Teachers Walk from Oaxaca to Mexico City
Here is a summary of what has happened in recent weeks in the ongoing struggle in Oaxaca.
As of today, September 26th, 2006, the popular movement that is making history in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca enters its 127th day.
Public schoolteachers remain out on strike. This week marks the sixth week that they have gone without pay.
On August 21st and 22nd, convoys of heavily-armed death squads circulated through Oaxaca City at night, destroying the transmitters for the state television and radio stations that had been under the control of women within the movement, and injuring teachers who had been guarding the antennas. Protestors responded to the violence by taking over every commercial radio station in Oaxaca. The death squads opened fire on the protestors guarding the radio stations. One member of civil society, Pablo Lorenzo Cervantes, who had come out to help defend the occupied radio stations,
was shot and killed. Photos of the death squads revealed uniformed state police alongside the plain-clothed gunmen.
Of the commercial radio stations that were taken over by movement participants, two remain under popular control: La Ley and Radio Oro.
In response to the death squads, neighbors throughout the city organized nightly barricades, using sticks, rocks, bonfires, furniture, and vehicles to blockade streets. The first night, there were at least 500 barricades across town. Today, five weeks later, there are at least 1500 barricades. They appear around 11:00 PM and disappear again around 6:00 AM.
The barricade directly below the house where I am staying is guarded every night by a retired schoolteacher, her husband, and her sons. Other neighbors often join them with coffee, tlayudas, and always a radio tuned to Radio Ley, Radio Oro, or Radio Planton. The barricades depend on these radio stations for information about what is happening elsewhere in the city.
September 15th is Mexican independence day, known as “fiestas patrias.” Historically, the celebrations are overseen by the president, at the national level, and by the governor, at the state level. But this year, in Oaxaca, the fiestas patrias were organized and overseen by Local 22 of the teachers union, and the Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca. In the city’s central plaza, the zocalo, people gathered for music, dancing, fireworks, and the traditional midnight “grito.” But the celebrations also took place in various barricades across town, with bands traveling from one barricade to the next, serenading the “barricadistas.”
A commission of teachers and members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), participated in six dialogue sessions with the Federal Secretary of Internal Affiars, Carlos Abascal. Abascal insisted that only the Senate can remove a governor, while at the same time asking the movement to return the occupied radio stations, and asking teachers to return to classes. The teachers carried out a rank-and-file consult that resulted in the declaration that teachers would not return to classes until five days after governor Ulises Ruiz resigns. The movement, in general, reiterated that the resignation of Ulises Ruiz is not a negotiable demand, and the dialogue sessions ended with no advances.
Last Thursday, approximately 3000 schoolteachers, parents, students, and members of civil society began WALKING to Mexico City (over 300 miles). The march’s primary objective is to pass through communities along the way, talking to people about the situation in Oaxaca, and to demonstrate the level of sacrifice the marchers are willing to endure. Along the way, they will pass through three states with very unpopular governors: Puebla, whose current governor is accused of belonging to a child-pornography ring; Morelos, whose governor is a known drug-trade king-pin; and the State of Mexico, whose governor was responsible for the recent repression against the community of San Salvador Atenco.
When the marchers arrive in Mexico City (after walking for at least 13 days), they will camp out in front of the national senate to demand the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz. The last time the teachers walked to Mexico City was in 1986.
I spent three days walking with the teachers. I saw children, old women in plastic sandals, mothers with babies...all walking. The march is accompanied by the medical support of public health workers, and doctors from the University’s medical school.
The popular support along the way has been very impressive. Even in the most unpopulated parts of the route, entire families appear along the side of the road with food, water, oranges, and of course signs and posters. The march arrived in Telixtlahuaca the second night, and there was such an outpouring of local support that there was actually TOO MUCH food (and we are talking about over 4000 people that needed to be fed that night and the following morning).
The third day was the hardest. The distance between Telixtlahuaca and Noxchitlan is 42 kilometers, through the mountains. I came
back to Oaxaca before they actually arrived in Nochixtlan, but a
teacher sent me a text message saying, "Llegamos super jodidos pero con el animo al maximo." (We got here, super-fucked, but with high spirits).
Meanwhile, back in Oaxaca city, the climate is extremely tense. At the federal level, the discourse signals a possible intervention by the federal police. And there are signs that the state government wants to provoke a violent confrontation that would justify the use of repressive force. On Sunday, the governor, who has not been seen in Oaxaca for over 3 months, appeared in the historic center of town eating a taco. He was later reported to be in a meeting inside the Camino Real hotel, also in the center of town. When teachers and APPO members arrived outside the hotel, government thugs came out of the building and opened fire. One person was injured by the gunfire, others were injured by plain-clothed thugs who arrived with sticks. This was widely interpreted as an attempt to provoke a confrontation.
This weekend, the Governor threatened that, if teachers didn’t return to classes yesterday (Sept 25th), he would have them replaced by scabs, and would force the re-opening of schools. But very few schools opened across the state.
It’s very important that people try to stay informed about the situation in Oaxaca. An attack by federal police forces could happen at any time. Mobilizations in front of local Mexican consulates should demand the immediate resignation of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and should condemn threats to use federal police forces against the people of Oaxaca.