Revolution #68, November 5, 2006


Oaxaca, Mexico: Federal Police Attack Rebellion

Note: As we go to press, the situation in Oaxaca is escalating; reports in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada indicate that the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) entered the Zócalo (town square) on Sunday afternoon, tore down barricades, and used water cannons to disperse protesters, arresting dozens. Mexico Indymedia reports that the PFP beat protesters as they advanced. The Popular Assembly the People of Oaxaca (APPO) is reported to have held off one advance of the PFP and to be holding the center of the Zócalo, squaring off against the PFP, which has begun retaking buildings previously held by APPO. Flavio Sosa, a spokesperson for the APPO, told La Jornada that APPO would not engage with the riot cops, but that neither were they “prepared to turn over the city”, and he warned that the riot cops seemed to be trying to provoke a confrontation that would provide an excuse for a violent crackdown against the protesters. La Jornada also reported that protesters had fought back against the PFP's advance by burning tires, and throwing rocks, and had dispersed a contingent of riot cops by slashing tires and throwing rocks at the escaping PFP. There have been protests in Mexico City, and there are calls for protests at Mexican Embassies in many cities and countries. Watch for continued analysis and updates.
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“With our heart in our hand we are telling you: it’s now or never…”
Message to the fighters at the barricades in Oaxaca City from the 21 Oaxacan hunger strikers in front of the Mexican Senate

As we go to press, 4000 federal police have arrived in Oaxaca to try to enforce a bloody solution to the people’s rebellion to demand the resignation of the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). The federal police have come because they cannot allow a people’s movement to set a precedent by forcing from power a tyrant who has the force of the state to back him up. The president has ordered the people to “immediately hand over streets, plazas, public buildings and private property.” The people have reinforced their barricades.

URO has been champing at the bit for a bloody invasion of Federal Preventive Police (PFP) backed up by the army for several months now. There are 36 days before Felipe Calderón is set to take power. Calderón was the candidate of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), and he was declared the winner of a highly fraudulent election by Mexican Federal Election Commission on September 5th. Mopping up after a massacre is not how Calderón would like to assume office. The preferred solution for the government has been to suggest to URO that he resign, and to work to divide the less radical sections of the striking teachers union from the more conscious and determined sections who are seeking to broaden the struggle. On Thursday, October 26, the government had come to a “promise of the return to normality” with one section of the teacher’s movement who agreed to go back to classes. The government had hoped to slowly wind down the struggle and isolate the more radical sectors.

But Friday afternoon changed all this. Friday, October 27, was a day of showdown. The more radical section of the teachers together with APPO (the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) took the offensive, and URO sent in his “sicarios,” his hired assassins armed with high-powered rifles and machine guns.

APPO had issued an ultimatum for URO to be gone by Friday, and over 1000 barricades were put up all over the state, and all freeways leading in and out of the state were blocked. In the capital Oaxaca City the businesses closed and public transport shut down. A little before 4 p.m. there were simultaneous shootings at 15 different blockades. This is when American Indymedia journalist Brad Will was shot and killed as he filmed what was going on. Three other men—Saul Diaz, Jorge Hernandez Hernandez, and the teacher Juan Andres Robles Juarez—were also killed that day. Even with the shootings, the people came out in the streets with homemade objects of self-defense and surrounded the gang of 40 armed thugs affiliated with the city government of Santa Lucia, a subdivision of the capital, who shot Brad and the others. “There’s no fear here, there’s only fury and sooner or later the pri-istas (referring to members of the PRI, the Party of the Institutional Revolution—the ruling party in Oaxaca) have to run out of bullets and then we will respond.” On Friday, in addition to the four people who were killed, 20 teachers were arrested, 13 of whom had gunshot wounds. 50 people have been disappeared.

The federal government is now using this violent assault to justify the invasion of federal forces. URO and the official press are trying to imply that APPO attacked the people, but news reporters have pictures of the municipal police and the government officials with their guns, shooting out of car windows and from balconies. The office of the presidency said “In response to the events that have occurred in the city of Oaxaca that threaten the order and peace of the citizens there, the president Vicente Fox ordered the mobilization of federal forces to this city.”

This invasion of Oaxaca cannot be done in the name of the people because the will of the people has been clearly demonstrated by the broad unity this movement has forged. This includes world-famous artist Francisco Toledo (whose house was shot up because of his support), the business community who has begun negotiations with APPO and the APPO organizations that have been formed in 23 states in Mexico and three major U.S. cities. An indigenous leader quoted in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada said that while the visible force of this movement is the capital city, the indigenous communities in the Sierra North and South, in the Mixe, Mazateca, la Cuenca, and the Central Valleys hold a reserve of resistance and support.

Just a few days ago, a march of Zapotec people arrived in Oaxaca City. This march started out in the community of Yalálag which is located high in the sierra and has fought hard and suffered bitterly for autonomy. The march picked up more people on the way from surrounding communities as it came down out of the mountains. At the front of the march was a 90-year-old woman named Eulalia who addressed the people in Zapotec language. They had come to “show their dignity”—to draw the line against a group of indigenous officials from the Sierra Norte who had signed a message of support for URO. The 90-year-old Doña Eulalia told the teachers that the people of the sierra would never support URO and asked them to “have the courage not to back down and to keep fighting until he falls.”

Over the past few weeks when the government has been working to pressure striking teachers back to classes through threats and murders, they finally offered the teachers a wage increase, conditioned on their return to classes. Oaxacan teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. It was the outrageous repression of the teachers that precipitated the bursting forth of APPO, which united 350 social organizations. Although the teachers had originally begun their protest around economic demands, they united around the demand together with APPO to stay on strike and maintain the struggle until URO was forced from office. But over the past weeks, underlying contradictions had been emerging and the government had been working to widen these cracks.

Fox reportedly has offered the hated governor a position in the federal government as a way of getting him out of power without appearing to give into the people’s demands. Calderón—who remains silent in the face of the murder, unjust imprisonment and paramilitary attacks on indigenous people that generated APPO to begin with—has characterized the teachers’ strike as a terrible violation of the rights of children and said that it damages the economic potential of such a poor state as Oaxaca.

APPO has called for a national “peaceful insurrection” on December 1, the day of Calderón’s inauguration, which is a very key day for the ruling class to prove the legitimacy of the government.

Through the twists and turns of this crisis, the legitimacy crisis of the government has been deepened. In the eyes of the world and especially coming out of the election crisis where millions participated in demonstrations against the fraudulent election in the summer months, the inability and unwillingness of the government to force out of power a hated, Mafioso-like dictator governor has put the moribund and rotten nature of the ruling class on sickening display. The PAN’s (National Action Party) own hated government official, the new president Calderón, will only be able to take power with the backing of the PRI members of the government. The ability of Calderón to take power is in danger of flying apart, and the need to resolve this crisis before December 1 in a way that does not leave a rebellion in the south or an even more fractured and divided legislature is conditioning all the actions of the ruling PAN party. The PRI has stood firmly behind URO and neither the PAN nor President Fox could jeopardize this alliance by taking any definitive steps to force URO out.

But the reasons for the government’s refusal to remove URO goes deeper. All three ruling parties—the PAN, the PRI, and the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution)—are the political representatives of the landlord, big bourgeois, and comprador bourgeois classes that exploit and oppress the masses of Mexican people. They defend the whole rotten edifice of semi-feudalism and capitalism subordinate to and tied up with U.S. imperialism. All three of these ruling parties are rooted in the economic and social relations in the service of imperialism that mean the ruination of millions of peasants and the forced migration to El Norte or the slums of major cities. The mafia-like functioning of URO—his use of paramilitaries and criminally corrupt officials—is necessary to repress the people in order to carry out the imperialist modernization and restructuring embodied in plans such as Plan Puebla-Panama. Plan Puebla-Panama would remove barriers to more intense imperialist economic penetration and exploitation of the nine southern states (the state of Puebla, and all states south of that) in Mexico and Central America. All of the ruling parties, including the PRD and its leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), back this “Plan” which means death to the indigenous people.

During the second week of October a Senate Commission made up of two senators from each of the three ruling parties—PAN, PRI and PRD—were sent to investigate the situation on the ground in Oaxaca and hopes were high among the people that they would rule that the URO government was not functioning and dissolve it and resolve the crisis this way. URO appears on TV or radio a lot, but his government agenda, place of residence, and place of operation is kept secret. He flies around in a helicopter that, whenever or wherever it touches down, is pursued by angry protesters. To prove that they had actually been working, URO’s functionaries delivered boxes of papers to the senators. They had a secret meeting in an airport hangar next to the famous helicopter, the same one used to fire teargas at the teachers that fateful day in June. Like a scene from a spy movie, three senators secretly met the Secretary of Interior of Oaxaca at a taco stand at 2 a.m. to receive more documents.

The senators visited the APPO barricades and attended a testimonial meeting where the people brought bags of spent bullet shells and tear gas canisters they had collected from the attack on the teachers in June. They listened to hours of testimony from indigenous people about paramilitary attacks by URO gunmen and illegal imprisonment. In 2004, a few weeks after URO took power, 250 police surrounded and opened fire on an indigenous village that had formed an organization to protect its forest from being cut down. The villagers took the case to the federal human rights commission and a negotiation was set up with Oaxaca state officials to set up a time to meet with the governor. After the meeting to set up a time to see URO, the people’s organization leaders were arrested in the parking lot and imprisoned. Many artists and intellectuals testified for hours in front of the Senate Commission about how URO brought bulldozers into the zocalo in Oaxaca and tore up the paving stones and fountain and destroyed century-old trees.

After the senators went back to Mexico City and began their pontificating in the Senate over whether to force URO out and dissolve the government powers in Oaxaca, undercover army soldiers killed Alejandro Garcia Hernandez, who headed up the barricades and security forces as president of his neighborhood organization. Together with his wife and kids he was bringing food to the people at the barricades. A drive-by, called “death caravan” by the teachers, shot him in the head and yelled “Long live URO!” The shooter dropped his wallet and in it was his soldiers ID card. At his funeral march Alejandro’s father-in-law stated: “The senate should take note and stop being blind: here in Oaxaca there are hired assassins and the 8 murders in this struggle demand justice.”

On October 15, Alejandro Garcia was buried after a rally in the zocalo. URO had proclaimed to the press that the movement was “just a group of radicals.” Alejandro’s father-in-law spoke: “Those of us who were afraid are present here now, I feel fury and indignation. If they kill one of us, let 10 more be borne! That out of this will come one more radical. Today I feel very radical!” Another man commented, “it’s not just a few of us who are angry, we are all of Oaxaca.”

At the end of all the posturing and discussion, the Senate released their findings that “it is clear that the continued presence of the head of the Executive Power in the state does not provide sufficient conditions to help reestablish normality,” but they found it more convenient to declare themselves a “talk shop” with no constitutional powers to do anything about the situation. Within all this, the PRD spoke about the rights of the people and called for URO’s resignation, but when it was clear that this would not pass, they did not take over the chamber, they did not mobilize the people in the streets as they did to protest the declaration of the Election Commission that their candidate, AMLO, lost the election for president. The PRD’s AMLO-headed social movement for “the good of all—the poor first” does not include the poor stepping out of the electoral arena and attempting to take matters into their own hands. AMLO does not support the Oaxacan people’s movement—at the time all this was going on he was very occupied with campaigning for the PRD candidate for governor in his home state of Tabasco (who lost).

The Need for Revolution in Mexico

Luis Hernandez Navarro wrote in La Jornada, “In this struggle those who have no future found a place and an identity. The punk youth and the unemployed, the excluded ones who have not immigrated to the U.S., to the San Quintin Valley [Baja California] or the periphery of Mexico City have found in this protest a space with dignity and the possibility to make a mark on the world. Their radicalness is notable, also their determination.”

One does not have to stretch that much to imagine that real communists in Mexico—together with dispossessed radical youth such as these, and indigenous peasants who came down from the mountains to join in the struggle and expressed the desire for new ideas to take hold—could take up a liberating scientific ideology and could wrangle through the questions opened up by this struggle and figure out how to advance. That this could contribute to the forging of a real, far-reaching revolution that really takes responsibility to liberate Mexico and fights together with the people here in the U.S. and people all over the world for the liberation of humanity.

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