Tuesday, December 19, 2006

and now for something completely different 

As some of you know I recently spent some time in Mexico video documenting the radical social movements there. I was reluctant to blog about it at the time for two reasons. The first being that I had a very minimal idea of what was going on. The second was that it seemed that to say anything comprehensible would require a prodigious amount of background information.

Well, now I'm back and it seems like time to at least try to put some thoughts in order. So in the interests of providing some context for future posts:

I arrived in Oaxaca on September 24th when the popular uprising was in full swing. In May of this year the teacher's union went on strike as they have done for the last 25 years. Striking in this case means, partly, setting up plantons or encampments in the center of town. Usually this happens until the government agrees to negotiate and eventually some sort of settlement is reached. This year was relatively unremarkable in terms of the teacher's demands: more pay, better funding for the schools, slowing of the privatization process.

However all was not well in the land. The newly 'elected' (read: massive election fraud) governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, decided that he wasn't having any of it. He ordered the state police to remove the strikers from the zocalo (central plaza). So the police came and attacked the protesters, but this time the protesters fought back. Even though the police managed to kill five people the protesters eventually won. The police and government were ejected from the capital city of the State of Oaxaca.

At this point several grassroots groups, left political activists, small business owners, NGO's and others aligned behind the teachers and formed a coalition they called APPO (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca). APPO is horizontally organized and directly democratic, making their decisions by consensus. APPO pretty much immediately consensed upon getting Ortiz, or URO, out of office. URO's resignation became their one and only non-negotiable demand to the Mexican government.

For various reasons they remained in a stalemate with the government for months. In September APPO declared itslef the legitimate government of the State of Oaxaca, and the movement went from being reformist to revolutionary. Anticipating the eventual ouster of Ortiz, they began to create directly democratic governance structures that could take over the functions of the state. This is primarily the reason for Left's fascination with Oaxaca. Some are calling it a second Paris Commune, or comparing it to the Spanish Revolution.

During this period of stalemate the government decided that, a direct attack having failed, the best strategy for them was "counterinsurgency warfare" or less euphemistically: state terror or "dirty war" as they call it here. They ordered ruling party loyalists to attack, harass, murder, rape, and kidnap people in Oaxaca on a sporadic basis. The idea being to spread fear in the movement and create disunity. This went on until late October.

With the national presidency about to change hands various political pressures became acute. In late October an acquaintance of mine who was there reporting for Indymedia NYC was shot and killed by paramilitaries who attacked the APPO barricade that he was photographing. This happened a few days after I got back to New York.

In New York some smart dedicated and organized activists formed a group, Friends of Brad Will, and began planning actions and solidarity events with the people of Oaxaca. They work closely with another New York based activist who runs the website El Enemigo Comun, which is the best repository of links and info about the situation.

Back in Oaxaca, the Federal government seized on the pretext and declared that Brad getting killed was the last straw and that it was imperative to invade to "restore law and order". Thus the Federal police were sent in and a month long battle for the city ensued.

The Police eventually won after killing several people and imprisoning several hundred others in prison camps far from Oaxaca. The "leaders" of the APPO have been arrested. The organization has gone somewhat underground although they are still organizing marches and protests. The State of Oaxaca is basically under martial law at this point with human rights violations proliferating and stories of torture and disappearance quite common.

The story is far from over. Due to the actions of the APPO and others well before them, the popular resistance movement is spreading. The nearby State of Guerrero formed an APPO clone organization, and the Zapatistas have been touring the country during the last year building a network of all the resistance movements.

In the next posts I'll go through a basic description of the Other Campaign launched by the Zapatistas, and try to put all of this in the context of "official" Mexican politics. If you're interested, you can always get good updates at Narco News.

(If you'd rather skip the background and just hear about what's going on right now, let me know.)


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?