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April 7, 2001

Narco News 2001

Votes and Drugs

in Oaxaca

By Nancy Davies

Special to The Narco News Bulletin

OAXACA CITY, OAXACA, MEXICO; APRIL 2, 2001: The long arched colonnade in front of the Oaxaca state government building is paved with stone. Demonstrations and encampments are daily events. Today a man with arms outstretched posed on a wooden cross, mounted above a crowd of more than a hundred people from his town.

Miguel Felipe Santiago Velazquez from the small town of Santiago Yaitepec vowed that he will remain there, day and night, until the government redresses the wrongs he and his people have suffered. "We are crucified," he said.

Across from the building on the edge of the park a sign painted on green plastic sheeting reads:

Santiago Yaitepec asks for the immediate solution to the problem of invasion of our communal land:

22 dead.
24 homes abandoned.
20 widows.
80 orphans.
60 wounded.
100 fields uncultivated.

This is the result in Santiago Yaitepec for which the PRI government is to blame. Justice!

According to Felipe Santiago V., a troop of three Vazquez brothers led by Ignacio Vazquez and their followers, at the instigation of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, that ruled Mexico for 71 years), killed his family - the father aged 72 and four others, plus one wounded. Balanced on his tiny platform, Miguel is a thin, intense man dressed in a neat pastel shirt and minimal sandals, gazing down on the reporters and up to the balcony at the cameras. He named the names of those he says are the most important assassins: Ignacio Vasquez Carmona, Ruque Vasquez Carmona, Marcelino Carmona Santiago, Subencio Carmona Santiago, Sergio Carmona Santiago, Raymundo Vasquez Cruz, Fortino Zaraite Vasquez, and Aristeo Cruz Carmona.

At the foot of the cross a barefoot woman wearing the typical Oaxaca apron over a ragged dress wiped her tears on the back of her hand. She is one of the widows. On the paving stones at her feet a line of white crosses has been painted. A burning candle heads each cross; each has as footer the name and date of a dead townsman: 1997,four shot; 1998,five shot; 1998,eight; 2000,six. The "invaders" arrived in 1996. Twenty-one men and one woman have been slain.

These PRI emissaries were in fact known to the townspeople; they were not strangers to this remote northwest corner of Oaxaca nor to the 5,000 residents of Santiago Yaitepec in the District of Juquila; they speak the Chatino language.

Among the crowd, two self-identified officials of the PRI were watching. The woman, with an official nametag, was Leticia Robles Fuentes of Oaxaca. She told me the problem was indeed caused by her party, the PRI. Leaning close, she told me the PRI sent men to Yaitepec with promises of money and aid, and installed a new group of "leaders", who actually are bosses or caciques. They promised the town large amounts of money for schools and water and medical services. The money never came. Instead, each resident was given ten pesos ($1.10 in U.S. dollars), and on International Women's Day each woman was given a flower in a bottle.

I asked Letitia Robles why the PRI supported these men, and she answered simply, "Votes." The PRI emissaries arrived in 1996, well before the 2000 presidential elections that resulted in the PAN (National Action Party) overthrow of the PRI federal stranglehold on power. In this town, the local fight was between the PRI, and the left-wing PRD (Democratic Revolution Party). The PRD was gunned down.

The next election will be for deputies to the state Congress on July 4, 2001, and for municipal presidents in September. The PRI has every intention of maintaining its grip on Oaxaca, and by the old tried and true method of buying and strong-arming votes.

The second PRI official in front of the crucifix was a round-faced man who wouldn't give his name. He stood nose to nose with me. "There are drugs", he whispered.

Both marijuana and cocaine, he told me, are trafficked with the full knowledge of the PRI government. The government makes money. The farmers make money. The bosses take a share. Yaitepec's on-the-ground drug business is not what we read about in the press as a big narco operation. It's small, discrete farming, used to supplement food crops with a modest cash income for the community. It's the local feeder for the vast chain of supply.

Both my informants agreed that the government is in the narcotics business. Both applauded the idea of legalizing drugs. They believed the drug income could then be assured with no threat of disruption, incarceration, or murder. When I ventured the opinion that legalization might lower the prices, they were unfazed.

The unresolved story is of how incarcerations of "political prisoners" come about in the context of land-grabs, voter fraud, bribery, and drug sales. The ones in jail are the ones who protested to the wrong people at the wrong time.

Miguel Felipe Santiago Velazquez demands that the PRI state government send troops to arrest the murderers whom the PRI sent and permits to operate with impunity. He also wants the government to send money to aid the widows and orphans, and perhaps some day remit the money for improvements. I asked him if PRI Governor José Murat had seen him outstretched on his cross. He replied, "Yes, he saw me. He said it was foolish."

The Yaitepec encampment is supported by the New Left Organization of Oaxaca (Organización Nueva Izquierda de Oaxaca).

Meanwhile the area had filled up with yet another group; the fourth demonstration today in front of the government palace. A passing Mexican woman visitor from Mexicali observed, "The rich people use the poor people." She shook her head and left.

Free Democracy from the Cross of Prohibition