A profound political crisis is shaking up Mexico. The rules that regulate the balance of power between elites have been violated. From above, there is no agreement or any possibility for one in the short term.
A severe crisis in the model of control has eroded relationships of domination in many parts of Mexican national territory. People accustomed to obeying have refused to do so. People who think they are destined to rule have been unable to impose their command. Those from below have become disobedient. When those on the top want to impose their opinion from above, in the name of the law, they are ignored from below. Nowhere is the breakdown in control and the effervescence of rebellion as obvious as in the state of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is a state plagued with social problems. It is a Mexican tourist enclave, surrounded by poverty where people survive on remittances sent by migrant workers abroad. Within its territory one finds land struggles, confrontations between caciques(local bosses ) and coyotes (migrant smugglers), local government conflicts, ethnic revenge, fights for better prices for agricultural products, and resistance against the authoritarian state.
Since May 15, Oaxaca has been in the throes of its most massive and significant social movement in recent history. The protest begun by Section 22 of the national teachers’ union (SNTE, for its initials in Spanish) soon became the expression of the social contradictions in the state. It is not at all unusual that teachers mobilize for pay raises around the time of the contract negotiation. This time it has gone well beyond a union struggle to fuse protests of many groups. Oaxacan society has come out in force to show its solidarity with the teachers and add in other demands and grievances. Around 350 organizations, indigenous communities, unions, and non-profits have jointed to form the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).
Lessons from the Teachers
The teachers’ movement is the only democratic force with a presence throughout the state. It’s the only organization capable of making their political presence felt simultaneously in every municipality of the state.
Oaxacan teachers work in precarious conditions. Their students arrive at school with empty stomachs and drop out so they can help their families work in the fields. Their classrooms are entirely unequipped. In order to get to the communities they work in, they often have to invest their own time and money in transportation, using roads that only exist in official reports. Teachers have come to identify closely with the precarious conditions of their communities they work in and become not only fighters within their union, but the voices of the community’s demands as well.
The protest in Oaxaca started as an expression of the union’s struggle for a pay raise based on rezoning cost of living scales. This is nothing new with respect to struggles in years past. Their protest began on the same symbolic and traditional date as it has for many years: May 15, Teacher’s Day. It is also common to use the presidential succession, to increase pressure on the government to negotiate.
The protest radicalized as a result of the state government’s refusal to respond to their demands. Instead of sitting down to negotiate, the governor threatened the teachers, and then sent police to forcefully evacuate education workers camped out in downtown Oaxaca. The outrageous repression of June 14 radicalized the teachers, and from then on they demanded the resignation of the state governor. Instead of seeking solutions, the federal government pretended not to notice and said that it was a local issue over which it had no authority.
This explosive political situation was further polarized as a result of the last Oaxacan gubernatorial election. Gabino Cué, backed by the ex governor Diódoro Carrasco and a coalition of the majority of opposition parties, confronted Ulises Ruiz, one of the main operators of Madrazo, at that time candidate of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) for the presidency. The tight win by the PRI was seriously questioned by Cué supporters, who claimed election fraud against him.
The teachers feel such responsibility to their communities that the majority of them left the capital occupation for a few weeks to end the school year with their communities. Since classes are out they have returned to the city to carry out their plan of action. The city of Oaxaca is theirs.
The Movement Grows
The claims of the teachers quickly found an echo in a broad cross-section of Oaxacan society. Bothered by the electoral fraud that brought Ulises Ruiz to power, as well as governmental violence against the group of community and regional organizations, thousands of Oaxacans took the streets and more than 30 town halls.
Since that time a large part of the society does not recognize Ulises Ruiz as governor. Since a May 25 meeting between Ruiz and the Negotiation Commission, they have not seen him. July 11 the APPO began, successfully, a round of pacific civil disobedience that seeks to make obvious the lack of governance and authority that exists in the state.
The movement took political control of the city of Oaxaca. Since the occupation by federal police that retook the center on Oct. 29, the movement has blocked the entrances to expensive downtown hotels and the local airport; it obstructs traffic and impedes the entrance to public buildings and the state congress.
Ruiz, desperate to keep power, betrayed his boss, PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, proposing at a meeting of PRI state governors that they recognize PAN candidate Felipe Calderón as the winner of the presidential contest. The federal government, needing allies to confront the protests over presidential election fraud, has responded by maintaining the teetering governor.
As time passes the situation worsens. On July 22 a group of 20 unknown people fired high-powered weapons at the Radio Universidad facilities. The university radio station, run by the movement, has been converted into a formidable instrument of information and social mobilization. The same day Molotov cocktails were thrown at several movement leaders.
Physical violence against protesters is not new to Oaxaca. In the