x David Venegas Reyes “Alebrije”
The year 2007 came to an end in Oaxaca, a long painful year of injustice, repression, forced disappearances, state elections, and death, but also a year of dignified, heroic resistance by many men and women. As powerful forces and politicians benefit from the current state of affairs, they delight in proclaiming the return to peace and quiet in Oaxaca and a reconciliation among its inhabitants, but beneath their speeches, through their dubious, cautious, fearful — and above all, repressive and violent — actions, the truth comes out: the social polarization and sharpening of social contradictions is more drastic and more serious than ever. While they speak of peace, their arms, shields and clubs bark of war.
In 2006, the Mexican government refused to grant the peoples of Oaxaca a superficial victory that didn’t affect the system of exploitation and misery that misgoverns us. The departure of Ulises Ruiz from the government of Oaxaca wouldn’t have affected the economic, political and ideological bases of this state of affairs. By convoking new elections, the political class that rules the country would have maintained the belief in the legitimacy of their democracy and constitutional order. If they had done this, some of the leaders on the APPO council, the traditional politicians, would have been glad to raise their hands and volunteer to become part of the system, and the movement of the peoples of Oaxaca would have surely turned out to be what the comrade and political prisoner Flavio Sosa termed a democratic, humanistic movement––euphemisms for an electoral movement headed by the PRD party.
By refusing to yield to the demand that Ulises Ruiz step down, and, instead, savagely repressing our peoples, the system stripped itself naked and revealed the source of all the injustice, violence, and discrimination. When the curtains opened on the democratic electoral farce so absurdly perpetrated in our country, three giant columns bearing the head of Ulises Ruiz could be seen: the capitalist system of production; a false, representative democracy; and the Western ideology of the powerful. And so, as has happened so many times throughout history, the powerful themselves, through their repression, recalcitrance, and crime, have raised the aspirations of the men and women of Oaxaca above and beyond the mere resignation of the repressive tyrant Ulises Ruiz.
The nature and course of the struggle have overrun the channels proposed by the system of government that oppresses us. The peoples’ discontent is now dispersed and takes many different paths. Mainly, there is a process of the participants becoming more conscious, but there is also a lot of desperation over the slowness of change and the limitations in the primary organs of struggle in the first stage of the movement. This is seen by the total lack of confidence in the political class displayed in this last year’s elections, no matter what the party —right wing or supposedly leftist. The men and women of Oaxaca gave this class a harsh lesson through the highest voter abstinence rate in the state or the country in many years. There was a rotund “We don’t believe you anymore!” directed at all the traditional politicians who live off the hopes of the simple people at the bottom.
In the context of the peaceful struggle of the peoples of Oaxaca, the institutional, false democratic path proposed by the political class is no longer the only option, and the exit of Ulises Ruiz is not considered sufficient.
The struggle for autonomy waged for more than 500 years by the Indian peoples of Mexico, now understood and recognized by more city dwellers as a true alternative for bettering their lives, is taking a leading role in the struggle in Oaxaca. Far from the authoritarian, hegemonic approach of some leftist propositions, and far, also, from the mediocrity of the electoral path, plagued with useless twists and turns and countless traps, the struggle for autonomy continues, with an awareness that the two apparently different proposals often merge in practice and take chimerical forms that are theoretically unrecognizable, yet all too recognizable in traditional politics under the name of political opportunism. The radical nature of the struggle for autonomy, along with its dignity, honesty, wisdom, is seen in the most powerful social movements of the last decade in Latin America, from the time of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994 to the Quechua and Aymara movements in Bolivia, where the flag of autonomy is held high.
In Oaxaca, a state whose regions are inhabited by sixteen Indian nations, dispersed in ten thousand communities, a state in which we city dwellers are descendants and heirs to this Mesoamerican Civilization, autonomy is a reality in many towns and villages. It takes the form of self government based on traditional customs and practices. Although it is limited by the government and the political parties and attacked by the same forces, it is possible to observe autonomy in practice in many indigenous and mestizo communities, where it stands as an example of what may be viable for our society as a whole in the future.
Meanwhile thousands of men and women throughout the state continue to participate actively, but above all honestly, in the social movement. They’re the indispensable ones that Che Guevara talks about, who with love for others and no thought for themselves keep the flame of emancipation and rebellion alive for all those who, in their fear, deception, and despair, try not to look at the daily injustice and, instead, resort to all the immediate pleasures offered by the system to keep the peoples busy and submissive. The soap operas have slowly regained their viewers; soccer, its fans; and the cathedral, its benches full of worshippers at Sunday mass. Once again, Aurrerá and other foreign discount stores have long lines at their cash registers during the feverishly intense rush just before Christmas, New Years and Three Kings Day to spend, consume, need, and enrich the stock markets of the powerful.
It’s true. Everything seems to be just like it was before––or almost everything. But appearances are deceiving. The marvelous, unique experience of freedom that we Oaxacans shared more than a year ago at the height of the movement’s combativity can never be erased. More than one generation is marked by this experience, and the consequences of this heightened consciousness are just now beginning to be observed. The work of our indispensable comrades arises from a magnificent reality: a people that is conscious of its hard, unjust reality, but above all, of its immense strength when it decides to act.
This year, 2008, is starting out with a new wave of reforms and attacks against the lives of workers and farmers all over Mexico ––the total liberation of imports of corn, beans, milk, and sugar from the United States; the rise in the price of gas and public transportation; the approval of the judicial reform legalizing the repression of all social inconformity and protest; the danger of the re-initiation of the war in Chiapas due to new attacks by the army and paramilitary groups against the Zapatista communities and the removal of people from lands recovered in the 1994 uprising; and the intransigence of the Mexican government in proceeding with the construction of La Parota dam and reservoir against the will of 42 affected towns and villages. These are just a few examples of this new string of attacks by the powerful on the right of men and women in our country to live with dignity.
But despite the permanent climate of repression and violence by the Felipe Calderón government, grassroots Mexico, hard-working and patient but also brave, rebellious, and rough will wake up from the lethargy in which it is has been submerged by unfulfilled promises of a democracy that doesn’t work, political parties that represent the people, and development that brings well-being for all. And this Mexico from below will have to fight the necessary battles to eradicate the injustice, exploitation, and dire poverty that oppress us.
As we head into 2009, it’s of the utmost importance for us to look at ourselves, recognize who we are, and come together again in the struggle we Oaxacans took on more than a year ago. As long as Ulises Ruiz is still Governor, as long those who are responsible for our suffering are still in office, brazenly intensifying their corruption, violence, and lies with total impunity; as long as the economic, political, and ideological bases that sustain this system of exploitation, dire poverty, and death continue to misgovern us and control our lives; as long as justice is not done for 24 of our people murdered; as long as our disappeared people are not presented alive; as long as the political prisoners of the whole state––San Agustín Loxicha, San Blas Atempa, Santiago Xanica, Guevea de Humboldt, San Isidro Aloapan––and the prisoners of the APPO do not achieve our immediate, unconditional freedom; and as long as those people who are responsible for the suffering of our people are punished, we cannot say that there is true peace with justice and dignity in Oaxaca.
Until that day it is the moral responsibility of all who feel in our hearts the flame of rebellion and a love for justice, dignity, and peace to keep waging an honest, valiant, combative struggle. In moments of weakness or despair, let’s remember that we are many, that we are the overwhelming majority, that once, not long ago, we looked each other in the face and saw that we were equal in our suffering, but also in our rebelliousness, and we helped bring about the biggest fiesta for freedom that’s happened in our country in recent years, in the Oaxaca commune.
With their pig-headedness, blindness, and authoritarianism, the powers that be are fertilizing the soil for a new, more powerful insurrection, which will surely be definitive.
They tore away our fruit, hacked our branches to pieces, burned our trunks, but they can never pull up our roots.
David Venegas Reyes “Alebrije”
Santa Maria Ixcotel Central Penitentiary.
January 4, 2008.
This post is also available in: Spanish