Audio: Oaxaca Mexico, A Year of Struggle

2006 year in review report on Oaxaca from FSRN

December 29th, 2006 – FSRN writes: 2006 was also a tumultuous year in Mexico. The year kicked off with a nationwide listening tour launched by the Chiapas-based Zapatista rebel army. The so-called Other Campaign paused in Mexico City after police launched a vicious crackdown against activists and farmers in the nearby town of San Salvador Atenco. Soon after, the presidential elections captured much of the national spotlight as opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador challenged the outcome that handed the presidency to right-wing technocrat, Felipe Calderon. Calderon assumed the presidency on December 1st amidst the strongest crisis of legitimacy ever faced by any Mexican president. … But perhaps the ongoing political crisis in the southern state of Oaxaca could provide the most insight into what Mexico as a nation could face in the coming years.

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When Oaxaca’s public school teachers went on strike in May, no one imagined that the annual labor dispute would take on the dimensions of a popular uprising.

The fuse was lit in the early hours of June 14th, when state police moved in against the teacher’s sprawling protest encampment in downtown Oaxaca City. Tear gas canisters, smoke grenades and rubber bullets were shot from a helicopter as state police tore thru the tent city…but the government’s plan backfired. Outraged, thousands of teachers and residents from all over the city rushed towards downtown and overwhelmed the police presence.

Two days later, a coalition of organizations, indigenous groups, students, activists, housewives, and ordinary citizens fed up with the corruption and authoritarianism of the state government, came together to form the APPO – the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca. The APPO based itself on the popular assembly model used as the traditional governance structure in many of Oaxaca’s indigenous communities. Shortly after its formation, the APPO declared itself to be the legitimate government of Oaxaca.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators calling for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz took part in mobilizations that stretched for miles and lasted upwards of five hours. Never in the state’s history had so many people hit the street at once.

….But Ulises Ruiz refused to step down.

One by one, dozens of towns throughout Oaxaca ran their local governments out of power. The state legislature was meeting in a hotel and the governor was practically in hiding. Members of the popular movement took over or blockaded every major government building in the state capital. The citizens of Oaxaca had made their state “ungovernable”.

By the end of the summer, Oaxaca City had become a self-governed autonomous zone.

The federal government had been too wrapped up in the drama and aftermath of the contentious presidential election to pay much attention to the social demands in Oaxaca.

But all that came to an end in late October, when the federal government chose to deal with the peaceful movement through an overwhelming show of force.

On October 29th, many Oaxaca City residents woke up to the sound of low-flying combat helicopters. Large contingents of riot police were on the outskirts of the city, backed with armored personnel carriers and water cannons. Ten of thousands of residents rushed to the barricades at the city’s main entry points, many with Mexican flags, flowers, religious symbols, and even copies of the country’s constitution; to show the troops that the movement is peaceful and its demands are constitutionally protected.

By the end of the day, the militarized Federal Preventative Police force had plowed through the city’s main barricades and set up camp in the central plaza.

But the rebellion remained strong in the city’s neighborhoods, and particularly in and around the campus of the state university.

On Day of the Dead, one of Oaxaca’s most sacred holidays, the movement scored an important victory after a 7-hour street battle which started when federal riot police tried to dismantle the barricades near the university campus. The next day, November 3rd, the inference with the signal of Radio Universidad began. Radio Universidad was the last station remaining in movement hands.

Despite the attempts to crush the uprising, people continued to come out of their homes to protest the occupation of their city by the militarized federal police force and the movement never gave up the demand for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz.

On November 25th, the APPO called for a mega-march to encircle the federal police encampment for 48 hours. As in past mega-marches, massive amounts of people from all sectors of society came out to participate…but what happened after the march reached downtown became another watershed moment in the uprising.

Just before dusk, federal police began to launch massive amounts of tear gas to clear the area – by nightfall, they were firing live ammunition. Thousands of panicked demonstrators scattered in different directions and police began arresting people in violent street sweeps that lasted throughout the night. Before the puddles of blood had dried on the streets and sidewalks, more than 140 people were in prison, charged with sedition, rebellion, arson, and criminal association.

The police crackdown continued into early December. Police captured people identified with the popular movement on the street, in their homes, and at their places of work. An undeclared Dirty War against critics of the governor had begun.

Just as during the years of military rule in Argentina, family members and friends of the detained, dead, and disappeared have organized themselves in Oaxaca. They meet regularly to discuss legal strategies, plan mobilizations, and to lend each other moral support. The story of their struggle has circled the globe and has sparked solidarity actions in dozens of cities around the world.

Although the movement has recently suffered a series of painful setbacks, its members continue to demonstrate the conviction of a people with a history of more than 500 years of resistance.

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