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Federal police sent to crush five-month occupation
Deadly crackdown on Oaxaca protest

By Lee Sustar | November 3, 2006 | Page 16

THE KILLING of three protesters and a journalist in Oaxaca City by police October 28, and an invasion of the city by Mexico's federal police two days later, sparked protests around the world as an even bigger confrontation loomed.

The police attack provided a pretext for outgoing President Vicente Fox to order in 4,500 federal police--known as PFP by their initials in Spanish--to crush a five-month strike and occupation by teachers, indigenous groups and social movement activists.

Among those killed by the paramilitaries was an independent U.S. journalist, Bradley Roland Will, who was shot while filming the attacks on the occupation. According to one report, as many as 30 people suffered bullet wounds. According to the latest reports as Socialist Worker went to press, at least two more protesters were killed October 30 as thousands attempted to retake the Oaxaca City square, or Zócalo, from the PFP.

While the mainstream media declared that protesters had abandoned their barricades, reporter José Daniel Fierro reported that at least 300 barricades remained in place around the city.

The police repression--carried out with armored trucks, helicopters and assault rifles--brings to a head a struggle that began five months ago with a strike for higher pay by the 70,000 teachers in Section 22 of the SNTE union.

An attack by local police on the protests by teachers and their supporters sparked a resistance movement that gathered together all those with a grievance against Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who took office amid allegations of electoral fraud two years ago and runs the state on the basis of patronage and repression.

This time, Ruiz's hard line failed, as protesters turned back a savage police attack in June on their encampment in the Zócalo. Afterward, they founded the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), which mobilized activists across the state and demanded Ruiz's resignation.

Since the Oaxaca demonstration coincided with the crisis over Mexico's fraudulent presidential election in July, Fox and his hardline interior minister, Carlos Abscal, hesitated to intervene openly as long as tens of thousands were occupying the Mexico City Zócalo.

Instead, the Mexican authorities opted for a strategy of attrition--arrests and kidnapping of key union members and social movement activists while stringing out negotiations in a bid to divide the movement. According to APPO, some 60 activists have been detained and another 30 disappeared at the hands of police or paramilitaries.

Abscal's first move was to try to lure moderate indigenous leaders into breaking ranks with Section 22 and other leaders. When that effort failed, he tried the opposite tack--offering to meet the teachers' economic demands, but rejecting the movement's call for Ruiz's resignation.

This bid to divide the movement seemed like it might succeed when Section 22 leaders initially accepted the deal--but the agreement was repudiated in stormy union meetings and a membership vote. Days later, paramilitaries attacked the occupation in Oaxaca City, giving Fox and Abscal the political cover they wanted to send in thousands of PFP to smash the protest for good.

The repression is intended not only to crush the movement in Oaxaca, but also to send a message to supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the candidate of the center-left Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), who was cheated out of victory in presidential elections by Fox's conservative National Action Party (PAN).

After weeks of mass encampments by his supporters in Mexico City, AMLO has created a parallel government to challenge the incoming president, Felipe Calderón, Fox's handpicked successor. Fox and Calderón no doubt hope that the blood on the streets of Oaxaca will intimidate those involved in what AMLO calls a "civic revolution."

Such violence is nothing new to Mexican politics, where police killed hundreds of student leftists in the "dirty war" of the 1970s by the PRI government, which ruled the country for 70 years until Fox's election in 2000. Fox, who came into office vowing to prosecute those involved in the dirty war, ended by launching one of his own.

Abscal presided over a PFP attack on the town of San Salvador Atenco earlier this year, ostensibly to clear the streets of unlicensed flower vendors, but in reality, to punish the population for mobilizing to prevent an airport expansion, and to raise fears of "civil war" in the event of an AMLO presidential victory.

Mexican police also carried out a bloody attack on striking steelworkers, highlighting the class politics behind the repression and popular protests.

Class is also central to the struggle in Oaxaca, writes Mexico-based journalist John Ross. "Those at the bottom behind the barricades in Oaxaca's old quarter are poor and brown--the political class manipulating the tensions are white and wealthy."

Fox and Abscal ordered the crackdown in Oaxaca to try and establish "order" there before Calderón takes office December 1.

But the PRD, despite AMLO's promises, has largely been on the sidelines during the Oaxaca occupation, although the party's supporters participate as individuals. From the PRD, wrote author and activist Adolfo Gilly in the newspaper La Jornada, "there are declarations, protests, too, but as for mobilizations such as those during the electoral dispute, none."

The Zapatista Front and others are organizing for a November 1 protest against the repression, and are calling for a general strike on November 20.

It's unclear whether the widespread outrage over the carnage in Oaxaca will spur a wider response across Mexico. But it's already clear that the police violence has compounded the crisis of legitimacy in the Mexican government--and foreshadows more repression.

Social and political polarization in the country is set to intensify--and no matter what the immediate outcome in Oaxaca, the struggle will continue.

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

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