Revolution #76, January 14, 2007


Report from Oaxaca

Part 2: Days of Fear, Joy, and Determination

by Luciente Zamora and Nina Armand

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. The first part of this report appeared in last week's Revolution (“Part 1—The Prisoners of Tepic,” online at And there will be more to come! 
A little background: On 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. 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 hated governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). 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. 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 1500 of them.
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.

December 22--For days we’ve been hearing the stories of repression. Over and over and over again the same story repeats itself: We were kidnapped, beaten, hands tied and thrown face-down in a truck with a kick to the head for trying to look up. We were taken to a helicopter and they said “let’s see if you can fly”…we thought we were going to die. People have disappeared and others are in hiding—the police are still looking for people and still threatening everyone…people are scared.

Then today came a wave of joy…thousands of people marching through the city of Oaxaca (along with people in other towns in Oaxaca, throughout Mexico, in the U.S. and Canada, in Europe, and in Latin America marching in solidarity on the same day), their chants and songs filling the air for miles. All along the way dozens of youth decorated the walls that the city has been trying so hard to “normalize.” Spray-painted slogans and posters were soon covering the route of the march. Most of the march was made up of adults of all ages, but a contingent of youth joined in gleefully singing a barrage of insults of the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Today, people didn’t want to talk about fear, but instead about the anger the repression has filled them with. They denounced the government and proudly upheld their struggle. The last six months has changed people. They have stood up—or as many describe it, finally the people have said “enough”—and the changes that thousands are going through are not so easily crushed.

Concepción’s son was arrested on November 25, when the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) attacked the protest encampment at the zócalo, the central town square, of Oaxaca City. She got involved in the struggle to free her son from prison. But as she talked to the other women, family members, students, and her son in prison, she realized that this wasn’t just about her son. There is something much greater at stake.

Now she’s working to free all the political prisoners. She was part of the encampment in front of the prison in the state of Nayarit, about 800 miles north of Oaxaca, where many of those arrested were taken. She said that when she arrived in Nayarit along with other family members, many people were scared because for days the media warned the people of Nayarit that people from Oaxaca are violent troublemakers. Concepción, along with other people from the encampment, went knocking door to door in the neighborhoods around the prison and told people about the struggle in Oaxaca and that their loved ones had been unjustly imprisoned—for standing up or for nothing at all.

It didn’t take long for many people in Nayarit to support those from Oaxaca in the struggle. They offered many people a place to sleep, food, and friendship during a very difficult time.

Concepción said that she’s not the same woman she was before all this happened. This struggle has opened her eyes and made her think about things outside of her family and home. She wants to raise people’s consciousness not just about the release of all the prisoners—which she is fiercely fighting for—but also to look around and see all the hunger, malnutrition, and other problems and ask why things are the way they are and do something about it.

* * * * *

December 23--A group of teachers stand at a fold-up table cutting pieces of crepe paper and bunching them into colorful paper flowers. They string the flowers across branches and between trees. They are at the plazuela of the church, where the APPO’s (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, which has been leading the struggle in Oaxaca) alternative Noche de Rabanos has been relocated after 300 municipal police filled the zócalo. The police are lining the entrances to the plazuela, with more camped a block away—riot gear ready.

The traditional brass instrument banda music in the air is accompanied by dancing on the stage. A few tourists and others walk past elaborate radish sculptures—scenes from the struggle of the last six months were carved from huge radishes. There is a figure of the PFP, with club and shield out. There's a helicopter hanging from a branch to simulate flying—with a body hanging out of it. Our favorite was the rabanos carved into a scene from the barricades: car-and-rock barricades manned by little figurines—both men and women—holding sticks with piles of rabanito rocks nearby.

Then the crowd in la plazuela stood still as a group of a couple dozen youth and residents arrived in a “posada.” Red and yellow light glowed from atop the tall wooden sticks holding candles in cellophane-wrapped frames. This time people weren’t singing Christmas songs or carrying pictures of nativity scenes or baby Jesus—they carried a big bright banner demanding freedom for all the political prisoners.

* * * * *

Lucia, Margarita, Eva, and Inez are teachers who were involved in the teachers' strike and planton—encampment—since May. They said that it was a back-and-forth in the early days with many people in Oaxaca. Lucia said that at first many people were supportive, but that some started to grow tired of the planton. However after the June 14 repression, things changed completely. The people were outraged at the way that the state had shot tear gas into the encampment and viciously brutalized the people. Margarita added that this struggle has been in the making for a long time and that it was a matter of time before it erupted into the open.

The women talked about the inequality that forms the base of this struggle, in particular the tremendous poverty and hunger throughout society. They then went on to describe another kind of inequality—the use of violent force by the state. They pointed out that the state has the power to kill and repress with weapons and brute force and the people have had to confront that with resistance, defending their neighborhoods by building barricades made of cars, rocks, wood, bags filled with sand, etc.

The state has come down hard on those who rose up and participated and continue to participate in the struggle—exhibiting the armed power of the state, including government forces dragging teachers out of their classrooms in front of crying children. One of the teachers described the PFP entering her school, some dressed as civilians and posing as parents while others were in uniform, detaining teachers in the middle of class. She said that one child who was hugging and trying to protect his teacher from the authorities was held down and then only released after the authorities left the school. These arrests happened at many schools in neighborhoods in Oaxaca City. Sometimes word got out that the authorities were coming and the teachers got away. Other times the parents and other residents surrounded the school to protect the teachers, but several times teachers were still arrested.

In these past days many different people have told us that the struggle continues despite all the repression, mass arrests, disappearances, and intimidation. There are no longer barricades around the city, and much of the graffiti on the walls is painted over daily, but the events of the past six months have changed people profoundly. In many different ways people are talking about how their own thinking is opening up and also of the need to deepen and raise the consciousness of many more people. As the teachers talked, their comments shifted back and forth from the current struggle to societal questions of wealth and poverty to the war in Iraq. People are thinking of Oaxaca, but not only Oaxaca.

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