February 23, 2007
Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE, by its Spanish initials) decided that the truce asked for by the state governor was without value and took over the government office of the Secretary General (Segob, as it is referred to) in the city of Oaxaca on February 21, along with thirty-two other offices statewide. The popular assembly movement has regrouped and caught its breath. It’s now in a new phase of the struggle for Oaxaca, which I call the 2007 pre-electoral phase.
How the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) has been able to recapture its former strength has three answers; the teachers, the indigenous peoples and civil society.
The internal union housecleaning involved displacing the former secretary of Section 22 of SNTE, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, who is regarded as a sell-out. Rueda’s formal status appears to be irrelevant at this moment; he no longer has major input into union decisions. Section 22’s strength has rebounded despite the fracture caused by the collaboration of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) and national SNTE president, PRI member Elba Esther Gordillo. Between the two of them, they split off Section 59 of SNTE, a group of between 2,000-4,000 teachers out of the 70,000 Section 22 membership. Along with Section 59, the Central Council for Struggle (CCL) set up by Ruiz has been holding 200 schools, locking out the Section 22 teachers who were on strike for more than five months. The substitute teachers, along with parents in sympathy with the governor, refused to permit Section 22 teachers to return to their classrooms.
The post November 25 struggle has been violent, with state police coming into classes to arrest teachers who are APPO supporters and with the two union factions coming to blows outside schools in some areas such as Juchitán. Near Oaxaca, in the suburb of Viguera, according to one teacher who lives there but who teaches in another town, round-the-clock guards (called topiles in the usos y costumbres vernacular) patrol to forestall invasion, capture or shooting of Viguera residents.
Segob (the federal secretary of government’s department) negotiated a pause in the struggle but did not honor its promise to hand back the schools to Section 22. In retaliation for this failure, about 7,000 members of Section 22 – not classroom teachers –aided by members and sympathizers of the APPO carried out a takeover of the thirty-two state offices following the decision of the APPO state council.
This reconnection of the APPO and the education workers union brings back much of the lost strength of the APPO, which called for protests (the ninth megamarch on February 4) that demonstrated that the APPO is recovering from the fear induced during the weeks following the brutal and indiscriminate November 25 attack by the Federal Preventive Police (PFP, in its Spanish initials) and the subsequent hunt-down of APPO supporters.
In addition to the APPO and the teachers, there is now the resolution of the indigenous population in play. This segment of the population – indeed, the largest segment in Oaxaca – has stepped forward for the popular movement. The debate among the indigenous towns with respect to self-organizing for best protection from centuries of oppression has now surfaced. It reflects two different options. One, as espoused in the Juchitán area headed by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD, in its Spanish initials) senator Othón Cuevas, seeks to form a strong regional alliance. The other proposition, long espoused by the generation of men like Jaime Martinz Luna of Guelatao, was for maintaining each community independently, in virtual isolation, and letting the external PRI do what it chose in exchange for internal safety. The force of caciquismo was so intense, and the people so poor, that they were highly dependent on the hand-outs the caciques brought, of cement or food staples. Martinez had good reasons; there’s a paid advertisement photo in Noticias on February 22 showing URO handing out nine million pesos in “education works.” Perhaps Guelatao has lost some part of its integrity even while the process of linking communities of the Sierra Norte is taking place, including the push for community radio which may link town to town and aid APPO participation. Local organizations have been the norm, and these hundreds of organizations at the indigenous base still exist.
Furthermore, indigenous families who migrated to the urban areas for jobs brought with them their ideas of collective action and mutual support. That is why the city of Oaxaca’s embattled neighborhoods had as central actors the poor on the barricades and women bringing food. The youth participated as marchers, barricaders and communication workers.
Civil organizations are stepping into visible lead roles again, and although a certain number of APPO supporters are still in hiding, some meet clandestinely. From February 23 to March 25 a group comprised of five civil organizations is sponsoring the “National Meeting for Communication and Society” which has attracted participants from Latin America and Mexico, as well as from Oaxaca. The indigenous assembly, as well as the state APPO assembly, calls for promotion of community radio. Print, Internet, photography and other media will be discussed in the light of countering repression and disseminating accurate information.
Another example of the increased role of civil society is the continuing forum “Dialogue for Peace and Justice,” which meets this month. The local and national human rights organizations have been working since the November attacks, both to free the prisoners and to hold counseling sessions for the victims of torture.
The tenth megamarch is called for March 8, in observance of International Women’s Day, to demand the freeing of the political prisoners and to also honor the women of the struggle. The expectations for this next march are that it will bring out the full strength of the movement.
Once again the inept government of Ruiz shot itself in the foot, because the repression was so vicious and so senseless that there is scarcely a Oaxaqueño left who does not say URO must go. From time to time I speak with someone whom I know to have been against the APPO and the popular movement, and they agree. One such person, a thirty-something woman who lives in a nice suburb and works in a city office, nodded, “We can see after that (departure) what will be possible.”
From now until the August 5 Oaxaca state elections, and then on to the October 7 municipal elections, URO will try to maintain an appearance of normalcy. He attends a few very public events, more or less surreptitiously until he pops up in a town and just as surreptitiously vanishes after cutting a ribbon. As an interesting insight into popular sentiment the state legislators (who may yet hope for re-election) already declared a failure of powers in the municipality of Zaachila. Mayor José Coronel was put aside (and promptly reappointed by URO to another government post) in favor of a man chosen by the APPO-sympathetic local assembly during the height of the first phase of the struggle.
The APPO decided to not run any candidates and to maintain its own position as an independent entity. It voted in its state assembly that those who want to run for office, for whatever party, must resign positions they hold on the APPO state council. A parallel decision was the calling of another “punishment vote,” like that of July 2, 2006.
The big advantage of the electoral season is the obvious restraint it imposes on Governor Ruiz, which applies to the APPO in no way. The state troopers guarding access to the Zócalo are down to a few at each entrance. The APPO is out and about. As I pass through the center, a certain vibrancy and air of expectation has returned.