Mexico-- a revolution in progress
- Yesterday at a Denver Safeway store, an employee sold "Oaxacan sandwiches" from a table near the door. I asked if she knew what Oaxaca is, and she had no idea.
It is fascinating how commercial interests co-opt the day's most dramatic catch words and offer them back to us for the purpose of generating profits. The people of Oaxaca probably wouldn't be surprised; crass depersonalization has caused them to erect barricades in the streets, create stockpiles of throwing stones, seize control of radio stations, and occupy public buildings in their city.
Oaxaca is currently the most significant front in Mexico's surging revolutionary struggle. An organization of the people of the state of Oaxaca, called APPO, is seeking to force a brutal and corrupt governor to resign. The people are armed with sticks, machetes, and molotov cocktails. They've been confronted with hired thugs, helicopters, machine guns, CS gas, snipers, and numerous special forces raids sent to destroy their radio stations and disrupt their activities.
Yet this is just one of many revolutionary currents convulsing our neighbor to the south, an explosive mix likely to impact the United States in numerous ways.
One might think the U.S. media would pay close attention, but no. Perhaps our corporate media doesn't want to encourage similar dissident groups in the United States.
What might we have in common with revolutionary currents in Mexico? The middle class is being squeezed out of existence on both sides of the border. In the United States, most of the wealth has been captured by those in the top one percent of income distribution, especially those in the top one-tenth of one percent. In Mexico, the indigenous and poor are being forced off their land, losing their way of life to the likes of Wal-Mart and the NAFTA Superhighway project.
If the corporate media won't tell us what is happening, we must turn to other sources. A student newspaper from Canada describes Mexico as a nation "deeply divided along socioeconomic lines, [and] is in a state of national political turmoil unparalleled in decades." The McGill Daily quotes Paco Vasquez, a documentary filmmaker with the Chiapas Media Project (PROMEDIOS), "I believe that the contradictions in the system have become much clearer to the Mexican people. As the middle class shrinks, the discontent and rage of the poor has been growing." Norteamericanos ought to pay close attention; as goes Mexico, so might the entire continent.
The article below briefly discusses all the major revolutionary currents in Mexico. It is followed by contact information for those of us opposed to military action against average working people struggling for justice.
Mexico's other campaign
The occupation of Mexico City's central square following an allegedly fraudulent vote was peaceful and festive. The revolution taking place further south is anything but.
By Blake Sifton
The McGill Daily
It's a sweltering August afternoon in Mexico City and I'm caught up in a crowd of thousands of demonstrators. Riding a wave through the sea of humanity I get within four feet of one of the most controversial men in Latin America. Moments later I am shoved aside by his bodyguards and nearly trampled by the multitude of people pouring in from all sides.
The grey haired man in his trademark yellow shirt is the defeated leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He has led the biggest demonstrations in this country's history and turned the political scene on its head. Under the gaze of hundreds of cameras he wades through the crowd greeting ecstatic supporters, all the while encircled by sharp-eyed and anxious looking bodyguards.
He is a man of the people, but in a city of 23 million, a city of great wealth among great poverty, there are many who would like to see him gone. The country, deeply divided along socioeconomic lines, is in a state of national political turmoil unparalleled in decades.
The enthralling election drama and the ensuing occupation of Mexico City's central square played out in front of the world over the summer. However, more radical Mexican groups have been operating below the mainstream media's radar.
These left-wing groups, primarily from the south, see López Obrador as a populist tied to the established order, and deride his Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), for only presenting the possibility of partial and incremental improvements. The radical groups are pressing for systemic change, including the drafting of a new constitution.
Away from the cameras, the state is using all the means at its disposal to suppress these "threats." The jails are filling with captured activists, the hospitals with injured demonstrators, and, all too often, the morgues with dead dissidents.
This is the campaign that goes beyond party politics.
On July 2, 42 million Mexicans, believing in their fledgling democracy, voted in the presidential election. Felipe Calderón, the conservative candidate of the National Action Party (PAN) who enjoys the support of the United States and the Mexican industrial north, officially edged Obrador and the PRD by 0.58 of a percentage point. Alleging fraud, Obrador urged his supporters to take to the streets of the capital. They heeded his call.
Massive protests took place, including one on July 16 with a crowd estimated at 1.5 million people, thought to be the single largest demonstration in Mexican history. Hundreds of thousands of supporters demanding a full recount of the ballots established protest camps along Mexico City's major avenue Paseo de la Reforma, and in the Zócalo, the enormous central square in front of the presidential palace.
Wandering through the camps, I was struck by how upbeat and festive the atmosphere was. Everywhere, PRD supporters played music, sang, painted, and watched political films, while others shouted slogans and hung banners from their balconies. Communal kitchens provided free food, rows of carefully organized tents offered shelter, and temporary bathrooms were never far away. It was a far cry from the "chaos" the major media outlets described.
Though Canadian Foreign Affairs advised visitors to avoid the area around the Zócalo at all costs, I chose to stay at a hostel metres away. I encountered absolutely no problems and was happy to have ignored the warning.
After leaving the camps I met with Ismael Romero, a former journalist with the centre left La Jornada and current advisor to the right-wing PAN. I asked him what he thought of the proposed full recount requested by Obrador, who alleged that there were inconsistencies in the count.
"If we did what Obrador is requesting we would break away from the established order," he said. "The only entity capable of deciding this question is the electoral tribunal, and they have deemed a recount to be illegal."
The same tribunal existed for decades as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) illegitimately dominated Mexico's electoral system until 2000. With little faith in the tribunal, the Mexican left is increasingly demanding exactly what Romero fears: a significant break from the established order.
When the camps disbanded, to clear the way for the Mexican military's September 16 independence day parades, many believed that the demand remained laughably unfulfilled.
The Mexican election stand-off was not an all-encompassing battle between the country's right and left wings. Disillusioned by outgoing PAN President Vicente Fox's inability to halt the increasing poverty that plagues 40 per cent of the nation, some Mexicans refused participate in the official election process.
They dismiss the system as elitist and corrupt and instead have established the "Other Campaign" as an alternative to the PRD and party politics in general. Students, unionists, campesinos, NGOs, and women's organizations have aligned themselves with the Zapatista rebel movement in a radical national grassroots campaign for social change. They have carried out rebellious acts throughout the nation.
Unlike the camps in the capital, many of these have been met with vicious repression. On April 20, over 1,000 federal police were sent to break up a three-week-long strike by steel workers in the state of Michoacan. Declaring the strike to be illegal only hours before moving in, the police killed two strikers and wounded many others.
In the city of Atenco, the People's Front in Defence of the Land (FPTD) came to the aid of flower vendors who had been evicted from their market spots for the construction of a new Wal-Mart. Fierce clashes erupted in which several police were injured. In response, the federal government sent in over 3,500 riot police. Hundreds of protestors were injured, one was killed, and 217 people were arrested. Among those arrested were scores of women who allege being raped while in police custody and bear the signs of sexual abuse to prove it.
The most recent case of state violence occurred in the city of Mérida, where two grenades were thrown into the lobby of a newspaper critical of the governor.
Paco Vasquez, a documentary filmmaker with the Chiapas Media Project (PROMEDIOS), has worked on several recent films showcasing the police brutality against progressive movements. In the current political climate, he says, such work can be dangerous.
"We've been threatened, but that's to be expected. It happens all the time now," Vasquez says. "In Bolivia and Argentina, people realized that what the government says in speeches is not even close to the reality. I believe that the contradictions in the system have become much clearer to the Mexican people. As the middle class shrinks, the discontent and rage of the poor has been growing.
"The Obrador campaign has urged people to mobilize and challenge the power in support of a candidate. Now people realize that they can mobilize on a large scale outside of the constraints of Mexican politics."
If there is one place that epitomizes the dangerous extent to which the powerful forces in Mexico will go to maintain their control, it is the city of Oaxaca. Two days before I arrived there, gunmen fired randomly into a demonstration killing one man and wounding two others. The city is in a state of civil rebellion and as I prepared for my journey, reports of roadblocks, arson, and indiscriminant killing swirled through my head.
Moments before we were scheduled to leave, the police boarded the bus with a video camera. Ordering everyone to look directly into the lens, they slowly walked up the aisle panning the passengers. This did little to assuage my anxiety.
When we arrived, the situation in the city centre was calm, but tension hung heavily in the air. The resistance has established a large perimeter around the central square. Barricades consisting of ten-foot-high sheet metal and battered cars block the streets around the occupied area. Red-and-black political graffiti covers every available surface, much of the street is blackened and burned from defensive fires and piles of small rocks lie at the ready in strategic locations.
Whereas the PRD protest camps in Mexico City have seen a peaceful movement grudgingly tolerated by cautious authorities, the occupation of the square in Oaxaca is the polar opposite: a forceful people's resistance in the face of lethal government repression.
Having received much less global attention than the situation in the capital, what has been dubbed the "Oaxacan Revolution" began as a teachers' strike in May. However, a call for better working conditions by the teachers swelled into a general civil uprising demanding the resignation of PRI governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. In response, Ruiz sent 3,000 police to remove them by force.
Over 100 people were injured in the ensuing clashes and the police burned the protest camps. Hours later, the teachers returned to the city centre, this time accompanied by students, sympathetic unionists, and other enraged citizens. They have re-occupied the square and taken control of all major radio and television stations in the city.
Composed of unions, social organizations, NGOs, and co-operatives, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) has declared itself to be the governing body in control of the city. In an effort to crush the uprising, the state government has resorted to using deadly force. Armed men have attacked occupied radio and television stations, delegations traveling to join the resistance have been ambushed, and in many cases people have been killed.
Most recently, a web site dubbed "Oaxaca in Peace" was established, providing an actual hit-list of prominent members of APPO for potential assassins. Kristin Norget, a professor of anthropology at McGill, has studied Oaxaca for the past 17 years and was present during much of August.
"Oaxaca has some of the worst socioeconomic inequality in the nation, it's a seedbed for dissension," she says. "The PRI has maintained their political dominance with an iron fist, but now that people are feeling empowered, they're saying 'no more!'"
CHALLENGING AN IMPOSSIBILITY
The widespread resistance in the face of reactionary state violence has inspired the adherents of the Other Campaign, and convinced them of the necessity to strive for radical change.
Mario Álvarez Rodríguez, secretary of the Central Workers Union in Palenque, Chiapas, understands that the odds are stacked heavily against them.
"We are challenging an impossibility, but nothing is achieved in this world without dreams, and we are dreaming of a better future."
A representative from an autonomous indigenous community near Palenque echoed Rodríguez's sentiment.
"We don't know what this year will bring. The government maintains their position as the dominant force, but we will continue to resist. We must continue to resist," the representative said.
While providing the ideological basis for the Other Campaign, the Zapatistas have taken a defensive stance during the crisis, closing their communities to foreign solidarity groups and mobilizing their insurgents deep in the jungles and mountains of Chiapas.
In the wake of Atenco, Michoacan, and Oaxaca, the Zapatista comandantes can't be blamed for not taking any chances with security. Having endured 12 years of low-intensity warfare, they know full well the face of state violence government counterinsurgency operations and paramilitary attacks.
Felipe Calderón has been formally declared president by the highest electoral court and all legal means of reversing the outcome of the election seem to have been exhausted.
With the PRD camps in Mexico City gone, the direction of the movement is very much in question. Many commentators wonder about the possibility of a convergence between those who have backed López Obrador and those who have chosen to struggle outside of the system.
Regardless of what the face of the future progressive Mexican movement may look like, it is almost certain that it will have to contend with the same level of state oppression.
But Mexico has a rich history of resistance. The celebrated revolution of 1911 having been co-opted and betrayed by the PRI, and the optimism and goodwill of 2000 squandered by the PAN, many believe that a significant shift is once again necessary. The climax of this tense political saga has yet to be written.
The people of Oaxaca who are up in arms are teachers, workers, peasant farmers. They've had enough of neo-liberalism, they're tired of living in abject poverty. They're making a statement that all of us should listen to.
But in the past few days military helicopters have flown over Oaxaca and military forces have been moved to the area, apparently awaiting a signal from the federal government.
Here is contact information to let powers that be know we're watching, that we oppose any military attack against the people of Oaxaca:
Mandar comunicaciones a:
Presidente Vicente Fox Quesada, Fax: Fax: +52 (55) 5516 9537 / 5573 2126,
E-mail : radio@...
radio [at] presidencia.gob.mx
webadmon [at] appresidencia.gob.mx
Licenciado Carlos Abascal Carranza, Secretario de Gobernación, Bucareli
99, 1er. piso, Col. Juárez, Delegación Cuauhtémoc, México D.F., C.P. 06600,
México, Fax: +52 (55) 5093 3414
Lic. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Oaxaca
Fax. 01 (951) 51 65 966,51-60677/ fax: 51-63737/ cel: 0449515470377
gobernador [at] oaxaca.gob.mx
Secretario Particular del gobernador
51-56056/ 51-55726 felipezardain@...
felipezardain [at] oaxaca.gob.mx
Secretario General de Gobierno
sriagral [at] oaxaca.gob.mx
Procuradora General de Justicia del Estado de Oaxaca
Tel. ( 951) 51-15174, 51-15121, 51-15120, 51-15020; fax 51-15219
procuraduria7 [at] oaxaca.gob.mx
APPO radio is now available on the Internet, in Spanish:
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