There is a media campaign throughout Mexico advertising that Oaxaca is once again safe for tourists. The buildings are freshly painted, the Federal Forces have left only a skeleton crew in the city (State Police have taken their place), and the media frenzy from past months is gone. Friends from the U.S. have written saying that there is not much in the mainstream media anymore about Oaxaca, just that the situation has been resolved. Though the Mexican media campaign may be right about Oaxaca now being safe for tourists, the conflict itself is clearly far from being over—as demonstrated in this synopsis of events that have happened in Oaxaca since we last wrote:
December 23 is the day that every year artisans display radish sculptures depicting Oaxacan traditions such as candelas (popular religious processions), folkloric dance, and town fiestas. This year the APPO planned to have an alternative “Night of the Radishes,” sculpting different events of the conflict ranging from satirical renditions of the governor and helicopters to coffins representing those who have died in the conflict. A State Police operation early in the morning of the twenty-third sealed off the anticipated venue, the plaza in front of Santo Domingo church, and stopped it from happening. Later that day, the APPO was able to have the event in another smaller plaza, although surrounded by State Police clad in anti-riot gear.
On December 31, authorities forced prisoners released from the Tlacolula prison (three hours south of Oaxaca city by car) to sign a document accusing Yesica Sanchez Maya, coordinator of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights in Oaxaca, of inciting violence during the events of November 25. Immediately, civil society organizations condemned this, calling for the safety of Sanchez Maya and stating that it represented the on-going pattern of harassment and threats against human rights defenders.
In early January, 20 Triqui indigenous communities, all associated with the APPO, declared themselves autonomous. Regionally they are located in the Mixteca, close to the border with the state of Guerrero. They will no longer respond to municipal governments, who they say are part of the state’s power structure, but to the newly formed autonomous municipal government of San Juan Copala.
On January 4, 5, and 6, a municipal police operation attempted to stop an alliance of organizations from collecting toys for children who were either victims of the conflict or who were from popular neighborhoods or communities. January 6, El Dia de los Reyes Magos or the Day of the Three Kings, is the traditional day during the Christmas festivities on which gifts are exchanged in Oaxaca. They were still able to give out gifts to the kids, but were again forced out of the Santo Domingo plaza and surrounded by dozens of municipal police. Police justified their actions by stating that they were trying to make “the city safe for tourists.”
On January 7, a detained university student accused the Federal Preventative Police of sexually abusing “at least 15 prisoners” while being transported to the state of Nayarit following the detentions of November 25; his accusations include instances of forced oral sex. This comes along with a steady flow of human rights violations reported by prisoners of the conflict, including torture, being held incommunicado, physical and psychological abuse, and constant intimidation. Local, national, and international human rights organizations, including a mission from Europe, The Civil International Commission of Human Rights Organizations, are documenting the testimonies and denouncements. The Federal Government said it would investigate all accusations “on a case by case basis.”
Currently family members of prisoners have established protest encampments in front of the Oaxaca state prisons in Tlacolula and Miahuatlan, only to become victims—just like their incarcerated loved ones—of the most recent round of overt police repression. On Saturday, January 13, State Police broke up the protest outside of the prison at Miahuatlan, beating the participants and detaining 8 of them.
Most prisoners were transferred from Nayarit to Oaxaca in late December. One hundred three prisoners detained after November 25 have been released; 59 remain behind bars. The family members in protest say that the Federal Government promised to release “all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners” before the first of the year. “So,” they ask, “why are our family members still here?”
The Federal Government cancelled negotiations scheduled with the APPO on January 8. The Ministry of the Interior said that the APPO did not provide a proposal for state reforms from which they could make a counter proposal. They said that the APPO was coming to the table with their principal demands—the resignation of governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, the release of all political prisoners, and the lifting of all arrest warrants against people in the movement—but that these were already in process and their solutions already being investigated. The APPO responded that, by canceling negotiations, the Federal Government was “minimizing the conflict.” The State Council of the APPO has begun the process of defining their next “general offensive” so their demands would be met, including the ninth mega-march planned for February 3. The council also said that it would come up with a concrete proposal on state reform in order to continue negotiations.
Accusations of rights violations, APPO participants’ ongoing strategizing, the constant floundering of negotiations, and ongoing repression have all taken place in the midst of 2007’s first major economic disaster for Mexico’s poor: the skyrocketing prices of tortillas. Prices have risen from 6 pesos (about 60 cents) a kilogram (2.2 pounds) to anywhere between 10 and 15 pesos (between about $1.00 and $1.50) a kilogram, depending on the region. This blow is felt particularly hard by the poor majority of Mexicans, as a worker earning minimum wage (approximately 48 pesos or about $4.80 a day) has to use 20 percent of his or her salary to pay for this basic staple of the Mexican diet. Many blame the dismantled agricultural sector (many corn farmers have migrated and given up farming in light of cheap market flooding by large corporations) and the monopolizing of the industry by huge companies (such as U.S. grain giants Arthur Daniel’s Midland and Cargill), which are both direct results of NAFTA and other neoliberal economic policy measures. The sudden leap in tortilla prices is fueling popular protest around the already polarized country.
Alberto Gonzales and Eduardo Medina Mora, Attorney Generals of the U.S. and Mexico, respectively, met recently and agreed to increase bi-national cooperation against crime. Though the assumption is that they were talking about drug-trafficking, one has to wonder if Oaxaca’s APPO and other massive popular movements throughout Mexico, fueled by increasing economic violence, were also on their minds.