<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Dirty War for Control of the Media in Oaxaca

Responding to Government Attack on Occupied Channel 9, Social Movement Seizes Control of Ten Commercial Radio Stations

By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

August 22, 2006

A good friend woke us at 4:00 a.m. on August 21 to tell us an attack was underway. I could hear gunshots at around 4:30. The government shot up the control rooms of Channel 9 and Radio Caserolas, housed in the antenna building of the formerly state-run Corporation of Radio and Television of Oaxaca, on Fortin Hill. Its broadcasting facilities had been captured by the women caserola protesters on August 1, and guarding the antenna has been an ongoing necessity for the teacher-led social movement. The government-hired shooters destroyed a lot of government property.

Bullet hole left in Channel 9’s broadcasting equipment.
Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
According to a press conference given by the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials), “At 3:30 A.M. four vans (of men) attacked with high power weapons the people guarding the antenna of channel 9 and of radio 96.9, resulting in several wounded.” One of the wounded has been identified, as Sergio Vale Jiménez, a teacher with 25 years’ experience.

In retaliation the movement took over ten radio stations in Oaxaca, six on the AM frequency, and four on FM. La Jornada reported twelve stations taken, but I heard only ten. When I heard from a teacher named Jesus C., later on in the day, he said nine. Revolution is not an exact science. I checked and located ten broadcasting movement news at 9:00 AM when I climbed out of bed for the third time this day.

So then I decided to have my coffee.

Our friend Michele Gibbs, who is an artist, writer and resident of Oaxaca for eighteen years, came by to join us. Michele was politically active in the U.S. from 1958 to 1980, and then she went to Grenada to work as a reporter for the People’s Revolutionary Government from 1980 until the U.S. intervened in 1983. Michele knows revolution.

“The most profound aspect of the developments in Oaxaca over the past four months is the capacity of the people to govern themselves,” she told me. “The broad social aims of a union (the state teachers’ union, SNTE Section 22) articulated the general outrage over government misconduct. Autonomous organizations in the communities, independent of the teachers movement, abruptly surfaced in all their strength. The whole strategy of ‘ungovernability’ being pursued by the social movement is based on ‘consent of the governed.’

“The people not only don’t consent but they have the ability to articulate an alternative to the power and control of Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz, and put that alternative into action.”

“By now,” Michele pointed out, “1500 representatives of unions, civil organizations, and popular assemblies have met many times and established the principles of the movement.”

Those principles, as Michele summarizes them, are:

  1. Institutions must respond and be responsible to the popular will, in all its diversity.
  2. The function of the state is to promote the interests of the public.
  3. The responsibility of the public is to govern itself.

“Every act of violence in the past four months has been government financed, ” Michele pointed out, “paying for helicopters, tearing up the patrimony to benefit family members, hiring shooters and thugs. When any random act of violence took place, the APPO dissociated itself. It doesn’t initiate violence.”

“Once in a while it has,” I said, and mentioned the blowing up of the house after Jose Colmenares Jimenez was shot in the march protesting the abduction of Germán Mendoza Nube.

“In every instance where the APPO was behind the violence it was done with care ‘to return to sender’ in one piece,” she said, referring to the men captured during that march. “It reminds me of the chronic problems in Detroit – you got to make sure you burn the right house. Random violence depends on anonymity, and the scale of local community control doesn’t allow anonymity. We are banking on the ability of the movement to channel the outrage into positive energy – health, education, human services.

“Why I think this movement is in a qualitatively different stage is, 1) the use of the media; 2) removing disruptive elements (for example in an assembly); 3) managing the logistics of food and support for encampments; 4) the upsurge everywhere of community control; 5) female participation – at least 50% of the leadership is women; and 6) health and first aid services as an aspect of the community’s ability to take care of each other.”

And the children? I ask. They’re piping up on the radio with poems and songs and Ya cayo! chanted in little soprano voices.

“Yes, that’s number seven, “ Michele agreed. “The participation of families committed to action as a unit.

“For me, Granada brought to the fore the power of pre-modern forms of community organization,” she concluded. “In the Caribbean it takes the form of maroons – here, it’s usos y costumbres. What we’re seeing is the re-emergence of consensual government.

“As a result, the call for a Constitutional Convention not only marks a new level of engagement on the part of the communities in public life. It indicates that parallel decision-making structures are already in place and functioning.”

Community life and family are the bedrock of Oaxaca. Amazingly, the present social movement in Oaxaca has been able to transcend the community and reach beyond it, in large part because of shared miseries and shared loathing for the PRI government.

Communication is not only a priority of the movement, but is also a recognition of how many common threads unite a disparate population and can be appealed to. The irony evident today is that Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”) took on the movement’s means of communication. The radio station Nova, on 96.9 FM was re-baptized Radio Caserola by the APPO members. Both Radio Caserola and Channel 9 went off the air on Sunday night, and never returned.

As with all URO’s attacks thus far, each attack generates a larger response – in this case one captured TV station down, one captured radio station down, Radio Universidad down, and then ten commercial radio stations taken over for use by the movement.

According to La Jornada, testimony put out by the radio broadcasters said that individuals arrived at the Channel 9 building before dawn on Monday with their faces covered, and armed with heavy caliber weapons. Four buses were overturned on the hillside where they had been placed as barricades to prevent entrance of “police” vans. La Jornada says it isn’t clear if these invading vans were state or municipal vehicles, or if they carried official police in plain clothes or mercenaries. No police of any level in uniform appear in the streets now.

Busses burnt early Monday morning.
Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
The “police” burned the busses in the blockade. The Channel 9 signal was cut off in the bullet spray that destroyed the control rooms.

The APPO had achieved control of five media outlets before the attack, not counting the allied newspaper Las Noticias. Las Noticias was attacked twice on August 20, once in their warehouse and once in their offices; then another attack followed on August 21.

Mid-afternoon Monday, August 21, I received confirmation from a teacher we’ll call “Jesús C.” His account reads:

Two were seriously wounded and three have disappeared and until now it is not known if they are abducted or disappeared or dead. In the face of these facts… the state popular assembly (had said) that in the case of attack on the antennas and Channel 9, (we would) take the different commercial radio stations, a task given to the people of the neighborhoods and of different locations, who arrived to help the movement take the following radio frequencies:

710 AM “LA LEY
98.5 FM “EXA”
100.1 FM “LA SUPER Q

[Jesús’ list is missing 105.7 FM]

…which in this moment are in the hands of the women and the APPO.

Today the action continues being reinforced more each day by the participation of the communities arriving into the city to help the movement… the different radios taken over put out a call to the teachers and others to continue joining us against this government, and in respect to the permanent take-over of 65 offices and the three branches of state, continue holding them until the fall of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and on the part of the Oaxacaqueños in the movement a call is sent out to our countrymen in the United States to help us economically to buy the transmitter necessary for Radio APPO to get back on the air.

With respect to school, classes in Oaxaca in the three levels of education – preschool, primary and secondary – SECTION 22 (of the teachers union) agrees there are no classes until Ulises Ruiz Ortiz leaves.

It’s being said today that someone heard a story about how many schools belonging to the CCL (the “Central Council of Struggle,” a much smaller teachers’ union faction that opposes the strike) returned to classes and where. It’s believed that probably many parents won’t let these teachers who are betraying the movement give their classes, since the majority of the parents are helping the movement, and day after day they speak on the radio and ask that the movement continue and that if it is necessary that the children lose one or two months of classes for Ulises Ruiz to leave, it’s not important, but the Oaxaca citizens are fed up with the corruption of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

That concluded Jesús C.’s e-mail. At night I listened to one of my ten radio choices. A woman’s voice explained, “We are not part of any political party. We know what we are doing. We are part of the people.”

We went to bed. At 12:30 AM on Tuesday August 22, before I even had a chance to roll over in bed, I heard the shots. Following the shots the heavy bells began ringing in the zocalo.

At 2:00 AM the phone rang with news from a friend. Then we disconnected the phone. In the morning I learned on one of my ten favorite stations how URO is still trying to bring down the popular media by shooting up the countryside where the stations are spread around. One man, tentatively identified as Lorenzo San Pablo, was killed. URO was interviewed on TV Azteca implying, as usual, “no pasa nada en Oaxaca” – “there is nothing going on in Oaxaca.”

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