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3,500 police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters retook control of the Mexican city of Oaxaca on Sunday (29th) following five months of occupation by striking teachers and other activists. Burning barricades were no match for the additional 6,500 military personnel, water cannons and tear gas, as physical resistance was crushed.
Teachers and their supporters have been demonstrating since May against a corrupt authoritarian state regime, guilty also of seriously underfunding local education. Included on their list of demands were outrageous requests for more textbooks, breakfasts for schoolchildren, scholarships, uniforms, shoes, medical services and better pay. The clincher, perhaps, was their demand for the resignation of the Governor, Ulises Ruíz Ortíz, who has been busy using the usual array of tactics available to Mexican cops, with disappearances, beatings and torture being used against so called ‘subversive elements’ for some time.
“An unrivalled success story”, the Economist investment rag says about Mexico’s economy. This is despite the fact that the richest 10% of Mexicans own around 60% of the wealth, a gap that continues to rise, along with the number of poor and hungry, despite all the ‘sustained economic growth’.
One of the demands was for an increase in the minimum wage. During the 1990s the value of the Mexican minimum wage actually fell by 5%. In Oaxaca the minimum is lower than in most places as the government keep the rate down cos they reckon it’s cheaper to live in a poor place, so why pay so ‘em more money?! After all, along with Chiapas and Guerrero, Oaxaca is amongst the poorest three states in Mexico and that makes that ten-bedroomed Hacienda a much more affordable holiday home for a weary Mexican stock broker.
On May 15th, National Teachers Day in Oaxaca, teachers threatened a week long state-wide strike if their demands were not met. They weren’t and a week later a 40,000-strong group of mainly teachers and other union activists occupied the centre of the city. Such actions have been common for the last 25 years in Oaxaca but this was bigger and commanded much more support amongst the general population than usual.
The occupation continued until 750 police stormed in on June 14th in maximum repression mode. Local media reported four deaths from the ensuing violence and the teachers’ radio station, Radio Plantón, was trashed. Soon after, though, students at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca seized the uni station which had a much more powerful transmitter.
On 8th August, police infiltrators poured sulphuric acid on that equipment, but by this time TV Caserolas had been running for 8 days. The state-owned Chanel 9 station was seized and re-named after the women who had marched on the station banging pots and pans.
Before they were booted out on 21st August, TV Caserolas had paraded a host of Mexicans on the telly – each of whom gave a withering commentary on what neo-liberalism meant to them - the loss of land to developers and the ramshackle rural mountain schools without toilets; the thousands of communities without safe water or sewage systems; the rising cost of food and rent as subsidies are removed in the name of free trade; and, of course, the continuing falls in the value of those wages.
By July, 365 grassroots organisations including unions, indigenous groups and womens movements had joined up to form an umbrella group known as the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), receiving the backing of the Zapatistas and even former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Meanwhile under “Operation Iron,” Governeor Ruiz was busy renovating the prison in the city of Tlocolula. He’s overseen a development to double its capacity and keen to keep costs low, Ruiz has not bothered building any extensions preferring simply to put a partition wall in each cell! Many prominent activists are, however, more worried that they won’t even make it to prison, convinced of an impending wave of repression that is sure to follow the recapture of the city.
As government top brass debated what to do, primary school teacher, Pánfilo Hernández Vásquez was shot dead as he left a public assembly. His death brings the average number of murdered teachers, activists and indigenous leaders to one a week since May. They were joined last Friday by New York-based Indymedia journalist Brad Will, who was shot dead along with three others as pro-government militia opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators.
President Vincent Fox finally authorised the the really heavy squad, the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) to ‘retake’ the city military style, last Sunday. Since then things have quietened a little with the heavy ongoing military presence, but resistance continues and people’s spirit and determination seems unbroken.
Whilst President Fox declared victory, announcing “the return to peace” in Oaxaca, as we go to press, the University of Oaxaca is under attack with the PFP launching tear gas in an attempt to evacuate the premises. Radio APPO is currently still managing to braodcast (have a listen at http://icecast.v2v.cc:8000/appo1.mp3). The Zapitistas have called for a general strike and national day of action on November 20th.
Triggered largely by Brad Will’s murder, there have been a series of actions in the US and around the world. In the UK, a protest against the repression took place in front of the Mexican Embassy in London on Monday evening. Eight arrests followed an attempt to project Brad Will’s final footage on to the embassy itself.
* For fuller coverage, including pictures and footage, see www.narconews.com and www.indymedia.org
For the rest of this weeks issue including articles on Somalia, Avebury, the Stern Report and more go to http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news567.htm
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