A year ago members of Austin Indymedia traveled south in order to investigate and document flagrant abuses of human rights at the hands of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in Spanish initials) in Oaxaca. A member of ATX Indymedia visited Oaxaca again this summer where the “social problems” have significantly increased.
In 2004, Ruiz Ortiz came to power through an election viewed by many as illegitimate and corrupt. His policies and practices are widely unpopular. His support for neoliberal projects enrich a select few leaving the rest of the state in grinding poverty. His commodification of Oaxaca’s fiercely guarded cultural pride in the pursuit of tourism is disdained. The political and economic regimes of Oaxaca are a certain shade of barbarous. In a state still ruled by the PRI, election rigging ensures political control, lands conflicts are exacerbated by the government, and politically motivated killings and detentions are common. Ruiz Ortiz has been internationally condemned over and over again for such acts. The chief architect of the State’s counter-insurgency program against the movement, Jorge Franco Vargas, is affectionately known as ‘Chucky’ of Hollywood killer doll fame.
But, after years of organizing, social movements are poised to take him out. Over the course of four months, a teachers’ strike has morphed into an all-out popular revolt. Protestors have reclaimed a state-owned television station and numerous state and corporate radio stations. All seats of government have been blockaded, forcing legislators to meet in secret and remote hotels outside the City of Oaxaca. A parallel and popular governance has formed and is gaining legitimacy as the true authority in the state. Ruiz Ortiz’s exit is whispered through the streets, painted on city walls, and demanded by daily direct actions.
In their desperation and depravation, Ruiz Ortiz and his cohorts are directing their violence underground in a systematic campaign of paramilitary and police violence and sabotage aimed at undermining the popular social movements.
For close to two months, thousands of teachers, families, and students affiliated with the National Education Workers Union – Section 22 (SNTE in its Spanish initials) occupied the city center demanding economic relief for teachers and schools. Section 22 has made the journey to the capital city for a number of years with similar demands. For many teachers it was routine. Occupy the city center at the end of school and expect a small raise.
Around 50 city blocks had been transformed into a vast tarp city where striking teachers and supporters escaped the sun and daily rains. Barricades were set up to block cars and potential intruders. In a city choked with automobile traffic, the plantón (sit-in) also was a car-free refuge in the center city. Banners representing the plethora of social movements provided a visual confirmation of the breadth of the movement. Posters advertising marches plastered the city walls, scrawling Ricardo Flores Magón quotes adorned buildings, and full-length murals depicted Ruiz Ortiz as a raccoon and rat. With no beat-cops willing to dare the occupation, the city was a risk-free canvas. The atmosphere created was one of a vibrant community living in the streets and of constant political dialogue and action. Simultaneously, the plantón critically reclaimed a symbolic space dominated by capitalist economic and political interests.
Around four in the early morning of June 14, 2006, while teachers, families, and supporters slept then governor Ruiz Ortiz sent roughly 3,000 police elements to evict the protestors from the city center. Perhaps Ruiz Ortiz figured that one violent swoop would destroy the teachers’ movement and ‘clean’ the city center for the approaching height of the tourist season.
Riot-clad cops beat, burned, and gassed the teachers’ encampment. At 9AM, five hours after the police offensive, the smoldering remains of plastic tarps mixed with lingering tear gas still burned the eyes of passers-by. A low-flying helicopter hovered above the scene for hours launching tear gas on protestors below. Police elements smashed the transmitting equipment of independent Radio Plantón. Smashed-up buses littered the streets and everyone carried a stick in fear of another police attack. Hundreds, mostly police officers, sought medical treatment from area hospitals. After five hours of riotous confrontation in the streets, the plantón was reestablished. VIDEO
Ruiz Ortiz attempted to destroy the nascent revolution with this violent, public eviction of the teachers’ plantón. The ex-governor eventually recognized the error of this action in a televised apology. Not so much out of remorse, but out of a pleading self-interest for the social movement to relent. In his attempt to evict the teachers’ movement, he inadvertently provoked his own demise and the rise of the emerging movements in Oaxaca. The struggle is no longer just about the teachers. Rather, it is a collective demand for his exit from power and the collective desire for popular governance.
Already Fallen/Fallen Already
Post-eviction, the teachers’ movement and other movements joined in a campaign to demand the exit of Ruiz Ortiz and the desire for popular governance. In the face of such popular insurrection the legitimacy of state government crumbled and lost its ability to function.
Through an escalating series of actions the movement targeted pillars of the state government diminishing its ability to function thereby greatly pressuring URO to exit his seat of power. Oaxaca witnessed, and continues to witness: rolling highway blockades, occupations of municipal governments (in over 20 towns throughout the state), and the seats of government power blockaded.
The cancellation of the annual Guelaguetaza was perhaps most embarrassing to Ruiz Ortiz. The government/corporate-sponsored Guelaguetza is widely viewed as a tourist spectacle driven by profits rather than the celebration’s true communal roots. It is also the most important cultural celebration in Oaxaca, which brings thousands of foreigners and their money to Oaxaca. The social movements identified boycotting the Guelaguetza as a way of pressuring Ruiz Ortiz to leave power.
Ruiz Ortiz’s government was racing to complete unfinished ‘improvements’ to the Guelaguetza auditorium. Road blockades denied access to work crews and vehicles. The auditorium was burned three separate occasions and bathroom facilities destroyed. The morning of the Lunes de Cerro, Ruiz Ortiz canceled the Guelaguetza truncating 74 years of the celebration. A few weeks later, commercial vendors of mezcal, did not show up to the annual Mezcal Festival out of mere fear of a boycott.
Thousands attended a free, community-centered Guelaguetza hosted by the social movements. The spectacle of an event driven by profits was unmasked. And the coordination of a community-centered alternative proved that indeed people can organized themselves. In a state where the vast majority of townships use traditional forms of decision-making outside the state framework and Magón is everyone’s favorite anarchist hero, it really only makes sense.
On the streets the day of the eviction, the movements’ rallying ‘Ya Cayó,’ (He’s Already Fell or He’s Fell Already) rang through the streets. The simple two-word slogan reflects the movements’ complicated successes and realities. Ruiz Ortiz may be trying to hang on to complete a full two years of his term. If he completes them the PRI-controlled legislative can appoint a new governor rather than hold a new general election. But, in many senses he has already fallen and it is almost beside the point. Already, Oaxaqueñ@ social movements are constructing different realities within the imposed one.
There is the social reality that people live regardless of the government (or conversely struggling to live because of the government). Further, the social movements created the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) to not only guide the movements’ campaigns, but also create a space of horizontal and popular decision-making. APPOs are operating in townships and neighborhoods all over the state. Mega-marches, the latest close to a million people, demonstrated the popular support of the movements. August 20, 80,000 civil workers held a strike in support of the social movement. August 1, a contingent of 3,000 women took the streets and ended their march by occupying the state-owned television station indicating a critical reflexivity of the social issues in Oaxaca and the within the movements.
The movements’ successes are getting out of control for state and business leaders. City center business owners have solicited the federal government for disaster relief funds. Ruiz Ortiz has proved completely ineffective at resolving the conflict and the lame-duck president Vicente Fox has refused to use federal intervention (although reports state that Calderon, Fox’s possible successor, and Ruiz Ortiz recently met at a Oaxacan beach resort in Huatulco). Public repression has not worked and the situation from the state’s point of view is only deteriorating. Ruiz Ortiz has gotten desperate and is resorting to clandestine violent actions aimed at destroying the movements and systematic violation of human rights.
July 21 two molotov bomb are lobbed at the house of Alejandro Cruz López. The next evening, Radio Universidad is subject to a drive-by. Nobody is hurt or killed, but the action sends a message. Three weeks later, unknown elements threw acid on the radio transmitter taking Radio Universidad off-air.
By the time Radio Universidad lost its signal, a group of women had occupied state-owned Channel 9 and two other state-owned radio stations. Channel 9 began live broadcasts and screening social documentaries about the Zapatistas or social movements in Guatemala. August 21, once again in the middle of the night, unknown agents fired upon the Channel 9. Unknown agents burned production equipment while another group destroyed the station’s antenna. Occupiers were evicted, but nobody was seriously injured.
The social movement reacted by occupying at least nine corporate-owned radio stations, one of which, La Ley, is strafed with gunfire. Lorenzo San Pablo is hurt and taken to a hospital. He dies a few hours later. La Ley is owned by Clear Channel and the signal has recently been cut-off. The same agents burned an automobile with its occupants inside, Filiberto López y Pedro Solís. López y Solís escape, but suffer first-degree burns. High-powered gunfire was reported at many installations of the social movements across the city.
Cut the Heads
The government also is engaging in a campaign of disappearing activists off the streets, who reappear tortured or in prison. The state government has issued arrest warrants for 50 leaders of APPO. Someone published a website encouraging vigilantly action against the movement. A website, called ‘Oaxaca en Paz,’ contains pictures and home addresses of social organization leaders exhorting readers to ‘find them and detain them.’ A protestor killed by police elements is crossed-out with a red ‘X’ across his face.
In five days, eight social leaders are nabbed off the streets. On August 7, Catarino Torres Pereda, spokesman for the Citizens Defense Committee, member of APPO, is one of the first to be detained. Germán Mendoza Nube and his accompaniers Leobaldo López Palacios y Eliel Vázquez Castro were beaten and sequestered by well-armed police dressed as civilians. Mendoza Nube is a representative of the Revolutionary Popular Front (FPR), integrant of APPO, and founder of Teachers Commission of Human Rights. López Palacios and Vázquez Castro reportedly do not have ‘militant politics’ and only were supporting Nube, who uses a wheelchair and has health issues needing medical attention. August 10, professors Juan Gabriel Ríos, Elonaí Santiago Sánchez and biologist Ramiro Aragón Pérez are disappeared off the streets by unknown agents, presumably police forces or paramilitaries. They were reportedly looking for Mendoza Nube, detained the day before.
Two days later, the former General Secretary of the SNTE Section 22, Erangelio Mendoza González is detained by State Police. The same day, two teachers give a press conference denouncing torture implemented by police during their detention and appear visibly beaten. The biologist Aragón Pérez remains detained, charged of ‘grave’ crimes, and a picture of a visibly beaten Aragón Pérez surfaces to the press.
Later that day another snatch is averted through security vigilance and radio alerts. An APPO mobile security brigade identified a Ford used in the arrest of former General Secretary of Section 22 Erangelio Mendoza González. It is spotted circling a house of a known movement leader. The mobile brigades detain the vehicle and find municipal mayor of Santa María Atzompa, Sergio Atalo Enríquez Aguilar, and an AR-15.
On August 15, José Luis Díaz Cruz and Joaquín Jiménez Ogarrio armed with a pistol enter the residence of the leader of the New Left and APPO leader, Flavio Sosa Villavicencio. They threaten to kill and put a gun to the chest of his wife, Beatriz Castañeda Pedro. Cries for help alerted neighbors, who mobilized, adverted the attack, and detained the aggressors.
During a protest of a government-sponsored cultural event in a public park, a police element, dressed as a civilian, fires a weapon. No one is hurt, but the aggressor was detained by APPO. Isaías Pérez Hernández was marched through the streets carrying a homemade poster proclaiming, ‘I am an aggressor sent by Ulises Ruiz.’
August 7, Aristeo López Martínez, General Coordinator of Public Security, Vitality and Municipal Transit, and agents of said agency fire upon APPO adherents peacefully occupying the Secretary of Economy. People are hurt, but there are no deaths.
On August 10, during a march denouncing the detentions and disappearances of various social leaders, police forces shot and killed José Jiménez Colmenares, husband of a striking teacher. Protestors chased the suspects and burned a house where they suspect an aggressor to have taken refuge.
A day earlier, Andrés Santiago Cruz, Pedro Martínez Martínez, and Pablo Martìnez Martìnez are suspiciously shot and killed on a highway by unknown agents. Four others in the caravan are hurt. Andrés Santiago Cruz was a leader of the Independent Triqui Unification Movement, a member of APPO, and Pablo Martínez Martínez was of eleven years of age. APPO publicly denounces Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Rufino Merino Zaragoza (Popular Unity Party Deputy), and Heriberto Pazos Ortiz (leader of MULT, PRI front group) as intellectual authors of the attack and point to political motivations.
The stakes are high on both sides. Oaxaca is a crucial cross-roads for neoliberalism and authoritarian politics versus the visions of popular governance and community-guided economic development. The Oaxaqueñ@ movements have made political and economic machinations inoperable, or ungovernable. And in that vacuum they have lifted up visions and practices of popular governance and community-centered economics. Through a tactic of creating ungovernability, the state has nearly ceased to exist expect in its stripped-down inherent nature—violent repression. As the movements are more successful, the level of repression escalates. Invisible repression always complements the invisible hand.
The social movements have gone so far there is no turning back and they do expect more massive reprisals from the state government. In the heightened political atmosphere of a presidential election season, Oaxaca is a crucible of the acute political struggles currently waged. Oaxaca foreshadows what is to potentially pass in Mexico. Please pay attention.
International solidarity is urgently needed to support the work of the social movements of Oaxaca. Please take action.