to, nor the names of the injured.
In contrast to such clashes, the police units assigned to occupy the downtown area faced little resistance, but also repressed the people who shouted insults as they went in. At 4 p.m., three police squads deployed to two corners of the zocalo: first at Bustamante and Portal de las Flores streets, from where they launched two teargas bombs, while another advanced toward the corner of Porfirio Díaz and Independencia.
At 7 p.m., when the APPO’s security community asked 800 members to retreat to the university campus, the police started to relax, took off their helmets and used their shields as beds. They used the movement’s banners that demand Ulises Ruiz’ resignation as blankets.
In addition to the main plaza, the federal forces retook the mayor’s office, the Department of Finance and the municipal police offices, and are preparing to intervene to take back other town halls occupied by the APPO.
After the incursion, which occurred after four and a half months of failed operations by state authorities, the governor warned tonight that he would not submit his resignation because, he said, his mandate “has never been subject to negotiation.” His aides claimed he had followed the operation from an office in San Felipe del Agua, in the north of the city.
The advance of the four thousand police sent to Oaxaca to “recover” the state capital occurred simultaneously from the airport and from a provisional base on the Mexico-Cuacnopalan highway, near the border with the municipality of Etla.
At one o’clock in the afternoon, a half-hour after 12 soldiers in civilian clothes were handed over to a military commander on Símbolos Patrios street, where they had been held, more than 80 buses full of police left the airport – with two backhoes clearing the way by “sweeping” the barricades – advanced toward the center of the city.
The buses and trucks being used as barricades were practically lifted up in the air by the backhoes, and, to prevent the obstacles from being reinstalled, the PFP deployed themselves in lines 100 meters apart, any attempt at returning being dispersed with their riot shields.
Four federal police and army helicopters supported the advance of the troops, which included special intelligence and tactics groups. Before ordering its officers to advance, the police held eight reconnaissance flights.
On the other side of the valley, in Etla, hundreds of people gathered near the village of San Lorenzo, to which 500 PFP officers deployed armed with assault rifles, grenade launchers and truncheons. The citizens and APPO sympathizers renounced the presence of the federal forces, and four volunteers even symbolically spilled their own blood onto the ground. At nearly 2 p.m., the police were ordered to advance and, faced with resistance, used water cannons to disperse the people.
The police brought the water cannons to Etla on platform trailers. Although the cannons were purchased during the last days of the Carlos Salinas de Gortari administration (1988-1994), it was today, with 31 days left in President Vicente Fox’s term, that they were used for the first time. Tonight, two were destroyed in confrontations with residents.
Just as they did on Símbolos Patrios Street, the people waved banners and signs reading “Leave, and take URO with you!” (“URO” being the governor’s initials).
With the support of the water cannons, the police broke through the first three barricades and reached the San Pablo intersection, where they shot more water at the residents. Their they decided to turn right, to try to enter the city along the banks of Atoyac River, as the APPO supporters had crossed the Viguera, Brenamiel and Santa Rosa neighborhoods with trailer trucks and even an LP gas tank that they threatened to burn if the troops passed by them.
Upon surrounding the barricades, the police unit nevertheless found itself up against two more trailers near the train tracks, forcing it to turn back, look for a way out along the river, and move down a one-way street on the corner of Pinos and Ferrocarril, in the Pilar neighborhood.
Their advance from then on was even more difficult. The residents who opposed their incursion three stones (some even used slings), Molotov cocktails and shot rockets with homemade “bazookas.” The response, again and again, was the launching of teargas.
The federal forces were forced to pull back on two occasions and in that repeating advance and retreat they reached the bridge leading to the Technical University, where one of the fiercest clashes of the day occurred.
A few blocks from there, where the local Pepsi office is located, a teacher died whose identity is still unknown. Neighbors later recovered bullet shell-casings there. A minor was also killed in the brawl near the Tech bridge, whose name could not be confirmed, either.
Once the police passed the bridge, one column moved toward the south of the city, and another to the center. The first contingent headed toward Amor Park, on Valerio Trujano Bridge, where another confrontation occurred. Some accounts of this event claim that the citizenry took two police hostage, and that another had died. Radio Educación reported, just before 11 p.m., that a man identified as Isidro Ramírez and his son José Manuel were arrested in that park.
The other column reached the barricade at the Channel 9 state television station, where APPO members resisted for nearly two hours with rocks, rockets and Molotov cocktails. One of the latter set a policeman on fire, while during the teargas attack, one gas grenade hit nurse López Bernal full in the chest, and he died from the impact. A wake was held for him that night at the barricade.
Teacher Fidel García was stabbed to death in the Elsa area, although the state government claims he was murdered “in a quarrel.”
At four in the afternoon, the third unit on its way downtown retook the mayor’s office – located in the Plaza de la Danza, in front of La Soledad church – and installed itself in three of the access streets to the zócalo. Six buses burnt on Símbolos Patrios were still burning and, by 6 p.m., three more urban transport vehicles used for transporting police were burned with gasoline.
Due to daylight savings time it was getting dark by 6 p.m., and at that hour the APPO march that had left from the Juárez monument – near the highway leading town to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec – arrived downtown. Flavio Sosa, member of the APPO provisional leadership, asked the people to wait 10 minutes for the Interior Department to answer a request for dialog. “Don’t clash with the PFP. We are going to wait for a response, and if not we will take certain actions,” he said.
The ten minutes went by without a positive response and, at 7 p.m., a truck from the security committee passed by the zocalo to ask protesters to regroup at the state university campus.
At 11 p.m., finally, the trucks and water cannons reached the main plaza of Oaxaca City after a long and violent day, and despite the federal government having assured that the occupation of the state would be peaceful, and despite Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal having sworn to God that there would be no repression in the state.
When the trucks arrived in the zocalo a preventive police officer attacked La Joranada photographer Ezequiel Leyva, who the policeman threw to the ground and pinned with a boot on his right leg as he tried to confiscate his camera.
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