Oaxaca in revolt again: the Zócalo reoccupied, motorway tollbooths "liberated", roads blockaded

A 21 day series of strikes and occupations by the radical Sección 22 in Oaxaca of the Mexican teachers' union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores en la Educación kicked off in earnest on Tuesday. As of Thursday, the strike appears to be spreading - with popular support, solidarity and an increasing volume of activity.

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on May 22, 2008

The teachers' strike has various demands, although it's mostly calling for the freedom for all political prisoners, an end to the arrest orders and ongoing intimidation by the judicial authorities against the movement, new elections within the SNTE, and the handing over of all Oaxacan schools controlled by the pro-government Sección 59.

Sección 22 was instrumental in the 2006 revolt in Oaxaca, where they saw their strike betrayed by the SNTE national leadership in alliance with the Oaxacan state governor, one Ulises Ruíz Ortíz. Sección 59 was established by the priísta SNTE leader, Elba Ester Gordillo, as a rival local to Sección 22 in Oaxaca, and its members were promptly sent back to work as a means of breaking the strike.

However this time round, there seems to be increasing evidence of the strike's spread into a generalised movement within Oaxaca. On Tuesday, a building belonging to PEMEX (Petróleos Mexicanos - the state petrol monolopy which is on the verge of being privatised) was blockaded, while on Thursday various neighbourhood organisations within the city assisted in the occupation of a Centro de Atención Múltiple, the state institution charged with educating special needs children, which is controlled by Sección 59.

A host of other state and municipal offices have been shut down by blockades, with the aid of various other groups and a tactic of "plantones rotativos" (rotating encampments), as well as part of the Zócalo (the main city square, the centre of the 2006 movement). On Tuesday, a tollbooth on the Oaxaca-Puebla highway was "liberated", with motorists being granted free passage. The last couple of days have also seen the return of activity under the umbrella term of the APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca - the Popular Assembly of Oaxacan Peoples), although it's unclear as to which faction of the many that claim its true heritage is using the term.

Equally uncertain is the future and potential of this renaissance. Supposedly, the Sección 22 strike will end on 10 June, yet if the movement (if it can be termed thus at this early juncture) continues to expand and spread beyond the remit of their labour-based demands, surely it can't be neatly wrapped up within a predetermined timeframe. SNTE members have also struck in solidarity in Michoacán (north of Oaxaca state up the Pacific coastline) and municipal officials in Chiapas are desperately attempting to avert on the job action there by teachers.

More menacingly, with the scars and trauma of the repression of the 2006 movement still so raw, one has to wonder how much fight Oaxacans have within them. Already, the beleaguered and fantastically incompetent Ulises is attempting to bring Sección 22 to the negotiating table within the next few days. Also, traders around the Centro Histórico of the city are organising against any sort of political activity in the area, in defense of their businesses. It seems almost certain that the reactionary forces of business and government with regroup with their lackeys in Sección 59 in order to respond to the headway made here. Libcom will keep you updated.


Global Dissident

16 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Global Dissident on May 22, 2008

Hopefully no Anarchist journalists get killed this time.

David in Atlanta

16 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by David in Atlanta on May 22, 2008

Brad wasn't the only one killed that day
Esteban Zurita López and Emilio Alonso Fabián


16 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Max_Uhler on May 23, 2008

Your article about the current situation here in Oaxaca is a very good one. But there are a few statements of fact and emphasis that are faulty, historicallly. I have lived in Oaxaca for several years and was here during the 2006 Oaxacan commune and was able to closely observe how it developed. The idea that the movement has spread just this year is contrary to fact.

This years encampment, or planton, as it is called here, is the twenty eighth annual manifestation of an annual strike by the Maestros, as teachers are called here. The ordinary Oaqueno is used to this and considers it a seasonal annoyance, on the order of the minor earthquakes that rattle the dishes in the cupboard. The teachers demand a raise, which they always get, and a whole lot more, like plumbing and roofs for the outlying village schools, books for the students and shoes and uniforms for the poor, which the government always promises them and never delivers. It's a sort of political dance with little or no meaning...a pain in the ass for the poor vendors in the Zocalo and the rich shop owners there.

2006 was different. Very different. The governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, then and now, came to power in an election that everyone agrees was fraudulent. He is the leader of the state PRI or party of the institutional revolution, which is a front for the Mexican fascist state - Mexico is the best run, longest operating and most successful fascist dictatorship in the world. The teacher's planton was going on for what URO considered a long time. Adding insult to injury he was hung in effigy in the Zocalo and pictures of giant rats with his face were graffitied onto most of the walls in the Centro historical district, underscored with mottoes like 'URO Ratta and Assesino,' which he certainly perceived to be here.

URO decided to attack the planton. Now a teachers planton in Oaxaca is not like a demonstration anywhere else in the world. The teachers move in, stretch plastic tarps over the streets and live there. They set up tents, bring chairs and furniture and, since many teachers are married to another teacher (a teacher's salary is between $US 500 and 600 a month. Two incomes of this size makes you middle class here) their children and pets come with them. On the 14th of June, 2006, URO sent the Oaxacan Army (yes Oaxaca has its own Army) the State police, the governments helicopters and all the paramilitary and auxiliary forces he coould muster into the central district in and around the Zocalo. They teargassed and beat the teachers with police batons, tore down their encampments and drove them out. I know, the tear gas woke me up at my home, about five blocks from the Zocalo.

What happened next was one of the most amazing things I ever have seen. The people of Oaxaca de Juarez, the City, just said "Basta" enough, quit it. With no coordination they walked from the neighborhoods, Santo Domingo, the Seven Princes, Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Solitude, into the central district. They were armed with bottle rockets, two by fours and pieces of construction rebar. They attacked the heavily armed military and police, drove them out of town and returned the teachers planton to control in the Zocalo. They constructed dozens of barricades, including the onw on which Brad Will subsequently died and set up aid and feeding stations, open to all in the Zocalo. For over six months the people controlled Oaxaca, they made common cause with the teachers but took over the initiative, adding to the tired old teacher's demands much more radical demands. The ouster of URO being the most important of those.

Attempts by political interest groups, the different varieties of communists and anarchists, socialists and other organized political parties were firmly rebuffed. The Oaxaca commune governed by Uses and Costumbres, basically consensus of the people, which is the way the remote indigenous villages have gotten along for thousands of years. They didn't quit, either. They were shot off of the barricades by roving government death squads. Anyone who was too vocal in support of the commune was assassinated. I myself stepped in the blood of the Archbishop of Oaxaca's driver and body guard who was gunned down as he brought his little boy to school. A warning to the Bishop to shut up. The Commune of the People of Oaxaca had control of the entire state for almost four times as long as the Paris Commune had control in metropolitan France.

Presenting the opinion that the revolutionary situation in Oaxaca is only now becoming mature is simply wrong.


16 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on May 23, 2008

Presenting the opinion that the revolutionary situation in Oaxaca is only now becoming mature is simply wrong.

thanks for the informative post max, but that is not what the initial article was stating


16 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Escarabajo on May 29, 2008

Two Years Later in Oaxaca: Part I
What’s The Difference?

By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
May 27, 2008

Part I

Nobody here in Oaxaca says things are better. I am trying to put my finger on what is different, and while different, where it might be going. It’s all a question of attitude, and to comment on the subjective existence of a different attitude leaves me open to hoots and cat-calls. But I think I’ll try it.

Forum audience
Photos DR. 2008 Nancy Davies
Below is my sketch of what has changed since the brutal repression of the 2006 social movement’s five month control of the city of Oaxaca. The “social movement”, not to be confused with the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) or the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), resides in the populace seeking change. It is alive and well. It lives in all eight regions of the state, strongly situated within civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Many aspects of the social movement flourish in ways I have not seen before, especially in the form of local organizing and local battles. One example is the lawsuit on the Isthmus against the international wind generation complex built on communal indigenous lands. Other environmental examples include struggles against foreign ownership of mines, and water projects.

Today the most outstanding example is participation in the national movement for public dialogue, on the topic of privatizing PEMEX, Mexico’s oil producer. A national issue, yes, but Oaxaca has Salina Cruz, the big oil city on its southern coast. In Oaxaca, people first gathered during the 2006 movement to discuss public policy, and they are doing it now.

On Monday, May 26 the city of Oaxaca’s public forum (among hundreds of state-wide forums) for discussion of “la Reforma Energética”, (meaning privatization of oil) took place at Casa de la Ciudad at 10:00 AM: The sponsoring organization are civil society: Sinergia, Sevices for Alternative Education (EDUCA) , Insitute for Development of Oaxaca Women

(IDEMO) and the Center of Assistance to the Popular Movement (CAMPO). As the federal Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) legislator Othón Cuevas said, “With this meeting today, Oaxaca is sending to all Mexico a message: the Oaxacans want to act as citizens and no longer as subjects. They want to have an effect before things happen and not fold their arms in the face of decisions imposed from the heights of power. This forum also represents the demand of a society which with just reason feels each moment less represented by its governors and its legislators, and in consequence, wants to make heard its voice.”

These public discussions all over Mexico, and across the state of Oaxaca, come at the instigation of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the “defeated” PRD presidential candidate and leader of the anti-privatization campaign. Lopez Obrador came to Oaxaca on Tuesday, May 20. He spoke at an “invitation only” event at the Hotel Mision de Los Angeles, to about 1,200 people. He recruited hundreds of them in “brigades” to go door-to-door to collect signatures in opposition to privatization, and dozens to head up the statewide forums.

The national Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has split along lines of supporting, or not, the petroleum “reform” initiative of President Felipe Calderón. In support stands our governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), he who is so indebted to President Calderón for keeping him in office. But things change. When URO was in big trouble, so was Calderón, who barely could control his own National Action Party (PAN) and needed the PRI to vote with him in the congress. Now Calderón holds control. Meanwhile a PRI faction headed by former best-buddy Roberto Madrazo and Beatriz Pagés opposes the energy reform “because it is anti-constitutional”, which in fact it is. (The split reflects internal PRI conflict, as Heraclio Bonilla Gutierrez writing for La Noticias says, “like Sicilian Mafia families”.) With the PRI split on oil privatization, Calderón has little left to gain by supporting URO. Furthermore, the criminal activities of URO created international embarrassment, especially since the news started to leak out about the probable guilt of URO’s executive branch (that could be read “executioners” branch) in state terror.

Forum speaker

URO’s bargaining power diminished when an information leak went to the feds. The first leak came from a retired military general, Juan Alfredo Oropeza Garnica; followed by others of lesser position inside the state attorney general’s office. The information clearly implicates URO’s right-hand man, Jorge Franco Vargas who held the position of Secretary of Government for URO while URO was out campaigning for Madrazo’s failed presidential bid. Franco Vargas has been implicated in running the death squads, along with torture and disappearances in the crimes against humanity perpetrated during 2006. Worse for URO, Franco Vargas is implicated in the 2007 forced disappearance of two men from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which claims responsibility for blown up oil pipelines in retaliation. The EPR is now “bargaining”; discussing the situation with Calderón. URO, who can only claim that Franco Vargas acted without URO’s orders or knowledge, is becoming a national and international liability.

In another “sign” of URO’s decline, the Supreme Court of Mexico accepted a case of pederasty charges which had been rejected by Oaxaca courts. The case was brought by a mother of a four year old who was assaulted in his plush private kindergarten, allegedly by members of URO’s friendship “bubble”. The Oaxaca court’s failure to proceed implies that URO, or Franco Vargas, is protecting the pederasts. Mothers unite! This particular outraged mother won’t let go. A comfortable middle class woman, she is yet another person radicalized by URO – she includes the entire 2006-2007 repression when she blasts him. This furthers URO’s power-shrinkage, because while many can tolerate murder, few can tolerate child-molesting.

The Movimiento Nacional por la Defensa del Petroleo may be a player in the next election

But no matter. The exciting part is that the public is taking it on itself to organize opposition to the privatization of PEMEX. Being cynical, we may put this in the same category as anti-war protests which are routinely over-ridden by governments – but I salute the Oaxaca context: a state like many others in Mexico where dirty war terrorizes the population.

More than 150 people showed up on May 26, a Monday workday, at the city forum to discuss energy privatization. The structure of the forum gave the first set of presentations to four politicians: the PRD federal deputy Othón Cuevas; the PRI federal senator Adolfo Toledo Infazón; the Convergencia fedral senator Alberto Esteva Salinas; and the state National Action Party’s secretary general, Carlos Moreno Alcantara. Toledo Infazón duly and dully opposes privatization. Convergencia’s Esteva Salinas was over-dressed in a suit, but said the right things. Carlos Moreno Alcantara claimed that the Calderón’s plan “is not about privatization”, but the position of Mexico in the world today. Thinking ahead for our grandchildren, he said, there must be a plan for “strategic resources to defend capitalism, and no more government than is necessary.” He said that. I’m not kidding. The applause was slight. His words rang a echo to the common gossip that Calderón was elected with oil money from Exxon and Chevron, who expect him to pay back the favor.

With vigor and spirit, Cuevas responded by declaring that Mexico and its oil is not on earth to defend the interests of the USA which is squandering billions in Iraq while trying to control Iraq’s oil supply. The audience responded with questions, and after a break the intellectuals and academics had their say, followed again by audience participation. The actual details of the PEMEX ploy (that’s my term, one can hardly think that a company earning over $100 profit per barrel of oil cannot repair its own pipelines or pay for its own deep water wells) have been explained and exposed, in what is probably one of the most profound examples of public education in Mexico, and in direct contradiction to what is coming over national television.

Coincidentally, on May 19, Section 22 of SNTE once again set up their twenty-one day annual encampment to highlight demands for renewing the union contract. Once again, I went to look, along with tourists and footloose residents, at the marvelous combination of organization, defiance, and clever propaganda.

The rainy season in Oaxaca is underway, and vendors, unimpeded in occupying the zócalo and the streets around it, offered both pretty and practical products. Blankets were unfolded and carried off to the tents, hand-made jewelry and pottery sat displayed for the tourists.

Section 22 plantón

The plantón (encampment) covers 15 street blocks. The union demands, in addition to the economic and educational needs, also include liberty for the political prisoners, cancellation of arrest orders, and restoring the schools held by Section 59 and the PRI to Section 22 control. Thus far there has not been much government response to demands for breakfasts, uniforms and shoes, sanitation facilities, community kitchens or basic materials for the 13,500 Oaxaca schools. Section 59 still holds schools, and confrontations continue.

Two years after the mega-encampment there still is no point in mud-slinging regarding the issue of education quality, teacher training or readiness, because this failure – this huge government failure – in Oaxaca cuts across all sectors. A higher proportion of Section 59 teachers with neither classroom experience nor college degrees is cited by Section 22, who themselves will soon lose their ability to hand down their teaching posts to their children with or without the same qualifications. But the problem is so widespread as to make it necessary for the state normal schools, employing professors from the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, to conduct classes in pedagogy to the teachers on strike, weekends in the zócalo. These teachers have not yet earned college degrees; in reality, they are teacher-apprentices.

At the moment we first saw the color and movement of the 2008 plantón, in our excitement none of us commented on who the vendors were. Now it’s claimed they are PRI promoted, in the same game of sneak, sell and tell as their PRI predecessors in 2006. Besides infiltration, they also serve to block access to the cafes around the zócalo, provoking another bitter complaint against the teachers on the part of the restaurant and cafe owners. I want to comment on change, but how can I put aside this small fact: the infiltration, according to opinion in Las Noticias, represents the on-going work of Jorge Franco Vargas, the infamous “El Chucky”, even while he’s under investigation for the assassinations, death squads, kidnappings and disappearances and torture of social movement activists in 2006. Two years have passed, and I am sitting in front of my computer trying to put my finger on what has changed. Damn.

Section 22 plantón

Those of us who lived Oaxaca, 2006, do feel a touch of dejá vú, although the size of the teachers’ occupation is modest in comparison to that year’s: the teachers are camping in rotation as they come in from the eight regions of the state. Courtesy (or is it caution?) seems more pronounced. The shop-keepers who suffered financial losses in 2006 asked nicely that the teachers not block access, but as each region rotates in and out that courtesy dissipates. What the teachers try to avoid the vendors accomplish. And since nobody can forget (and many cannot forgive), the 2008 atmosphere also hints of wariness. The Ministerial Police circle the center in vans, but no police are evident inside the zócalo where the sidewalks are occupied and cafe tables stand empty.

Section 22 remains the manpower backbone of the social movement, with about 65,000 education workers. It is the income of 70,000 teachers (including Section 59) which recycles as the largest economic machine in Oaxaca’s economy, (unlike tourism dollars which largely leave the state). The teachers’ income, lost, did great harm; income regained and improved benefits all of Oaxaca’s economy. Teachers’ salaries (re-zonification) are always on the table. At this writing, a reasonable settlement within the next two weeks between the government and Section 22 seems likely because of threats of further disruption. The union presently holds toll booths on the highway, blocks access to the airport and buildings outside the city, and conducts normal strike activities.

The change most evident to me is not the relatively low–key occupations by Section 22. The real changes lie in answering this question: Where is the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO)? Who is now the big player on the field? My response, and the reason I see a post 2006 difference: the people organized.

Source: http://narconews.com/Issue53/article3113.html

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on May 30, 2008


Your post is very informative, however, I should take you up on a couple of things:

#1 the military never attacked in 2006, at least not in an official capacity. They were sent to Hualtulco in a show of force. The newly created PFP, fresh from raping 65% of arrested women in Atenco, were more than capable of crushing it with the help of various paramilitaries and armed priístas. Of course, the PFP are basically a police unit with military training and exist cos liberal journalists make much more of a fuss about military operations than police operations.

#2 you're right about the annual, predictable nature of the strike but it does seem like the stakes have been raised a little bit. I also think it's encouraging to see organisations continuing the struggle despite the state's attempts to annihilate it. Steven's right to deny that I ever claimed a new "maturity" in the movement, although of course the teachers have learnt from 2006. We all have. Also, at the time of writing, various community organisations were rallying behind Seccion 22. There's since been rearguard actions by vendedores and comerciantes. It seems to me like many Oaxacans resent the insecurity and increased police presence and criminality post-2006.

Generally though, welcome and thanks for posting. I'm sure you do have plenty to share here, although I have to disagree with your analysis of the teachers' demands. I'd suggest that the 2006 movement turning into an anti-URO campaign was due in no small part to manipulation on the part of the PRD and various social democratic Marxist-Leninist monoliths.


15 years 12 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dearconrad on June 24, 2008

Hmmm. Well, if you say so. I have been in Oaxaca off an on over the last 15 years and began living here full time in December of 2006, just a week or so after the PFP busted heads and cleared barricades. I certainly can't dispute assertions about what happened here before then. But with regard to the just completed teacher's strike, only a highly ideological observer would conclude that there was any substantial degree of public support for the strike. I walked the zocalo just about every day of the strike and what I saw was a bunch of secure, middle class Mexicans enjoying their yearly camporee, with the same old tired bedsheet protests signs and caricatures of the Usual Suspects. They capriciously blocked access to the airport, to government office buildings, to the local Pemex plant. The zocalo and the businesses surrounding it were jammed up and empty at the same time. The Teamsters Union under Dave Beck in the 50's never was nearly as arrogant as this outfit. They reminded me of an American tribe familiar to me: the tenured radicals and revolutionaries in any humanities department, fiercely emotive about their depth of commitment to a better world and their contempt for most of the revenue streams that actually support them. What isn't mentioned in the above comments was the constant drumbeat of newspaper stories (even in Noticias) about the economic consequences of the strike: businesses shuttering in the centro, hotel occupancy rates lower than usual, no tourists trucking out to Coyotepec or San Martin or Atzompa to buy artesania, very many little people being hurt.

Any respectful, patient observer of Oaxaca understands the great social problems in this state and the need for the state's institutions to better address them. The PRI has been in charge here for a very long time, so of course it is fossilized and buddied up and wealthy and reactionary. Substitute "comfortable" for "wealthy", and I think you have a good description of Section 22. My sense is that they've completely spent whatever political capital they had, and my fear is that they are helping to set the stage for a "Law and Order" politcal campaign in the next election.

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