<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
 English | Español August 15, 2018 | Issue #43

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Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Chronicle of the Battle of Oaxaca: Stage Three, Day One

The Majority of People on the Street Waiting to Confront the Police were Common Citizens Ready to Put Their Lives on the Line

By James Daria
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Oaxaca

October 30, 2006

With the death of at least three people (including a foreign journalist) on Friday, Mexican president Vicente Fox must have found his excuse to bring in federal police to repress the civil unrest that has made the state of Oaxaca practically ungovernable and has spurred further unrest throughout the republic. By Saturday, elements of the Federal Preventive Police landed at the Oaxaca airport and word spread about their arrival by ground just north of the city. According to word on the street the federal forces were supposed to have entered the city under the cover of darkness Saturday night. Although the city was abandoned and no new barricades were erected, the arrival of the police did not happen. Sunday morning came and the city awoke to a buzz of activity as troop movement was detected at different points of the city and helicopters could be seen flying overhead. The battle of Oaxaca was about to begin and who would control the city at the end of the day would be decided at various strategic barricades.

Photo: D.R. 2006 John Gibler
The majority of the federal forces were stationed at the base of the PFP near the entrance to the highway to Mexico City just past the village of Etla. The police, dressed in full riot gear and equipped with various “tanks” (actually armored vehicles with water cannons and video cameras), stationed themselves just on the edge of this highway. What laid between them and the center of Oaxaca City were no less than five major barricades made up of buses and semi trailers and the fury of thousands of common Oaxacan citizens. There were also reports of troop movements in the south of the city.

Heading towards the front line in the morning, an amazing amount of citizens filled the highway between downtown Oaxaca and the federal police stationed to the north east of the city. The majority of people were local residents who left their homes to man the barricades located nearby. Others brought water or food to the protesters. Although everyone knew the violence of the state was encroaching, the level of generosity and mutual aid expressed by these people was tremendous. While the presence of teachers and others affiliated directly with the APPO was clearly evident, the majority of people on the street waiting to confront the police were common citizens who were ready to put their lives on the lines to prevent the federal forces from reaching the city.

Talking to a woman who was sitting at the monument to Benito Juarez on the road to Etla, she explained that the current social movement rocking the foundations of the state government’s authoritarianism and brutality is actually in its third and most important stage. The first stage, according to her, was the vanguard of the teachers union. Although the union has always fought for its own self-interest the union taught the people how to fight for their rights, especially after June 16. The second phase was the consolidation of various social organizations in the Popular Assembly of the Oaxaca People. These disparate groups followed the example of the union in terms of organization and combativeness. The third and current stage in which the movement finds itself is the radical democratization of the struggle with the massive participation of common, until now unorganized people. In light of the sell out of the leadership of the teachers union and the failure of the APPO to achieve certain objectives, the people have found the strength within themselves to take active participation and leadership in the greatly expanding movement. Evidence of the truth of her statements was the large number of women and children among the protestors. Many people throughout the day expressed their wish that the outside world realize that the majority of the protesters were common folk who were simply tired of poverty and repression and not armed thugs portrayed in the mass media.

Photo: D.R. 2006 John Gibler
Sitting underneath a giant statue of the Oaxacan Indian who became president of the nation and fought for independence and reform, she explained that Oaxaca has always been on the forefront of revolutionary change in Mexico. And the movement in Oaxaca is not isolated to this state. According to her, Oaxacans are setting an example for all Mexicans to rise up and fight against the authoritarianism of bad governments. Oaxaca is but the tip of the iceberg of the coming change at a national level.

Arriving at the front lines, the people had amassed in front of the PFP with signs demonstrating their rejection of the use of force to solve the Oaxacan conflict. Everyone insisted that the peaceful resolution of the conflict was possible with the ousting of the governor Ulises Ruiz and the implementation of radical reforms in this poor, southern state. “We want peace!…The uniformed are also exploited!...Oaxaca isn’t Atenco!…were some of the chants that vibrated throughout the phalanx of peaceful protestors. In a symbolic act representing the blood that has been shed in order to keep Ulises Ruiz in power, three people took blood from their arms and with it wrote slogans against the PFP. “If Abascal wants Oaxacan blood, have him come here to take mine! Enough blood has been shed!” cried one of the bleeding protestors.

Around three o’clock and shortly after the bloody demonstration the troops began to move forward. Women flung themselves against the shields of the riot squads and the armored cars trying to push them back. Other protesters laid on the ground trying to block their path. The protesters peacefully tried to stop the police from moving forward but the police pushed on using water cannons to stun and disorient the protestors. The PFP slowly moved forward advancing towards the capital as the protesters tried in vain to stop their progression. At this point the attitude of the protestors was complete non-violence. When one ski-masked youth threw rocks at the police, other demonstrators grabbed him and took off the mask telling him that rock throwing only provokes a confrontation leading to an excuse for violence on the part of the state.

Photo: D.R. 2006 John Gibler
Word spread that the PFP was entering the city from the south clearing away the barricades in that part of the city. Back up north, while the protestors headed to defend the next barricade down the highway, the police deviated from the highway and entered the dirt roads near the banks of the river Atoyac that lines the highway leading to downtown. In this way the majority of the major barricades were averted. Confrontation eventually happened in Viguera near the Oaxacan Technological Institute where the police launched large amounts of tear gas. Although awaiting confirmation, according to the security force of the APPO, a teenager was killed by the impact of a tear gas canister. Many others were supposedly detained.

While a march in support of the APPO was arriving in downtown, Oaxaca was slowing being occupied by the federal police. Trying not to provoke confrontations the police slowly made their way to the southern corners of the Zocalo and amassed there waiting for nightfall. The city of Oaxaca was covered in thick black smoke from burning busses and car tires.

With the cover of darkness, the PFP finally occupied the Zocalo and began to tear down the APPO’s encampment. The electricity was cut off in the University City and surrounding neighborhoods as the police tried to silence the voice of the people, Radio Universidad. The protesters reinforcing the barricades around the university quickly hooked up a generator and restored transmission although the surrounding neighborhoods remained in darkness. Reports broadcast on the radio and word of mouth from relatives and neighbors indicate that the PFP is searching houses supposedly looking for evidence of participation in the movement. Neighbors are burning anything they have that could be linked to the APPO in fear of government repression.

Photo: D.R. 2006 John Gibler
Entering the longest hours of the night there are reports of barricades being rebuilt along the highway to Mexico City once again blocking off traffic and impeding the further arrival of federal troops. Explosions are being heard in different parts of the city and three helicopters are circling overhead. It is assumed that Radio Universidad will be the next target.

Although the city of Oaxaca has been occupied by federal troops the problem is far from resolved. One protestor commented that the following day when the police have set up camp in the Zocalo, the people will then surround them and force them out. Although the physical perimeter has been broken the spirit of resistance and the rage of the people have not been extinguished. The use of force to quell the social unrest here in Oaxaca will not solve the underlying problems and until the problems are solved or enough people have died, the conflict will continue. Tomorrow will be yet another day fighting for control of the city of Oaxaca. It is thought that the next strategy of the federal forces will be to enter into the surrounding neighborhoods to clean out the barricades and restore order.

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