The New Revolution in Southern Mexico

Oaxaca, the southern state of Mexico, may be the fuse that lights the exploding bomb of revolution in this country of one hundred million. That’s what Alejandro tells me tonight in the Zocalo, the central plaza, which has been occupied now for nearly two months and seems intent on removing the corrupt state governor, Ulises Ruiz, from power.

By now Oaxaqueños have gotten as used to the teacher’s strikes as to the seasonal influx of tourists. For five years the teachers have occupied the zocalo (in what is known as a “plantón”) every may in protest of the neoliberalization of education. Neoliberalization in education means lower pay for teachers and more work (maximization of production), fewer services for students and a greater amount of the overall expense transferred to the communities.

This year is special, however. The teachers were coming to the end of their “planton” or live-in occupation of the zocalo, when the police arrived and attacked the sleeping multitude at 4:30 a.m. In addition to two children and six adults confirmed dead, there were fifteen “disappeared,” numerous wounded and a large number of people who were brutally beaten. Nevertheless, the teachers fought back against the estimated three thousand policemen and were finally able to reoccupy the zocalo and fend off later attacks.

Since that incident, Oaxaca has gone disappeared from the newspapers and media. Most think everything has gone back to normal, but that´s far from the case. For over a month now there has, indeed, been relative calm and the teachers have gained the support and sympathy of the city. They have since been joined in their planton by numerous community and social organizations and the gazebo at the center of the zocalo serves as home base for the Oaxacan People’s Assembly (APPO), the acting governmental organization of the social movement that has been generated in this new phase of conflict and struggle. The demands have become at once more specific and more general. Specifically, the protestors are calling for the immediate renunciation of power of Oaxacan governor Ruiz. Generally, the protestors are intent on revolution, the total transformation of the state.

Such ambitious idealism in any other context might sound far-fetched, but Mexico is on the verge of a social explosion, something that is not only in the air, but painted or pasted on every wall. Since the clear and obvious fraud of the recent elections in which Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has been (temporarily?) robbed of the presidency, Mexico seems to be paused and poised to take action and power at the slightest signal from AMLO, or, in the case of Oaxaca, the APPO.

The first indications of that signal was given yesterday in Oaxaca by the APPO in its call for a day of civil disobedience. In response, students, organized by Magonista anarchist youth, commandeered buses and began blockading major intersections of the city. What was most striking was the facility with which these anarchists, all with ski masks, bandanas, kafiyahs or scarves covering their faces, were able to convince bus drivers to participate in the actions, many of them enthusiastically pulling their buses across the intersections and then joining their fellow drivers in the streets. At one point several youths managed to talk two policemen (the only ones that happened to be on the streets on this day of actions) out of their walkie talkies so they could communicate as they organized their actions. Unthinkable just a year before would have been workers and anarchists joining together in actions much less with the cooperation of local police.

Alejandro, who participated in the action, works with his anarchist friends, but comes out of a socialist, specifically Stalinist formation in the Mexican Communist Party.

“We all have different ideologies, but we believe it’s really important to put these differences aside to acheive our goal.”

And their goal? “Taking power,” he says unequivocally. In this, he remains true to his Leninist roots and at odds with the Otra Campaña of Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). The EZLN, in the wake of its decision to retreat from armed struggle in favor of organizing a peaceful social movment, has now morphed into “la Otra Campaña” (or, simply, “La Otra” as it’s known here) and Marcos into “Delegado Cero.” La Otra has specifically and ideologically refused power, adhering more to thinker and professor of political science at the University of Puebla, Mexico, John Holloway’s idea of “changing the world without taking power.” Indeed, La Otra, and Delegado Cero seem to be closer to Oaxacan Ricardo Flores Magón’s anarchism than to Oaxacan students like Alejandro with their socialist orientation.

Nevertheless, what makes Mexico so special is it’s extraordinary ability to import the most exotic of products, including ideologies, and “Mexicanize” them. It’s a trait shared by many other cultures of Latin America, but Mexicans, with their proximity to the U.S., have considerably more practice at it. What seems to be emerging from the conflict of ideologies in the growing social movement is an authentically Mexican political ideology which, even with strong regional differences, might serve to unite the country in a new socio-political revolution this century.

Mexico, however, remains deeply divided between the north and the south, archetypally expressed in Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The Chiapan Zapatistas and the Oaxacan socialists might have their small differences, differences, moreover, found all over the southern part of Mexico from Guerrero and Michoacan down to the border of Guatemala, but this is nothing compared to the differences these “sureños,” or southerners, have with their northern compatriots. This last election told the whole story: While Lopez Obrador and the progressive Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) took the whole southern half of Mexico overwhelmingly, the northern half went almost as enthusiastically into the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) camp.

Uniting Mexico will be the great challenge ahead for whichever party takes the presidency, although it will be far more difficult for PAN’s Felipe Calderón to control things, given the clear evidence that he didn’t win the election. A much easier task, it seems, will be for the Mexican left to unite for future struggles, regardless of who takes the presidency. Here in Oaxaca is the evidence. Two months into the occupation by the teachers and their supporters residents of a poor barrio arrive tonight to chant and show support for the overthrow of the governor. The women are all carrying stones and one elderly woman has an armful of them. The speaker who takes the microphone on their behalf says that “the stones represent our solidarity and our willingness to fight to defend the zocalo” from the police and the military. Behind the group is the municipal palace, abandoned, its windows broken out. Around the edges of the newly arrived group are some of the students I’d followed to their blockades earlier in the day, among them, Alejandro. He smiles at me as he stands beside Lenin, an anarchist comrade his age who resides in the libertarian tent next to Radio Kapucha (Radio Ski Mask) at the other side of the square. The two of them seem inseparable.

CLIFTON ROSS is a free lance writer who has lived and reported for the past year from Venezuela where he also was invited to participate in that country’s World Poetry Festival of 2005. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including “Voice of Fire: Communiques and Interviews of the Zapatista National Liberation Army” (coedited with Ben Clarke) and When Good Dogs Have Bad Dreams: Four American Poets (1996, Stride Publications, UK.) A book of his poetry translated into Spanish, Entre Margenes, is forthcoming later this year from Editorial Perro y Rana. He can be reached at: