From the mountain communities in
the northern Sierras of Oaxaca

13 Nov 2006

by Aldo González Rojas  <>
translation by G.S.  <>

this page is at

original (en español) in the 13 November 2006 issue of La Jornada
in the monthly supplementary section, Ojarasca, available at

This article, written six months into the now-very-dangerous social conflict that began in the state of Oaxaca, presupposes the reader’s familiarity with a good deal that has happened. I included, in square brackets, a few English equivalents for unfamiliar terms. For an introduction to the general situation up until a month ago, the following (among the many available articles) may be helpful: and .

In the Oaxacan conflict the popular shout is:

“We don’t need Ulises in order to live”

      Oaxaca, the state of the Mexican republic with about 70 per cent of its inhabitants claiming they belong to one or another indigenous people (of the 16 that exist there), is convulsed by the stupidity of an incompetent governor who persists in power despite being generally repudiated.

      The indigenous communities and peoples of Oaxaca have borne centuries of oppression, not without resorting at various moments of their history to uprisings to show they were fed up and to make demands. In the last century the system of caciques [local political bosses] imposed in Oaxaca with the triumph of the Mexican Revolution based its continuation on political control of the population (initially rural for the most part and little by little displaced to the cities), using various mechanisms of manipulation or unquestionable repression in order to silence social protest. This cacique system exhausted its possibilities for subjugation June 14, 2006 in the repression of the teachers of Section 22 [the Oaxaca part of the national union of education workers].

      During the last 26 years the Oaxacan educators carried out various mobilizations to demand, above all, their wage claims (it is the largest democratic organization in Oaxaca, with some 70 thousand union members). That they be repressed provoked popular anger – because if they could suppress in that way the largest organization, what would happen with much smaller otganizations or with the communities?

      In brief, the people didn’t want to wait for a response. They first demonstrated their active solidarity with the teachers’ movement and then began to organize to put forth their own demands.

      In mid-June the social organizations with most experience in struggling formed the Popular Assemby of the People of Oaxaca, which was then named the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). In the name the existence of many peoples is implicitly recognized, although in the discussions of APPO at the beginning, there was no explicit recognition of the demands of those peoples.

      The communities of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, depending on their level of information and organization, began little by little to demonstrate their solidarity with the movement. First towards the teachers, since the majority of them are of indigenous extraction, and then with their compatriots who live in the popular sections of Oaxaca and who had heroically defended their barricades.

      In the face of the difficulty of participating in the plantón [the encampment in the center of Oaxaca City], in the communities of the Sierra Juárez and other regions of the state they began to assemble provisions in order to send them to the city. The women, taking joint responsibility as is the custom, made tortillas, totopos, chintextle and other products for the demonstrators. They collected small amounts of money that would be of use. That included children who organized to bring their savings. Other children who didn’t have savings collected bags of rocks to send to their teachers, so that they might defend themselves from the police.

      Some indigenous communities and organizations participated in the third and fourth megamarches that took place at the end of the month of June, to be in solidarity with the movement, and made use of the moment to deliver the collected supplies. Some of these communities and organizations joined the plantón, with their own demands or for solidarity and with the hope of contributing to a change with justice.

      In August, in the framework of the Forum Constructing Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca, the indigenous discourse began to be visible in the press. At the same time, in the indigenous communities communal assemblies were held, stimulated by teachers, organizations and, by their own account, in order to demonstrate the position of the communities through public pronouncements.

      At the end of August and the beginning of September, the appearance of a supposed guerrilla group in the Sierra Juárez and the subsequent occupation of particular Zapotec and Mixe communities by military detachments coming from the state of Veracruz provoked the repudiation by the communities of the government of Ulises Ruiz and the demand for the army to leave.

      Today in the mountains of Oaxaca they are discussing what the indigenous proposals are that will be placed on the table, in front of the rest of society and the State. The outstanding demand is for autonomy; the disappearance of government delegations [officials appointed to communities by the state government who exercise power in conflict with communal autonomy]; equitable distribution of reesources (not only in the county seats but also to the municipal agencies and the police); the reactivation of the rural countryside in order to halt the migration that is emptying hundreds of communities; no privatization of water, biodiversity and traditional knowledge; having an education that strengthens cultural identity, including reclaiming it. To attain these demands it will be necessary to change the current indigenous law of Oaxaca and other legal ordinances.

      The entrance of the Federal Preventive Police into Oaxaca stirred indigenous participation. It’s not possible that they could make a people suffer with so much violence. Faced with the possibility that Radio Universidad (the only radio station on the air helping the Oaxaca movement) could be taken off the air by maneuvers of the Secretary of Communication and Transportation, the authorities of the mountain municipalities decided to protect the radio station XEGLO Voice of the Sierra, which makes it possible to get information to the mountain communities and to assemble the Sixth Megamarch convoked by APPO, also to respond to hundreds of people who live in the mountains and to tens of municipal authorities representing their communities, carrying their bastones (batons signifying their leadership positions) and flags, making a new political actor in the Oaxaca movement visible: the indigenous peoples – above all when the teachers begin to return to classes.

      The struggle goes on. The indigenous peoples have other rhythms. They had learned to resist during centuries and they directed their aspirations to the profound transformation of a state that was constructed over them, but without taking into account their long experience of government. For now, they are preparing the Forun of the Indigenous Peoples of Oaxaca that will take place the 28th and 29th of November.

      As a lady of Tepanzacoalco said the day that the march of the serranos (the people who live in the Sierras) went down to Oaxaca at the end of October: “We don’t need Ulises in order to live, we know we can make a fire in the mountains and all we need is our metate and comal (grinding stone and clay dish for “dry-frying”) in order to make our tortillas”. That is to say, the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca know how to be autonomous, they only need that the laws, the institutions and the public policies recognize their right to autonomy.

Aldo González Rojas is a member of the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca

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