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Fransico Toledo

January 20, 2007


The reigning Oaxaca artist Francisco Toledo re-opened another of his community cultural spaces on Saturday night, January  20. He closed his five cultural spaces because of the danger to the uprising from paramilitary reprisals. The "Curtiduria", a new space for graphics, magazines and cultural presentations, originally opened on September 15 of 2006, and closed up after the November attack on the Asamblea Popluar de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO). So it's open again.
      Following the Oaxaca tradition established by world-class Oaxacan artists before him (Tamayo and Morales),  Toledo spends his money on the people. In the past, in my personal view, Toledo's efforts to support the APPO were somewhat inept; he's politically naive. He doesn't do well with commissions or negotiations. He's just announced that he will register and vote for the first time in his life in August, when the state "punishment vote" against the PRI will be called.
      But he knows art. For this event, Toledo brought together the black and white ink drawings of 37 Oaxaqueños beside himself, to  illustrate the situation in Oaxaca. They're not pretty. I don't know who  can live with such grief and despair deployed on their living room walls. The prints were packaged up for 350 pesos each, including a CD of the rebellion, which has been widely televised. Toledo founded the "Comite Pro-Liberacion 25 de noviembre" to free the prisoners.
      The European models of political parties (Communist, Marxists, Leninist, Socialist, and the Maoist groups, too) don't apply to Latin American struggles based on horizontal participatory structures. The popular assemblies loosely and freely self-organize groups of people who come together for a specific goal, such as protecting water supplies in Bolivia, or land, or freeing political prisoners this week, in Oaxaca. Since people rally to a concrete goal, they don't much occupy themselves with political parties or ideologies. Nor do they respond to organizers, who are not needed. Nor are leaders. Nor is a vanguard.
      This is not to deny or ignore that various political parties here in Oaxaca participate in the action. One person might be a socialist, a teacher, an adherent to La Otra Campaña, and to the APPO, all at the same time.

When I see the red stars, or socialist workers struggle banners,  etcetera, I feel they  as political entities do the asamblea no good. For the moment, these groups have self-subordinated their political ideologies to the APPO and admirable individuals have emerged. At the Toledo fund raising event panelists from the magazines spoke , urging the downfall of capitalism. They repeatedly asked the audience to be quiet and respectful ‒ and the audience, (my guess is maybe five hundred people, moving in and out)  who showed up for the public art sale by APPO artists,  ignored the request. It's not that they don't know how bad capitalism and neoliberalism are, and have been, and will continue to be. The rhetoric is a bore. Worse than a bore, it's useless. If your brother has been abducted and tortured, if your husband is dead or your sister was raped in prison, rhetoric is a bore. Money is necessary to get people out of prison. Speeches are not.   
      Many countries have few "unionized" workers left. Workers became temporary employees with no protection or benefits, competing with women and children for lower pay and more hours. Very reminiscent of the USA, and a direct result of neoliberalism's successful efforts to destroy unions. In Mexico, labor unions barely achieved a foothold ‒ so the loss is not as evident. When we arrived in Mexico in 1996 the independent union movement was nearly invisible ‒ ten years ago.
      In Oaxaca the teachers, electric workers, and health care workers are "government" unions, and they account for about 70% of the salaried work force, a small percent of  wage earners. Other "unionized" groups are taxi drivers. Bus drivers usually work for a specific private boss (cacique) of some town. There's very little industry in Oaxaca anyway, except for  "the tourist industry", which of course is non-union.
      Thus speaking of "rallying the workers" is a nonstarter. Speaking of rallying the "masses" is another. I'm not crazy about the term "multitudes", (used by Negri and Hardt, in Empire) but I can live with it. It implies that people worried about the privatization of water or petroleum, or in the case of Oaxaca want a corrupt and fraudulent governor ousted, actually come from all classes, all financial and educational strata, and in any case identify themselves as pueblos, not masses, an important distinction based on the difference between community and agglomerations.
      What keeps alive the APPO is not political analysis from Europe or the United States. This is not to imply that assistance is unwelcome: solidarity is very welcome and necessary to prevent worse massacres, as it was and is, in Chiapas . But what keeps alive the APPO is the communitarian spirit. When roused, the people come. They are waiting to come.
      Toledo, a man with no rhetoric, called for the departure of Ulises Ruiz. He testified regarding 32 disappeared people, and about the prisoners and the assassinated. He knows the reasons behind the popular movement. His home was shot at in October. Toledo, for all his political ineptness, grasps the communal basics. Long before the uprising he was returning to the people the gifts he feels they give him.



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