Mexico: Police and army move against the rebellion in Oaxaca

Police in civilian clothes shoot four people before moving in with armoured trucks and helicopters

After five months of struggle and open rebellion in Oaxaca the outgoing Mexican president Vicente Fox has taken a gamble by sending in the police and the army to retake control over the state institutions and the city.

The "Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca", or APPO (the organising committee of the popular uprising against the state governor), called on the citizens of Oaxaca to resist the assault by police forces peacefully and not give in to provocations.

Brad Will, journalist,
killed in Oaxaca
by the police

On Friday a group of armed men, who were identified later as policemen in civilian clothes, opened fire on one of the many barricades throughout the city. Three protesters were shot dead, along with a US journalist (right) who was shot in the chest twice. Having shot dead four people, the state forces then moved in and removed the barricades ‘to prevent further violence’!

Brad Will’s Assassins, identified by El Universal: Juan Carlos Soriano Velasco (red tshirt), a police officer known as "the Grasshopper"; Manuel Aguilar (dark jacket), city personnel director; and public safety chief Avel Santiago Zárate (red shirt). Photos: D.R. 2006 El Universal

The teachers strike in Oaxaca

The movement in Oaxaca has gone from strength to strength over the last five months and has put forward as its main demand the resignation of the state governor, Ulises Ruiz, a member of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, Mexico’s ruling party).

The movement in Oaxaca started with the strike of teachers for better wages. The teachers’ union in Oaxaca State organises 70,000 members in a school population of over 1 million. Teachers strikes are a regularly reoccurring event. As one of the teachers put it: "We have learned to fight for everything we get, because otherwise no one pays us any attention". What was different this time is that the state governor Ulises Ruiz decided to fulfil his electoral promise to ‘clean Oaxaca City from the strikes and demonstrations’.

When the teachers went on strike on 22 May the governor refused to negotiate or even meet them. Instead the police were sent in, to try and "clean" the main square were thousands of protesters had built a tent city. After three hours of violence and with several wounded, the police had to redraw from the main square for "lack of troopers and lack of anti-riot material".

Out of the battle and as consequence of the radicalisation of the struggle, a new popular committee was built to lead the struggle. The "Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca" or APPO brought together numerous social movements from all over Oaxaca state and served a catalyst for the anger of the population in what is one of the most ‘forgotten’ states in Mexico.

President Vincente Fox and president in waiting Calderon

The move by Vincente Fox to send in the troops comes after a debate held in the Mexican parliament – were it was claimed that Oaxaca was still governable and the authority of the governor and the state institutions were untouched by the popular uprising. This fiction signalled that the government would use repression to guarantee the rule of Ulises Ruiz and smash the uprising.

The Mexican ruling class has been preparing this clampdown and hopes it will prevent the unrest spreading to other parts of the country and linking up with the millions-strong movement against the fraudulent election victory of Calderon against Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Calderon will be swore in at the first of December in Mexico city. Meanwhile the radical populist Manuel Lopez Obrador has been elected by a mass popular assembly of over 500,000 people as the head of a parallel government, which is committed to a mass campaign of "civil protest".

What next?

The leader of the APPO, Flavio Sosa, in comments quoted by the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, has put forward the perspective of linking the struggle against the state governor Ulises Ruiz with the national movement against the Calderon government. "Si Ulises no se va, Calderón no pasará" – "If Ulises does not go, Calderon will not pass". It is not clear, however, how APPO envisages the continuation of the struggle and what the objective of the mass mobilisation should be.

"We have a medium term strategy which will consist of mass peaceful mobilisations. The APPO is struggling for justice, fraternity and harmony of all the people of Oaxaca, to rid ourselves from an expired and authoritarian government", said Ruiz.

It is significant that Manuel Lopez Obrador has kept his distance from events in Oaxaca and urged that the national protests would limit itself to "peaceful civil protest". The coming together of the different movements, strikes and rebellions in Mexico makes it all the more urgent for the working class to develop its own independent organisations, party and programme to overthrow capitalism.

A revolutionary party could play a decisive role in unifying the different struggles in Mexico and allow the working class to play a leading role in the fight for revolutionary socialism.

One of the main tasks is to democratise the trade unions. This means fighting for free democratic elections of the trade union leadership and for democratic control of the unions by the rank and file. A national campaign to build a one-day general strike, as a first step to stop Calderon being sworn in, needs to be launched.

The events in Mexico open a new chapter in the struggles of the Mexican masses. Mexico’s powerful revolutionary traditions, coming from the revolutionary period between 1910 and 1920, can be connected with the need to overthrow capitalism and build a democratic socialist revolution.

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