Movement in Oaxaca Faces Threats and Gunfire as 300 Federal Police Arrive in the State Capital

[ Photo: D.R. 2006 Nancy Davies ]

A blockade of the Oaxaca City Hall was carried out at 10:00 AM on August 7. In the name of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials), 500 teachers from Ocotlán prepared en encampment in the recently “renovated” Plaza de la Danza which abuts the entrance to the municipal building of the capital city of Oaxaca state. Ocotlán has a total enrollment of 1,000 in Section 22 of the national teachers’ union (SNTE).

Popular Assembly Blocks Oaxaca City Government Buildings and Repels Another Police Attack

By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
August 9, 2006

A blockade of the Oaxaca City Hall was carried out at 10:00 AM on August 7. In the name of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials), 500 teachers from Ocotlán prepared en encampment in the recently “renovated” Plaza de la Danza which abuts the entrance to the municipal building of the capital city of Oaxaca state. Ocotlán has a total enrollment of 1,000 in Section 22 of the national teachers’ union (SNTE).

In the effort by APPO to totally block all the state government functions, up until Monday the city government was ignored. Although Mayor Jesús Ángel Díaz Ortega is heartily disliked and disparagingly referred to as “Chuchubolas,” he has generally been regarded as a puppet of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”). Therefore, when various parts of the city were violated to obtain the renovation funds diverted to Madrazo’s doomed campaign, people were quick to blame Ruiz and never mentioned Chuchubolas.

All efforts were focused on the state government functions which were halted, and when citizens spot the “ex-governor” with any of his cabinet trying to meet in a restaurant or hotel there’s an immediate crowd to block the doors.

While the movement maintained for the tenth consecutive day the blockade to the state Government House, the State Congress and the Oaxaca Superior Tribunal of Justice, as well as the Department of Finances, the General Attorney’s office, the penal tribunals, and other facilities, 300 officers of the Federal Preventive Police arrived in the city on Monday night.

By my own informal count, 40 municipalities and towns around the state have decided to make changes (sufficiently important to be mentioned in newspapers and/or on the radio), including the occupation of 20 municipal town halls, seven with physical aid from the teachers of Section 22 of the SNTE. Nineteen municipalities have affiliated formally with APPO, meaning they will send people as aids to the struggle.

The movement has also captured 60 buses and 18 official vehicles, among them two patrol cars. Rogelio Pensamiento Mesinas, member of the Provisional Coordination of APPO, said that in the collection of vehicles they prioritized those belonging to mobile brigades of the government under the state Department of Traffic and the municipal police, as well as of the Preventive Police. The vehicles are white, and highly visible.

They only passed over vehicles of the Municipal Police, the Fire Department and aid ambulances.

He explained that the vehicles will be concentrated in the Historical Center or in the parking areas of captured public buildings. The movement will try to harm the vehicles as little as possible, “because they belong to the people whose taxes paid for them.” Two small Volkswagens are now being used to block access to the zocalo.

Monday, the morning of these events, blockades of the main state highways were also carried out, in accordance with the conditions of each municipality, intermittently or continuously.

So it was on to the next goal: further cripple the area with ungovernability by taking the Oaxaca City Hall, or Municipal Palace. In all the action, few noticed what was happening.

Two days before, some agents of the Oaxaca Municipal Police abandoned their general barracks and were quartered in the barracks located in the municipality of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, (now also in rebellion). That’s apparently where they were to be met by the Federal Preventive Police (PFP).

On Monday morning a red alert was broadcast. Both the teachers’ station, Radio Plantón using 96.8 FM, and the students’ station Radio Universidad 1400 AM went on the air to broadcast the alarm.

The previous night, August 6, about 300 Federal Preventative Police (PFP) arrived in Oaxaca. Monday at 10:00 AM an attack by about thirty police who arrived in five pickup cars, some in civilian clothes and some wearing ski masks, took place in the Colonia Reforma neighborhood, where APPO people were blocking the office of the Department of Finance.

Radio Universidad reported as shots were fired and tear gas was used. After the APPO people fought back with stones and sticks the police were repelled, leaving several APPO members injured by blows but only one woman by gunfire, in the leg. This woman may have been hit by the Coordinator of Public Security, Aristeo López Martinez, the Oaxaca head of special police operations, who was using an AR-15 rifle, according to La Jornada. The newspaper reported that when the APPO men gave chase, López Martinez began to shoot for the body, not in the air. The pursuers hit the ground, and all the police escaped, López Martinez on a black BMW motorcycle.

The wounded woman later went to the radio station to speak, so I assume she was not badly hurt. In the attack three municipal policemen were wounded in the head by stones and a teacher was injured on his spine by a sharp blow.

It is not legal for police to be dressed in plain clothes, nor for them to be arriving in private cars, nor for them to attack a peaceful civil protest.

And that was just the morning.

All day various alarms were sounded, but none of them proved to be an attack by the 300 PFP. However, it was broadcast that a man identified as Catarino Torres Pineda was picked up by three men in a car and vanished. Eventually, after much time lapsed while APPO assumed he was “disappeared,” the Secretary of Civil Protection revealed that Torres Pineda, director of the Citizen Defence Committee (Codeci) had been arrested in Tuxtepec, and was jailed in the city of Matías Romero before being transported to the state of Mexico. His name is added to the list of political prisoners.

When the morning attack at the Finance Building interrupted normal broadcast I was passing a vendor’s radio, and I also happened to be passing the Plaza de la Danza. Surprise! I could see the usual outline of an encampment –blue and yellow tarpaulins strung with ropes from high points against the rain. Women settling in the shade, men on the stadium seats lounging while one sharpened his machete on the stone. The entrance was blocked by teachers sitting on the new smooth cement, beneath an Ocotlán banner strung up on the municipal building. The teachers looked to me like their main weapons of defense would be the yellow plastic chairs arriving at that precise moment.

By the time I arrived home, various reports were flying. Then there were periods of calm, and then more alarms. A roller-coaster day, reaching a climax of anxiety when APPO broadcast a summons for everybody to come who could. People poured in from the Central Valley in which Oaxaca City is situated. At 9:30 at night Channel 9, the captured state TV station, introduced by name and town twelve good men who represent the people’s force, one of them by his looks a boy of about eleven, one a senior citizen.

Rumors flew that the big attack would be at 11:00 PM. López Martínez confirmed that the state and municipal governments were preparing to dislodge people from the APPO encampment in the Historic Center of Oaxaca. That should have been a clue that no such thing was going to happen.

This morning – no big attack having taken place– we learned that one man was murdered. He was a teacher at the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca,

Identified as 35–year-old Marcos García Tapia from the Dental School. The reports say he was killed by two men on a motorcycle, driving at night outside the zocalo’s guarded perimeter.

I went down to Plaza de la Danza, and from there to the zocalo. Both places were calm. The newly arrived campesinos in the zocalo were armed with sticks and iron rods, and were accompanied by women and children.

So, in my opinion (as always, a subjective view), what we have now is a low-intensity dirty war. Several opportunities to kill people have been bypassed. I believe the game plan is to exhaust people by fear and high tension levels, supplemented by a few deaths in which there is no risk that URO can be accused of anything – indeed, today there are denials that he ordered the police to attack at the Finance Building. He can deny he even asked for the PFP to be sent here, or that once sent, they had been involved, since they seem to be doing much of their dirty work in civilian clothing.

But the movement is also capable of psychologically exhausting URO, who is followed everywhere. In the style of a good revolution, he is continuously mocked and called bad names, along with his former secretary of civil protection José Franco Vargas (currently carrying on in an unofficial capacity) who is now referred to as “Chuckie II,” in honor of the American horror movie. Furthermore, the people most stalwart in their denial must now, as Channel 9 repeatedly says, open their eyes. The television station not only shows every march and every instance of repression, but videos of other repressions, including one the 1968 attack on students in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Square, and another on the oppression in Palestine by the Israelis. It’s an educational project which is playing on radio, television broadcasts, and public screens in the zocalo. The entire state is involved in open warfare where the goal is throwing out the remaining Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) bosses, and establishing a more just order.

A “mano dura” (“hard hand”) policy now would involve military invasion, the setting up of a Oaxaca counterpart to the militarized state of Chiapas.