15th Day in Oaxaca

November 27th, 2006 – Xochitl writes: As always, I am here as a witness of the events here in Oaxaca. The real struggle, the real risks, and the real revolution is with the people of Oaxaca.

So overnight I woke up every few hours to listen to the livestream of Radio Universidad, and it continued to transmit. Just before 6 am I woke up to hear the last few bars of “Venceremos” then the Radio stopped transmitting, and there was only the background interminable march music that is broadcasted by Radio enemies to interfere with the signal. I freaked, thinking that the attack had happened, they had played one last song, and it was over. Then I realized they were taking the required several hour break from radio transmissions. Phew.

In the morning people gathered for the march from the University to the Santo Domingo plaza. We weren’t able to go because it seemed unsafe to travel there. Police were traveling around the University neighborhood, searching people, checking their ID, and detaining some. At about 10 am a message came through the radio that 300 people had gathered, and they needed more Oaxaquenos for the march. We hoped to meet the march part-way on their route, and continue on to Santo Domingo. Then we heard that the PFPs had taken over the Santo Domingo plaza, to prevent APPO and other organizations from re-establishing their encampment there, and that there were military and police at the nearby Juarez park, possibly blocking people from creating another planton there. The march was suspended, I suspect for security reasons.

We walked towards Santo Domingo, to see what was going on there.There were PFPs stationed at each of the entrances. The entire plaza had been scoured and cleaned. On the night of November 25, after hours of street battle, the police gathered and burned all the tarps and materials left by movement people in the Santo Domingo planton. Then on the 26th all the garbage was picked up, and all the graffiti painted over. It was as if there never was an encampment there, which I would guess was the idea.

Throughout the day we heard about more police aggressions and detentions. A truck near the airport was stopped, and the driver shot. Police are taking people from their houses and taking them away. There are persistent rumors of mass graves outside of Oaxaca City, though no one has definite proof.

We also get updates on November 25. According to the latest information there have been 6 confirmed deaths, though we also have heard that PFPs were bragging that they had killed at least 13 and disappeared the bodies. There was a shooting late at night at the Facultad de Medicine (the medical school) where many people had sought refuge. As they left URO-supporters opened fire, killing at least 3 and wounding many.

The situation is very tense. Danger seems to be everywhere — from the federal police, from the AFI (Mexican’s Federal Investigators), from paramilitaries (who may be police in civilian clothes, or PRI party supporters), from the outspoken PRI party supporters. The PRI-istas have a radio station, and they have broadcasted the addresses of movement supporters, most likely to guide their night-time squads. As we sit here, we hear occasional gunshots in the distance.

And tonight there is word that the university attack is again imminent. One US friend who was there was told directly to leave, because it would be too dangerous. This is in direct contrast to other nights, when the barricadistas wanted us to stay.

It is almost impossible for me to hear the Radio Universidad over the internet. The interference is too strong.

In this time, while trying to listen to the radio, I would like to share some of my experiences at the Radio Universidad encampment. And if there are any urgent updates from the radio, as far as I can hear, I will, of course, mention them.

My dear, dear friends at the Radio Universidad. Although I have only known them for 2 weeks, they are in my heart. Quite honestly, I feel unworthy of their esteem and affection. When I saw them on the street late on the night of November 25, after hours of street battles, they called out “Doctora Elena! Como estas? Donde has estado? Venga con nosotros a la universidad!” (Doctor Elena! How are you? Where have you been? Come with us to the university!).

I wonder, why do they want to fight? For an ideal? A political or social vision? The image of themselves as revolutionaries? For the valor? For the battle scars and stories they could share with friends in the future, if they survive? Because in this society they have nothing else to live for? (reminds me of young people in poor neighborhoods of the US who chose to sell drugs or join gangs because they see no other viable alternative, and because they see no other positive future) Impossible to know, of course, though I suspect in many it is a messy mix of these, and other factors.

While at Radio Universidad I talked a lot with a man I will call Che, who seemed to be one of the most reliable and responsible of the barricadistas there. He is also a self-styled revolutionary fighter. He is enormously charismatic, dependable and a bit crazy. He states, unequivocally, that he is willing to die for this struggle. Is it worth it? Can I stand to see his vibrant, powerful life snuffed out for this struggle? And who the hell am I to ask? He knows what may come, and he continues to organize, and to fight.

I have worked a lot with Che. If you ask him to get something done, from my experience, it gets done. One day one of the first aid station workers asked him to bring more water, because the first aid station was almost out of drinkable water. None appeared for a long time, and I thought he had forgotten. But it turned out there was no drinkable water in the Radio Universidad compound. Che told people at the first aid station, “As soon as there is water, I will bring you some.” They made a call over the Radio for more water from the community, and a bit later there were 10+ large (5 gallon) bottles, and many smaller bottles filled with filtered water. A bit later Che appeared, carrying a 80 pound bottle of water on his shoulder, and within hours there were many more gallons of water at the first aid station.

Che is a complicated mix of self-promotion and genuine commitment. He loves to have photos taken of him, in a face mask, with a bazooka, in front of the graffiti saying “Hasta la victoria siempre” upon his insistence. He wears all black, with a bullet proof vest at times. He strides around the encampment, checking in with different people, and talking about the most recent developments. He seems to have the genuine respect of the other barricadistas at Radio Universidad. How much of this is cult of personality, and how essential is charisma to revolutionary “leaders” (because I think he would disavow the label of leader, if asked)?

I write at length about Che, because he is one of the most obvious organizers at the Radio.

It is impossible not to feel utterly trite and overly romantic about the people in this movement. We tend to romanticize revolutionary workers. But there is some truth in this hyperbole. Many people in the Oaxaca movement have moved beyond their own day-to-day concerns, and fight tirelessly for a greater cause.

La Doctora Berta, for example. She is a grand personality, with one part absolute commitment, one part political insight, one part calm determination, one part intense focus on the struggle at hand, and one part self-abnegation and humor. She has worked tirelessly for this movement, continuing to attend strategy meetings and negotiations, announce in her calm and witty style over the radio, and attend to patients in the first aid station, despite total exhaustion, sickness (a very bad cough after being tear-gassed in the ambulance during the march on November 20, “But it cured my sinusitis!” she said.) and threats to burn her house and kill her and her family.

One day, while I was in the first aid station and she was resting after becoming quite sick from the tear gas. I had just begged her to take more time to rest, to take care of herself. We were listening to the radio. “What are they doing, playing music?” she said. “We must talk about the situation. We must rally the people.” and she jumped from her bed, and went to the radio, to announce for the next hour.

She can also be quite severe, and as a result has alienated some of the barricadistas at the Radio Universidad. How much of her intensity and, at times, authoritarianism, is a result of 6 months of fighting, and how much intrinsic to her personality? I will never know, because I am only here now. But she is one of the absolute essential elements of this movement. She calls the people, and they respond. She is calm in the face of crisis, and helps all of us face whatever is coming (and I must mention that I face literally no danger or repression in comparison to Oaxacan and Mexican citizens) with “a burning heart and a cold mind.”

Right now the radio continues to transmit. We just heard what sounds like a tear gas explosion in the distance.

For now, I will sign off. Please keep the people of Oaxaca, and all those struggling for justice, in your hearts.

source: oaxacarevolt.org