By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
Last year in 2006 the state of Oaxaca was clearly ungovernable, although neither the state nor federal authorities would formally so declare, because they could not throw out the governor – the state because the governor’s PRI rules all three branches of power; the feds because the weak president Calderón requires the assistance of the PRI. But ungovernability was no secret; unions were on strike, roads were blockaded, government offices were blocked for business, the governor and legislatures went hiding, and the citizens took the streets, while dirty-war arrests, murder and torture shadowed daily life.
Flash forward one year and here is the scene: the state of Oaxaca, despite a Federal Preventive Police unit on every corner, is ungovernable. Arrests and violations of human rights, in the same dirty war, continue.
Photos: D.R. 2007 Nancy Davies
—The teachers union Section 22, mover of the Movement, was split by the governor so that a new small sector called Section 59 supported him and the PRI. Now two union sectors oppose URO’s failing government. Section 59 is banging down the doors of the education building to protest the governor’s failure to fulfill his promises to these teachers. What a surprise.
About two hundred schools remain in the control of Section 59; in others the two contentious sections work in the same building, causing significant stress. Section 22 refuses to accept the existence of Section 59, and now, since 59 has figured out that they backed a governor who ignores them, Section 22 is going about the delicate business of wooing 59 back into the fold. The power of 70,000 united teachers was and would be overwhelming.
The strength of the secretary general of Section 22 , like his predecessor Enrique Rueda Pacheco, is wobbly, to say the least. According to a teacher who spoke about the situation, Rueda Pacheco was simultaneously wooed and threatened by the governor. His family were threatened with death if Rueda did not accept the government pay-off. Rueda has left Mexico – nobody knows to which country – and according to this teacher, once he was gone the government cut off the money they had promised him.
The possibility now is that Ezekial Rosales has fallen under the same threats. It seems to be standard procedure to threaten to murder children of activists (as we know from Dr. Bertha Muñoz). However, according to many others, such as APPO counselor Marcelino Coache Verano, the all-out call by Section 22 and/or the APPO has not been issued; if the teachers were summoned to the streets or encampments, Coache claims, they would all respond regardless of the plight of their secretary, along with the APPO.
–Several other unions are, have been, or are about to go on strike. The unions which are government unions, that is, work for the state, and receive their salaries from the state, are unhappy. In addition to teachers, the university education workers, health care workers, even local police and firefighters protest. On August 22 Las Noticias’ headline reads STEUABJO BLOCKADES THE HIGHWAY. These are the staff of the main university of Oaxaca. Also on page one, the police in Xoxocotlan protested the removal of their chief.
–In the past two months the taxi drivers have blocked roads to protest the incompetence and criminal actions of the government in distributing cab licenses for bribe money –what a surprise– so that there are now thousands of taxis on the roads, with no resolution to the license scandal in sight. The bus drivers have blocked the highways with buses, complaining about their work conditions and the dreadful condition of aging buses, which occasionally fall of the mountain roads due to the crumbling condition of the roads themselves.
–The citizens have taken to the streets. Not the APPO – it’s the PRI-supporting merchants. Another surprise! They protested the government intention to close further streets around the central zócalo, to repave and repair them, to turn them into pedestrian streets. This was after the merchants complained of near-bankruptcy during the teacher encampment when few cars drove into the center. Once again the people – only the label has changed– are tearing out the parking meters (allegedly owned by private persons) and on the streets scheduled for construction, they forcefully removed the orange cones and blocked the workers.
The city of Tlaxiaco protests the August 8 transfer of seventy-three persons to another prison, six hours journey for their families, with no advance warning nor discussion of the violation of prisoner rights. Also in the streets are protesters for a town where access to the trash dumps is blockaded, another where a bridge fell down in the rain, and yet another where paved streets have dissolved. Entire communities, like San Pablo Huixtepec, claim they have been abandoned by the government; photos of falling down buildings and half-constructed schools, roads in ruins and black water running where there is no drainage system, are published daily. Poverty continues unabated (according to official reports, 104 Oaxaca communities live at the level of African poverty), and despite daily news items about human rights violations, these also continue and nobody is indicted. The savage beating of a electrician on July 16 has slipped into the official territory of “yes, we will look into it” smoke and mirrors.
On August 22, in the Oaxaca streets, marchers observed the first year anniversary of the death of Lorenzo San Pablo at the hands of the government paramilitaries with a “March for Justice”. A small but fervent group walked with candles, wooden crosses (saying “misery”, and “injustice”), and banners which read “A person who dies for the people never dies.” Moving from the Siete Regiones fountain to the Catedrál on the Alameda in the center city, they stopped en route in the rain to offer a memorial at the spot where San Pablo was shot. Then, many with their faces painted white to depict the ghosts of the dead who walk among us, they continued to the cathedral where a chorus sheltering beneath their umbrellas in the rain sang hymns with political pro-APPO lyrics. On the pavement in front of the Catedrál the traditional sand carpet in memory of a deceased person portrayed the bird of peace and the APPO clenched red fist. A truckload of state troopers armed to riot level patrolled the adjoining streets.
During the week of August 5 four visitors from Catalonia were arrested and abused before being deported. But perhaps it was only the rain which kept people from attending the memorial march; many others arrived in time for the mass.
The APPO as an organized body seems virtually invisible as they struggle to plan ways to confront the government. Some say internal disputes have enervated them. Therefore, with an ongoing and visible lack of governability in Oaxaca, one might indeed agree that the APPO is everything and everybody. Or that ungovernability is due to other causes – perhaps you might say the people do not submit; perhaps you might say it’s the ineptitude of the governor and his cronies. Last week URO went to the United States where he was confronted with protests in several cities, including New York. Protesters in the street threw tomatoes at the restaurant where URO and other governors were said to be dining. Oaxaca human rights violations are so widely known that even in Finland Oaxaca is regarded as an example, according to a man just returned from there, of the struggle for human dignity; information about Oaxaca has reached global levels.
However, within Mexico the best that has been done was a call on the part of the Human Rights Commission sub-procurator, Juan de Dios Castro Lozano, for Ulises Ruiz to resign, for his human rights violations and for the good of the people. Then Castro, a PAN member, the very next day, retracted his statement saying, “My feelings ran away with me, and I shouldn’t have mentioned either the governor or his institutions, although he may have an ideology contrary to that of this (PAN) government,” according to an on-line article in La Jornada. When Castro issued his retraction he claimed, nonetheless, that he agrees with the verdict of the National Commission on Human Rights — there were excesses committed. Yet another surprise.
And speaking of human rights, the attorney for El Comité de Liberacion de Noviembre, the November Committee of Freedom of Oaxaca, was picked up by the police on Wednesday August 22. According to the committee, Alejandro Noyola was driving in his car with his wife when police from Santa Lucía del Camino intercepted him. They dragged him out of his car and took him to the Santa Lucia del Camino prison, claiming a driving infraction. He was later released. Noyola says he has been persecuted since July 19 when he filed for court protection for the lives of five lawyers, including himself, defending human rights cases.
The year of the uprising has not yet come to an end.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, the transnational projects continue and a meeting has been called for the ”Defense of the Land and National Sovereignty and for the Right of the Indian Peoples to be Consulted“ (see below for the formal convocation). The struggle at the base has overtly shifted to the indigenous populations who demand control over their land and water. Although it was reported as long ago as last year that residents of the indigenous communities were organizing, too many actions were going on in the big cities for the rural areas to receive much attention. Then we were regaled with stories of ”throw the rascals out“ in many rural towns. Now struggles over mining, forests, land, and water have come to the fore.
For the actors, this the sequence of focus on the various Movement players: the teachers in Section 22, then the APPO, then civil society and non-governmental organizations, and now the indigenous and rural populations. The Popular Movement doesn’t die. It changes form and location. The demands for justice continue.
MEXICAN MEETING FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE LAND AND NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
AND FOR THE RIGHT OF THE INDIAN PEOPLES TO BE CONSULTED
In these last years, with the imposition of mega-projects like the Plan Puebla-Panama damage and violence to the indigenous and rural populations has been intensifying. The grand programs of investment in energy projects which the federal government is promoting are oriented to benefit the transnational corporations. They don’t take into account the rights of the communities affected nor the high environmental and economic costs which the carrying out of these projects entails. Furthermore, the Mexican government violates international accords and treaties like national legislation, since in the execution of these programs the affected indigenous communities have been neither informed nor consulted.
With these mega-projects the federal government also is promoting the privatization of the energy industry, which is a national patrimony, to benefit mainly North American and Spanish corporations The Federal Electric Commission in spite of being a public business is acting as if it were the property of a group of politicians and technocrats, offering bad service with high costs and constructing works which mean the dislocation of entire populations as recently occurred with the indigenous communities of the zone El Cajón in Nayarit.
At this very moment the second phase of a gigantic eo-electric park is opening operations, without consultation and as an overt pilfering of socially owned land, to build in the Istmo de Tehuantepec. This mega-project has now meant the ruin of more than 1,000 hectares which are the property of ejidos and communities, all in benefit of the transnational Iberdrola; the operation of 98 air generators in the zone of La Venta has already caused great mortality among birds along with draining the lagoon of Tolistoque, since the environmental impact studies were approved in spite of the great irregularities which they present. Nevertheless, throughout the whole country, entire communities have raised their voices, along with unions, groups of citizens and environmentalists with the goal of stopping the policies which affect the population. Principally in the southeast of our country a movement of civil resistance is growing against the high electric costs. The Guerrero campesinos have managed until now to halt the construction of La Parota dam, converting themselves thereby into a national example of resistance. And in the Istmo de Tehuantepec an important struggle exists against the eolic (wind generator) mega-projects. Nevertheless many of these efforts are carried out in isolation and with small results. The struggles which the peoples and organizations bring forth are unknown by the majority of Mexicans and that prevents a greater solidarity and backing, which is necessary to confront the interests of politicians and transnational corporations.
For all these reasons we communities, ejidos, indigenous and rural organizations, social groups and people listed below sign this call to participate in the Encuentro Mexicano por la Defensa de la Tierra y la Soberanía Nacional y por el Derecho a la Consulta de los Pueblos Indios which will take place between the 22nd and 23rd of September of 2007 in the Zapotec community of La Ventosa, of the municipality of Juchitán, State of Oaxaca. In this meeting we will discuss in worktables as well as in plenaries the struggles of resistance taking place in various parts of the country; we will seek to coordinate actions to confront the great transnational corporations and the hand-over policies of the Mexican State; and we will denounce the grave social and environmental damage which they have caused.
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