Oaxaca Update

One Year Anniversary of Mexico’s Bloody Crackdown: Repression in Oaxaca
By MARJORIE COHN

There’s an Aztec legend of a warrior who was in love with a princess. When he left to go into battle, the lovers promised each other eternal love. The warrior died in battle, but to fulfill his promise to the princess, he came back as a brilliant orange flower. That flower now graces Flamboyan trees throughout Latin America. Another Flamboyan legend speaks of the struggle of the Puerto Rican people against colonial domination.

On Sunday, June, 10, 2007, under a Flamboyan tree, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) held a press conference to announce the liberation of one of the leaders of the year-long popular struggle for social and economic justice in Oaxaca. Marcelino Coache Verano, secretary general of the free union of Oaxaca municipal workers, had been arrested, severely beaten, and held for six months in prison before he was released on May 31, with all charges against him dismissed

The press conference kicked off a week of actions to commemorate the brutal June 14, 2006 attack by 1,000 armed police against people peacefully demonstrating in support of the demands of some 70,000 teachers for higher wages, improvement of school buildings, and better resources for children. A teacher typically earns the equivalent of $220 every two weeks, and must purchase school supplies herself. Although the Mexican constitution guarantees free education, mothers have to pay registration fees.

State governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz sent in state police, accompanied by dogs, who viciously attacked the sleeping teachers and supporters. They tear-gassed everyone in the vicinity, including pregnant women and children; one woman miscarried as a result. Ninety-two people were wounded. Members of the community reacted with outrage, fighting back with anything they could find. They chased the police from the square, and re-established the camp.

On June 17, several hundred local organizations came together to form the APPO, comprising almost 350 different civil organizations working in areas of indigenous issues, sustainable community development, human rights, and social justice. APPO demanded that Governor Ulises Ruiz step down. Meanwhile, the movement continued to grow, with large but peaceful demonstrations. On August 1, hundreds of women marched, and when denied air time by the government radio station, occupied the station and broadcast their position themselves.

Throughout this period, police raids, beatings, and shooting continued. On October 28, four people were killed, including indymedia journalist and U.S. citizen Brad Will and a Mexican teacher, Emilio Alonso Fabian.

The Mexican government sent in the Federal Preventive Police. On November 25, they appeared in full riot gear and encircled the entire area, firing tear gas. As people fled, many were arrested and beaten. Among the prisoners were some simply on their way to work or to the market place that morning. One hundred seventy people were arrested that day, and most were taken to the far away prison of Nayarit. Thirty four were women, and five were minors.

At various times during the seven month period, nearly 1,500,000 teachers, workers, professors and artists, many of them Indigenous people, occupied Oaxaca’s main plaza. Although the movement crystallized to support the striking teachers, the frustration of the people resulted from deep economic and social problems the government has aggravated and allowed to fester. These problems that have harmed workers were exacerbated by NAFTA and the Bush administration’s neoliberal policies. The majority of the population of Oaxaca is Indigenous, most of whom live in extreme poverty.

Last week, I participated in a human rights delegation of lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers in Mexico to investigate alleged violations of international law by police against the people of Oaxaca during the past year. We met with lawyers, workers and prisoners.

Coache Verano related how he and three other activists had been arrested in Mexico City, on their way to meet with government officials to negotiate an end to the strife. They were stripped naked, beaten, and guards walked on their backs. Coache Verano’s finger was broken. One of the other men was released with Coache Verano. The other two, including APPO leader Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, remain in custody. Coache Verano’s wife and young children told us how they were terrorized for months with death threats and shots fired at their home.

The two prisoners we interviewed at the Tlacolula prison, about 20 miles outside of Oaxaca, also described how they were beaten by police. Flabiano Juárez Hernández was not part of the demonstration. He was working in the market near the plaza when he was arrested on November 20 and charged with auto theft, a crime considered so serious, there is no possibility of bail. The blows to his head required several stitches and left a scar. Juárez Hernández is indigenous and doesn’t speak fluent Spanish; yet he was denied the services of an interpreter.

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