From Teachers' Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca

The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from all parts of Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly inspiring people throughout this nation. In the meantime, the situation in Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent on the power struggle centered in Mexico City over the presidency. Those currently in the saddle are doing everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but the majority of Mexicans may be ready for much more fundamental changes. Education, true education, is indeed subversive. Adelante!

  • BREAKING NEWS: Teachers Seize Radio Stations in Oaxaca
  • Recent APPO Statement: Red Alert in Oaxaca!
  • La repression continue a Oaxaca - Mexique (fr)
  • From Teachers' Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca


    Oaxaca, Mexico
    August 30, 2006

    Oaxaca shares, with Chiapas and Guerrero, the distinction of being the one of the three poorest states of Mexico. These three bastions of extreme poverty, albeit among the richest states of Mexico in natural resources, lie along the Pacific coastline in southeastern Mexico. Oaxaca is flanked to its east by Chiapas and to its west by Guerrero. Its population, about 3.5 million (2003 estimate), is unique among Mexican states in containing the largest fraction, 2/3, and the largest absolute number of people with indigenous ancestry.

    Which of the 31 states holds top place for corruption would probably be impossible to measure in this intensely contested Mexican arena, as highlighted in the fraudulent July 2, 2006 presidential election, but for sure Oaxaca merits high placement on the corruption scale. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the indigenous population is among the most impoverished. Naturally they are very sympathetic to the struggles of indigenous peoples in other parts of Mexico to better their lives, such as the attempts of the Zapatista base support communities in Chiapas, that have declared themselves "in rebellion" and asserted their autonomy, often at great cost due to state and federal efforts to crush them.

    The 70,000 or so teachers in the state educational institutions, state employees, are, by Oaxaca standards, far from poor. They are part of the state's "middle class". So it's not as though the majority of poor people are usually very sympathetic. This quarter-century-long tradition of a Oaxaca teachers' strike each May never before was much more than a nuisance for the city business people, for a week or so, until the union and the state government negotiated a settlement, the teachers ended their occupation of the city center and returned to their homes throughout the state.

    Why was this year so different?

    It will come as no surprise to los Americanos that in Mexico, as in the U.S., there are 'conpany unions'. But here, south of the border, the 'company' is the ruling party of the federal government, a big 'company' indeed. The National Union of Educational Workers (El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo, SNTE) is a very large and powerful union, hierarchical in structure. For over 70 years the SNTE had been in bed with the government of the ruling party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party, El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). In fact, until recently, the General Secretary of SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was second from the top of the PRI leadership, just below Roberto Madrazo.

    Section 22 of SNTE is the Oaxaca part of the National Teachers Union. Among Mexican teachers there is another formation, the National Educational Workers Coordinating Committee (Comité Coordinador Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo CNTE). In Oaxaca the CNTE, whose members belong to SNTE Section 22, play a leading role in setting Section 22 policy. Section 22 has long been regarded as one of the most militant, independent sections of SNTE.

    On May 15, National Teachers' Day in Oaxaca, the leadership of Section 22 of SNTE declared that if their negotiations with the state government did not progress, they would initiate a state-wide strike the following week. The teachers were demanding an upgrade in the zonification of Oaxaca, which would increase the federally-designated minimum wage for the state. The "logic" (i.e. rationalization) of the federal government for having lower legal minimum wages in poor states like Oaxaca is apparently that it's cheaper to live in a more impoverished region than in one with a higher average income. Such an upgrade of Oaxaca would affect waged workers in Oaxaca who are paid the minimum wage, but would not affect those paid above the minimum, like the teachers. For themselves the teachers demanded a salary increase. Their other demands involved improved school facilities and meeting students' needs. Much of the money supposedly budgeted for education is siphoned off by corrupt officials. There is no accountability, a process not even legally required in Oaxaca and no bookkeeping.

    Negotiations from the 15th to the 22nd between the union and the state, instead of moving towards a compromise agreement, became even more acrimonious. Beginning May 22, a large group of teachers, other education workers, family members, allied individuals and members of allied organizations, numbering perhaps between 35,000 and 60,000 (hard numbers are impossible to know) occupied the center of Oaxaca City - the large central park (the zócalo) and some 56 blocks surrounding it - with their encampment. Local business, hotel and restaurant owners were, by and large, critical because of financial losses caused by the disruption. Quite normal. The ritual of an annual teachers' strike was by now about a quarter century old. But never before had it been so large, so prolonged. Even now, no end is in sight.

    During a period of barely three and a half weeks, May 22 to June 14, the strength of the teachers' opposition to Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz continued to grow, with additional adherents nursing their own grievances against the dictatorial regime allying with the formidable SNTE contingent. Frequent marches, and two mega-marches, the first on Friday June 2 with between 50,000 and 100,000 (the police and SNTE estimates, respectively), and the second on Wednesday, June 7, with 120,000 brought to the city demonstrations of size and vehemence never before seen here. I watched the June 7 march from the parapet on the north side of the Plaza de Danza as endless mockery of Ulises Ruíz paraded past, demanding boisterously that he leave the governorship. Undoubtedly there were state spies in civilian clothes with cameras, cell phones, video cameras and tape recorders, but no one seemed in the least intimidated or cautious. The entire event was permeated with a sense of peoples power.

    On June 14, when Ulises unexpectedly ordered state police to carry out a surprise early pre-dawn attack on the sleeping teachers (many of them women with their children), destroying their tents and other camping gear and firing tear gas and bullets, even using a police helicopter that sprayed tear gas on the campers, to drive them out of the city center, he ignited a mass uprising throughout the state and beyond. The teachers fought back, drove out the police after about four hours, recapturing the city center and gaining admiration throughout the state for their gritty determination not to be terrorized into submission.

    In his year and a half in office since December 1, 2005, Ulises had succeeded in generating a powder keg of hatred across the state towards him because of his tyrannical rule. This included his overt attempt to destroy the state's largest-circulation daily newspaper, Noticias de Oaxaca , his destruction of much-loved parts of the capital city's world-famous cultural patrimony, numerous killings by armed thugs tied to the ruling party, in communities struggling against corrupt and oppressive state-appointed municipal administrations. In sum, it was his attempt to rule by "excessively overt" terror, including kidnappings, jailings on baseless charges, torture, and death, and always impunity for the state thugs terrorizing the people, that turned the population en masse against him.

    Moreover, history was against him. Fresh in peoples' memory was the sadistic early May attack in San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State by federal, state and municipal police, and the outrage against the authorities then - incarceration and worse for the victims, impunity for the perpetrators. There was a pervasive sense that in such a society, everyone is a "political prisoner unto death". A multitude of civic organizations in, and outside of, Oaxaca swarmed to declare their solidarity with the teachers. Immediately after the attack the teachers announced, and two days later led a huge march, their third mega-march, with 400,000, that included many new adherents. They all demanded URO's resignation or removal from office.

    The show of strength quickly led to formation of a statewide assembly that termed itself the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, Asemblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca .. Though instigated as a result of the teachers' initiative and the ugly state repression, the assembly went far beyond the teachers' original demands, which had been limited to educational matters. Ousting a hated governor had been done before on three occasions in Oaxaca. Not trivial, risky of course, but not by itself a revolutionary act.

    APPO is established, sets revolutionary goals

    In addition to the immediate third mega-march on June 16 (two days after the assault), the popular movement of teachers and other members of civil society held the first state-wide popular assembly the following day, just three days after the attack of June 14. In this precedent-breaking assembly meeting, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca ( (APPO, by its initials in Spanish) adopted a truly revolutionary program by declaring itself the supreme authority in Oaxaca, and asserting the illegitimacy of the entire political structure, which had ruthlessly run Oaxaca as a PRI-terrorist-controlled state for nearly 80 years.

    APPO's deliberately broad representation evidently excluded any explicitly political groups, i.e. it was to be a "non-political" formation, truly a peoples' government. As Nancy Davies wrote in her report, "Popular Assembly to Oppose the State Government", its initial meeting on June 17 "was attended by 170 people representing 85 organizations." Included, or at least invited, "were all the SNTE delegates, union members, social and political organizations, non-governmental organizations, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca." Its intention was to be open to all the citizens of the state. There was no attempt, so far as I know, to exclude wealthy people from the assembly. Naturally, most very rich people who saw their interests served by the URO regime would not want to be involved in an effort to remove him and the rest of the governing apparatus, but wealthy 'mavericks' who rejected social injustice were evidently welcome. The only 'absolute requirement' for participation was agreement that Ulises must go.

    Flimsy barriers such as those that had not prevented the police assault of June 14 were clearly inadequate. APPO adherents went about establishing stronger barricades against future invasions. They began commandeering buses, some commercial, as well as police and other government vehicles, using some of them to block access roads to the zócalo and other APPO encampments. Other of the commandeered vehicles they used for transportation.

    APPO's major strategy for bringing pressure to bear on the government, in order to force either URO's resignation or his legal removal, has been to literally prevent the institutional government from carrying out its functions: legislative, judicial and executive (i.e. administrative). The tactic deserves to be called aggressive civil disobedience, meaning that APPO adherents carry out their forceful "illegal" actions as civilians (unarmed, i.e. no firearms). Some of them have poles, iron rods, and even machetes, but these are for self-defense. The culture here is not one of 'turning the other cheek'. They don't sit down and pray if police attempt to beat them. They have blocked highways, occupied government buildings and made a good many tourists and potential tourists reconsider Oaxaca as a desirable destination, thereby shaking the economy

    As for 'winning the hearts and minds' of Oaxaqueños, the 'hearts' part of the task has been in large part already accomplished, thanks to the arrogance and aggressiveness of URO - the hatred he managed to sow since taking office as governor on December 1, 2004 and which he's now reaping. Even people who are not thrilled with APPO are so disgusted with URO that they are more likely to be passive rather than actively opposing APPO by supporting the governor.

    Winning minds, as APPO well knows, is essential. They have made that a major part of their work. The government and its corporate allies fully realize the importance of what people think. The media of communication are therefore a prime arena in the contest to influence peoples' consciousness.

    The fight for the communication media

    The very first action of the state forces in their pre-dawn attack on June 14 was to destroy the teachers' radio station, Radio Plantón. It had been serving not only as a source of pro-teacher propaganda since the start of the strike, but as a vital communication link broadcasting (within its limited range) 24 hours a day. Soon after the Radio Plantón equipment was smashed, students at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials) seized the university's station, a licensed station with a much more powerful transmitter, and kept it going non-stop in support of the then rapidly-growing rebellion. The student-operated UABJO station was attacked several times, first on June 22, and eventually put out of commission after a diversionary tactic the night of August 8 enabled three people who had earlier infiltrated the movement to enter and throw sulphuric acid on the equipment, ending, at least for a time, those broadcasts.

    Revolutions are not, by their nature, tidy affairs. There is no simple chronology according to which, at certain key dates, one important group of actors halts its activity and a different group takes the stage. Rather, a multitude of groups fills the stage at any given time, and the flow of activity is continuous - no separation of the actions marked by curtain calls. Thus it may be a questionable effort to try to divide the flow into phases. While the attack of June 14 did clearly mark a separation of events into two different phases, the ensuing struggle has been, and will likely be a continuous flow. Nevertheless, the action of the women who seized the state television and radio stations on August 1 so powerfully upped the ante in the struggle to control the communication media that I will say that act initiated a third phase of the struggle.

    On July 1, the day before participants in La marcha de las caserolas (the march of women beating their pots and pans with wooden spoons) went on to seize the state TV and radio stations, only Radio Universidad was broadcasting for the popular movement. By then it had been on the air daily for almost of seven weeks. It was to continue for another 8 days until the sulphuric acid attack shut it down. But by then Channel 9, TV Caserolas as some folks dubbed it, had been broadcasting 8 days.

    The move to seize, or as a graffiti on the wall of the control room at the transmission tower phrased it, to re-appropriate facilities paid for with the peoples' money, was a bold escalation in the struggle for the media. Channel 9 and FM 96.9 covered the entire state. For 3 weeks, from August 1 until the early morning assault on August 21, the "voices and images of the people" dominated these normally state-controlled airwaves in the struggle aimed at "winning the minds" of the people, although of course the powerful national corporate channels, TV Azteca and Televisa continued their pro-state broadcasts. But what a vision of hope sprang from the screen those three weeks! Ordinary people in everyday clothes spoke of the reality of their lives as they understood them, of what neo-liberalism meant to them, of the Plan Pueblo Panama, of their loss of land to developers and international paper companies, of ramshackle rural mountain schools without toilets, of communities without safe water or sanitary drainage, and so on, all the needs that could be met if wealth were not being stolen by rich capitalists and corrupt government agents.

    And not all was about Oaxaca and its problems. The horizon of consciousness reached abroad as, on one occasion that Nancy mentioned to me, Channel 9 broadcast a documentary videotape of living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One can only imagine the level of global grassroots solidarity if the media, worldwide, were controlled by popular groups instead of transnational corporations.

    This flood of uncontrolled, unmediated, spontaneous communication among the population must have terrorized the former economic and political rulers of Oaxaca by the threat it posed, but they dared not try a repeat of their June 14 heavy-handed attempt to crush the popular uprising. Rather than risk another open failure the state authorities pursued a strategy of clandestine warfare, as described vividly by Diego Enrique Osorno in his 28 August special report from Oaxaca to Narco News . The desperate authorities pursued their so-called Operation "Clean-Up". As Narco News stated, "Following the CIA's 'Psychological Operations' Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody Counterinsurgency Strategy to Eliminate the Social Movement".

    The onslaught by these clandestine heavily-armed police officials and state thugs on the transmission facilities of TV Caserola and Radio APPO up on Fortin Hill above the city revealed the government's panic. This assault, in the very early hours on Monday 21 August, totally destroyed the control equipment housed in a building at the base of the transmission tower. The racks of electronics were smashed and sprayed with automatic weapons fire, bullet holes only inches apart in some of the panels, which I photographed that Monday evening. There are, as explained to me by a student friend involved with one of the movement radio stations, several components that made up the state's TV and radio stations: 1) the studios where interviews, news reporters, panel members, etc. met, 2) a repeater station whose antenna received the signals from the studio building and "bounced" them to the transmission station, and 3) the transmission facility atop Fortin Hill, which broadcast the programs to the entire state.

    By knocking out the transmission tower facility the government-directed thugs insured that APPO could not operate the occupied state TV and radio stations. The damage wrought at the transmission control room was a shocking double admission: 1) the URO government knew it was unable to retake and hold each of the three components of its broadcasting stations, and 2) the impact of the APPO broadcasts was an intolerable threat. Therefore they destroyed a key component of what they surely regarded as their own governing infrastructure.

    The battle for the air waves continues. Later that day, the 21, having lost the use of Channel 9 and FM 96.9, APPO groups seized twelve commercial radio stations belonging to nine different companies. The number of seized stations broadcasting for APPO varies from time to time. This morning (29 August) we were able to pick up three, one AM and two FM at our location below the base of Fortin Hill. Apart from radio, the movement produces and distributes a great deal of printed material, videos and CDs, and seeks to spread its point of view by all means of communication. Radio of course remains particularly important.

    On August 16 and 17 a national forum was held in Oaxaca to discuss "Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca." Sponsored by fifty organizations within Oaxacan civil society, as Davies wrote, it provided "an opportunity to analyze the crisis and propose alternative solutions from the perspective of civil society, including a new Oaxacan constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the nation." The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from all parts of Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly inspiring people throughout this nation.

    In the meantime, the situation in Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent on the power struggle centered in Mexico City over the presidency. Those currently in the saddle are doing everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but the majority of Mexicans may be ready for much more fundamental changes. Education, true education, is indeed subversive. Adelante!

    George Salzman was a long-time maverick physics faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus. Now retired, he has lived for seven years in Oaxaca. He can be contacted at


    Oaxacas Social Movement Develops Radical Vision for a Nation

    Despite Fatigue, Marchers Once Again Fill the Streets of the State Capital, as Social Leaders from Other States Visit to Learn from Oaxacas Example

    By Nancy Davies
    Commentary from Oaxaca

    September 3, 2006

    The fifth Oaxaca Mega-March called by the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) for Friday, September 1, passed a fixed point for an hour and a half, with a total number of participants that I estimated to be at least 50,000. (The newspaper Las Noticias estimated more than 300,000.) The march began in the affluent San Felipe del Agua neighborhood, where normally one might really believe the refrain of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz (URO) that no pasa nada (nothing is happening).

    The crowd crossed into the center of the city and finished its lively march by setting down their effigies of URO in the zocalo. One hung upside down from a trash bin.

    Enrique Rueda Pacheco
    Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
    From the zocalo bandstand the crowd heard the leader of Section 22 of the teachers union, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, declare that the President of Mexico Vicente Fox had been obliged to withdraw from the chamber of deputies in the capital without being able to deliver his final Informe, (state of the union message). Instead, Foxs speech was delivered later, by TV and print, while only a few hours after Foxs ignominious departure, Rueda Pacheco declared that Oaxaca will not only fight forever until victory (hasta la victoria siempre, quoting from Che Guevara), but will fight on the national stage for a peoples government.

    We have a national movement, he said. We call for national unity, including the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), the Zapatistas, and all the nation. But he made it clear that that the APPO has no link to armed groups: We have no link, no relationship and no coordination with any armed guerilla organization we respect all forms of struggle; people participate in their own ways.

    He also mentioned the participation in Oaxaca by people from Michoacán who will be holding their third Popular Assembly on September 9, and according to Rueda, stand ready for the national struggle.

    This same declaration of the national struggle was echoed by other speakers, including the leader of the Federation of Democratic Labor Unions and Organizations of Oaxaca (FSODO). The repetition by at least three speakers made it clear that Oaxaca will first push to advance assemblies nation-wide, as a participatory political force, perhaps modeled on Oaxacas; second, support the PRD in the national convention September 16 (where the Oaxaca delegation has already staked out its camp area); and third, work toward a new national political system based on the state assemblies.

    Rueda in his speech referred to this as an historic day, elaborating with phrases like never before and the list of campesinos, students, personalities, the participation of the entire state, people who understand perfectly that their state is built on their individual strengths and are united in their demand for the departure of Ulises Ruiz. The oratory was excellent, but the crowd was footsore and weary, plus they already knew all about it.

    This moment was anticipated by the National Forum for Governability and Democracy in Oaxaca on August 16 and 17, which was interesting not only for its content, but for two other aspects: the presence of bishop emeritus Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, and the word national.

    Photo: D.R. 2006 George Salzman
    As the forum declared in its summary, it is necessary to have a government that is more inclusive, plural, just, respectful of constitutional guarantees and human rights, more transparent, with more input and participation from the citizens, respectful of culture, languages, traditions and symbols of identity. It concluded that the government must take care of the needs of the people, without cronyism.

    This certainly implied a brand-new government, both in Oaxaca and for the nation. The Oaxaca assembly publishes the results of each of its meetings on paper, reads them on the radio, posts them on their internet website, emails them to organizations, and sends press releases to the Oaxaca daily Las Noticias. The report of August 26 stated the plan for a new national program. APPO participation in the national democratic convention, which is also planned, is hardly a secret, either.

    The APPO report of August 26 says, under the title of Agreements, that it will advance its national plan because although URO has been defeated, he is supported in office by the federal power. This national plan includes actions in Mexico City such as takeover of embassies, pressuring the governor and the Senate. Although it will participate in the National Democratic Convention (led by PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador), the APPO made clear its lack of links to the PRD, López Obrador, or any political party whatsoever. Responding to repeated accusations from the government, the non-violent APPO also denied links to the EPR (Popular Revolutionary Army) or any guerilla forces.

    Then APPOs paper goes on to commit to push forward, as the APPO, a great Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico, involving different sectors and national fronts.

    The APPO sees power as an opportunity to serve the people, looking out for the well-being of all. Command by obeying: sound familiar? Welcome to the indigenous practice of usos y costumbres, plus the Zapatista caracoles. Oaxaca is talking about a profound change in economic, social and cultural affairs.

    On the other hand, if the movement disintegrates or backs off, a lot of people will be murdered. I say that on the basis of familiarity with UROs style of government.

    The removal of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is not negotiable, but a special committee met with Carlos Abascal, Secretary of Internal Affairs, in México City on Thursday, August 31, and Rueda Pacheco at the Mega-March had just returned from that meeting held in hopes of finding a solution to the social conflict affecting Oaxaca.

    A prior agreement, to meet with Abascal Carranza in Oaxaca, was scratched Abascal declined to come. The APPO put together the Single Commission of Dialogue with fourteen members of the Political Committee of Section 22 (the state teachers union) plus an equal number of directors and members of different civil organizations who constitute the APPO provisional Coordinating Committee. These 28 members of the commission flew to Mexico when Abascal assured them he would guarantee their safety and that of the leaders who remained in Oaxaca. URO wasnt invited. It is alleged that URO sat in an adjoining room and listened to the APPO commission explain how horrible he is and how ungovernable Oaxaca has become. In any case, nothing was accomplished; Rueda Pacheco reported that the APPOs Single Commission for Dialogue, in addition to asking for the removal of Ruiz Ortiz, demanded the immediate freeing of four political prisoners (Catarino Torres, Germán Mendoza, Erangelio Mendoza, and Ramiro Aragón, a biologist and sympathizer of the movement). They also demanded the cancellation of arrest warrants for directors of the movement.

    During the commissions stay in Mexico, Oaxaca has enjoyed three blessed nights free of gunfire.

    While the government of URO cannot call in the federal preventive police without an okay from President Fox, he can, and does, hire thugs and plainclothes cops to carry out selective repression. According to sources affiliated with the APPO, URO has taken to emptying drug clinics and arming the addicts for night jobs.

    The most common government target has been the radio stations. Only four broadcast stations remain on the air for the APPO, since the movement abandoned some installations as being too many to guard and hold. The relinquished stations now broadcast normally. The guarded stations remain blockaded on all access streets, with buses, barbed wire, bonfires by night, and women sitting on the sidewalk embroidering by day.

    Hanging over the heads of the APPO are not only 70 government arrest warrants, but also the dead or alive hit list on the Internet. Crimes, in the words of the state attorney general, committed by movement individuals, now include theft, assault, taking public property, disrupting public spaces, etc. Lino Celaya Luria, Secretary of State Public Security, declared that entering the encampment in the historic center of Oaxaca by force would not be appropriate (been there, done that). Instead, he said, he is confident that chopping off the head of the APPO jailing or killing its leaders would change the situation.

    The movement, on the other hand, refuses to say there even are leaders the people have charge of their own movement.

    During this strange week of waiting, the APPO, seemingly with the skill of a puppeteer pulling strings, has caused a complete shutdown of the citys business by owners on Tuesday, August 29. At least one thousand commercial establishments, big chains and banks, urban transport buses and private schools closed, in a call to URO to do something in the APPOs case for him to resign; in the case of the businessmen, to call in the state police or get out. The common shutdown was marked by hanging white flags on the part of the business owners sympathetic to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), nicely pointing out those shops and restaurants an APPO sympathizer might not choose to patronize.

    And for another bizarre contradiction, the business community is threatening to stop paying their taxes, thereby starving the federal government of its resources. Teach em a lesson for not rushing in and restoring order. The APPO is discussing how to cope with the upcoming economic crisis.

    Several churches also raised a white flag, causing debates about the role of the Catholic hierarchy the archbishop of Oaxaca, José Luis Chávez Botello, is no Samuel Ruiz. He wants peace, meaning no struggle. However, its not the movement people who shoot and kill; discussions are taking place on the APPO radio as to why the church is once again on the wrong side.

    The Tuesday city shutdown was followed by Wednesday calm, during which about 150 members of the APPO occupied the tollbooth of San Pablo Huitzo, the toll road to Oaxaca-México. Federal Employees for Roads and Bridges said the protesters arrived in six trucks and took over the tollbooths in both directions. The rest of us took our plastic shopping bags to the nearest market to stock up on vegetables and yogurt.

    Thursday, August 31, a statewide work stoppage was scheduled, hardly visible in central Oaxaca City, where the small shops were open. In his speech from the grandstand on Friday night, the FSODO leader indicated the work stoppage is indefinite.

    The risks are at least two: the situation in the nation will precipitate the use of force. Oaxaqueños know that troops are stationed nearby, just in case, but nobody seems to know just in case of what.

    The second concern is fatigue. Although the APPO claims its strength is increasing, fatigue runs high. Furthermore, the financial costs are great. In 102 days of conflict, according to Noticias, nine hotels have closed, five restaurants, and another ten are on the verge, with a loss of 1,500 jobs in Oaxaca City. (Statewide, the impact is much less and Oaxaca has a population of 3.5 million.)

    Fredy Alcántara Carrillo, president of the Association of Hotels and Motels, said that hotels are practically empty, as are flights and busses into Oaxaca. After listening to the Mega-March speeches, we went to eat at our favorite Italian restaurant, where the proprietors, Flo and Alberto, were eating alone the restaurant was empty. Flo told us that they are on the verge of closing; not even a fly came in all day, while they continue to pay electricity and rent. They do not own their own home, since they live in Flos family compound, and Flo told me they dont even have enough money for plane fare back to Italy.

    The teachers are not being paid, either. Many ordinary Oaxacqueños feel the economic pinch as well as the fear. The people, however, thus far appear to stand strong, ending many conversations with hard! duro! And referring often to the benefits in the long haul, the largo plazo for the children. The special Commission to talk with Carlos Abascal will go back to Mexico for a Monday meeting. We are fully convinced, Rueda Pacheco said, in reference to the APPO demand for the removal of URO, that a strike of more than 100 days deserves a reply.


    Scenes from the Oaxaca Rebellion

    by John Gibler (ZNet)

    On Tuesday, August 1, about 3,000 women marched through downtown Oaxaca City banging metal pots and pans in an oddly melodious cacophony that served as the background for their chants demanding the ousting of governor Ulises Ruiz. They stopped by a hotel where state senators are rumored to hold sessions (the state legislative building has been surrounded by protestors for over a week) and taped black ribbons on the closed doors before pelting the glass panes with raw eggs. There was not a security guard or a uniformed police officer in sight.

    Once gathered in the central town square—where teachers and other protestors have been camping out since May 22—the women decided to take over the statewide television and radio company known by its Spanish initials as CORTV. Some women walked, others hopped on buses. Thousands of them met at CORTV’s broadcasting headquarters outside the colonial town center, where they walked right in, and took it over. Not a shot was fired. Not a punch was thrown. While the station’s director had fled, the women gathered the station’s employees and demanded that they hook up the cameras for a live broadcast. Outside the building, about 50 women and a handful of men with clubs (one had two nails sticking out of it) guarded the entrance. They would not let any men enter the building (with a few exceptions of well-known reporters who were escorted in by groups of women). When reporters from the national television station Televisa arrived on the scene, the men and women gathered at the gates marched them right back to their cars shouting: “Get them out!” and “Liars!” The three reporters walked dejectedly back to their cars with their faces drawn long, followed by a rowdy crowd of about a hundred.

    It took several hours of negotiation before the women were able to fix a live broadcast, during which—still clutching their pots and wooden spoons, dressed in aprons and work clothes—they set out to correct the mistakes in the station’s reporting on the violent June 14 attempt by state police to lift the teachers’ encampment and demand on the air that the press “tell the truth” about the social movement that is taking over Oaxaca.

    The women are all part of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO, an organizing body that was created after the June 14 police raid with the objective of concentrating local residents’ outrage over the violence into the single demand that the governor step down, or get the boot, and the TV station take-over was only the latest in a series of in-your-face civil resistance tactics aimed at shutting down the state government.

    On June 16, just two days after the raid, some 500,000 people marched to demand the governor’s resignation. The APPO then organized a “punishment vote” (voto de castigo) campaign against the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which led to the first time the PRI lost the state of Oaxaca in a presidential election. The APPO also organized a boycott of the state’s largest tourist event, the Guelaguetza, and convoked an alternative, and free of charge, Guelaguetza that drew a crowd of 20,000. Throughout July, members of the APPO took over the coordination of the town square encampment and began to organize sit-ins at government buildings, which became permanent encampments on July 26.

    The strategy of the APPO is to generate “ungovernability” to force the resignation of Ulises Ruiz. The complete absence of uniformed city or state police at the APPO’s actions is a testament to the power they have achieved. I have not seen a single uniformed police officer during a two-week stay in Oaxaca City. (Nor have I heard testimony or read newspaper stories of street crime in the area controlled by the APPO.) The APPO has surrounded and essentially taken over the office buildings of the three branches of state government. They took over CORTV, a private company, and released the station employees to the Red Cross—as if the APPO were a recognized belligerent force.

    On July 31, the APPO captured, detained, and turned over to federal investigators a plainclothes police officer that, witnesses said, had fired shots into the air during a protest. A ballistics test conducted on the spot by federal agents proved that the man, Isaías Pérez Hernández, an ex-soldier now with the state police, had indeed fired a pistol within the last 24 hours, but agents were unable to find the gun. Isaías Hernández told me in an interview before the test results came in that he did not know how to fire a pistol.

    What most impressed me in this scene was not that state police would send a plain clothes cop to scare or provoke the protestors by shooting into the air, but that the federal agents (members of the elite Agencia Federal de Investigación, or AFI) did not for a moment question the authority of the APPO members who had detailed Hernández and carried him off to their headquarters. IN fact, the AFI—who were called by the APPO organizers—could only approach the APPO headquarters once organizers had beckoned the crowd to let them through. Here again, the federal government seems to tacitly recognize the APPO as something like a belligerent force. (Hernández was unscathed and constantly in the presence of the press. Though he received considerable taunting and the APPO members had made him carry a sign that read, “I am the aggressor sent by Ulises Ruiz,” he was treated rather well considering the tension).

    In press conferences and interviews APPO members have stated repeatedly that their movement is non-violent, exclusively targeting the ability of the state government to function, while leaving local businesses and tourists out of the fray.

    The current conflict in Oaxaca is at least 26 years old, if not 500. In 1980, teachers in the Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers—then the largest union in Latin America—decided to wage a fight against corruption in the union’s national leadership and demand an increased federal budget for education in Oaxaca state, long one of the poorest and most abandoned regions in Mexico. Oaxaca’s highly organized teachers have been holding protests every year since.

    This year things changed. First, the state governor, Ulises Ruiz, has crossed various sectors of Oaxaca’s working and middle classes by spending millions to move the state government offices outside of town and remodel the historic town square. He has also been ensnared in scandal, accused of siphoning tens of millions of dollars from the state budget to finance the PRI’s presidential campaign in Oaxaca. Ruiz had created many enemies by the time he clumsily sent 1000 state police into the town square at dawn on June 14 to beat up sleeping teachers. His timing was also apocryphal. Mexico had been rocked in preceding weeks by overwhelming police violence against protestors in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, and San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State.

    Ulises Ruiz’s botched raid—after a few hours the 1000 police were facing about 30,000 teachers and local citizens armed with rocks, boards and iron rods; the police retreated and the teachers took the town square back—catalyzed deep social discontent and offered an attractive, and seemingly achievable, objective: ousting Ulises.

    As the APPO steps up its civil disobedience tactics, the movement appears more and more like the class struggle that has mobilized millions behind Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s call to protest vote fraud in the July 2 presidential elections. Mainly poor and working class people fill the encampments and the marches, while more middle and upper class locals start to criticize those in the movement for “not getting back to work.” As tensions rise between locals, the danger increases that provocations, such as the police officers that fired shots in the air, could lead to violent confrontations between citizens that could then be used as a pretext for federal police intervention.

    At present, Oaxaca remains an occupied city, where thousands of citizens camp out in the streets, blocking access to state government buildings, where tourists browse through hand-woven shirts a few yards from protestors’ tents, and day after day the APPO accelerates the pace of the civil disobedience to force the fall of Ulises Ruiz.


    More from Narco News:

    Oaxaca’s State TV Station Under Popular Control

    Oaxaca’s State Offices Blocked

    Radio Universidad, A Voice of Oaxaca’s Social Rebellion, Attacked

    Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca Lodges Legal Denunciation of Governor Ruiz

    Bishop Samuel Ruiz Visits Oaxaca

    Oaxaca’s Social Rebellion Faces New Challenges as the Movement Enters a New Phase


    See also:

    Consejo Indígena Popular de Oaxaca “Ricardo Flores Magón” (CIPO-RFM)