|English | Español||August 15, 2018 | Issue #40|
Other Campaign Volunteer Imprisoned for Distributing Leaflets in Santiago Xanica
The Case of Our Compañeros Sergio Ramírez, Cesar Ruiz and Leoncio Cruz in Oaxaca Shows the World that Mexico Is Still a Dictatorship
By James Daria and Dul Santamaria
Cesar Luis Diaz in front of the Ixcotel prison on Wednesday, February 8. “They beat us and they brought us to jail simply for promoting the Other Campaign.”
Photo: D.R. 2006 John Gibler
At the press conference, Alejandro Cruz declared this violent attack on peaceful assembly an attack not just on an individual organization but an attack on all, as the Other Campaign is a national movement: “The Other Campaign is not just the EZLN, the Other Campaign includes all the adherent organizations to the Sexta. That is to say, [the repression] is not now only against our organizations but they are attacking a joint national movement…We say, then, that what happens to our compañeros from whichever one of these organizations struggling for another way to do politics… we see that it is an attack on all, not only against one organization or person… We patently state this to the repressive government that we have in the state of Oaxaca.”
In Oaxaca, many indigenous and mestizo communities are organized along a democratic form of political organization that traditionally prohibits the entrance of political parties. Instead, political office is seen as a public service to be performed, often without financial remuneration, due to a sense of moral and civic obligation to the community. This form of non-electoral politics, however, threatens the interests of not only the governing party, which in Oaxaca has always been the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but all political parties in their search for electoral votes. Although a legally recognized institution, the election of representatives through the community assembly has been violently attacked throughout the state of Oaxaca as political parties and rich land owners attempt to secure their own political domination. Thus is the case of Xanica. And it is in these places that the Zapatista word has found fertile ground.
Santiago Xanica, whose Zapotec name means “beneath the nearby hill,” is located in the district of Miahuatlán in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca. The majority of the inhabitants are Zapotecs who eke out a living by farming and the cultivation of coffee. Like many small towns in the state of Oaxaca, Xanica has long been governed through the election of its representatives by the general assembly in a legal process called “usos y costumbres,” or “practices and customs.” However, this social peace was shattered in 1999 when a succession of municipal presidents was imposed upon the community. What followed has been a continual struggle of one community to regain its individual and collective rights as it fights for autonomy against the violence and deception of the state.
The term “usos y costumbres” refers to a complex of traditional political organization in which the general assembly elects openly and directly the municipal president and other governmental posts without the intervention of political parties. While the system of “usos y costumbres” has existed for centuries, it was normally carried out with the consensus of the ruling PRI party, which would grant an indigenous community a certain amount of autonomy to elect their representatives through the community assembly. Once elected, the representatives were registered as candidates of the PRI. Ballot boxes were stuffed with votes for the PRI and the community officials signed them. This arrangement assured the community an inflow of government funding and enough autonomy to elect its local representatives.
In 1995 the state of Oaxaca modified its constitution to legally recognize the institution of “usos y costumbres” in indigenous communities, legally giving these communities the right to elect their officials in a traditional manner without having to register as candidates of the PRI. This change was due to a long process of indigenous resistance, especially in the Sierra Norte among Zapotecs and Mixes. Although legal and constitutionally recognized, the struggle for autonomy and self-determination continues as electoral violence is still a common phenomenon with political parties (now not just the PRI but the PAN and the PRD as well) struggling for political power by usurping the right of “usos y costumbres.” Many internal problems exist inside the communities as well. Caciquismo (the rule of local political bosses), land disputes and social stratification lead to conflicts in the community, especially during election time.
In February 1999, a coffee grower who was connected with the Indigenous Campesino Union, Francisco Zavaleta, promised an influx of government funding supposedly earmarked for community projects in Santiago Xanica. Using his promises of government money, he secured loyalty and votes for Cruz Lopez from a small sector of the community. This group overpowered the community assembly and forcefully imposed Juan Cruz Lopez as municipal president. The people of Xanica, however, recognized the electoral fraud but did not lose their sense of civic duty as they organized themselves to defend their collective and individual rights. The townspeople occupied the municipal building and elected their own popular authority. For two years this town resisted the illegitimate authority of Cruz Lopez and finally won when he resigned from office under constant pressure from the people. An interim president was elected in 2001 and carried out the last year of the three-year presidential term. Again in 2001, the people of Xanica peacefully elected their new representatives through the community assembly without the intervention of caciques or rich landowners. It seemed that peace at last had come to Santiago Xanica.
Misfortune returned once again to Xanica in 2004, however, when Sergio García Cruz violated the norms of “usos y costumbres” and installed himself as municipal president. García Cruz, who supposedly had the support of the PRD, had won the support of the wealthy ranch owners by offering them positions within the municipal government, and on August 29 he was imposed with their help. This directly violated the system of “usos y costumbres” of Xanica, as all representatives must be elected directly by the community assembly and must have taken part in a series of four successively demanding government positions, or “cargos,” which he had not fulfilled. To top it off, García Cruz went back on his word and did not give government positions to his accomplices. The community assembly was suspended and the majority of the town voted for the dismissal of the new municipal government.
There are many other accusations against García Cruz as well. He is accused of appropriating part of the land from the municipal market for his own benefit and is accused in the disappearance of Tomas Sanchez. These accusations have never been investigated officially and the state government has looked the other way.
Working within the town of Santiago Xanica, the coalition Indian Organizations for Human Rights in Oaxaca (OIDHO) helped organize the community members to recognize their legal individual and collective rights. From this community struggle arose the Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights (Comité de Defensa de los Derechos Indígenas de Santiago Xanica-CODEDI-Xanica). CODEDI formed as a local organization to defend the rights and interests of the whole community.
On January 15th, 2005, more than 80 community members as well as activists from CODEDI were doing tequio, a communal form of labor, when the municipal president García Cruz and two state police patrol cars fired upon them. In the ambush, Abraham Ramírez Vásquez, leader of CODEDI, was gravely wounded along with Juventino and Noel García Cruz, two brothers from the community. The wounded were unable to flee and find medical attention as agents of the police surrounded the community with high powered arms intending to prevent them from escaping. They were later arrested and taken from the hospital, accused of murdering a member of the state police in an ambush that happened the same day and time in which they were doing tequio and were fired upon. The situation escalated and the militarization of the community was heightened.
On February 2nd, the government of Oaxaca and the president of the National Center of Human Rights (CNDH) invited members of CODEDI and OIHDO and to a dialogue in order to resolve the problems of Santiago Xanica. Upon leaving the talks Alejandro Cruz López and Carlos Mozo, members of OIDHO and CODEDI, were stopped and arrested by the police without just cause. Other members of said organizations were hunted down and arrested on false charges. The majority were jailed while others were let go due to lack of charges. Members of said organizations saw this as an attempt to wipe out COMPA by attacking individual organizations
State and nationwide mobilizations took place in solidarity with the struggle of Xanica throughout the first half of 2005. Thousands of people marched on the capital of Oaxaca and Mexico City demanding the release of the political prisoners and respect for the autonomy of Santiago Xanica. To this day the three prisoners from Santiago Xanica remain in the notorious Ixcotel prison. The Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz has since traveled to Xanica two times, handing out food rations and promoting his political party. The official neglect toward the situation in Santiago Xanica speaks of the lack of interest in seeing a genuinely democratic society flourish in Oaxaca.
In an interview with members of CODEDI and OIDHO, who unfortunately did not want to be recorded or quoted directly for security reasons, they made clear the importance of the system of “usos y costumbres” for their communities. The exercise of power through the general assembly and the election of representatives to various charges is a form of communal power; it is the law of the people (“ley del pueblo”), made by and for the people themselves. While state and federal constitutional law has never been applied in indigenous communities that have suffered centuries of neglect from the state, the law of the people is a right exercised and enjoyed by all. Thus, this form of communal power is key to the autonomy and self-determination of the indigenous people.
The people of Oaxaca continue to develop the idea of communalism. This comes from the heard of the Oaxacan social organizations. It is the social framework in which the community works together, creating connections of exchange and reciprocity. The practice of communalism is expressed by four elements of collective life: communal land, communal work, celebration and communal power. These have been practiced by the indigenous people since ancient times, but has now spread and forms the basis of many rural societies in the state, both indigenous and mestizo.
In communities that are governed by usos y costumbres the entrance of political parties is looked upon with disdain. The parties heighten the conflicts that exist in the community and divide the people. While usos y costumbres is not a perfect system and can be violated by undemocratic forces, the hope of the community members lies in their ability to successfully organize themselves and impose their will on the leaders they elect.
The communities and social organizations that are participating in the “Other Campaign” see in it a way to resist and work toward the construction of a new society without surrendering their autonomy to any political party. Another group integrated into the COMPA, CODECI has been distributing posters announcing the arrival of the Sexta Commission in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca on February 5th and urging in the participation of the “Other Campaign” with the slogan: “Zapatismo and communalism, yes! Political parties, no!” Thus, a contribution of Oaxacan society to the “Other Campaign” is not only a rejection of political parties but living evidence of another form of doing politics. Meanwhile, as the people search for new forms of social and political organization the state violently represses all alternatives.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism