Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tension Rising in Mexico

Events in Mexico could take an ugly turn in the next few days. Mexican newspapers are reporting that Federal forces may launch an attack on the capital of Oaxaca, where thousands of teachers have been on strike since last May. The APPO (Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People), an umbrella organization made up of the teachers and their supporters, which include students, the indigenous, farmers and other workers, have declared a Red Alert and are refusing to back down. Designated "Operation Oaxaca," the attack could occur as early as Friday or Saturday and has already been approved by President Vicente Fox. Fox has been under pressure from the incoming administration of Felipe Calderon, of the right-wing PAN party, to resolve the growing crisis in Oaxaca before the inauguration ceremony on December 1. That is, IF, the inauguration takes place. Manuel López Obrador, the center-left PRD candidate who lost the closely contested election and still claims the results were rigged, has convened a ''national democratic convention'' and joined forces with two smaller parties to construct a parallel government. He plans his inauguration for November 20 and has said that he will disrupt Calderon's official inauguration on December 1.

Up till now, some of the teachers and their supporters in Oaxaca have viewed López Obrador and the PRD with suspicion - just another part of the corrupt and failed political system that continues to favor the rich. The situation in Oaxaca has been closer in spirit to that of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, part of a long-term grassroots political movement led by the people, or “the other campaign,” as it has been termed. While López Obrador has been branded an extreme leftist in a lot of U.S. coverage, his candidacy was actually rejected by parts of the left in Mexico for promoting the same neo-liberal policies as the other political parties. Subcomandante Marcos, for example, refused to endorse any of the candidates in the recent Presidential election and asked supporters of the Zapatistas to not vote for any of them. While most people in the U.S. pin their political hopes on the outcome of Presidential elections and the two-party system, an interesting development has been taking place in Mexico since the appearance of the Zapatistas in 1994 - a growing movement away from existing political structures towards newly developed methods of conducting politics from the ground up. We have nothing comparable in the United States right now, at least not developed to the extent it has been in Mexico. The teachers' strike in Oaxaca continues this trend. One wonders what would happen, however, if the situation in Oaxaca, led from “down below,” becomes linked more directly with López Obrador and his reformist efforts “from above.” Already last week, Subcomandante Marcos came out in public and agreed that election had been fraudulent and that López Obrador, who he has long disliked, was the legitimate winner. Could this be a sign that these two movements might collaborate more, at least temporarily? Perhaps, though Marcos has emphasized that the two movements are on distinct paths.

By sending Federal forces to attack the teachers in Oaxaca, could Calderon (via Fox) be warning López Obrador that he might be next? Most Mexicans are against using violence to resolve the situation in Oaxaca, but it wouldn't be the first time that a movement of poor people was violently attacked in Mexico to maintain the political system. And it's all happening right at our doorstep.

Actually, it's not even at our doorstep – it’s here, too. The economic situation in Oaxaca, which has the second largest indigenous population in Mexico, has been beyond terrible. EDUCA, a Oaxacan education and development organization, reports that 75% of the state's 3.4 million residents live in extreme poverty. Many of the Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are from Oaxaca. Some of them, especially in California, have been here a while and have formed political organizations such as the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (the Frente). In 2002, when one of their members was arrested in Mexico, they launched large and effective protests in Fresno, CA. If the present situation in Oaxaca escalates into violence and repression, it will no doubt have direct reverberations in the U.S. as well.

Interesting that the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution is just around the corner.

UPDATED: Five minutes after posting, I came across an article in The New York Times (via Reuters): "Panic Shopping in Mexico's Oaxaca as Crisis Deepens." Incredibly, the article makes no reference at all to the impending attack of Federal forces, which may be a tiny reason WHY people are panic shopping, as has been discussed in the Mexican Press. Thanks, NYT, for that in-depth coverage. But, hey, at least they finally sniffed out the story.


Anonymous said...

This is a very good post on an important subject, cowboy, and something we hear nothing about -- there has been a little reporting on Lopez Obrador, but nothing on Oaxaca. It's interesting to see how el sub is responding.

Jeff said...

Interesting post. Hugely under-reported story.

One of my favorite movies of all time was El Norte, about a brother and sister trying to work thir way up to the States from Guatemala. While they were in Mexico, they had to try to pass themselves off as being from Oaxaca. Every step of the journey north is difficult.

cowboyangel said...

Liam & Jeff,

Thanks. The situation continues to get worse, with marine infantry, tanks, and military helicopters now in Oaxaca. The helicopters started buzzing over teh protesters last night. Now teh governments says it will resolve teh situation by Wednesday.

I saw El Norte when it came out and thought it was great. I'd be curious to see it again after all this time.