Anonymity, a cloak for cowardice
and treachery in Oaxaca

 
by George Salzman   <george.salzman@umb.edu>
2 January 2007

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2007-01-02.htm

      Nancy and I have been struck, and humbled, again and again, by the sheer courage of many of the people here in Oaxaca City. Coming, as we do, from middle-class American backgrounds, it's been shocking to meet people who see themsleves up against an insufferable, brutal government — the Oaxaca State government — backed up by an equally brutal federal government, but who refuse to succumb to the terror campaign designed to force them to abandon their struggle for justice and lives with dignity.

      My next-to-last posting to this website was a report by Nancy Davies about the eighth so-called mega-march [1] held on 10 December by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish acronym). In this picture you can see some of the thousands of brave, determined Oaxaqueño people, some

Eighth mega-march going east on Calzada Madero

Photo in La Jornada, by Blanca Hernández.

of whom had arrest warrants outstanding against them. But in spite of the state's threats, and the fact that hundreds of their fellow demonstrators had, in the past two weeks, been arrested, kidnapped, jailed, beaten, raped, tortured, disappeared, and killed, they marched, boisterously and defiantly with their faces uncovered. Talk about having balls!

Anonymous Oaxaqueños without balls
attack the Oaxaca Study-Action Group

      As in every population, so too in Oaxaca. Some have ‘em, some don’t. I seem to have come into contact, anonymously, with a number of those who don’t. So far as I can tell, this is a result of 1) my participation in the Oaxaca Study-Action Group (OSAG), a group Tonee Mello and I started in December 2005, and 2) the governments' campaign of terror against those Oaxaqueños who are involved in and/or supportive of the Oaxaca part (Section 22) of the National Education Workers Union and/or the APPO.

Incident 1. OSAG, after meeting weekly since December 2005 in the Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL), where it had been welcomed, was suddenly, on 12 September 2006, notified that a public meeting with an invited speaker (the 4th such event), scheduled and advertised for the following day, would not be allowed in the OLL.[2] Then, on 18 September OSAG was told it could not continue holding its regular meetings at the OLL.[3] The abrupt expulsion was explained as a result of various anonymous e-mails sent to OLL board members. These e-mails falsely alleged illegal actions by OSAG. As I wrote in a report, “The Oaxaca U.S. Consular Agent was also involved, in a highly questionable role.” [4]

Incident 2. Following that expulsion the group continued meeting, first in a restaurant and then for some weeks at the Welty Institute, a research library. Prior to meeting at Welty, its board members were apprised by Ronald Waterbury, the Board Secretary, of the circumstances of OSAG's expulsion from the OLL. He said the Board agreed unanimously that OSAG could meet at Welty. However, OSAG meetings have always been publicly announced and open to anyone who wished to attend, and within a few weeks anonymous letters to the Welty Board caused it to reverse its earlier position and banish OSAG.

Event 3. The last meeting at Welty was on 21 November 2006. A meeting scheduled for 28 November was cancelled immediately after Welty’s capitualtion to the implied threats in the anonymous letters. At that point the Oaxaca participants of OSAG simply stopped meeting. The main function of the group was being carried out on the internet via a Yahoo discussion listserv with a substantial international reach.[5] The meetings in Oaxaca had been useful in fostering new contacts among people living here, some of them only visiting for limited periods, but who kept in touch after leaving. The meetings contributed to the initial growth in participation, particularly during the six and one-half month period from late December 2005 until 13 July 2006, when the discussion listserv was started. But they were no longer necessary, or, as it turned out, desirable.

Openness or clandestinity?

      How come? Why no longer desirable? My gut reaction to anonymity has always been a preference to avoid it. Why should any decent person hide his or her identity or activities? It was in this spirit, at least on my part, that Tonee Mello and I began the OSAG, fully five months before the Oaxaca state education workers started their strike. Not only were the OSAG weekly meetings wide open – whoever wished to participate was welcomed, but we kept minutes of each meeting, copies of which were available in a notebook openly available and prominantly located at the entrance to the OLL. Initially, along with a list of attendees in the minutes, we included e-mail addresses, so that individuals could easily contact one another. However, some folks preferred not to have their e-mail addresses so public, and we accommodated them.

      Soon after OSAG meetings were banned from the Welty Institute on 27 November, which was at the height of the governments’ savage repression in their until-now futile efforts to crush the APPO and the rest of the popular movement, OSAG was targeted by yet another anonymous attack. On 30 November a clandestine website evidently maintained by a Ulises-aligned PRI group [6] posted a vicious supposed exposé of OSAG. Its main thrust was the false claim that OSAG consisted of foreigners who came to Oaxaca to support APPO in order to subvert the Oaxaca and Mexican governments. It named ten individuals who have posted comments to the OSAG discussion listserv, some not in Oaxaca or even in Mexico, and called for our arrest and persecution — oops!, that should be prosecution — for crimes against the soverignty of Mexico, urging that we be deported to our countries of origin.

      I became aware of this call for my prosecution, thanks to an e-mail from a friend, on 31 December after returning from a brief vacation. At first it troubled me. Of the ten OSAG foreigners explicitly listed, the accusatory text cited me eight times, each of the others but once. I was seen as the principal target. My immediate impulse was to post the threatening item to the OSAG listserv and to my website. Make it as public as possible. Certainly people in OSAG ought to know about it, and I thought the best protection I could have was to continue being completely open. Theoretically I still think that’s correct. However there are several practical considerations that make me think a different course is probably preferable.

1. If I post the accusatory item, that publicizes the other nine accused people's names. Although my preference was always against anonymous postings on the OSAG listserv, others chose not to identify themselves. Some of the accused people may have used pseudonyms, which is equivalent to choosing anonymity. They might think it best not to draw unnecessary attention to the accusatory item pointing at their supposed “guilt”..

2. The accusations appear on an apparently obscure and barely noted website. Google searches yielded (5 January 2006) the following figures:
    The clandestine PRI site: 89
    Oaxaca Study Action Group 15,000
    Narco News: 300,000
    Counterpunch: 1,250,000
    George Salzman: 44,500
    Nancy Davies: 52,200
It thus seems to me best, at the moment, to leave the PRI site’s obscurity undisturbed.

3. By not posting the accusatory item now, the possibility of doing so later remains, if circumstances change. I prepared a tentative post, with the full original text and my translation into English, which I can put up in a moment if the attack becomes serious.

A warning from an anarchist friend in France

      In a note to the OSAG listserv,[7] I wrote in part,
      . . . I think it preferable to be open about who we are.

      The issue of anonymous actors is on my mind because of recent attacks on a number of members of OSAG and on the group itself, which resulted in the group being suddenly barred from the Oaxaca Lending Library. The author(s) of the anonymous e-mails that initiated our expulsion were cowardly, as were the precipitate actions of the OLL manager and Board President. I posted several items with an account of these unseemly actions. ...
[The three items are those in [2], [3], and [4].]
      Obviously there are some people who would be at serious risk if their identity were known. And there are many who simply follow the trend of adopting a quirky name for their e-mail. But there are also the cowards who want to damage other folks anonymously. The problem is how to deal with this latter group, among whom are likely a fair number of psychologically distrubed individuals. My preference, and I know it's ‘old-fashioned’, would be for as many of us as possible to use our real names.


      I also sent a note, which contained the above text, to my ‘large’ e-mail distribution list that day. From a long-time friend in France the next day,[8]


George, YOU may use your real name, because as a citizen of the US you MAY PERHAPS have some protection. But you must take into account the power relations: see how previous police repressions have proceeded ruthlessly. IT’S SO EASY TO HAVE LEADERS SIMPLY DISAPPEAR FOR EVER.

      I totally agree that the issue of mutual trust is absolutely essential, and this generally works best when people work in affinity groups: then the movement is a collection of affinity groups that join or not according to how they feel.

      And mutual trust is essential when there really is a MOVEMENT. Because it goes through phases of stabilization and often ends in such a phase when “leaders” start negotiating with authorities instead of having the movement relying on itself for the future.


NOTES
[1] Nancy Davies’ report on the eighth mega-march of APPO, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-12-11.htm .

[2] Cancellation of advertised public event at OLL with invited speaker, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-18.htm .

[3] Cancellation of regular weekly OSAG meetings at the OLL, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-19.htm .

[4] Anonymous e-mails cited as grounds for expulsion, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-28.htm .

[5] The Oaxaca study-Action Group website, a Yahoo listserv for the OSAG discussion list, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oaxacastudyactiongroup/ .
To subscribe write to oaxacastudyactiongroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.com .

[6] A Ulises-aligned PRI group. I use this description because I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are, among those who think of themselves as pro-PRI or nominal PRI supporters, many individuals who, for historic reasons, find their immediate interests better served by adhering to PRI dictates than by placing themselves in the opposition. We ought to avoid the practice of labeling people, and, once labelled, thinking of them, for political purposes, as indistinguishable. In particular, I’m certain there are many good and decent people nominally ‘in the PRI camp’ who don’t approve of the terrorist and murderous activities of Ulises’ police-goons and porros.

[7] OSAG listserv post #875, 6 Oct 2006, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oaxacastudyactiongroup/message/875 .

[8] A note of caution. From Ronald Creagh <ronald.creagh@wanadoo.fr>, a scholar and author, among whose extensive bibliography is Histoire de l’anarchisme aux États-Unis. It's surely good advice.


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

If you want me to add or remove your name from my ‘large’
e-mail distribution list, please let me know.

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