Oaxaca bleeds, but does not give up

News Analysis

On Oct. 29, the rightist lame duck president of Mexico, Vicente Fox Quezada, sent in 4,000 Federal Protective Police armed with tanks, helicopters, water cannons and high powered rifles to clear the southern city of Oaxaca (population about 275,000) of the protesters who have held it since May.

The state of Oaxaca is one of the poorest in Mexico and is getting poorer. Teachers are badly underpaid and have carried out actions demanding pay hikes for several successive years. This year, when the teacher protests started in May, the state governor, Ulisis Ruiz Ortiz of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), sent in armed police to dislodge the protesters instead of negotiating, leading to the injury of many protesters.

Ruiz is a typical old-style PRI political boss widely suspected of corruption, including rigging elections, springing his own brother, accused of drug crimes, from jail, and diverting state government funds to help the electoral campaign of this year’s PRI presidential candidate. Even worse, there are accusations that his thugs have murdered political opponents in several parts of Oaxaca state.

So the dislodgement of the protesters in the spring caused the cup of popular anger with Ruiz to run over. Numerous labor, indigenous, community and social action groups, integrated into APPO, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, added their demands to those of the teachers, as well as now demanding that Ruiz resign or be removed.

APPO forces set up barricades in Oaxaca city, disrupting tourism. APPO began to receive support from all quarters of Mexico, including “The Other Campaign” of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which consists of an extra-electoral national campaign against the neoliberal policies of the Fox government.

After the presidential elections in July, there were massive protests in Mexico City and elsewhere against the rigging of the elections by the Fox government and the right (including Fox’s National Action Party, PAN, and the formerly ruling PRI). As the Oaxaca face-off continued, and with reports of the killing of more than a dozen APPO supporters during the summer, tensions mounted, as did national support for APPO.

On Oct. 26, Fox’s interior secretary, Carlos Abascal, appeared to have negotiated an agreement with the teachers, giving them most of what they demanded in exchange for returning to class this week. Yet the next day APPO supporters manning barricades were assaulted by a group of 200 PRI thugs, who opened fire and killed at least three people, including a New York Indymedia reporter, Brad Will. So the struggle at the barricades continued, and the teachers did not return to class.

For the last several weeks, there were fears of federal intervention, fears that materialized on Oct. 29. The Federal Protective Police has a bad reputation for repressive activities in other parts of Mexico. Though some thought the police force might just interpose itself between the APPO and PRI forces, all such hopes were quickly dashed. It became clear that the police mandate was to clear away the demonstrators and their barricades and return the city to “normalcy and order.”

APPO supporters knew they could not engage in armed struggle with the heavily armed police (one slogan was “We can’t deal with their weapons, but they can’t deal with our ideas”). Yet civil disobedience continued, with shoving matches between protesters and police, and the possible deaths of several more protesters.

At least 50 APPO activists have been arrested. The main square, or Zocalo, of Oaxaca city was cleared, and protesters retreated to the university campus where they continued to control the radio broadcasts for a while. As of writing, the police control public spaces in Oaxaca but APPO protests are still going on in a mobile form.

Support for APPO is being organized all over Mexico by the Party of the Mexican Communists, the Zapatistas and other groups. Protests are being organized against Mexican consulates all over the United States. Belatedly, the Mexican Senate has asked Ruiz to reconsider an earlier refusal to resign. This resolution was supported by even some of Ruiz’s fellow PRI members.

The protests will continue and spread, because they arise from the fact that the neoliberal development model pushed by Fox and his PRI predecessors has caused the continuing impoverishment of the mass of the Mexican people, who have their backs to the wall.