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

October 29 & 30, 2006

Saundra Sturdevant---Images & Text

OCTOBER 29, 2006: Introduction & Barricades
OCTOBER 29, 2006-Center of Oaxaca
OCTOBER 30, 2006: Center of Oaxaca


OCTOBER 29, 2006: Introduction & Barricades

Within two hours of Brad Will's assassination, President Fox ordered 4000 PFP (Federal Preventive Police) into Oaxaca. They were ready, waiting for orders. Military build up and intimidation had increased steadily since early August, as had paramilitary attacks and killings.

In mid-August the 57th infantry battalion of the Mexican Army was reported out and about in Southwestern and Northern Sierras, indigenous areas. By the first part of October, tanks, helicopters, and military had moved into the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern part of the state. In total, there were some 20,000 military and federal police in the state of Oaxaca, making it the largest military operation in Mexico since the Zapatista Levantamiento of 1994. During the month of October, helicopters had been flying reconnaissance over APPO (Asembla Popular de Pueblos de Oaxaca) encampment in the zocolo and adjacent buildings. Military intervention was coming; it was a question of when and how they would move into the city.

4000 PFP assault troops in full body armor, shouldering 1980s U.S. recycled automatic assault weapons, with tear gas grenade shooters dangling from their waist arrived at the airport on the 28th. Tanks with snow blades in front, high-pressure water hoses on top, assorted vehicles and helicopters accompanied them. They didn't move into Oaxaca until the next day, allowing the paramilitary and police to engage in another night of activities.

Leaving their base near the airport on the 29th, they approached the city from different directions. There were five major barricades to negotiate on the way to the zocolo. Made of stones, sheet metal, wrecked vehicles, wire, sandbags, and whatever, APPO and supporters had erected barricades at selected intersections to protect neighborhoods and APPO from paramilitary attacks. At these barricades PFP first met with the people of Oaxaca.

APPO's Radio Universidad called for non-provocative non-violent defensive response to PFP presence. At the same time, APPO was preparing for confrontation at the barricades. People had assembled piles of rocks, wooden sticks of various shapes, Molotov cocktails, five gallon buckets loaded with coca-cola, vinegar and water bottles, packs of sanitary napkins for wounds, and blue masks common to dry wall workers. It was not much against an armed PFP assault force. Everyone knew that. APPO refused to arm and also refused to be passively brutalized, most especially in their homes, streets, state, and nation.

Astride the highway linking Mexico City to Oaxaca stood Vigueras Barricade, scene of the first meeting. The PFP arrived in formation, young, muscular, swift moving even with all the gear. 15 tanks 3 wide in 5 rows, bulldozer blades in front, water canons on top, military videographer taping, and helicopters above came with them as they moved forward.

The atmosphere was highly charged as citizens confronted PFP. Perhaps the most arresting account of the confrontation at Viqueras Barricade is Jacob Muller's report filed with Narco News Bulletin. Initially, the majority directly facing PFP were women, many with children at their sides. They had painted their hands white with black letters "PAZ" (Peace) on the palms. These they held up to the faces of the PFP.

Surely the most dramatic sequence of events is Muller's description of people taking blood from their arms and using it in protest. One man writes "URO" across his chest and yells at the PFP: "How Many More Have To Die?" With directness and passion, the man identifies himself as a campesino working the land of Oaxaca. He says his brother enlisted in the PFP due to their poverty, but that he is a good man. The campesino takes his blood and wipes it on a Mexican flag, waves the flag and sings the Mexican National Anthem. Defenders join him. Tears flow.

Almost immediately after the end of the singing, Muller reports, the PFP with their tanks began to move forward. People pushed against the on-coming blades, several laid down in front of the tanks only to be pulled out at the last minute. The tanks would not have stopped. The PFP shot high pressure water into the crowd, throwing people every which way. And all the while, from above helicopters dropped teargas.



OCTOBER 29, 2006-Center of Oaxaca

Throughout these two days, I was in the center of town, in or near the zocolo. Early morning of the 29th, the zocolo was unusually quiet. Barricades at intersections leading to the zocolo had been strengthened and defenders were in place. In the zocolo, women were cooking, a few people eating and talking, several affinity groups gathering, women embroidering. There was very limited street activity, mostly families on their way to November 2 Market. Several men were getting their shoes shined. Fresh flowers had been placed above the image of Benito Juarez on the altar commemorating the recent paramilitary's five murders.

PFP entered the zocolo around 2 p.m., aboard 20 public transit vehicles. Tanks with blades lowered broke through zocolo barricades and shoved aside burned vehicles. Overhead helicopters flew as they had earlier in the day. Now they were dropping teargas. PFP had used much more force than necessary to move into the zocolo. By mid-morning, those prepared to physically resist PFP entrance into Oaxaca had gone to the barricades. The women and children remaining didn't offer much resistance, although some were able to disable vehicles by strategically placing nails in the street. The PFP easily secured the zocolo, but soon left for action elsewhere.

Demonstrations and confrontations were continuous through the afternoon of the 29th. Mexican flags were everywhere. Along the march route, people come out of their homes, brought food and water from their kitchens to share with those marching. Residents held handmade signs, waved banners in support. Others shouted encouragement from rooftops and balconies. Families joined in the march as it went by.

Demonstrators confronted PFP standing guard, argued, pleaded, as others had done at the barricades. Women of all ages participated, their determined faces and strong bodies braving teargas and PFP like everyone else. Environmentalists were out, having come together in organizations during recent years due to the great environmental degradation going on in Oaxaca, as elsewhere. Young men moved from one place to another on motorcycles, at one time a woman friend on back, at another rushing from one area of confrontation to another.

PFP were very quick to use teargas at any sign of resistance. APPO defenders and outraged citizens threw back teargas grenades that landed nearby, hurled rocks and used slings to propel more rocks. They threw newly made Molotov cocktails. Citizens of Oaxaca burned tires, commandeered buses and cars and burned them at virtually every barricaded intersection on the way to the zocolo. Great swaths of the city were covered with black acrid smoke and teargas.

By 11 p.m. PFP had again secured the zocolo. Under night's cover, they tore down, burned, destroyed what was left of the encampment. The PFP were tired. Bringing "Peace and Tranquility" to Oaxaca had taken much more effort than they had anticipated.

During their entrance into Oaxaca and ultimate occupation of the zocolo, PFP had killed four demonstrators, people like one sees in the images arguing and pleading. One young man was killed by a direct hit in thorax with teargas grenade. Hundreds were wounded. Forty had been seized and taken away in helicopters by men who wore civilian clothes. APPO reported that about 50 were taken to prisons. Increasingly, those seized in whatever venue would be taken to prisons outside of the state of Oaxaca. Family, friends, lawyers found it more difficult to discover who was incarcerated where, to provide food and needed medical and legal services. Which, of course, was the idea. Police and paramilitary raided homes of APPO participants, relatives, and anyone suspected of aiding APPO. Some were taken away.

President Fox announced to the media that no one was killed; PFP had not killed anyone. Media spin that outraged the already outraged even more. It was just the beginning.



OCTOBER 30, 2006: Center of Oaxaca

No one expected APPO to march on the 30th. Walking in the streets very early that morning, one could see the remains. It was necessary to tread carefully to avoid the blood, vomit, human feces, torn pieces of clothing, discarded filthy face masks, and I don't know how many empty bottles of water and coca-a-cola strewn about. Evidently, PFP had some of its grunts out even earlier picking up spent teargas canisters, depositing them in the back of one of the large vehicles in the zocolo. URO's workers were out cleaning it all up to deny APPO's claims and to provide material evidence to the press releases that the citizens of Oaxaca had welcomed the PFP with cheers and flowers.

October 30 saw 10,000 marching. Caravans coming from outside the city would have increased their number, but difficulties of police roadblocks, beatings, and detentions kept many away. On this day, the protest was more focused and somber than the day before.

As on the 29th, everyone was a demonstrator. Bus drivers, lawyers, taxi drivers, doctors, students, retired, indigenous, artists, landlords, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, property owners, electricians, sociologists, carpenters, dentists, teachers, and at least one banker were in the crowd. From babies in arms to wheelchairs and canes, political and non-political---all were presente.

Along the march route, people again came out bringing food and water. They stood with signs supporting the demonstration. People waved Mexican flags. Many again joined the march.

PFP blocked off entrances to the zocolo, standing shoulder to shoulder, fully equipped, with their tanks and reinforcements behind. Demonstrators met PFP face to face. They continued to reason, plead, cajole. They were brave, tireless and firm in their belief in the fundamental entitlements of human rights, justice, dignity, and peace. They made that clear.

The animating presence of Benito Juarez was one source of this directness and courage. An indigenous Oaxacano, once president of Mexico, statues of his likeness are central to virtually every park in the city. One of the major streets here, as in other parts of Oaxaca and Mexico, bears his name. Born in 1806, 2006 is his 200th anniversary year. One banner reminds us of that fact. And more: "En El Bicentenario de Mi Natalicio- Politicos Corruptos y Ambiciosos Matan a Mi Pueblo" (In the anniversary of my 200th birthday, ambitious and corrupt politicos kill my people). His words are repeated in chants of the Levantamiento: "El respecto al derecho ajeno es la paz" (Respect for the rights of others is peace). Historical consciousness is a most radical asset.

Half-way through the march, an announcement is made that the PRI legislative official had called for URO to step down as governor and that the Mexican congress had unanimously passed a similar resolution. Demonstrators greeted this most welcome news with cheers of "Ulizes ya cayo" (Ulises has fallen). It was the first time the PRI has censured an elected official in this manner. Hope was in the air. It's the last thing to go. And with 400 years of resistance living with them, Oaxacanos activate that hope through their lives.