Revolution Online Special Report, December 19, 2006
Report from Oaxaca
Part 1: The Prisoners of Tepic
We have recently returned from an investigative reporting trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. We were able to participate in one of the human rights delegations investigating and documenting the repression going on in this southern Mexican state, and had the opportunity to meet and talk with many different kinds of people. The following report was written while we were in Oaxaca--and there will be more to come!
First, a little background: In the pre-dawn hours of June 14, 2006, over 2,000 police brutally attacked an encampment of striking teachers, their families (including children), and supporters, while they were sleeping in the zócalo, the town square, of Oaxaca City. The encampment had been in the zócalo since May as part of the teachers’ strike to demand improvements in education, assistance for poor students in the rural areas, and a pay raise. The teachers usually go on strike in May, but it had never been met with such repression. Hundreds of people were injured. The teachers were dispersed temporarily but then fought their way back into the zócalo.
June 14 sparked a wider struggle that has raged for six months and impacted Oaxacan society as a whole. People from all walks of life rallied around the call to drive out the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). URO has been hated since he came into office--for violent repression of the indigenous struggles and as a representative of the continued domination in that state by the PRI (the political party that was the institutionalized ruling party over all of Mexico for over 70 years).
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in mega-marches through the city. Radio stations and a TV station were taken over by masses of people. In August, a group of women took over Channel 9 and broadcast for three weeks before the station was attacked. Armed government thugs and police were going through neighborhoods shooting and killing people. After someone was killed near the TV station, barricades went up all over the city--an estimated 1,500 of them. All kinds of people came out to the barricades. In some cases 70-year-old women guarded barricades armed with sticks. People from the neighborhoods brought food and coffee to the defenders of the barricades. In some neighborhoods there were fierce battles to stop the police forces from coming in.
In October the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) came in and surrounded the zócalo. They killed several people at the end of October. Then on November 25, the repression reached a whole new level. The PFP attacked a march, arresting over 150 people who they then tortured and jailed--and some of whom were just people who happened to be passing through the zócalo that day. This repression has drawn international attention, and several human rights delegations have traveled to Oaxaca to learn about and document the abuses.
Oaxaca, Mexico, December 18— Contrasted against the blue sky, the red noche buenas blooming throughout the city, along with the sounds of women cooking and children playing in the marketplace, make the center of town seem almost…normal. Oaxaca is not the same place it was before the people stood up in June of this year. The fact that for months the people raised their heads throughout Oaxaca—from the center region and through much of the countryside—cannot be erased. Oaxaca demanded to be heard.
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On Sunday, December 17, 43 prisoners who had been detained in a prison in Tepic, Nayarit were released. Immediately upon their arrival back to Oaxaca City, many of the people released began sharing stories of the November 25th repression when the Federal Preventive Police (PFP)—which had been occupying the zocalo, the central city square, since October—attacked protesters demanding the ouster of Oaxaca's hated governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. More than 150 people were brutally beaten and arrested in the area around the zocalo, including many people who were coming home from work and shopping.
Magdalena was coming home from work on the afternoon of the 25th. She’s a 50-year-old widow and works as a housekeeper to support her family. She had heard of the popular movement, but didn’t really know too much about it. She remembered some of her neighbors telling her that the teachers were just troublemakers and that it was time for the authorities to bring down order. But on the 25th everything changed. She was swept up along with many others by the PFP while she was in the town center. She was hit, thrown down on the floor, had her hands tied and told—along with other women—that they were going to die and that after they were killed their bodies would be thrown in garbage cans where nobody would find them.
Magdalena saw her relatives bloodied and beat up. For the 21 days she was in prison, she and the others arrested that day had no contact with the outside world. For Magdalena, what is burned into her consciousness is the desperation of the women prisoners who don’t know where their children are and whether or not they are eating. Just as arbitrarily as she’d been grabbed off the street on the 25th, she was told that she was going home. She can’t stop thinking about the women she left behind.
Before, Magdalena hadn’t given much thought to the people’s struggle. Her experience has affected her profoundly. She says after what the government has done to her she wants to participate in the struggle however she can. She now remembers the repression against the people of Atenco, who were fighting against the government's moves to take their land, and never would have believed she’d find herself identifying with the women who were brutalized there. She is most of all driven by an urgency to free the prisoners who remain in the conditions she’s just escaped, and she says that though she can’t read or write she wants to be involved in whatever way she can. She says she doesn’t seek to be rich and live in a mansion like URO, but she demands respect and a more just world—not just for herself, but for everyone.
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The air is still thick in Oaxaca. In the past weeks police helicopters have occasionally flown low over the city—their blades a reminder of the brute force of the state. Officially the PFP forces have withdrawn from the city, but there are still eyes and ears everywhere. Just last night Florentino Lopez, Pedro Garcia, and Macario Padilla, prominent figures in the APPO movement were detained at a stoplight and were beaten and arrested. They were released the same night—but the threat of more repression is clear, as is determination on the people’s side.
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