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(en) Mexico, From Teachers' Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca

Date Wed, 18 Oct 2006 09:14:09 +0200


early dawn, oct16
yesterday i went for a walk with the good people of oaxaca -- was walking
all day really -- in the afternoon they showed me where the bullets hit
the wall -- they numbered the ones they could reach -- it reminded me of
the doorway of amadou diallos home -- but here the grafitti was there before
the shooting began -- one bullet they didnt number was still in his head.
He was 41 years old -- alejandro garcia hernandez -- at the neighborhood
barricade every night -- that night he came out to join his wife and sons
to let an ambulance through -- then a pickup tried to follow -- he took
their bullet when he told them they could not pass -- they never did.
these military men in civilian dress shot their way out of there a young
man who wanted to only be called marco was with them when the shooting happened.
-- a bullet passed through his shoulder.
-- he was clearly in shock when we met.
-- 19 years old -- said he hadnt told his parents yet.
-- said he had been at the barricade every night.
-- said he was going back as soon as the wound closed.
-- absolutely just days before there was a delegation of senators visiting
to determine the ungovernability of the state.
-- they got a taste.
-- the call went out to shut down the rest of the government.
-- dozens went walking out of the zocalo city center with big sticks and a
box full of spray paint.
-- they took control of 3 city buses and went around the city all morning.
visiting local government buildings and informing them that that they were closed.
-- and we appreciate your voluntary cooperation -- and they filed out preturbed but still getting paid
-- shut
-- as they pulled away from the last stop 3 gunmen came out and started shooting.
-- 2 buses had already pulled away
-- mayhem
-- 10 minute battle with stones and slingshots and screaming
-- one headwound
-- another through the leg
-- made their way to the hospital while the fighting continued
-- shout out on the radio and people came from all parts
-- the gunmen were around the side of the building
-- they got away
-- they were inside
-- no one sure
-- watchful
-- undercover police were reported lurking around the hospital and folks
went running to stand watch over the wounded.
-- what can you say about this movement
-- this revolutionary moment
-- you know it is building, growing, shaping
-- you can feel it
-- trying desperately for a direct democracy
-- in november appo will have a state wide conference for the formation
of a state wide assemblea estatal del pueblo de oaxaca (aepo)
-- now there are 11 of 33 states in mexico that have declared formation
of assemblea populares like appo
-- and on la otra lado in the usa a few
-- the marines have returned to sea even though the federal police who
ravaged atenco remain close by
-- the new encampment in mexico has begun a hunger strike
-- the senate can expell URO
-- whats next nobodies sure
-- it is a point of light pressed through glass
-- ready to burn or show the way
-- it is clear that this is more than a strike, more than expulsion of a
governor, more than a blockade, more than a coalition of fragments
-- it is a genuine peoples revolt
-- and after decades of pri rule by bribe, fraud, and bullet the people are tired
-- they call him the tyrant
-- they talk of destroying this authoritarianism
-- you cannot mistake the whisper of the lancandon jungle in the streets
-- in every street corner deciding together to hold
-- you see it their faces
-- indigenous, women, children
-- so brave
-- watchful at night
-- proud and resolute
went walking back from alejandros barricade with a group of supporters who
came from an outlying district a half hour away
-- went walking with angry folk on their way to the morgue
-- went inside and saw him
-- havent seen too many bodies in my life
-- eats you up
-- a stack of nameless corpes in the corner
-- about the number who had died
-- no refrigeration
-- the smell
-- they had to open his skull to pull the bullet out
-- walked back with him and his people and now alejandro waits in the zocalo
-- like the others at their plantones
-- hes waiting for an impasse, a change, an exit, a way forward, a way out,
a solution -- waiting for the earth to shift and open
-- waiting for november when he can sit with his loved ones on the day
of the dead and share food and drink and a song
-- waiting for the plaza to turn itself over to him and burst
-- he will only wait until morning but tonight he is waiting for the
governor and his lot to never come back
-- one more death
-- one more martyr in a dirty war
-- one more time to cry and hurt
-- one more time to know power and its ugly head
-- one more bullet cracks the night
-- one more night at the barricades
-- some keep the fires
-- others curl up and sleep
-- but all of them are with him as he rests one last night at his watch

-------------------------
uro= Ulises Ruiz Ortiz "governor" of the state of oaxaca
planton= sit in, vigil, encampment
zocalo= central plaza
---------------------------------------------
Back grownd to the struggle in Oaxaca
----------------------------------------
Oaxaca shares, with Chiapas and Guerrero, the distinction of being the one
of the three poorest states of Mexico. These three bastions of extreme poverty,
albeit among the richest states of Mexico in natural resources, lie along the
Pacific coastline in southeastern Mexico. Oaxaca is flanked to its east by
Chiapas and to its west by Guerrero. Its population, about 3.5 million (2003
estimate), is unique among Mexican states in containing the largest fraction,
2/3, and the largest absolute number of people with indigenous ancestry.
Which of the 31 states holds top place for corruption would probably be impossible
to measure in this intensely contested Mexican arena, as highlighted in the
fraudulent July 2, 2006 presidential election, but for sure Oaxaca merits high
placement on the corruption scale. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming
majority of the indigenous population is among the
most impoverished. Naturally they are very sympathetic
to the struggles of indigenous peoples in other parts
of Mexico to better their lives, such as the attempts
of the Zapatista base support communities in Chiapas,
that have declared themselves "in rebellion" and
asserted their autonomy, often at great cost due to
state and federal efforts to crush them.

The 70,000 or so teachers in the state educational
institutions, state employees, are, by Oaxaca
standards, far from poor. They are part of the state's
"middle class". So it's not as though the majority of
poor people are usually very sympathetic. This
quarter-century-long tradition of a Oaxaca teachers'
strike each May never before was much more than a
nuisance for the city business people, for a week or
so, until the union and the state government
negotiated a settlement, the teachers ended their
occupation of the city center and returned to their
homes throughout the state.

Why was this year so different?

It will come as no surprise to los Americanos that in
Mexico, as in the U.S., there are 'conpany unions'.
But here, south of the border, the 'company' is the
ruling party of the federal government, a big
'company' indeed. The National Union of Educational
Workers (El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores
Educativo, SNTE) is a very large and powerful union,
hierarchical in structure. For over 70 years the SNTE
had been in bed with the government of the ruling
party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party, El
Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). In fact,
until recently, the General Secretary of SNTE, Elba
Esther Gordillo, was second from the top of the PRI
leadership, just below Roberto Madrazo.

Section 22 of SNTE is the Oaxaca part of the National
Teachers Union. Among Mexican teachers there is
another formation, the National Educational Workers
Coordinating Committee (Comité Coordinador Nacional de
Trabajadores Educativo CNTE). In Oaxaca the CNTE,
whose members belong to SNTE Section 22, play a
leading role in setting Section 22 policy. Section 22
has long been regarded as one of the most militant,
independent sections of SNTE.

On May 15, National Teachers' Day in Oaxaca, the
leadership of Section 22 of SNTE declared that if
their negotiations with the state government did not
progress, they would initiate a state-wide strike the
following week. The teachers were demanding an upgrade
in the zonification of Oaxaca, which would increase
the federally-designated minimum wage for the state.
The "logic" (i.e. rationalization) of the federal
government for having lower legal minimum wages in
poor states like Oaxaca is apparently that it's
cheaper to live in a more impoverished region than in
one with a higher average income. Such an upgrade of
Oaxaca would affect waged workers in Oaxaca who are
paid the minimum wage, but would not affect those paid
above the minimum, like the teachers. For themselves
the teachers demanded a salary increase. Their other
demands involved improved school facilities and
meeting students' needs. Much of the money supposedly
budgeted for education is siphoned off by corrupt
officials. There is no accountability, a process not
even legally required in Oaxaca and no bookkeeping.

Negotiations from the 15th to the 22nd between the
union and the state, instead of moving towards a
compromise agreement, became even more acrimonious.
Beginning May 22, a large group of teachers, other
education workers, family members, allied individuals
and members of allied organizations, numbering perhaps
between 35,000 and 60,000 (hard numbers are impossible
to know) occupied the center of Oaxaca City - the
large central park (the zócalo) and some 56 blocks
surrounding it - with their encampment. Local
business, hotel and restaurant owners were, by and
large, critical because of financial losses caused by
the disruption. Quite normal. The ritual of an annual
teachers' strike was by now about a quarter century
old. But never before had it been so large, so
prolonged. Even now, no end is in sight.

During a period of barely three and a half weeks, May
22 to June 14, the strength of the teachers'
opposition to Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz continued to
grow, with additional adherents nursing their own
grievances against the dictatorial regime allying with
the formidable SNTE contingent. Frequent marches, and
two mega-marches, the first on Friday June 2 with
between 50,000 and 100,000 (the police and SNTE
estimates, respectively), and the second on Wednesday,
June 7, with 120,000 brought to the city
demonstrations of size and vehemence never before seen
here. I watched the June 7 march from the parapet on
the north side of the Plaza de Danza as endless
mockery of Ulises Ruíz paraded past, demanding
boisterously that he leave the governorship.
Undoubtedly there were state spies in civilian clothes
with cameras, cell phones, video cameras and tape
recorders, but no one seemed in the least intimidated
or cautious. The entire event was permeated with a
sense of peoples power.

On June 14, when Ulises unexpectedly ordered state
police to carry out a surprise early pre-dawn attack
on the sleeping teachers (many of them women with
their children), destroying their tents and other
camping gear and firing tear gas and bullets, even
using a police helicopter that sprayed tear gas on the
campers, to drive them out of the city center, he
ignited a mass uprising throughout the state and
beyond. The teachers fought back, drove out the police
after about four hours, recapturing the city center
and gaining admiration throughout the state for their
gritty determination not to be terrorized into
submission.

In his year and a half in office since December 1,
2005, Ulises had succeeded in generating a powder keg
of hatred across the state towards him because of his
tyrannical rule. This included his overt attempt to
destroy the state's largest-circulation daily
newspaper, Noticias de Oaxaca , his destruction of
much-loved parts of the capital city's world-famous
cultural patrimony, numerous killings by armed thugs
tied to the ruling party, in communities struggling
against corrupt and oppressive state-appointed
municipal administrations. In sum, it was his attempt
to rule by "excessively overt" terror, including
kidnappings, jailings on baseless charges, torture,
and death, and always impunity for the state thugs
terrorizing the people, that turned the population en
masse against him.

Moreover, history was against him. Fresh in peoples'
memory was the sadistic early May attack in San
Salvador Atenco in Mexico State by federal, state and
municipal police, and the outrage against the
authorities then - incarceration and worse for the
victims, impunity for the perpetrators. There was a
pervasive sense that in such a society, everyone is a
"political prisoner unto death". A multitude of civic
organizations in, and outside of, Oaxaca swarmed to
declare their solidarity with the teachers.
Immediately after the attack the teachers announced,
and two days later led a huge march, their third
mega-march, with 400,000, that included many new
adherents. They all demanded URO's resignation or
removal from office.

The show of strength quickly led to formation of a
statewide assembly that termed itself the Popular
Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, Asemblea Popular del
Pueblo de Oaxaca .. Though instigated as a result of
the teachers' initiative and the ugly state
repression, the assembly went far beyond the teachers'
original demands, which had been limited to
educational matters. Ousting a hated governor had been
done before on three occasions in Oaxaca. Not trivial,
risky of course, but not by itself a revolutionary
act.

APPO is established, sets revolutionary goals

In addition to the immediate third mega-march on June
16 (two days after the assault), the popular movement
of teachers and other members of civil society held
the first state-wide popular assembly the following
day, just three days after the attack of June 14. In
this precedent-breaking assembly meeting, the Popular
Assembly of the People of Oaxaca ( (APPO, by its
initials in Spanish) adopted a truly revolutionary
program by declaring itself the supreme authority in
Oaxaca, and asserting the illegitimacy of the entire
political structure, which had ruthlessly run Oaxaca
as a PRI-terrorist-controlled state for nearly 80
years.

APPO's deliberately broad representation evidently
excluded any explicitly political groups, i.e. it was
to be a "non-political" formation, truly a peoples'
government. As Nancy Davies wrote in her report,
"Popular Assembly to Oppose the State Government", its
initial meeting on June 17 "was attended by 170 people
representing 85 organizations." Included, or at least
invited, "were all the SNTE delegates, union members,
social and political organizations, non-governmental
organizations, collectives, human rights
organizations, parents, tenant farmers,
municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of
Oaxaca." Its intention was to be open to all the
citizens of the state. There was no attempt, so far as
I know, to exclude wealthy people from the assembly.
Naturally, most very rich people who saw their
interests served by the URO regime would not want to
be involved in an effort to remove him and the rest of
the governing apparatus, but wealthy 'mavericks' who
rejected social injustice were evidently welcome. The
only 'absolute requirement' for participation was
agreement that Ulises must go.

Flimsy barriers such as those that had not prevented
the police assault of June 14 were clearly inadequate.
APPO adherents went about establishing stronger
barricades against future invasions. They began
commandeering buses, some commercial, as well as
police and other government vehicles, using some of
them to block access roads to the zócalo and other
APPO encampments. Other of the commandeered vehicles
they used for transportation.

APPO's major strategy for bringing pressure to bear on
the government, in order to force either URO's
resignation or his legal removal, has been to
literally prevent the institutional government from
carrying out its functions: legislative, judicial and
executive (i.e. administrative). The tactic deserves
to be called aggressive civil disobedience, meaning
that APPO adherents carry out their forceful "illegal"
actions as civilians (unarmed, i.e. no firearms). Some
of them have poles, iron rods, and even machetes, but
these are for self-defense. The culture here is not
one of 'turning the other cheek'. They don't sit down
and pray if police attempt to beat them. They have
blocked highways, occupied government buildings and
made a good many tourists and potential tourists
reconsider Oaxaca as a desirable destination, thereby
shaking the economy

As for 'winning the hearts and minds' of Oaxaqueños,
the 'hearts' part of the task has been in large part
already accomplished, thanks to the arrogance and
aggressiveness of URO - the hatred he managed to sow
since taking office as governor on December 1, 2004
and which he's now reaping. Even people who are not
thrilled with APPO are so disgusted with URO that they
are more likely to be passive rather than actively
opposing APPO by supporting the governor.

Winning minds, as APPO well knows, is essential. They
have made that a major part of their work. The
government and its corporate allies fully realize the
importance of what people think. The media of
communication are therefore a prime arena in the
contest to influence peoples' consciousness.

The fight for the communication media

The very first action of the state forces in their
pre-dawn attack on June 14 was to destroy the
teachers' radio station, Radio Plantón. It had been
serving not only as a source of pro-teacher propaganda
since the start of the strike, but as a vital
communication link broadcasting (within its limited
range) 24 hours a day. Soon after the Radio Plantón
equipment was smashed, students at the Benito Juarez
Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish
initials) seized the university's station, a licensed
station with a much more powerful transmitter, and
kept it going non-stop in support of the then
rapidly-growing rebellion. The student-operated UABJO
station was attacked several times, first on June 22,
and eventually put out of commission after a
diversionary tactic the night of August 8 enabled
three people who had earlier infiltrated the movement
to enter and throw sulphuric acid on the equipment,
ending, at least for a time, those broadcasts.

Revolutions are not, by their nature, tidy affairs.
There is no simple chronology according to which, at
certain key dates, one important group of actors halts
its activity and a different group takes the stage.
Rather, a multitude of groups fills the stage at any
given time, and the flow of activity is continuous -
no separation of the actions marked by curtain calls.
Thus it may be a questionable effort to try to divide
the flow into phases. While the attack of June 14 did
clearly mark a separation of events into two different
phases, the ensuing struggle has been, and will likely
be a continuous flow. Nevertheless, the action of the
women who seized the state television and radio
stations on August 1 so powerfully upped the ante in
the struggle to control the communication media that I
will say that act initiated a third phase of the
struggle.

On July 1, the day before participants in La marcha de
las caserolas (the march of women beating their pots
and pans with wooden spoons) went on to seize the
state TV and radio stations, only Radio Universidad
was broadcasting for the popular movement. By then it
had been on the air daily for almost of seven weeks.
It was to continue for another 8 days until the
sulphuric acid attack shut it down. But by then
Channel 9, TV Caserolas as some folks dubbed it, had
been broadcasting 8 days.

The move to seize, or as a graffiti on the wall of the
control room at the transmission tower phrased it, to
re-appropriate facilities paid for with the peoples'
money, was a bold escalation in the struggle for the
media. Channel 9 and FM 96.9 covered the entire state.
For 3 weeks, from August 1 until the early morning
assault on August 21, the "voices and images of the
people" dominated these normally state-controlled
airwaves in the struggle aimed at "winning the minds"
of the people, although of course the powerful
national corporate channels, TV Azteca and Televisa
continued their pro-state broadcasts. But what a
vision of hope sprang from the screen those three
weeks! Ordinary people in everyday clothes spoke of
the reality of their lives as they understood them, of
what neo-liberalism meant to them, of the Plan Pueblo
Panama, of their loss of land to developers and
international paper companies, of ramshackle rural
mountain schools without toilets, of communities
without safe water or sanitary drainage, and so on,
all the needs that could be met if wealth were not
being stolen by rich capitalists and corrupt
government agents.

And not all was about Oaxaca and its problems. The
horizon of consciousness reached abroad as, on one
occasion that Nancy mentioned to me, Channel 9
broadcast a documentary videotape of living conditions
of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One can
only imagine the level of global grassroots solidarity
if the media, worldwide, were controlled by popular
groups instead of transnational corporations.

This flood of uncontrolled, unmediated, spontaneous
communication among the population must have
terrorized the former economic and political rulers of
Oaxaca by the threat it posed, but they dared not try
a repeat of their June 14 heavy-handed attempt to
crush the popular uprising. Rather than risk another
open failure the state authorities pursued a strategy
of clandestine warfare, as described vividly by Diego
Enrique Osorno in his 28 August special report from
Oaxaca to Narco News . The desperate authorities
pursued their so-called Operation "Clean-Up". As Narco
News stated, "Following the CIA's 'Psychological
Operations' Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the
State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody
Counterinsurgency Strategy to Eliminate the Social
Movement".

The onslaught by these clandestine heavily-armed
police officials and state thugs on the transmission
facilities of TV Caserola and Radio APPO up on Fortin
Hill above the city revealed the government's panic.
This assault, in the very early hours on Monday 21
August, totally destroyed the control equipment housed
in a building at the base of the transmission tower.
The racks of electronics were smashed and sprayed with
automatic weapons fire, bullet holes only inches apart
in some of the panels, which I photographed that
Monday evening. There are, as explained to me by a
student friend involved with one of the movement radio
stations, several components that made up the state's
TV and radio stations: 1) the studios where
interviews, news reporters, panel members, etc. met,
2) a repeater station whose antenna received the
signals from the studio building and "bounced" them to
the transmission station, and 3) the transmission
facility atop Fortin Hill, which broadcast the
programs to the entire state.

By knocking out the transmission tower facility the
government-directed thugs insured that APPO could not
operate the occupied state TV and radio stations. The
damage wrought at the transmission control room was a
shocking double admission: 1) the URO government knew
it was unable to retake and hold each of the three
components of its broadcasting stations, and 2) the
impact of the APPO broadcasts was an intolerable
threat. Therefore they destroyed a key component of
what they surely regarded as their own governing
infrastructure.

The battle for the air waves continues. Later that
day, the 21, having lost the use of Channel 9 and FM
96.9, APPO groups seized twelve commercial radio
stations belonging to nine different companies. The
number of seized stations broadcasting for APPO varies
from time to time. This morning (29 August) we were
able to pick up three, one AM and two FM at our
location below the base of Fortin Hill. Apart from
radio, the movement produces and distributes a great
deal of printed material, videos and CDs, and seeks to
spread its point of view by all means of
communication. Radio of course remains particularly
important.

On August 16 and 17 a national forum was held in
Oaxaca to discuss "Building Democracy and
Governability in Oaxaca." Sponsored by fifty
organizations within Oaxacan civil society, as Davies
wrote, it provided "an opportunity to analyze the
crisis and propose alternative solutions from the
perspective of civil society, including a new Oaxacan
constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the
nation." The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist
throughout Mexico and so it is not surprising that the
invitations to attend brought people from all parts of
Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly
inspiring people throughout this nation.

In the meantime, the situation in Oaxaca remains full
of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent on the
power struggle centered in Mexico City over the
presidency. Those currently in the saddle are doing
everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI
rule, but the majority of Mexicans may be ready for
much more fundamental changes. Education, true
education, is indeed subversive. Adelante!
--------------------------------------
By GEORGE SALZMAN
George Salzman was a long-time maverick physics
faculty member at the University of Massachusetts
Boston Campus. Now retired, he has lived for seven
years in Oaxaca. He can be contacted at
george.salzman@umb.edu
Oaxaca, Mexico August 30, 2006
===========================================
For more info you can check the nefac site
www.nefac.net

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