Oaxaca on fire
Before anything else: Please excuse some grammatical mistakes I’ve made in this post. You should understand the topic is really upsetting, and typing while searching for links, listening to news, and gathering the basic information for a five month old conflict is not exactly compatible with me spewing out proper English ;-)
Just to re-state the obvious: Mexico is, once again, on fire. This posting is mainly written with the Debian people in mind - An important number of them, after Debconf 6, went to visit Oaxaca - In late May, during the first weeks of this incredible, stupid and scary conflict we are now facing.
I’ve written in my blog every now and then about our political situation. Many of us had high hopes on our current government. We thought that the authoritarian regimes were a thing of the past, we hoped for real democracy, we hoped for a government that would honor human rights and solve long-standing topics for our society - Yes, we all knew president Fox came from a right-wing party, and didn’t expect much advance in the social agenda -which many of us perceive as the real problem in Mexico- but still, hoped for openness and reconciliation with the past.
I won’t repeat what I’ve extensively said over and over - The thing is, Fox’s government continues to amaze us with its stupidity, with its near-sightedness, with its hypocresy. Fox’s term is really close to an end - In one more month, the govt. will change hands to the first de-facto president since Carlos Salinas (going over another story we hoped to forget).
As some of you wittnessed, there was a popular protest taking place mainly in Oaxaca - Basically, the State’s public elementary school teachers demanding better payment for their work. Such a protest is already a common occurrence in Mexico, as public school teachers are among the worstly paid workers (no wonder, then, our country is still undeveloped - Make public education worse, and you have the warranty of an unprepared, ignorant population). The teachers went on strike in early May, briefly returned to classes on late June to properly close the 2005-2006 lective year, but went back on strike afterwards.
Of course, the local government (Mexico is a federative republic, each state is autonomous and makes decisions independently) took a very long time to act - and acted the worst way possible: By sending policemen to forcefully throw the teachers from their camps in the downtown streets, with no negotiation, no answer, not a drop of common sense.
That led to the formation of the (pleonasmicaly named) APPO: Popular Assembly of Oaxaca’s People - A group of people, partly formed by the unhappy teachers, mainly demanding the Oaxaca state governor to step down, after he proved he is inept for his office. And yes, I’m oversimplifying here, but I don’t want to dig too much - There is fortunately plenty of available information in this regard.
That happened over four months ago. APPO kept control of the city. Nobody denies that this has caused Oaxaca, a city that attracts national and international tourism like few others in the country, a great deal of economic damage - Oaxacan people are, however, still sympathetic to APPO’s demands. Governor Ulises Ruiz (from PRI, the party that ruled the country for over 70 years) has not been able to be seen in public in his state for some months already. The legislative power has also been unable to work properly, and the judicial power is half-dead, doing only its most basic tasks. Renowned jurists, such as Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa, have repeatedly stated that this is enough for the Federal Senate to declare the governing powers in Oaxaca have disappeared - This would put an end to the conflict, leading to immediate elections, but the Senate has denied taking this course of action. Not only that, but the Federal government took the command of the local security forces, tacitly recognizing the local government is unable to coherently excersise their authority. After almost five months, last week they issued an unanymous -but mild- exhort, asking Ulises Ruiz to consider stepping down.
So far, 15 people have been killed in the different represive actions taken, first by the local police under local command, later by the local police under federal command, and starting last week, by the federal police. Today, it seems the army is getting in the conflict as well, despite promises of not doing so by the federal authorities - Of course, they have become masters in the art of breaking promises.
Why is the federal government upholding Ulises Ruiz? Simple: After the undeniable electoral fraud we had some months ago, there are too many indicatives pointing out that our (supposedly) elected president Felipe Calderón (FeCal, as he is better known as) will have a hard time becoming the president, and many people doubt he will be able to hold the authority for the six years. So far, he has shown no better aptitude as a statesman than Vicente Fox: Instead of boldly facing the claims of fraud, he just chickened out and has spent many months hiding from the public, appearing only for selected, friendly audiences. For many months already we have heard “Ulises ya cayó, le sigue Calderón” (Ulises has fallen, Calderón is next). This country has not been so badly shaken in decades - Of course, Great Statesman Vicente Fox insists the country is in peace and there are no red spots. Fox even was stupid/blind enough to state that the problems in Oaxaca would be dealt with easily and successfully, just as the problems in Chiapas and Atenco were doing his term. During Fox’s campaign, he promised to solve the centuries-old Chiapas problem (that resulted in the EZLN uprising in 1994) in just 15 minutes - He just has not had time to do so. Atenco? Yes, in 2002 an angry people made him step back from the most important project of his term (a new airport for Mexico City). In May 2006, Atenco sprang again to the news because of a massive repression - I’m not going into details on Atenco right now, as it would be off-topic, but you can look at my article in FeCal.org.mx or watch a very strong video by Canal Seis de Julio (both in Spanish only) for further details.
Last Friday, however, something was different. In a repressive action, a USA citizen, the Indymedia reporter and cameraman Brad Will was killed by a paramilitary group. Even more, he was killed while doing his work, and we can clearly see this evidence on his last tape. Of course, the US ambassador issued a warning, asking the US citizens not to go to Oaxaca. And, as Lorenzo Mayer says, hay de muertos and muertos - There are different categories of dead people. A highly visible US citizen is more important than the other 14 dead Mexicans, and now the Federal Preventive Police is clashing in Oaxaca.
What should be shocking, but is not so much to those of us who know this beaten country, is the attitude of the authority when taking the city. After five months of occupation, the Oaxacan people have got used to living with APPO - be it for good or for bad. Tourism has diminished, but the people’s living sources have not been attacked. Of course, as soon as the Federal Police took the downtown areas, all sorts of reports of looting have been reported. The policemen are robbing even sodas and chips, and up to TVs and microwaves. As many people state, this is a very Kafkian country.
Of course, we don’t know what will come next. Most of the city has been “freed”, and the APPO is holding at the University. The University is autonomous, and the PFP commands have promised not to break its autonomy - but we don’t believe that. There are fights very close to the University. The Rector himself spoke a couple of hours ago at Radio Universidad, the main broadcasting point for real news on this subject (I am following on the news thanks to KeHuelga, 102.9MHz FM in Southern Mexico City, or at their webpage, from where they link to many other underground or Internet radio stations joining in the broadcast), and the reports are dramatic. Dramatic, as well, is the way all of the commercial news sources are ignoring the facts.
I want to keep you updated, as one of the very few reasons things are not worse is the public opinion and, even more, the international pressure. I’m sorry I’m not giving more links right now, but I will soon. I don’t want, of course, to flood people that read my blog through the different syndications with a technical profile, so updates via my blog will be quite sparse. If you can read Spanish, we have posted many articles at FeCal, and many other individual sites are also joining in. A couple of links, and I’m off for now.