Oaxaca at Any Cost
Barricades removed by the Federal Preventive Police, during their invasion and occupation of Oaxaca City since Nov 1, may be reconstructed throughout the city as early as tonight.
"If hostility continues, if detentions and disappearances continue, we will put up more barricades…if Ulises doesn’t leave, we will put the barricades back up." said Alejandro Benitez, a student of the university that houses the last remaining APPO radio station in the city. In an attempt to satisfy negotiations with the APPO to take down the remaining barricades, the government has released a few dozen political prisoners in small groups each day, but as some prisoners are released more people become detained or become disappeared. The approximate number of detained so far is 85, and about 34 people are considered to be disappeared. Indeed, everyday numerous acts of aggression take place against APPO members, their families, and supporters.
Yesterday, as a 5.1 earthquake shook the city, more students disappeared and received threats, prompting the occupied university to declare a red alert. Four APPO leaders with warrants on their names sought asylum in the Catholic Church for the night. Many members of APPO´s 350 integrated organizations have abandoned their homes and offices because of threats and violence from PRI party members or supporters.
"We are on the run," said Claudia, a member of CODEP, yesterday. "They have entered our houses, or they have threatened us, so we are not sleeping or working there. We won’t just go to jail, the PRIistas will disappear us, they will kill us."
Under so much repression, the APPO is meeting today to draw a plan of action. And on the other side, with the governablity of Oaxaca in question, governor Ulises, under pressure from all sides including the Mexican Congress, has accused his enemies in the federal government of "being afraid to apply the law."
The Last Barricade
Cinco Senores is the last major barricade remaining after the entrance of the Preventive Federal Police (PFP) in Oaxaca City. The barricade spreads over several blocks surrounding the Autonomous Benito Juarez University and the University Radio, the only remaining APPO radio. In the past few days, the radio signal has had interruptions and can no longer be heard in some parts of the city, in response, yesterday, a march of radio supporters held a protest decrying radio interruptions. At the intersection of Cinco Senores, each road is blocked with burned buses, rebar and light poles.
Shots were fired into and towards the university four times this week, twice in the early morning, once at night, and in the early afternoon today. Twenty-two year old Marco Sanchez Mertinez was hit by a bullet earlier in the week while guarding the radio entrance and remains in grave condition in the hospital. Though the government presented the possibility of removing the Federal Preventive Police from the city if the protesters removed the Cinco Senores barricade and freed up movement on the central university avenue, the APPO decided that they would keep the barricade intact and reinforce security as long as aggressions continue.
It was here on November 2 that about 150 students and APPO supporters, some as young as 12 years old, were able to force a thousand PFP police to retreat during an attempted eviction of the radio. Although during a seven hour battle the federal forces launched tear gas from two low flying helicopters, shot water with indelible identifying ink, and aimed tear gas canisters directly at the bodies of the radio defenders, they were defeated by a rain of stones, molotov coctails and homemade firework launchers.
A twelve year old boy running through the streets that day with a paper mask to filter tear gas and sweat pouring down his face explained breathlessly, "We are the people and the people cant be defeated no matter who the police kill, fuck them." A day later, two military officers were captured by young barricade guards and released two hours later to the Red Cross.
Apart from the new APPO planton in Santo Domingo plaza, the Cinco Senores Barricade is the only remaining image of rebellion in Oaxaca City. Before the federal forces entered Oaxaca there were close to three thousand barricades of varying sizes around the city, but today the Cinco Senores Barricade is ground zero for the flickering visibility of APPO in the city.
The eviction of barricades gives Oaxaca City the appearance of normalcy, something important for Ulises Ruiz, since he is under a serious threat of being ousted by the Mexican Congress (after being ousted by popular decree of the people of Oaxaca) due to the blatant ungovernability of the state. The image of "normalcy" is also in the interest of exiting President Fox , who insists that Oaxaca is not a major problem and does not suggest the instability of the country as a whole. He makes these declerations despite increasing solidarity protests throughout the nation, in which highways are blocked and the idea of barricading "business as usual" is recreated from Chiapas to Morelia.
The barricades must also be routinly torn down if the social movement of Oaxaca is to be controlled, because for months the barricades are the place where people have come together to sleep and eat, talk politics, and where the youth practice launching rocks in slings and laugh and play.
The barricades, along with the new APPO planton at Plaza Santo Domingo in the center of city, have become exactly what APPO represents; a rebellious intersection of lives that were previously segregated by their common social and economic marginalization. Because the APPO is based in the teachers movement and Mexican teachers have traditionally been the ones with the greatest ability of communicating with "el pueblo", the people, rural and urban social movements have fused around the teachers from different parts of the state. And at the barricades and the APPO planton, Oaxacan people have began to recognize eachother and their similar plight of poverty and misery, in the looming shadow of neo-liberal privatization and development plans.
Life of Terror with the PFP and the PRI
The presence of the Federal Preventive Police in Oaxaca City has greatly empowered supporters of the governor and members of his PRI party. Radio Ciudana, a PRI controlled radio station, has openly threatened members of the APPO, calling on PRI supporters to go to houses of APPO members and to hurt them. There have been reports that molotovs have been thrown into houses of some APPO members. At night Oaxaca City falls quiet, and people rarely walk around unless in large groups, for fear of being disappeared, arrested, or killed.
The government and the paramilitaries alike have used the death of indymedia journalist Brad Will as a tool to step up their aggression. A caller on the same PRIista radio called on people to kill any foreigner they see with a camera, and it is believed that the government used the death of a foreigner as a a justification for the need of "order" in Oaxaca and to carry out more arbitrary detentions of protesters.
"Ulises has made the political practice of terror a constant," says one of APPO’s best known faces, Flavio Sosa."These types of acts have been a pratice of the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. For example, the assassination of Brad Will permitted, accelerated, and justified the entrance of the Federal Preventive Police. This environment of fear has been a provacation by the federal government."
More than three hundred warrants have appeared for APPO members, and there is a search warrant for the University Radio, apparently to look for weapons.
As reports of threats, disappearances, and torture inside prisons continue to pour in, there remains a spirit of confidence among the Oaxacan people who are resisting the government.
Although the Federal Police hold a 24-hour standing blockade in full riot gear on all the streets surrounding the Zocalo, people still insist Oaxaca City cannot be occupied by anyone but the people themselves. Late one night, protesters took pounds and pounds of the day´s trash from the APPO plant on in Santo Domingo plaza to a huge dumpster that sits in front of a line of police with shields protecting the Zocalo. The protesters stuck their fingers to the air and, discovering that the police were down wind, lit the trash on fire. As the police were forced to remain standing in the smoke of burning trash, people walked by on the street and shouted insults at them.
During Tuesday’s march of 10,000 APPO women in memorial of those dead and disappeared, white flowers rained down on the police standing guard outside the Zocalo as the women chanted "Assassins!". In response, the federal police sprayed the march with water from tanks and launched stones at protesters with slingshots.
Despite these confrontations it has seemed that this week both the PFP and the APPO have been careful of major provocations, and that there was small room for give and take on both sides. But all of that is likely to change with the recent buildup of PRIista, paramilitary, and police repression inflicted through scattered acts of violence.
In The APPO’s Gaze
Though the exit of governor Ulises Ruiz seems to be APPO’s primary concern, and indeed APPO was formed as a reaction to the violent attempted eviction of the teacher´s union sit-in in June by the governor, there exists a deeper political desire within the APPO.
"…Later on, the idea matured of not only looking for the fall of Ulises, but also to transform the conditions of our lives that we have, and in our bases to create a new relation between society and the government." says Sosa." We have debated with civil society about the changes that Oaxaca needs, and towards where the type of government that we want must walk. The APPO is taking this avenue. The other is the struggle in the streets…that lately has been converting itself, not only as a peaceful movement, but a movement that is able to respond to the aggressions that we suffer from the PFP".
But it is difficult to tell what will happen when and if Ulises Ruiz leaves, if the APPO will struggle for an autonomous or assembly controlled state, or if they will appeal for reforms with the next governor. The APPO seems to be quite coherent in the need to address conditions caused by neo liberal policies, and in their movement there has been a transformative analysis of political parties, authoritarianism, and the mass media-something that has been extremely tangible with the takeovers of mainstream television and radio networks by APPO women.
While crafting the vision of the future in the APPO Constitution Congress this weekend perhaps the APPO and its support bases will form a clearer idea of their desires and needs, and the new way "of doing politics."