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The impact of Oaxaca, Mexico’s struggle is hitting home. Gerardo Bonilla, painter and friend of many in the Austin artistic, activist, and student communities, was one of 149 arrested this past Saturday in a federal police sweep of Oaxaca city that is increasingly targeting the impoverished southern state’s artists and writers. At the invitation of UT student Emiliana Cruz, Bonilla exhibited his paintings at La Pena, in downtown Austin, in October of 2003. He is an accomplished muralist and regularly facilitates and promotes children art workshops in different communities throughout the state of Oaxaca. Prints of some of Bonilla’s paintings will be on display at the protest. (Click here for for a photo of Bonilla with his work).
“The Mexican army and police forces have arrested and tortured hundreds of innocent protesters. Gerardo’s detention symbolizes the Mexican government’s all-out attack on local democracy,” said Cynthia Perez, >founder of La Pena.
The current situation has long roots. On May 22, seventy thousand teachers started a camp out in the main square of the city to ask for an increase in their tiny salaries. This camp out follows a nearly yearly ritual, and each year it bore some meagre fruit. But on June 14, governor Ulises Ruiz of the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI), who was elected two years earlier under disputed circumstances, sent the police in helicopters to put a stop to the teacher’s protest. Many Oaxacans condemned this action and organized to form a broader civil group known as APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca) Popular Assembly of Oaxacan Communities.
Since then the situation has not been resolved and has turned into an all-out conflict. Last Monday the tension in Oaxaca increased when the Federal police (PFP) announced a “zero tolerance” policy against APPO members and their sympathizers.
Now police are searching and ransacking houses and buildings searching for activists. On Saturday November 25th Bonilla was standing in la Plaza de la Bastida where he often sells his paintings. Like many others on this day he was randomly swept up as the police came through the area arresting >everyone in sight. He has been flown to a maximum security prison outside the state of Oaxaca in Tamaulipas where he is being held with out due process or outside access. This event typifies the strategy that is currently taking place in Oaxaca. Since last Saturday there have been at least three confirmed deaths, more than 100 injured people, and 221 arrests – including 41 women.
This Thursday, November 30, many Austinites, including Bonilla’s many friends here, will demand freedom for Bonilla as well as the hundreds of detained and disappeared. This is the fourth in a series of consulate protests against Mexican state violence; the first protest followed the May attacks on flower vendors in Atenco, near Mexico city. On Friday December 1 the new Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, will be sworn in, despite widespread political instability.