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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Oaxaca deserves accurate reporting

    Collin McKenzieguest columnist
    Collin McKenzie
    guest columnist

    On Sept. 19, a top aide to Felipe CalderÇün (Mexico’s president-elect) called the violence in Oaxaca City – where the peaceful resistance of a teacher-strike-turned-popular-movement has been met with violent actions of the state government – the biggest problem facing the country. However, human rights violations and a pretext for militarization occurring in Oaxaca is a greater problem than the Oaxacan popular movement’s threat to the legitimacy and power of Mexico’s ruling party, the National Action Party, known as PAN.

    This summer, while in Oaxaca directing a volunteer project promoting the cultivation of amaranth, a native grain, I had the opportunity to view this struggle firsthand. For more than four months now, roughly 70,000 teachers in the largely indigenous southern Mexican state of Oaxaca have waged a strike for a living wage, in the face of government repression.

    On June 14, at least 2,000 riot police attempted to evict teachers from their huge strike encampment in the historic center of Oaxaca City, ZÇücalo. During the assault, police burned tents, destroyed the teachers’ radio station, attacked the teachers’ union building and fired tear gas grenades from a helicopter. Hundreds of teachers were severely beaten, but they drove out the police and took back the ZÇücalo.

    This attack followed on the deadly May Day police attacks on townspeople in San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico.

    The subsequent Oaxacan social movement, which includes the demand for the resignation or removal of Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, took place amid the contested result of the Mexican presidential elections of July 2. The state government made attempts to control the media, including the shooting of the local student-run university radio station on July 22 by paramilitaries. In response, on Aug. 1, a women’s collective occupied the state television and radio stations after a peaceful takeover following a demonstration in which the women marched through town banging pots and pans.

    The government countered three weeks later by sending thugs with machine guns to fire on the TV studio and destroy the station’s antenna. From Aug. 21-25, unmarked, masked, plainclothes policemen and paramilitaries made nighttime passes through the city to dislodge protesters, which resulted in the death of a city architect.

    Counter-insurgency troops have purportedly been sent to Oaxaca on the pretense that the strike is linked to guerrilla groups, although the movement has maintained its nonviolent stance – despite the murders of five strike supporters by police and gunmen and numerous strike and union leaders having been jailed.

    With these events in mind, it is sad to read such articles as the Arizona Republic’s Sept. 12 “”Political Chaos Rules in Mexico,”” which characterizes the “”people’s organizations”” that have joined the movement – “”squatters, unauthorized street vendors, gypsy cabdrivers and other outlaws”” – as inherently criminal. The New York Times’ Mexico City bureau chief, James McKinley Jr., has reported on “”guerrilla groups”” operating in Oaxaca and aligned with the movement. But he is likely reporting from Mexico City, citing only “”pictures from Agence France-Presse”” (in Sept. 1’s “”Warning From Strikers’ Sympathizers””) and omitting mention of their brand new ( i.e., military-issued) fatigue pants and the military base located nearby.

    A Wall Street Journal article (Sept. 2’s “”As Mexico Awaits Vote Decision, Social Upheaval Is On the Rise””) painted the teachers as attempting to drive a duly elected governor out of office. This article includes the teachers in the same breath with the street fighting in Acapulco among drug gangs.

    On CNN’s “”Moneyline”” on Monday, Lou Dobbs reported that gunfire was exchanged between government and nongovernment forces outside a luxury hotel Sunday in Oaxaca City, failing to mention that only the government forces were carrying guns.

    This coverage is upsetting, but its prevalence does make sense given existing global power structures. The incipient revolution in Oaxaca – proceeding with a commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience – terrifies the ruling power structure.

    Given the razor-thin margin of President-elect Felipe CalderÇün’s win over leftist AndrǸs Manuel LÇüpez Obrador and continued shouts of “”fraud!”” it is understandable that CalderÇün’s people would characterize the situation in Oaxaca as Mexico’s biggest problem.

    However, as Oaxaca university students last week protested by shutting down their campus until the governor resigns or is forced out, and the teachers pledge to return to classes upon the dismissal of the governor, the solidarity of the academic community at the UA is needed, if only through awareness of the struggles of the people of Oaxaca. Currently, negotiations are failing and there is talk of the intervention of federal force in Oaxaca “”as a last measure.””

    By spreading word of this struggle to institutions of higher learning, human rights groups and the international community, the interests of peace and dignity of the Oaxacan people might be advanced and the intervention of force stayed.

    Colin McKenzie is a senior majoring in hydrology and water resources. He spent three months this summer in Oaxaca, Mexico directing a volunteer project for Amigos de las AmǸricas, an international nonprofit organization.

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