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News :: International
Oaxaca under siege, another Atenco in progress
16 Jun 2006
Modified: 02:31:49 AM
This time the fascists in Mexico are targeting the well-organized and militant teachers' union which has held the city center of Oaxaca and toll booths on the national highway leading to the capital for the last couple of weeks, demanding better facilities for students and living wages for teachers. Police are flooding the area with teargas shot from helicopters, up to eleven people- including children- have been killed, and several women are already reporting rapes in police custody.
[from an observer of the Oaxaca scene]
I'm writing about the situation in Oaxaca. As I write, the capital city is under siege. At approximately 5AM this morning the state police attacked the teachers occupation of the city center. Though reports are sketchy, it seems that three teachers have been killed, as well as a young girl. The teachers have taken three or four police hostage. A raging battle is underway to control the zocalo, the center of life in Oaxaca, and the heart of the teacher's encampment. In the dawn raid the teachers were forced out, but the local paper, Noticias de Oaxaca, has reported that at 9:30AM local time the teachers, armed with rocks and sticks, re-took the main square. Police are firing tear gas from helicopters right now. Thousands (tens of thousands) of people are involved in running battles in the streets. And there is the fear that upwards of 3500 federal riot police -- deployed to Oaxaca in the last two weeks by Vicente Fox -- are about to enter the city.
I've just gotten off the phone with friends in the center. They described the scene on the streets this morning at about 7:30AM. Hundreds of people crying from the mix of tear gas, smoke bombs and some other pepper spray. The men forming groups to launch the assault to retake the zocalo. Mothers telling their boys to take care of themselves as they fell into line. From the rooftops of the single story houses you can watch the helicopters flying overhead shelling tear gas canisters into the crowds. There is a heavy fear, but also, I was tol, you could hear the sound of people marching and singing.
As a brief background, you might want to read: http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1874.html
The teachers occupation of the city, known in Spanish as a 'planton' began 23 days ago. More than 80,000 teachers from every municipality in the state had converged on the capital to press a list of demands for more resources for education. They have had two mass marches, the most recent bringing more than 120,000 people out, the largest demonstration in the city's history. The planton has become an annual event since more than a decade, and I will never forget last year's planton which happened while I was still living there. For about ten days the teachers occupied the entire center of town, sleeping on the streets under tarpaulins stretched overhead. They were extremely well organized and the city center was never more alive. The teachers and their families would cook large meals on open fires, play guitar and sing, rest on folded cardboard in the shade. They set up their radio station "Radio Planton" and played music on loud speakers. There were first aid tents, propaganda tents, mass meetings on every corner.
This year, many have remarked that the planton, and the teachers' mobilization generally, has been different. The question is: If the teachers brought 80,000 to the city, who are the other 40,000? I'm not close enough to give a good answer, but what I understand is that the teachers have offered an opening which hundreds of small community groups and social justice centers from around the state have chosen to follow. The past two years under the new PRI governor Ulises Ruis has intensified the level of state repression. Scores of activists in small villages have been killed, hundreds arrested and still in jail as political prisoners. The spike in repression was so great that Amnesty International sent a delegation to Oaxaca in May of 2005 to investigate. It appears that when the teachers marched on the capital three weeks ago they were joined by tens of thousands of others from the villages in what is becoming a broad movement to depose the governor. Ruis has refused to meet with the teachers, and has managed to pull in his party's promisary notes to about half of the state's municipal mayors who signed a decree condemning the teachers action. But there is a palpable sense that the social movements are converging and that something new is underway.
During the past three weeks, the movement has shown a great level of strength and creativity -- occupying the city's airport, smashing the newly-installed parking meters throughout the city center, occupying the toll booths on the main road from Oaxaca to Mexico City -- not to stop the cars, only to stop the collecting of tolls, and the very fact that they have occupied the zocalo has great significance as the new governor, after spending upwards of $100 million to 'beautify' the zocalo, decreed that it was now off-limits for any demonstrations.
Three nights ago, Ruis met with business leaders at a late night gathering and promised to use the 'mano dura' or hard hand. There were reports that the first 1500 federal riot police were camped in the nearby town of Tlacolula. This morning the governor appears to have proven himself a man of his word. Some reports have said that the tear gas in the city center is so thick you can't see the hand in front of you.
I have not seen any reports in the US media, BBC etc. There is some information on indymedia's Mexico site, some more on the online version of Noticias de Oaxaca -- both in Spanish. (http://www.noticias-oax.com.mx/) I know that the police have shut down the teachers' radio station 'Radio Planton' but as of 12:00 noon Oaxaca time the students' radio station 'Radio Universitario' was still broadcasting and "you can hear the broadcast from every window and door in town." The students themselves have occupied the university, but the latest reports suggest that the police are heading there now.
I'm writing this in the hope that you can help spread the word, and alert others in the network of media to turn their attention to the struggle ongoing.
[from Democracy Now radio program]
Thousands of state security forces have raided the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca to break up a peaceful teachers strike. Witnesses say eleven people were killed, including two children. The state government denies the allegations. We speak to a teacher taking part in the strike. [includes rush transcript] We turn now to Mexico where thousands of state security forces raided the southern city of Oaxaca early Wednesday to break up a peaceful teachers strike. According to witness reports, up to eleven people were killed in the raid. Two of the dead were reportedly children asphyxiated by massive amounts of tear gas fired from police helicopters. Up to one hundred people have been detained. The local radio station was shut down and four of its workers have allegedly disappeared. Several women have accused police of sexual assault. The state government in Oaxaca has denied all of these allegations. After the worst of the raid was over, the union retook Oaxaca's city center. This is a member of the teachers union speaking in Oaxaca yesterday.
* Striking Oaxaca teacher, speaking Wednesday.
“We have recovered bullet casings and clips. We are showing this to denounce internationally that we did not fire a single bullet, because we are teachers, workers in education. We are poor and we don't have any money, not even to buy a weapon.”
For the past twenty-three days more than seventy thousand members of Mexico's National Education Workers Union have held their annual strike in Oaxaca. The teachers have staged an encampment and various forms of direct action to press the state governor for an increase in resources to fund Mexico's education system.
* Alma Delia Santos, a local teacher who is part of the striking component of the National Education Workers Union in Mexico, Section 22. She has been on strike and witnessed yesterday's events.
To place the current struggle of the teachers union in historical context we turn to a documentary titled 'Granito de Arena' or 'Grain of Sand. It's produced by independent film maker Jill Freidberg. She spent several years in Oaxaca documenting the history, and the current state of the education workers' union.
* Excerpt of Granito De Arena
* Jill Freidberg, filmmaker who spent two years in Southern Mexico producing the documentary "Granito De Arena", which documents the teacher's union movement in Oaxaca. She joins us on the line from Seattle.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: Welcome, Alma.
ALMA DELIA SANTOS: Hello.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you saw?
ALMA DELIA SANTOS: Well, yesterday morning around 4:00 is when it all started. Actually it was about 4:45. Cops came in with dogs. There were about 80 dogs just tearing everything up, coming in. A lot of the women got attacked by the dogs to begin with. After that, the cops came in, destroying everything, knocking everything down. A lot of the women were harassed by these cops. There were about 2,000 cops from the different corporations there, uniformed, and some of them were dressed as civilians.
They were throwing everything down. They came into the offices of the teacher's union. It got totally destroyed. They destroyed the -- everything that was from Radio Plantón, which is the radio station. And there seemed to be, at that point, 100 people that were arrested and about -- we seemed to have about approximately 100 people that were injured at that time, a lot of women that were in some of the schools. We received notification that there was five women that were raped. At that time as well the police came into the schools where the women were hiding at. And there was just destruction of everything. They burned a lot of the tents, a lot of the things that they had. Everything was burned down. This was about -- and then the helicopters came in shooting tear gases, pepper spray and another type of gas for hours, until about 11:00 or 12:00, when we took the Zócalo again in the streets of El Centro.
AMY GOODMAN: Alma Delia Santos, this strike happens every year. What makes this year so different?
ALMA DELIA SANTOS: Well, the demands that -- obviously every year some of the demands that teachers ask for aren't met fully, so every year we have to strike up again, because the government just gives us petty little results, but nothing ever -- there's 14,000 people on strike of the teachers and 60% -- 14,000 communities and 60% are in high marginalization. And all we're asking for is utilities for the students, classrooms for the students, a better salary, because some of the teachers in these communities receive very poor salary when the government officials are receiving and taking all the money that we should be -- some of these students should be getting in classroom materials, uniforms and things like that.
AMY GOODMAN: How much do you get as a salary for a teacher?
ALMA DELIA SANTOS: Well, I think there's different salaries for the different communities. Some of them, I know that there's a teacher from one of the [unintelligible] cities, she gets 6,000 pesos which is around $100 a month. Some of these teachers get a lot lower than that. The minimum salary here is -- for a day is about 43 pesos, 48 pesos, and some of them will get ocho jornadas, which is eight jornadas, eight [unintelligible].
AMY GOODMAN: Alma Delia Santos, I want to thank you for being with us to place the current struggle of the teacher's union in a historical context.
[excerpt from Granito De Arena]
AMY GOODMAN: That was an edited excerpt of the film, Granito De Arena, "Grain of Sand," produced by filmmaker Jill Friedberg, who joins us on the phone right now from Seattle. Can you talk about this protest that has been going on, but this year cracked down on by the Mexican military, Jill? In the context of the upcoming presidential elections and also what took place in May in San Salvador de Atenco, when the police moved in to evict so-called illegal flower vendors in a fierce attack on the people -- many of the women were sexually assaulted, many remain in prison right now, there. And now comes Oaxaca.
JILL FREIDBERG: At this point, relating to Oaxaca, it's a little bit premature to go in-depth in terms of analysis of how it relates to the political elections coming up in two weeks, but it is safe to say that's what's happening in Oaxaca is not unrelated to what happened in San Salvador de Atenco, in terms of the political benefits that certain parties stand to gain from generating a climate of fear, a climate in which they can then appear to be maintaining and restoring law and order. And that's exactly what happened in San Salvador de Atenco, especially with the helping hand of the mainstream electronic media.
We’ve seen a little bit less of that in terms of the media coverage of what happened in Oaxaca, a bit less of the demonizing of the teachers once the repression began. Although leading up to it, the electronic media were certainly clamoring to create a climate in which mainstream society was supposed to believe that the teachers were not only, supposedly, at fault for all of Mexico's educational shortcomings, but that they are also bringing down upon the city of Oaxaca the chaos of having 70,000 teachers out of the schools, and not only carrying out direct actions in the streets every day, but sleeping, and living, and camped out in the streets of Oaxaca, and that what the governor of Oaxaca, or President Vicente Fox needed to do was to come in and restore order, meaning do whatever necessary to get the teachers out of the streets.
Although since the repression, there's been a little bit less of that in the mainstream media than it was during and following the conflict in Atenco. There’s been a lot of – since the repression hit the news yesterday, there's been an incredible amount of finger pointing between the three parties. Vicente Fox saying that he had nothing to do with it, his party, the PAN, accusing the governor of Oaxaca, who's with the PRI, of being the sole intellectual author of the repression. The PRD candidates saying that the federal government should be paying for education and should have entered into negotiations with the teachers. All three parties pointing to the union leadership as being responsible. So we have yet to really figure out who's behind -- directly behind it -- other than the governor of Oaxaca.
AMY GOODMAN: Lopez Obrador has just moved ahead in the polls of the presidential race being held July 2. He's called for dialogue. What does this mean for his campaign?
JILL FREIDBERG: I’m reluctant to comment on that just because I don't put a lot of faith in the polls thus far in Mexico in terms of what may actually happen on July 2. I think that there are teachers around the country who are likely to vote for Lopez Obrador and this may have increased that number. But beyond that I’m reluctant to comment.
AMY GOODMAN: We will certainly follow the events leading up to the election in the aftermath of this attack on the teachers of Oaxaca. Jill Freidberg, I want to thank you for being with us. Filmmaker, spent two years producing the documentary Granito De Arena, or "Grain of Sand."
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