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


Saundra Sturdevant---Images & Text


PFP are akin in style to the Mexican Army, but organizationally separate. With the Levantamiento, the 4000 PFP sent into Oaxaca were said by many to be composed of military men in PFP uniforms. It appears this is not an unusual costume change. The President of Mexico may directly order the PFP into action. Until December 1, 2006, that was Mr. Viciente Fox. After his contested electoral victory over Mr. Manuel Lopez Obredor, Mr. Felipe Calderon became president.

The troops are young males, their commanders middle aged, seasoned military men. All are highly trained, come replete with contemporary assault suits, fashioned in style of medieval knights. Helmets with visors that go up and down, three-foot batons, large shields, tanks with snowplough blades in front and water cannon on top, 1980s U.S. recycled automatic assault weapons, teargas guns and pouches, gas masks, innumerable vehicles, and medical units with fire extinguishers are standard. Overhead are helicopters that lob teargas on whomever may be on the ground. During some of the more heavy demos of the Levantamiento, helicopters also few out demonstrators to undisclosed locations. Reports of bodies being dropped into the ocean circulated. Perhaps some of the disappeared.

PFP began arriving in the state of Oaxaca in early August, some 300 of them. They came as visible backup to activities of the state police and especially of the paramilitary, whose attacks and killings increased dramatically beginning in August.

Formal military build up of mid-August saw the 57th infantry battalion of the Mexican Army out and about in Southwestern and Northern Sierras, indigenous country. Tanks and military subsequently moved into the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

All tolled, by the first part of October, there were some 20,000 military and PFP in the state of Oaxaca, making It is the largest military operation in Mexico since the Zapatista Levantamiento of 1994. Having flown reconnaissance over indigenous areas for about one month, Navy helicopters, stationed at the city airport, begin flying over APPO occupied zocolo and adjacent buildings in the latter part of October.

Everything was in place for a military solution that would bring "Peace and Tranquility" to a state that everyone acknowledged had become ungovernable by traditional PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) methods. Consistently refusing to dialogue with Teachers Local 22 and with APPO (Asembla Popular de Pueblos de Oaxaca), URO (Ulises Ruiz Ortiz) had relied on paramilitary violence and intimidation to hang on to power. Not achieving the desired results, he tried to put into place schemes that would provoke a confrontation, resulting in killing of police or innocents, which would be pinned on APPO. In such an event, URO would then request President Fox to send in PFP to restore "Peace and Tranquility. None of these schemes were successful.

URO was successful on October 27 in creating a situation that required a federal response. URO personally ordered or quietly encouraged the assassination of North American photojournalist Brad Will. Within two hours after Will's murder, President Fox ordered 4000 PFP, their equipment and support systems, into the city of Oaxaca to restore Peace and Tranquility.

After a very long day of battling their way into the city on October 29, barricade after barricade, APPO defenders and citizens of Oaxaca confronting them every step of the way, the PFP finally arrived at a zocolo populated by perhaps 200 women and children. It was quite easy to forcibly remove them. By 11 p.m. PFP had secured the zocolo and in the dark tore down and burned everything having to do with the 5 month APPO occupation. At which point, they were quite tired and fell into inadequate sleeping arrangements. Bringing Peace and Tranquility to Oaxaca had taken much more effort than they had anticipated.

Waking the next morning, PFP were somewhat rested, and now stiff from sleeping on the ground, concrete, stones, cardboard, benches of personnel carriers and truck beds. It took two days to get food, drink and toilet accommodations in place. There was no time to prepare for the day's 18,000 strong APPO march. At a minimum, PFP was impressed with its tenacious adversary. So was everyone else.

The PFP garrisoned in the zocolo From October 29 through and after November 25. Like the Spanish of old, they dared not go out into the community. They lived as hostages in their own secured space. It's much like when one locks and bolts the door in fear of robbers, thugs, whatever. They are locked out, but you yourself are locked in. During this period, violence and ungovernability increased. PFP provided a backup, a kind of legitimacy, for paramilitary and out of uniform police to engage in assassinations, beatings, and disappearings.

As in a prison, the life of PFP was boring. They washed their vehicles again and again, cleaned weapons, stood for inspection, swept up debris, got regulation hair cuts, bought food from vendors to supplement military rations, talked on pay phones to wives and sweethearts, and flirted with the few young women working in the four shops in the whole of the zocolo that were open. Officers now slept in tents; enlisted personnel continued to sleep on cardboard, floors and benches of military vehicles.

Middle-age commanders complained of loosing money as a result of this deployment, of missing home cooked food, and of problems the wife was having with teenage children. They seemed mystified by the reality that everyone seemed to hate their being in Oaxaca, wouldn't greet them courteously, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at them in confrontations, yelled for them to go home...or elsewhere. It was not what they had expected. They were not happy campers.

They were, however, military professionals. They followed orders with a willing zest. In confrontations, they were vicious, sweeping and beating what was in front of them. Killings, woundings, disappearings increased significantly after the PFP's occupation of the zocolo. On the night of November 25, PFP were responsible for the killings of five unarmed demonstrators, the beating and wounding of 100s more. They did a thorough job. With no negative repercussions. On the positive side, from PFP point of view, within a month they received a sizeable increase in salary. PFP in Oaxaca is rapidly becoming the model for actions elsewhere in Mexico.