5th Day in Oaxaca

Once again, here I am as a witness of events in Oaxaca. The real struggle, the real risks, the real revolution is with the people of Oaxaca.

November 17, 2006 – Xochitl writes: Today I started out visiting a local health clinic here in Oaxaca, La Clinica del Pueblo, an absolutely amazing place that serves the poor people of Oaxaca. They offer primary care, specialty medical care, homeopathy, lab services, obstetrics, and have a small 6 bed hospital ward for not-too-serious cases. They deliver babies on site, and do surgeries and recovery there. They are planning to build a pharmacy and xray suite soon.

They also have a dorm area, with a kitchen, where families who have travelled far to bring sick ones can stay and cook.

They do a lot of preventive care, and hope to do more.

I can’t tell you how beautiful this place was. It is in a lovely building, and they are very focused on how best to serve the people of Oaxaca. It was a nice break from the craziness at Santo Domingo and other places in the city.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will have time to volunteer there while I am here. Though I would like to……

When I arrived to Santo Domingo today I ran into L. “How are you?” I asked.

“Mad as hell. They killed someone right in front of my house.”

This morning a man, who I have heard was and was not associated with the movement, from different sources, was walking down L’s street and was shot just before 8 am. L told me that she heard the shots from her 3rd floor apartment, followed immediately by the squeal of tires. She ran to the window with her camera, took 1 photo of the man lying face down on the sidewalk,, then ran down the stairs. When she got to the injured man she saw 2 small wounds in his back near his right axilla (armpit) and one in the middle of his back. From the appearance and size of the wounds, and the man’s position, she believes he was shot in the back.

He still had a pulse at that time — she slid a clean towel under his face, and touched his head so he felt a human touch. Then she waited for the ambulance, with several other people crowding around.

The Cruz Roja ambulance arrived, and L checked his radial pulse (in the wrist). It was thready (weak) but present. The Cruz Roja people checked his carotid pulse (in the neck). If he had a radial pulse, he had to have a carotid pulse. That’s just how the body works. But instead of taking him to the hospital, where he might have survived, they covered him with a sheet and left. A while later a white van came to collect them, and by that time he was actually dead.

Some say this killing had nothing to do with the movement, some say it was over a business or romantic disagreement. Others say this man was with the movement. I have no idea.

D came by while we were talking, and I asked if he and his friends had made any progress countering the disinformation campaign about Brad Will’s death. Some of the local news, those associated with the government and the PRI political party, continue to claim that Brad was shot dead by his companeros in APPO, in order to “internationalize” the struggle here in Oaxaca.

This is completely contrary to everything I have heard from Oaxaquenos and internationals here in Oaxaca. To the contrary, people talk of Brad as a friend, a companero, who had joined them hand-in-hand in the movement. Crowds of people attended his funeral here in Oaxaca, blessing him and praying for him and his family.

This disinformation campaign also contradicts the culture of the resistance that I have seen and experienced first hand. People of the struggle are extremely honest and extraordinarily appreciative of any help offered. They value each human life, — a life of dignity and struggle, and their movement has been almost completely nonviolent in the last 6 months.

But the government must discredit the movement in order to turn people against APPO and the other groups active in the movement. In addition to the misattribution of Brad’s death, the government claims that members of APPO (which is the most visible organization, and is a collective of many organizations) have robbed and looted stores throughout Oaxaca. Maybe it is true, but I certainly doubt it.

When I was briefly staying in a fancy hotel in the rich part of town I was told to be careful if I went down to Santo Domingo. “Guard your things,” the hotel receptionist said gravely, “or else you will get robbed. There are bad people down there.” There are opportunists in every situation — who take advantage of chaos for their own benefit. But I feel totally safe in Santo Domingo– safer than in any other part of the city.

For example, on Monday I left my backpack under the Human Rights table, while we went to the morgue. I was told not to bring any extra bags there, so I asked a friend to watch over it for a few hours. Little did I know that the trip would take 7 hours total! It was 10 pm before I was ready to return to Santo Domingo, and there was no Human Rights table, no backpack.

“Don’t worry,” I was told. “Someone took your backpack and will return with it tomorrow.” The next afternoon I was on my way to Santo Domingo, a friend saw me on the street and said “Oh, Jose wanted me to tell you — your backpack is at the Human Rights table. He kept it for you at the University last night.”

This may seem like a small thing, but to me it demonstrates the integrity of the people in this movement.

So D and I talked of the contrast between what we see here, and what is reported by the media (for coverage more sympathetic to the movement, read the Oaxacan newspaper Las Noticias and the national paper La Jornada, as well as Indymedia).

A bit later I found C, and we set off to the university, to see if we could succeed in talking with La Doctora today.

This time the guards at the 1st gate were a bit more cautious, and demanded our ID before they let us pass. We found La Doctora at the Puesto de Socorro — First Aid Station — located in one of the buildings near the Radio Universidad headquarters. She was there attending to ill and injured people, but took time to talk with us.

I explained my purpose — to support the movement in whatever way possible, as a doctor, a first aid teacher, an herbalist, and a procurer of medical supplies.

She was cautiously welcoming of my offer. When I described my experience as a first aid teacher — training people to respond to medical problems encountered at protests in the US and other countries — she was enthusiastic. “We don’t really know what we are doing,” she said, then paused. “Well, we didn’t know when everything started, back in May, but we have learned. We have had to learn, because we have had all kinds of injuries here — people shot, burns, bad cuts, heart attacks. We have to make do with whatever we have here, and our supplies are short, but when we need something, we find it or find something to use in its place.”

“There is a saying here in Mexico,” she continued, “Dios ayuda los inocentes y los ignorantes. (God helps the innocent and the ignorant). And God has certainly helped us!” She said, laughing.

She then turned to me. “What do you know about treatment for pepper spray and tear gas?”

“We have this amazing group of people in the US (the Black Cross from Oregon, among others), that has done tests of different remedies for pepper spray. First, you clean out the eyes with a blast of water from a water bottle. Then you can further alleviate the symptoms with a mixture of 1/2 water and 1/2 liquid antacid, specifically Maalox.”

“Yes, we use another antacid for that same purpose.”

Then I started to explain MOFIBA. “If you don’t do it right, you can make things worse, but done right it, it really helps. You must be in a safe place, and have a few minutes, to do it right.”

“But we are never in a safe space, and never have time when they are throwing these things at us.”

“Well just in case, let me explain.” I went through the steps of MOFIBA, and when I was finished, she said, “The problem is getting the mineral oil.”

“Do they sell it here?” I asked.

“Yes, but people don’t have it in their houses. We have to recommend things that people have on hand. Here we have been using sweet soda. Not just coke, but any carbonated beverage with sugar, because people have that. And when the police are attacking, we broadcast over the radio, over and over again, what they can do to help themselves and to feel better.”

That’s when I realized my misconception — the police here are indiscriminately shooting tear gas canisters, sometimes from helicopters. One young man was killed weeks ago when he was struck in the chest with a canister. And they use water cannons, with pepper spray mixed in, against anyone in front of them. I am accustomed to working at protests,where there is a specific group of people who are at risk of police violence and repression, some of whom know the risks and come prepared. But here anyone in the city can be injured, when things heat up.

Our talk then turned to the medicines they have here, and what I have brought. “I have a collection of herbal medicines that my be of use,” I said.

“Oh we have some here too. We use Tlacapaltepec (not the actual name, which I can’t quite remember, but close) that helps heal wounds and minimize scarring. We use aloe, and honey, and arnica. Oh honey is wonderful! It helps with so many things. We use the medicines from our land, our gardens, our neighborhoods. They work best. In fact, the other day I offered Tlacapaltepec to someone, and she asked where it was from. She scoffed a bit when I said it was from here, Oaxaca City. The Tlacapaltepec from her home town would work better, she was sure.”

And what of herbs to calm, to ease anxiety? I asked.

“Oh we don’t want those! We must stay alert and vigilant. Those remedies relax you too much. On the contrary, we need medicines to keep us awake, to keep us from sleeping, because never know what may happen.”

I tried to explain that some of the medicines I had brought would alleviate tension and emotional trauma, without relaxing someone too much (Lemon Balm, Oats, and my old favorite Schizandra, any others you herbalists out there?), but she would have none of it.

And she is so tired, but she will not rest. We will see whether, with time and a deeper relationship, I might offer some nervines (neurotrophoregeneratives, some might say) or flower essences.

We talked more about how we might work together, and then she was called away to attend to a patient.

So now I sit at the airport, awaiting the arrival of friends travelling here to support, to work with, to raise our awareness of, the events here. On the way here I had a grand conversation about the evils of capitalism with the taxi driver. As I sit and write, I see the airport police recording the license plate numbers of all the cars that pass by.

Please hold the people of Oaxaca, and all those struggling for justice and dignity, in your hearts.