Oaxaca City, a ‘dangerous destination’
‘in the grip of anarchy’

by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>

17 September 2006

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-17.htm

      Every day I get letters from folks who had been contemplating a visit to this wonderful city, fearful now of the supposed danger in which such a visit would place them. Here’s one that came yesterday:

Subject: questions about oaxaca?
From: Eric Sloan <sloachom@aol.com>
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 16:25:31 -0400
To: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>


Hi my name is Eric Sloan and I am currently in Acapulco waiting for a bus to Puerto Escondido. I will be studying Spanish. Anyway enough about me. My question is about Oaxaca City. I understand what is going on there but I was wondering about safety for a gringo or for that fact anyone else in the city. I was going to also study in Oaxaca city but due to the actions I have changed my mind. I have heard the city is beautiful and the cultural center of Mexico. Is it true that the city is on the verge of anarchy without a force to hold down common street thugs? I was just wondering from someone who is well informed. Let me know what you think. You can e mail me at sloachom@aol.com


--------I wrote back--------

Subject: Re: questions about oaxaca?
From: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 16:09:21 -0500
To: Eric Sloan <sloachom@aol.com>

Oaxaca, Saturday 16 September 2006

Eric, I wrote the following a week ago. I stand by it today. There is absolutely nothing to fear, I am confident. What follows is part of a posting to my website, which is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-09.htm .
Sincerely, and best wishes,
Subject: Building a Oaxaca information and solidarity communication network
From: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>
Date: Saturday, 9 Sep 2006 04:16:59 -0500
To: undisclosed-recipients:


      I have had a flood of mail which, in addition to comments, contains requests for information about . . .

What is going on? Why the panic?

      Not much mystery. The U.S. and Canadian governments have issued travelers warnings advising against coming to Oaxaca City because of the supposed danger. And the commercial media in these countries, and in European countries as well, have dramatized to fearful proportions an amazingly peaceful struggle that began as a 26-year-old ritualized mid-May strike and occupation of the city center by state education workers. On June 14 the governor sent state police to attack and drive the campers (primarily teachers) out of the city center, an attack that failed. The angry citizens of the state responded by forming a massive civic organization and mounting huge protest marches, demanding removal of the governor and replacement of the political structure running the state by a system of popular assemblies, similar to traditional indigenous customs of self government. An account of the first three and a half months of the struggle is in a paper, “Incipient Revolution in Oaxaca”, at
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-08-29.htm, first published in a text-only version titled “From Teachers’ Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca”, at http://www.counterpunch.org/salzman08302006.html .

      The newly-constituted civic organization leading the struggle is the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO). Despite its absolute commitment to militant non-violent civil disobedience as its mode of struggle, the governments and corporate media have consistently depicted the conflict as a violent, almost on-going riot led by APPO and supposed armed revolutionary groups that associate themselves with APPO. I believe that the nature of the rebellion does in fact pose a potential threat to the entire neo-liberal project of U.S.-led trans-national capitalism in the Americas. That explains, I think, the ferocity of the lying misrepresentation being consistently promoted by the governments and their closely-allied corporate media. They are doing their utmost to prepare public support for an eventual military crackdown to smash the Oaxaca revolt.

      In contrast to their frightening depiction of conditions in Oaxaca City, the situation is one of hopefulness, hope that the ruling PRI/PAN alliance in Mexico City will not carry out a bloody suppression here and that somehow a peaceful way will be found to resolve the conflict. At this time I think it’s accurate to say that the so-called constitutional government of Oaxaca has completely lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of Oaxaqueños who are at all politically aware. And, that much the same is true for the national government of Mexico, as is to a considerable extent also the case for the U.S. government in the eyes of its citizens. It appears that the Oaxaca government was told by the federal government to stop its clandestine terrorist night-time attacks some three or four weeks ago. Since that time the nights have been quiet and the total known deaths (all caused by government agents and their hired thugs) has not gone above the previous five or six. So far as I know, not a single foreigner has been even so much as hurt or threatened.

The last couple of days, a reign of ‘anarchist-inspired terror’?

      Two nights ago, on 15 September, Mexicans celebrated The Cry of Hidalgo, an event that took place in the early morning of 16 September 1810, signalling the start of the armed struggle for independence. Here in Oaxaca APPO did not allow the governor to make the customary cry from the balcony of the government palace, in fact they had ordered him to leave the state of Oaxaca some days before, and the ceremonial “Cry” was given by the popularly-chosen mayor of the town of Zaachila, one of the numerous defiant towns in Oaxaca that has acted to replace the so-called constitutional town government. There were some tourists in the Zócalo that night, not many. I took a few pictures of the prevailing state of ‘anarchy’ in the heart of this city shortly before the anticipated ceremony, and a few more the next day, when the festivities continued. Here's a sample.

Two young female anarchists enjoying the lack of state-enforced ‘law and order’ in the Zócalo of Oaxaca City shortly before the celebrated “Cry of Independence” of Mexico. Photo, 2006-09-15, by G.S. No rights reserved.

A native Oaxaqueño who doesn’t appear cognizant of the dangerous environment into which he has brought his young daughter, just so that he could witness the celebration of Mexican Independence and his still-innocent child could be indoctrinated to appreciate the joys of nationalism. Photo, 2006-09-15, by G.S. No rights reserved.

Crowd in the Oaxaca Zócalo attracted by a peformance of traditional dances from various ethnic groups in Oaxaca and from other states. The performance platform was set up at the south end of the Zocalo in front of the government palace. Photo, 2006-09-16, by G.S. No rights reserved.

Calle Porfirio Díaz at corner of Carranza, looking north. Banner reads: Vecinos de este barrio organizados contra la delincuencia, Neighbors of this section organized against crime. This was in response to APPO’s request that citizens take responsibility for neighborhood security, in the absence of "official" police. Photo, 2006-09-16, by G.S. No rights reserved.

      So, if you’re one of those potential visitors who has been frightened into cancelling your trip, I understand why, and how effective propaganda can be in instilling fear. It’s well to have in mind that in all likelihood the concerted effort to prevent tourism in Oaxaca right now has nothing to do with your personal security, but everything to do with the big capitalists and their agents both in and out of governments trying to starve the movement headed by APPO into subservience and surrender. You can help the struggle for human dignity here in one of the poorest states of Mexico simply by coming to visit as a tourist, because tourism has been a crucial part of the state’s economy, and you can do so at no more personal risk than visiting, for example, Boston.

All comments and criticisms are welcome.    <george.salzman@umb.edu>

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Last update of this page: 17 Sept 2006