Article examining the influence of libertarian ideas in the recent uprisings in Oaxaca, Mexico.
SERGIO DE CASTRO SANCHEZ
Originally published in Spanish on oaxacalibre.org and in Rojo Y Negro, newspaper of the CGT
Translated by a comrade of Capital Terminus Collective
Between June and November of 2006, the Mexican state of Oaxaca lived through a popular revolt that both astonished and shocked the world. While the mass media took its characteristic perspective on the conflict, the people of Oaxaca rejected Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and took the capital city demanding his ouster as the starting point for the creation of a new political and economic order to wipe out the huge social inequalities that submerge the mostly indigenous state.
To talk about the historical background that led to this uprising can be misleading. And it is because our discussion is imparted with an essential difference between that which occurred before and that which occurred after June 14th. In reality, the struggle in Oaxaca, Mexico and Latin America is a continuum in which only the limits of our thinking and of our language that impose dates and events with special historical interest, while ignoring the “silent” processes and “marginal of history “(at least media-wise) that occur within the society, as well as the struggles and the repression exerted upon them. Knowing this, however, we do advise that the fight in Oaxaca goes back to the arrival of the Spaniards, here we will just focus on the recent past.
A brief history
On June 14th 2006, 3,000 troops from different bodies of the Mexican State Police tried to enter the main city plaza or Zocalo with the intention to evict the annual encamped “sit-in” that the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE) union had established at the Zócalo for the past 25 years as a means of pressure for a series of demands. The people of Oaxaca joined together under this movement and went to the streets forcing the police to retreat. From that moment on and despite the authoritarian and repressive policies of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), the ouster of the governor became the unanimous demand of the people. A few days later, several organizations joined with the teachers in the creation of the famous People’s Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), which in its first instance would be led by thirty members who comprised the “Interim Committee” and of various groups who saw only an opportunity by which some would seek to use the revolt to fill their lust for power.
From that moment began the repression: arbitrary arrests, torture and killings become the norm in Oaxaca while the popular movement would meet in mega-marches of up to 800,000 people and developed actions that the APPO’s direction could not control. June 14th provides one of the first examples of such popular effervescence that builds upon itself and takes the decision to confront the police. There are many more examples of this type. On August 1st, a “cacerolada” (pot and pan banging brigade) composed exclusively of women decided to take the state television station in a peaceful manner. For weeks all programming was in charge of these women until they were violently evicted by vigilante groups. But that same night it was decided to sieze all the commercial radio stations in the city. Days later, an attack by the “convoy of death” upon Radio La Ley resulted in a casualty and this leads to the people take another decision: thousands of barricades were installed as a defense against the paramilitary and vigilante attacks. For weeks, and every night, the town jumps to the streets to defend the city until October 28th, one day after 5 people were killed, when the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) managed to enter the main plaza or Zocalo of the city. Then a few days later, on November 2nd, the police attempt to evict Radio University in violation of the university’s autonomy. As the leaders of the APPO offered support to the members of the barricades that protected the voice of the movement, the people went back out into the streets forcing the PFP to withdraw. The APPO secured a victory.
On November 25th, following a mega-march that was intended to besiege the PFP in the Zocalo and before the police assault, clashes were unleashed leading to a night of brutal repression that would only be the prelude to torture, illegal arrests and while others negotiate with the government to end the movement. The outcome of the whole process: 26 dead, dozens of detainees and an undetermined number of missing.
When the repression continued and at same there was debate on the participation of certain groups of APPO in the forthcoming elections to State Congress that was threatening to break the fragile unity of the APPO, provides an ideal time to review how the anarchist groups participated in the movement outside of the electioneering perspective and the criticism of some groups such as the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) that is effectively Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist and which showed its true face in trying to eliminate all opponents participating in the election game.
The APPO is not the Oaxaca Movement
During the months-long conflict, the media (including a majority of “independent” outlets) only gave voice to the leaders of the APPO under the sloganistic and well-intentioned principle “We are all APPO” to which were attributed all achievements by the people. From the beginning, voices who criticized the actions of these “leaders” were silenced, and on behalf of unity, the proposals outside the structure of the APPO were completely unknown.
Among those highlighted the voices of some anarchist groups who saw the APPO not as a radical alternative to the system, but as a way to find and administer power far too close to the existing structures.
One of the spaces that that tried to form and put into practice these other proposals was the Intercultural Occupation en Resistance. Chucho, a member of the collective “We are all Prisoners” (Tod@s Somos Pres@s) and who participated in the experience, speaks of an autonomous space on the margin of the structure of the APPO. The APPO made a call to organize and direct people. We made a call to self-organize and work in an autonomous manner, understanding that autonomy reflected this coordination space from all the spaces that expressed a desire for liberty.
The Okupa, located a few blocks from the Zocalo, was not formed as a space for exclusively anarchist groups, but was open for Oaxacan society from which it received its support. Located in a former headquarters of the Preventive Police, it was restored with the support of the population who both participated in the project and in the decisions through the assemblies that were held in the Okupa. Accordingly Chucho reports, “both the power of the state as well as the APPO prevented the development of such initiatives, we are proposing … why break with these two structures and to promote the creation of autonomous spaces either colonies or communities or small spaces such as the Okupación. ” A proposal closer to the principles that were supposed defended the APPO leadership and to the demands of the people oaxaqueño: “The same people are aware that there is a need for government and they realize if we really wanted to topple Ulises and install another. In assemblies it was questioned whether the APPO would assign a person who was going to govern Oaxaca. “It was that “the people came to realize that none of these questions of directions and centralism are really for a change. Our intention was not to run a libertarian movement as a group outside of the APPO, but these practices are given autonomy and self-management everywhere based on the needs of each town. ”
The libertarian groups were also an essential part and parcel of the struggle and the direct resistance against different police forces, both paramilitary and vigilantes and were in the barricades before and after the entrance of the PFP on October 29th. There within crystallized two trends. While the first was focused on direct action and in defense against institutional attacks, the second sought to establish ties with neighborhoods and their residents with the aim of strengthening the popular resistance. Now a part of the Oaxacan collective imagination, the barricades were erected as a symbol of the popular struggle and those who were individuals of all kinds: anarkopunks, but also people of more orthodox dress and customs banners of the struggle against URO. Groups that although currently are even criminalized by a certain sector of the APPO, the players were not only on the daily resistance, but also of several clashes against PFP.
But in addition, the organizational experience of the barricades was very close to what is libertarian. As commented Noah, a student who participated in the fight from an undefined ideological positions. “the barricades were an experience of equality in that absolutely everyone was equally involved in decision-making.”
Anarchists in the APPO
But not all groups of libertarian groups chose the same path. The Committee of Indigenous Peoples Oaxaca-Ricardo Flores Magón (CIPO-RFM) chose to join the initiative of the APPO at its own discretion and in a clearly critical manner. Dolores Villalobos, one of its members, says, “We thought that was an area that needed to be built. Now we know that not all people are honest and that we have different paths as some you are betting on what election or to armed struggle. But our duty is to propose to the other which is why we participated in the APPO. We will be in all movements for which there is a possibility of building something. When we see that our place is no longer there, then we will leave. ” For that same reason there will be many individuals and groups participating in the State Council of 260 members which was established in the Constituent Assembly held on November 11th and 12th, 2006 in the hope that they could make that body a true representative of the people’s demands.
So when from the domes of the State Council and through groups interested in achieving institutional power sought to impose the participation of APPO in the elections, groups like the libertarian CIPO and also others such as those belonging to the Alliance Zapatista-Magonista like OIDHO and CODEDI, were among those who managed to stop the initiative. The consensus reached at the State Assembly in early February was that the APPO would not “enter” the elections as such, but that groups could do what they wanted on their own behalf. While the unity was preserved, the actions of mafia-like organizations such as the RPF (which was harshly criticized by groups such as the Socialist Labor Party Socialist) have led to what currently exists in the APPO, great internal division and a complete removal of the State Council with respect to the people of Oaxaca.
Anarchism, Magonismo and Indian commonality
To talk about libertarian currents in Mexico is to talk of Ricardo Flores Magón and Magonismo, which emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and was pushed into the background as compared to reformism at the end of the Mexican Revolution, and is intimately linked to the mindset of indigenous peoples, in which Flores Magón found more than inspiration for his proposals.
Since the formation of the APPO, it was defined as a heterogeneous group composed of the most diverse ideological trends. Its assembly character allegedly tried to show the APPO as structured on the basis of horizontal political decision modes, while groups with strong vertical hiarchical posts are more visible in the media and appointed theirselves in Oaxaca as spokespersons of the people.
However it must be made clear that libertarian currents like Magonismo are the only ones that really have built their political discourse based on these practices that are formed with the “manners and customs” of these people. Concepts such as autonomy, self-management or assembly are examples of the way in which both indigenous and libertarians agree on as key points of the vision of political and social relations.
Faced with the defense of “regional autonomy” by Marxist theorists like Hector Díaz-Polanco, the concept of “communal autonomy” built by the indigenous anthropology in Oaxaca was much more about the cultural principles governing indigenous worldviews. The Zapotec anthropologist Jaime Martinez Luna states, “we must affirm that we also have our own laws. Logic built by centuries of thought, ways to understand the very life that have brought us to solve a host of internal problems. But that right and that knowledge are undone to impose the engraved reasoning and what was developed in areas other than our own, to experiences that are not our reality. ” One example is “always reasoning in terms of individual rights, never thinking of the community rights, ie always argue in terms of the interests of an individual and it is understood that the whole attitude becomes an individual interest, never he joins the ability to understand that the attitude is the result of a social act or even more so, a communal one, therefore warrants different treatment.”
Benjamin Maldonado, author of books such as “The Utopia of Ricardo Flores Magón or Autonomy and Indian Commonality”, advocates “an anarchist world is a world community, if we rely on the definition of Ricardo Flores Magón of anarchy and order based on mutual aid . I understand that many of the libertarians have tried to create and build a world community similar to the structure of the communities in Oaxaca, with mutual support, where they are willing to donate huge amounts of work for others for the construction and reconstruction of the community, with a power structure in the assembly rather than their representatives, within a territorial space where power can be effected, with a system of shared government that was not corrupt, with a distribution system that allowed some margin of regional food self-sufficiency and especially with the and ed to be community and celebrate each time and waste of resources.”
For Maldonado, “commonality, the backbone of being Indian, consists of four core elements: the communal territory (use and defense and collective space), communal labor (interfamiliar through mutual aid and community through tequio, it is free for job works benefit of the people), the communal power (participation in the assembly and the performance of various civic and religious positions that form their system of government) and the communal happiness (through participation in the celebrations and sponsorship).”
All this is based on a principle which was built from their own communal identity, autonomy, “since its formation, the idea of commonality has been linked to the idea of self-determination, that the actual language is autonomy. It is precisely the commonality which was and is able to create (recreate) the necessary conditions for autonomy. In this sense, “the abolition of state authority and oppression is understood as the exercise of the autonomous community’s organizational will.” And the experience of native peoples that are thus constituted “shows that it is historically possible to live in collectivist anti-autoritarian collectives.”
This anti-authoritarian nature of the communities’ political organization is based on their own conception of power as a service to the people and the assembly as a means of political decision making. For Martinez Luna, “the significance of power in an indigenous community in contrast to what is depicted in both the rural and urban mestizo world is very different. In our communities, power is a service, namely it is the implementation of guidelines for an community assembly. In another words, it means exercising the decisions of the authority that has been elected through electoral mechanisms with little supervision by society. A community authority that is in effect, an employee at the service of all, an employee who is not paid, who is not allowed to design, and when this occurs, design can be achieved only if there is consultation. In contrast, political power in rural and urban mestizo communities is to the contrary, it is the opportunity to run their own ideas and satisfy their personal interests, there is no consultation. “The assembly is the highest authority in the community, it is the meeting of all heads of households and which also includes women. Both the silent and the speakers participate in this. The field workers along with artisans and professionals. The assembly always works by consensus, but in many cases and with practical issues by using majority vote. “The election of the authorities does not reflect any intent or partisan guideline and is based on prestige and in the work. ” A conception of power that makes “our immediate obstacles would be the political parties.”
From this point of view, and perhaps as a result, the socio-political proposals of the indigenous peoples have been as denostadas own people outside the development and progress embodied in the Western political and economic systems, when in fact pose a real alternative ( not merely utopian) to existing structures. For Chucho, “the indigenous struggle is the one that is going to force real change. The practices of community life are the ones that really could truly confront the state “, establishing an intimate relationship between the practices of both indigenous and urban groups of libertarians.
Some libertarian principles are intimately linked to the indigenous and that, if we can talk about it in a testimonial manner, have made almost all of these groups and organizations join the initiative of the Zapatista Other Campaign.
Did an anarchist state live in Oaxaca?
As a fast food seller at the Pochote Market said, “in Oaxaca, we miss those days that we lived in anarchy.” Certainly his claim would not be very orthodox in regards to a formal and comprehensive definition of what is a “state of anarchy”, but since his participation in the barricades, a sentiment shows that, while not widespread, it is present in many people and in many of those involved in the movement. The absence of the repressive institutions (at least in an official capacity) in the city, the actions of the people who developed resistance without any organizational leadership, the solidarity and mutual aid amongst those who filled the streets in resistance and the very organization at the barricades … This is certainly the basis of this sentiment.
For Dolores Villalobos, “it’s something that nobody will be able to forget. Everyone was in the streets and everything was a real brotherhood … There was a form of organization, solidarity and mutual support, people were concerned about the other person. So I think that today the resistance continues, because people have taken that step. That is the important thing: as it began to generate a different type of relationship between human beings. ” and she adds, só a los que creían que podían tener al movimiento controlado. She adds, “people broke those who believed they could have controlled the movement. It is also why there was a lot of repression, because the government saw that it could not control it because none of those who went to the negotiating table could halt it nor could say, ‘this shall done’, but rather it was in those camps and in the barricades where the direction of the movement was decided.”
For as Chucho explains rather “ways to react to the direct attack of the state” are not exactly anarchy, but there was an attitude of “disobedience” both regarding the state as well as to APPO.
Benjamin Maldonado is more pessimistic: “I think that we lived a situation of chaos, not anarchy. I saw a lot of creativity but lack of clarity, but it lacks a lot of energy project, a lot of enthusiasm but lack of vision, a lot of confluence without seeing the impossibilities of continuity.”
The current situation
Despite the repression and issues with internal groups, the movement has left behind the principles that were born. The struggle in Oaxaca that is inspired by a structural change in the ways of life of native peoples is not over. One example is the recent formation of Voices of Women from Oaxaca Building Autonomy and Freedom (VOCAL), a space formed not only by individuals and anarchist collectives but also by many others since the beginning of the mobilizations that were fought from inside and outside the APPO. U. An area that affects autonomy as a basis for socio-political order and refuses to leave the reins of political destiny in the hands of political parties.
VOCAL has already been subjected to harassment and repression and not only by the State. The imprisonment on April 13th of one of its members, David Venegas Reyes, a member of the State Board of APPO from where they fought against the positions of electioneering to those he defined as traitors to the movement (and who have identified and even accused of being a infiltration) is the clearest example of this.
Currently Oaxaca is living in a state of selective repression and harassment against all groups who continue to advocate the need for the disappearance of the state and the formal democracy that underpins it and this is helped by groups, such as the RPF, that criminalize all those who are standing in way of the claims of institutional power. Surely the media will give support to some of the processes that sooner or later will erupt and lead to situations worthy of a good photograph on the front page. Until that time, we must not forget and as often is said in these lands, “Zapata lives, the struggle continues.”