February 24, 2007
Section 22 of the education workers union (SNTE, by its Spanish initials) decided that the truce asked for by the state governor was without value and took over the government office of the Segob, in the city of Oaxaca on February 21, along with thirty-two other offices statewide. The popular assembly movement has regrouped and caught its breath. It’s now in a new phase of the struggle for Oaxaca, which I call the 2007 pre-electoral phase.
How the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) has been able to recapture its former strength has three answers; the teachers, the indigenous peoples and civil society. Or maybe four, if you want to include the volunteer unpaid sector.
The internal union housecleaning involved displacing the former secretary of Section 22 of SNTE, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, regarded as a sell-out. Rueda’s formal status appears to be irrelevant at this moment; he no longer has major input into union decisions. Section 22 strength regrouped despite the fracture caused by the collaboration of PRI governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) and national SNTE president, PRIista Elba Esther Gordillo. Between the two of them, they split off Section 59 of SNTE, a group of 2,000-4,000, from the 70,000 Section 22 membership. Heading up Section 59, the Central Council for Struggle (CCL) set up by Ruiz is holding 200 schools, locking out the Section 22 teachers who were on strike. The substitute teachers, along with parents in sympathy with the governor, refused to permit Section 22 teachers to return to their classrooms.
The post November 25 struggle has been violent, with state police coming into classes to arrest teachers who are APPO supporters, and the two union factions in some areas such as Juchitán coming to blows outside the schools. Near Oaxaca, in the suburb of Viguera, according to one teacher who lives there but teaches in another town, round the clock guards (called topiles in the usos y costumbres vernacular) patrol to forestall invasion, capture or shooting of Viguera residents, i.e. our teacher informant.
Segob negotiated a pause in the struggle but did not honor its promise to hand back the schools to Section 22. In retaliation for this failure, about 7,000 of SNTE Section 22 – not classroom teachers –aided by members and sympathizers of the APPO carried out the takeover following the decision of the APPO state council.
This reconnection of the APPO and the education workers union brings back much of the lost strength of the APPO, which called for marches (the ninth megamarch on February 4) that demonstrated that the APPO is recovering from the fear induced during the weeks following the November 25 brutal and indiscriminate attack by the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) and the subsequent hunt-down of APPO supporters.
(I say recovering, but some people are still extremely cautious, others are in hiding.)
In addition to the APPO itself and the teachers, the resolution of the indigenous population is now in play. This segment of the population – indeed, the largest segment in Oaxaca –stepped forward for the popular movement. The debate among the indigenous towns regarding how to self-organize for best protection through centuries of oppression has now surfaced. It reflects two different options. One, as espoused in the Juchitán area headed by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) senator Othón Cuevas, seeks to form a strong regional alliance. The other proposition, long espoused by the generation of men like Jaime Martinez Luna of Guelatao, was for maintaining each community independently, in virtual isolation, and letting the external PRI do what it chose as an exchange for internal safety. The force of caciquismo is so intense, and the people so poor that they are highly dependent on the hand-outs the caciques bring, of cement or food staples. Martinez Luna had good reasons; there’s a paid advertisement photo in Noticias on February 22 showing URO handing out nine million pesos in “education works”. Perhaps Guelatao has lost some part of its integrity even while the process of linking communities of the Sierra Norte takes place, including the push for community radio which may link town to town, and for APPO participation. Local organizations have been the norm, and these hundreds of organizations at the indigenous base still exist.
Furthermore, indigenous families who migrated to the urban areas for jobs brought with them their ideas of collective action and mutual support. That is why the city of Oaxaca’s embattled neighborhoods had as central actors the poor on the barricades and women bringing food. The youth participated as marchers, barricaders and communication workers.
[I should add, lest we lose awareness, a word about the plight of the extremely poor, like some Mixtecas in the municipality of Putla. Some towns have no arable land; they live with malnutrition, no plumbing, no communication with the outside world other than a few volunteers who to try to organize. I was told if the people have absolutely no resources, no slack as it were, they cannot yet think past their complete dependence on the PRI power structure for food, cement, and other “donations”. These “donations” are actually government money supposed to go to these towns but it ends up in private control where most of it is siphoned off. The indigenous towns coming into the fore can do so because they grow some of their food.]
Civil organizations are stepping into visible lead roles again, although a certain number still meet clandestinely. From February 23 to March 25 a group comprised of five civil organizations is sponsoring the “National Meeting for Communication and Society” which has attracted participants from Latin America and Mexico, as well as from Oaxaca. The indigenous assembly, as well as the state APPO assembly, call for promotion of community radio. COMMUNICATION IS PARAMOUNT. Print, internet, photography and other media will be discussed in the light of countering repression and disseminating accurate information.
Another example of civil society is the continuing forum Dialogue for Peace and Justice, which meets this month. The local and national human rights organizations have been working since the November attacks, both to free the prisoners and to hold counseling sessions for the victims of torture.
The tenth megamarch is called for March 8, in observance of International Women’s Day, to demand the freeing of the political prisoners and also to honor women of the struggle. The expectations (hopes)among many for this next march are that it will show the full strength of the movement.
Once again the inept government of Ruiz shot itself in the foot, because the repression was so vicious and so senseless that there is scarcely a Oaxaqueño left who does not say URO must go. From time to time I speak with someone whom I know to be against the APPO and the popular movement, and they agree. One such, a thirty-something woman who lives in a nice suburb and works in a city office, nodded, “We can see after that (departure) what will be possible.”
From now until the August 5 Oaxaca state elections, and then on to the October 7 municipal elections, URO will try to maintain an outward appearance of normalcy. He attends a few very public events, more or less surreptitiously until he pops up in a town and just as surreptitiously vanishes after cutting a ribbon. As an interesting insight into popular sentiment the state legislators (who may yet hope for re-election) already declared a failure of powers in the municipality of Zaachila. The president José Coronel was put aside (and promptly reappointed by URO to another government post) in favor of a man chosen by the APPO-sympathetic local assembly during the height of the first phase of the struggle.
The APPO decided to not run any candidates and to maintain its own position as an independent entity. It voted in its state assembly that those who want to run for office, for whatever party, must resign positions they hold on the APPO state council. A parallel decision was the call for another punishment vote, like that of July 2, 2006.
The big advantage of the electoral season is the obvious restraint it imposes on Governor Ruiz, which in no way applies to the APPO. The state troopers guarding access to the zócalo are down to a few at each entrance. The APPO is out and about. As I pass through the center, a certain vibrancy and air of expectation has returned.