<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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Two Years Later in Oaxaca: Part I

What’s The Difference?


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

May 27, 2008

Part I

Nobody here in Oaxaca says things are better. I am trying to put my finger on what is different, and while different, where it might be going. It’s all a question of attitude, and to comment on the subjective existence of a different attitude leaves me open to hoots and cat-calls. But I think I’ll try it.


Forum audience
Photos DR. 2008 Nancy Davies
Below is my sketch of what has changed since the brutal repression of the 2006 social movement’s five month control of the city of Oaxaca. The “social movement”, not to be confused with the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) or the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), resides in the populace seeking change. It is alive and well. It lives in all eight regions of the state, strongly situated within civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Many aspects of the social movement flourish in ways I have not seen before, especially in the form of local organizing and local battles. One example is the lawsuit on the Isthmus against the international wind generation complex built on communal indigenous lands. Other environmental examples include struggles against foreign ownership of mines, and water projects.

Today the most outstanding example is participation in the national movement for public dialogue, on the topic of privatizing PEMEX, Mexico’s oil producer. A national issue, yes, but Oaxaca has Salina Cruz, the big oil city on its southern coast. In Oaxaca, people first gathered during the 2006 movement to discuss public policy, and they are doing it now.

On Monday, May 26 the city of Oaxaca’s public forum (among hundreds of state-wide forums) for discussion of “la Reforma Energética”, (meaning privatization of oil) took place at Casa de la Ciudad at 10:00 AM: The sponsoring organization are civil society: Sinergia, Sevices for Alternative Education (EDUCA) , Insitute for Development of Oaxaca Women

(IDEMO) and the Center of Assistance to the Popular Movement (CAMPO). As the federal Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) legislator Othón Cuevas said, “With this meeting today, Oaxaca is sending to all Mexico a message: the Oaxacans want to act as citizens and no longer as subjects. They want to have an effect before things happen and not fold their arms in the face of decisions imposed from the heights of power. This forum also represents the demand of a society which with just reason feels each moment less represented by its governors and its legislators, and in consequence, wants to make heard its voice.”

These public discussions all over Mexico, and across the state of Oaxaca, come at the instigation of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the “defeated” PRD presidential candidate and leader of the anti-privatization campaign. Lopez Obrador came to Oaxaca on Tuesday, May 20. He spoke at an “invitation only” event at the Hotel Mision de Los Angeles, to about 1,200 people. He recruited hundreds of them in “brigades” to go door-to-door to collect signatures in opposition to privatization, and dozens to head up the statewide forums.

The national Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has split along lines of supporting, or not, the petroleum “reform” initiative of President Felipe Calderón. In support stands our governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), he who is so indebted to President Calderón for keeping him in office. But things change. When URO was in big trouble, so was Calderón, who barely could control his own National Action Party (PAN) and needed the PRI to vote with him in the congress. Now Calderón holds control. Meanwhile a PRI faction headed by former best-buddy Roberto Madrazo and Beatriz Pagés opposes the energy reform “because it is anti-constitutional”, which in fact it is. (The split reflects internal PRI conflict, as Heraclio Bonilla Gutierrez writing for La Noticias says, “like Sicilian Mafia families”.) With the PRI split on oil privatization, Calderón has little left to gain by supporting URO. Furthermore, the criminal activities of URO created international embarrassment, especially since the news started to leak out about the probable guilt of URO’s executive branch (that could be read “executioners” branch) in state terror.


Forum speaker
URO’s bargaining power diminished when an information leak went to the feds. The first leak came from a retired military general, Juan Alfredo Oropeza Garnica; followed by others of lesser position inside the state attorney general’s office. The information clearly implicates URO’s right-hand man, Jorge Franco Vargas who held the position of Secretary of Government for URO while URO was out campaigning for Madrazo’s failed presidential bid. Franco Vargas has been implicated in running the death squads, along with torture and disappearances in the crimes against humanity perpetrated during 2006. Worse for URO, Franco Vargas is implicated in the 2007 forced disappearance of two men from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which claims responsibility for blown up oil pipelines in retaliation. The EPR is now “bargaining”; discussing the situation with Calderón. URO, who can only claim that Franco Vargas acted without URO’s orders or knowledge, is becoming a national and international liability.

In another “sign” of URO’s decline, the Supreme Court of Mexico accepted a case of pederasty charges which had been rejected by Oaxaca courts. The case was brought by a mother of a four year old who was assaulted in his plush private kindergarten, allegedly by members of URO’s friendship “bubble”. The Oaxaca court’s failure to proceed implies that URO, or Franco Vargas, is protecting the pederasts. Mothers unite! This particular outraged mother won’t let go. A comfortable middle class woman, she is yet another person radicalized by URO – she includes the entire 2006-2007 repression when she blasts him. This furthers URO’s power-shrinkage, because while many can tolerate murder, few can tolerate child-molesting.

The Movimiento Nacional por la Defensa del Petroleo may be a player in the next election

But no matter. The exciting part is that the public is taking it on itself to organize opposition to the privatization of PEMEX. Being cynical, we may put this in the same category as anti-war protests which are routinely over-ridden by governments – but I salute the Oaxaca context: a state like many others in Mexico where dirty war terrorizes the population.

More than 150 people showed up on May 26, a Monday workday, at the city forum to discuss energy privatization. The structure of the forum gave the first set of presentations to four politicians: the PRD federal deputy Othón Cuevas; the PRI federal senator Adolfo Toledo Infazón; the Convergencia fedral senator Alberto Esteva Salinas; and the state National Action Party’s secretary general, Carlos Moreno Alcantara. Toledo Infazón duly and dully opposes privatization. Convergencia’s Esteva Salinas was over-dressed in a suit, but said the right things. Carlos Moreno Alcantara claimed that the Calderón’s plan “is not about privatization”, but the position of Mexico in the world today. Thinking ahead for our grandchildren, he said, there must be a plan for “strategic resources to defend capitalism, and no more government than is necessary.” He said that. I’m not kidding. The applause was slight. His words rang a echo to the common gossip that Calderón was elected with oil money from Exxon and Chevron, who expect him to pay back the favor.

With vigor and spirit, Cuevas responded by declaring that Mexico and its oil is not on earth to defend the interests of the USA which is squandering billions in Iraq while trying to control Iraq’s oil supply. The audience responded with questions, and after a break the intellectuals and academics had their say, followed again by audience participation. The actual details of the PEMEX ploy (that’s my term, one can hardly think that a company earning over $100 profit per barrel of oil cannot repair its own pipelines or pay for its own deep water wells) have been explained and exposed, in what is probably one of the most profound examples of public education in Mexico, and in direct contradiction to what is coming over national television.

Coincidentally, on May 19, Section 22 of SNTE once again set up their twenty-one day annual encampment to highlight demands for renewing the union contract. Once again, I went to look, along with tourists and footloose residents, at the marvelous combination of organization, defiance, and clever propaganda.

The rainy season in Oaxaca is underway, and vendors, unimpeded in occupying the zócalo and the streets around it, offered both pretty and practical products. Blankets were unfolded and carried off to the tents, hand-made jewelry and pottery sat displayed for the tourists.


Section 22 plantón
The plantón (encampment) covers 15 street blocks. The union demands, in addition to the economic and educational needs, also include liberty for the political prisoners, cancellation of arrest orders, and restoring the schools held by Section 59 and the PRI to Section 22 control. Thus far there has not been much government response to demands for breakfasts, uniforms and shoes, sanitation facilities, community kitchens or basic materials for the 13,500 Oaxaca schools. Section 59 still holds schools, and confrontations continue.

Two years after the mega-encampment there still is no point in mud-slinging regarding the issue of education quality, teacher training or readiness, because this failure – this huge government failure – in Oaxaca cuts across all sectors. A higher proportion of Section 59 teachers with neither classroom experience nor college degrees is cited by Section 22, who themselves will soon lose their ability to hand down their teaching posts to their children with or without the same qualifications. But the problem is so widespread as to make it necessary for the state normal schools, employing professors from the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, to conduct classes in pedagogy to the teachers on strike, weekends in the zócalo. These teachers have not yet earned college degrees; in reality, they are teacher-apprentices.

At the moment we first saw the color and movement of the 2008 plantón, in our excitement none of us commented on who the vendors were. Now it’s claimed they are PRI promoted, in the same game of sneak, sell and tell as their PRI predecessors in 2006. Besides infiltration, they also serve to block access to the cafes around the zócalo, provoking another bitter complaint against the teachers on the part of the restaurant and cafe owners. I want to comment on change, but how can I put aside this small fact: the infiltration, according to opinion in Las Noticias, represents the on-going work of Jorge Franco Vargas, the infamous “El Chucky”, even while he’s under investigation for the assassinations, death squads, kidnappings and disappearances and torture of social movement activists in 2006. Two years have passed, and I am sitting in front of my computer trying to put my finger on what has changed. Damn.


Section 22 plantón
Those of us who lived Oaxaca, 2006, do feel a touch of dejá vú, although the size of the teachers’ occupation is modest in comparison to that year’s: the teachers are camping in rotation as they come in from the eight regions of the state. Courtesy (or is it caution?) seems more pronounced. The shop-keepers who suffered financial losses in 2006 asked nicely that the teachers not block access, but as each region rotates in and out that courtesy dissipates. What the teachers try to avoid the vendors accomplish. And since nobody can forget (and many cannot forgive), the 2008 atmosphere also hints of wariness. The Ministerial Police circle the center in vans, but no police are evident inside the zócalo where the sidewalks are occupied and cafe tables stand empty.

Section 22 remains the manpower backbone of the social movement, with about 65,000 education workers. It is the income of 70,000 teachers (including Section 59) which recycles as the largest economic machine in Oaxaca’s economy, (unlike tourism dollars which largely leave the state). The teachers’ income, lost, did great harm; income regained and improved benefits all of Oaxaca’s economy. Teachers’ salaries (re-zonification) are always on the table. At this writing, a reasonable settlement within the next two weeks between the government and Section 22 seems likely because of threats of further disruption. The union presently holds toll booths on the highway, blocks access to the airport and buildings outside the city, and conducts normal strike activities.

The change most evident to me is not the relatively low–key occupations by Section 22. The real changes lie in answering this question: Where is the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO)? Who is now the big player on the field? My response, and the reason I see a post 2006 difference: the people organized.

Click Here: For Narco News – Oaxaca Archives or Order a Copy of Nancy Davies’ The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly

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