We go to Oaxaca in southern Mexico where over 50 arrest warrants have been issued for grassroots leaders who have mobilized to demand that the state governor be removed. In June, Oaxaca’s governor, Ulises Ruiz, ordered a police crackdown on more than 70,000 teachers on strike, who had staged an encampment in the city center. [includes rush transcript]
We turn to Mexico where massive street demonstrations continue in the capital in support of populist presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Monday marked the first day that police used tear gas and truncheons to break up the demonstrators. But while the world’s attention is on Mexico city, another battle is gaining intensity in the south of the country, in the state of Oaxaca.
In June, Oaxaca’s governor, Ulises Ruiz, ordered a police crackdown on a peaceful encampment of 70,000 teachers on strike in the city center.
Since then, others have joined the teachers to create a broad movement opposed to Ruiz’s government. Over the past month the Oaxacan People’s Assembly, known as APPO, has launched a campaign of civil disobedience aimed at forcing Ruiz to step down. Protesters have blockaded streets and government buildings. This past week a group of women took over the state run Television station Canal 9.
Since the uprising began, the state has intensified its use of force. As many as four members of APPO were fatally shot this past week. Nearly ten people have been injured and many more detained. Allegedly state-backed gunmen have also raided media outlets critical of the government.
We are joined on the line from Oaxaca by three guests:
- Jill Freidberg, filmmaker who has spent several years in Oaxaca. She is producer of the film “Granito De Arena”, which documents the Oaxaca teacher’s union movement. More information at Corrugate.org.
- John Gibler, journalist whose articles have been published on ZNet, and will appear in Z magazine as well as in These Times Magazines next month. John is also a Human Rights Fellow with Global Exchange.
- Sergio Beltran, general coordinator for Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, or Unitierra, an NGO for alternative education. Through Unitierra he has been a participant in the Oaxaca People’s Assembly. He also is part of the broadcasting team of Oaxaca’s community radio station: Radio Planton, where he produces a show on the mass media.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Filmmaker Jill Freidberg interviewed some of the women following the takeover.
APPO WOMAN 1: We want to talk a little bit about the events that have taken place from August 1 until now, when the woman all marched in the march of the pots and pans, and after that we decided.
APPO WOMAN 2: It was decided after the rally, after the march in which, according to the press, over 10,000 women participated, we decided to head over to Channel 9.
APPO WOMAN 3: We were indignant that they had denied us our right to information. All you heard on the radio, in the press, and especially on TV, was lies.
APPO WOMAN 4: Neighbors from different neighborhoods, people from communities around the city of Oaxaca, come here throughout the night, constantly, bringing us food, bringing us everything we need.
APPO WOMAN 1: So we were still here. We’ve been able to broadcast on the television and the radio, and we want to continue using that for the community. We know that a lot of critical voices haven’t had a space, and now is the time for them to have a voice. People have been coming here from all the different neighborhoods, and this is a peaceful struggle. We don’t have weapons. We’re all women in here.
APPO WOMAN 2: This is now a people’s movement. It’s a just struggle. We are only asking for what is rightly ours and that our rights be recognized. And he, as governor, has to give us what we have a right to, in every neighborhood, in every community, but that hasn’t happened. That’s why civil society is so angry, and we are stronger now than ever.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Since the uprising began, the state has intensified its use of force. As many as four members of APPO were fatally shot this past week. Nearly ten people have been injured and many more detained. Allegedly state-backed gunmen have also raided media outlets critical of the government.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now on the telephone from Oaxaca by three guests. Jill Freidberg, filmmaker who spent several years in Oaxaca, she’s producer of the film, Granito de Arena, which documents the Oaxaca teacher’s union movement. John Gibler is a journalist who spent several weeks traveling between Oaxaca and Mexico City in these last weeks. His articles appear on Znet and the upcoming issue of Z Magazine and In These Times. And Sergio Beltran is with us, general coordinator for the University of the Earth in Oaxaca, or Unitierra, an NGO for alternative education. Through Unitierra he has been a participant in the Oaxaca People’s Assembly. He’s also part of the broadcasting team of Oaxaca’s community radio station, Radio Planton, where he produces a show on the mass media. We welcome you all to Democracy Now!
We wanted to begin with Sergio. Last month we talked to one of the teachers in the teachers’ union. Can you talk about where the police had moved in and opened fire? Can you talk about what has happened since and the significance of these women occupying the TV station and forcing the station to run footage of police attacking protesters?
SERGIO BELTRAN: Sure. First of all, good morning to everyone, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. Well, after June 14, what happened was that a locally seated movement of the union of teachers was transformed in a very broad social process against the way the governor has been acting since he is empowered since last December.
One of the most important attacks was to Radio Planton, because Radio Planton was the voice of the movement, and people listened to the radio, although it’s a small canal radio from the union of teachers, because it was the only way to have, like, good information about what was happening. Still now, the government is using all the time they got into the national media to say that nothing is happening in Oaxaca, everything is in calm, it’s just a bunch of people that have took in a rally five or six blocks of the city. And people was seeing all the time that it was more than that, that it was a regional movement all around the state, and then when the violence come, the whole people, a lot of the social sectors and all the official movements of Oaxaca come together with the same demand: stop this way of making politics, because violence is not the way, and we deserve a better government there.
And then, it was massified, the whole [inaudible], since then. People and this movement have been working on that line specifically with demonstrations and rallies, all of them after August the 1st, when the women [inaudible] decided that it was enough, this bloc of people nation, decided to march to the channel, to Canal 9, and getting control over the state government radio station.
So, for me, the most important thing that has happened in Oaxaca is this particularity. I can’t find any other example in Latin America, when the people get actually in control of several ways of communication with the rest of the society. Not only the Canal 9 in the TV and the Radio Cacerola, the way that the women have renamed this radio station, the station, but also Radio Planton, and for several days after June 14 ’til more or less one week ago, the university radio was controlled by the students supporting the movement.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Jill Freidberg, you’ve been filming this ongoing unrest in the teachers strike there. Could you talk a little bit about how extensive this is and the importance of Oaxaca, of one of many states in Mexico, as a longtime center of resistance within the country?
JILL FREIDBERG: Well, Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states. It’s also one of Oaxaca’s most indigenous states, and it’s also the state where historically the Democratic Teachers’ Movement has been largest and has had the most strength. And so, we’re talking about a state where, in relationship to the teachers’ movement, you know, almost — there isn’t a community in the state that doesn’t have a teacher, and not in every — I mean, I’m not saying that in every community that there is a good relationship between the teachers and the community, but there is a long history of struggle between schoolteachers and other Oaxacans, campesinos, indigenous, marginalized populations, who have fought together against the injustices that you see in every corner of the state.
So when the newly arrived governor, Ulises Ruiz, attacked the teachers’ encampment on June 14, it was sort of an inevitable evolution that that long history of struggle would spark an outpouring of what was initially was an outpouring of support for the teachers, but which immediately evolved into a popular movement that really is — I mean, I really want to emphasize the sort of broad spectrum of participation, and not even all the people and all the organizations and all the communities that are participating necessarily have a history of supporting the teachers’ movement, but who share in common a — you know, they’re fed up with the injustices and especially the level of escalation of those injustices in the state since the arrival of this governor, Ulises Ruiz.
And like Sergio said, there has been this attempt, this nationwide media attempt, to say that nothing is happening in Oaxaca, but, in fact, this is a movement that does — that is throughout the state. I don’t even know now what the number is, somewhere around 30 municipalities across the state have replaced the local governments with popular governments. City halls around the state have been taken over by communities, who in many cases have aligned themselves with the APPO, with the popular assembly. And, I mean, the fact that they’re trying to say that nothing is happening in Oaxaca, I think, actually demonstrates just how profound what’s happening in Oaxaca is.
AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, I wanted to bring you into the conversation before the program ends. You’ve written a piece at ZNet called “Pistol Policy: State Denial and Repression in Oaxaca.” Can you talk about the four people who were recently killed and also put this in the context of the national debate that is going on right now, the contest over who will be president?
JOHN GIBLER: Of course. First off, the shootouts have all taken place in the context of either marches or meetings that the APPO have held, protest gatherings, or in one case, several people were ambushed on their way to such a meeting. That’s where three people in the Triqui region, three indigenous people, were killed by armed gunmen who were not in uniform. Later, a few days later, in a march that was actually held, convoked on a day’s notice to pull people into the streets to demand that people who had been either disappeared or taken prisoner and beaten be presented and be released. During that march, armed gunmen shot from two sides of the street into the crowd, wounding three people and killing one person, Jose Colmenares, who’s a mechanic and husband of one of the teachers and members of the teachers’ movement.
The policy here has been systematic, that it’s isolated, unarmed gunmen who appear in the crowds, shoot sometimes into the air, as with the case the week before in several protest gatherings in Oaxaca City, and is also the case with the Noticias newspaper, the critical newspaper in Oaxaca state. Armed gunmen entered with Uzis and shot into the ceiling. There, bullet fragments wounded six people. But in several cases, amazingly, the APPO members have actually detained the gunmen themselves and disarmed them and then turned them over to federal agents or detained people who were suspected of being —- they weren’t seen to have shot, but were seen either running or caught, in the case of the March shooting, they were caught in the -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: John, we just have about 30 seconds, but just a quick comment on how this impacts on the overall battle over the presidency right now in the election.
JOHN GIBLER: Definitely. It shows that the working class society in Mexico is boiling. And I think the concrete image here in Mexico City is the spirit of resistance. It’s something that, I think, gives encouragement to the protesters in Mexico City in their fight against the electoral fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us from Oaxaca: John Gibler, journalist, his piece appears at ZNet; Jill Freidberg, who’s continuing to document this; and Sergio Beltran, general coordinator for Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca. We will certainly continue to cover what is happening in Oaxaca and, in general, what is happening in Mexico.