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Day of the Dead

November 2005


The Day of the Kings is the day which the Catholic calendar celebrates as the day when the three kings, or wise men, brought gifts to Bethlehem for the new born child.

      In Oaxaca it’s the day when children receive their gifts: not from Santa Claus but from the wise kings who recognize that each child born is holy. This honorable tradition was celebrated by the APPO this year on behalf of the children of the assassinated, disappeared and incarcerated; on behalf of the poor who live in some of the 44 poorest communities in Mexico – all within the state of Oaxaca.

      I must be one of the last who remembers the days when it was still possible to assume that an elected official, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, might feel shame. I remember the McCarthy hearings in 1954, and Attorney Joseph Welch, who demanded of him, “Sir, have you left no sense of decency?”  Welch accused McCarthy of lying, making false accusations and spreading fear and intimidation regarding the mere hint that one might be a Communist – that is, opposed to the capitalist government of the USA.

      Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, fraudulently elected governor, and self-regarded as king of Oaxaca, having survived the first clamor for justice by the people’s Popular Assembly movement which was crushed by federal and state police, has declared that no public assemblies will henceforth be permitted in sensitive (i.e. public spaces) areas such as the city’s zócalo or the large plaza of Oaxaca’s famous gilded church, Santo Domingo. Both spaces were temporarily occupied by encampments of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the APPO, until they were over-run and destroyed by government forces. URO’s order is unconstitutional, but the man has no shame.

      Under orders from URO, about 500 police barricaded for two days the delivery of toys donated by sympathetic citizens for the children. On Thursday,  Aristeo López Martínez, coordinator of Public Security, Roads and Municipal Transportation (Seguridad Pública, Vialidad y Tránsito Municipal), informed the public that installation of the APPO toy fair would not be allowed, and if they tried it, they would be thrown out. Citizens who approached to deliver gifts were told to put them on the sidewalk, behind the barricade set up in front of  the graphic arts museum. Not only were the those who came with gifts outraged, but also passersby and tourists.

      The armed and helmeted troops, their shields at rest,  sweated  in the sun behind heavy metal barricades which held back the flood of toys and balloons heaped on the pedestrian street of Alcalá on the north side of Santo Domingo. Nobody but the occasional tourist was permitted entry to the Santo Domingo area, guarded at all access points by troops.

      On Saturday, January 6, prior to the festival, about 500 people, members of the Oaxaca Women’s Coordinating Committee (Coordinadora Oaxaqueña de Mujeres, with the children of political prisoners, headed a march from the Plaza de la Danza to the Plazuela del Carmen Alto, about eight blocks distant. Many carried balloons and placards demanding freedom for the prisoners.

      Previously, around 11:00 AM, about 200 children whose parents are sympathizers of the APPO marched the same route. In front of their contingent, the kids carried a sign which read, “I want to see flowers and toys, and not armed police in the zócalo of Oaxaca".

The gift event, originally scheduled for the large plaza of Santo Domingo was staged on the small plaza of Carmen Alto, with many toys and people spilling over into the two parallel streets. The “plazuela” was outfitted with a sound system, and piñatas filled with sweets and confetti. Women moved among the crowds handing out free slices of the sweet bread special to this fiesta, while crowds jostled for a bit of shade.

      The program, in addition to distributing free gifts, included children who sang, declaimed verses and shouted “Ya Cayó”  (He’s out!). I was enjoying a coffee nearby when Raul, the owner of the café, said to me, “That’s terrible! They should be learning in school, not on the streets!”

      After five minutes of private thought he returned and told me he himself learned most of what life is like on the streets of Mexico, DF, where he was raised. Then we talked about what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor. Raul told me URO’s government helicopter has been repainted, white with red and green stripes. Raul’s business hung on by a thread for the first six months of the uprising. Raul works two jobs. He ventured the opinion that painting the helicopter was paid for out of his, and other citizens’ pockets.


I could hear the spokesperson on the platform at Carmen Alto announce the formation of the new autonomous municipality composed of  twenty Triqui communities. The entertainment continued with songs and puppets. Families, a majority women with children, began to move away with their gifts, which included cars, bicycles, dolls, marbles and balls. Municipal and state police remained.

Sergio Hernández Santiago, attorney for the APPO, said a complaint would be lodged against URO for violating the federal court order for unimpeded movement around Santo Domingo and the rest of the city. A circle of police barricading the area around the church violates this order.

      The APPO mistress of ceremonies announced the next mega-march, scheduled for January 10, 2007, to demand freedom for the political prisoners and the ouster of URO.

      The march will go from the Plaza de la Danza to the atrium of  Santo Domingo church.  The APPO obtained permission, for both the Day of the Kings and the January 10 march, from the Church for these events, to use church property.

      URO ignored the church’s agreement as well as the federal court order. No decency remains under this governor.

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