A Series of Articles on Mexico


1. The Battle of Oaxaca in the Context of Mexico’s Post-Electoral Crisis

by Nancy Davies

[This is a slightly edited version of the author’s commentary from Oaxaca on August 26, 2006. For the original see the web site www.narconews.com ]

Note: This is the first of several accompanying articles and news reports, below, about the situation in Mexico. Further on, we reproduce articles from Socialist Action newspaper (in particular, one by a fraternal organization in Mexico, the Liga de Unidad Socialista, or Socialist Unity League); from Intercontinental Press, the online publication of the Fourth International; from the web sites of Z magazine and CounterPunch; and especially from the web site of Narco News, which has provided detailed reports on events in Oaxaca and on the Zapatista “Other Campaign” since that campaign began in January this year.

Major social upheavals have been occurring for most of this year in Mexico, a country of nearly 110 million people, a “Third World” country, a country of extreme poverty alongside extreme wealth, the Latin American country that borders the imperial heartland of the United States at a moment in history when much of Latin America is in revolt against more than a century of U.S. corporate domination; a country from which in the nineteenth century the U.S. rulers stole vast territories—which are now the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and most of Utah, Nevada,  and Colorado, even part of Wyoming—with the result that Mexican Americans are the second largest minority in the U.S. (many of whom say, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us”); a country from which millions of people have been forced to migrate to the U.S., with or without official documents, for the sake of economic survival, especially as a result of the disaster caused to the Mexican economy by the so-called North American “Free Trade” Agreement (NAFTA), which by favoring U.S. corporations, especially U.S. corporate agribusiness, with its huge exports of cheap, subsidized corn and beans to Mexico, has destroyed the livelihoods and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers and small farmers; a country whose sons and daughters now have built, together with other Latinos and with migrants from many other countries, an unprecedented mass movement of immigrant workers, which has emerged with great force in the U.S. in 2006.

Mexico is a country where several different social struggles and political movements are occurring simultaneously, with the potential that they could combine with redoubled intensity into a force challenging the foundations of the social system. Strikes in the mining and steel industries have been going on for most of 2006, centering on a fight for union autonomy against a government attempt to impose a hand-picked leadership on the union of miners and steel workers. A teachers strike in the state of Oaxaca since June has won the support of the majority of the Oaxacan population: a People’s Assembly of the Community of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) has arisen, representing nearly four hundred organizations, including the teachers union, the health workers union, and other unions, along with numerous social organizations, especially of the indigenous peoples who constitute the majority in Oaxaca. Since June this Popular Assembly has taken over the capital city of Oaxaca and has been exercising some governmental functions, while demanding the resignation of the fraudulently elected state governor and calling for a constitutional convention to refound the state of Oaxaca on a new basis; the APPO is currently facing “paramilitary,” death-squad-type attacks, as described in the first two of the articles in this series.

In addition, ever since January 2006 the Zapatistas of the EZLN, based among the Mayan peoples of the state of Chiapas (which borders Oaxaca—the two states are the southernmost states of Mexico) have been waging their “Other Campaign,” a campaign reaching out to every state of Mexico, from south to north, to organize “from below and from the left” for fundamental change rather than just to engage in electoral politics. See the accompanying article from the web site www.zmag.com for a detailed and valuable account of the course of the Other Campaign, whose supporters were subjected to massive police attack in May in and near the town of Atenco, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Of course the main political struggle that the U.S. corporate media have focused on has been the electoral campaign of the reformist capitalist politician, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nicknamed AMLO), presidential candidate of the PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution). The electoral fraud that occurred around the voting on July 2 has ignited massive social protest. The Mexican authorities have refused to carry out a complete recount, “vote by vote, ballot box by ballot box,” as demanded by the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have occupied parts of Mexico City and engaged in protest actions all over the country. Much evidence has been presented that the vote-counting was manipulated to favor the U.S.-backed candidate, Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials).

It has been rightly noted that the Mexican revolution of 1910 began at a time of protests against fraudulent elections, in the midst of labor battles and peasant revolts. Today, in 2006, nearly a century after the beginning of the uncompleted Mexican revolution, the current combination of social and political struggles, as many have already observed, could unfold into a fundamental revolutionary challenge to the system, going beyond mere electoral politics.

Because these developments are of vital importance to working class people in the U.S., we call special attention to this group of articles on the events in Mexico.]

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced the forthcoming Mexican revolution, on the front page of La Jornada of August 24, 2006. He said that as of September 12 there will be two presidents of Mexico. On TV local channel 11 last night, he amended that to September 16. A small detail. It’s on…

…Unless the Electoral Commission unexpectedly decides to somehow avert the chaos sure to result if Felipe Calderón is crowned. How about if the court annuls 4,000 precincts and declares AMLO the winner?

I never wanted to be a war correspondent when I grew up.

Here in Oaxaca, dirty war already cruises the streets, and it is due only to the non-violent posture of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) that the death toll remains relatively low.

But the list of dead, wounded, abducted, and disappeared grows daily, aided by a website called Oaxaca en paz (“Oaxaca in Peace,” operated with government support, according to claims by the APPO) advising free-lance killers who to shoot and where to locate them — a hit list.

The latest death is APPO adherent Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, a 52-year-old public works employee, murdered August 22 in another pre-dawn incursion by government thugs against the radio stations captured by the movement. A means to broadcast authentic information is essential, and both sides know it.

Today in central Oaxaca I can find two commercial stations still functioning with the voices of the movement — down from ten. Both of them are located in better sections of the city — ORO (1120 AM) near the government clinic in central city, and La Ley (710 AM.) in Colonia Reforma. La Ley was the site of the murder of San Pablo Cervantes, who was guarding the street when he was shot. Radio Plantón 98.1 FM is still broadcasting. A young friend from the movement tells me there are actually five operating (three inside the one ORO station — but I can’t pick up their signals.)

The MO of the government is to use plainclothes, heavily-armed men who roam in vans and shoot their way into radio facilities; they kill the machinery as well as whomever stands in the way. The MO of the movement has evolved to include bus-blockades at every important intersection, to protect both the remaining radio stations and the lives of important APPO figures, both men and women. Neighborhoods organize to defend their sections, with heaps of stones stockpiled behind the thrown-up barriers of bedsprings, wood, rocks, wheels, etc.

By day, one could almost believe that nothing, as the “ex-governor” Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”) says, is going on — until you see the buses crossways on the streets, the uncollected garbage heaped on the corners, the shutters on certain shops and restaurants, and an eerie lack of traffic.

Our newest source of information would like to have a nom de guerre so I’ll call him Pedro. He’s a Zapotec, from the community of San Miguel Alvaredez in the Sierra Norte, and he belongs to a student organization in Oaxaca called Gresetec — students from the technological university. He’s a good-looking young man (in my elderly female opinion) with straight black hair and skin the color one often sees in Oaxaca — dark honey.

“The most serious problem is misinformation,” Pedro said, referring to the multiple problems faced by the social movement. The youngsters have established certain ways to share information, but Pedro knows that a large part of the state’s population doesn’t listen to the radio — haven’t got one, or have no interest in remote events, or are passive. But since the situation is serious, APPO is disseminating information every which way it can, including to Europe and the U.S. through the web, and with phone calls to people in Oaxaca. The cell phone is a major weapon in this war, used to call each station and encampment, to collect and disseminate news.

In Pedro’s opinion, the only solution possible is for URO to resign.

According to Pedro and many others, URO doesn’t live in Oaxaca anyway, he’s only here three days a week, and his other four days are in Mexico City. Truly, without Pedro to prompt me, I can say decisively that URO just doesn’t get it, doesn’t know diddly about Oaxaca profundo or its people. He wanted to clean out the zocalo of the only features that made it interesting: indigenous vendors, protest marches, and encampments in front of the state government palace (made over into a museum, then shot up by the police on June 14, then the symbolic seat of the APPO government, and now a stone hulk draped with banners) and oh, yes, the heavy bell on top to ring for alarms. URO wanted it pretty for the well-promoted tourist trade.

The U.S. consul in Oaxaca predicts that the U.S. travel advisory warning coming out this week will suggest Americans bound for Mexico should go elsewhere.

“Is it better, “ asks Pedro, “for the tourists to see reality, or is it better for them to not come? Tourists believe what they see on TV.”

The governor, Pedro continues, imposes his will and defends the interests of capitalism and socialism, both of which may have their theoretical good points, but neither of which has a role here in Oaxaca. “The Mexican revolution never arrived here in the south”. And then he adds, “the group (Gresetec) has adopted more or less the social philosophy of César Chávez. No ideology. Everything for peace.”

Hey, you mean Hugo Chávez of Venezuela? No. He means César Chávez, leader and hero of the United Farm Workers movement in the U.S.

The PRI government has promoted a lot of internecine killing; territorial boundaries for decades have been manipulated to set off one group against another, and land ownership, which should have remained communal, was undercut by Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s neoliberal amendment to the Mexican Constitution, allowing privatization. Oaxaca is largely rural; Oaxaqueños refer to themselves as “people of the corn”.

“But this social and teachers’ movement is pacific,” says Pedro. “The theory that the people are sovereign — he (URO) doesn’t understand that. There’s no reciprocity. The government knows only violence. He aids his capitalist friends.”

A sore issue is Plan Puebla Panama, which would affect nine states. It is opposed by the indigenous people whose lands and lives would be destroyed by the super-superhighway and industrial and commercial development alongside it. There would be no benefit for them; low-paid labor in factories cannot compensate for siphoning off natural resources, polluting the southern coastal waters, and pushing people off their land. As one person said to me, we can have development without self-destruction.

Designating the local community as the decision-maker for future development will be written into a new Oaxaca constitution, as presented to the National Forum on Constructing Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca, which took place August 16-17. Why a national forum?

And I haven’t heard anybody connect the dots on this one: if the Oaxaca teachers achieve “re-zonification” in their request for a pay increase, that re-zonification would affect the labor costs for Plan Puebla Panama as well — it’s a minimum wage increase across the board by geographical zone, not just for teachers.

Before URO’s inauguration he pledged development, progress, and peace with no more protest marches. What a campaign pledge. “He believed that indigenous ignorance would protect him. He made a ‘Social Pact’ with many municipalities that he would give them what they need (cement, roads, food) as long as they let him (URO) go ahead. Then the repression began, because some would not agree. Political prisoners — three in the Sierra Norte who would not sign on — now forty-five in number, nine dead, thirty disappeared. Did you see the web site Oaxaca en Paz? It names people as criminals, to be grabbed and killed.”

URO practices selective repression. That leads to redoubled organization, to an extent which appears almost miraculous, like a tree full grown overnight.

But there is another side. “Unfortunately, many people speak in favor of the government, without knowing what it means for indigenous people,” Pedro stated. Oaxaca is 70 percent indigenous. Many guys like Pedro speak Zapotec or some other indigenous language as their mother tongue. “Things are getting worse — the last two nights — now it’s like a curfew. We are trying to put out the truth but we are attacked.”

That’s the truth.

The second big truth is that plans are going forward to support the national “revolution” — whatever form that may take. With “two presidents,” AMLO may find his firmest base in the south. I was chatting with my pediatrician yesterday (he also does gerontology) and asked him flat out if he thought a civil war might come to pass. This guy is moderate in his views, a doctor with youngsters attending private universities. And he answered yes.

In my personal poll of “unimportant” persons, that view was repeated by several people, including members of APPO. There’s a lot of nervous anxiety, especially because of repeated reports of troops and further attacks. APPO’s official take on it, reported on the radio, is that everything now depends on how the feds respond to the contradictions in Oaxaca, not least of which is APPO simultaneously asking for and rejecting federal intervention — to take out URO, to take out the federal military, to agree to the removal of URO before any negotiation can take place, and anyway, who can negotiate? Not URO, he’s the “ex.” That leaves the Secretary of Government (or Secretary of the Interior, if you prefer the U.S. analogy), Carlos Abascál Carranza, arriving in Oaxaca to talk with the former bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz. Whoops, that’s over. No mediation group can take on the task; it’s impossible. Okay, APPO will talk to the Department of the Interior directly.

APPO has reiterated dozens of times that until URO is out, there’s nothing to discuss. The social/teachers’ movement glues itself together on that bottom line, putting authoritarianism on the chopping block, and recognizing the will of the people as sovereign.

What will it take on the national stage, to make clear Oaxaca’s position and its ability to stand by it? If the electoral tribunal incites the national uproar by designating Calderón president, AMLO will declare himself president too, on September 16, Independence Day.

What scale of civil disobedience will that bring?


2. Operation “Clean-Up” in Oaxaca

This article has a remarkable subtitle, which goes like this:

Following the CIA’s “Psychological Operations” Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the Oaxaca State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody Counterinsurgency Strategy to Eliminate the Social Movement

To read the full text and see the paramilitary thugs of this “counterinsurgency” caught in the lights from camera flash bulbs, go to:

http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2026.html


3. Mexican Revolutionary Socialists Denounce Electoral Fraud

by the Socialist Unity League (August 2006 issue of the U.S. newspaper Socialist Action)

Massive protests have been continuing in Mexico against the faked election of the rightist candidate for president, Felipe Calderon of the PAN (National Action Party). Organizers estimated the demonstration in Mexico City at the end of July at 2 million persons, many of whom are still camping out in the city.

Electoral fraud has been a conspicuous feature of Mexican bourgeois politics since the decline in the support of the long-ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) became manifest. In 1988, the PRI obviously stole the election from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who ran in the name of the party’s populist traditions, opposing its turn to neoliberalism. In the recent presidential election, the PRI candidate ran a distant third, revealing how discredited the traditional ruling party has become.

[To read the full article, follow the link: http://www.socialistaction.org/lus1.htm

[For the Spanish text of the same article go to:

http://www.socialistaction.org/lus2.htm


4. Repression and Electoral Fraud—Showdown in Mexico

by Phil Hearse

The author, a veteran revolutionary socialist in Britain, writes for the UK publication Socialist Resistance. This is an edited version of his article; the original may be found here.

Mexico has witnessed bitter struggles over the summer culminating in the electoral fraud which robbed the center-left PRD of the presidency. The material for further social explosions is everywhere.

On August 26, Mexican President Vicente Fox sent 800 federal riot police with armored cars to guard the parliament building in Mexico City, against the possibility of attack by the tens of thousands of protesters occupying the center of the city in a semi-permanent encampment. The protesters are demonstrating against the giant fraud in July’s presidential election, which robbed center-left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (popularly known as ‘AMLO’) of victory, and handed the presidency instead to right-winger Felipe Calderón, candidate of Fox’s National Action Party (PAN).

This summer has witnessed a series of harsh struggles and street battles as the outgoing government of Vicente Fox sought to stem the rising tide of social protest—using the traditional methods of the Mexican elite—repression and electoral fraud on a grand scale.

Teachers Rally in Oaxaca

While the protests are currently centered on the electoral fraud, over the summer there have been several other key battles—a mass movement in the state of Oaxaca to bring down the corrupt right-wing government (including a 44-day strike by Oaxaca schoolteachers leading that mass movement), a prolonged strike by miners and steelworkers, and a huge conflict with federal and state riot police in the militant community of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico state.

There is more to come. Already López Obrador’s center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has set a series of dates for mass mobilization going into the autumn, mobilization which could easily escape its control.

Why has this huge social conflict built up over the summer? Two factors underlie much of the tension: (1) the build-up to the presidential election, which the Mexican oligarchy, in close collaboration with the ruling circles of the United States, was desperate not to lose to even the moderate left, and (2) the progress of the “Other Campaign,” the project of uniting and building Mexico’s social movements from below, launched by Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN a year ago.

But behind these factors are more fundamental issues. Since the election as president of right-wing Svengali and narcho-politician in chief Carlos Salinas de Gotari in 1988, Mexico has been suffering the continued pressure of neoliberalism, which in as a result of the NAFTA agreement has wrecked traditional communal peasant agriculture and devastated agricultural communities.

The net result is an avalanche of migrants to the cities, particularly Mexico City, flooding the ranks of the informal economy and with it urban mass poverty in the huge edge of town barrios. Social inequality has deepened massively, in a country already one of the most unequal in the world. Like Brazil, Mexico is a country where the rich live like the rich in Switzerland and the poor live like the poor in India.

Social tensions have been high since the emergence of the Zapatista indigenous movement in 1994. With no independent mass party representing the interests of the workers and the poor, Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN have acted as a sort of substitute leadership, giving consistent support to every militant struggle. But paradoxically the Zapatistas themselves have been largely confined to their Chiapas mountain strongholds, a limitation that the Other Campaign aims to overcome.

How has this spring and summer of battle unfolded?

Miners and Steelworkers Strike

More than a quarter of a million miners and steelworkers walked off the job March 1-3 in wildcat strikes at 70 companies in at least eight states from central to northern Mexico, virtually paralyzing the mining industry.

The strike resulted from an attempt by the government to remove the Mexican Miners Union’s top officer, General Secretary Napleón Gómez Urrutia, and replace him with Elías Morales Hernández, a union dissident who is reportedly backed by the Grupo Mexico mining company. As Mexico labor expert Dan La Botz explains:

 “The strike by members of the National Union of Mining and Metallurgical Workers of Mexico (SNTMMRM) resulted from both labor union and political causes. The explosion and cave in at the Pasta de Conchos mine in San Juan de Las Sabinas, Coahuila, in northern Mexico on Febuary 19 killed 65 miners. The Miners Union leader Gómez Urrutia blamed the employer, Grupo Mexico, calling the deaths “industrial homicide.” The Pasta de Conchos cave-in set off a storm. Throughout Mexico politicians, academics, intellectuals, and ordinary people criticized the mining company...

 “While miners throughout the country mourned the death of their brothers and complained of health and safety conditions in their own mines, there was no official or wildcat strike in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

 “Then, on February 28 the Mexican Secretary of Labor announced that Gómez Urrutia was not actually the head of the union, but that the real general secretary was Elías Morales Hernández. The government’s action was based on part of Mexican labor law known as “taking note” (toma de nota), under which the government recognizes the legally elected officers of labor unions.” [1]

The government turned to violent repression of the striking miners and steelworkers supporting them. On April 20 eight hundred state and federal police launched an assault on 500 striking workers who had been occupying a steel mill in the small city of Lázaro Cárdenas. Two were killed, five seriously injured and 40 wounded.

Now that Felipe Calderón has declared himself winner of the presidential elections Grupo Mexico has been on the offensive against the miners. At Nacozari, one of the world’s largest copper mines, just a few miles south of the U.S. border, 1,400 miners have been on strike since March 24. On July 12 the board said they’d abandoned their jobs, and gave the mine’s owner, Grupo Mexico, permission to close down operations, effectively firing the strikers. At the time of writing, the strike is unresolved.

Bloody Conflict in Atenco

San Salvador Atenco, 30 kms west of Mexico City, is a largely agricultural community. In 2001 its inhabitants waged a huge and successful battle against the building of a new Mexico City airport, which would have confiscated their land and destroyed their livelihoods. The organization which led that struggle, the FPDT (Peoples’ Front in Defense of Land), remained in existence.

This militant community invited Subcommandante Marcos to speak in the town on May Day. Two days later police attempted to arrest flower sellers from Atenco who set up their stalls on some land owned by the American multinational Wal-Mart in the nearby community of Texcoco. The flower sellers called for help on their mobile phones and hundreds arrived to beat back the police attack. A day of bloody battles followed, in which two people were killed by paramilitary riot police.

Next morning the federal riot police carried out a brutal attack on the town, which involved—as is the style in Mexico—brutal beatings, the wrecking of homes, the theft of money and the arrest of more than one hundred. In jail dozens were subject to torture and more than 20 women were raped or otherwise sexually abused. Some key leaders of the community, including FPDT leaders Ignacio del Valle and Felipe Alvarez, remain in jail accused of “armed kidnapping” (a reference to the abduction of several cops during the first day of the battle).

The Atenco attack caused outrage in Mexico and beyond because television reporters were allowed to film many of the events, including the beating of one man by more than 20 riot cops. As a consequence of the Atenco attack the Zapatista leadership declared a red alert and started a nationwide campaign for the release of the imprisoned Atenco campesinos.

In a statement on May 4, the Revolutionary Workers Party who support the Fourth International, declared the events at Atenco to be “a deliberate provocation against the Other Campaign” saying that “without a shadow of doubt” the police attacks has been designed to coincide with Marcos’s visit, and to impede the progress of his campaign. After finishing the Valley of Mexico part of his trip Marcos was due to travel to San Luis Potosí, where an important rally for the release of political prisoners was due to take place.

Uprising and Terror in Oaxaca

Oaxaca state on the Pacific coast has a long militant history. In the early 1970s it was the site of a militant guerrilla struggle led by the Party of the Poor, which resulted in near-genocidal repression in which thousands of young people assumed to support the guerrilla were killed.

Over the summer there has been a prolonged struggle against the ultra-corrupt state government of right-wing Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a member of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, until recently the main party of the Mexican elite). It started with a strike by militant teachers for better wages and more financial support for poor students, but soon mushroomed into a general campaign to force Ulises Ruiz to quit.

The teachers and their allies occupied the main square (zócalo ) in the city of Oaxaca, including taking over some government buildings. On June 14 state and federal paramilitary police launched a violent attack on the protesters’ encampment in which several people (the exact number is unknown) were killed. The very next day the teachers and their supporters retook the zócalo, instituting a two-month period of virtual “dual power” in the city and much of the state. Indeed on July 5 the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (known by its Spanish initials APPO) declared itself to be the legitimate government of the state.

Since then there have been repeated mass marches, assassinations of popular leaders by “unknown” gunmen who have opened fire on several demonstrations, the takeover of several radio and television stations to put the mass media at the service of the people, police attacks on those stations, and at the time of writing (late August) a threat by Oaxaca business people to stage a state-wide strike against…the inability of the state government to stop all the strikes!

[A photo by Netherlands Indymedia shows riot police waiting in front of a Oaxaca cathedral. In response to their inability to crush the mass movement politically, Ulises Ruiz—backed by Vicente Fox’s national government—has unleashed a reign of terror in the streets of Oaxaca. Right-wing death squads prowl the city by night and have carried out drive-by shootings at radio and television stations, as well as opening fire on several demonstrations.]

On August 21, the Channel 9 television station headquarters, used as a headquarters by the dissident movement, was attacked and burned by right-wing thugs, making it unusable.

On August 22, city and state police agents, dressed in black and wearing masks, traveled throughout the city in a caravan of motorcycles and pick-up trucks. The convoy of 34 vehicles joined up at about twenty minutes after midnight and opened fire on TV and radio security watchposts from their moving vehicles. As the caravan passed radio station La Ley 710, teacher Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes received bullet wounds to the back. He was taken to the hospital and later died.

In Oaxaca, as elsewhere, right-wing government forces are trying to effectively militarize the struggle, create an atmosphere of fear and tension, create a mass feeling of crisis and disorder, and blame all this on the rebellion—to lay the groundwork for a future bloody crushing of the movement by the army or police.

The situation is now extremely dangerous for the mass movement, especially as tactical divisions have emerged, with the teachers abandoning their 44-day strike without having achieved their objectives. The fate of the Oaxaca struggle is closely linked with that against electoral fraud centered on the occupation of central Mexico City.

The Electoral Fraud

In the run-up to the July 2 presidential election the two leading candidates, Felipe Calderón of the PAN and Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, appeared to be neck and neck, but with some polls putting López Obrador slightly ahead. In the event, when the final result was posted, the official result gave a slight advantage to Calderón, leading to widespread suspicions of electoral fraud.

As Mexico City journalist and left-wing activist Peter Gellert points out:

“Given the close vote and AMLO’s (López Obrador’s) charges of electoral fraud, a partial recount of 9% of the country’s 131,000 polling stations was ordered by the Federal Electoral Tribunal. AMLO and his supporters, however, have been demanding a 100% recount. The recount, which began on August 9, has not resolved the dispute. The AMLO forces charge serious discrepancies, even on the basis of the small 9% sample, among them:  in 43% of the sample, Calderón had been accredited with more votes than       he actually received, lowering his total number of votes by 13,500. This was 5000% more votes than AMLO lost in the recount.

“In 65% of the recounted polling stations, there were either more ballots deposited than there were voters or more voters than there were corresponding ballots. In Mexico, control of the paper ballots is extremely strict. In the 9% of the polling stations that were recounted, discrepancies involved 120,000 ballots—half the difference between the two candidates nationwide across all the polling stations.

“More than 30% of the supposedly sealed ballot boxes had been opened after the elections, raising the specter that their contents were altered.” [2]

Since July 30 the center of Mexico City, including the Zócalo (the city’s huge central square), has been occupied by tens of thousands of protesters. According to Gellert:

“Many far left and social organizations that didn’t participate in AMLO’s campaign are involved in the anti-fraud protests. Along the 8-kilometer stretch of encampments, a wide array of neighborhood associations, unions, student groups, and political organizations can be found.

“Unfortunately, the Other Campaign, an initiative launched by the Zapatista National Liberation Army and headed by the charismatic Subcommandante Marcos, while condemning the fraud, has abstained from the mass demonstrations. During the election campaign, the Other Campaign centered most of its fire on AMLO and the obvious deficiencies in the PRD’s program and methods. Some organizations that participated in the Other Campaign are, however, involved in the anti-fraud protests.”

The huge political crisis in Mexico is deeply rooted in the massive social inequality that has been deepened by decades of neoliberalism and intensified subordination of Mexico to the needs of U.S. multinational corporations and agribusiness. Violent repression, harsh methods of struggle, and occasional outbursts of fury against those at the bottom of the pile are the inevitable results.

Regrettably what the poor and oppressed of Mexico lack is a nationally structured anti-capitalist political party which can represent them, coordinate the struggles, and intervene on the national political terrain.

As we noted above, the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign can to a certain extent play the role of a substitute leadership, but only partially, occasionally, and inadequately. While the far left in Mexico has been correct to support the Other Campaign, the key question is what lasting political results it will lead to.

NOTES

[1] See “Mexican miners and steelworkers on strike,” International Viewpoint, May 2006.

[2] See Green Left Weekly, August 30, 2006.

Other recent articles on Mexico on the IV web site:

         Mega March replies to police violence — June 2006

         “Teachers killed” in Oaxaca police attack, says union — June 2006

         Mexican miners and steelworkers on strike — May 2006

         Zapatistas call Red Alert over state attacks — May 2006

         The Zapatista Approach to Politics — December 2005


5. Background on the Zapatistas’ “Other Campaign”
LA OTRA CAMPAÑA

by Roger Stoll

[The author has studied Spanish at the language school at Oventic, in the Zapatista zone, and is working on a music transcription and translation project involving recordings made with Radio Insurgente (about which see notes at end of article).

[This article has been edited slightly for Labor Standard. It was first posted on the web site of Z magazine on August 25, 2006. For that posting, follow the link to: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=59&ItemID=10833 ]

Introduction

On the morning of January 1, 1994, with the seizure of governmental offices in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatistas announced their existence to the world. They had emerged from the remote highlands of Chiapas, the southernmost and poorest state of Mexico. The Zapatista National Liberation Army (“EZLN” in its Spanish acronym), was made up of indigenous Mayan peasants, in their words “the poorest of the poor.” They wore black ski-masks “so as to be seen,” they explained. Their top military leaders included women, such as the late Comandante Ramona, who stood, in bright-colored traditional embroidery, about four-feet tall—not so extraordinary for a Mayan, but small enough to earn her the affectionate title “the smallest of the small.” Their mestizo Mexican spokesperson, the incongruously tall and pale Subcomandante Marcos, effortlessly dispensed poetic prose, politics, and wit in three languages: that morning of the takeover of San Cristóbal de las Casas , tourists in the street asked Marcos if they would miss their transportation connections; with exquisite politeness Marcos replied, “Forgive us, but this is a revolution.”

Their style, poetic language, and unquestioned heroism in battle made the Zapatistas immediately irresistible even to many who barely understood their politics, origins, or purpose. But for those who looked closely, there was so much there. The Zapatistas addressed themselves to that persistent enemy of the peoples of the world, the capitalist global empire. They denounced the capitalist juggernaut precisely in its neoliberal form that had greatly increased the rate at which Mexico’s corn-growing peasants were driven off their land into paupery and desperation. And to a divided global left, deeply wounded by the disappointment and disastrous collapse of eastern European socialism and the capitalist-roaders of China, the unclassifiable and magically inclusive Zapatista ideology seemed like water in the desert. Thus the Zapatista rebellion was from the moment of its appearance a political, indigenous, peasant movement activists in the industrial north could look to, not just for inspiration or in solidarity, but for direction and example.

Now, after years of victories and defeats, political engagement and autonomy, comes the latest initiative by the Zapatistas. Dubbed “The Other Campaign” (La Otra Campaña, or simply La Otra), its characteristically sly appellation manages to be self-deprecating while at the same time mocking the presumed political centrality of this year’s Mexican presidential campaign. La Otra is the Zapatistas’ attempt to reach beyond their geographic and political borders to forge a national left from all manner of resistance, organized and not, throughout Mexico—a true left, that makes no concession to the reigning macroeconomics of neoliberalism (an economics which has been embraced by the center-left presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or PRD).

La Otra consists chiefly of a Zapatista tour of indefinite duration to each of Mexico’s 31 states and the federal district to meet with people in struggle from peasant farmers in the most remote regions of the country to maquiladora workers in Tijuana. The Zapatistas listen to people recount their struggles, and they take notes. The tour is not yet a plan to reshape Mexico and the world, but perhaps a search party to look for one.

Mexico Rising

If you didn’t know anything of Mexico’s recent electoral history, The Other Campaign/ La Otra Campaña would seem not only astonishingly prescient but impeccably timed. For La Otra is a public announcement that Mexico’s electoral system is not just bankrupt as a political option for most Mexicans—workers, the unemployed, peasants, the indigenous—but is thoroughly broken even on its own terms of capitalist democracy. As of this writing, the Mexican presidential election remains undecided and under a toxic cloud of statistical and procedural anomalies that can only be explained by massive fraud by the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (or PAN) and its candidate Felipe Calderón. The center-left candidate of the PRD, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often called AMLO), is challenging the result, calling for a vote-by-vote recount. He is supported by a popular, massive civil disobedience mobilization in the form of a tent city encampment in the heart of Mexico City, blocking some roadways and snarling downtown traffic.

Meanwhile in the southern state of Oaxaca, the mass protests and direct action of schoolteachers and their supporters have culminated in the teachers’ seizure of 12 radio stations. They are calling for the resignation of the Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The teachers hold Ruiz responsible for the violence of police and unidentified gunmen that has resulted in at [several] deaths and disappearances, and numerous injured, and they’ve accused Governor Ruiz of having rigged Oaxaca state elections two years ago.

Further south, [next to Oaxaca] in the state of Chiapas, another dispute over elections is taking shape between the PRD incumbent governor Juan Sabines and the candidate of the Partido Revolución Institucional (or PRI), Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas (who is also backed by the ruling PAN).

In light of these events, the non-participatory stand of the Zapatistas and La Otra toward elections, controversial at first, may begin to seem to the populace reasonable after all, and Zapatista followers might justly tell AMLO’s hopeful supporters, “We are not at all happy to say this, but we told you so.”

La Sexta Appears, La Otra Is Born

The first draft of La Otra’s itinerary appeared more or less within the pages of The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (La Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona, aka La Sexta), released in July of last year. Previously [widely posted] on the Internet, La Sexta is now available in a handy, bilingual print edition, along with an excellent essay by Luis Hernández Navarro, as well as an interview with Subcomandante Marcos by Pacifica Free Speech Radio News’s Aura Bogado. (The book, part of the Open Media Series edited by Greg Ruggiero, is published by City Lights Books and is beautifully produced, with photographs and ample explanatory notes. All the material quoted or cited in this article is from this edition.)

When La Sexta first appeared in the summer of 2005 it was met with intense interest and enthusiasm by the Mexican left. Its call for a united global movement against capitalism, neoliberal economics, and all oppressions of class, race, gender, language, and ethnicity was taken up by left labor, activists, and intellectuals. La Jornada, the eminent left independent daily newspaper, ran news articles, essays, debates, letters—sometimes as many as a dozen in a single issue—celebrating, analyzing, interpreting, and criticizing the document. Even Vicente Fox, the conservative Mexican president, publicly welcomed the Zapatistas into Mexico’s national political process (as if they weren’t already in the thick of it), and blithely interpreted La Sexta as meaning that the Zapatistas had laid down their arms and forsworn their version of armed struggle and self-defense. (This was a mistaken interpretation, by the way, made by a few left commentators as well).

Incidentally, this writer happened to be in Chiapas in 2005 during the Zapatistas’ Red Alert (when they stopped speaking to the outside world and closed their autonomous regions to international visitors) and the subsequent release of La Sexta. I felt the excitement in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Numerous cafe-meetings were organized to discuss La Sexta, and one I went to, at a spacious cafe/roastery, was attended by well over a hundred people.

The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (La Sexta)

In its spare, self-consciously biblical language, La Sexta is a plea—a shout of ¡Ya basta! (“Enough is enough!”) on behalf of the peoples of the world. It is an eloquent piece of political literature filled with compassion, political yearning, and resolve. While interpretations, summaries, and commentaries on La Sexta abound, La Sexta itself is so lucid and beautiful a document that it ought to be read before turning to any commentary. From La Sexta’s opening: “This is our simple word which seeks to touch the hearts of humble and simple people like ourselves, but people who, like ourselves, are also dignified and rebel. This is our simple word for recounting what our path has been and where we are now, in order to explain how we see the world and our country, in order to say what we are thinking of doing and how we are thinking of doing it, and in order to invite other people to walk with us[.]” (60/61)

In such language La Sexta proceeds to encapsulate the history of the Zapatista struggle, Mexican politics, and Zapatismo’s critique of modern capitalism in Mexico and the world. It ends with the announcement of The Other Campaign (La Otra). Here is La Sexta on how the Zapatistas came to be, the 1994 New Year’s Day rebellion, and its conclusion:

“In the beginning there were not many of us, just a few, going this way and that, talking with and listening to other people like ourselves. We did that for many years, and we did it in secret, without making a stir…We remained like that for about ten years, and when we had grown, we were many thousands. We trained ourselves quite well in politics and weapons, and, suddenly, when the rich were throwing their New Year’s Eve parties, we fell upon their cities and just took them over…Then the rich sent their great armies to do away with us, just like they always do when the exploited rebel. We were running and fighting, fighting and running, just like our ancestors had done…

“Then the people from the cities went out into the streets and began shouting for an end to the war. And then we stopped our war, and we listened to those brothers and sisters from the city who were telling us to try to reach an arrangement or an accord with the bad governments, so that the problem could be resolved without a massacre...So we set aside the fire and took up the word.” (62/63, 66/67)

The Zapatistas then entered into lengthy negotiations with the government, leading to the San Andrés Accords—to which the govern famously agreed and which it infamously later rejected. Here is La Sexta on the betrayal of the Zapatistas with the 2001 rejection of the San Andrés Accords by all the major political parties in the government: “But it happened that the politicians from the PRI, the PAN, and the PRD reached an agreement among themselves, and they simply did not recognize indigenous rights and culture…We can no longer believe that agreements will be respected. Take that into account so you can learn from what happened to us.” (74/75) But, La Sexta reports, the Zapatistas decided to implement the Accords on their own, without government permission, establishing a measure of regional autonomy, with their own civil government structures. (76/77, 78/79)

La Sexta also serves as a simply written primer on the nature of capitalism:

“In capitalism, some people have money, or capital, and factories, stores, fields, and many other things, and there are others who have nothing to work with but their strength and knowledge. In capitalism, those who have money and things give the orders, and those who only have the ability to work obey.

“Capitalism means only a few have great wealth...So capitalism is based on the exploitation of the workers, which means the few exploit the workers and take out all the profits they can…[T]he workers receive a wage that barely allows them to eat a little and rest for a bit...Capitalism is a system where the robbers go free, and are actually admired and held up as examples.” (92/93, 94/95)

La Sexta even introduces the concept of commoditization, noting that according to capitalism, “everything must be able to be bought and sold,” concealing the exploited labor within it. “[F]or example, we see coffee in its little package...but we do not see the coyote who paid [the coffee-growing peasant] so cheaply for his work, nor do we see the workers in the large company working their hearts out to package the coffee.” (94/95, 96/97)

Neoliberal capitalism, according to La Sexta, means war on the world literally and economically, through wars of conquest and occupation, as well as the machinations of the international financial institutions: “Sometimes that conquest is by armies who invade a country and conquer it by force. But sometimes it is by way of the economy, in other words, the big capitalists put their money into another country or they lend it money, but on the condition that what they tell them to do is obeyed.” (98/99)

In Mexico, La Sexta explains, neoliberalism results in the Mexican government functioning as the wholesaler of the country’s wealth, “something like employees in a store, who have to do everything possible to sell everything and to sell it very cheap.” La Sexta gives the example of changes to the Mexican Constitution allowing traditional communal lands to be bought and sold, as well as the attempted privatizations of the national oil company, PEMEX, as well as social security, electricity, water, the forests, “everything, until nothing of Mexico is left…” (112/113)

La Sexta concludes with a sketch for La Otra Campaña, in which the Zapatistas would set out for every corner of Mexico at the beginning of 2006:

“What we think is that, with these people and organizations of the Left, we can make a plan for going to all those parts of Mexico where there are humble and simple people like ourselves.

“And we are not going to tell them what they should do or give them orders.

“Nor are we going to ask them to vote for a candidate, since we already know that the ones who exist are neoliberals.

“Nor are we going to tell them to be like us, nor to rise up in arms.

“What we are going to do is to ask them what their lives and struggles are like…what their thoughts about our country are, and what we should do so capitalism does not defeat us.” (126/127)

And thus began La Otra Campaña.

The Breaking Wave

Luis Hernández Navarro is a columnist with La Jornada and was a key adviser to the EZLN during the San Andrés negotiations. He has written an excellent and frequently eloquent essay entitled “The Breaking Wave” discussing La Sexta and La Otra. This essay is invaluable to non-Mexican readers for its interpretation of La Sexta in the context of contemporary Mexican electoral politics and left politics generally. (The essay appears along with La Sexta in the book The Other Campaign/ La Otra Campaña, mentioned above.)

The essay briefly traces the course of the Zapatistas’ relations with the PRD—from “friendly” in 1996 to the 2001 betrayal by the PRD, in collaboration with PRI and PAN legislators, in the rejections of the San Andrés Accords. As noted in La Sexta, this rejection was the turning point for the Zapatistas, driving them away from any hope of achieving their goals through negotiations with the government. “The moment of breakdown between the political class and society was consummated in April 2001, when the parties voted unanimously in the Senate for the constitutional reform on rights and indigenous culture that betrayed the San Andrés accords.” (36/37)

But rather than surrender the political, legal, and cultural rights they thought they had won in negotiations, the Zapatistas responded by constructing their own autonomy as a practical implementation of the Accords: “the Zapatistas concentrated on building five autonomous regional governments which were baptized ‘Councils of Good Government,’ or ‘Caracoles.’ They named their own authorities and took charge of organizing education, health, and the administration of justice themselves. In different regions of the country, the indigenous people decided to drop the fruitless struggle for autonomy through legal reforms and moved forward to achieve autonomy on their own, without asking permission.” (10/11)

Hernández puts La Sexta’s analysis of the Mexican electoral left this way: “Regarding the Mexican Left, La Sexta asserts that the [PRD]—which stands a good possibility of winning the presidential election of 2006—is not a party of the Mexican Left. La Sexta determines what is and is not on the Mexican Left according to the criterion of whether it struggles against or resists neoliberal capitalism. And the PRD does not.” (18/19) (As if to emphasize the point, since the issuance of La Sexta and the launch of La Otra, the PRD’s presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has explicitly embraced neoliberal macroeconomics, and failed to denounce the massive, orchestrated police riot against the autonomous Zapatista-identified community of San Salvador Atenco.)

La Sexta seeks more than just to revive the Mexican left, explains the essay.

 “La Sexta’s goal, in part, is to rearrange the Mexico from below into a new political force—explicitly Leftist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-capitalist—that is, clearly distinct from the legally recognized political parties that now exist ...As a social and political initiative, it renounces the illusion that one can find shortcuts and miraculous solutions in the struggle for the transformation of a country. It rejects the notion that history is made by messiahs and charismatic leaders, and the history it is calling on the people of Mexico to make will only be possible by means of another kind of politics.” (20/21)

As to how the Zapatistas will enact these goals, Hernández explains, “The organizing tool for making La Sexta a reality is The Other Campaign. The Zapatista initiative to tour the entire country to listen to the communities articulate their resistance parallels the traditional campaigns of the registered parties, but is actually a non-electoral campaign that seeks to explore the possibility of doing politics another way during the federal elections period.” (22/23) Pursuant to La Sexta’s call, “In 2005, hundreds of organizations, political leaders, and citizens responded to a Zapatista invitation from the Lacandon Jungle to participate in a diverse range of meetings called in order to debate and organize what would turn out to be the Other Campaign.” (26/27) And everyone came: “The diversity of their ranks was surprising: unionists, indigenous organizers, intellectuals, cultural workers, artists, religious people, neighborhood activists, feminists, gays, lesbians, human rights advocates, environmentalists, and students.” (26/27, 28/29)

The actual participants in La Otra Campaña’s cross-country trek include “a mixed bag of old and new social insubordinates: fishermen, small merchants, rural settlers affected by the construction of public infrastructure projects, electricity consumers paying high rates, assembly-line factory workers, victims of natural disasters who have not been supported by the government, indigenous, poor peasants, defenders of the native corn (and enemies of genetically modified corn), democratic teachers, prostitutes, homosexuals, workers, and youth.” (52/53, 54/55) In the meetings taking place on the tour, the essayist sees “a common language” being created, “a language that many educated people despise and do not understand well.” (56/57)

This language, taking guidance from La Sexta’s political and economic analyses, is a familiar one, naturally, since, in Hernández’s trenchant formulation, “The old electoral system asks, what can we do with the poor? The Other Campaign asks, what can we do with the rich? And it responds, struggle against them.…[La Otra] recuperates the language of Class in an epoch when the institutional Left is trying to get rid of it. Its speech—as has been the tradition of the statements of the EZLN—is increasingly more related to the proclamations and manifestoes of the indigenous and peasant rebellions of the nineteenth century and with the programs of popular and workers struggles of the twentieth century.” (56/57) In other words, it is the language of the revolutionary tradition.

Regarding the Zapatista stance toward elections, the essay makes a point the Mexican and international press repeatedly (perhaps willfully) miss: that La Otra is “a non-electoral political offensive during election time. It does not call for a vote for or against any candidate. Nor does it promote abstention.” (44/45) No matter how many times the Zapatistas repeat that they are not calling for an electoral boycott, the press says they are. Indeed, since the publication of this book we’ve seen the Zapatistas be among the first to denounce the fraud that may yet rob the PRD of its electoral victory—a principled stand that they took in defense of those who support the PRD and the electoral process, echoing the Zapatistas’ principled stand in defense of López Obrador, the PRD presidential candidate, when he was threatened with prison in 2005.

The essay’s title, “The Breaking Wave,” is Hernández’s poetic premonition of Mexico’s political upheaval to come: “A strong wave is threatening to crash against the long-standing political framework in Mexico. It comes from very far away and is fortified by the storm winds that are shaking the country...when it rises and breaks, it will shake the existing system of representation.” (50/51) The first stirrings of that wave are in La Otra: “A great ripple is crossing Mexico. The breaking of the wave is beginning to be heard. That is the sound of The Other Campaign.” (58/59)

More Information

The Other Campaign/La Otra Campaña

All quoted or cited material in this article is from the book the other campaign/ la otra campaña by Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, introductory essay by Luis Hernández Navarro, interview with Marcos by Aura Bogado, photos by Tim Russo, edited by Greg Ruggiero, Open Media Series; published by City Lights Books, 2006, bilingual Spanish-English facing pages. All royalties from the book support independent media projects in Chiapas. For more information see: http://www.citylights.com/pub/openmed.html

The Zapatistas’ Web Page

The Zapatistas maintain an excellent, ever-evolving presence on the web. To find out the latest news from this source, go here.

Radio Insurgente

To hear the voice of the indigenous rebel communities in Chiapas, tune into the Zapatistas’ clandestine short wave and FM radio broadcasts here. Past programs are also available for downloading. An incredible resource for those interested in not just hearing Subcomandante Marcos, but the insurgent women, men, and young people who are struggling together for democracy, dignity, and justice in Mexico.

Enlace Civil

To get a deeper sense of the indigenous struggle in Chiapas and the ongoing human rights abuses and paramilitary attacks suffered by the communities there, take a look at Enlace Civil’s excellent web page.

Chiapas95 News List

To join an email list that sends out news and translations relating to the Zapatistas, see: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/facstaff/Cleaver/chiapas95.html

This Mexico-based, Spanish-language on-line publication runs a broad range of Zapatista-related articles, and their web page is excellent.


6. From Teachers’ Strike Towards Dual Power
The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca

by George Salzman

[This article, edited somewhat for Labor Stndard, was posted on the CounterPunch web site on August 30, 2006. Writing from Oaxaca, the author describes himself as formerly “a long-time maverick physics faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus. Now retired, he has lived for seven years in Oaxaca.” He can be contacted here]

Oaxaca shares, with Chiapas and Guerrero, the distinction of being one of the three poorest states of Mexico. These three bastions of extreme poverty, albeit among the richest states of Mexico in natural resources, lie along the Pacific coastline in southeastern Mexico. Oaxaca is flanked to its east by Chiapas and to its west by Guerrero. Its population, about 3.5 million (2003 estimate), is unique among Mexican states in containing the largest fraction, 2/3, and the largest absolute number of people with indigenous ancestry.

Which of the 31 states holds top place for corruption would probably be impossible to measure in this intensely contested Mexican arena, as highlighted in the fraudulent July 2, 2006, presidential election, but for sure Oaxaca merits high placement on the corruption scale. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the indigenous population is among the most impoverished. Naturally they are very sympathetic to the struggles of indigenous peoples in other parts of Mexico to better their lives, such as the attempts of the Zapatista base support communities in Chiapas, that have declared themselves “in rebellion” and asserted their autonomy, often at great cost due to state and federal efforts to crush them.

The 70,000 or so teachers in the state educational institutions, state employees, are, by Oaxaca standards, far from poor. They are part of the state’s “middle class.” So it’s not as though the majority of poor people are usually very sympathetic. This quarter-century-long tradition of a Oaxaca teachers’ strike each May never before was much more than a nuisance for the city business people, for a week or so, until the union and the state government negotiated a settlement, the teachers ended their occupation of the city center, and returned to their homes throughout the state.

Why was this year so different?

It will come as no surprise to los Americanos that in Mexico, as in the U.S., there are “company unions.” But here, south of the border, the “company” is the ruling party of the federal government, a big company indeed. The National Union of Educational Workers (El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo, SNTE) is a very large and powerful union, hierarchical in structure. For over 70 years the SNTE had been in bed with the government of the ruling party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party, El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). In fact, until recently, the General Secretary of SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was second from the top of the PRI leadership, just below Roberto Madrazo. Section 22 of SNTE is the Oaxaca part of the National Teachers Union.

Among Mexican teachers there is another formation, the National Educational Workers Coordinating Committee (Comité Coordinador Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo CNTE). In Oaxaca the CNTE, whose members belong to SNTE Section 22, play a leading role in setting Section 22 policy. Section 22 has long been regarded as one of the most militant, independent sections of SNTE.

On May 15, National Teachers’ Day in Oaxaca, the leadership of Section 22 of SNTE declared that if their negotiations with the state government did not progress, they would initiate a statewide strike the following week. The teachers were demanding an upgrade in the “zonification” of Oaxaca, which would increase the federally designated minimum wage for the state. The “logic” (i.e. rationalization) of the federal government for having lower legal minimum wages in poor states like Oaxaca is apparently that it’s cheaper to live in a more impoverished region than in one with a higher average income. Such an upgrade of Oaxaca would affect waged workers in Oaxaca who are paid the minimum wage, but would not affect those paid above the minimum, like the teachers. For themselves the teachers demanded a salary increase.

Their other demands involved improved school facilities and meeting students’ needs. Much of the money supposedly budgeted for education is siphoned off by corrupt officials. There is no accountability, a process not even legally required in Oaxaca and no bookkeeping.

Negotiations from May 15 to 22 between the union and the state, instead of moving towards a compromise agreement, became even more acrimonious. Beginning May 22, a large group of teachers, other education workers, family members, allied individuals, and members of allied organizations, numbering perhaps between 35,000 and 60,000 (hard numbers are impossible to know) occupied the center of Oaxaca City—the large central park (the zócalo) and some 56 blocks surrounding it—with their encampment. Local business, hotel, and restaurant owners were, by and large, critical because of financial losses caused by the disruption.

Quite normal. The ritual of an annual teachers’ strike was by now about a quarter century old. But never before had it been so large, so prolonged.

Even now, no end is in sight.

During a period of barely three and a half weeks, May 22 to June 14, the strength of the teachers’ opposition to Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz continued to grow, with additional adherents nursing their own grievances against the dictatorial regime allying with the formidable SNTE contingent. Frequent marches, and two mega-marches, the first on Friday June 2 with between 50,000 and 100,000 (the police and SNTE estimates, respectively), and the second on Wednesday, June 7, with 120,000 brought to the city demonstrations of size and vehemence never before seen here. I watched the June 7 march from the parapet on the north side of the Plaza de Danza as endless mockery of Ulises Ruíz paraded past, demanding boisterously that he leave the governorship. Undoubtedly there were state spies in civilian clothes with cameras, cell phones, video cameras, and tape recorders, but no one seemed in the least intimidated or cautious.

The entire event was permeated with a sense of people’s power.

On June 14, when Ulises unexpectedly ordered state police to carry out a surprise early pre-dawn attack on the sleeping teachers (many of them women with their children), destroying their tents and other camping gear and firing tear gas and bullets, even using a police helicopter that sprayed tear gas on the campers, to drive them out of the city center, he ignited a mass uprising throughout the state and beyond. The teachers fought back and drove out the police after about four hours, recapturing the city center and gaining admiration throughout the state for their gritty determination not to be terrorized into submission.

In his year and a half in office since December 1, 2005, Ulises had succeeded in generating a powder keg of hatred across the state toward him because of his tyrannical rule. This included his overt attempt to destroy the state’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, Noticias de Oaxaca , his destruction of much-loved parts of the capital city’s world-famous cultural patrimony, numerous killings by armed thugs tied to the ruling party, in communities struggling against corrupt and oppressive state-appointed municipal administrations. In sum, it was his attempt to rule by “excessively overt” terror, including kidnappings, jailings on baseless charges, torture, and death, and always impunity for the state thugs terrorizing the people, that turned the population en masse against him.

Moreover, history was against him. Fresh in people’s memory was the sadistic early May attack in San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State by federal, state, and municipal police, and the outrage against the authorities then—incarceration and worse for the victims, impunity for the perpetrators. There was a pervasive sense that in such a society, everyone is a “political prisoner unto death.” A multitude of civic organizations in, and outside of, Oaxaca swarmed to declare their solidarity with the teachers. Immediately after the attack the teachers announced, and two days later led a huge march, their third mega-march, with 400,000, that included many new adherents. They all demanded URO’s resignation or removal from office.

The show of strength quickly led to formation of a statewide assembly that termed itself the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, Asemblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca. Though instigated as a result of the teachers’ initiative and the ugly state repression, the assembly went far beyond the teachers’ original demands, which had been limited to educational matters. Ousting a hated governor had been done before on three occasions in Oaxaca. Not trivial, risky of course, but not by itself a revolutionary act.

APPO is established, sets revolutionary goals

In addition to the immediate third mega-march on June 16 (two days after the assault), the popular movement of teachers and other members of civil society held the first statewide popular assembly the following day, just       three days after the attack of June 14. In this precedent-breaking assembly meeting, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO, by its initials in Spanish) adopted a truly revolutionary program by declaring itself the supreme authority in Oaxaca, and asserting the illegitimacy of the entire political structure, which had ruthlessly run Oaxaca as a PRI-terrorist-controlled state for nearly 80 years.

APPO’s deliberately broad representation evidently excluded any explicitly political groups, i.e. it was to be a “non-political” formation, truly a people’s government. As Nancy Davies wrote in her report [on the Narco News web site], “Popular Assembly to Oppose the State Government,” its initial meeting on June 17 “was attended by 170 people representing 85 organizations.” Included, or at least invited, “were all the SNTE delegates, union members, social and political organizations, non-governmental organizations, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca.” Its intention was to be open to all the citizens of the state. There was no attempt, so far as I know, to exclude wealthy people from the assembly. Naturally, most very rich people who saw their interests served by the URO regime would not want to be involved in an effort to remove him and the rest of the governing apparatus, but wealthy “mavericks” who rejected social injustice were evidently welcome. The only “absolute requirement” for participation was agreement that Ulises must go.

Flimsy barriers such as those that had not prevented the police assault of June 14 were clearly inadequate. APPO adherents went about establishing stronger barricades against future invasions. They began commandeering buses, some commercial, as well as police and other government vehicles, using some of them to block access roads to the zócalo and other APPO encampments. Other of the commandeered vehicles they used for transportation.

APPO’s major strategy for bringing pressure to bear on the government, in order to force either URO’s resignation or his legal removal, has been to literally prevent the institutional government from carrying out its functions: legislative, judicial and executive (i.e. administrative). The tactic deserves to be called aggressive civil disobedience, meaning that APPO adherents carry out their forceful “illegal” actions as civilians (unarmed, i.e. no firearms). Some of them have poles, iron rods, and even machetes, but these are for self-defense. The culture here is not one of “turning the other cheek.” They don’t sit down and pray if police attempt to beat them. They have blocked highways, occupied government buildings, and made a good many tourists and potential tourists reconsider Oaxaca as a desirable destination, thereby shaking the economy

As for “winning the hearts and minds” of Oaxaqueños, the hearts part of the task has been in large part already accomplished, thanks to the arrogance and aggressiveness of URO—the hatred he managed to sow since taking office as governor on December 1, 2004 and which he’s now reaping.

Even people who are not thrilled with APPO are so disgusted with URO that they are more likely to be passive rather than actively opposing APPO by supporting the governor.

Winning minds, as APPO well knows, is essential. They have made that a major part of their work. The government and its corporate allies fully realize the importance of what people think. The media of communication are therefore a prime arena in the contest to influence people’s consciousness.

The fight for the communication media

The very first action of the state forces in their pre-dawn attack on June 14 was to destroy the teachers’ radio station, Radio Plantón. It had been serving not only as a source of pro-teacher propaganda since the start of the strike, but as a vital communication link broadcasting (within its limited range) 24 hours a day. Soon after the Radio Plantón equipment was smashed, students at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials) seized the university’s station, a licensed station with a much more powerful transmitter, and kept it going non-stop in support of the then rapidly-growing rebellion. The student-operated UABJO station was attacked several times, first on June 22, and eventually put out of commission after a diversionary tactic the night of August 8 enabled three people who had earlier infiltrated the movement to enter and throw sulphuric acid on the equipment, ending, at least for a time, those broadcasts.

Revolutions are not, by their nature, tidy affairs. There is no simple chronology according to which, at certain key dates, one important group of actors halts its activity and a different group takes the stage.

Rather, a multitude of groups fills the stage at any given time, and the flow of activity is continuous--no separation of the actions marked by curtain calls. Thus it may be a questionable effort to try to divide the flow into phases. While the attack of June 14 did clearly mark a separation of events into two different phases, the ensuing struggle has been, and will likely be a continuous flow. Nevertheless, the action of the women who seized the state television and radio stations on August 1 so powerfully upped the ante in the struggle to control the communications media that I will say that act initiated a third phase of the struggle.

On July 1, the day before participants in La marcha de las caserolas (the march of women beating their pots and pans with wooden spoons) went on to seize the state TV and radio stations, only Radio Universidad was broadcasting for the popular movement. By then it had been on the air daily for almost of seven weeks. It was to continue for another 8 days until the sulphuric acid attack shut it down. But by then Channel 9, TV Caserolas as some folks dubbed it, had been broadcasting 8 days.

The move to seize, or as a graffiti on the wall of the control room at the transmission tower phrased it, to re-appropriate facilities paid for with the people’s money, was a bold escalation in the struggle for the media.

Channel 9 and FM 96.9 covered the entire state. For 3 weeks, from August 1 until the early morning assault on August 21, the “voices and images of the people” dominated these normally state-controlled airwaves in the struggle aimed at “winning the minds” of the people, although of course the powerful national corporate channels, TV Azteca and Televisa, continued their pro-state broadcasts. But what a vision of hope sprang from the screen those three weeks! Ordinary people in everyday clothes spoke of the reality of their lives as they understood them, of what neo-liberalism meant to them, of the Plan Pueblo Panama, of their loss of land to developers and international paper companies, of ramshackle rural mountain schools without toilets, of communities without safe water or sanitary drainage, and so on, all the needs that could be met if wealth were not being stolen by rich capitalists and corrupt government agents.

And not all was about Oaxaca and its problems. The horizon of consciousness reached abroad as, on one occasion that Nancy mentioned to me, Channel 9 broadcast a documentary videotape of living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One can only imagine the level of global grassroots solidarity if the media, worldwide, were controlled by popular groups instead of transnational corporations.

This flood of uncontrolled, unmediated, spontaneous communication among the population must have terrorized the former economic and political rulers of Oaxaca by the threat it posed, but they dared not try a repeat of their June 14 heavy-handed attempt to crush the popular uprising.

Rather than risk another open failure the state authorities pursued a strategy of clandestine warfare, as described vividly by Diego Enrique Osorno in his 28 August special report from Oaxaca to Narco News . The desperate authorities pursued their so-called Operation “Clean-Up”. As Narco News stated, “Following the CIA’s ‘Psychological Operations’ Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody Counterinsurgency Strategy to Eliminate the Social Movement”.

The onslaught by these clandestine heavily-armed police officials and state thugs on the transmission facilities of TV Caserola and Radio APPO up on Fortin Hill above the city revealed the government’s panic. This assault, in the very early hours on Monday 21 August, totally destroyed the control equipment housed in a building at the base of the transmission tower. The racks of electronics were smashed and sprayed with automatic weapons fire, bullet holes only inches apart in some of the panels, which I photographed that Monday evening. There are, as explained to me by a student friend involved with one of the movement radio stations, several components that made up the state’s TV and radio stations: 1) the studios where interviews, news reporters, panel members, etc. met, 2) a repeater station whose antenna received the signals from the studio building and “bounced” them to the transmission station, and 3) the transmission facility atop Fortin Hill, which broadcast the programs to the entire state.

By knocking out the transmission tower facility the government-directed thugs insured that APPO could not operate the occupied state TV and radio stations. The damage wrought at the transmission control room was a shocking double admission: 1) the URO government knew it was unable to retake and hold each of the three components of its broadcasting stations, and 2) the impact of the APPO broadcasts was an intolerable threat.

Therefore they destroyed a key component of what they surely regarded as their own governing infrastructure.

The battle for the air waves continues. Later that day, August 21, having lost the use of Channel 9 and FM 96.9, APPO groups seized twelve commercial radio stations belonging to nine different companies. The number of seized stations broadcasting for APPO varies from time to time. This morning (29 August) we were able to pick up three, one AM and two FM at our location below the base of Fortin Hill. Apart from radio, the movement produces and distributes a great deal of printed material, videos, and CDs, and seeks to spread its point of view by all means of communication. Radio of course remains particularly important.

On August 16 and 17 a national forum was held in Oaxaca to discuss “Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca.” Sponsored by fifty organizations within Oaxacan civil society, as Davies wrote, it provided “an opportunity to analyze the crisis and propose alternative solutions from the perspective of civil society, including a new Oaxacan constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the nation.” The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from all parts of Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly inspiring people throughout this nation.

In the meantime, the situation in Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent on the power struggle centered in Mexico City over the presidency. Those currently in the saddle are doing everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but the majority of Mexicans may be ready for much more fundamental changes. Education, true education, is indeed subversive. ¡Adelante!