Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oaxaca Update

Federal troops in Oaxaca

I've been fairly busy at work this week and haven't been able to offer an update on events in Oaxaca, though much has taken place. But Jeff asked what was happening, so I'll do my best to report.

I have to say, I'm certainly no expert on what's going on. I'm too far removed to really understand all the important nuances, so please take what I say with a giant grain of salt. I
'm trying to be as fair as possible given my many limitations. So, here's my attempt at a report (with some analysis) - from the Brooklyn-Texan News Service (BTNS,or BS for short):

The situation in Oaxaca continues to be tense, with several acts of violence occurring during the week, but there are also signs of a possible resolution. Representatives of the protesters met with Government officials on Thursday night in Mexico City, and the leader of the teachers union said afterwards that Abascal (the interior secretary) guaranteed there would be no military incursion in Oaxaca. This was a repeat of the pledge Abascal made in front of a rowdy Congress on Wednesday: “In the name of God, we will absolutely not use repression” in Oaxaca. The APPO (an umbrella organization of the protesters) and the teachers union will discuss the Government proposal over the weekend and respond on Monday. In the meantime, in an "act of good faith," the protesters have withdrawn from one of the radio stations they took over earlier.

(For more background on the situation, please see my earlier posts.)

Thankfully, there was a tremendous public outcry last week against sending troops to Oaxaca. If the Government really did have plans to attack the protesters, they probably had to seriously rethink their strategy in light of the response. Members of the PRD Party confronted Abascal in Congress on Wednesday; many non-governmental organizations and human rights groups spoke up; the Zapatistas demanded a peaceful solution; and some members of the Church also warned against violence, so that all eyes were on the Government and their actions in the state. A high-ranking member of President Fox’s own PAN Party said that Ulises Ruiz, the Governor of Oaxaca, who the protesters want removed, should step down. These are all good signs.

Unfortunately, there has also been a fair amount of violence in Oaxaca this week and some disturbing signs for the future. On Monday night, protesters manning a barricade were shot at from a passing truck and one was killed. On Thursday night, along the coast, a group of protesters were attacked by hooded men and several were wounded and others were kidnapped. I haven’t been able to find out what happened to the protesters who were kidnapped. That same night, a pro-government teacher was either “stabbed in the neck with an ice pick” or “hacked to death with ice axes.” Other pro-government teachers claim the murder was done by the protesters. The protesters deny this and say the action is being used as an excuse for an attack against them. (Interestingly, this last piece of news was the only one generally covered in the U.S. press, with no mention of the other incidents of violence.)

This morning, the APPO claims to have obtained a copy of Governor Ruiz’ Plan de Hierro, which details a proposed violent attack on the protesters in which military and police forces will be used. The APPO also says they now have direct evidence that, in August, Ruiz hired paramilitary forces composed of ex-military elite who were contracted to carry out vandalism and assassinations in order to justify the use of Federal forces.

Also, today, Bishop Raúl Vera of Saltillo, Coahuila, said that the situation in Oaxaca is similar to that which led to the 1997 massacre at Acteal. In that horrible event, 45 indigenous Roman Catholics, including pregnant women and children, were attending a prayer meeting in the village of Acteal, when they were attacked by paramilitary forces and slaughtered over the course of several hours while soldiers stationed nearby did nothing. The indigenous group had supported the Zapatista movement in Chiapas. Vera was Bishop “Coadjutor” in Chiapas at the time.

La Reina and I were in Chiapas only a few weeks before the Acteal massacre, and the mixture of Federal troops and paramilitary in Oaxaca right now does remind me of the situation in 1997. Basically, Federal soldiers are used to surround a large area, cutting off the target population from much outside help, aid, monitoring, etc. Meanwhile, paramilitary are engaged to do most of the dirty work. That way the Government can say, “Oh, it wasn’t us who used force,” and then conduct low-intensity warfare without drawing attention from from the media, who refuse to cover a situation until a certain number of people are killed at one time – like the massacre at Acteal, for example. While we were in Chiapas, the paramilitary seemed to be running wild, with violent incidents occurring almost every day. On one occasion, even the elderly sister of Archbishop Ruiz was beaten and almost killed. I don’t think people in the U.S. have a good conception of these kinds of tactics. They are actually terrorist tactics, as can be seen now in the actions of the various militias in Iraq. You separate the “official” force from the “unofficial” force in order to wage your war and avoid responsibility for what happens. In Mexico, powerful drug lords have significant connections to the military and police forces, so it’s even easier to recruit paramilitary forces.

Members of a Mexican Human Rights Group protesting the military occupation of Oaxaca

Hopefully, the Government proposal includes the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz. If it does, then I think the protest will come to an end. The teachers said the other day that classes would resume 5 days after Ruiz left office. If the Government offer doesn't include Ruiz' dismissal, then I’m afraid that the APPO and the teachers will reject the proposal, which will lead to further protests, which will lead to increasing violence. It seems to me that the PAN, whose candidate Felipe Calderon is about to take power (in the official government), would gain a lot of much-needed public support by getting rid of Ruiz, who’s not even a member of their party. This might also help Calderon and the PAN diffuse the ongoing election crisis. But if they leave Ruiz in power, and the situation in Oaxaca grows worse, then they’ll have two ongoing crises and a lot of the public against them.

Another concern is that Ruiz may try to do something stupid on his own. He must know that he’s eventually on his way out. He’s already used force against the protesters once – which precipitated the crisis back in June – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he and the PRI are guilty of contracting paramilitary forces, and are, thus, responsible for the (at least) 6 protesters killed so far. Since he’s not a member of the PAN, I don’t know how much pressure they can put on him. And as Governor, I don’t know what rights he has to use force on his own.

Hopefully, though, a peaceful – and just – solution will soon be in place. This weekend will be very important. Prayers for a solution, I’m sure, are welcome by everyone in Oaxaca.


Jeff said...

Thanks for the update Guillame. The Brooklyn-Texan News Service? That certainly sounds unique. God bless 'em, though, because nobody else is talking about this. Hopefully cooler heads and just hearts will prevail.

Is your better half, La Reina, from Chiapas?

cowboyangel said...


The Brooklyn-Texan News Service was my attempt at a joke. I'm from Texas and lived several years in Brooklyn. But thinks for saying they sound unique!

No, the mysterious and beautiful La Reina hails from an exotic region of the world called Rye, New York.