By Diego Enrique Osorno
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
OAXACA CITY, October 3: “Mamá Lucha” (Mother Struggle) remains standing beside the bonfire, drying her sweat-soaked forehead. Winning a battle is no small feat. Especially when your post is this barricade, the very first one at the entrance to Oaxaca City.
Around two in the morning, here in Pueblo Nuevo, calm returns only when the self-defense barricade of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) declares victory against a local group of Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) sympathizers that had tried to forcefully remove them.
It all started after midnight (in Oaxaca everything is happening after midnight); the PRI supporters started gathering little by little a kilometer away under a highway bridge.
At first they were little dots, barely discernible in the distance from Mamá Lucha’s barricade, but in less then half an hour their light was that of about 100 people armed with sticks, stones, machetes, and metal rods walking toward the fort of their enemy.
Here it was all chaos: the numerical disadvantage was more than obvious. There weren’t even 50 nocturnal guards at the barricade. In the midst of the confusion a12-year-old little warrior nicknamed “El Chino” offered to throw two or three Molotov cocktails, while a worker at the luxurious Hotel Fortín suggested throwing rocks at the column of PRI supporters from the roofs of neighboring buildings.
No one was able to establish order until Mamá Lucha spoke, or rather yelled, “We have to shoot off all of the bottle rockets that we have and speak with [the radio station] La Ley so that they send more compañeros. Those cabrones aren’t going to move us from here.”
Within five minutes the barricade of Pueblo Nuevo looked like a street festival. One, two, three, many rockets thundered up into the Oaxacan sky. Some of the neighborhood watchmen banged the telephone polls raising a raucous call for help, and a construction worker spoke by cellular phone with the radio station occupied by the rebel teachers.
Little by little, the PRI gang stopped advancing until they stopped completely and began their withdrawal. The “maximum alert” orchestrated by Mamá Lucha was a success because the enemies had retreated, but it was also a failure because nobody came to help the locals besides a reporter and a couple of photographers searching for stories among the barricades in the convulsions of the early morning.
At any rate there came a feeling of joy. Three youths continued shooting off rockets. El Chino posed for the photographers with his little kid’s face, his bandana worn like a guerrilla and two Molotov cocktails in his back pants pockets.
Mamá Lucha, as we mentioned in the beginning, remained standing beside the bonfire, drying her sweat-soaked forehead.
* * *
“Hey, what if the folks in Atenco get mad?” asked one of the two painters before completing the massive slogan across the asphalt of the highway.
“Well, yeah, but this is how the doctor told us to put it up,” responded the other.
Doubts remained. In Pueblo Nuevo, winning the battle against the PRI supporters was impetus enough to place a message for the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) operation that the people of the barricades have been guarding against for many nights.
“Welcome, PFP, Oaxaca is not…” Only the last word was missing. The two painters went to look for the “doctor” to ask for instructions, but he could not be found. Once more, faced with hesitation, Mamá Lucha’s commanding voice appeared.
“Put it up just like that. I have seen placards that say that at the mega-marches.” She didn’t say another word. The sentence was completed on the asphalt of the highway connecting Oaxaca with Mexico City. “PFP welcome, Oaxaca is not Atenco.”
* * *
By night a leader, by day a cook, Mamá Lucha works in the afternoons making tlayudas for tourists in a famous hotel, but by night she almost always comes to the Oaxaca City welcome barricade in Pueblo Nuevo. She is about 40 years old, dressed in blue pants, a grey sweater and tennis shoes. This is the clothing that she used to sleep peacefully in before “this whole movement of the poor,” she says.
She does not like questions, or reporters, either. “They never tell the truth. Maybe you all do, but then they change everything in your newspapers and your television programs. We know this already, we are not fools.” She stops and then continues to tour the barricade, waiting, she says, “to give a good welcoming to the PFP.”
* * *
At three in the morning in the Jardín District, in the poor outskirts of Oaxaca City, a baker tells his version of the conflict, just as any member of the provisional leadership collective of the APPO would give at a press conference.
While Luces, accompanied by her spouse and eight other neighbors, watches one of the self-defense barricades in the street, the baker talks and talks, trying to make me understand that, “here it is the community itself that rose up. If it hadn’t happened with Ulises, it would have happened with someone else, but it happened with Ulises because he was such an idiot…”
The conversation –which had by then become a monologue – is given in a deep voice, recalling the rebel radio hosts from “The People’s Law,” which transmits on 710 AM, a frequency that was one hundred percent garbage a month ago, but now broadcasts with the spirit of Che Guevara, particularly when it calls for the creation of “one, two, three, many barricades.”
For Oaxacans like this baker who are looking to lecture me about the people’s struggle, the rebel radio is what has indoctrinated them, turning them into impetuous militants who, night after night, in front of a burning tire in the barricade, forge a spirit of resistance that today – in the middle of a red alert – is more present than ever before in the face of a possible police operation in the coming days or coming hours.
“Understand: it is the community itself struggling here, and the community is going to win.” I listen and take note.
* * *
In the poorest barricades of the city, there is time for everything: for teenage boys and girls to out together, because otherwise they would not be enthusiastic enough to hold vigil at the barricades; for formerly quarreling neighbors of the Seven Region neighborhood to now resolve their differences and forget about broken promises or rude gestures made some time in the past; for an old admirer of Fidel Castro to emulate his idol in a beret and olive green suit while he stealthily walks through the Volcanes neighborhood; and for neighbors and old friends to move those endless domino games from their houses out onto the sidewalk.
* * *
In the Apliación neighborhood there are two barricades within 100 meters of each other. The one closer to the riverbank than to the hill has been given the name “Los Guerreros” (The Warriors) and the one closer to here “Las Motas.”
“Why do they call this barricade ‘Las Motas?’” asks one of its guardians, and everyone laughs. “Look, come follow me,” says someone in response.
We walk some thirty meters until we see a house that stands out immediately from the others. “City Councilor José Luis Mota lives here. He is the one that pays 100 pesos to the cholos (armed gangs that carry out violence on behalf of political parties or political figures) for them to go provoke the barricades,” a tall young man, whom all of the neighborhood kids admire, assures me.
“We put the barricades up to take care of him even though he doesn’t come by anymore,” he says between laughs. “If Ulises doesn’t leave soon, we are going to put barricades up at his mansion as well,” says the lanky young man, continuing to laugh.
* * *
12:00 AM: “It’s that time, my love. Don’t let the kids watch the TV tomorrow,” a teacher says to his wife by telephone when it’s his turn to guard the zócalo – the central plaza of the city.
Two black Jettas have just fired nine shots against one of the nearby barricades. There aren’t any casualties, but there is plenty of concern. It seems that the long rumored invasion is about to turn, in these pre-dawn hours, into reality.
The rebel radio station “La Ley” – less and less willing to verify the information it compiles – warns that trucks of the Federal Preventative Police are coming from all sides, that the police operation will take place exactly at three o’clock, that its necessary to “defend the movement,” that new barricades must be erected, and that the APPO should declare a Red Alert for the twelfth time in the last three weeks.
This is how it goes here in Oaxaca, a time of war, but a war without guns – a psychological war.
1:00 AM: “Ha, ha, man, you are not going to see a thing. This is just so they don’t get bored,” a source among the police responds, via a cell-phone text message, to the possibility that the long-announced police operation will soon occur.
“Not today,” says another. “Go to sleep,” recommends a third. But I look about my surroundings and in one of the barricades of Brenamiel, the boys are running full speed on the highway with a shopping cart full of Molotov cocktails ready for use. They say, “Let those sons of bitches come right now.”
I walk up ahead and in another barricade in the same zone, some female teachers offer a drink of coffee before Fox’s police arrive. It seems here nobody doubts that, in a little while, at three o’clock, the police will invade. “The people united will never be defeated,” sounds off on the rebel radio.
* * *
The predominant theme at the Brenamiel barricades is the “imminent” arrival of the police to the city currently now controlled by the people.
In the heat of the bonfire, each teacher presents his or her own scenario. “It occurs to me that they are going to try to bring the army in tanks to scare us, and behind them will come the PFP,” says one of them.
“No, I think that they are going to lower helicopters onto La Ley, and at the same time they are going to enter by way of Etla because we haven’t reinforced the barricades there,” guesses another.
“What occurs to me is that they are going to enter at seven or eight in the morning when we have just taken down the barricades; they are going to come with everything. They’re even going to send the Special Operations Unit and Aristeo’s police and they are going to want to stay,” says a third, referring to Aristeo Lopez, director of the municipal police force.
That’s what the rank-and-file here say. And where is the leadership? Who knows. “Under preventative protection,” it’s rumored.
* * *
3:00 AM: This is the time that “La Ley” said the police would enter. There is a silence through this pre-dawn in which 500 teachers are posted on these barricades of Brenamiel, guarding those enormous radio steel towers, their voice, with special care.
In the midst of this calm a rocket is heard in the distance. Martín, the Valles Centrales teacher that never misses his turn on guard at the barricade and who regularly takes the place of others, turns with an analytical look toward the sky. He is waiting for the second rocket, the damn signal, precisely at the Etla entrance, of the beginning of the police operation.
But five minutes pass and nothing happens. On the rebel radio the announcers even decide to put on a song, actually the number one hit on the teacher’s union list of popular songs, “Techos de Cartón” (Cardboard roofs), by the late Venezuelan singer Alí Primera.
It’s already 3:10 AM. Maybe the police sources weren’t lying.
4:00 AM: That guy is stretching his arm; this one yawns for more than half a minute. A little while ago they stood firm like unflappable soldiers, holding their two-meter-long poles, standing up against the small mountain of rocks for their slingshots, ready to “die for liberty” just like the cardboard sign on one of the tents says.
Now it’s not quite like that. These teachers standing guard over the city, or at least over every daybreak in the city, are obviously more relaxed.
5:00 AM: If what is happening here is psychological warfare, as all signs seem to indicate, the rebels of the barricades in the historic city center have just lost the battle. On board an automobile, the three night watchmen of this strategic position are taking shelter from the cold as they sleep.
Right next to them, one stranger and then another pass without interrupting the guards’ peaceful slumber. The good thing is that the strangers are reporters and not PFP officers.
* * *
6:00 AM: The enormous bonfire around which more than 30 people had been meeting is now a pile of ashes that a Oaxaca municipal sanitation worker is now beginning to sweep away.
The guard duty of the barricades has concluded without any police operation.