Report from Oaxaca

Oaxaca had been roiling for months. The Teachers’ strike in May. The attack by the military police at 4:30 AM. in June. The APPO. The new people’s government. Megamarches. Snipers. Deaths. Torture. Arbitrary arrests. Constant military presence. Tanks. The military invasions in November. Oaxaca, beautiful tourist city. Destination for many Americans. World heritage site.\par

The government wanted to clean up the city. Those barricades of burning buses just wouldn’t do. Spray paint is not becoming on a colonial building. Oaxaca was losing tourist dollars.

But, the conservative PRI government of Ulises Ruiz-Ortiz had lost control in June. The APPO, the new people’s assembly, wanted URO(the governor) out.

I was part of a group of 16 committed people visiting Oaxaca in early December 06 on a fact finding delegation. The group was a stellar crowd of seasoned activists from all over the US/Canada.

I had some vacation days away from my ob gyn nurse practitioner job in December and was looking for something interesting to do. Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now” had brought the news of the clash in Oaxaca in the end of October and the killing of Indy Media journalist Brad Will.

“And, I do prenatal care.” I said.

To my surprise there was a delegation that fit right into my vacation time. I jumped at the chance, clicked my heels and found myself in Mexico.

Central America and Mexico were old friends to me. I was well versed in their history. Guanajuato Mexico. One of the big silver cities after the Spanish conquest. Who brought out the silver? You know.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. I’ve seen the cathedral of Archbishop Ruiz where Marcos negotiated with the government after the Zapatista uprising.

I knew the Museum of Heroes and Martyrs in Esteli, Nicaragua. Esteli, that bastion of a Sandanista stronghold during the revolution. I had listened while a mother told me how her teenage son died of gangrene after a gunshot wound. The doctors didn’t tend to him soon enough . I had sat around a kitchen table until late into the night. The old Sandanistas talked about how Daniel Ortega had changed. Wasn’t the commandante he used to be. I shook hands with him anyway when I got the chance. The birthplace of Sandino? Been there by chicken bus.

“I work for Amnesty International.” she said. Introductions in a circle of new friends thrown together by choice.

Say the word Guatemala and for some the word guerrilla just naturally follows. This guerrilla told us stories of torture … torture and humiliation of his father years before during Guatemala’s 35 year war. His youth? Spent in a refugee camp across the border in Mexico. When he was 18 he said Adios to his father. He had a chance to live in the mountains. Stepped into his father’s footsteps.

Do you remember el Mozote? The people of El Salvador do. A memorial stands to the 1000 unarmed villagers massacred in the course of 2 days. A 12 year old girl had taken me on a short tour of the area. She sifted through sand and brought up slivers of bones. “Huesos(bones)”she said, “Take them”. I declined.

El Salvador remembers Archbishop Romero too. How he was shot precisely through the heart just as he lifted the chalice. His vestments are on display in an air conditioned museum in San Salvador. They remember the priests, the nuns, the students. They say that El Salvador has the largest American consulate second only to Iraq. The roads are nicely paved without potholes in the consulate’s neighborhood.

They ask now how long can the standoff in Oaxaca endure? Years? The dirty war began months ago.

“I am a pastor.” He said. “I am a teacher and a journalist.” she said. “I am a dancer.”she said. “I’m an activist and a writer.”He said.

Wherefore the conflict? It goes back 500 years and projects into the future with NAFTA and the planned North American Union. You can google SPP.gov. It’s all there. Few people know about it.

Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights, EDUCA, APPO, Oaxacan businessmen, US consular agent, priests and journalists, torture victims, a new widow and the people: our agenda. Packed, stimulating, shocking, heartbreaking. Central square full of armed riot military police, tanks, water cannons on the ready. Riot police patrol the cathedral during Sunday mass.

A talk by Noam Chomsky was broadcast on DemocracyNOW on 1/1/07. He noted the US is losing control of Latin America. The training of Latin American officers has increased. This training has shifted from the State department to the Pentagon. Training focus now is against radical populism. (Oaxaca?)…. Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia have freed themselves from the IMF. Chomsky states that all elements of the neo liberal “reforms”are designed to undermine democracy, designed to lock poor countries into their state of underdevelopment. Latin America only exists for the resources transnational corporations can extract.

Oaxaca: Economic violence has led to physical violence, human rights violations, assassinations, torture, beatings and sexual assault.

How many years will the military be in Oaxaca? Will there be a monument to the heroes and martyrs? A museum? Will there be slivers of “huesos”? Will members of the popular government tell the story of what could have been a few decades from now?

I clicked my heels again and Portland, Oregon reappeared rainy and cold.

I have seen the direct effects of NAFTA. I want others to know them.



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