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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

MEXICO, The 'Battle of Oaxaca' intensifies by Walter Yoia


Photo-Julie Webb-Pullman. November 5 Oaxaca 'mega-march'.

A five-kilometre-long “mega-march” of hundreds of thousands of protesters took place in the state of Oaxaca on November 5. It demanded the resignation of the hated state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (known as URO). Only a few days earlier, on November 2, there was a battle to keep control of Benito Juarez University from federal troops that occupied the city of Oaxaca, the state’s capital, on October 29. These were just the latest events in a popular revolt in the southern Mexican state aimed at ousting the governor after he used savage repression to curb a teachers’ strike in July.

Prensa Latina reported on November 6 that residents of the capital and supporters from across Mexico joined the march to demand the immediate removal of URO and the withdrawal of the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) — a military-style police force.

In the lead-up to the weekend of October 28-29 the situation had become increasingly tense, with the number of federal troops on the capital’s outskirts increasing and some small towns being taken over, according to Narconews.com. After avoiding direct intervention for five months, President Vincente Fox was given a pretext to send in federal troops to retake the city.

On October 28, three people were killed in Oaxaca by men in civilian clothing who were identified in the next day’s La Jornada as local police officers. One of those gunned-down was US Indymedia journalist Brad Will, who was filming a documentary on events in the state.

Fox gave the go ahead for the PFP to retake the city, put down the popular insurrection and restore “order”, according to Reuters on October 28.

On October 29, the fighting and repression escalated dramatically: the PFP began an all-out military operation and advanced on the capital’s centre, which from June 14 had been where the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) had organised its struggle from.

According to Correspondencia de Prensa, the military, along with local paramilitaries, broke through five-month-old makeshift barricades and dispersed protesters with helicopters, armoured trucks using water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition.

Scores of protesters and residents were injured by live ammunition fire in the street clashes, and unknown numbers were arrested and “disappeared”. Homes were invaded, as troops searched for APPO leaders.

Two more protesters were killed on October 30; many more suffered gunshot wounds as the military took control of further parts of the city, according to the November 3 US Socialist Worker. This raised the death toll to at least 12 since the Oaxaca conflict began.

The APPO issued a public call for a tactical retreat to avoid further clashes with the military. APPO spokesperson Flavio Sosa explained on the Open World Conference website, “we do not want to see a bloodbath. We have no choice but to call for a tactical retreat. We will regroup and to continue the struggle to oust Ulises [Ortiz]. The struggle is not over. Far from it. But for now we must clear the city to prevent any more deaths.”

APPO and its supporters have always maintained that their struggle is peaceful, in contrast to the repression ordered by URO. While some protesters stayed back to defend barricades and fought long battles with the PFP, the APPO relocated to the nearby university.

The “Battle of University City”, as Oaxacans refer to it, was the next major clash, as federal troops attempted to crush Radio Universidad — the radio station run by locals that has been vital for reporting and coordinating the struggle — and the newly established headquarters of APPO.

The attack was also a challenge to the constitutionally recognised autonomy of universities in Mexico. Narconews reported a five-hour-long battle took place on November 2 as APPO and local residents came out to defend their ground. in the face of additional pressure from across the country, the military eventually backed off. APPO and their supporters consider this a turning point and an important symbolic defeat for the state.

On October 31, Reuters observed that incoming president Felipe Calderon would begin his term with two major issues to deal with: the conflict in Oaxaca and the movement against the alleged electoral fraud that won Calderon the election, which has mobilised millions in last few months.

Tomas, a local Oaxacan interviewed in a November 1 Counterpunch.org article, explained, “what we are seeing in Oaxaca is a breakdown of political system that is completely corrupt and deliberately abuses its citizens at will, using the legitimacy of the state to impose a government that only uses power to advance a personal agenda and that of a very small political oligarchy”.

It is clear that URO was eager to have federal forces enter the city as his own local police were unable to control the popular uprising against his government. It is also clear that the conflict in Oaxaca was becoming a national issue and having a destabilising effect on the country.

Calls for URO’s resignation have come from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the PRD’s candidate in the July presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The PRD has now been joined by members of Fox’s National Action Party, and URO’s own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

An October 31 San Diego Union-Tribune article reported that Mexico’s Senate had voted unanimously the previous day to ask Ruiz to “reconsider separating himself from his position as governor to contribute to the governability, the normality and the peace” of his state.

While it only asked for URO to step down, the vote was a reversal of one taken two weeks earlier and had support from all parliamentary parties, including the PRI.

The demands of APPO include teachers’ demands for better wages and conditions. It was the repression of the struggle by the teachers’ union that gave the initial impetus for the general Oaxacan population to rise up.

The government has attempted to divide and weaken the struggle by accepting the teachers’ initial demands, according to the Open World Conference website (). On October 30, teachers were due to return to the classrooms, after an agreement was reached between the union’s leadership and the secretary of government. The agreement would see the payment of a month’s worth of wages by the end of November, with the remaining back payment settled in 200 days.

The October 31 La Jornada reported that Pacheco, the leader of the teacher’s union, said that 60-70% of classrooms have reopened in Oaxaca’s capital, while the remainder had remained closed due to safety fears.

Pacheco and the union leadership have been accused of betraying the teachers by signing the agreement with little discussion among the rank-and-file membership on the agreement, according to Owcinfo.org. Nor was the demand for URO’s removal included in the agreement.

Many groups and individuals have respond to the Oaxacans’ call for solidarity against repression, both in Mexico and around the world.

Narconews.com reported that people rallied and blockaded major roads around Mexico, especially in the neighbouring state of Chiapas, on November 1 after a call by the Zapatista National Liberation Army to support the Oaxacans. The EZLN is calling for a nationwide general stoppage on November 20.

In the US, rallies have been held in support of APPO and to mark the death of Brad Will. On November 6, 70 people rallied in Melbourne outside Parliament House in solidarity with the struggle.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #690 15 November 2006.

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