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[Notice: All images in this section are (c) Copyright Saundra Sturdevant, 2006]


Saundra Sturdevant---Images & Text

DECISION: President Vicente Fox sends 4,000 PFP Assault Troops into Oaxaca, October 27, 2006

Teachers Local 22 occupied the zocolo on May 21, 2006. It was now late October and Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) had neither negotiated in good faith to resolve the strike, nor been successful in his use of police and paramilitary force to break the strike or dislodge the teachers and their supporters from their encampment in the zocolo.

During this period, the teacher's strike had morphed into APPO (Asambla Popular de Pueblos Oaxaca), a broad based organization with 85 constituencies, including a strong Indigenous presence. APPO was founded immediately after the failed 3000 man police assault of June 14. APPO is morally, ethically, culturally and historically centered and has a corresponding praxis. However, APPO is not without contradictions.

APPO has proven to be an exceedingly powerful organization. Working in coalitions and utilizing non-violent direct actions, APPO has showed the face and practices of URO and the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and rendered the state ungovernable. At the same time, APPO began putting into place a system of goverence based on traditional indigenous Uses and Customs (Usos y Costumbres), informed by a socialist consciousness and practice that is Oaxacano. APPO's cultural and political values and practices were clearly manifested at the zocolo and Santo Domingo Inglesia encampments, at demonstrations and rallies.

The inability of URO to govern Oaxaca and his increased reliance on the paramilitary became an embarrassment to the Mexican government. Three senators traveled to Oaxaca and on October 14 heard testimony on the question of the state's governability. URO and his cabinet members brought a box of documents to show work accomplished and normalcy of governance. At URO's insistence, this presentation was made inside a gated and guarded hangar at the city's airport. URO had not been welcome in the city of Oaxaca since June 14; he had spent considerable time in luxury hotels elsewhere.

APPO participants, by contrast, testified to paramilitary violence, brought in boxes of teargas canisters, bullet casings, batons and helmets wrestled from police.

The short-lived hope that these three senators might make a difference was soon proved false. Mexico's two major political parties, the PAN (National Action Party) and the PRI needed each other in fighting off election challenges from Manuel Lopez Obredor. Joining forces, they agreed that the PRI's URO governed Oaxaca. And so it was that although URO was an embarrassment, he was one of their embarrassments. Their decision did not change anything, but affirmed the widespread feeling that political parties were not to be trusted. Period.

No longer able to depend on paramilitary thugs and terror to keep him in power, URO had reached the bottom line. Legitimacy and real power was with APPO and the vast majority of people they represented. URO needed federal military intervention. Various schemes within the last month had failed to achieve this goal.

Finally, URO found what he needed. He assented to or actually ordered the assassination of Brad Will, North American photojournalist. At the Barracada Santa Lucia del Camino, on the edge of Oaxaca, three bullets pumped into his abdomen below the rib cage, Will went down with video camera in his hand, filming the last seconds of his life. La Jornada and Las Noticias carried photos of the shooters, identified them as police and paramilitary in civilian clothes. Nothing was done.

Within two hours of Brad Will's assassination, President Fox ordered 4000 PFP (Federal Preventative Police) into Oaxaca. It appeared that URO was rescued. And when Felipe Calderon assumed the presidency on December 1, he would be saved from the aggravation of dealing with APPO and Oaxaca.

And Manuel Lopez Obredor, the populist candidate of the PDR (Party of the Democratic Revolution), what was his response? In early October, with the largest military mobilization taking place in Oaxaca since the 1994 levantamiento of the Zapatistas, Mr. Obredor publicly announced that if the military intervened in Oaxaca, he and his followers would be there to place themselves between the military and the Oaxacanos.

Mr. Obredor neither kept his word nor did he mobilize any of his 15,000,000 voters in support of the Oaxacanos. After the PFP moved into Oaxaca and succeeded in occupying the zocolo, Manuel Obredor did issue a statement denouncing PFP's actions. He charged URO's government with being "sinister and repressive," and called for it to resign.

Mr. Obredor also reminded everyone that the majority of Oaxaquenos had voted for him in July. Obredor was busy counting votes, seeking to be Mexico's next president, outing the fraud of Mr. Calderon. He failed in that effort as he failed with Oaxaca. The reasons are different but very connected. The lesson is not lost on APPO or Oaxacanos.