28 October 2006

Oaxaca erupts

President Vicente Fox, a man anxious to avoid conflict, finally sent federal police officers and the army into seemingly lawless Oaxaca, site of a months-long teachers' strike, civil unrest and most recently, scene of an American journalist's murder.

The unrest started back in May when the teachers stages their annual walkout - something they've done for more than 20 consecutive years - after demanding a salary increase. The state government balked and violence later erupted. The teachers then demanded governor Ulises Ruiz's head. A left-leaning group dubbed APPO joined in.

Their protests effectively killed the local tourist trade - especially after they sabotaged the main stage of the Galaguetza, one of the state's premier cultural festivals. Highways into the state were at times blocked. Hotels in the state capital report receiving few guests. The U.S. and Canadian governments advised their citizens to stay away.

Who's to blame? The teachers and APPO say the governor, a product of the state's old-school PRI machine, who won an election marred by accusations of fraud in 2004 and who allegedly employs thug tactics. In an egregious attack on the press, a sindicato (union) sypathetic to the governor shut down an opposition newspaper last year - without the concent of the employees the sindicato supposedly represented.

A friend in Oaxaca city blamed both sides. Newspaper reporters in the state say many people prefer not to openly criticize either side. The teachers recently voted to return to classes - although not overwhelmingly - but insist they'll continue their struggle. (Even though they've been off the job, they reportedly have drawn paycheques the entire time.)

Much of the violence has been in the state capital. My landlady's son, who lives near Huatulco, has been teaching Grade 3 and 4 students on an ejido in exchange for food and 300 pesos a week until the union settles its strike. He reported calm conditions along the coast.

Ruiz's resignation or removal from office would obviously help resolve the situation. The PRI, however, has closed ranks behind the governor. The PAN is hesitant to oust an elected official, knowing the reality of the tenuous victory it obtained in the July presidential vote. More importantly for PAN, it needs the PRI to advance Felipe Calderon's legislative agenda in the federal Congress and Senate. University of Guadalajara political science professor Marco Antonio Cortes opined that the two sides would engage in a sort of "blackmail" - the PAN would save Ruiz, while the PRI cooperated on other issues. The PRI, having been humiliated on July 2, can't afford another defeat.

Meanwhile, independent American journalist and activist Brad Will was shot dead. Witnesses say plainclothed police officers were responsible, according to several reports. A journalist from Grupo Milenio was also shot in the foot.

How will this situation end? Stay tuned.

(Photos available at Mark in Mexico's blog.)

More: Grupo Reforma columnist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa asks in today's column, "How many deaths is Ulises [Ruiz] worth?"

"Ruiz is the beneficiary of a paradox. No one supports him, but no one wants to throw him out."

1 comment:

TourPro said...

I've been following this story for a few months now. My prediction is more bloodshed this weekend.

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