Government siege of Oaxaca newspaper continues― Renewed call for a tourist boycott
by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>
July 19, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-07-19.htm

      On June 28, 2005 (three weeks ago) I sent out an emergency appeal,[1] where I wrote, in part,

      ...yesterday I got word of a "small-scale" disaster in my "home town", spurring me to send out this immediate appeal.

      The governor of Oaxaca is an extremely wealthy, crude and stupid man, a small-time would-be fascist bent on crushing all opposition to his dictatorship of this impoverished state, one of the three poorest in Mexico. Of course he is corrupt, the norm for all politicians. His effort to destroy the independent newspaper Noticias published in Oaxaca City, the state capital, is aimed at thwarting honest exposure of the machinations of his ruling clique of ignorant and stupid thugs.

      The Achille's heel of his rule is Oaxaca's dependence on income from foreign and Mexican tourists. Many people come to enjoy the cultural riches touted by the Bureau of Tourism. They come mainly from Europe, Japan, Canada, the United States and other parts of Mexico. Nancy and I see troupes of them being led around the grounds of the great Santo Domingo Cathedral, and alighting from enormous tour buses in other parts of the city, each group guided by someone speaking their particular language. This is big business for an impoverished state, the largest (or second largest) source of income to the state, ranking above (or right after) money remitted by Oaxaqueños working in the U.S. If it is significantly impacted, the governing tyrant will be forced to back off from his attacks.

      This open, blatant government attack against Noticias, the largest daily paper in the state of Oaxaca, began with a mammoth blockade of the main office building in the pre-dawn hours of June 17. Finally on July 18, the self-touted "Newspaper of record" saw fit to "break" the news -- 31 days later -- with an inadequate report, inadequate because without fleshing out the background it leaves its all-too-faithful readers unaware of the full viciousness of the current governor, which exceeds that of his predecessor. Before reading yesterday's New York Times report,[2] which is included below , here, as part of the background "missing flesh" is a bit of an excellent article by Mitchell Verter, a friend who was living in Oaxaca at the time he wrote it.[3]

Indigenous Rights Groups Meet the "Law of the Club", Barbarous Oaxaca, May 14, 2005

      "The real Mexico I found to be a country with a written constitution and written laws in general almost as fair and democratic as our own, but with neither constitution nor laws in operation. Mexico is a country without political freedom, without freedom of speech, without a free press, without a free ballot, without a jury system, without political parties, without any of our cherished guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

―John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico, 1910

Just over 100 days since his inauguration as governor of the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has been internationally condemned for his regime's acts of political revenge; for its violent suppression of protests; for its imprisonment and murder of dissidents; for its attacks upon the press; for its manipulation of votes; for its miscarriages of justice; and for the numerous ways it has abused human rights.

.  .  .

Freedom of Press

From the outset, Ulises has violently attacked those who express dissent, both in the press and in the street.

For years, Oaxaca's leading newspaper, Noticias: Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca had criticized the repression and corruption of Ulises' predecessor, José Murat Casab, and had documented the vote-buying, ballot-box tampering, and cybernetic fraud that secured Ulises' illegitimate election. As revenge, Murat instructed General Secretary Franco Vargas to promise the land where Noticias keeps its printing supplies to the PRI president of a nearby municipality. On November 28 at 11:30 AM, a group of hooded and armed invaders knocked down the doors of the warehouse, leaving behind a teenage corpse when they left the next morning.

Ulises renewed the attack on December 1 [2005], his first day as governor. One hour before he pronounced his inauguration speech promising absolute respect for human rights, a new group of 40 people led by local PRI officials invaded the warehouse a second time, protected by police officers under the command of PSD Manuel Vera Salinas. They have remained the occupying power. The state has contested that the invasion stems from a land conflict, so agrarian laws prevent them from interceding.

      If you have the time, I recommend reading Mitch Verter's entire report in Counterpunch, a publication much superior to the New York Times for authentic journalism that at least attempts to tell the truth instead of manipulating "all the news that's fit to print" to support the interests of giant capitalism. And now here's the Times piece (without the pictures):

Oaxaca Journal

Besieged but Not Silenced, a Newspaper Keeps Publishing

by James C. McKinley Jr., July 18, 2005

      Oaxaca, Mexico, July 15 - Ismael Sanmartín Hernández, the managing editor of Noticias, one of this town's two major newspapers, has a bad cold and has not eaten a good meal in days, but those are the least of his problems.

      Strikers set up tents outside the offices of a Oaxaca newspaper and blockaded its entrance. The union calls it a labor dispute. The newspaper publisher says the government is trying to stifle a critical press.

      For 28 days, Mr. Sanmartín and a couple of dozen other editors, reporters and employees have been besieged in their newsroom as the result of a labor dispute with a union that has close ties to the government and says it represents the newspaper's workers.

      The union barricaded the front of the newspaper offices on June 17 and set up picket lines outside. Since then, the editors and reporters have been sleeping under their desks or on chairs, eating canned food and sending completed pages over the Internet to a printing plant in another town in an effort to keep publishing.

      "The people keep reading us," Mr. Sanmartín said in a telephone interview, hacking and coughing. "The government wants to stop us from circulating. It wants to shut us down. But the government doesn't buy our work. It's the people. And the public is buying it."

      The conflict has raised the hackles of free-speech advocates both here and abroad, who accuse the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and its union allies of using heavy-handed tactics to silence criticism.

      Mexico is trying to consolidate the democracy that has flourished since the PRI, which ruled the country for 71 years, was ousted from power in the 2000 presidential election. In parts of the country like Oaxaca, where the state government is still dominated by the PRI, the party machine remains formidable and some unions continue to be tools of politicians.

      For their part, labor leaders accuse the newspaper's publisher, Ericel Gómez Nucamendi, of trying to avoid negotiations required under Mexican law by wrapping himself in the mantle of free speech and accusing them of being in league with the state government. The real reason for the strike, labor leaders say, is the publisher's refusal to bargain, and so far federal judges have agreed with them. The union is seeking a 25 percent pay raise and more vacation time. "This is all theater that the company has put on to evade its responsibility to labor and to take up a political banner," said the union president, David Aguilar. "It's just a tactic."

      [On Saturday, President Vicente Fox said he was worried about the standoff and promised to come to Oaxaca this week to meet with both sides.]

      But Mr. Gómez Nucamendi, whose brother is a state opposition party leader, says the union and the governor are trying to silence him. Four years ago, he refused to sell a controlling interest in his newspaper to former Gov. José Murat, also of the PRI, for fear of losing editorial control. More recently, Mr. Gómez Nucamendi's paper supported an opposition candidate in the last statewide election and published a ream of stories harshly critical of the current governor, Ulises Ruíz.

      "Closing Noticias has become a sick obsession, first of Gov. José Murat and then of the current governor," the publisher said Thursday.

      Hector Ramírez Puga, a spokesman for the governor, acknowledged that most of the union's members were also members of the PRI, but he denied politics had anything to do with the strike. "The governor is not interested in intervening in a labor conflict," he said. "This is not a conflict like the one they are painting."

      Yet Mr. Ramírez Puga acknowledged that Governor Ruíz and his predecessor had been embroiled in a political battle with Noticias for years. Last December, for instance, the governor punished the newspaper by pulling more than $200,000 worth of public service ads, a direct reprisal for what he called "a systematic attack on Ulises Ruíz."

      Mexican journalists have closed ranks behind their colleagues barricaded inside their newsroom here.

      "Now journalists not only have to face organized crime, like drug dealers and kidnappers, that intimidate us to stop writing," said Carmen Aristegui, a well-known national journalist, "but now we also have to face institutionalized crime, which in the case of Noticias Oaxaca is palpable."

      "It's evident that organizations in league with the government are acting against the newspaper," she said.

      On Thursday, the dozen strikers camped outside the newspaper offices were not newspaper workers, but farmers. They belong to an umbrella union called the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, a giant syndicate representing hundreds of workers in different jobs, from newspaper employees to coffee pickers.

      Like many labor groups in Mexico, the union has a long history of supporting the PRI Several of the strikers declined to comment on why they were picketing, although they acknowledged they did not work for the newspaper. They would not allow a visiting reporter to enter.

      Mr. Aguilar, the union president, said that of the 102 employees at the paper, 56 had joined the strike, although he said he would not identify any of them. "They are afraid," he said. "They have been threatened."

      Some reporters for the newspaper said Mr. Aguilar never met with them to ask what they wanted to seek in labor talks. Indeed, the 31 employees still in the building have tried to form their own union in recent weeks, but a federal judge rejected their petition, saying Mr. Aguilar's union still has the right to represent them. Representatives of the workers in the building say they are happy with their wages and benefits.

      Inside the two-story building that houses Noticias, the atmosphere is more like a barracks than a newsroom. The reporters say they are trapped, although the union argues the they are free to come and go through a back entrance. They sleep under their desks, hang laundry from improvised clotheslines and, besides some canned food smuggled in with the help of sympathetic neighbors, survive on a diet of biscuits, cookies, coffee and Coca-Cola. "We have lost some weight," Mr. Sanmartín, the managing editor, joked.

      Luis Ignacio Velásquez, a 42-year-old reporter, said most of the staff thought the standoff would last only a few days, but as days became weeks, the journalists inside realized that more than their livelihood was at stake.

      "What are the limits of the freedom of expression?" he said. "It is not possible that a state government, that says it is elected by the citizens, attempts to silence the only newspaper that gives the people the truth."

[1] http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-06-28.htm

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/18/international/americas/18oaxaca.html?pagewanted=1&hp

[3] http://www.counterpunch.com/verter05142005.html

--G. S.

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Last update of this page: July 19, 2005