Update on the Situation in Oaxaca. July 7th, 2006

The 70,000 public school teachers who went out on strike on May 22nd, entered their sixth week of camping out in the streets of Oaxaca City this week.

The popular assembly that formed after the police repression against teachers, on June 14th, continues working together with the teachers seeking strategies to bring down the governor of Oaxaca.

On July 1st and 2nd (election day), social organizations and teachers from Oaxaca city maintained the encampment, while rural teachers returned to their communities for two days, to talk with parents and community members, encouraging them to vote their opposition to the PRI and the PAN. While some interpreted this as an outright endorsement of the center-left PRD candidate Lopez Obrador, it actually looked more like a plebiscite than a vote in favor of the PRD.

For the first time in history, the PRI lost in Oaxaca, with 9 out of 11 districts voting for the PRD. This has significant implications for the Governor of Oaxaca, who belongs to the PRI, and many believe the teachers’ mobilizations had a profound influence on the election results throughout the state.

Throughout the week of July 3rd – 7th, teachers continued carrying out direct actions. One day all of the highways leading in and out of the state were blockaded. The next day, all entrances to the city were closed down. Teachers blockaded McDonalds, the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, and other large companies. A public exhibition of resistance art, created by the teachers in their 45 days of struggle, was mounted in the public plaza outside Santo Domingo church.

The Popular Assembly proposed that teachers who had been teaching classes this year return to their communities for two weeks to finish the school year, while teachers who don’t have classes this year, together with social organizations, maintain the encampment. This proposal arose out of the concern that many rural teachers feel a strong commitment to the community authorities and parents in the towns where they teach. While the process for deciding on this proposal was initially contested by many teachers who felt they weren’t sufficiently consulted by their state assembly, the proposal was ultimately accepted.

So, beginning this weekend (July 7th), rural teachers will return to their communities to finish the school year and to talk with parents and community members, encouraging them to return with them to the encampment on July 22nd, where they have committed to stay until the governor of Oaxaca steps down.

On July 24th, the teachers and the Popular Assembly will hold an Alternative Guelaguetza. The Guelaguetza is an annual festival of indigenous art, culture, music and dance in the city of Oaxaca that has become increasingly commercial and has come to represent cultural appropriation more than celebration. Teachers are encouraging foreigners NOT to attend the Guelaguetza, and instead to attend the alternative Guelaguetza.

Radio Planton (the teachers’ community radio station) is back on the air, after being completely destroyed by police on June 14th.

It will be important to keep a close eye on developments in Oaxaca, over the next couple of weeks. Election fraud at the national level has generated a new level of tension throughout the country. There are fears that teachers returning to their communities will face repression by local PRI authorities. At the same time, the number of people in the encampment in center of town will decrease significantly. With the elections over, the Governor of Oaxaca has less to lose politically, and with the Guelaguetza approaching, many fear another attempt to “remove” the planton could result in another wave of violence.

An example of the ongoing possibility for repression, on June 30th, a university student who had been supporting the teachers by reporting for Radio Planton and Radio University was attacked and beaten by PRI-ista students at the same unviversity. His initial diagnosis was paralysis, from the blows to the back of his neck. His diagnosis has improved, but his condition still remains delicate.

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