The following overview starts on Sunday the 8th and ends on Friday the 13th.
Today I escaped from my computer screen
for several hours to walk with Nancy to the zócalo at the center of Oaxaca City. Usually I don’t manage to get out during the mid-part of the day, because it’s cooler indoors, which allows me to work (and sleep), and I wait until early evening when the breeze stirs for my daily climb up to the crest of Cerro Fortin (Fortin Hill), where the fresh air is a welcome relief after my huffing and puffing up to the top. But today I felt like taking a respite in late morning, and I joined Nancy on her daily pilgrimage to check out the scene down at the center. What an inspiration! The Oaxacan people are quite literally taking back their zócalo from the tyrannical state government of the illegitimate governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). It is a miracle of social
dynamics to behold. A tonic for the spirits of this aging gringo americano, I returned home feeling the zest of a 65-year-old stud.
What we are witnessing with our own eyes
is a steadily growing defeat of the government by the people, an incredible success being achieved with absolutely no use of lethal arms. After the crushing violence by the federal and state governments the night of November 25-26, 2006 many people in the popular movement were forced to go into hiding to avoid arrest and worse. In spite of the all too palpable fear, organizing continued to take place, as I reported in the following excerpt from the end of my essay “Oaxaca, the Great Mexican Social Volcano Rumbles”.
“The effort to impose a state of terror had substantial initial, but not lasting success. People we know who were literally afraid to sleep in their homes are no longer hiding out. Despite the wave of arrests on and immediately after 25 November, on 28 and 29 November a forum of indigenous peoples of Oaxaca took place here in the city, attended by about 300 participants. On 10 December another mega-march, the eighth, showed clearly the defiance of the popular movement. The city of Oaxaca remains under an effective
state of siege, with state operatives showing their deadly but inadequate
muscle, while the federal military is deployed throughout the state. But the people are continuing to organize in their communities, and I think
it’s clear that the era of PRI control is coming to an end, though they are pulling out all the stops to try to prevent losing power. They will of course try to steal the election for the state legislature in August. I hope they won’t succeed.
“Although the political struggles are
a part of the process of change, they are not the deeper part. If the PRD succeeds in gaining majority control of the state legislature, that will be an important blow to the PRI. But, many of the channels of corruption and coercion will be realigned as individuals immersed in the game of power and privilege shift their allegiances to the newly dominant power structure. By itself, such a shift in power will not ameleorate the suffering and injustice imposed upon the vast majority of impoverished people in Oaxaca. The new PRD bosses will hire the old PRI para-police goons and thugs. In brief, Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas’ condemnation of the political class will be validated once again. What a PRD electoral victory will achieve is an initial opening of space for the
popular movement — civil society, indigenous communities, teachers, health workers, the APPO, and so on — to organize much more openly than they can now under the threatening heel of Ulises’ openly-fascist operatives.
“The deeper part of the transformation of Oaxacan society is taking place outside of the dominant political framework, in the popular movement that insists on struggling primarily non-violently with the intention of doing away with governance by the exercise of coercive power, replacing centralized power structures by local communal self-government based on a multitude of local general assemblies that practice direct democracy, as opposed to representative pseudo-democracy. Right now it is a contest in many areas of the state, as one can see daily in Noticias reports of communities ousting the so-called ‘constitutional’ mayors and other officials
and replacing them by popularly chosen officials determined in the
popular assemby according to their local ‘usos y costumbres’, uses and customs. Nancy Davies mentions, in a recent posting to the OSAG listserv, “the establishment of the new Triqui autonomous community” and “the new
asamblea popular of the Costa”.”
In the five or five-and-a-half months since I wrote those three paragraphs, the scene has been one of unremitting efforts by the people to regain their right to freely assemble, to demonstrate in protest against state agencies that violate their rights by providing immunity for state agents who have committed crimes (up to
and including murder), to have all political prisoners freed, to force the tyrannical governor to resign or be deposed, and so on. Where I was mistaken above was in my belief that it would take a PRD electoral victory to gain “an initial opening of space for the popular movement.” How I underestimated the Oaxacan peoples! They are prying open that space themselves and forcing the governments to retreat. They are doing this independently of the electoral process in a
most remarkable way.
The popular movement has been able to reassert the right of the people to freely assemble and to organize in the context of state and federal goverments afraid to again employ massive armed force against them. In the consciousness of many Mexicans the
illegitimacy of the entire political process and the state apparatus was
greatly increased by four acts of massive repression in 2006:
1) On 20 April 2006 1,000 federal and state police backed up by Mexican military troops stormed the giant SICARTSA steel mill complex in the Pacific coast port of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, the largest wire rod and steel bar maker in Latin America, intent on breaking a three week strike by the Miners and Metalworkers Union (SMTMMSRM), killing two workers, wounding 73, and arresting 13.
2) On 3 and 4 May 2006 in the town of Atenco in the State of Mexico federal state and local police and
military launched an unprecedented savage attack against the civilian population. The International Civil Commission for Human Rights Observation report demonstrates the premeditated and organized character of the rapes, the beatings, the humiliations, the raids without warrants carried out by the federal and state police. It proves the existence of a will to intimidate, demoralize, and tear apart a Mexican town as an example, as vengeance, and as a norm for the future.
3) On 14 June 2006 in Oaxaca City state and municipal police units, as many as 3,000 launched a violent early
morning attack on education workers and their supporters sleeping in the zócalo and surrounding area, temporarily driving them from their encampment with heavy use of tear gas, beatings, arrests. The people succeeded in driving the police out; the citizenry reacted with outrage; this gave immediate rise to formation of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (the APPO in its Spanish initials)., , , 
4) On the night of 25-26 November 2006 in Oaxaca City the militarized Federal Preventive Police and state police units carried out a savage assault against the civilian population with massive arrests, beatings, torture, and imprisonment in remote prisons far from Oaxaca.
Because everyone knows how precarious is
the hold of the federal and state governments on the Mexican population, the level of overt repression in Oaxaca City has dwindled to the point that
people who were terrified immediately after 25-26 November 2006 are freely moving around and taking part in a multitude of public events. The Oaxaca part of the education workers union, Section 22, astutely modified its tactics, negotiating with the state government to insure there would be no violence against its marches and demonstrations, in return for which they would not carry out permanent blockades or occupations that would seriously interfere with the commercial and ordinary life of the citizens. Along with such actions by the various unions that were part of or aligned with the APPO a surge of conferences and meetings by groups of the civil society occurred, and is continuing, in which issues such as community radio, citizen instead of government control of the
state TV and radio stations, citizen input on development projects such as
potable water systems, sewage systems, ecological concerns, governmental structure, etc. are all on the table as legitimate issues for the ordinary citizenry to deal with. These meetings are largely but by no means exclusively the domain of intellectuals with middle-class status. They do not directly challenge state authority with the kind of organized muscle the unions deploy when roads are blocked, or marches or occupations of government buildings take place. Nevertheless they keep the spaces for public discourse open, maintain the legitimacy of the struggle, and stimulate the citizens to think about the issues beyond the
simple removal of the hated governor, URO.
The basic problems of Oaxacan society have not been addressed, and cannot be within the context of the capitalist-dominated economy. The gulf between the majority of poor or
impoverished and the well-to-do or very wealthy is growing, and the
people are angry. In this climate, as the state backed away from trying to keep total control of the symbolic central spaces in the city, the citizens
gradually realized their growing strength. The last arrest/kidnapping of an APPO activist in the city occurred on 14 April 2007 in Llano Park when David Venegas Reyes was illegally seized by a group of so-called Auxiliary Bank, Industrial and Commercial Police, Policia Auxiliar, Bancaria, Industrial y Comercial (PABIC), who are not government employees, but private operatives. They lied about where and why David was seized. Of course these privately paid armed and
uniformed goons work hand-in-glove with the state’s own goon unit, the so-called Preventive Police. That was almost three months ago. David is still imprisoned by a state that I believe is not happy to be
holding him, but has so far been unable, according to his sister, to get him to negotiate his release by accepting any conditions the government would like to impose.
On 23 January 2007 a small but spirited group of perhaps 200 or so people chanted its boisterous way south on Tinoco y Palacios street past our corner. A one-way street for southbound vehicles where the traffic normally rockets down, it was temporarily blocked by the parade, escorted by a single transit police vehicle and officer. There seemed to be no end of marches, one day students, another day health workers, and so on, with increasing size and frequency.
On 3 February 2007 the APPO and other
popular groups held the Ninth MegaMarch, not Mega in the sense of
hundreds of thousands as were the marches before the 25-26 assault by the PFP and state forces, but large enough to show the movement was alive. Nancy Davies estimated about 30,000. The teachers’ assembly of Section 22, meeting the day before, declared its full support for the APPO, repudiating the earlier unauthorized statement of its ‘leader’ that ‘his’ union would no longer take part in the APPO activities. URO, showing who ‘owned’ the territory, had the entire zócalo
sealed off with his troops and their attack dogs and fire trucks inside,
surrounded with heavy steel barricades and razor-wire coils. In an
especially ugly threat of force, police with barbed-wire-wrapped billy clubs were prominent.
Again for the Tenth MegaMarch on 8 March
2007, International Women’s Day, URO guarded ‘his’ zocalo with the same show of readiness to use ruthless force to prevent the popular movement from reoccupying it, if any such idea.was in the participants’ minds. Next day’s Noticias featured a huge front-page photo of the march with the title The Popular Movement Shows its Muscle, and a caption saying thousands and thousands of militants and sympathizers participated. The people were coming back.
On 6 April a tiny group (eight men, seven
women, two children) from the remote town of Loxicha, relatives of men
imprisoned for years, were blocked by fifty police from entering the
zócalo with their small protest signs demanding freedom for their men.
On 14 April David Venegas Reyes was kidnapped in Llano Park by private police (see above).
On 25 April at a meeting of over 2,000
members of the Union of Office Workers and Administrators, enraged over the change in the federal social security law, chairs and fists flew and the furious burócratas headed for the nearby zócalo. Since no APPO action was scheduled, the few surprised police were shoved aside, the usual minor barricades knocked down and the zócalo invaded by citizens. It was the first time in five months that citizens broke through a police barricade since the major aggression of 25 November 2006. And the first time in six months since 29 October 2006, when the PFP occupied the zócalo, that citizens mounted a
protest in that symbolic space-turned-state-fortress, and hung their protest banners from the central kiosk.
May was another month of meetings,
mobilizations and actions. From the newspaper Noticias, here’s a thin sample, only one item from each of the first few days of the month, reported the day following the event. My remarks are in square brackets [...]:
1st of May, The State Coordinating Committee of Students of the APPO reoccupied the University radio station in order to give coverage of the protests of the educational workers and popular movement.
2nd of May, Thousands [of union workers] march to the Zócalo [May Day, the real Labor Day]. 80,000 say organizers, 15,000 say police. [No uniformed police presence. After the event, in which all the by-now-familiar demands were vigorously repeated, the
demonstrators left peacefully.] I would call that the Eleventh
3rd of May, Blockades and barricades against the Social Security Law. Professors of Section 22, backed by the APPO, yesterday “took” some 48 public offices of the federal and state
governments, as well as blocking highways and installing barricades in the main avenues of the city.
4th of May, The Secretary of Government recognizes that conflicts persist in 188 schools, of which 98 are qualified as “dangerous hot spots” (focos rojos) and therefore, due to the level of conflict, deserve priority attention.
And so it went, day after day. On the 31st of May Noticias reported that the regional commander here in Oaxaca of the Federal Agency of Investigation was shot the night before when he left the state office of the Federal Attorney General at 7:20 pm. He was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery, about nine and a half miles from Oaxaca City. By the end of May the re-emergence of citizen ‘control’ of the city, i.e. the inability of the state government to prevent use of public spaces by citizens, was already clear. The APPO and the teachers’ union and other groups in the popular movement planned symbolic barricades and occupation of the
zócalo on 14 June, the first anniversary of the initial attack by state forces one year earlier. The popular movement was feeling its muscle.
14 June, the big day came. As announced,
the popular movement mounted its symbolic barricades around the city
and occupied the zócalo with a symbolic plantön (encampment). No uniformed armed police of any of the zillions of varieties of police units to be seen. Vendors again appeared in good numbers. By nightfall the symbolic barricades were gone and the zócalo again ‘normal’ with a few police reappearing ‘to safeguard the security of the people’. But the dam was breached by the movement’s sense of growing force, and during the month following, the Alameda Park in front (west side) of the Cathedral and the plaza and zöcalo on its south side became more and more the people’s place. Teachers, members
of the APPO, and of other allied groups came daily, set up their tarpaulins with all their propaganda materials on display, crowds endlessly watched the videos with all the sound and fury of the days of the big battles, and it was a series of field days for the small vendors, selling again, as it was before the PFP captured the zócalo at the end of October 2006. It became both an ongoing festival and an area for serious work as teachers began classes for students studying to be teachers under the portico of the now-locked former government palace. One of the teachers explained to me how important it was to educate the young people so that they can understand the world, while I nodded my total
Today is Friday, 13 July. I don’t buy
into that Friday-the-13th nonsense, but this weekend is one of high drama and danger. The teachers and the APPO have declared their intent to mount, as they did a year ago, a free popular Guelaguetza. This people’s event will be for three days, starting tomorrow afternoon, the first two days with ceremonies at the plaza of the Carmen Alto Church followed each day by marches to the zócalo, and to culminate on Monday with a march of several kilometers from a monument near where the PFP invaded the city last October up to the Guelaguetza stadium on Fortin Hill, where an all-day festival of traditional folk dance and music is planned. Moreover, the popular movement has called for a boycott of the government’s ‘official’ Guelaguetza one week later, and indicated it may try to prevent it from taking place. Yesterday afternoon I counted seventeen of the
state’s police on the plaza at the entrance to the stadium, and many, many more on the road that climbs around the stadium and goes up to the summit of the hill where the planetarium and the observatory are situated. They were there, they said, to protect the stadium. Pickups with uniformed police, some with heavy duty automatic weapons, populated the road. And on the other side of the stadium on the stairs (no road on that side) I saw other police surveying the scene below. I am afraid there may be deliberate provocations intended to give the state a pretext to once again try to clamp down on the movement. I’m enough of a conspiracy theorist to question the story about the supposed resurgence of the Popular Revolutionary Army (Ejército Popular Revolucionario, EPR) given much publicity the last few days. The dramatic explosions at national petroleum and gas facilities on 5 and 10 July, and the immediate ‘news’ that the EPR was
responsible reminded me of “Remember the Maine” (the trigger for the Spanish American War in 1898) and of Pearl Harbor in 1941, when President Roosevelt, eager to get the U.S. into World War II, withheld information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the U.S. naval and military commanding officers at Pearl Harbor, that a major Japanese naval force was approaching. It only ‘cost’
the U.S. 2,403 dead, and served ‘the greater national good’. I would not put it past the fascists in charge of the Oaxaca, Mexico and U.S. governments to arrange for some police to be assassinated in the next few days. So I worry. A potentially dangerous week coming up. Stay tuned to Oaxaca if you can And don’t lose hope.
 Oaxaca, the Great Mexican Social Volcano Rumbles, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2007-01-31P.htm .
 SICARTSA strike, reported
by John Ross at http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1746.html.
 Atenco attack on 3 and 4 May 2006, reported by Adolfo Gilly at http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article1938.html .
 14 June 2006 Oaxaca attack, reported by Geoffrey Harmon at http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1896.html.
 14 June 2006 Oaxaca attack, reported by Nancy Davies at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/story/2006/6/14/185948/465 .
 14 June 2006 Oaxaca attack, reported by James Daria and Dul
Santamaría at http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1898.html.
 14 June 2006 Oaxaca attack, reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1903.html .
 25-26 2006 Oaxaca attack by PFP,
reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue43/article2390.html .
February 2007 Ninth MegaMarch, reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue44/article2526.html .
 Tenth MegaMarch on 8 March 2007, reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue45/article2583.html .
 Tiny Loxicha demonstration blocked from zöcalo on 6 April 2007, reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue45/article2620.html .
 David Venegas Reyes kidnapped on 14 April 2007, reported by Nancy
Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue45/article2627.html .
 25 April 2007 First breaking of police blockade and entry to zócalo since 29 October 2006 PFP invasion, reported by Nancy Davies at http://www.narconews.com/Issue45/article2643.html .
Science and Genetically Modified Crops
Contamination of Native Races of Mexican Corn
The following part of this posting is drastically different from its original form. I had attended a conference Friday afternoon the 13th, on Native Races of Corn and Transgenic Contamination (Los Maices Criollos y la Contaminación Transgénica). Because of my very poor comprehension of spoken Spanish I misunderstood the major presentation, misinterpreting Dr. Daniela Soleri’s talk as affirming the claimed absence of significant transgenic contamination in Oaxaca reported in a research paper by Dr. Ortiz-Garcia et al. The next day, the 14th, I distributed an e-mail in which, because of my total misinterpretation, I was appallingly disparaging of Dr. Soleri and of the conference she had organized. On Tuesday the 17th Jodie Randall <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote me, in part,
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2007 18:53:15 -0500 (CDT)
“You had better bone up on your Spanish because you got the whole point of Daniela Soleri's talk a--backwards. What she was saying was that Ortíz et al. were using “science” to “refute” Chapela and Quist’s very valid findings. She was referring to the limitations of “science”. . . .
“So, instead of taking an I-know-it-all attitude, start really listening to what people say, EVEN if it is in Spanish. Then report it.”
I wrote Dr. Soleri at once,
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2007 22:29:53 -0500
I attended your talk last Friday and apparently, due to my poor understanding of Spanish, misunderstood the thrust of what you were saying, as the attached correspondence shows. If that is so, which at the moment I have no reason to doubt, then I owe you a serious apology, and I will publicize a correction of the note I sent out on my e-mail list, as well as an apology for the misrepresentation of your talk.
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2007 21:41:13 -0700
“I do not seem to have received a copy of your original comments on my talk, please send them to me so that I know what people will be reacting to if I hear from them. Jodie kindly tried to explain the gist of my talk to you, but perhaps incompletely. As an academic you too should know that things are often not as simple as a conspiracy. Please do read some of our published pieces to better inform yourself. I appreciate the efforts you and Nancy Davies are making to keep your readers informed and I too have benefited from these notes, but oversimplification and easy finger pointing --if this is indeed the case and what I understood to be the basis of your question on Friday--is not a solution to these or any other problems. As in all things, agriculture and research about it in Oaxaca is complex; you might be surprised to know that many many farmers are open to transgenic technology per se, though not to many of the potential consequences it may have. Criollo maize is much appreciated and enjoyed, but there is little romantic or glamorous about rural Mexican life, especially in places like Oaxaca. People are anxiously and understandably looking for improvements and change. We outsiders must be very careful not to wish words into people's mouths, doing so robs them of their own voice and prevents us from learning and understanding by listening to them. I hope to hear more from you and that you will inform your maize mailing list of these exchanges so that my presentation and that of Flavio and Humberto will not be misrepresented. You should also know that they were specifically invited by me to participate; we have been colleagues working together off and on for over ten years and if you carefully review 'my' publications you will see that Flavio and I have co-authored, along with others--quite a bit. I was invited to report on a published paper we wrote refuting Ortiz-Garcia et al's findings. I requested that Flavio and Humberto also be invited to talk about their own work with Oaxacan maize.
“I look forward to receiving copies of all of your posted commentaries on the evening's presentations.”
After receiving the original e-mail I had distributed on the 14th, she wrote,
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 10:01:07 -0700
Apology and further considerations
“This is indeed an unfortunate situation, you have clearly completely misunderstood the points that I, Flavio and Humberto were trying to communicate and the work that all of us and our colleagues have been pursuing for many many years. I realize that there are some more urgent events unfolding in Oaxaca right now, however I urge you to send out a message to all of the lists and individual recipients who received your first postings as soon as possible to correct the misunderstandings evident in your original postings. To help you better understand I am attaching our article analyzing (and refuting) Ortiz-Garcia et al.’s original interpretation  of their data—this was the subject of the talk you attended—, and another paper we (myself, DA Cleveland and Flavio) published in BioScience, [and] a letter about this from O-G et al and our response. Further, you do not seem to have understood that Flavio has been working for over 15 years collecting, evaluating and improving Oaxacan maize landraces to meet the needs of Oaxacan farmers, work that Humberto is now deeply involved in as well, and Flavio has a new book cataloging the races of maize in Oaxaca which he has been invited to inaugurate at the Jardin. Both Flavio and Humberto spoke eloquently and clearly about the value and significance of local (criollo) maize and the many ways in which the public could assist in the conservation and support of this resource with so much local and global significance. As I reiterated in my presentation, I do believe that science can be a very valuable tool if done well and if we are prepared to examine our own assumptions and those of others; we can disagree about the methodology used to collect and analyze scientific data, and the interpretations that this leads to based on scientific theory and knowledge, which is what we have done with the Ortiz-Garcia et al paper; we can also disagree solely with interpretations of scientific findings or what those imply for society, and that is fine and based on our values. Thinking that science belongs to one perspective or faction in a discussion and not to another is a grave mistake.”
It is unambiguously clear that I acted in a totally unacceptable manner. I apologize to Dr. Daniela Soleri and her fellow researchers Flavio Aragón Cuevas and Humberto Castro Carcía who participated in the conference, and to everyone who read my shamefully misleading account of the seminar and Dr. Soleri’s presentation.
With that said, and my belated recognition that the scientific work Soleri and her colleagues chose to pursue stems from much the same social motivation that guides me, there nevertheless remain some questions that deserve consideration.