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(en) Mexico, Oaxaca, The APPO two years on: Where now for Oaxaca's social movement? By Scott Campbell

Date Sat, 06 Sep 2008 21:07:19 +0300

This fall in Oaxaca marks a season of commemorations. Already marches for fallen
APPO members Jose Jimenez Colmenares and Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes have woven
their ways through the streets of the city, pausing at the spots they were
murdered in 2006, holding ceremonies at the Cathedral. Twenty-four more such
processions await Oaxaca in the coming months. That number will only grow as
efforts are pursued to identify the, at minimum, eight bodies in hidden graves
discovered recently in Oaxaca's main cemetery. ---- In what is a lifetime for
social movements and a blink of an eye in history's ledger, a little more than
two years have passed since the people of Oaxaca erupted in spontaneous but
ingrained rebellion against the barbaric rule of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz
(URO) and all that he embodies.

Mere days after URO's storm troopers raided the city center on June 14, 2006, in
an attempt to remove the encampment of striking teachers (after regrouping, the
zocalo was retaken by the teachers and their supporters), the Popular Assembly
of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed.

At its core, the APPO was a consensus-driven, horizontal grouping rooted in the
millennia-old indigenous practice of assemblies. David Venegas, APPO
participant and member of the anarchist group VOCAL, recently wrote in the
Oaxacan daily Noticias that "the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca is,
naturally, opposed to power, since horizontalism, respect for consensus and
respectful dialog are the fundamental principles of the assembly."[1] For more
than five months, APPO controlled the city of Oaxaca and much of the state. Not
until Vicente Fox, in one of his parting shots as president, sent in
paramilitary federal police on November 25 did URO regain "control." Rather it
would be more accurate to say the APPO lost physical control. Much has been
written and recounted about those "days of freedom", as one friend called them,
that it is unnecessary to relate them here. For a comprehensive recounting, I
recommend Nancy Davies' The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, available
from NarcoNews.com.

Two years later what is left now in Oaxaca? Has the APPO been reduced to a
memorial mechanism to commemorate its fallen? Is it accurate, as URO keeps
insisting with epileptic vigor, that, "nothing is happening" here? Or are we
seeing a movement in chrysalis, reconsolidating only to reemerge just as
vibrant, but even smarter, than before?

To be sure, there are conflicting messages and what will emerge is far from
predetermined. A bleak picture can easily be painted. For starters, the APPO
for all intents and purposes no longer exists, in terms of an assembly which
meets, makes collective decisions, and takes action. However, many organizations
that were part of the APPO still use that name when publicizing their actions
and sending out communiques, which ironically - or tragically - frequently
denounce other organizations that were APPO members and who also use the APPO
label. Obviously this creates confusion at best and dejection and
disillusionment at worst.

There are no clean divisions here, but the conflict can be uneasily broken down
into two general camps. Those who have chosen to use the political and social
clout of the APPO to engage with the current political system and try to get
what they can from it and those who reject any relationship with the system that
in 2006 was killing and disappearing their comrades. This has created, as Kiado
Cruz, editor of OaxacaLibre.org, wrote, "a general paralysis"[2] within the
social movement and in its current formulation there is no hope for forward
progress. This loggerhead has led to diminishing displays of social mobilization
under the banner of the APPO, and in further blows to the now agency-less
entity, these disputes between the two camps often take place publicly.

One example of the mutual animosity occurred during a march on August 10th,
marking the murder of Jose Jimenez Colmenares. While the procession paused
where Jimenez fell, anarcho-punks spray painted the walls of the building
Jimenez was shot from. A couple of the slogans included denunciations of Zenen
Bravo. "Our fallen don't fit in ballot boxes. Understand that, Zenen!" screamed
the walls. Bravo is now a state representative in Oaxaca, a former council
member of the APPO, and an organizer with the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR),
a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist group. Elected in 2007, his decision to run on the
joint ticket of the PRD-PT-Convergencia ("center-left" political parties) was a
major blow to the integrity of the APPO which as a general rule rejected
involvement with political parties and electoral politics. Later on in the
march, German Mendoza Nube, another leader of the FPR, was heckled with calls of
"traitor" when he gave a speech. FPR members rushed the hecklers - who were the
anarcho-punks, members of the anarchist group VOCAL, and other - and an
intra-APPO street fight nearly broke out.

The next day, along with the dispute being mentioned in the media, the
"official" APPO website, run by an FPR member, exaggerated the incident and
denounced VOCAL. The following week a march occurred for Lorenzo San Pablo,
another murdered APPO member, organized by VOCAL, and the "official" APPO
website did not see fit to mention it.

While this dispute plays out in the streets and the internet, the power-hungry
members of APPO continue their dance with their former oppressors, now
colleagues, while those seeking to stay true to the original premise of the APPO
propose to construct something new. It is this phase of consolidation,
deliberation, and reconstruction that many believe hold the promise for a
successful social movement.

Many initiatives have taken place in recent weeks which display this new trajectory.

* A five day citizens' forum was held in the upper-class neighborhood of Reforma
in early August. It was inspired by the community's successful effort to block
the construction of a Chedraui (a Wal-Mart-type business) store after the
company cut down 200 trees in a park there at 4am where they hoped to build
their store. The forum focused not just on what to do with the denuded site but
also on "participative democracy, what kind of city we want,"[3] and the
problems facing each neighborhood in the city and what actions, independent of
political parties and the government, can be collectively taken to deal with
those problems.

* Going on right now is a "barefoot researchers" seminar organized by VOCAL and
alternative education project Universidad de la Tierra (Unitierra). This free
and open project meets every two weeks for five hours over the course of several
months to undertake, among other things, "a systemic reflection of the economic,
social and political situation in Oaxaca, with a national and international
perspective, with an emphasis on autonomous social movements; that is to say,
those that struggle from the grassroots to transform society without taking

* Most recently, the First Assembly of Community and Free/Pirate Radio Stations
was held in Zaachila, Oaxaca, at the end of August. There participants created
a permanent assembly for the promotion and defense of community and indigenous
radio stations, one of the most important tools of the social movement and which
is under constant attack by the state.[5]

In a recent interview with Noticias, Gustavo Esteva, president of the board of
Unitierra and long-time academic specializing in social movements, was described
as noting, "Without a doubt"...in his 50 years of observing the social situation
in Oaxaca, "I've never seen such movement and effervescence from below", which
should worry the government...He explained this social effervescence is
"invisible to the media because there is nothing spectacular; it is not defined
by marches, but the solidifying of initiatives for the generation of a new
social fabric".[6]

Reflecting on this new movement, Kiado Cruz labels it "communalocracy". "It is
important to reflect on our actions if our movement is really to be beyond
ideologies or if we are really to be movement that has a face and a heart that
we intuitively know is based in the depths of our way of thinking, feeling and
acting that we inherited from our ancestors...With this intuition we can be sure
that amongst ourselves we can define the constructive means of action."[7]

What results from these forums, seminars and assemblies remains to be seen.
However, it is clear that though the APPO may be broken - just as much by
internal splits as government repression - the will of the people to continue
the struggle has not waned. The focus on face-to-face, direct, horizontal
community organizing, and the rejection of interacting with or relying on
political parties, government and hierarchical organizations, holds great
promise. It ensures that what emerges will be a movement that is genuinely one
of the people of Oaxaca. A movement whose direction, actions, and victories will
belong to the people.

And as David Venegas writes, "Power, as much as it licks the superficial wounds
put on its body by the insurrectionary actions of the people in 2006, and
although it paints and adorns itself with words of social peace, reconciliation
and development on its horrendous body, it will not be able to cure itself of
the deepest wound caused by the people in 2006, the wound created at the source
of its strength by the consciousness gained by our people of the unsustainable
situation and of the need to fight tirelessly to obtain true justice, freedom,
dignity and peace. It is this mortal wound that resides in the heart of power
and from which it will never recover."[8]

Scott Campbell is an anarchist organizer from the SF Bay Area currently residing
in Oaxaca. All quotations were translated from the Spanish by him. He posts
observations and translations Oaxaca-related material at

1 Venegas, David. "El equilibrio del poder." Noticias - Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca.
13/8/08. http://vocal.lahaine.org/articulo.php?p=179&more=1&c=1. Noticias did
not publish the Op-Ed online.
2 Cruz, Kiado. "Dar vuelta a la esquina." Oaxacalibre.org. 24/8/08.
3 http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/oaxaca-ciudad-de-ciudadanos
4 http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/diplomado-investigadores-descalzos
6 Matias, Pedro. ""Incompetentes juegan con fuego": Gustavo Esteva." Noticias -
Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. 3/8/08.
7 See Cruz, Kiado above.
8 See Venegas, David above.
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