ATENCO in Oaxaca

On April 25 and 26 of this year, as part of the Campaign for Freedom and Justice for Atenco, a delegation from San Salvador Atenco including Heriberto Salas, Bernadino Cruz and Piedad Sánchez traveled to Oaxaca where they were invited to participate in several solidarity events. The first one was held on Saturday, April 25, at the Oaxacan Autonomous Solidarity House of Self-Sustaining Work (CASOTA), followed by a Sunday morning visit to Ocotlán, where a struggle is underway against the expropriation of lands for mining projects, and then a forum in the Zócalo of the city of Oaxaca that afternoon. The following report was published by Daniel Arrellano Chávez on several independent media sites.

Oaxaca and Atenco demand freedom for all political prisoners

by Daniel Arrellano Chávez

The righteous and rebellious peoples of Oaxaca and Atenco came together to demand freedom for the political prisoners of San Salvador Atenco, Oaxaca, and all the political prisoners of the country. The meeting took place on April 25 in the Estela Ríos Gonzales Hall of the Oaxacan Autonomous Solidarity House of Self-Sustaining Work, CASOTA. The Hall is named in honor of one of the determined women who took over the Canal 9 state television station on August 1, 2006 and who regrettably died almost a year ago on May 27, 2008

The video screening kicked off the meeting in which members of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) of San Salvador Atenco and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) spent several hours sharing their experiences of struggle generated in recent years.

[The following lines are taken from the presentation by Bernardino Cruz]:
“As far as what’s not seen in this video is concerned, here we learn that Atenco launched a struggle to keep its land from being expropriated. But it was expropriated, and after that, we won our lands back. But this process of struggle created different conditions from those we were accustomed to in the peaceful life we led. Today the governments say that we disturbed the peace and that they had to go in to restore the peace after we turned violent. And there you have the government’s own words, compañeros. In a situation that they provoked, one in which they finally had to back off, We were the violent ones, we farmers, housewives, professional people and workers whose heritage was snatched away from us. We lost everything ––not only our lands, but our homes as well.

Our town is built on an ejido [communal property]. Why? Because the ejido was gradually occupied, but it was still an ejido, and when the government expropriated it, they said, all this is the ejido, so they expropriated everything, even the houses. That’s why we say that the campesinos weren’t the only ones affected. All the townspeople were. When they labeled us as “violent,” they criminalized us and pointed the finger at us, and the people of Mexico said: “Yes, all they say on TV Azteca and TELEVISA is the truth. They’re violent. Look! They’re carrying machetes! That’s horrible!” And that was one of the battles we had to take on. We had to say to the people of Mexico: “That’s not true. When we raised our fists, when we raised our voices, it was to say “No!” “No to what they’re trying to impose on us” And in our fists we held the tools we use to work the land.

November 14, 2001, was the first march, the big march of all the people in our town, of the peoples, of the peoples in 13 towns, to Mexico City. We not only carried machetes. We carried hoes, sickles, wagons, tractors, straw hats, and the bandanas that we use every day to wipe the sweat off our faces. But we couldn’t always take the tractors and the horses with us. That day, we won the first big battle against the repressive forces. We beat them. And the people of Mexico saw how after battling for an hour, the peoples of the FPDT triumphantly entered the Zócalo the same way Emiliano Zapata entered the city, on the same avenue. That was highly significant for us.

So we gradually constructed a new image of people who aren’t violent but who do defend what’s ours, who defend what our grandparents before us built. A long time ago, our grandparents lived on the shores of Lake Texcoco. The food they ate and their way of life was totally different. When the lake was dried up, we had to change our way of life. We had to rescue the earth. Lake Texcoco is a salt lake. When it dried, the salt stayed there. If you go there, you’ll find that the lake lands are like talcum powder. We know that powder is produced because they’re sodium salts, and they’re blown away in dust clouds by any wind that comes up. That’s why after they dried up the lake in the ‘40s and ‘50s of the last century, they had to come back in the ‘60s with the Lake Texcoco Plan.

The peoples around the lake shores gradually recovered these saline soils and made them productive, compañeros. That is what we were defending. And along with them, our traditions that we still have today, our culture that we and our grandparents have created together. We’ve produced these customs, these ways of life, and we said: We won’t let them be taken away.

That was our resistance. We learned to resist. Our symbol gradually became an arm, a machete, and a bandana, just what we couldn’t bring here today. We couldn’t bring the machetes because we knew that the repressive forces that now plague Oaxaca would repress us if we did. They filmed us. At the beginning of our trip from the state of Mexico to Oaxaca, and again at certain crossroads.

We know that precisely what we share with you, the people of Oaxaca, is the defense of what’s ours, something we know that we must keep on defending. Many of our peoples that you saw in the video, who know we won our lands with blood and rage, many of the compañeros said, “We’ve already won, so now we’re going to take it easy.” But there was a group of us, a very small group, who said, “No compañeros, those governments aren’t going to rest easy and we’re going to have a hard situation on our hands.” But there we were, compañeros.

We know the situation they created in that conflict generated the retreat of the government institutions from our town. Some of our compañeros, upon observing the experience of the Zapatistas in the South of the country, very near here, said, “Autonomy for our municipality!” But we didn’t know how to propose it. We didn’t know how to propose it, and our people didn’t understand it. They almost rejected us. They said: “How is it possible to have autonomy? Take schools. Who’s going to give us education? Who’s going to give us health? And we began a process, not the same as yours, not the same as the peoples to the South, but we began to work for autonomy.

The governments saw that we were advancing in our own initiative to create a new municipality and said, “We’ve got to sort out what they’re messing up.” The federal government said, “Ignacio del Valle is the leader. We want to talk to him.” Why? To coopt him. And we said, “Ignacio del Valle is not the movement. He is not the Peoples Front. The government wants to talk? They never did when we were always knocking on doors and they never listened, and now they want to talk. Well, we of the Peoples’ Front will see what they want.”

So a commission went to hear what they had to say. I remember that América del Valle, now a politically pursued person, asked: “Which document are we going to take them when we don’t even have a document?” And we said, “Compañeros, we’re just going to listen, and if the government wants to dialogue, first we’re going to set an agenda to discuss all the points that interest us, and of course, they can do the same.” So they proposed their points, and their main point was the normalization of municipal life, the normalization of institutional life. That’s what concerned them. What concerned us was that they wanted to put an airport on our lands, but we didn’t have schools, we didn’t have a hospital, we didn’t have tractors to work the land with, we didn’t have jobs, we didn’t have recreational activities, many things that are important, so that’s what we brought up. It was the federal government who initiated the dialogue table in 2003 when they realized that we were talking about dialogue and wanted to resolve the situations….

The thing was simple. We were there and the government couldn’t go back to what it had already abandoned. There was no moral or ethical basis for doing so. It was like going back to a deserted town. How could they look at us in the face, compañeros? So that was the situation. The federal government pushed its dialogue table and we insisted that if they wanted to settle things, first we had to go to the root of the problem. And the roots went back to the ones who brought about the institutional imbalance. It wasn’t the people. They themselves were responsible but they were never willing to admit it. We saw the causes and wanted some trials. We wanted justice for our compañero killed in jail by Arturo Montiel.

So that’s why we had to stop the elections, the upcoming federal and municipal elections for representatives and senators, because I also want to tell you that aside from demanding education, health, and jobs, we also demanded the cancellation of arrest warrants, an end to judicial investigations, an end to the trials that were underway. We had to stop those elections and show them that we could beat them once again like we had done before. And we did beat them. They declared the elections null and void. There were new arrest warrants, but we stood firm, compañeros, maybe somewhat decimated, because many of our compañeros who had struggled for the land, went into the political parties, but we said, “This struggle for the land, this struggle for the freedom of the comrades has no color. Its only color is the color of the earth.” And that’s the way we had to defend them.

The federal and state government had to recognize that they had no chance of winning anything that way, so they had to recognize the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land as an interlocutor among all the peoples of the region for their social demands. That’s how we started on a project that bore fruit, and now we see some of the results. They may be disguised, but they exist. Schools. A revision of all the schools was conducted, including those in the planning stage. That is to say, there were plans, but only on paper—construction plans and some money had been spent on them. Well, those schools became a reality. They became a reality. And a review of the clinics was conducted, and now we have a better clinic. Now that I’m back after spending three years in exile, I see the results of what we did. At that time, we said, “How is it possible to have an airport when we don’t even have a doctor, a clinic to put a cast on somebody’s arm or leg?” We demanded immediate medical attention for our compañeros, immediate transportation to a hospital for those who had been in some kind of accident. Lives were saved because they got the attention they needed. We demanded that the state government send helicopters to take injured people out of here to get medical care. They had the means to do it, and we’re not sorry we demanded that. Why? Because many people were saved. Many received attention.

We also started an education process of saying NO to the exclusion of girls and boys graduating from junior high school by making them take a test to guarantee that they can’t keep on studying. They say this examination comes from the CENEVAL, but it really comes from private companies. We started to work on two different options. One was coordinated by the women comrades, and I especially mention América del Valle, someone else who is still politically persecuted; it was an alternative education that has nothing to do with institutional education and it is still going on. I think it should be a long term thing. The other option had to do with what already existed. The parents had to deal with poorly constructed or non-constructed schools, undue charges, etc. The kids couldn’t get into high school. We said “No” to this junior high school diploma that was required for getting into high school. The only high school in Atenco was forced to accept 60 students in two years thanks to the efforts of the Front, and the third year was coming up. If we had continued in the same vein, we would have had 90 students, almost 30% of those who entered this way. This was the situation, compañeros. The fear that the high school would be full of our people.

First, the Enrique Peña Nieto government reduced the importance of the dialogue and assigned it to Texcoco. Then, in January or February he said, “Give me a chance to see about all the investments in education.” Almost two months later, April 6, 2006, we showed the government that we know how to dialogue. Ignacio del Valle once said, “We physically won back the land with our arms and our bodies. Then we stopped the elections. But at the dialogue table, we the Peoples’ Front also showed that we were able to defeat them without using physical force. They just didn’t know what to do. They thought they were going to find people who didn’t know anything about education or anything else, but we had our engineers, our lawyers, our teachers who were all aware of our cause. Those were our advances.

So ever since February they had been planning the crackdown. This came partly because of the solidarity alliances that were being forged. We always went to show our solidarity in different situations, because we knew we weren’t going to win the struggle for the land alone. We would win it with the support of everyone, the organizations, the people of Mexico, the peoples of the world.

And let’s remember, compañeros, that Vicente Fox didn’t back down because he wanted to. He loved the polls, and the polls showed that 80% of the Mexican people thought we shouldn’t lose our lands. That was the situation we experienced when we went to Mexico City and people came out in the streets to welcome us. Even when they said we were violent, these “violent ones” were cheered by the people of Mexico City, of Nezahualcoyotl, of the State of Mexico, of Ecatepec. The foot bridges were full of people waiting for us as our contingents marched by. It was beautiful to see that the people realized that our small towns were right.
On April 23, we welcomed the Other Campaign, Subcomandante Marcos, the EZLN. And the people turned out. There was a parade that the Subcomandante called the Seventh Battalion of the Cavalry, or something like that. All these elements were giving rise to the repression. They were planning it. They wanted to make an example of us so that the people of Mexico would never again dare to speak out like we had done. In my case, we were there on May 3, as you saw in the video, and on May 4, I was served with an arrest warrant.

The Peoples’ Front has beat the government once again. Because the government did everything it did to wipe us out. To put us out of existence. And today I tell you, compañeros, with my arm held high, that the Front is on the march.

And today we not only defend our land that is still under attack, this land that is not for sale, this land we love and will defend. Yes, we will! Down to our last drop of blood, as José Enríque Espinoza used to say. But this struggle for land has now become a struggle for the freedom of our compañeros held prisoners and for those that are politically pursued. We now understand that this struggle is for all the prisoners and disappeared people and pursued people in this country and the world, because I stand here before you after winning and then losing several protective orders. I thought there was no hope for me, legally speaking. They wanted to give me 67 years, just like they did Ignacio del Valle. It was a stone around my neck, and I thought, “What can I do?” But thanks to all of you, thanks to your solidarity, my family was able to get along, not without deep psychological wounds, which must be healed now that I’m back, but thanks to the solidarity of the peoples, the organizations in Mexico, the universities, workers, farmers, housewives, acting in conjunction with the legal strategy, and the support of organizations in the United States, Spain, France, Canada, Argentina, Germany, and many other countries, I’m here today. I want to end by expressing my undying thanks for what you’ve done for me. You’ve done all this for me, and now I’m here with you and I can be with my family. Thank you, compañeros. ………


We’ll be expecting you on May 3 and 4 in Atenco. In Atenco on May 3 there’s an all day event, and on May 4 [now postponed to June 4 in view of the State of Exception in Mexico], there’ll be a march from the Ángel to the Zócalo and another from Atenco to DF. This is a first stage in the Campaign for Freedom and Justice for Atenco that must continue until all our comrades are free.

“Forward ever, compañeros. The riot police are there to scare us. They don’t offer us a thing. We’ll keep moving on!” added Doña María Sánchez.

Compañeros, we thank you so much for the space and for the invitation, compañeros de VOCAL. Also to all of you who made it possible for us to come here. And I want to say that what you’ve said is real, that we have to join forces with our fears, our pain, our rage so that we can change this country and make a new world where many worlds fit in. We have to do it together. Let’s join together. From now on, let’s do that and let’s move forward together to make this change that we all need, compañeros. Thank you for everything.
Yesterday for the land, today for freedom, the people united will never surrender!

The politico-cultural event in the Zocalo of the city of Oaxaca, part of the Campaign for Freedom and Justice for Atenco, got started at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday, April 26. There couldn’t have been a better place for the encounter of two of Mexico’s rebellious peoples that have won out over the repressive forces of the Mexican State, having withstood the full force of its brutal repression. They are moving forward together in this freedom struggle.

At 5:15 sharp the commission that had made the trip from the lands of Texcoco arrived and took their places at the table. The representatives of San Salvador Atenco were Heriberto Salas, arrested on May 3, 2006; Bernadino Cruz, recently returned from exile, and Piedad Sánchez.

“Thank you for the opportunity given to us by the people of Oaxaca, by the APPO, by the collectives that have extended their hospitality to us. We are here with you today just as we were yesterday. Yesterday for the land, today for freedom. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve made quite an effort to be here, leaving our homes and our work.”

“We’ve come to ask your support, to ask the people of Oaxaca to lift your voices and your arms and to help us point the finger at the assassins.

We’ve come to join together with you as brothers and sisters so that we can all raise our voices for justice and freedom. We know the struggle of 2006 left many of you dead, disappeared, and imprisoned.”

“This morning [in the visit to Ocotlán], we saw the same thing the government tried to do with the airport project in Atenco. Today we saw the heroic effort of the nearby towns that have put up their barricades, and we will take this struggle with us wherever we go, especially to the Valley of Mexico, to lift our voices and tell Ulises Ruiz to stop this devastation.”

Many different comrades participated in the event, including those of La Otra Guitarra, who sang several songs; Hasta los Huevos, a duo from Ixtepec; Lucas Avendaño, who gave a performance that was a harsh, corporal criticism of consumerism, which made a real impact on everyone.

The comrades of the FPDT gave talks intermittently throughout the event. Doña María Sánchez deserves special mention. Even after the exhausting trip from Atenco, the previous event in La CASOTA, and the activities in Ocotlán, the 72 year old comrade overcame her exhaustion to speak in the Zócalo of Oaxaca.

Several family members of Oaxaca’s political prisoners participated in the event by selling food, and Víctor Hugo Martínez Toledo’s mother spoke of her son’s situation in the Santa María Ixcotel Central Penitentiary, calling for his immediate freedom.

“We’ve never used a machete to take anyone’s life, only to defend ourselves against the police. All of us together have to bring about change in this country. It’s sad to see how our people are humiliated and exploited. We have to join forces with all our fears, rage, and pain.

“Today we only hope that we can walk forward together, and we thank you for the chance to be here today, in the spirit of that Caudillo del Sur who taught us how to struggle for the land.”