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Oaxaca strikers face the threat of a crackdown

By Lee Sustar | October 13, 2006 | Page 2

AMID THE threat of a crackdown on striking teachers and the popular struggle in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, labor and social movement leaders remained defiant and rallied in Mexico City October 9.

The federal government is seeking to end--through either a deal or bloody repression--the five-month-long teachers' strike and occupation in the state capital of Oaxaca City before Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) takes over as president following a fraudulent election.

The government has therefore offered protesters some small carrots--while waving very big sticks.

An elite unit of Mexico's Marines moved into Oaxaca City in October, with military helicopters regularly flying low to intimidate demonstrators, according to journalist Kristin Bricker of the NarcoNews Web site. Several leading activists from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, according to its initials in Spanish) have been arrested, grabbed on the street by either plainclothes security personnel or right-wing paramilitary groups.

"A bloodbath could begin at any moment," wrote Mexican journalist Gustavo Esteva in the left-wing daily La Jornada.

It was in this context that the federal Interior Minister Carlos Abscal tried to split the movement by inviting moderate leaders of the social movement and indigenous communities to talks.

The Oaxaca branch of the teachers' union SNTE, known as Section 22, refused to participate, and APPO leaders boycotted as well, since Abscal refused to negotiate over the movement's central demand--the removal of Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a strongman known for ordering state violence against indigenous groups and unions.

The talks collapsed when indigenous leaders reportedly objected to the limitation of their role in the negotiations, despite the fact that they comprise a majority of the population in Oaxaca.

The current struggle began May 22 when 70,000 public school teachers across the Oaxaca went on strike and occupied the main square, or zócalo, in the capital.

In mid-June, about 3,000 state police in riot gear stormed the occupation's encampment, killing 11 people, according to eyewitnesses. Soon afterward, the protesters fought back and retook the square, driving police out. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in support of the struggle, and afterward, 38 organizations involved in the movement formed APPO.

Next came the disputed presidential election, in which widespread fraud gave Calderón more votes than Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) who is popularly known as AMLO.

The long standoff that followed led to the mobilization of hundreds of thousands in protests in Mexico City, and further undermined the legitimacy of a Mexican political system already steeped in corruption and often reliant on political violence. AMLO convened a National Democratic Convention in Mexico City on September 16 that declared him president of an unofficial parallel government.

After mostly ignoring the Oaxaca struggle during the presidential campaign, AMLO and the PRD now pledge to support the teachers' union and APPO. It remains to be seen what form this support will take, however.

In any case, the outcome of the showdown in Oaxaca will likely have a major political impact across Mexico. The government may try to repeat the May 3 crackdown on the flower vendors in San Salvador Atenco, when police beat hundreds of townspeople, jailed 200, raped dozens of women and killed one person. The Interior Minister Abscal was behind that repression--along with police violence against striking steelworkers around the same time.

But given the scale of the mobilization in Oaxaca, repression would have to take place on a far greater scale to succeed--and this time, thanks to solidarity organizing, there would be an immediate response in Mexico and internationally.

Yet a failure by the Mexican government to move against the Oaxacan movement would set the stage for more social movement and labor struggles against a government widely seen as illegitimate.

Send messages of support to the teachers' union at [email protected].

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