The rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico has been a story on the fringes of my attention for months. I’ve known the basic edges, with vivid landmarks here and there, but somehow had trouble wrapping my head around the whole of it. I realized today that maybe it’s because my public school teachers never thought it necessary to teach us anything about Mexico’s history or political system, even though any of us students could have hopped on a bus and been there within 45 minutes. Funny, that.
The best summary I’ve seen of the current situation in Oaxaca is in this article. I’ll try to summarize it a little further.
Every May, the teachers of the state of Oaxaca go on strike, the governor make some concessions, and the strike ends after several weeks, almost like some sort of political ritual dance. However this May, the teachers rejected the offer of the current governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (”URO”), set up a tent city in the capital, and began acts of peaceful civil disobedience. This stretched on for weeks.
Shockingly, rather than negotiate or wait it out, URO called in riot police, who attacked the teachers with tear gas and destroyed the teachers’ camps.
At this point, the teachers were joined by other concerned groups from around the state, and they formed the Popular Assembly for the People of Oaxaca (APPO, in Spanish). As I understand it, the Mexican constitution says that the Mexican federal government can remove a sitting governor if his state is “ungovernable”. Angry and tired of the corruption and violence of URO and his PRI political party, APPO decided to make Oaxaca ungovernable: occupying government buildings, taking over radio stations, setting up barricades, and more. Ever since, the people of Oaxaca seem to be walking a knife-edge, trying to drive out a politician, run a democracy, and prepare for attacks by police and paramilitaries. While there has been little mainstream news coverage, the folks at NarcoNews have been absolutely all over this. Maybe that’s another reason I felt I couldn’t understand the story; going to their site overwhelmed me with coverage.
Since the start of the rebellion, at least14 people opposing the URO regime have been killed by police and pro-URO paramilitary thugs.
Which brings us to the present.
On Friday, two more people were shot to death, a Oaxacan schoolteacher named Emilio Alfonso Fabián and an NYC Indymedia reporter named Brad Will. The murders were captured on video, and the shooter identified as a plainclothes policeman. The mainstream media, as is their habit, have said that the two were killed in “clashes” or “gun battles” (I’m never sure if that phrase means “we’re afraid to accuse one side and appear biased” or “we’re too lazy to find out the answer”). But if you skip down to paragraph 24 in this AP article, you read that there were five gunmen involved in the murders: two city council members, two police officers, and one “former justice of the peace of a nearby town.” And La Jornada has just reported that two of these men have been arrested (translation here). Honestly, I’ll be shocked if they face anything resembling justice.
These murders of protesters by police have spurred Mexican president Vicente Fox to take action to resolve this conflict–by sending in more police.
NarcoNews reporter Nancy Davies says:
My analysis is that if the PFP [federal police] enter the city by day, a negotiated exit is open for the APPO, possibly implying the removal URO from office. If they come by night, they’re likely coming to dislodge by force the resistance lodged in the zocalo (central city plaza) and barricades. URO precipitated the intervention by his attacks. The question is, does the PAN party of Fox and Calderón want to maintain URO as a sop to the PRI, or has URO become so costly that the PAN may choose to dump him? If so, URO’s setting up of the APPO backfires.
In other words, Fox wants to end this conflict, but she is unsure if Fox wants to do this by removing URO (who’s become an embarassment) and APPO simultaneously, or just APPO. Sadly, I’d guess the latter, which would mean more blood.
In a way, Brad Will was the catalyst for this. In the media world, a dozen Mexicans can be killed without notice, but an American getting killed in Mexico makes news. Will was an independent reporter who was driven to cover ongoing struggles against injustice around the world, even when danger was involved. In a sad irony, Will’s very last news report was about another man killed by paramilitaries in Oaxaca two weeks earlier, Alejandro Garcia Hernandez. Will’s poetic concluding paragraph in that report is made all the more painful because of it:
and now alejandro waits in the zocalo — like the others at their plantones — hes waiting for an impasse, a change, an exit, a way forward, a way out, a solution — waiting for the earth to shift and open — waiting for november when he can sit with his loved ones on the day of the dead and share food and drink and a song — waiting for the plaza to turn itself over to him and burst — he will only wait until morning but tonight he is waiting for the governor and his lot to never come back — one more death — one more martyr in a dirty war — one more time to cry and hurt — one more time to know power and its ugly head — one more bullet cracks the night — one more night at the barricades — some keep the fires — others curl up and sleep — but all of them are with him as he rests one last night at his watch
The mainstream media report Will’s “sympathies with the protest movements” like it was a bad thing. And it probably appears that way to big media, who confuse their sympathy with the status quo for “objectivity.” But really, it seems to me that Will was following the principles that we all want in our journalists. He heard about a situation where he thought a camera would help, so he went, with no thought of money, fame, or even his own safety. We want our journalists to be passionate and courageous, working on behalf of good people and not evil bastards, don’t we? Don’t we?
Indymedia, Will’s “news outlet”, was originally a project to cover the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, based on the idea that anyone could publish their stories. Its overwhelming success started a movement, with Indymedia chapters springing up across the globe, in well over 100 cities by now. It has always been tied to the global justice movement, with focus on how capitalism and governments hurt people from all walks of life, but also on how these same people fight back, help each other, and build their own just societies. Ideally, Indymedia Centers actually become part of these movements and societies. They want their work mean something, to actually make change instead of sit there on the page.
Sometimes a pen really is a sword and a camera a shield, and Brad Will took these to do battle alongside the people of Oaxaca.
You can get a bit of a feel for Brad Will here, a sort of memorial page to him on the NYC Indymedia website. Surely he would be horrified if his death was used as a pretext for a crackdown on the people of Oaxaca. And I’m sure he’d prefer that the anger and sadness instead inspire us to take action to support their struggles.
A list of protests taking place in front of Mexican embassies is being compiled at UlisesRuizAsesino.com, and a list of embassies in the US and Canada is here. Let em know that a crackdown would be bad, the URO regime is bad, and you’ll be watching. If I get any info about other protests or actions, I’ll post em up.
One of the many eulogies on the NYC IMC page notes that Brad used to end all his emails with “Stay in trouble.” Sounds like a good way to sign off.
Let’s stay in trouble out there.