The military assault against the teachers and members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca is continuing. The Federal government have sent in the Policia Federal Preventiva, a militarised police force, to quell the uprising and remove the barricades in the city. The latter colluded with paramilitary forces with a licence to kill. A temporary balance sheet of the state violence is chilling. Since the start of the teachers’ strike, five months ago, Mexican “democracy” has filled 25 body bags with social activists from the state of Oaxaca, while 54 more had bullet wounds and are lucky to be alive today.
Now it seems we are entering the most sinister of endgames where the Federal government instigated negotiations coincide with a drip of kidnappings and disappearances; this is the Chinese torture meted out to the masses. Over 400 people are reported to have disappeared although the judiciary in Oaxaca only admits to having arrested 85 people, 24 of whom are still in custody today. In an amazingly frank interview in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Lizbeth Caña, of the Minister of Justice of Oaxaca state outlines the intentions of the local elite. She says that the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the APPO, “is a violent group” which has committed acts that are “described in the law as terrorism”. She also said that while the majority of the people of Oaxaca are from an indigenous background, and do not always speak Spanish, “it is not necessary for the officers of the Public prosecution or the members of the different police forces to speak the native languages, because we have translators”. Questioned about the accusations of human rights abuses, torture and kidnappings by the state she answered that these allegations arise because people try to play on stereotypes and these things are repeated over the whole of Mexico not only in Oaxaca.
Negotiations with the Federal government
The “secretario de Gobernacion” – secretary of state - Carlos Abascal Carranza, the highest civil servant for internal affairs in Mexico, has opened up negotiations between the Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz and the representatives of the APPO. As a representative of the Federal state he is ultimately concerned that calm can return to Oaxaca so that the Federal authorities can preserve the integrity of the nation. He called on Ulises Ruiz to reach an agreement with APPO or else resign. The latter responded that since the Mexican state was afraid to apply the law, despite the fact it was necessary to go over to even more brutal repression, it was the secretary of state who should resign.
Of late the position of the government has sharpened. The PRI who only a week ago asked Ruiz, who is a member of the PRI, to resign now says that this decision must be taken by the people of Oaxaca. The Oaxaca Chamber of commerce for radio (CIRT) and television has pushed itself to the foreground as the sharpest representatives of local reaction. It demands that the state recaptures all radio stations taken over by APPO and put into place measures to close down any transmitters who broadcast trade union or APPO information. This while the radio station run by PRI supporters in Oaxaca city is openly calling for for lynchings and attacks on certain leaders and activists of the APPO.
The demands of APPO have hardly developed throughout the five month struggle. The teachers’ trade union started its strike started with wage demands. Faced with a state governor who refused to talk to the representatives of the trade union different community organisations, organisations representing the indigenous people and local activists joined in the struggle and set up the Popular Assembly for the People of Oaxacxa, the APPO. They then adopted the demand for the dismissal of the state governor of Oaxaca Ulises Ruiz. Now the APPO still organises and negotiates around this central theme and asks as well for the release of the activists in jail, the cancellation of all arrest orders and the departure of the PFP, the Policia Federal Preventiva. These demands can count on mass support as a demonstration of 1.5 million of Oaxaquenos demonstrated last week. The festive but militant mood of this demonstration is to be explained because it took place the day after the APPO and the students of Oaxaca drove back the police after a violent confrontation that lasted 6 hours.
However apart from throwing up the perspective of a renewal of the institutions, the Congress and ultimately the formation of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, these demands do not show a political way forward let alone a way in which to break with capitalism and build a new society.
This is the main reason why, since the military assault of Oaxaca, the APPO has been on the defensive and the forces of the state, political and military, seem able to contain the situation.
APPO against sectarianism
APPO organised a conference last weekend which will continue today in Oaxaca. This undertaking, under enormous difficult circumstances and with the black hand of oppression hanging over it, brought together 3000 representatives from all over the State of Oaxaca. The APPO leadership claims that they have taken over 11 municipalities throughout Oaxaca state and will continue to block major roads. This strategy of widening the conflict geographically will make pinpointed repression harder.
The APPO leadership, as is to be expected from the leadership of an elected popular organisation bringing together different strata of the popular classes, and is made up of people from different trends and backgrounds. The leading people that are most often quoted by the press state that they are building a new kind of organisation. “An organisation bringing together representatives of the peoples, representatives of collectives, trade unions, social and political groups but above all representatives without a name from all the barricades, from every street and every borough”.
There is of course tremendous merit in this and the fact that so many people will participate who do not belong to an organisation but joined the struggle individually shows the mass support that exists. Unfortunately the implication seems to be that political ideas about how to bring the struggle forward have to be limited and the struggle limited to its day to day demands.
While the APPO conducts a determined and heroic struggle it needs to develop the Peoples Assembly further and discuss a programme to take the struggle forward. The APPO could be developed into an organisation of revolutionary struggle of the working class poised to take over local control in the state. This could be done by extending the local committees to cover every workplace and community. Each of which could play a role in the struggle against the state governor, elect delegates subject to recall and take over functions of the state government with the aim of immediately involving the mass of the people in carrying out measure to bring society under their control and improving their live and living standards.
In the demonstrations in support of the APPO, be it in Mexico City or in Oaxaca itself, the slogan “struggle, struggle, for a workers, peasants and popular government” is heard. This, the APPO has to use and make concrete. What would a workers, peasants and popular government do? What programme does it need? How and why would it be different from the government of the capitalist elite and why is it the case that the people of Oaxaca, and by extension the whole of Mexico, have no trust in the bureaucratised and corrupt leadership of the trade unions or in the PRI, PAN or PRD parties. Only by answering these questions and connecting them with a revolutionary socialist programme can the APPO reach out to the masses and show a way forward in their momentous struggle in Oaxaca, throughout Mexico.
This revolutionary socialist programme would have to include the nationalisation of the leading sectors of the economy under democratic workers control and workers management. A workers and peasants government would propose an emergency plan of public works in the state and throughout Mexico to alleviate unemployment and the worst poverty. It would carry out the renationalisation under democratic workers control of privatised industry, examining the enormous enrichment, corruption and fraud that took place throughout it and cancel any fraudulent privatisation with only compensation on the basis of proven need. It would extend full democratic and cultural rights to the indigenous peoples of Mexico and it would implement an immediate process of land reform and land distribution as a first step before examining all the theft of lands from the poor peasants and indigenous people and extracting compensation from the guilty.
Some leaders of APPO, in this case the professor Mario Cruz Lopez and the lawyer Filipe Canseco, declare that the best possible outcome of this struggle would be the signing of “a new social pact” for Oaxaca. Maybe a determined struggle can extract some concessions from the state and central government.
However a new social pact on the basis of capitalism cannot even begin to redress the exploitation of the local population at the hands of Mexican and international capitalism and landlordism. To be sure, at this stage of the struggle, any advantages to be gained for the people of Oaxaca would be readily accepted by all. Limiting our vision of this tremendous struggle to a social pact within the boundaries of capitalism however is preparing for disillusionment and a failure to take advantage of this struggle to prepare for the future.