Mexico: Arrests in Cuidad de Oaxaca at Día de Muertos commemoration

Up to 40 arrests were made when police attacked a traditional ceremony in memory of the lives lost in the state's popular struggle against the local authorities.

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on November 9, 2007

Around 50 people had gathered at the Cinco Señores intersection with Avenida Universidad from 6am onwards on November 2 to begin preparations for the day's event. The commemoration was one year to the day after the Oaxacan movement's victorious battle with police attempting to retake the city's Universidad Autónoma de Benito Juárez.

However, the victory came at a price, with American Indymedia journalist Brad Wilk the most high-profile, if far from solitary, death as police and hired thugs stalked the streets of Cuidad de Oaxaca searching out activists. In memory of the fallen and as per Día de Muertos ("Day of the Dead") tradition, residents laid "tapetes" (rugs of sand, representing tombs), blocking one of the intersection's four entrances.

Approximately 300 PFP (Policia Federal Preventativa, the most feared and hated police body in the country) rapidly arrived in Nissan vans and trucks, and pulled guns on the blockade. The APPO (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) claims that up to 40 people were arrested in the police's armed reoccupation of the intersection, while the authorities pitch the figure at 16. The police also installed a stop and search operation on "suspicious" individuals in the streets surrounding the intersection, and enraged the area's residents by storming adjacent houses searching for ringleaders.

The police's conduct in the morning drew widespread condemnation from the various factions on Mexico's left and liberal political scenes, while further throwing in doubt the state government's line, upheld since the retaking of the university and collapse of the teacher's strike this time last year, that "nothing's happening in Oaxaca" ("en Oaxaca no pasa nada").

However, the police surprised many oaxaqueños on the same afternoon by allowing the rest of the Día de Muertos events, including a photo exhibition, testimonies from families of dead activists, a parade and a march, to continue. This is possibly due to the global media's concurrent focus on the actions of the Mexican government in response to severe flooding caused by unmaintained flood defenses in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas, the latter of which borders Oaxaca. Another possible explanation is the non-threatening nature of marches and photography exhibitions makes them a preferred option to a street blockade for the Oaxacan police and state government. Also, one must taken in the account the increasing condemnation of the Mexican state's activities in Oaxaca by Mexican and international non-governmental organisations (including Amnesty International) since an uprising began after a prolonged strike by the SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores en la Educación) in May 2006.

However, the appeals of NGOs have merely forced the state to conduct repression of national movements in private, with many claiming that the US government-funded "war on drugs" (nicknamed "Plan Mexico") is being used as an opportunity to send military into potentially hostile areas (the plan's statement includes commitments to "counter-terrorism and public security", thinly-veiled references towards recent social movements).