From the Barricades of Oaxaca: Why We Fight!

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by Alejandro A. Jimenez / November issue of Socialist Action Newspaper

OAXACA CITY, Oct. 27—The conflict-filled past of the peoples has not faded. Today we are seeing the largest class-struggle process that the Mexican state of Oaxaca has experienced in its history.

Yesterday, the members of Section 22 of the Teachers’ Union announced the results of their vote deciding to return to classes, although today they met with the secretario de gobernación (Secretary of State) to demand guarantees that they would be able to go to their communities. This agreement has been seen as a separation of the teachers from the APPO [Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the organization leading the protests].

But it is clear that the people of Oaxaca in the neighborhoods will take it on themselves to remind the teachers that they cannot fail to respect the demand of the movement—the ouster of Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz (URO).

The present stage of the struggle, as is generally known, began when the Oaxaca teachers set up their encampment in May. But it also should be noted that URO had been sticking thorns in the side of the people of Oaxaca throughout his two years in office, and some of the local organizations and communities felt aggrieved even before his term started. So, when the teacher’s encampment was forcibly dispersed on June 14, all of them united and formed the APPO.

A long list of grievances

• In mid-2004, elections were held for governor. This followed a typical campaign by the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party, the traditional ruling party, synonymous with the state until recent years], marked by vote buying and smearing the opposition coalition. The opposition candidate, Gabino Cué (currently a federal senator), was defeated by electoral fraud, which was upheld by the Federal Electoral Court (as was the fraudulent election of the conservative candidate Calderón in the recent presidential elections).

During URO’s campaign, at a PRI rally, Huauthla de Jiménez was murdered. He was a teacher activist in the Frente Cívico Huautleco, a popular assembly in a municipio of the region, which was supporting Cué. At the start of URO’s term, the leader of this front was jailed as the mastermind of the murder of his comrade.

• The repression that hit the Frente Cívico Huautleco spread to other towns. An essential piece in this policy of hitting the social organizations was Oaxaca Secretary of State Jorge Franco Vargas, known as “Doctor Chucky.” Even before the repression of June 14, the teachers and their leaders had denounced this figure, since his brutal methods for crushing dissidents were well known throughout the region.

After the dispersal of the teachers’ camp, “El Chucky” was replaced by Heliodoro Diaz Escarraga, a former member of the CISEN (the federal government’s spy center). One repressor took the place of another.

Over the course of the movement, many teachers, intellectuals, and students have been kidnapped; later they have turned up in jails in various parts of the state bearing the marks of torture. Some have been framed up on charges of carrying high-caliber firearms.

• A few days before URO formally took office, PRI goons occupied the offices of the local paper Noticias, which had supported Cue. In 2005, the CROC called a phony strike against this paper and closed it down. Some journalists remained shut up in the offices continuing their work under the threats of the goons.

On the day of a traditional local holiday, the Guelaguetza, while fireworks were going off in the central square, the goons expelled the journalists with extreme violence. Today, the newspaper’s office remains closed under guard of the local police.

• Jalatlaco is a neighborhood that in colonial times was a town outside the city. It has now been incorporated into Oaxaca city, and its residents are proud of living in the city’s oldest neighborhood.

For more than two years, the bus company ADO has been fighting to expand the terminal that it has there, against the strong opposition of the local people. As soon as he took office, URO approved the privatization of a street to open the way for this expansion.

Today the people of this oldest neighborhood have joined the APPO, because they think that it is unacceptable to build public works without the consent of those affected.

The Jalatlaco case was the start of a series of public works undertaken in Oaxaca city with the idea of “modernizing” the central square. The Fountain of the Seven Regions, the Llano, the Conzatti Garden, and the Avenida 5 de Mayo, among other civic landmarks, were despoiled. Ancient trees were cut down and discordant architectural designs were imposed. There was no openness in the use of public resources, because there was no open bidding on contracts.

Subsequently, these public works were extended. They started work on government buildings where it was not needed. Then came the presidential elections and the outrage they caused.

URO was diverting resources from these works to the campaign of Madrazo [the PRI presidential candidate, who finished a poor third.] And what is more, the director in charge of these works was URO’s own brother.

• Perhaps the injury most felt by the people of Oaxaca city was the razing of the Cerro del Fortín. Anyone who has visited Oaxaca knows that this cerro [hill] is the site of the annual Guelaguetza festival, and its slopes are where the Aztec people founded the ancient city of Huaxyacac.

For many years, there was a two-lane highway around the hill. At the beginning of this year, some genius in the government decided to widen this highway to four lanes. A few days before the attempted clearing of the land, something happened that was taken as a sign. A plaque was uncovered with the famous quote of Benito Juarez, “Respect for the other’s rights is peace.” The part exposed was exactly where these last two words were.

Today, this is a very dangerous area, because the work was so badly done that there is a threat of landslides hitting the housing developments on the slopes.

• With URO’s taking office, it was decided that government bureaus should move out of the city. They started constructing a building for the state Chamber of Deputies and the state judiciary in San Raymundo Jalpán, 15 kilometers from the city.

The government palace in the central square of Oaxaca city was closed for remodeling and conversion into a museum and a private hall for events, while the governor established his residence in a new building in San Bartola Coyotepec, about 20 kilometers from the city.

The basic objective was to avoid demonstrations in the historic center of the city. They tried to close the escape valves and the result was a social explosion.

On the barricades

In the national news programs, they show barricades in Oaxaca city without ever explaining the reason for them. From Aug. 23 to today, Oct. 27, the barricades set up by the inhabitants in various parts of the city have been very effective in deterring the nighttime attacks that people have faced from “death squadrons” made up of police, ex-convicts, and thugs hired by URO’s government.

The barricades have become a space where the local people get to know each other, organize, and discuss the problems they have with the PRI leaders in the neighborhoods. In a nutshell, they are not only a means of defense but also a space for organization.

If they want to use this to show that the APPO operates like “urban guerrillas,” then it has to be said that this is just another attempt to smear the APPO to open the way for the federal government to send troops here.

On Sept. 1, when President Vicente Fox was leaving the Chamber of Deputies building without being able to give his valedictory government report, nearly a million Oaxaqueños (URO allegedly got 500,000 votes) shouted in unison: “He is out, he is out, Ulises is out now.”

At 4 p.m. that day, the fourth mass march organized by the teachers’ movement started. (Three giant marches had been organized by the teachers’and people’s movement since the repression of June 14, in which people from all over the state flooded into the streets of Oaxaca city.) From the Isthmus, the coast, the Mixteca, the northern and southern mountains, the Cuenca, la Canada, and the central valleys, came strong contingents with various grievances, some of them going back for centuries, but with the same objective—to force the ouster of Ulises and his gang.

Every time URO gives an interview, he always responds that he is not resigning because the people elected him. Of course, for many weeks he has been giving his interviews only in Mexico City. His main argument is that he was elected by the people of Oaxaca, and a minority cannot remove him.

Today, I heard the PRI senator Macias say that if URO fell, any other governor could fall, or Calderón himself. This is a fancy way of waving away the principle that sovereignty resides in the people.

It has to be noted that over the last two years of URO’s term as governor, the local chamber has removed the heads of local governments when they have obstructed the injustices of PRI politicians. Two cases are most notorious.

One is in Santa Cruz Oxocotlán, a municipio [local government] that gets considerable federal aid. It is suspected that a lot of these resources went into Madrazo’s campaign. Another is Tehuantepec, which is definitely PRI dominated. In 2004, URO got about 500,000 votes, according to the official count. In two giant marches, the numbers exceeded that.

In the recent federal elections, URO and company used the PRI apparatus and spent enormous sums. The PRI got about 400,000 votes, the PAN [National Action Party] got 200,000, and the Coalition for the Good of Everyone (organized around the PRD [Revolutionary Democratic Party]) got about 600,000 votes.

It benefited from APPO’s call for a vote to punish the PRI and the PAN. Of the state’s nine federal representatives, the PRI, which previously had them all, retained only two.

It is now 11 p.m., and the day has been pretty hectic. At 2 p.m., armed attacks started on three barricades set up by neighborhood people and teachers. At the moment, two people have been killed, one an Indymedia photographer [Brad Will], the other a teacher, and several have suffered gunshot wounds. It has been reported that there are teachers in some jails. In Santa Lucia del Camino, San Bartola Coyotepc, and San Antonio de la Cal, near the city, snipers are firing on demonstrators at the barricades.

Socialist Action News

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