Oaxaca Libre, La Lucha Sigue!

It’s been a turbulent few weeks in Oaxaca. If you read corporate news accounts of the current uprising in Oaxaca, you’ll read quotes of distressed tourists unhappy their vacation has been ruined by reckless mobs; “how difficult it is to sit in the main square and savour the famous chocolate or mole sauce.” Or the businesses that haven’t been open for weeks. What rarely emerges beyond the spectacle of whiny tourists are the stories of thousands of Mexico’s poor and dispossessed fighting against a system of political corruption as well as entrenched economic and police violence.

What started as an annual teachers strike, that usually ends with a slight wage increase, with a public ongoing picket has escalated into a mass movement that has joined forces with a number of different popular forces to be one of the more hopeful movements we see emerging around the world. Despite ruthless attempts at repression, this movement has grown enormously, connecting with movements from across Mexico and the world. escucha!

On June 14, after police attacked an annual teachers’ strike, community organizers and democratically inspired rebels from across the spectrum gathered in support. A few weeks later blossomed the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca or APPO. APPO managed to quickly pull together elements of Oaxaca’s state regions and municipalities, unions, non-governmental organizations, social organizations, cooperatives, and parents, urging everyone to organize popular assemblies at every level: neighborhoods, street blocks, unions, and towns. “No leader is going to solve our problems,” members of APPO repeat. Over 350 organizations and thousands upon thousands of Oaxacans have joined forces with APPO. Human rights defense groups later confirmed a total of 113 wounded people attended to in different public hospitals of the city as a result of the attempted eviction: 57.5% policemen and 25.7% teachers.

APPO has gone far beyond typical demands of a strike. Oaxaca’s State governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (known as URO) of the long ruling PRI party (who had up to recently ruled Mexico for decades, infamously corrupt and violent) is probably APPO’s main issue. Ruiz was the one who had ordered the attacks on the strike in June, though especially for poor Oaxacans, URO is potent living symbol for both the corruption and arrogance of the PRI. Indigenous Oaxacans and struggling workers have been largely left out of the benefits of Oaxaca’s tourist economy and URO has routinely resorted to killings, torture and repression to solve social problems. Across Oaxaca’s walls graffiti calling for his banishment, extermination and humiliation are ubiquitous.

By September the APPO had virtually taken over all functions of the government, banned URO from Oaxaca replacing him with a “proclamation of good government for the city of Oaxaca, a proclamation for the 570 municipalities, and a manifesto to the nation, declaring the banishment of URO from the government, and that the government will continue to be exercised from the historic center of the city of Oaxaca”. The PRI’s murderous and corrupt local police were also eclipsed by security patrols from the Assemblies. The patrols maintained barricades at night to stop thieves and looters as well as keep tabs on PRIista paramilitaries.
With cops banned from the city under control of the Popular Assemblies, police, military and PRI supporters have been taking a steady mortal toll on the barricades. After the state government issued arrest warrants for 50 leaders of the APPO a now defunct website “Oaxaca en Paz” posted photos and home addresses of organizers with a red X crossing the face of those who had already been killed by paramilitaries. Starting seriously in August a number of kidnappings and killings began taking place. assesinos

On August 7, Catarino Torres Pereda, spokesman for the Citizens Defense Committee, member of APPO, was one of the first to be detained only to be followed by dozens of other disappearances, kidnappings and killings. August 10th, among a number of pro-APPO professors who were abducted was Germán Mendoza Nube, the wheel chair-bound founder of the Teachers Commission of Human Rights. Several days later Erangelio Mendoza González, secretary general of a section of the teachers union was visibly beaten and tortured while being detained by state police. In the months since, a steady stream of attacks from pro-police and PRI forces trickled from news sources, but a serious increase in attacks started mid October. On the 14th Alejandro García Hernández was shot in the head and killed. A number of others were injured in the attack by gunshot wounds. The eighth victim since June. In the days following, coinciding with a hunger strike and a 72 hour ultimatum for Ruiz’ resignation, barricades were attacked by pro-police forces across the city with dozens injured from the gunfire.

On October 27th Esteban Lopez Zurita, teacher Emilio Alonso Fabian and Indymedia journalist Brad Will were all killed at barricades. Brad Will, who lived in NYC, had been traveling across Latin America, reporting and supporting anti-authoritarian struggles and movements all over. Many Philadelphians may know him from marches in support of Mumia or his role during the anti-RNC actions in 2000. His death hit many of us with a sharp blow as we lost a good friend and a solid freedom fighter. In response to these killings, hundreds of actions in solidarity: consulate and embassy occupations with Oaxaca went down across the world demanding justice for Brad and the people of Oaxaca.

The mainstream media, contributing to the ignorance of the situation outside of Mexico, typically described these massacres in which the only ones shot or killed were anti-Ruiz rebels mostly APPO members or striking teachers as “gun battles.” In the NY Daily news for example they wrote of Brad Will’s murder : “Bradley Will, 36, of the East Village, was shot in the chest Friday during a gun battle at a street barricade in the ...”

In all the street fighting throughout this uprising, there has been considerable restraint on the part of the APPO which has for the most part held to nonviolent strategies throughout its struggle. With Oaxaca’s history of guerilla struggle, the guns are there. But in every assault by police and PRI supporters, rebels have defended barricades using rocks, slingshots and Molotov cocktails. Probably a wise tactical move considering that Bush is only too ready to give Fox the go ahead to wipe out some “terrorists” in their back yard.

In the days following the 27th, President Fox ordered a full scale invasion of Oaxaca City by the PFP, a National guardesque police force, using Brad’s murder as a pretext to “preserve order.” For the next few days of the 5000 strong Robocop invasion of Oaxaca, rebels marched and alternately built, defended or abandoned barricades across the city, rarely staying long enough to lose energy on a losing fight. The PFP managed to regain control of the city’s main square, but in the meantime barricades filled other parts of the city and people were on the streets in the tens of thousands standing up to the police. An attempted attack on part of the PFP against the Autonomous University (legally Mexico’s Autonomous Universities are off limits to cops) home to the radio station which serves as the communication hub of the rebellion was successfully repelled by APPO supporters (check out a stream over the internet at radio.indymedia.org).

This uprising in Oaxaca, specifically its anti-politician direct democracy flavor didn’t come out of nowhere. Elements visible from this uprising have echoes throughout Mexico: The City of Atenco’s insurgent population kicked out their own murderous government along with police and waged pitched battles against police in favor of self governance. Chiapas’ Zapatista Army of National Liberation took over large amounts of land and created self governing autonomous municipalities where traditional indigenous forms of direct democracy had a chance to flourish again. The Zapatistas took over and collectivized much of the economy and have generally improved their own lives greatly. Lately the Zapatista inspired Other Campaign (see “From Below and to the Left” by RJ Maccani in last issue) strategy to spread a grassroots democracy outside and beyond the influence of political parties has spread across Mexico and the World with noteable adherents in Oaxaca’s APPO. The Zapatistas whose leadership is now on a tour with La Otra in the North of Mexico, responded to the repression in Oaxaca by calling for roadblocks which stopped trade and traffic across Chiapas and the rest of Mexico on November 1st, with a general strike called for November 20th.

It’s a crucial time to bring up Oaxaca here and in other places outside of Mexico. We should demonstrate some tangible solidarity for their struggles. Listening in to Radio Planton over the internet during the times when the fighting with the PFP is the thickest, people are calling in from across the world, from occupied embassies somewhere in Europe, from a road blockade thrown up in solidarity, along with the reports of actions in the states, all helping to fuel a hope for Oaxaca’s struggle for a better world. But what we can also learn from them is immense.