OAXACA: MEXICOâ€™s WATERSHED.
Mass protests against fraud in the wake of the Mexican presidential
elections this summer and a six-months-old standoff in Oaxaca between
the authorities and protesters have converted Mexico into a hotbed of
insurrection. The target is a long-ruling oligarchy of hacienda owners and
industrialists who may have underestimated populist power buoyant
today on mass communication techniques and encouraged by the
swing to the left on the Latin American continent.
November 9, 2006
By Uli Schmetzer in Oaxaca:
After failing to break the six months long populist protests of teachers, joined by
workers and students, the authorities in Oaxaca are resorting to â€˜dirty warâ€™
tactics to intimidate the population and those whoflocked from all over the nation
to support a protest that has turned into a national cry for social justice
and a more egalitarian society. In this dirty war agents in civvies kidnap people
off the streets, some of them innocent bystanders. Released detainees report
systematic torture. Many people have vanished, classified â€˜missing.â€™ The
first reports of executions and bodies are surfacing.
This is just what happened on one â€˜quietâ€™ day this week.
At dusk, when the voluntary workers tallied up the
numbers the total was 22. That meant 22 young people
kidnapped and missing in less then a day. Everyone
here knows they were snatched by agents in civvies as
they left the rally point on the square and the
streets around the 16th century Santo Domingo Church
in Oaxaca City.
Gone without a trace; clubbed, punched and bundled
into cars to join some 30 others reported missing over
the last week in the standoff between a tyrannical
governor and a popular protest to oust him.
Many of those â€˜missingâ€™ are people not involved in the
protests but snatched off the streets to arouse more
After all at stake in this central Mexican town today is not only the future of a
governor and a region, a cacique of the old colonial school who not only fakes
elections but sees himself as master over life anddeath, but the future of an
anachronistic Mexican political system badly cracking at the seams under the
pressure of snowballing insurrections joined by new forces every week.
Commentators on both the left and the right agree: â€œOaxaca will determine
the political fate of Mexico.â€�
As Latin America swings to the left and marginalized majorities clamor for justice
and a better deal the battle lines are drawn in Oaxaca: Around the Zocalo
(the town center and seat of the provincial government of Oaxaca) stand the
bulk of 15,000 riot police, all fitted out like Star War robots. Their task is to
defend the embattled governor Ulises Ruiz. His name,taken in vain as â€˜tyrantâ
€™ and â€˜assassinâ€™ is scribbled all over city walls, even on the backs of
Ruiz is an old style relic from colonial days. He is hardly worse then many of his
predecessors, members of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) an
oligarchic party which ruled Mexico for 71 years. But the loathed governor has
become a symbol for the evils of a system that rigged its own elections with
methods that were not very subtle and represented a fabulously rich and
arrogant oligarchy condemning the great mass of Mexicans, particularly millions
of indigenous people, to an existence barely above or below the
It was his attitude rather then his alleged election fraud or his manipulation of
land sales that landed the governor in trouble. Each year around May the
teachers go on strike for more money. Each year, after a few weeks or days, the
governor and the teachers union reach a deal. This year Ruiz decided he did not
want to make a deal. He sent in his goons to beat up the striking teachers. And
thatâ€™s how the protest snowballed, taking in outraged citizen, students,
workers and the poor classes.
Ruiz and his predecessors have clung to their office thanks to the gun-ho
paramilitary squads that do their dirty work. Similar paramilitary units work for
most of the large hacienda owners in Mexico. These thug-squads are already
accused of shooting dead some 15 protesters in Oaxaca including an American
cameraman gunned down while he was filming them discharging their weapons.
Even though photos of the gunmen were published in Mexicoâ€™s mass media
not one of them has been charged with a misdemeanor. This surprises no one in
a country where not one single person responsible for the massacre on
Square in 1968 was ever tried or indicted despite periodic government promises
to bring the culprits to court.
As opposition forces contended governor Ruiz was constitutionally incapable of
exercising his duties outgoing President Vincente Fox dispatched the riot
police to keep the governor in office. It appears clear now the PRI, the old
moribund rhinoceros of Mexican politics, will only support the contended
presidency of Foxâ€™s successor from the PAN (National Action Party) if Ulises
Ruiz is kept as governor in Oaxaca. The PAN facing virulent opposition from the
defeated presidential candidate Obrador - who alleges he was beaten by fraud
and who has already declared an alternate government in Mexico - needs PRI
support if its candidate is to be sworn in successfully next month.
Today the phalanx of riot police and their plastic shields stand on every access
road to the Zocalo. The question is how long can they resist popular clamor
written on nearly every city wall: â€œUlises must go.â€�
The answer depends largely on how tough Mexicoâ€™s new president wants to
appear once he is sworn in next month and how much backing the protest
movement can expect from the opposition and organizations like the Zapatistas
or the followers of defeated presidential candidate Obrador as well as an
international community that has been taking a growing interest inthe violations
of human rights in Oaxaca.
In the meantime the police water cannons, the tear-gas-firing rifles and large
doses of pepper gas are keeping the governor safe from being lifted to
safety by the hovering police helicopters.
Less then a mile from the police cordons and slightly uphill, outside the
venerable 16th century church of Santo Domingo, the protesters, many of them
of a nearly six months old teachersâ€™ strike, are gathered for their battle
against the governor. Theykeep vigil day and night, in their thousands. Their
fervor has not flagged thanks to modern communication systems that,
just as it did with the Zapatista uprising, had a decisive impact on the protests.
Two radio stations, one run by APPO (the umbrella organization of the protests
known as the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) the other by
university student barricaded into University City on the fringe of town (where
they already successfully fought off one police raid)
broadcast news about incidents, statements and events around the clock as an
effective antidote to the establishment-run TV and radio stations. These
corporate stations portray a peaceful city where citizen clamor to be rid of â€˜the
trouble makers on the barricadesâ€™ and where protesters not police are
responsible for the dead.
In the square the indignation of the protesters are fueled by videos of the
clashes with riot police played over and over. Popular music blares all day,
vendors sell food and artifacts, news about those missing or in detention is
mega-phoned, signatures are collected, donations are taken.
Late at night many of the protesters drift off to homes or friends places. It is then
the agents of the governor pounce. They are well informed about protest
leaders identified by spies moving freely, often with cameras, among the throng
According to voluntary lawyers not one of those â€˜missingâ€™ had an arrest
warrant issued against them.
Over the last days, so the lawyers say, 30 people have gone â€˜missing,â€™
without a trace. Between 45 to 50 more have been located in various jails by a
voluntary lawyers. Most of the detained are students or trade union officials.
There are accusations of systematic torture and reports of bodies taken away in
trucks, a grim reminder of the 1968 and 1971 student
By mid-week the governorâ€™s judicial system had released 43 additional
detainees, all of them after their families, most of them poor with an average
income of 50 pesos a day, were made to pay a minimum fine of 4,000 pesos
â€œThese are mandatory fines that go right into the pockets of the officials
because the prisoners have never been charged nor sentenced. This is
unconstitutional, it violates all human rights, but no one in the federal
government gives a damn,â€� said one of the lawyers Wednesday.
Many of those arrested had nothing to do with the protests. They were simply
picked up as they walked along the streets in the evening. Their arrest is
simply a way to pad the pockets of crooked officials.
In the Square, protesters, already impoverished by 192 days on strike, are taking
up collections to buy the freedom of those whose whereabouts are known.
Copies of the videos showing the clashes go on sale in the
Square and the proceeds are also used to buy the freedom of the imprisoned.
In all this drama someone is still making money, and, as usual, by fleecing the