The Uprising of Oaxaca – How Far Can it Go?
Two Issues Must Now Be Resolved: Removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz and Resolution of the Teachers’ Educational Demands
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
June 24, 2006
OAXACA CITY, June 24, 2006: Oaxaca is a contentious state, with conflicts in towns, on public and communal lands. Assassinations each year number between 20 and 30. The state has 570 municipalities, but in 2004, 750 cases of agrarian conflict.
Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) has united the people of Oaxaca – in opposition to him, and to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials), which has maintained a strangle-hold on Oaxaca for more than seventy years, maintaining caciquismo (the power of local political bosses) and aggravating the agrarian conflicts to divide the people. Selling their votes to the PRI is how towns obtain what should be rightfully theirs, including schools and educational supplies.
The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) has now met three times. Today, June 24, 2006, at the close of the APPO, the general secretary of the Section 22 of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), Enrique Rueda Pacheco, held a press conference in which he assured the public that the teachers’ strike will be settled this weekend.
Now the question becomes, can the education demands, which may be settled soon, be separated from the demand for URO to resign?
By all reports, the range of APPO attendees extends from the PRI-affiliated, to the anarchists and revolutionaries on the far left. The APPO declared itself unified by a desire to oust URO. Today’s decisions, beyond Pacheco’s statement, are not yet known.
However, Pacheco announced on Friday, June 23, 2006 that the threatened boycott of the July 2 election won’t happen. That’s a withdrawal of previous threats by the union.
Pacheco announced a new group of mediators for the education negotiations, among them some of the least militant personalities of Oaxaca: artist Francisco Toledo, Archbishop José Luis Chávez Botello, the emeritus bishop of Tehuantepec, and businessman Carlos Guzmán Gardeazábal.
The union refuses to negotiate with Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz or with any federal official of second rank – the union demands talks with somebody who has real power, that is, the Secretary of Government (“Segob,” equivalent to Secretary of Interior), Carlos Abascal Carranza, or somebody equivalent.
Segob has made it clear that it cannot negotiate with regard to URO’s removal, but will negotiate with regard to education, which is as much a federal matter as a state one.
Meanwhile, the city of Oaxaca bubbles with spontaneous demonstrations of support for Section 22’s call to remove URO. Yesterday, Section 22 received ten tons of supplies delivered in solidarity by the Union of Mexican Electricians, and an unscheduled people’s march sprang up in the Oaxaca City neighborhood of Rosario, picking up anti-Ruiz voices along its way to the center. It replaced the previously announced and then cancelled fourth SNTE “mega-march.”
Blockades and work-stoppages were announced by Radio Universidad, the united student-teacher station operating out of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University.
Presentations aired on Radio Universidad discuss the exploitation of Oaxaca under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Plan Puebla-Panama, neoliberalism and globalization – previously unmentioned subjects. Information percolates among the general public, which formerly held few conversations on subjects which were the province of “intellectuals” and student radicals. In call-ins to the station, housewives and retired people are suddenly talking about “class” differences. They mention the World Trade Organization and the benefits the rich receive. They mention URO as aligned with capitalist powers and decry how some who call for a return to the classrooms by the teachers actually send their own kids to private school. Many voices are indigenous.
The consciousness-raising politicization of Oaxaca has arrived.
The APPO is having a moderating effect on the teachers, while the strike is radicalizing the people. The foremost demand, that URO resign as governor, has not softened; it’s hard to see how either the APPO or Section 22 could back off on this issue – now that the entire state is ungovernable – without losing any future support from the public.
The astonishing unification of Oaxacan society may be what pushes the teachers’ Section 22 to bury its own internal differences – something that could not be achieved during the tour of Oaxaca by Subcomandante Marcos in his role as Delegate Zero for the Zapatista Other Campaign. At that time, Delegate Zero expressed his unwillingness to meet with groups that could not resolve their own internal conflicts to unite in a common struggle against the authoritarian government.
The Zapatista method of permitting everyone to speak, and listening to them indefinitely, is not practical for the APPO (not surprising given this urgent and stressful time period), but the sessions are still very long. Also, the APPO decided not to function by consensus, but by majority vote. The APPO declared that political parties, like the press, are not allowed in the assembly, but naturally many individuals espouse positions in accord with their politics.
In a marathon session, the second meeting of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca took place on June 20, 2006 lasting from noon to nine o’cock at night. The participating unions included the Health Workers Union, the Telmex (private telephone company) workers’ union, the Benito Juarez University workers, and the bus drivers’ union. A total of 79 groups participated, including popular and student organizations, municipal authorities, social organizations and independent citizens. Today, the day of the third APPO, I hear the student announcers on the radio calling for the presence of colonos and colonas – residents of the suburbs.
At the second meeting several accords were achieved, including how the assembly should be made up and how to maintain communications between different sectors. A very difficult issue will be how to maintain civil peace and conduct a parallel government – before, after or parallel to Governor Ruiz, who is now optimistically referred to as the ex-governor.
Among the action points discussed were the boycott of the federal elections of July 2 (which was cancelled) and further marches and blockades of offices and highways. A statewide work stoppage called for Friday, June 23 was cancelled. A shopping boycott called against the supermarket Pitico, the pharmacy Ahorra, and some of the zócalo (central plaza) restaurants didn’t happen. The Oaxaca zócalo, still in the hands of the teachers, was well-guarded on all sides but open enough for pedestrians to enter.
The entrance to the university building where the second APPO met was controlled by students and other youngsters, all of them members of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights who, with faces covered with bandannas, carried sticks and machetes and blocked access to the press.
Among the groups present were the Wide Front for Popular Struggle (FALP), and the Revolutionary Popular Front (FRP), as well as the Union of Revolutionary Youths of Mexico, the Committee for Defense of the People, and the General Strike Council of the Autonomous National University of Mexico.
An anarchist faction seeks the removal of powers from all the branches of government in Oaxaca: legislative, judicial and legislative.
A substantial number of the teachers and delegates are adherents to the non-violent Other Campaign of the Zapatistas.
The majority of delegates belong to social non-governmental organizations, which work in Oaxaca to improve conditions for the people without overt politic affiliations, as is required by Mexican law. These organizations were among the first to call for non-violence after the June 14 attack, and pledged their support to the united struggle against Ruiz. They constitute non-militant, middle-of-the-road factions which hope to forge from the APPO a unified popular sector which will act in a reasonable and balanced way (read, non-radical) in negotiating with the government, and continue as an ongoing public voice, regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations.
Many young folks, of course, are implacably radical.
How to maintain the startling moment of unity is the big question. The question for many teachers after this weekend may be, can I go home now? Within Section 22 itself divisions break out between PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and PRI supporters. The national SNTE, led by Elba Esther Gordillo (a widely disliked PRI militant known for both her fierce combativeness and corruption) opposes the presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo. Section 22 is split within, into pro-Gordillo and anti-Gordillo factions, as well as PRD supporters.
The outcome of the federal presidential elections July 2 looms on the horizon. Although Fox won’t jeopardize the candidacy of the PAN candidate Calderón by interfering (the reports of federal troops nearby turned out to be rumors planted to intimidate the teachers), should Calderón or Madrazo be elected, the situation changes. Thus it looks more urgent for Pacheco to agree to some resolution of the teachers’ educational demands before July 2.
The teachers’ educational demands focus on the neglected educational infrastructure and restructuring teachers’ salaries. Education in Oaxaca is poor, and the illiteracy rate is around 25 percent (compared to about 8 percent nationally), with most of the illiterate being indigenous women. Many teachers complain of having to conduct classes in shacks made of laminated cardboard and of a lack of books, supplies and food for the children who arrive hungry. URO was roundly denounced for his neglect of education.
“Ruiz has remained deaf to all demands and necessities of Oaxacan society, causing widespread dissatisfaction in all civil sectors,” the APPO declared in its first meeting. Ruiz is accused of the unauthorized use of public resources for Madrazo’s campaign. So when he claims there’s no money for education the public response is understandable outrage.
Ruiz is also accused of the destruction of the historical, natural and cultural patrimony, harassment of independent media, excessive use of police and repression of unions and independent organizations.
Section 22 went on strike on May 21, 2006, establishing an encampment in downtown Oaxaca City, which effectively brought to a halt the center city’s tourist and commercial activities.
The police attacked the teachers’ strike encampment on June 14 before dawn. A popular corrido (ballad) hit the airwaves of Radio Universidad on June 16, celebrating the teacher-heroes.
The new people’s assembly held its first meeting on June 18, 2006. Today, June 24, the third APPO took place at the Hotel Magisterial. Two clear issues must now be resolved: removal of URO and resolution of the educational demands.
Tomorrow, Sunday, a cultural fiesta in support of the teachers will be held in the zócalo.
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