This is what recuperation looks like: the rebellion in Oaxaca and the APPO - Kellen Kass

This is what recuperation looks like: the rebellion in Oaxaca and the APPO - Kellen Kass

A detailed, critical look at the events in Oaxaca, Mexico, from an anarchist perspective.

On May 22, 2006, teachers in the state of Oaxaca, Section 22 of the National Education Worker’s Union (SNTE), went on strike. Section 22 has yearly strikes in Oaxaca to demand a variety of concessions from the state, and this year’s strike included calls for higher wages, the construction of more schools throughout the state of Oaxaca, as well as free lunches and supplies for students. Section 22 members occupied the city center, the Zócalo, to further their protest and disrupt the state capital during the beginning of the tourist season. They set up camping sites in the main square, occupied public buildings and organized large marches, or mega-marches as the Oaxacans call them, to reinforce their economic demands as well as calling for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz. Public support was quite strong for the marches as well as the occupation.

In early June, teachers were given a final offer and ultimatum to vacate the Zócalo. On June 14, a police raid authorized by Gov. Ruiz involving nearly 3,000 officers from the state police attacked the central square in the early morning hours. A helicopter dropped tear gas into the square to disorient the occupiers, while outside of the city riot police readied themselves for an invasion. Police attacked the main square, completely destroying the teachers’ encampments and injuring hundreds. Teachers and Oaxaca residents fought back against police aggression and were able to retake the square in a matter of hours with their fists and makeshift weapons. During the fighting, however, 8 people died and others were “disappeared.”[1]

After people reoccupied the Zócalo and took control of surrounding blocks, a mega-march was held on June 16, with an estimated 400,000 people taking part. This time however, the teachers dropped their economic demands in exchange for one political demand: the removal of Gov. Ruiz. Despite the narrowed focus, the struggle was extended in a variety of ways; teachers occupied seven city hall buildings across the state, and students at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO) took over their school radio station in support of the striking teachers.[2] In addition to these actions, teachers and many on the left formed the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). The APPO was an ad hoc organization for people to come together to talk about the events transpiring and to plan future action.
July was contentious as well because the Mexican presidential elections took place at the beginning of the month. Much like Ruiz’s election, the presidential election was fraught with allegations of fraud. Throughout the recount, groups in Oaxaca managed to not be drawn into any particular party’s machinations.

On August 1, a women’s march involving some 2,000 people made its way through Oaxaca to the city center. From there a few hundred women took their protest out of the street and into the building of TV Channel 9. They occupied the building and took over the station, broadcasting themselves and their views on the current situation; video footage of the various marches and police raids was also shown.[3] By August 22, Ruiz and his cohorts had had enough, and they launched a paramilitary attack against the station. In response, people took to the streets, overturning several city buses, setting them on fire, and using them to block major roads. In addition, demonstrators took over private radio stations to spread news of the raid and to announce solidarity messages. At the same time various smaller groups armed with clubs shut down intersections across the already paralyzed city.[4]

Paramilitary violence has been a serious problem throughout the teachers’ strike and occupation of the city. The term paramilitaries is awfully vague, and it has been extremely difficult to find out who has been behind some of the shootings; those captured are seldom identified by the state. Certainly the paramilitaries involve Mexican military, Oaxacan police, as well as the private army of Ruiz who is, at the time of this writing, still desperately clinging to power. At a march on August 10, gunmen opened fire killing one teacher, Jose Jimenez.[5] On October 18, a teacher and APPO participant, Pánfilo Hernández, was shot and killed in a paramilitary drive-by. On October 27, Brad Will, anarchist and Indymedia journalist, was shot and killed by paramilitaries, as were Emilio Alonso Fabián and Esteban López Zurita. These are some of the most well documented cases, but there are dozens of others who have died in this fight as well.

Events in October were tumultuous, and the month came to a crashing conclusion. On October 26, Section 22 teachers voted to end their strike amidst allegations of voting fraud and accusations that their leadership had sold out. And on October 28, Vicente Fox announced that he was ordering thousands of Federal Preventative Police (PFP) into Oaxaca in order to retake the city. When the PFP invasion came, the APPO urged peaceful protest and non-violent resistance to the police. Lines of riot police equipped with tear gas and batons pushed back thousands of people, and they also used armored trucks with water cannons and plows to disperse people and destroy barricades. The APPO sent out numerous communiqués exhorting people to act peacefully, and even went so far as to denounce all violent actions against the PFP as the work of agent provocateurs.[6] People laid down in the roads, pushed against police lines, but by nightfall the PFP had made it’s way into the city center.

As police pushed further into the city on November 2, they attempted to retake the university and destroy the occupied radio station within it. In a six-hour battle with police, students and many other people used molotov cocktails, rocks, steel pipes and slings to fight police, and they overturned cars and buses to further reinforce their blockades. This fierce resistance forced the police to withdraw, and put a stop to police advances into the university area. Students and many others were clearly upset about the loss of the Zócalo to state forces. Therefore they decided to use violent means to continue occupying the university regardless of what the APPO said. At the time of this writing, the students and the APPO still control the area surrounding the university.

Roots of Rebellion

“The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.” – Karl Marx

The uprising in Oaxaca and the popular mobilizations have made international headlines recently, but the causes of the situation have not garnered as much attention. In August 2004, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a lawyer, “won” the Oaxaca governor’s election by a slim margin. Ruiz’s opponents immediately contested the election results, charging that he and his cohorts had rigged the outcome. Apparently the opposition’s claims were not unfounded, but Ruiz still took office in December later that year. Ruiz is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that completely controlled the Mexican federal government for over 70 years until the 2000 election of Vicente Fox, a National Action Party (PAN) member, to the presidency. [7]

Considering the extreme poverty in Mexico, with some 40 million living well below the poverty line, it is not surprising that one of the main ways that the PRI remained in power was through a system of patronage: contracts, jobs, and funding for education and basic services are handed out after successful elections of PRI officials on the local and national level. [8] In thousands of other cases, and specifically in Ruiz’s case, bags of groceries were handed out in exchange for votes. In Oaxaca though, it was not just Ruiz who came to power in this way. In the first few months of 2006 there were also conflicts over town elections in San Blas Atempa, Oaxaca between the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate and a PRI candidate over issues of voter fraud and purchasing of votes. While this may seem outrageous, patronage has been a normal procedure in politics worldwide for centuries, and the PRI is just a standard political machine that many throughout Mexico are finally fed up with. Unfortunately, many people think that these corrupt politicians should simply be replaced by honest politicians.[9]

The roots of the problem, however, go much deeper than PRI patronage and corruption that permeate Mexican politics. The cause of the mobilization and violent clashes with police lies in the absolutely wretched economic conditions that dominate life across southern Mexico. Oaxaca, bordering Chiapas to the west, is Mexico’s second-poorest state and has the second-largest population of indigenous peoples. According to human rights organizations, nearly 80% of Oaxaca lives in extreme poverty.[10] The main industry that props up the economy of Oaxaca is tourism. And like all tourist areas, most people work in services where wages are low, and many public services are geared towards visitors as opposed to actual residents.

International trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have only made things worse. The implementation of neo-liberal reforms to the Mexican state, which has meant an overall cuts to basic necessities over the past several years, has made it even more difficult for people to survive.[11] In recent years, Mexico has been unable to keep pace with China’s offer to the altar of economic sacrifice: its immense, expendable and therefore cheap work force. Thus Mexico has been subject to the migration of factories and jobs to Asia in the same way that the United States has experienced “job loss” to Mexico. Thus it is not hard to see that dictates of the market care little about countries, and that capital flows in the direction of greater profit and greater misery. [12]

It is this complex situation that has led to decades of social conflict and has culminated in the struggle we see now.

We’re All on the Same Team: the APPO

“Our aim is a more democratic government that listens to the people more than the current government does.” –APPO Spokesman Florentino Lopez Martinez

While many inspiring actions are taking place in Oaxaca, one must not lose the ability to look critically at situations. On the surface the APPO appears to be simply an assembly of common people charting out their future, but there are very distinct political perspectives and groups involved. The membership of the APPO is extremely varied and is composed of a variety of social organizations, political groupings, unions, and human rights organizations. Members of Section 22 are involved, as are anarchists, municipal authorities, and indigenous organizations such as the Movimiento de Unificación y Lucha Triqui (MULT) and the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca – Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM). Within the APPO, representatives from each group participate in meetings where issues are decided based on consensus as opposed to majority rule. Members are not supposed to be involved in parties participating in electoral politics, but membership is open to groups such as the Revolutionary Popular Front (FPR) and the Union of Revolutionary Youth of Mexico (UJRM), both of which are openly appendages of the Marxist-Leninist Mexican Communist Party. One of the spokesmen for the APPO, Florentino Lopez Martinez, has stated in interviews that he is a member of the FPR.[13]

Aside from small aspiring states such as the Marxist-Leninist Mexican Communist Party, there are other politicians in the midst of the APPO. One of the spokespeople of the APPO, the media-darling and crass opportunist Flavio Sosa, was a part of Vicente Fox’s election campaign in 2000 through his organization the New Left of Oaxaca. Sosa has also been actively involved in the PRI splinter-party the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) for years, a party he actually quit in order to be involved in the APPO. [14] It should be pretty obvious that Sosa is a political opportunist who moves from one group to the next in hopes of carving out some kind of position for himself. He’s a classic recuperator, and one in serious need of an ass kicking.

It is also interesting to note that APPO member and Section 22 leader, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, gave a speech at the fifth mega-march in Oaxaca in early September calling for “national unity” and a movement that would incorporate the PRD and the Zapatistas. He has also been involved in trying to end the teachers’ strike as far back as July. Like a typical union hack, he consistently tried to undermine the strike in exchange for political clout. Clearly, the APPO is a mixed bag and includes its fair share of aspiring politicians and real politicians. This, however, is not the most damning aspect.[15]

At the end of September, three days of meetings were held to discuss the transformation of the APPO from an ad hoc organization to a more formalized and permanent organization in Oaxaca. Following the meetings, a document entitled “Resolutions of the First State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca” was released. This document is perhaps the best indication of the nature of the APPO because it is an attempt to define “…Statutes, the Declaration of Principles, a definitive Structure and a Program of Struggle.” Within the resolutions there is a section entitled “Proposal for a Program of Struggle,” which is most revealing of the overall aims of the APPO.

The first point of the program of struggle is entitled “For the Defense of National Sovereignty,” in which they outline their proposal for withdrawing the Mexican state from trade agreements such as NAFTA and the FTAA, as well as from organizations such as the IMF and World Bank. Their second point, entitled “For a New Model of Economic Development” reaffirms national ownership of natural resources and calls for the re-nationalization of industries that have been privatized, as well as the nationalization of monopolistic industries such as banking. Thus the APPO identifies neo-liberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank and privately owned corporations as “bad” and the sovereign Mexican state as “good.” A later portion of the economic program even calls for further economic integration of Latin America and the Caribbean and the creation of a common market therein, a sort of alternative FTAA. According to the APPO, the problem is not with the market, not with capitalism, not with the existence of bureaucratic institutions, but rather with US imperialism and the bad countries of the North that take advantage of the good countries in the South. It’s the same tired charade of national liberation that has proven time and time again to be a miserable dead end.

The third point of their program of struggle is “For a Popular Democracy,” in which they proclaim that the “present antidemocratic State should be replaced with a new State with a democratic and popular character…” which in turn will be based on “…the will of the Mexican people to constitute and make effective a Democratic and Representative Federal Republic.” This points asserts that the state is a neutral institution and that everything would be better for all of us if only the corrupt, lying politicians were replaced by honest, democratic politicians. Perhaps their critique of the state is so liberal because many representatives in the APPO would like to see themselves as the next ruling elite, but that remains to be seen. Thus their program of struggle is not proposing the revolutionary transformation of social life, but rather the democratization of the state and the continuance of capitalism, albeit with a friendlier face.[16]

Given the participation of many dubious groups and characters, as well as the “Resolutions of the First State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca,” we must conclude that the character of the APPO is reformist, and their overall plan is one of recuperating the rage and resentment of the dispossessed in order to manage the misery of the current social order. The APPO does not seek to destroy the state, but it intends to democratize it. The APPO does not seek to end capitalism, but it intends to increase state ownership of corporations and make capitalism fairer. Plainly stated, the APPO – an organization with defined principles and a long term strategy of struggle— does not share common goals with anarchists, and is certainly taking part in activity that will actively undermine the overthrow of this system. They promote false alternatives and question only the management of the state and capitalism, not the system itself.

Solidarity?

“Prepare to die…Put down your shields and take off your helmets, and I’ll beat the living shit out of you!” –anonymous Oaxacan woman a defending the UABJO

This brings us full circle then to the issue of solidarity. Clearly the APPO is an organization with wide support from those who want to see major change come about in their lives; this cannot be denied. But their popularity does not erase the fact that there are micro-bureaucrats actively involved in the APPO, nor does it change the fact that the APPO’s program is one of promoting a new way to manage the state and capitalism. Also despite its name, the APPO does not represent everyone involved, or the revolt in its entirety. The uprising in Oaxaca has been inspiring because of people’s willingness to take their lives into their own hands and direct their own activity. This is the greatest potential of the rebellion: its ability to break with the normality of being controlled and directed by others and then spread further, eventually leading to revolutionary social transformation.

People are beginning to rediscover the ability to meet face-to-face in occupied zones – the Zócalo, the university, the neighborhoods and streets— in order to discuss matters of real importance. Direct actions such as strikes, occupations, blockades and sabotage are being employed by all of those involved. Women are asserting themselves even more, planning actions, taking over television stations, organizing blockades, and participating in street fighting against the police. The cessation of “business as usual” and the casting off of subservience has opened up many possibilities and has led to massive resistance to the Mexican state. This growing self-organization must remain truly autonomous if it is not to be slowly ground down by piecemeal reforms and other political tricks. Therefore the APPO and its alternative management plan must be rejected.[17]

Despite the deficiencies of the APPO, we should extend solidarity to the people fighting in Oaxaca. In the United States many solidarity actions were undertaken during the PFP raids in late October and early November. Protests were held outside of embassies and consulates in many cities across the US, including Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle. Consulates in Sacramento and Minneapolis had their windows smashed, and other consulates and embassies were blockaded or occupied like in New York, Indianapolis, and Raleigh. Anarchists in the US have been very active in concretely demonstrating their solidarity with the events in Oaxaca, and one can only hope that these actions will spread.

The course of the conflict is being played out as we write. The Zapatistas have called for a general strike in Mexico on November 20, and scores of actions are planned in the US and abroad for that day as well. Consulates and embassies are clearly targets of interest, but one should not forget that we are fighting an entire system, and that demonstrating solidarity with Oaxaca can take many forms such as shut downs of corporations with financial links in Mexico as a whole, blockades in our own cities, and of course the escalation of activity against more direct issues in the US. People in Oaxaca are taking steps to combat this system as a whole, let’s do the same.

[1] “Oaxaca Teachers Union Protests face Police Repression,” available at: http://www.chiapaspeacehouse.org/node/286, and “Up From Below: The New Revolution in Southern Mexico,” available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/ross07142006.html
[2] “In Oaxaca Mega-March, 400,000 Send A Firm No to the Repression by Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz,” available at: http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1906.html

[3] “Oaxaca’s State TV Station Under Popular Control,” available at: http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article1990.html

[4] “Mexico Teachers Extend Protest,” available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5272462.stm

[5] “Vioelence Flares in South Mexico,” available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4782837.stm

[6] For the APPO’s denunciation of violence, see http://codepappo.wordpress.com/2006/10/29/urgente-la-pfp-en-oaxaca

[7] “Under the Volcano,” The Economist, September 28, 2006.

[8] “Oaxaca’s Dangerous Teachers,” Dollars & Sense: the Magazine of Economic Justice, September/October 2006.
[9] “Police Retake Oaxaca Town Hall Occupied Since January 2005,” available at: http://www.narconews.com/Issue40/article1654.html

[10] “How Many Deaths Is the Oaxaca Governor Worth?” available at: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/1103-08.htm

[11] “Oaxaca’s Dangerous Teachers,” Dollars & Sense: the Magazine of Economic Justice, September/October 2006.

[12] For more information about the economic background of Mexico, see “A Commune in Chiapas? Mexico and the Zapatista Rebellion,” Aufheben #9, Autumn 2000.

[13] Frente Popular Revolucionario: http://fprweb.tripod.com/index.htm, and Unión de la Juventud Revolucionaria de México: http://pagina.de/ujrm. For interview with Florentino Lopez Martinez see: http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20061022084418717.

[14] “Liderazgo “camaleónico”: Flavio Sosa, cabeza de la APPO, apoyó al PRD, luego a Fox,” Diario de la Yucatán, Nov. 6 2006.

[15] “Oaxaca’s Social Movement Develops Radical Vision for a National Government of the People” available at: http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2038.html.

[16] Resolutions of the First State Assembly of the People's of Oaxaca are available online at:
http://www.asambleapopulardeoaxaca.com/boletines/index.php?s=RESOLUTIVOS+DE+LA+PRIMERA+ASAMBLEA+ESTATAL+DE+LOS+PUEBLOS+DE+OAXACA+
[17] For a look at one neighborhood’s activities which are outside of the APPO, see “Two Days in the Life of Oaxaca's Revolution,” available at: http://narconews.com/Issue42/article2021.html

A Murder of Crows Issue #2, March 2007

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Jun 7 2007 22:05

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