<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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PFP Occupation of Oaxaca Reveals Growing Polarization Within the Populace

A “March for Peace” in Support of Embattled Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz Exposes the Existence of a Deep Seated Economic and Social Divide


By James Daria
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Oaxaca

November 1, 2006

The city of Oaxaca is no longer filled with the smoke of burning buses and tear gas, but instead is burning from the inside as further polarization of the community has increased tensions amid a “peace” brought about by the forces of law and order. The city, paralyzed for the last two days, tried to return to normalcy as many business reopened. Overshadowing the this normalcy was the threat of more violence among the people due to a march convened in support of the Oaxacan state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO).


Photos: D.R. 2006 James Daria
Today’s march would not be the first held in support of Ruiz, which was held as a response to the many “megamarches” convoked by the striking Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). Many people feared that today’s march would lead to provocations and confrontations similar to those that occurred last Friday, where agents of local police and municipal governments assassinated three people during a civil strike called for by the popular social movement coalesced around the popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

The march left the “fountain of the seven regions” in the north of the city at eleven o’clock in the morning. Labeled as a so-called “march for peace,” the protesters, dressed in white, chanted slogans in support of the governor and against the magisterial and popular movement. These protesters welcomed the entrance of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) as a step in restoring law and order in a city which, according to them, has been kidnapped by violent and radical groups.

The march for peace was organized by supporters of the governor and his political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The announcement of the event was widely disseminated through Ruiz’s very own pirate radio station, Citizen Radio (99.1 FM), an attempt to use the opposition movement’s own tactics against them. Many prominent local families and politicians loyal to the party could be identified among the marchers. The march arrived at El Llano Park and where a meeting was held in support of the governor. The crowd chanted slogans very similar to those common among the opposition. “Ulises don’t give up, the people will rise up” and, “APPO get out” were some common phrases. Support for the corporate mass media was also expressed as one protester carried a sign that claimed that only TV Azteca tells truth.

One of the most important messages the marchers were trying to express was the idea that the APPO does not represent the people, but that the people marching today are in fact “the people.” This struggle for identity of who exactly is “the people” is an important indicator of the polarization of Oaxacan society. Both sides, those in support of and those against the governor, claim to represent the interests of the people. Two major contrasts were noted, according to this reporter, about this march as compared with the marches convoked by the APPO. First, the majority of marchers in support of Ulises Ruiz don’t actually march. Instead, they drive their nice American and European made cars and trucks. Second, the majority of the supporters of the governor have on average much lighter skin that those normally marching in support of the popular movement against the government. Although running the risk of falling into stereotypes, such differences point to deep seated economic and racial conflicts underlying the current social unrest.

While the majority of the marchers disbanded at Llano Park, many continued on to the Zócalo where the Federal Preventive Police welcomed them with opened arms. Until today, the PFP maintained a tight cordon of riot police approximately a two block distance from the central plaza. Today, however, the police did not wear their protective clothing or carry their shields and clubs. The people were free to walk into the square and chat freely with the police, seemingly part of a kind of public relations campaign on behalf of the police to assure that they are in Oaxaca to restore order and cleanliness to the city. They have done an impressive job of cleaning up the city center since the occupation of the Zócalo by federal forces. The normal graffiti covered walls have been cleaned or painted over and the tents and stalls of both protest groups and vendors have been torn down and disposed of. On the south side of the Zócalo a family of poor street vendors was trying to recollect the remnants of their booth which unfortunately was found crushed by a burnt out car, a result of when the police dismantled the barricades that had surrounded the square.

Although the majority of people in the “March for Peace” seemed to be from the middle and upper classes, there were some poor families who came out in support of the governor. Walking through the cleaned up Zócalo two older women called our attention. They said that international reporters should listen to the people because the people want a clean city and not a pigsty. They claim APPO does not represent Oaxaca, and according to them, the majority of people making up the APPO are from Tapachula, Chiapas or from Guatemala. The two women, merchants in the Central de Abastos and originally from Juchitán, expressed their hatred for the teachers union and the APPO. They claim that union leader Enrique Rueda Pacheco is a muxe (a transvestite in Zapoteco) and that he has whores waiting for him in his Juchitec neighborhood mansion of La Septima, which is actually one of the poorest neighborhoods comprised mostly of families of fishermen. They also criticized the leaders of both Section 22 of the national teachers union and those of the APPO of corruption. The older of the two ladies claimed that the last governor of Oaxacan paid APPO leader Flavio Sosa millions of pesos while she had to sell products in the market to take care of her invalid son. When asked if there was government aid available to invalid people in Oaxaca, she responded that she wasn’t aware of any. She also couldn’t respond to the question of why the government of Oaxaca supposedly has money to pay movement leaders but not help the sick.

One of the most important aspects of the social conflict in Oaxaca is the war of ideas and how to disseminate them to the masses. The corporate media normally shows a bias in favor of the government and business leaders. While radio has become the major means of communication for the popular movement, the start of a clandestine radio station by the Oaxacan government is a clear example of the current battle of information in the city. The printed press is no exception, as it is divided into two major daily newspapers. El Imparcial is clearly biased towards the PRI and the Oaxacan government, where as Noticias is clearly biased towards the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the social movements represented by the teachers union and the APPO. The war of information is not just about disseminating the truth, but also about influencing the hearts and minds of the populace. Hatred and distrust is being sowed among the populace and has lead to a situation in which no one can trust one another. The role of the media in spreading lies, rumors and disinformation on both sides of the political spectrum has much to do with this.

While the battle for the streets of Oaxaca quietly simmers and physical confrontation is minimized, the struggle for the identity of Oaxacan people still remains in this highly stratified society. The existence of a widespread popular social movement against a supposedly corrupt and brutal political regime can be either demonized or romanticized depending on the perspective of the individual. However, the polarization and confrontation that exists between the citizens themselves cannot be denied. The social conflict in Oaxaca has already seen numerous deaths, and the further polarization of Oaxacan, and possibly national, society could spill over into a situation similar to a civil war if the deep seated problems underlying the conflict are not only confronted, but solved. The presence of the Federal Preventive Police has brought a semblance of law and order to Oaxaca, but has done nothing to address the roots of the social unrest which is still simmering, and seems likely to explode all the time.

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