Oaxaca, the Great Mexican
Social Volcano Rumbles

31 January 2007

by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2007-01-31.htm

      Nancy Davies and I had been living in Oaxaca City seven and a half years when the uprising began. This several-part essay is an introduction to her book, The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, soon to be published by Narco News Books.[*] Her stream of reports to the Narco News Bulletin during that turbulent period offers a unique running commentary on the initial phase of what is, in my opinion, an historic struggle to change the way Oaxacan society operates. The city is her turf. She knows a fair part of it intimately, and is a keen and biased observer, never neutral in interpreting what she sees.

Part One: A Historical Sketch

19 September 1985: The Mexican volcano
trembles, civil society surges

      The great Mexican volcano, Popocatepetl, its snow-capped upper reaches soaring to almost 18,000 ft above sea level, its huge deep crater encircled by a vast irregular rim, always alive with smoke and steam trailing up into the sky, and at times threatening to erupt, reflects the geophysical seismic activity of this land of many

Popocatépetl, seen from the City of Puebla on 14 November 2006
Published in La Jornada. Photo by Imelda Medina/AP.

mountains. About 45 miles northwest of 'Popo', as it's commonly called, lies Mexico City, the world's most populous metropolis, with about 25 million souls. At 7:19 am local time on 19 September 1985 an earthquake that measured 8.1 on the Richter scale brought unprecedented devastation to the city.[1] A massive self-mobilization of ordinary citizens responded spontaneously to rescue as many as possible of those trapped alive in the wreckage. Many speak of that event, which shook the heart of Mexico, as the beginning of an enormous surge in Mexican civil society. It is that civil society, triggered by the uprising in Oaxaca, that is now making the Mexican state tremble, threatening an eruption from below as the government fast loses its legitimacy in the view of most Mexicans.

      Civil society, as distinct from government- or corporate-based organizations, exists in every modern nation-state. It arises from peoples' efforts to meet needs and desires unfulfilled or thwarted by governments, e.g. the desire to be secure that their human rights will be respected. Every nation with a population divided into a very rich part and an impoverished part, if it is to maintain the privileges of the wealthy, cannot avoid violating the human rights of the poor.

      In Mexico a great deal of poverty exists in Oaxaca State. The violation of human rights by the state is fierce.[2] That is the basis for the remarkable uprising that began in May 2006, which is now pitting the state and federal governments and corporate interests (national and international) against a formidable group of organizations, most of them part of Mexican civil society.

      Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero are the three most impoverished states of Mexico. These contiguous states, among the richest in natural resources, lie along the Pacific coastline in southeastern Mexico. Oaxaca, shown darkened on the map,
is flanked to its east by Chiapas and to its west by Guerrero. Its population (according to the 2005 census more than 3.5 million [3] but perhaps closer to 4 million residents) is unique among Mexican states in that it contains the largest fraction, 2/3, and the largest absolute number of people with indigenous ancestry (the 2005 census indicates that 35.3 percent speak an indigenous language [4] ). Corruption is endemic throughout the world and Mexico is no exception. The most powerful and privileged members of the society are the principal beneficiaries. The overwhelming majority of the indigenous population is among the most impoverished. They have been sympathetic to and inspired by the struggles of indigenous peoples in other parts of Mexico to better their lives, such as the attempts of the Zapatista base support communities in Chiapas that have declared themselves "in rebellion" and asserted their autonomy, in opposition to state and federal efforts to crush their attempted autonomy.

A key player — the powerful Oaxaca Section of the
National Education Workers’ Union

      There are about 70,000 teachers in the state educational institutions, all state employees. About ten per cent of Oaxaqueños live in the capital city, the other ninety percent are in many smaller communities ñ cities, towns, villages and rancherias (tiny groupings of dwellings smaller than villages) ñ throughout the state. Private schools and colleges are primarily in the capital. Most Oaxacan children and parents are thus in closest contact with those teachers who are state employees. These teachers and other education workers belong to the Oaxaca part, Section 22, of the National Education Workers Union (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación – SNTE).

Oaxaca City, the capital of Oaxaca State, sits in the Central Valley between two chains of mountains, indicated by inverted red Vs. The Northern Sierras separate the Central Valley from the lowlands adjacent to Veracruz, and the Southern Sierras separate it from the coastal area along the Pacific. The capital city, with about ten percent of the state's population, is roughly in the center of the state. The "heart" of the city is the famous Zócalo, where the sleeping teachers were first attacked by state forces on 14 June 2006 and ultimately driven out by federal forces on 30 October, three days before the attack on the university. The map full size is available at the website
http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/oaxaca/mapoaxaca.html .

      SNTE is a very large and powerful union, hierarchical in structure, a company union created by the governing party over 70 years ago. From the start it was in bed with that ruling party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (El Partido Revolucionario Institucional –PRI). It remains essentially a government union, although the PRI lost the presidency, for the first time, in 2000. Until recently, the General Secretary of SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was second from the top of the PRI hierarchy, just below Roberto Madrazo, the unsuccessful PRI candidate for president in the 2006 election.

      Among Mexican teachers there is another formation, the National Educational Workers Coordinating Committee (Comité Coordinador Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo – CNTE). In Oaxaca the CNTE, whose members belong to SNTE Section 22, play a leading role in setting Section 22 policy. Section 22 has long been regarded as one of the most militant, independent parts of SNTE. Both designations Sección 22 SNTE and Sección 22 SNTE-CNTE are used interchangably.

      The teachers are considerably better off than the impoverished majority of Oaxaqueños. From the start of their occupation of the city center on May 22, until the attack on their encampment on 14 June, a good many small business people and others in the so-called middle class held mixed views of the teachers' action. Some of them were quite critical. As part of the state's middle class, teachers are, by Oaxaca standards, far from poor. There is thus an economic class-divide between them and most of their students' families. Normally one might expect a lack of sympathy on the part of the mostly poor families for the economically privileged teachers. However, immediately following the police assault support for the teachers surged throughout the state and beyond. Students and their families in particular swarmed to support the teachers.

      This crossing of class lines happened because of the personal bonds between many of the teachers and their pupils. Both groups were victims of institutionalized governmental neglect. The teachers were obliged to accept assignments to remote, impoverished communites. Many of them met their students in makeshift quarters lacking the basic needs of a functional school: shacks without sanitary facilities, blackboards, and so on. Funds allocated to provide help to the poorest pupils, for clothing, meals, paper, pencils, books, disappeared in the corrupt administative chain. This bleeding of educational funds happens because there is no fiscal accountability, i.e. it is not even legally required in Oaxaca to maintain records of appropriations and expenditures. No bookkeeping! Teachers spent part of their pay to help their students. Naturally the union's demands included both increased pay for the teachers, improved physical quarters for the schools and the monetary support for pupils that they were supposed to receive, according to law.

15 May 2006: In a quarter-century tradition, Section 22
of SNTE warns of state-wide strike

      On National Teachers' Day in Oaxaca, 15 May, the already frustrated leadership of Section 22 of SNTE declared that if their negotiations with the state government did not progress, they would initiate a state-wide strike the following week. They were demanding an upgrade in the zonification of Oaxaca, which would increase the federally-designated minimum wage for all state employees in Oaxaca. The rationalization for having lower legal minimum wages in poor states, like Oaxaca, is probably that it's supposedly cheaper to live in a more impoverished region than in one with a higher average income. Such an upgrade of Oaxaca, although it would affect waged workers in Oaxaca who are paid the minimum wage, would not affect the teachers, whose pay is above the minimum. For themselves the teachers demanded a salary increase.

      Negotiations from the 15th to the 22nd between the union and the state, instead of moving towards a compromise agreement, became even more acrimonious. Beginning 22 May, a large group of teachers, other education workers, family members, allied individuals and members of allied organizations, numbering perhaps between 35,000 and 60,000 (hard numbers are impossible to know) from throughout the state occupied the center of Oaxaca City — the large central park (the zócalo) and some fifty-six blocks surrounding it — with their encampment. Local business people like hotel and restaurant owners were by and large critical due to their financial losses caused by the disruption. Quite normal. The ritual of an annual teachers' strike was by now familiar, but never before had it been so massive and so prolonged, and with no end in sight.

      During a period of barely three and a half weeks (22 May to 14 June) the strength of the teachers' opposition to Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz (URO) continued to grow. Additional adherents, nursing their own grievances against the dictatorial regime, joined with the formidable SNTE contingent. Frequent marches, and two mega-marches, the first on 2 June with between 50,000 and 100,000 (the police and SNTE estimates, respectively), and the second on 7 June with 120,000 [5] brought to the city demonstrations of size and vehemence never before seen here. I watched the 7 June march from the parapet on the north side of the Plaza de Danza as endless mockery of Ulises Ruíz paraded past, demanding boisterously that he leave the governorship. Undoubtedly there were state spies in civilian clothes with cameras, cell phones, video cameras and tape recorders, but no one seemed in the least intimidated or cautious. The entire event was permeated with a sense of peoples' power.

14 June 2006: Violent attack by state police, citizens
outraged, surge of support transforms the struggle

      On June 14 state police, under Ulises' orders, unexpectedly carried out a surprise early pre-dawn attack on the sleeping teachers (many of them women with their children), destroying and burning their tents and other camping gear and firing tear gas and bullets, even using a police helicopter that sprayed tear gas on the campers, to drive them out of the city center. This ignited a mass uprising throughout the state and beyond. The teachers fought back, drove out the police after about five hours, recapturing the city center and gaining admiration throughout the state for their gritty, seemingly fearless determination not to be terrorized into submission and to continue facing the risk their defiance entailed.

      In his year and a half in office since 1 December 2004, Ulises had succeeded in generating a reservoir of hatred in the state towards him because of the extremity of his tyrannical rule. This included his overt attempt to destroy the state's largest-circulation daily newspaper,[6] Noticias de Oaxaca, his arbitrary destruction of much-loved parts of the capital city's world-famous cultural patrimony, numerous killings by armed thugs tied to the ruling party in communities struggling against corrupt and oppressive state-appointed municipal administrations. In summary, it was his attempt to rule by excessively overt terror, including kidnappings, imprisonment on baseless charges, torture, and death, and always with impunity for the state agents terrorizing the people, that had turned the population en masse against him.

      Moreover, history was against him. Fresh in peoples' memory was the shockingly brutal, unrelentingly sadistic early May attack in San Salvador Atenco [7] in Mexico State by federal, state and municipal police, and the massive outrage against the authorities then, always with incarceration and worse for the victims, but impunity for the perpetrators. There was a pervasive sense that in such a society, everyone is a "political prisoner unto death". A multitude of civic organizations in and outside of Oaxaca swarmed to declare their solidarity with the teachers. Immediately after the attack the teachers announced, and two days later led a huge march, their third mega-march, with 400,000 according to The Narco News Bulletin,[8] that included many new adherents to the confrontation with state power. They all demanded URO's resignation or forced removal from office.

      The show of strength, solidarity and determination quickly led to formation of a statewide assembly that termed itself the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (La Asemblea Popular del Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO). Though instigated as a result of the teachers' initiative and the ugly state repression, the assembly went much beyond the teachers' original demands, which had been strictly limited to educational matters. Ousting a hated governor had been done before on three occasions in Oaxaca – not trivial, risky of course, but not by itself a revolutionary act.

17 June 2006: First statewide popular assembly held

      In addition to the immediate third mega-march on 16 June (two days after the assault), the rapidly-coalescing but up to then loosely-structured popular movement of teachers and other members of civil society held the first state-wide popular assembly the following day, just three days after the attack of June 14. As Nancy Davies wrote [9] in her report, "Popular Assembly to Oppose the State Government", its initial meeting on June 17 "was attended by 170 people representing 85 organizations." Included, or at least invited, "were all the SNTE delegates, union members, social and political organizations, non-governmental organizations, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca."

      The APPO's deliberately broad representation evidently excluded any explicitly political groups, i.e. it was to be a "non-political" formation, truly a peoples' government. Its intention was to be open to all the citizens of the state. I believe it's important to note that there was no attempt, so far as I know, to exclude wealthy people from the assembly. Naturally, most very rich people who saw their interests served by the URO regime would not want to be involved in an effort to remove him and to change the rest of the governing apparatus, but wealthy mavericks who reject social injustice were apparently welcome. The only absolute requirement for participation was agreement that Ulises must go.

      Among the groups that convoked the initial meeting of the APPO, Section 22 of SNTE-CNTE played a major role. It proposed a core document as the basis upon which the APPO organization would be constituted. The APPO will become (it said) the concrete organized instrument for participation and exercise of citizens' rights by the people. It would be converted into the supreme authority that would function at the state and regional level. This first assembly set the second meeting to be held three days later, 20 June, at which the Popular Assembly would be formally installed, a collective chosen to guide its work, and a plan of action decided upon. The intensity of self-organizing initiatives that the 14 June attack on the teachers' encampment unleashed has continued almost without letup through 2006. The APPO remains, in early 2007, very much at the center of the popular movement, and the educational workers a major part of this determined, militant struggle.

      By mid-October statewide popular assemblies, inspired by the APPO, were reported in eleven other Mexican states, and four popular assemblies (clearly not state-wide) in Chicago, New York, Texas and California. Also reported is a group called National Movement Here We Are (Movimiento Nacional Aquí Estamos – MONAE), with members in at least 23 states who announced their readiness to travel to Oaxaca if necessary to repel aggression and undertake self-defense actions.[10]

The APPO's first tasks: barricades; enforcing
ungovernability; winning hearts and minds

      Flimsy barriers such as those that had not prevented the police assault of 14 June were clearly inadequate. The APPO adherents went about establishing stronger impediments against future invasions. They began commandeering buses, some commercial, as well as police and other government vehicles, using some of them to block access roads to the zócalo and other encampments of the APPO. Other commandeered vehicles they used for transportation.

      The APPO's major strategy for bringing pressure to bear on the government, in order to force either URO's resignation or his legal removal, has been to literally prevent the institutional government from carrying out its functions: legislative, judicial and executive (i.e. administrative). The tactic adopted is what I think deserves to be called aggressive civil disobedience, meaning that the APPO adherents carry out their forceful "illegal" actions as civilians (unarmed, i.e. no firearms). Some of them have poles, iron rods, and even an occasional machete, but these are for self-defense. The culture here is not one of turning the other cheek. They don't sit down and pray if police attempt to beat them. They have blocked highways, occupied government buildings and indirectly, because their conflict with the government has been widely misreported in corporate media abroad, contributed to the drop in tourists and to severe economic consequences for many people in the city.

      As for winning the hearts and minds of Oaxaqueños, the hearts part of the task has been in large part already accomplished, thanks to the arrogant aggressiveness of URO, and the hatred he managed to sow since taking office as governor on 1 December 2004 and which he's now reaping. Even people who are, to put it mildly, not thrilled with the APPO are so disgusted with URO that they are more likely to be passive rather than actively opposing the APPO by supporting the governor.

      Winning the minds, as the APPO well knows, is essential. They have made that a major part of their work. The government and its corporate allies fully realize the importance of what people think. The media of communication are therefore a prime arena in the contest to influence peoples' consciousness.

14 June 2006: Radio Plantón destroyed. The
fight for the communication media

      The very first action of the state forces in their pre-dawn attack on 14 June was to destroy the teachers' radio station, Radio Plantón. It had been serving not only as a source of pro-teacher propaganda since the start of the strike, but as a vital communication link broadcasting (within its limited range) 24 hours a day. Soon after the Radio Plantón equipment was smashed, students at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials) seized the university's station, a licensed station with a much more powerful transmitter and kept it going non-stop in support of the then rapidly-growing rebellion. The student-operated UABJO station was attacked several times, first on 22 June, and eventually put out of commission on 8 August by a diversionary tactic that night which enabled three people (who had earlier infiltrated the movement) to enter the studio and throw sulphuric acid on the equipment, ending at least for a time those broadcasts.[11]

      Revolutions are not, by their nature, tidy affairs. There is no simple chronology according to which, at certain key dates, one important group of actors halts its activity and a different group takes the stage. Rather, a multitude of groups fills the stage at any given time, and the flow of activity is continuous. There is no separation of the actions marked by curtin calls. Thus it may be a questionable effort to try to divide the flow into phases. While the attack of June 14 did clearly mark a separation of events into two different phases, the ensuing struggle has been and will likely continue to be a continuous flow.

1 August 2006: APPO women seize Channel 9 and
FM 96.9 to serve the popular struggle

      On 1 August 2006 participants in La Marcha de las Cacerolas (the march of the women beating their pots and pans with wooden spoons, a mode of protest made famous by brave Argentinian women during the dirty war of that country’s military dictatorship) went on to seize the state TV and radio stations. On the day before, 31 July, only Radio Universidad was broadcasting for the popular movement. By then it had been on the air daily for almost seven weeks. It was to continue for another eight days until the sulphuric acid attack temporarily shut it down. By the time of the sulphuric acid attack, Channel 9, TV Cacerolas (as some folks dubbed it, TV APPO by others) and FM 96.9 had been broadcasting 8 days.

      The move to seize the state radio and TV stations (or as a graffiti on the wall of the control room at the transmission tower explained more fully, to re-appropriate facilities paid for with the peoples' money) was a bold escalation in the struggle for the media.

      When Channel 9 and FM 96.9 were first occupied their broadcasts reached the entire state. However, after some days the relay towers were blocked from operating and the transmissions reached a somewhat reduced geographical area. For three weeks, from 1 August until the early morning assault on 21August, the voices and images of the people dominated these previously state-controlled airwaves in the struggle aimed at winning the minds of the people, although of course the powerful national corporate channels, TV Azteca and Televisa continued their pro-state broadcasts. But what a vision of hope sprang from the screen those three weeks! Ordinary people in everyday clothes spoke of the reality of their lives as they understood them, of what neo-liberalism meant to them, of the Plan Puebla Panama,[12] of their loss of land to developers and international paper companies, of ramshackle rural mountain schools without toilets, of communities without safe water or sanitary drainage, and so on; all the needs that could be met if wealth were not being stolen by rich capitalists and corrupt government agents.

      And not all was about Oaxaca and its problems. The horizon of consciousness reached abroad as, on one occasion that Nancy mentioned to me, Channel 9 broadcast a documentary videotape of living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One can only imagine the level of global grassroots solidarity if the media, worldwide, were controlled by popular groups instead of transnational corporations. Instead of promoting the sale and consumption of Coca-Cola and after-shower skin creams to enhance sex-appeal, we could all be learning from TV and radio of the realities of life as normal people actually live it.

      This flood of uncontrolled, unmediated, authentic communication among the population must have terrorized the former economic and political rulers of Oaxaca by the threat it posed to their continued dominance, but they dared not try a repeat of their 14 June heavy-handed attempt to crush the now massive movement. Rather than risk another open failure the state authorities pursued a strategy of clandestine warfare, as described vividly by Diego Enrique Osorno in his 28 August special report from Oaxaca to the Narco News Bulletin.[13] The desperate authorities pursued their so-called Operation Clean-Up. As the Narco News headline stated, "Following the CIA's 'Psychological Operations' Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody Counterinsurgency Strategy to Eliminate the Social Movement".

21 August 2006: The state destroys its seized and
occupied TV and radio transmitters

      The spectacular attack in the very early hours on Monday 21 August by clandestine heavily-armed police officials,[14] in reality un-uniformed state agents, on the transmission facilities of TV Cacerola and Radio APPO up on Fortin Hill above the city revealed the government's frantic state of mind. This assault destroyed the control equipment housed in a building at the base of the transmission tower. The racks of electronics were smashed and sprayed with automatic weapons fire, bullet holes only inches apart in some of the panels, which I photographed that Monday evening. There are, as explained to me by a student friend involved with one of the movement radio stations, several components that made up the state's TV and radio stations: 1) the studios where interviews, news reporters, panel members met; 2) a repeater station whose antenna received the signals from the studio building and bounced them to the transmission station; and 3) the transmission facility atop Fortin Hill, which broadcast the programs, via relay towers, to the entire state.

      By knocking out the transmission tower facility the government-directed thugs insured that the APPO could not operate the occupied state TV and radio stations. The damage wrought at the transmission control room was a shocking double admission: 1) the URO government knew it was unable to retake and hold each of the three components of its broadcasting stations, and 2) the impact of the APPO broadcasts was an intolerable threat to traditional ruling class cultural hegemony. Therefore they destroyed a key physical component of what they surely regarded as their own governing infrastructure.

The popular movement counterattacks, seizing
commercial radio stations

      Later the same day, the 21st, having lost the use of Channel 9 and FM 96.9, the APPO groups seized twelve commercial radio stations belonging to nine different companies, according to the next day's La Jornada.[15] The number of seized stations broadcasting for the APPO varied from time to time. For example, in the morning on 29 August we were able to pick up three stations, one AM and two FM at our location below the base of Fortin Hill. Apart from radio, the movement produces and distributes a great deal of printed material, videos and CDs, and seeks to spread its point of view by all means of communication. Radio of course remains particularly important.

August 16, 2006: Broadening the struggle beyond Oaxaca

      On August 16 and 17 a national forum was held in Oaxaca to discuss "Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca." Sponsored by fifty organizations within Oaxacan civil society, as Nancy Davies wrote,[16] it provided "an opportunity to analyze the crisis and propose alternative solutions from the perspective of civil society, including a new Oaxacan constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the nation." The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from all parts of Mexico. What was taking place in Oaxaca was clearly inspiring people throughout this nation. And if we can get the truth out more widely in spite of the terribly distorted pictures painted by The New York Times, Associated Press, and much of the rest of the corporate media, even the people in the United States might be inspired by the courage of so many everyday Mexicans. That, of course, is the real danger to the ruling class that runs the empire — an informed and thoughtful citizenry.

Part Two: Analysis of the Struggle

"A revolution with an absolute minimum of violence"
It's not 'news' — but it should be

      Sunday, 8 Oct 2006, in Oaxaca was a beautiful sunny day, clear air, ideal for enjoying a mole tamale and hot coffee for breakfast. So I walked down the street to the market, Mercado Sanchez Pasques, to get tamales for Nancy and me. The market was teeming, people and dogs moving uncertainly in all directions. I slowly worked my way through the crowd towards the tamale lady's great aluminum vessel sitting on a glowing brazier. From the towel across the top of the giant pot steam escaped, condensing into the fresh morning air.

      I had just passed the newspaper stand in the outdoor part of the market. Big black headlines in Noticias said the popular movement had already rejected the federal government's Thursday offer. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca could not accept that so-called offer. For the moment, I hoped, there would be only continuing threats (primarily by the state government) and continuing so-called negotiations, but with no large-scale violence. Talk is infinitely preferable to armed attack, though it's not what the corporate media is lusting after.

Revolution without violence – an idea whose time is trying to come

      Soon after visiting Oaxaca for the first time, in 1996, I wrote, referring to the two major essays on my website,[17] "I have no doubt that the ideas expressed in these essays are absolutely crucial for the social revolution so many of us are striving to achieve (as the massive actions against the World Trade Organization in Seattle a few short weeks ago make clear). If these ideas prevail, it will be a revolution with an absolute minimum of violence."[18] (emphasis added)

      The real news of the current struggle in Oaxaca is precisely the news that the governments — Oaxaca State, Mexican Federal, U.S. and Canadian — and the overwhelming part of the corporate media — TV, radio, newspapers and news magazines — have done their utmost to ignore, hide and distort. They have simply told outright lies about what has been happening.

      The real news consists of two salient facts: 1) the popular movement, which developed immediately following the attack on the striking education workers on 14 June 2006 has become a vast coalition of many different groups within Oaxacan society; and 2), which may be even more significant, nearly all adherent groups are strongly committed to a non-violent struggle based on militant civil disobedience. Of course, civil disobedience means breaking the law, as the perpetrators of the deadly law 'n order regime of the state governor and of the federal government claimed while they prepared to crush the rebellion by military and para-military attacks.[19] They are itching to launch a “real clean-up operation”, a “clean sweep” throughout the state of all “subversives” who adhere to and support Section 22 of the Education Workers Union and/or the APPO.

      The state's thus far small scale clandestine dirty war began as a regular modus operandi right after the 21 August, 2006 destruction by state operatives of the APPO-occupied powerful state TV and FM transmission facilities atop Fortin Hill, and after the APPO's immediate reaction later the same day in occupying and broadcasting from various commercial stations, both actions that occurred on 21 August 2006. In what was clearly an attempt to terrorize and intimidate the APPO adherents who were providing security for the occupied radio stations, armed state agents carried out drive-by shootings, and some beatings and kidnappings. After a few weeks, during which the APPO participants became more and more outraged and determined to persist, and because of the bad press that the government got, including condemnations of human rights abuses levelled by international agencies such as Amnesty International, the State government eased off, apparently on instructions from the Federal government. However, the so-called low-intensity dirty war resumed in early October. Since then fatalities have slowly increased.

      The principal characteristics of the current phase of the struggle have been (1) a continuation of the extremely low rate of known fatalities caused by the conflict, probably not more than 8 or 9 by 19 October,[20], [21], [22] (2) an intense propaganda war in which, despite the overwhelming control of media by governments and their corporate allies, much of the truth of the conflict is finding its way abroad, (3) seemingly endless 'negotiating' sessions between the government and the movement over issues that are, at base, non-negotiable, (4) a barrage of governmental declarations alternating between promises not to use force and threats to use force (including troop deployments and military helicopter fly-overs), with the expected psychological roller-coaster effect on the population, and (5) continuing and deepening economic deprivation within the state.

Understanding the current situation, a rock-solid point of departure

      I believe there can be no doubt whatsoever that if the ruling allied political and economic forces in Mexico had been confident that they could have launched a successful attack to crush the Oaxaca revolt, they would have done so without a monent's hesitation. From this fact (I take it to be a fact, for reasons I will give below), it follows that since there has not been a full-scale assault (other than Ruiz's abortive 14 June attack by state forces), the big boys in Mexico City have been, up until now, fearful that a military-type attack, likely with much death and destruction, might backfire, fearful that they might lose even the seemingly tenuous control they still hold.

      They're fully aware that a critical mass of Mexicans is convinced Felipe Calderon's so-called electoral victory on 6 July 2006 was a fraud, and they themselves know it was. They know that André Manuel López Obredor (AMLO) was the real winner. We can be certain that the unresolved presidential contest adds to the hesitancy of the PAN/PRI [23] coalition to act decisively against the Oaxacan rebellion. Everyone knows that the entire national superstructure is slithering in the deep muck of corruption. Only at the base of the society can honesty and principled adherence to the real need for a just and equitable society be found. So much for the certainties.

Why can the real news not be told? At the core of the
struggle — the truth that must be hidden

      If the true nature of the current rebellion were widely known, not just in Mexico but in all of North America, there would be no justification for crushing it that could find popular acceptance. The simple fact is that for almost eighty years Oaxaca has been run by the PRI, which has been ruthless in its control, imposing dire poverty on the majority of the population in order that an elite group can enjoy extreme wealth and power. This grossly unjust state regime was closely allied with the equally ruthless power structure in Mexico City, and with major financial interests in foreign countries.

      Governor Ulises Ruíz Ort&3237;z, the focus of so much hatred, is only an ephemeral tip of the entire Oaxaca ruling infrastructure. A human being as devoid of vision as he is of compassion, he is useless in the power struggle of his former PRI co-rulers, now aligned with the PAN against the PRD,[24] except as a bargaining chip to divert attention away from the more fundamental demands of the popular movement, and for jockeying between the government and the popular movement. The first lightning bolt struck him, "¡Ulises ya cayó!, ¡ya cayó!, ¡ya cayó! (literally, Ulises already fell!, colloquially, is out!) was shouted, and still is shouted endlessly from thousands of throats. Seen as a hated tyrant, he was the obvious initial target.

      But individuals are always expendable if the ruling structure remains intact. Simply getting rid of Ulises, by itself, would no more effect significant change in the government of Oaxaca than getting rid of George W. Bush, by itself, would make any meaningful change in the American ruling infrastructure. As I wrote in early July,[25] of far greater impact on society, if it can be achieved, would be the demand made early on "to replace the long-standing political government by a Popular Assembly with no political parties" . . . "The swelling support for the movement to oust Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz (URO) and to change the form of government of Oaxaca state has emboldened the participants to insist on this truly revolutionary change at the state level." Such a development would be a nightmare for the entire capitalist system, potentially threatening its continued existence, as I now argue.

Autonomous self-government, a threat to capitalism

      I see this as the crux of the conflict. In today's world, the capitalist system dominates life universally. It rests upon its ability to exploit both natural resources (forests, wind, water, etc.) and people for the material profit and power of the ruling sectors of society. It is rapidly destroying the biosphere, on which all life depends, and the lives of millions, or even billions, of people. Everyone knows this. Only the details remain to be quibbled about. The destruction is manifest.

      In calling for an end to hierarchical government in Oaxaca, for its replacement by a system of multiple popular assemblies based on direct face-to-face democracy at the local level, with no political parties, and for a maximum of local autonomy, the APPO has challenged the ruling power structure, not simply to reform itself, but to totally give up its power, that is, its control of the entire state. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the majority of wealthy, privileged, powerful beneficiaries of this abysmally unjust system cannot even begin to accept losing their special status. They'll fight like hell to prevent it from happening.

The contagion of revolt. Dominoes indeed!

      It's not just the privileged Oaxaqueños who are threatened by the demands of the APPO for social reorganization. Nor is it just those other Mexicans and foreigners who directly benefit from the exploitation of Oaxacan natural resources and/or cheap Oaxacan labor (e.g. U.S. employers of Oaxacan farm laborers). Everyone whose material wealth is enriched in part by the exploitation of natural resources in other parts of the world and/or by the exploitation of cheap labor stands to be affected, because if the people of Oaxaca can manage to end their own exploitation and that of their land by Mexican and foreign capitalists and corporations, that will serve as an example and an inspiration to other peoples. In fact the struggle here has already caught the imagination of many Mexicans and even foreigners, to the extent that the real news about this struggle has gone beyond the borders of Mexico.

      Naturally, any threat to profits, whether current or future, impending or only hypothetical, is of urgent concern to the entire capitalist system. Think money!. That is the dominant concern. To understand how utterly dominated by money are the minds of the capitalists and those who aspire to be capitalists one has only to recall that wonderfully symbolic act in 1967 in which Abbie Hoffman, from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange, flung the contents of a large bag full of dollar bills on to the trading floor below and brought the whole operation to a dead halt as the greedy brokers scrambled to the floor to scoop up as many dollars as they could. Totally individualistic, each one avidly seizing for himself whatever he could, no thought for the common good. That’s the controlling value of the anti-civilization misnamed Western Civilization.

The real challenge is to Western Anti-Civilization, to
replace it non-violently by a true civilization

      The struggle in Oaxaca is a gamble for the highest stakes. Throughout Latin America the imposition of neo-liberalism during the last several decades has brought increasingly severe polarization between the economically wealthy and the much more numerous, and growing, impoverished classes. As in Bruno Traven's The Rebellion of the Hanged, [26] as in Chiapas with the largely indigenous Zapatista rebellion, so also in Oaxaca, the most indigenous Mexican state, finally, when the oppression became too great to bear any longer, ¡Ya basta! (“Enough already!”) became the cry, the scream, the watchword. Preferable to lose life itself than to continue enduring so degraded an existence.

      The global system of capitalism would not be so threateningly challenged if it were merely the people of Oaxaca and their land and economy that were largely withdrawn from the capitalist pool of exploited natural resources and peoples. That would be a loss of but a drop in the global bucket. The threat to the bourgeoisie is that the popular movement in Oaxaca is an example of great moral courage by (in this case) a largely indigenous population, shrewdly negotiatiating its own liberation from oppression, in an age of worldwide instant communication, and trying to do it without threatening bodily harm to a single one of its adversaries. Deservedly, it unquestionably holds the moral high ground, in stark contrast to the despised governor and all the other political toadies who are grasping for ill-gotten pesos and threatening, and eager to use, lethal force. The currency of anti-civilization: money and deadly force.

      The governments are eager to incite a violent response from the education workers and others in the APPO, because it would, in many people's eyes, legitimate a heavy-handed military crackdown to crush the rebellion. The corporate media, along with the entire infrastructure of giant capital, whose prime protectors are the nation states, likewise want the rebellion – until now determinedly non-violent though militant – to lose its cool and respond violently to the attacks against it. Within the APPO, and perhaps also within Section 22 of the Education Workers Union, there are some factions that glorify the idea of armed struggle against the repressive state and probably some young hotheads who would relish the opportunity to beat up some cops, without realizing the full consequences of attacking the state forces head-on. Fortunately, thus far the more mature elements within the movement have prevailed, and the calamity of full-scale military repression has, at least until now, been avoided.

      As James Herod correctly wrote in his seminal essay, Getting Free,[18]

      . . .[I]t is impossible to defeat our ruling class by force of arms. The level of firepower currently possessed by all major governments and most minor ones is simply overwhelming. It is bought with the expropriated wealth of billions of people. For any opposition movement to think that it can acquire, maintain, and deploy a similarly vast and sophisticated armament is ludicrous . . . It would take an empire as enormous and rich as capitalism itself is to fight capitalists on their own terms. This is something the working classes of the world will never have, nor should we even want it.

      This does not mean though that we should not think strategically, in order to win, and defeat our oppressors. It means that we have to learn how to destroy them without firing a single shot. It means that we have to look to, and invent if necessary, other weapons, other tactics.

Thirsting for blood — the blood of the oppressed

      Along with the governments, which want to crush the rebellion and seek, through armed attacks by their agents, to incite armed responses is the vast phalanx of corporate media owned by the same capitalists and corporations which the governments serve. These media subject us to an endless torrent of lies to persuade people that the education workers, adherents to the APPO and the other popular groups that are demanding change, are a sordid lot of malcontents who are breaking the law and resorting to violence. The purpose of their propaganda is to persuade the population at large that a military crackdown is not only necessary, but desirable.

      Above all else those who own the media are committed absolutely to save the system of giant capitalism on which their highly privileged class depends for its special status. The truth, as I've argued above, is that the movement's aim of replacing hierarchical governing structures based on political parties by non-hierarchical popular assemblies — multitudes of them — with maximum local autonomy is a direct threat to the capitalist system. That is the deeper truth, rather than the obvious hatred of Ulises, that must be hidden. It is the entire value system of México Profundo [27] that is rising, and not just in Mexico but also in much of Latin America, to reject capitalism and its entire system of distorted values, values which dictate the supremacy of money over life itself. This is the truth that threatens to hurt these beneficiaries of giant capitalism. That's why they are determined to suppress it.

      Many people who rely on the mass media for their information about world news will object to my wholesale condemnation of corporate media. They will point out, correctly, that much of what they learn from the media is true. But that does not invalidate my criticism. It is the invariable refusal to provide enough of the whole truth, and to do it in a timely fashion, so that the selected factoids they report can be understood in context. It is often possible to state partial truths without anyone in the dominant sectors of society being threatened, and in fact such partial truths, factoids out of context, are reported in a manner that benefits them.

      Consider for example the current conflict between the mass movement in Oaxaca and the State and Federal governments. The government repeatedly alleges that armed guerrilla groups support the rebellion. Such dramatic assertions are widely reported by the corporate media, both in Mexico and abroad. The partial truth on which these lies rest is that in Oaxaca State there do exist, I'm quite sure, elements of some armed guerrilla groups — the Popular Revolutionary Army [28] is one that comes to mind. The lie, sometimes explicit, sometimes merely implicit, but endlessly repeated, is that there is a deliberate connection between the civic struggle of the APPO and the education workers and armed revolutionary formations. It's much more gripping to imagine some Che Gueverra style group attacking state agents with deadly weapons than to contemplate a bunch of teachers sitting in an assembly discussing resolutions.

      The media touts violent incidents, despite their small number (as reflected by the small number of injuries and the extremely few fatalities in five months) as "armed clashes." In fact that is seriously misleading, suggesting as it does a facing off of two more or less comparably armed sides. But it is only the government agents, whether uniformed or un-uniformed, who carry firearms. These paid attackers face teachers and other members of civil society who are "armed" at most with poles, bars, and stones, and occasionally someone with a machete, which is a lethal weapon in close combat, but nothing compared to the automatic pistols and semi-automatic weapons of the police and paramilitary.

Peace — or — bloodshed?

      I believe no one at this time can accurately predict the outcome of the popular struggle. On the one hand, as I argued above, the potential stakes are very high for the large-scale capitalist sector. On the other hand, a negotiated settlement that leaves the traditional Oaxaca political system basically intact, no matter how many promises are made to introduce safeguards for the human and other supposed rights of citizens, will surely mark continuation of the regime of gross economic injustice for the great majority, enforced by assassination, corruption, political imprisonment and torture, with impunity for state agents who perform the oppression. Especially those individuals who are prominent in the APPO, in Section 22 of the Education Workers Union, or in other allied groups will be at immediate risk for their lives.

      The situation in Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent on the power struggle centered in Mexico City over the presidency. Those currently in the saddle are doing everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but the majority of Mexicans (I'm guessing) are thoroughly fed up with politicians and may be ready for much more fundamental changes than those possible within the electoral system.

      As I walked in the bright sunshine early that Sunday morning into Sanchez Pasques Market and drank in with my eyes and ears the animated throngs of shoppers and vendors, children playing with little toys, the life of the market, the life of the people, I thought of other markets, of how everyday people pursue our lives as though normalcy, day after day, was what we could expect. I thought of other people in those other markets, in Sarajevo, in Beirut, in Baghdad . . . One can only hope that the confluence of social forces and consciousness in Oaxaca, in Mexico and in the world is such that there won’t be a bloodbath, either large or small, and that a true milagro méxicano, a Mexican miracle, will begin to show the world how to move from an anti-civilization of death to a true civilization of life.

19 October 2006
Oaxaca City

Part Three: The Crackdown after 19 October

Tools of the state for oppression: Money and murder

      When I completed the above article the number of known fatalities among the adherents to the popular movement was amazingly and encouragingly low, only about eight or nine deaths in five months. In the weeks since then the state and federal governments have moved with massive and increasingly lethal force to impose a reign of terror on the entire state of Oaxaca. The number of known fatalities is now more than double [29] and the ferocity of government forces is at such a level that the Oaxaca daily newspaper, El Imparcial, which is supportive of the government and critical of the popular movement, ran as its huge front page headline [30] on 28 November, "Total attack against the APPO" (Embestida total contra la APPO). The APPO, which has been meeting and carrying out its marches and demonstrations completely in the open and with as much advance publicity as it could manage in spite of the attacks on its means of communication, is being treated by the state and federal governments as though it were a criminal organization.

      In fact there is a criminal organization active in Oaxaca, namely, the armed adherents to URO's PRI faction, which includes hired assassins, corrupted elements of various state and local police forces and local caciques. The violent 21 August surprise attack on the APPO security encampment at the base of the transmission facility on Fortin Hill by state agents, and their destruction of the electronic broadcast controls for the APPO-occupied state TV channel and FM radio signalled the calculated phased increase in state violence that was already under way. APPO's seizure hours later of the city's commercial radio stations showed its determination to maintain and strengthen its struggle. The 21 August attack seems to have been followed by a two-week lull, during which only a single person was murdered by the state agents.[31]

      On 1 September APPO and other groups within the popular movement held the fifth mega-march.[32] And on 21 September, five thousand people in the March for Dignity set out from Oaxaca City to Mexico City, a long trek on open highways through mountains with ample exposure to possible snipers.[33] During these early weeks in September the popular movement appeared relatively secure against the low level of aggressions mounted by state agents, who mainly acted clandestinely at night, firing at barricades set up to protect the radio stations under popular control. Casualties rose slowly, but that seemed only to enrage and increase the determination of the APPO and its adherents.

      In the final week of September there was a marked increase in state and federal aggression against the APPO. Hermann Bellinghausen's report in La Jornada filed on 24 September is titled, "Police attack civilians, teachers and APPO".[34] On 26 September the APPO declared a red alert, declaring, We are ready to resist.[35] Federal naval forces disembarked at the Pacific ports of Salina Cruz and Huatulco, and units moved to Oaxaca City airport.[36]

      Despite the palpable threat of federal troops being used to restore order with public force, as Fox's Secretary of the Interior Carlos Abascal indicated was imminent,[37] the popular opposition maintained a strong posture. As is evident in retrospect, the PAN/PRI alliance in the federal government and the Oaxaca PRI regime were pursuing a definitive plan to destroy the entire popular movement, using the time in October for the state to maintain, albeit at a lower level, its assaults against the barricades while federal forces, already in the state, were in waiting, for an emergency. With the fading of AMLO's threat to the Calderon presidency, the PAN/PRI forces saw their way clear to bring down the mano duro, the heavy hand. But the discussions went on, with the APPO delegations shuttling back and forth to meet with Secretary of the Interior officials in Mexico City, and people in the popular movement believing, wishfully, that as long as the talking continued, fruitless negotiations but nevertheless ongoing, the Fox administration would not attack. URO's forces alone couldn't regain control. But on October 27 URO upped the ante as his agents killed four people, three of them in the nearby community of Santa Lucia del Camino, including the American documentary videographer.[38]

29 October 2006: Federal Force Invades
Oaxaca City, Seizes the Zócalo

      The following day, 28 October, Fox authorized sending a substantial force of the militarized so-called Federal Preventive Police (PFP in its Spanish acronym) to regain control of Oaxaca City. Then on Sunday, 29 October the PFP advanced from about a mile or so north of the center of the city, confronted peacefully by protestors who gave way before the slowly advancing force, led by its armored tank-like trucks with bulldozer blades, water cannons, tear-gas launchers and mounted video cameras.[39] The protestors vacated the zócalo, offering no resistance to the advancing PFP, who immediately occupied this highly symbolic center of the city. The protestors moved the APPO encampment to the Santo Domingo Plaza, about a quarter mile north of the zócalo, which, together with the surrounding streets, remained the organizational center of the APPO until the massive PFP assault four weeks later, on 25 November .

      After securing the zócalo, barricading all the entry streets and maintaining its army of robocops with their truck-tanks, high power firearms, tear-gas canister launchers, and barbed- and razor-wire entanglements, insuring that this public space could not be recaptured, the PFP then focussed on stopping Radio Universidad. After it was disabled in the August 8 sulphuric acid attack, the students had eventually managed to repair it and it was serving as a major communication center. Located within the enclave of the Autonomous Benito Juárez University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish acronym), it was supposedly in a zone from which all authorities (state, federal, municipal police, etc.) were barred unless the UABJO director asked them to enter.

2 November 2006: The PFP Attempt to Seize Radio Universidad

      Four days after seizing the zócalo a large PFP contingent, on 2 November, made a major assault in an attempt to capture Radio Universidad.[40] At the end of the day the PFP gave up its assault, temporarily, and the commander lied that they had not intended to take the radio station but just to clear the barricades from Avenida Universidad. Ha! Ha! This energizing, widely acclaimed peoples' victory happened only because the PFP did not use its deadly firearms, engaging instead in a truly surreal rock fight with the determined defenders of their turf.

      Three days later, on 5 November, the APPO and other popular groups held the Sixth Mega-March.[41] The next day's Noticias front cover had one massive headline, #161;SORPRENDENTE! (Surprise!), with a huge picture of the march and the lead article by Octavio Vélez Ascencio explaining the headline. He began, "In spite of the versions of an eventual intervention of the security forces and of aggressions by paid thugs and PRI pistoleros (gunmen), tens of thousands of Oaxaqueños, men and women, turned out yesterday to the streets to demand the exit of governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz and the removal of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP)." The next three weeks were characterized by growing tensions, increasing attacks and provocations, but with the popular forces not backing down. On November 9 members of Las Abejas, including survivors of the December 22, 1997 Acteal Massacre in Chiapas, set out for Oaxaca [42] to give humanitarian support to the popular struggle. On 10 November APPO opened a Constitutive Congress to formalize its structure. The next day the dedicatedly non-violent, very religious Las Abejas walked dramatically between the PFP tank-like armored trucks to enter the zócalo area. The PFP made an exception in not blocking an organized group from entry, the single exception of which I know.

      Deliberate provocations continued as the PFP and state forces pursued their intended plan – to up the level of aggressiveness until some real fighting occurred to provide a photo-op that would justify, to the public outside of Oaxaca, a total military clampdown. The major television coverage (by Televisa and TV Azteca), along with all the rest of the corporate media, would show how necessary it was to restore law and order – with an iron fist. The popular movement was to be portrayed as having run amuck.

20 November 2006: Two Major Violent Confrontations
Downtown; Oaxaca City Put Under Siege

      On 20 November came the beginning of the payoff in a major confrontation with many injured and arrested.[43] The day ended with a temporary standoff. The APPO announced that it would hold its seventh mega-march on 25 November with the goal of non-violently surrounding the PFP in the zócalo. The march indeed got to the PFP encampment, the confrontation quickly turned violent and the federal and state forces put into operation their clearly pre-planned actions. They swept through areas of the city near where the protestors were concentrated, encircling and carrying out mass arrests of anyone they found trapped within their (real) encirclement. A brutal action intended to traumatize and terrorize the city. And it succeeded. Many were flown to distant prisons and badly mistreated.

      So began the definitive state of siege. Following the intense fights of Saturday 25 November the number of people kidnapped, arrested, tortured, and disappeared by state and federal agents has continued to climb. On 2 December Noticias reported [44] "It has been clearly demonstrated that the PFP came to back Ulises Ruíz. Since it came [29 October] it has been dedicated to repression. Up to now more than 14 deaths, 522 arrests and 100 disappeared are added [to the previous totals]." The 18 January Noticias [45] reports higher figures. These scanty data hardly tell the full horror. Nancy Davies’ reports give a much more robust picture. The ugly rumours of mass graves remain, and hopefully will continue to be only rumours, but I would not rule out the possibility that the military and paramilitary resorted to such clandestine disposal of unwanted bodies. If they did, we will almost surely know about it eventually. In either case, this is a war of terror against the people of Oaxaca, a calculated decision to try to crush whatever hope they may have of attempting to better their lives by changing the society.

      Nancy Davies writes that a recent column in La Jornada said Oaxaca is now enduring a repression similar in its depth of fear to what was experienced in Guatemala in its worst days.[46] In quantitative terms there is simply no comparison between the actions of the Guatemalan government and those of the Oaxaca State and Mexican Federal governments. In its official report, the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (popularly called the Peace and Reconciliation Commission) concluded that over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, about eighty-three percent of them Mayans and seventeen percent Ladinos.[47] I believe the disparity between the physical destruction visited on its population by the Guatemalan government and that of the Mexican government on the peoples of Oaxaca will remain huge, but not because the latter fascists are more benign than their Guatemalen predecessors. The tools of both are identical: money and murder. As are the goals: a population terrorized and traumatized into absolute submission.

Government by Extreme Terror

      When, a half-century ago, the progressive Jacobo Arbenz government of Guatemala was overthrown by the CIA-instigated coup in order to insure continued economic control by U.S. financial interests (primarily by the Boston-based United Fruit Company) the Mayans, the indigenous majority of the Guatemalan peoples, had to beaten down. This savage chapter lasted from 1954 to 1996. Eight U.S. presidents (three Democrats and five Republicans) collaborated in this sustained attack by its client Guatemalan regime in order to maintain U.S. economic hegemony.[48] Today in Oaxaca, it is the many decades of economic impoverishment suffered by the majority indigenous peoples that lies at the heart of the struggle. It's widely recognized that the neo-liberal incarnation of capitalism must be ended if Oaxacans' lives are to be improved. But giant capitalism, both foreign and Mexican, is determined to maintain the status quo. Its profits are its first concern. That requires terrorizing the majority of Oaxaqueños — crushing them psychologically so that they not even dream of resuming the social struggle of the APPO and the education workers.

      There can be no doubt that the fascist measures adopted by the federal administration in its attempt to obliterate the popular struggle have generated widespread fears, indeed outright terror within large sectors of the population. Unlike the Guatemalan government 50 years ago, the Mexican fascists have not burned entire poor villages and massacred the populations of those communities. I think there are several reasons why the physical measures have not been as extreme as those employed by the Guatemalan government.

1. The techniques for carrying out a dirty war (see note [13]) are much more sophisticated than they were a half-century ago. Communications within Oaxaca ensure that if even a limited number of ordinary people are kidnapped, tortured, jailed, threatened with death and/or killed, the news will terrify other similarly innocent people, e.g. other teachers. Rumours are very effective, e.g. that people were threatened with being (or actually were) thrown out of helicopters. Such rumours have been widespread, bolstered by the existence of missing or disappeared persons. Part of the dirty war is to withhold information and to lie incessantly (they call it disinformation), which stimulates the spread of rumours. The terror can thus be generated without the need for such massive killings as the Guatemalan government carried out.

2. The much more rapid and widespread communication networks now compared to fifty years ago also act to inhibit the scale of government atrocities. This was evident in January 1994 and February 1995 when the military assaults against the Zapatistas in Chiapas were immediately publicized world-wide and in each instance led, first president Salinas in 1994 and then president Zedillo in 1995, to cancel the attacks after only a few days. Otherwise the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN in its Spanish initials) would have been wiped out a long time ago.

3. A third reason for the lower scale of atrocities against the Oaxaca peoples is uncertainty within the ruling group. How much violent repression can they get away with without the Mexican people throughout the country rising and doing away with the entire political class? If they trigger a full-scale revolution they risk losing everything in terms of their wealth, power and privileges. The instability of the nation itself inhibits them. I think that until it became clear to the PAN and PRI that André Manuel López Obrador would not effectively challenge Calderon's stolen victory, but confine himself to the usual politicians' games, presidents Fox and Calderon and the rest of their murderous crew were too fearful and uncertain to unleash a real terror operation. Ulises' readiness to butcher and terrorize those who don't support him was unrestrained, but he lacked the power that the PFP later provided.

4. Despite the terror tactics used by the Ulises state agents and by the Federal Preventive Police, and the substantial escalation of deaths since 27 October, a major fact of the struggle is the relatively very small numbers of known fatalities suffered by the adherents to the popular movement in almost seven months of militant, essentially non-violent struggle. This policy of non-violence, the main tendency within the APPO and Section 22 of the Education Union, is responsible for the fact that despite the major efforts of the governments and the corporate media to paint a false picture of events, the popular struggle has been able to retain the high moral ground that it deserves. I believe this fact made a major contribution to the low level of casualties. The use of firearms by the PFP was very restrained until almost the final week or so, ending with the major assault on Saturday 25 November.

A model for the world. The future can be ours.

      No one in Mexico harbors the illusion that the use of massive terror in Oaxaca has done more than temporarily force the popular struggle to find other tactics to be effective. Across the political spectrum all the hack politicians (Ulises excepted) are saying "We must solve the problem of Oaxaca." Empty proclamations, except in so far as they acknowledge that brute terror hasn't solved the problem. The basic problem is that decent, dignified lives for all Oaxaqueños can not be achieved within the confines of global capitalism without threatening the entire capitalist enterprise, world-wide, as I argued above in Part Two. It is against this threat that the entire political class felt compelled to act. They were backed, of course, by the entire banking, finance, mega-business and mega-media class, as well as by the dominant economic and political forces in the United States., the current top dogs in the global culture of money, murder and terror.

      Ever regardful of what should be the sanctity of each human being’s integrity, the APPO seeks to redeem in liberty the lives of all political prisoners, all the disappeared, all the beaten and tortured. It maintains a meticulous record of each comrade who has fallen victim and insists on a total accounting. No victim is written off or forgotten. Each human life, including those of the oppressors (even that of Ulises) is respected and unthreatened by the APPO. Yes, the terrorists have succeeded in temporarily supressing part of the overt struggle, but at the cost of losing the last shred of their legitimacy as a government in the eyes of a vastly growing majority of people in Oaxaca, in Mexico and around the world among those who follow international developments. The form of the struggle and the form of organizing social life, as Nancy Davies emphasizes, is the key that the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca and the APPO offer the world. It is not a struggle for power over others, but one to end power relationships, so that each of us will have the power to act freely in determining our own lives to the extent consistent with nature. No oppressors, no oppressed!

8 December 2006
Oaxaca City

What can we expect?

      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.[49] On 10 December another mega-march, the eighth, showed clearly the defiance of the popular movement.[50] 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 [51] 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" (see Note 51).

      As Pedro Matias prefaces his report on the forum of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca (see Note 49 for citation),

"El gobierno puede detener a
500 o más, pero este movimiento es
invencible porque cuando un pueblo
decide transformarse, lo logra":
López y Rivas

"The government can arrest
500 or more, but this movement is
invincible because when a people
decides to transform itself, it succeeds":
López y Rivas

I both believe and hope (maybe it's wishful belief) that humanity is at a juncture in our development at which, with growing ecological awareness, we will recognize the absolute imperative to give up seeking liberation by struggling for power and instead join the visionary tradition, still alive and practiced among some indigenous peoples, of struggling to do away with power relations. In that way we might survive (if the ecological damage is not already irreversible) as human, and humane beings. I hope López Rivas is correct, and that we can generalize and expand his prediction to all the world's peoples. In struggling for ourselves and our grandchildren's children, we also struggle for the success of the brave Oaxaqueños, of whom Nancy Davies speaks with sensitivity and compassion in her reports.
31 January 2007
Oaxaca City


[*] The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, by Nancy Davies <nmsdavies@yahoo.com>. The publisher's announcement and information for ordering copies is at http://www.narconews.com/Issue44/article2520.html .

[1] Mexico City earthquake of 1985, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_Mexico_City_earthquake .

[2] Violation of human rights, Preliminary Report, Civil Observation Mission. Available at the OSAG discussion group Yahoo listserv site, which is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oaxacastudyactiongroup/ . To access the documents on this site, unlike the posted comments, you must first subscribe, which is trivial — no one is refused. Then, sign in, click on the ‘Files’ link, then on the ‘Help requests by Human Rights Groups and other Org’s’ link, then on the ‘Violacionesderechoshumanos.doc violations of human rights’ link. To start, go to the link above, subscribe and proceed.

[3] National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information (INEGI, in its Spanish initials).

[4] Indigenous languages, data from INEGI

[5] Second mega-march, La Jornada, 8 June,
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/06/08/046n1soc.php .

[6] Largest-circulation daily Oaxaca newspaper, Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca, http://www.noticias-oax.com.mx/index.php .

[7] San Salvador Atenco. See for example "Atenco: After the Lies Come the Facts: The People Tell the Story the Mass Media Tried to Hide", by Bertha Rodríguez Santos at http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1790.html .

[8] Narco News Journal, third mega-march, http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1906.html .

[9] Nancy Davies on the APPO meeting 17 June, http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article1928.html .

[10] Statewide popular assemblies. According to Noticias of 16 Oct 2006, p.8A, in eleven other states, inspired by the APPO in Oaxaca, similar organizations have formed. Mexico is comprised of 31 states and the Federal District, Mexico City.

[11] Disabling of the student-operated radio station at the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials), http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/08/10/048n1soc.php .

[12] The Plan Puebla Panama is a neo-liberal mega-project envisioned by transnational corporations, and much promoted by the Mexican government, to construct a gigantic transportation, telecommunications, electricity, industrial, pulp tree plantation, tourism, etc. corridor running from the state of Puebla, Mexico through Central America to Panama.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_Puebla_Panama .

[13] Diego Enrique Osorno's report to Narco News Bulletin on Operation Clean-Up in Oaxaca, at
http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2026.html .

[14] The spectacular attack on the occupied state transmission facilities, in La Jornada, at
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/08/22/043n1soc.php .

[15] La Jornada report on 2 Aug 2006, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/08/22/042n1soc.php .

[16] Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca, report by Nancy Davies, http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2014.html .

[17] The two essays are linked to in my note, Striking Gold: The genesis of this "strategy for revolution" project, which is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/1996-08-30.htm .

[18] Revolution without violence, a vision of social transformation strongly advocated in Getting Free: A sketch of an association of democratic, autonomous neighborhoods and how to create it, by James Herod, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/GetFre/index.htm .

[19] On the preparation to crush the rebellion with force, see my translation of the La Jornada report of 7 October 2006, "The APPO reveals that Ulises Ruíz Ortíz has already plotted a new repressive operation", posted at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-10-09.htm .

[20] Fatalities. "Oaxaca: Eight Dead, Eight. The Blood Flows from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca", by Luis Hernández Navarro, 19 Oct 2006 at http://www.narconews.com/Issue43/article2184.html .

[21] Fatalities. "Maximum Alert: Leader of the APPO Assassinated in Oaxaca City. It Is the Ninth Murder of a Member of the Popular Assembly", by Enrique Mendez and Octavio Velez, 19 Oct 2006 at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/10/19/003n1pol.php .

[22] Extremely low rate of fatalities. This rate, of about 8-9 in the five months since the strike began, should be gauged against the 'normal' rate for Oaxaca State in preceding years, when individual teachers in communities remote from Oaxaca City who were 'troublesome' to the local corrupt power structure were subject to assassination by local caciques (strong men) or their hired agents.

      The utter brutality and lack of accountability of the PRI government in Oaxaca (and nationally) is glaringly exemplified in an article with photographs in Noticias on 23 March 2006, p.10A. On 27 July 2004 the white-haired ex-elementary school teacher in Huautla, Serafín García Contreras, 64 years old, was beaten to death by Jacinto Pineda and another man. Pineda was then director of the PRI group, Land Movement, in Huautla. Two pictures show him, one wielding a huge pole against the old man who is on the ground, not yet dead. The second, taken shortly later, shows Pineda, his red shirt heavily spotted with sweat, he continuing to sweat profusely.

      On 22 June 2006 Roberto Madrazo, PRI candidate for the federal presidency campaigned in Huautla. Pineda provided security for Madrazo's visit there. Also taking part in the Huautla event was "federal deputy Elpidio Concha, principal instigator of the beating against members of the Frente Único Huautleco, to which Serafín belonged." A third picture shows Pineda, in a clean white shirt. The photo caption says that Pineda hugged Madrazo in front of the former prosecutor, who believes that at the moment, in spite of the photographs, there's not a basis for prosecution for the assassination.

[23] PAN is the acronym in Spanish of the National Action Party, El Partido Acción Nacional, the right-wing party of president Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon. PRI is the acronym in Spanish of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, El Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the right-wing party that ruled Mexico for almost eight decades until the PAN presidential victory in 2000.

[24] PRD is the acronym in Spanish of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, El Partido Revolucionario Democratico, the supposedly left-leaning party whose presidential candidate AMLO is challenging the electoral claims of the PAN.

[25] The quotes on the demand for a change in the form of state government are from the first paper listed in this note. Other items that either directly touch on this demand or are closely related to it follow the first item.
(1) "At a cusp in human affairs: the struggle for human dignity in Oaxaca, a southern state of Mexico" at
(2) "A few of many strands in the struggle for life with dignity: Palestine and Oaxaca, and now Lebanon, and . . ." at
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-07-27.htm ,
(3) "Incipient Revolution in Oaxaca" at
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-08-29.htm ,
(4) "In Oaxaca the Revolution isn't just schlepping along, it's in full-tilt" at http://pwgd.org/gs/category/on-the-ground/ ,
(5) "Building a Oaxaca information and solidarity communication network" at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-09.htm ,
(6) "A general loss of fear, an e-mail to my entire ‘large’ list" at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-11.htm and
(7) "Oaxaca City, a 'dangerous destination' #8211; 'in the grip of anarchy'" at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-17.htm .

[26] The Rebellion of the Hanged, La Rebelión de los Colgados, by Bruno Traven, Allison & Busby Ltd., London 1984.

[27] México Profundo: Una Civilización Negada, by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Grijalbo, Mexico City, 1989. Translated into English as México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization, by Philip A. Dennis, Univ of Texas Press, Austin, 1996. I don't know why 'rejected' – negada – was changed to 'reclaiming'.

[25] The Popular Revolutionary Army, El Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR), an armed guerrilla group that appeared in the late night and early morning of 28-29 August 1996 in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Mexico, Chiapas, Tabasco and Guanajuato States. A number of officials were assassinated.

[29] Fatalities more than double, La Jornada, "Oaxaca: el fin de la tolerancia", 28 November 2006, at
. In English at http://www.narconews.com/Issue43/article2397.html .

[30] Total attack against the APPO, El Imparcial, 28 November 2006, at http://www.imparcialenlinea.com/?mod=leer&id=18042&sec=primera&titulo=Em

[31] Only one person murdered. On September 3, I wrote my e-mail list, "Another quiet night in Oaxaca. In Mexico the seeds of hope are sprouting”, which is posted at http://list.uvm.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0609&L=SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE
. Part of it read,     "Yes, we've had another quiet night in Oaxaca. As a matter of fact, no one has been killed by the state's hired assassins (some in uniform, others not) since August 22 at 12:50 am when Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, an APPO adherent, was shot in the back by police at the corner of Eucaliptos and Emilio Carranza streets in Colonia Reforma, a rather nice neighborhood in the city.     "I think that by getting the word out to the international community and thereby prompting Amnesty International and other human rights advocates to speak out, the hand of the Mexican federal government has been stayed, at least temporarily, and they have told the local Oaxaca authorities to "cool it". So we have a reprieve. We must do everything possible to prevent the federal army from being used to crush this legitimate peoples' movement."
    . . . "Nancy and I went to the zocalo in Oaxaca the evening of Sept 1 to witness the mammoth gathering there following what The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) termed its Fifth Mega-March. It was all so peaceful, a Quaker would have beamed with joy, as we did."

[32] On the fifth mega-march Nancy Davies' report says, "a total number of participants that I estimated to be at least 50,000. (The newspaper Las Noticias estimated more than 300,000.)".
http://www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2038.html .
Pedro Matias, in his report in the 2 September issue of Noticias, wrote of 70,000 teachers and another 5,500 from another eleven or more groups, who were observing the statewide strike called by APPO for that day.
. The 300,000 figure might have been in a caption of a photograph on the front cover, p.1A, but I have not been able to find that online. In any case, it was a damn big march followed by a huge meeting in the zócalo, with no uniformed police in evidence and no violence.

[33] March for Dignity, La Jornada, 22 September, online at
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/09/22/050n1soc.php . The march proceeded without any incident of aggression, arriving eventually in Mexico City, where the encampment was set up, as planned.

[34] Police attack civilians. This daytime attack occurred when governor Ulises attempted to reappear in the central part of the city (APPO had declared him banned from Oaxaca). The armed attack, the report emphasized, involved some tens of presumed police in civilian dress and groups of hired thugs, online at
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/09/25/046n1soc.php .

[35] APPO red alert. Hermann Bellinghausen report in 27 September La Jornada online at
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/09/27/005n1pol.php .

[36] Federal naval forces. Hermann Bellinghausen report filed 29 September on the APPO's criticism of the Fox government's threat to use federal force in Oaxaca, at
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/09/30/005n1pol.php . The editorial in the 1 October La Jornada refers to the naval forces, marine helicopters overflying the center of Oaxaca City on 30 September, and military forces stationed at the Oaxaca City airport. At
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/10/01/edito.php .

[37] Threat by Secretary of the Interior. The report, titled "The way of 're-establishing order' in Oaxaca will be defined Wednesday [October 4]", is in the October 1 La Jornada at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/10/01/005n2pol.php . It tells of government agencies planning to coordinate their efforts.

[38] The killing of an American, in this instance video-journalist William Bradley Roland (aka Brad Will) couldn't be wasted. Of course Tony Garza, Bush's ambassador to Mexico, got right on it, demanded full investigation and prosecution of the killers, and let Fox know the U.S. was in favor of law 'n order. The October 28 La Jornada article, at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/10/28/003n1pol.php , reported three fatalities, but I recall reading four at the time.

[39] A graphic eyewitness account of the PFP advance into the city, by Jacob Muller, is at
http://www.narconews.com/Issue43/article2338.html .

[40] PFP attempt to seize Radio Universidad. I witnessed the early part of the PFP advance north on Avenida Universidad, the confrontation and start of the battle. Got my first tear gas dosing – ugly stuff. My report that night is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-11-02.htm .

[41] The Sixth Mega-March report in La Jornada on November 6, is at

[42] Las Abejas leaving San Cristóbal, Chiapas for Oaxaca, at
http://www.chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=138658 . This video, which takes only 2 and ¾ minutes to run, is well worth watching. Just click.

[43] On the fiery events of 20 November, Noticias published a special supplement with its 22 November issue, devoted exclusively to the combat.

[44] Deaths, arrests and disappeared since the PFP came to Oaxaca, Noticias, 2 December 2006, p.1A.

[45] Since the 2 December figure of 14 deaths in Noticias, the number of known deaths has climbed to 20, writes José Gil Olmos in 18 January Noticias p.8A, "Since the half year of conflict, with a cost of 20 deaths and more than 200 arrested, some of them with threats of rape or being thrown into the ocean from helicopters, . . ."

[46] Comparable to Guatemala. Nancy Davies in her Postscript to this volume, writes "According to La Jornada newspaper (and who needed to read that, to know!) Oaxaca is now enduring a repression similar in its depth of fear to what was experienced in Guatemala in its worst days.

[47] Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. The English translation of its final report is at
http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ceh/report/english/toc.html .

[48] Guatemala repression. An account up through 1990 is in Bitter Fruit: The Untold story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, 1990, Doubleday, New York.

[49] Indigenous Forum. Pedro Matias, in his report in the 29 November Noticias, wrote "During this indigenous meeting, the municipal and communal authorities, indigenous leaders, as well as representatives of civil organizations, congratulated [the participants] and made the assessment that their first victory . . . was overcoming the fear of taking part in the forum." Titled, "Inicia Foro de Pueblos Indígenas de Oaxaca", the article is on p.8A.

[50] The eighth mega-march. Nancy Davies' comments, with a picture of the massive march, are at
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-12-11.htm .

[51] Examples of conflicts in communities. In Noticias of 31 January 2007, p.5A is a report from the city of Tehuantepec (in the Isthmus region) headlined, "They may not refuse to remove the city mayor." It tells of two local deputies to the state legislature who came supposedly to resolve a dispute over removal of the mayor. After meeting privately with twelve city councillors, the conflict was made more severe, and the councillors in opposition announced they would carry out a series of mobilizations in the city. My fluency in Spanish prevents me from understanding the details in this remarkably brief and unclear report, but that there is conflict in this part of the fractious state is unambiguous. The same issue of Noticias has examples from other parts of Oaxaca, one article titled, "The magisterio (teaching profession, meaning members of Section 22 of the SNTE) of Nochixtlán is ready to strengthen the popular struggle" (Asunción Nochixtlán, is in the Mixteca region). Another article is titled, "Caciques (local party-connected strong-men) Pedro Mauro and Beto Ramírez designated to buy votes in order to elect an agent of Pescadito". This latter article reports a PRI effort in Temascal, in the Mazateco region. Nancy Davies' OSAG posting on 30 January 2007 has other examples, at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oaxacastudyactiongroup/message/2345 .

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.

*      *      *
Return to the Latest postings page
Return to the opening page of the Website

Last update of this page: 5 December 2007