Socialist Worker

Oaxaca - solitude in flames

Issue No. 2026

Graffiti on a wall in support of the striking teachers  (Pic: Mike Podmore)

Graffiti on a wall in support of the striking teachers (Pic: Mike Podmore)

At least 15 people are dead, dozens imprisoned and hundreds injured by state-backed repression in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

They are victims of armed repression by forces loyal to the state governor, Ulises Ruiz, a member of the PRI party that ruled Mexico for 71 years. The struggle began on 15 May, when Ruiz attempted to impose a contract on teachers in the state.

Teachers protested and occupied the central plaza of the city of Oaxaca. When Ruiz sent in armed thugs to break the protest, residents responded by taking control of the city and 350 organisations came together to form the Popular Assembly of Peoples of Oaxaca.

After months of continuing repression, federal forces were sent in, inflicting more violence on the people of Oaxaca.

The conflict comes in the wake of Mexico’s presidential election, in which the candidate of the right wing PAN party, Felipe Calderon, was handed victory.

The left candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as Amlo, of the PRD party, claims widespread fraud, and his supporters have been mobilising in the streets ever since.

Here Adolfo Gilly, a leading radical writer in Mexico, explains the political background to the conflict.

The entire structure of political organisations and institutionalised trade unions are leaving Oaxaca in solitude during these crucial moments.

No great social mobilisations have sprung up, like the ones that opposed the war against the Zapatista uprising in 1994, or the mobilisations that arose against the 1997 Acteal massacre. The electoral routine that is the logic of the existing institutions, has overtaken every social mobilisation.

There are a few declarations and a few protests, but no great mobilisations of forces like the ones organised in the dispute surrounding the presidential election.

The PRD is absorbed with rows in congress. PRD members in congress voted in favour of an end to repression in Oaxaca and called for those responsible to be put on trial. If that doesn’t work, effectively they said, too bad, we saved our honour and we’re off for a long weekend.

The national democratic convention, organised by Amlo, which has sown such illusions and bewilderment, has demonstrated that it exists purely to demand a recount of votes in the presidential election.

The old pact between the right wing PAN and PRI parties has now mobilised in support of Ulises Ruiz and against the people of Oaxaca. These politicians are responsible for 15 deaths so far. These deaths are to defend a despised governor and oppose a legitimate social movement.

Now, the PFP (federal police) and soldiers dressed as PFP members, have been sent in. This is another sign of the parties’ impotency, and their inability to achieve political solutions as they did in the past.

The PRI-PAN pact is not new. It always came into action during crucial moments - the repression of the rail workers’ strike in 1959, the student movement of 1968 and the dirty war of the 1970s.

It held during the neoliberal restructuring begun in 1982, the 1988 voting fraud (following which hundreds of members of the left PRD party were killed along with many others - political resistance then was no joke), and the burning of ballots from the election in 1991.

It continued during the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the repression of the Zapatista’s uprising in Chiapas, the coming together of 360 congressmen to vote to strip Amlo of his right to become a presidential candidate (an initiative that didn’t succeed because of massive popular discontent), and the refusal to recount the votes in the 2006 presidential election.

Today, the PRD is unwilling and unable to mobilise the popular forces, which it assembled in the capital’s main square in September against the electoral fraud, to support Oaxaca and to repudiate the repression of the federal government.

Fortunately, the national newspaper La Jornada and several others in the media - including Indymedia, which already paid with the life of one of its reporters, have sent out information and organised protests - in addition to innumerable individual voices. But their task isn’t, and can’t be, the organisation of the movement.


That task falls to Amlo, who got 15 million votes in the July election. But Almo’s letter, published on 29 October in La Jornada, is not acceptable. He limits himself to denunciation of the police’s actions, the pact between the PAN and the PRI, and the “sinister and repressive” governorship of Ulises Ruiz.

He declares that the governor’s resignation is the only possible solution and he reminds the readers that in the July election most in Oaxaca voted for him. One would expect that the next step would be for him to call for mass mobilisations in support of the movement and against the repression.

A call like that, coming from a man who won 15 million votes, would lead people to fill the capital’s main square and plazas around the country. A mere accusation is useless.

As I write these lines, Oaxaca is being occupied by federal forces that the PAN government has launched in defence of the murderous governor from the PRI.

Today two more people have been killed. I don’t ask the leaders of the movement around Amlo to mobilise their forces in the public squares and in workplaces and universities of the country, first of all because I know they won’t, and secondly because they don’t have the influence to mobilise these forces.

Neither do I ask the leader of the opposition, Amlo, since his letter states that he doesn’t have the intention of doing so.


So, in indignation and astonishment, the Mexican people witness the federal government repress a massive and legitimate popular movement.

Despite the protests, denunciations, mobilisations of popular support from human rights groups and other organisations - none of them major forces - the silence and the passivity of the large organisations leaves Oaxaca standing alone.

It has only its own forces, its own courage, its own ability to mobilise and its own and ancient organisational framework.

As in the unforgettable verse of Jose Gorostiza’s 1939 poem, Muerte Sin Fin (Death Without End), Oaxaca now faces “solitude in flames”.

The people of Oaxaca will leave this trial beaten back, but perhaps better organised. The harvesters of votes will, for their part, have occasions to remember other verses:

We toil and we create our own path
And each of us shall get what we deserve.

Adolfo Gilly is the author of The Mexican Revolution, available from Bookmarks for £10.99. Phone 020 7637 1848 to order copies. This article first appeared in La Jornada and in translation on the Narconews website,

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Sat 11 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2026
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