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Women, Political Parties, Barricades and Autonomy

Who Will Live On in the Oaxaca Uprising?

by BARUCHA CALAMITY PELLER

Oaxaca

Although Governor Ulises Ruiz still holds office, and federal police forces occupy the Zocalo of Oaxaca City, the people of Oaxaca have removed the government in practice. The Mexican federal government calls this practice "ungovernability", but this state of "ungovernability"- in which politicians are not recognized, streets are barricaded in rebellion, and mass media outlets are taken over- is the most natural answer to the repression that has threatened the survival of Oaxacans for decades. "Ungovernability", is not chaos nor is it a break-down of civilized social order, it is the sanest and healthiest solution for the people of Oaxaca, because as long as they are not governed they are not repressed. Being ungoverned by others means being ungoverned by and neo liberal misery, Oaxacans have began to create a space where they direct and govern their own lives. The government, while having the opportunity has failed to make any acceptable political concessions to the Oaxacan movement, and has therefore even further demonstrated the realization that is dawning on many parts of the Mexican landscape- that the ideas, desires, and actions of people will never be governable.

The question then is- can APPO continue to realize the same thing?

The Congress-Plans, Problems, and the Lack of A Process of Gender Analysis Integration

The APPO Congress consisted of "mesas", exploratory sessions to debate the form the APPO and its actions will take in the future, the question of international, national, and state context, and the crisis of institutions. The ten people in charge of facilitating the Congress were accused on the second day of having "double interests" (interests with a political party) and changing and omitting some proposals that came forth. This came forth in spite of the fact that decisions were made by over a thousand people representing different sections of the APPO, and for the most part decisions were made on a consensus basis.

Throughout the weekend congress and continuing today is the debate over the participation of political parties. The APPO does not consider itself a political party, however, there is much discussion as to what extent the APPO can have alliances with political parties. Although among many Mexicans there is culture of distrust of political parties, and there has certainly been an anti-government and anti-authoritarian felling in the Oaxacan movement, there has been a disturbing presence of the PRD party in the previous directive body of the APPO. The "leftist" PRD party’s presidential candidate, Lopez Obredor, lost the national election this summer to federal electoral fraud, sparking a social movement of millions of Mexicans in protest of the fraud and Calderon, the un-democractically elected president.

As Lopez Obredor said in a speech Wednesday, "What the directive companeros of the APPO ask of us-we are here to support them. They will decide what we can do to help the people of Oaxaca."

During the Congress speakers often noted that the APPO is an organization open to anyone, including political parties if they are in favor of APPO demands. The PRD has many stakes in the Oaxaca movement, because if Governor Ulises is ousted before December 1st he would lose immunity and there would be new elections according to the Oaxacan Constitution. The PRD would surely be elected, since they are the only party existing beside the ousted PRI is the PAN, the crafters of the entrance of the PFP. In the meantime, the PAN and the PRI both desire that Ulises remains in power until the 1st, because that would grant Ulises the power to appoint a new governor, who would come from his PRI party.

It was decided that the APPO directive base, or the "Consejo", will consist of about 220 members, who are representatives from certain regions or organizations, including students, a spot for "barricades and neighborhoods" and about forty spots allocated for the section 22 teachers union. This is a bright change from the "provisional", leadership, about forty people who have taken up leadership for months despite that their role would be only temporary. Out of this forty, thirty will remain in the Consejo.

During the Congress it was also decided that the APPO would carry through with marches and actions in the coming weeks. Some of these actions are aimed at taking over government offices and institutions throughout the state. Road blockades are planned, cultural events, as well as the re-taking of the federal police occupied Zocalo of Oaxaca City on November 2Oth, the anniversary of the Mexican revolution and the day of the nation-wide strike called by the Zapatistas. This is also the day that Obredor’s supporters will name him president.

Up for debate during the mesa on the crisis of institutions was whether to reform existing capitalist and government institutions or whether to create new and autonomous ones. A clear decision has not been reached in this respect. But a physical battle almost erupted after one speaker said,

"I consider it important that the APPO negotiates and occupies decision making spaces and those of power effectively in institutions; that the APPO negotiates with the federal government and takes spaces in the federal government and takes spaces in the state government, and is not against the search of deep transformation. It is necessary to analyze the form that the APPO takes in the local legislature, so that proposals can be solidified and it can participate in the next electoral process. But there was no consensus in formation of a political party. This in of itself could be the end of the social movement."

The APPO seeks to use the wide range of political strategies to their advantage, and the objective of the congress was to be inclusive of the politics of the rainbow of participants. But the congress did not succeed in reaching a consensus of a general political formation of the APPO, and in this lack of common agreement is the space in which political parties, mostly the PRD, seek to inject their interests.

However, there were 473 representatives from indigenous communities at the Congress, and Oaxaca is the state with the largest indigenous population in the country. The indigenous communities in Oaxaca have traditionally organized within their communities using "usos y costumbres" and lean towards politics of autonomy, Zapatismo, and Magonismo. It is highly unlikely that the indigenous bases within the APPO will take part in reforming government institutions or seek to participate or gain power in the electoral process. The influence of ideas rooted in these communities, ideas of community run direct democracy, have had a big impact in the movement in previous months and will continue to be a fundamental part of the APPO, no matter what direction some of the APPO leadership seek to take.

"We have an urgency that women enter into descions," says Jessica Sanches Maya, a member of the Liga "We demand at least 33% participation".

When the time came to vote for the percentage of women who would regularly participate as members of the Consejo, it was clear that the APPO had failed to integrate a gender analysis into their previous political debates at the mesas. The mesa named "Analysis of the International, National, and State Context" accomplished a coherent current class analysis of Mexico, but never discussed patriarchy and Mexico’s long history of oppression of women on a social, economic, and political scale. It was assumed in the APPO congress that because women were present and because women’s voices haven´t been directly repressed within the movement, patriarchy was not a factor that could threaten political decisions in the future or that was necessary to analyze. The congress also consisted mostly of male representatives.

Because of this, patriarchy and a historically based gender analysis was not integrated into the concept of representation. The vote between whether women should have at least a 33% representation or a 50% representation was debated for over an hour. Men who spoke on the side of a 33% representation argued that it would not be possible to have half of the representatives for each organization, region, or sector be women, because many had very little or no women participants.

However, the women in the Oaxacan resistance have had a strong presence, and certainly have taken the most combative and action orientated roles. The lack of women participating to the fullest capacity has had bad implications for the movement. Women had a central role in taking over several media outlets, including Channel 9 television. The taking of channel 9 television was extremely prominent; reflected by more people watching the channel after the takeover by APPO women than in the history of the channel. At Channel 9 and the radios that the women took over, they taught themselves and then others how to use the equipment, and televised or transmitted reports on the Zapatistas and the spring siege of Atenco, among other social struggles happening around the country. In this way they provided a window of information in which Oaxacans could peer out into the context of their struggle. The liberated media outlets were also crucial in coordination and communication between neighborhoods and barricades before and during the PFP invasion.


APPO and the Barricades-Leaders, Political Parties, and Ungovernable Will in the Street

There are people in Oaxaca who will tell you that they are with the resistance to the government, but that they are not a part of the APPO. Before the entrance of the federal police, the three thousand barricades that were constructed around the city were constructed on a neighborhood basis- it was the neighbors that decided to take action and organize locally in rebellion. Many of these participants were in fact members and supporters of APPO, but the APPO simply acted as a name and an organizational umbrella infrastructure in which people took part by participating in the assemblies to the extent that they wanted to. Oaxacans took over the streets with barricades and organized within their neighborhoods, but these actions did not necessarily result from an APPO leadership consensus, and the barricades became phenomena out of the hands of the APPO. In fact, the barricades have always been the most radical elements of the movement, not only in their spontaneous and rebellious form, but in the fact that they have existed outside of the directive of the APPO. All of the barricades except the Cinco Senores university barricade were removed when the Federal Preventive Police entered into Oaxaca City on October 28th. The barricades have not been reconstructed despite calls to action to do so. This may be because the dead, missing, and arrested have largely resulted from repression at the barricades. And after nearly 6 months of the Oaxacan struggle, people may be tired to continue maintaining barricades. This is compounded with comments by APPO leaders such as Flavio Sosa, who say the barricades have no function.

Flavio Sosa, one the most well known faces in the APPO, a man with many federal warrants on his name for his participation in the movement and a figure often named as an APPO "leader", is indeed able to make statements and present himself as a person favorable to the people of Oaxaca. Sosa will certainly have a strong voice in APPO in the times to come. However, Sosa was extremely active in the eighties and nineties within the PRD, giving those in Oaxaca that do not trust the sincerity of the PRD’s leftist profile a sense of disillusionment with the internal desires of some the APPO leadership.

This was further compounded on November 2nd, when the Federal Preventive Forces arrived at Cinco Senores, the series of barricades surrounding the University and its APPO run radio, where barricadistas (people who maintain and defend the barricades in their communities) were readying themselves for the battle to come, gathering gas masks, slings, and bazookas.

According to people at the Soriana barricade, which runs across the streets on one side of the university entrance, and is a key part of element of the entire university barricade, Sosa arrived to the barricade and ordered that they be taken down.

"I was there, I heard him, and that’s exactly what he said, ´the barricades should be taken down´. And of course with the PFP coming towards us no one took down the barricades, and we still haven’t." said Maria Guerrero, a barricadista who has spent weeks coordinating at the barricade.

The seven hour battle between the PFP and the barricadistas that proceeded the conversation resulted in an amazing defeat of the police and the successful defense of the barricades, the occupied university, and most importantly, the protester radio-which to this day is the last transmitting APPO radio. The barricade is now referred to as the Barricade Of Victory. During the battle, in which protesters caused the retreat of federal preventive police, armed with tear gas launching helicopters and water tanks, Flavio Sosa stayed in the safe zone inside the university, and at one point demanded to be able to say a few things on the radio, but was denied by the people inside.

Sosa only came out into the streets when the police retreated and the barricadistas and the local people were celebrating victory, to stand with them and claim his part of the victory in front of the neighbors that had participated in the battle.

"I don’t have proof, but I believe there have been generalized attempts of the APPO leadership to debilitate the movement, and particularly the barricades, which have always have remained out of their control. And that’s why you see that the APPO had decided days before November 2nd that there would not be confrontations with the PFP" says Guerrero.

Some of anti-authoritarian sectors of the APPO movement seem to be musing over the possible motives of the APPO leadership and their connections to the PRD party.

There are two theories to why the PRD elements in the APPO had a stake in the removal of the barricades by the Federal Preventive Police, and have urged that here be little confrontation with police. The first one is that the "directors" of the APPO´s previous negotiations with the federal government, which, although failed in many respects, included opening up avenues and streets for movement in Oaxaca City. The success of these negotiations might have created a political opening for the PRD in the sense they had the opportunity to will the federal government, particularly the Secretary of Government, Carlos Abazco Carranza, to criticize Ulises Ruiz and assist in his ousting.

The other theory is that the PAN wants the movement to end quickly with the approaching d-day of December 1rst, where the PAN presidential candidate Felipe Calderon is set to take power amongst tumultuous social upheaval over the summer elections that were frauded in Calderon’s favor. The winding down of the movement in Oaxaca will provide a somewhat smoother landing surface for Calderon to take power. Because the APPO leaders, including spokesperson Flavio Sosa, have serious federal warrants on their names, it is believed that perhaps Carranza threatened to make good on the warrants if the movement continued, or to not follow through with the apprehensions if the movement backed down in the days leading up to the 1rst . The leaders asked for asylum in the Catholic Church last week because of their warrants but were denied. Yet still, Sosa and other APPO leaders can be seen walking the streets relatively freely, despite the fact that they are wanted by the federal government.

The university barricades, Cinco Senores, continues to hold despite lack of direct backing from APPO. Last week, barricadistas called in to the university radio behind the barricades saying, "We don’t care what the APPO says, we are not taking down our barricades."

Paramilitary threats continue, as well as arbitrary detentions of the barricadistas. As striking teachers returned to work in many parts of the state on Monday, only some of the students entered the university through the barricades to meet with teachers, yet there were no classes. The press took advantage of this to paint an image that the students were defiantly returning to classes. The mainstream press is also reporting that the students are not returning to classes at the university "because the conditions are not right", referring to the protesters at the barricades and citing a safety issue. However, people occupying the university and the barricades to support the radio say that the safety threat lies in the PRIistas who shoot into the university at night and attack the radio on an almost daily basis. To strengthen ties between the barricade and the surrounding community, a cultural event took place Wednesday night at the Cinco Senores University Barricades where films of the Oaxacan uprising were projected onto buses that block the intersection for the neighbors and barricade defenders.

It is ultimately up to the people of Oaxaca to decide if they will replace one political party with another or if they will estrange themselves from all parties, to what extent they will be governed or how they will govern themselves, and what tactics they will take to counter the repression that continues to keep pace with the movement, as death seeks to outrun freedom.

Last minute breaking news:

Political assassinations have become more frequent in Oaxaca in recent days. A 22 year old Oaxacan, Daniel, who was studying in Chiapas, came to Oaxaca over the weekend with the caravan of Zapatistas from Las Abejas. He was kidnapped on Sunday and his body was found on Monday. Later, when his body was being transported in a vehicle with his family, police forces in ski masks stopped the car and took the body, saying that an autopsy must be done. His body has not appeared in any morgue and the whereabouts of his body is unknown This morning, a lawyer was shot three times two blocks away from Santo Domingo plaza, occupied by the APPO since the eviction of the Zocalo by federal preventive police. It is believed that assassinations are being carried out one by one to create an atmosphere of fear and unknowing to repress the Oaxacan social movement.