Socialist Worker

Mexican state clashes with a movement that has taken over the city centre of Oaxaca

Issue No. 2016

Marching through the streets of Oaxaca

Marching through the streets of Oaxaca

Oaxaca, a city in southern Mexico, has become the scene of nightly pitched battles in which striking teachers have been attacked by armed police and paramilitaries.

Barricades of burning tyres and barbed wire are erected each evening to keep out the thugs who have already murdered several protesters.

One US Iraq veteran, who travelled to Oaxaca to recover from the horror of war, told journalists, “The first thing I thought when I stepped off the bus was that I was back in Iraq.”

The teachers began their protests when the state governor Ulises Ruiz, of the PRI party, left Oaxaca to campaign for his party’s presidential candidate.

Annual negotiations over salaries were left in the hands of his officials - and rapidly reached an impasse.

On 14 June, state security forces tried to drive teachers out of an encampment they had created in the city centre.

The violence inflicted by Ruiz’s forces led to the coalescence of a far wider solidarity movement - the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (Appo).

Appo has drawn in social organisation and indigenous movements and in June declared itself the governing body of Oaxaca.

The movement forced Ruiz to go into hiding, and the state government to seek sanctuary in hotels on the city’s outskirts.

The town centre is occupied by a powerful social movement which organises democratically from below.

In recent days plainclothed police and paramilitaries have targeted the alternative media to prevent news of the conflict getting out.

Nancy Davies, reporting for Narconews ( from Oaxaca, wrote, “The latest death is Appo adherent Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, a 52 year old public works employee, murdered on 22 August in another pre-dawn incursion by government thugs against the radio stations captured by the movement.

“A means to broadcast authentic information is essential, and both sides know it.

“The modus operandi of the government is to use plainclothes, heavily armed men who roam in vans and shoot their way into radio facilities.

“They kill the machinery as well as whoever stands in the way.

“The modus operandi of the movement has evolved to include bus blockades at every important intersection, to protect both the remaining radio stations and the lives of important Appo figures, both men and women.

“Neighbourhoods organise to defend their sections, with heaps of stones stockpiled behind the thrown up barriers of bedsprings, wood, rocks and wheels.”

The battle of Oaxaca comes at a time of great tension in Mexico. The 2 July presidential election saw victory handed to the right wing candidate Felipe Calderon amid claims of vote rigging.

The left challenger to Calderon - Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as Amlo - has been protesting against the outcome.

The margin of victory was just 0.6 percent. A limited recount of ballot paper from 9 percent of polling stations gave strong evidence of fraud in favour of Calderon.

The electoral tribunal was set to declare a victor on Thursday of this week.

Amlo, who has already mobilised millions of supporters in some of the biggest demonstrations in Mexican history, has vowed to escalate the action.

On 16 September, he plans to hold a “national democratic convention” to unite the grassroots movements to both challenge the result of the election and demand social justice for the poor and dispossessed.

If the political movement around Amlo and the demands of groups such as the teachers in Oaxaca fuse together, it could be an explosive combination.

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Sat 2 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2016
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