Fears of military intervention in Oaxaca

Issue 

The popular movement in the southern state of Oaxaca has called for solidarity, fearing a massive wave of repression because of a recent step-up in numbers of police and military in the state. Since a strike by Local 22 of the National Teachers Union began in May, the conflict has escalated to a national issue. At its centre is governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, whose repressive methods have sparked a movement to remove him.

The city of Oaxaca has become a battlefield covered with makeshift barricades protecting local radio stations and other strategic areas. Coils of barbed wire, burned vehicles and patrolling citizens can be seen throughout the historical quarter.

The radical popular organising originated out of a repressive operation the governor conducted, attempting to evict demonstrators camped in the city's centre on June 14. What had been a yearly event demanding better wages and better conditions for staff and students exploded into a popular uprising that has taken over governmental buildings and is in some areas the city's de facto government.

The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) has accused Ruiz Ortiz of "disappearing" movement leaders and activists. Recently a teacher was murdered while defending an occupied radio station used to broadcast the protesters' side of the struggle. There have also been kidnappings and torture, according to the October 5 La Jornada.

Since the failed attempt to remove the teachers' strike encampment in June, there has been a steady increase in, and reinforcement of, the Preventative Federal Police and the marines.

The authorities blamed explosions on the anniversary of the 1968 massacre of students on the popular organisations. However, a statement by the APPO on Rebelion.org said that the explosives had been set up by groups with the complicity of the state to justify militarisation and repression.

APPO has not wavered in its resolve to get rid of the governor, which is seen as a constitutional right. Ruiz Ortiz is regarded as corrupt and heavy-handed, and is accused of stealing the election and ignoring widespread poverty. APPO has refused to conduct talks with Ortiz and his removal from office has been an unnegotiable demand.

According to Narconews.com, this was one of the reasons why they refused to attend negotiations at the "Forum for the Governability, Peace, and Development in Oaxaca". Additionally, APPO was given insufficient representation at the meeting table.

Four-thousand APPO members marched from Oaxaca to Mexico City — 450 kilometres — as part of their campaign to publicise the slogan "If they try to crush Oaxaca, all of Mexico will rise up" and forge unity with other movements, according to an October 10 Narconews.com report.

Along the way, local townspeople welcomed them. On the outskirts of Mexico City they were joined by another 10 unions in the march to the Zocalo, the capital's main square, where numbers reached 10,000 according to La Jornada. The cross-country march and communiques are methods that have been used by the Zapatistas to prevent military crackdowns.

The Civil Society Organisation of Oaxaca and APPO recently released a communique (available at Narconews.com) that is an urgent call "to the people of Oaxaca, of Mexico, and of the world to ... come out and defend the Oaxaca people". The movement fears military involvement will result in further bloodshed and human rights violations.

The Oaxaca movement has received solidarity from the other major campaign currently gripping Mexico, the movement triggered by alleged fraud in the presidential elections that robbed left-leaning candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of victory. AMLO's movement has pledged to mobilise and travel to Oaxaca to act as human shields against possible military intervention.

In an announcement made over Radioamlo.org, Mexican unions pledged support if repressive action is taken. Solidarity events have also taken place internationally. In Los Angeles, Narconews.com reported, hundreds of Mexican migrants from the Oaxacan region and their supporters rallied outside the Mexican general-consulate's office.

An October 10 Senate commission meeting rejected a proposal to take over Oaxacan state power in an attempt to end the crisis. La Jornada reported that the commission decided to send an envoy of senators to Oaxaca to develop a proposal to present to the Senate. The executive committee of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI — of which Ruiz Ortiz is a member) has rejected calls for the governor's removal.

For many in the Oaxaca struggle, the removal of the current governor is a symbol of a more profound struggle. Having held the First State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (AEPO) on September 27–30, they now seek to formalise this assembly as a permanent body. The AEPO, an October 10 Narconews.com report explained, would "reflect a deep and longstanding opposition to the politics of capitalism and neoliberalism, plus a rejection of the PRI that rules for too long".

On October 10 Reuters reported that a tentative agreement has been discussed between APPO and the Mexican equivalent of an interior ministry as a way to reduce the potential of violence before the new president, Felipe Calderon, takes power in December.

This is a response to incumbent President Vicente Fox's plan to end the conflict by any means, including using federal riot police, if talks fail.

The agreement would see barricades torn down and popular control of the Oaxaca city centre ceded. Local police would return, having previously been chased out. However, they would be under a citizen commission for security, headed by the sub-secretary of criminal policy of Federal Public Security, which would assume command of the state's police, according to the October 10 La Jornada. While this takes place, Ruiz Ortiz would be impeached through the "institutional path" rasing doubts over the agreement within the popular movement.