Hell Is Rising in Oaxaca: An Interview with an Oaxacan Rebel

When I lived in Washington state, some of my closest friends were from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.  I have kept in touch with a few of them, and they have kept me in touch with the rebellion unfolding in the streets of Oaxaca over the past few months.  After the escalation of the situation there on October 27, 2006, when paramilitary forces shot and killed four people (including Indymedia journalist Brad Will), I spoke with my friends David Abeles and Hilaria Cruz who helped me contact some of their people in Oaxaca city.  Given the circumstances currently existing in the area and the uncertainty of the immediate future because of the military and police presence there, I felt that the best way to get firsthand information out to the wider world would be to conduct an email interview.  The first interview is below.  I hope to have another one ready in the next couple days.

Ron: Hey Tomas.  Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.  Would you be willing to introduce yourself?

Tomas: Hi, I would like to salute all the readers of this electronic journal.  My name is Tomas Cruz, I am a native from a community in Oaxaca in the highlands.  I was forced by the economic situation to migrate to the States.  Fortunately I gained an education at the Evergreen State College.  I also went to the University of Texas at Austin for a graduate degree in Latin American studies.

Ron: So, you’ve been in Oaxaca during the entire uprising?  Can you tell us the sequence of events as you see them up to now?

Tomas: I have been involved in diverse NGOs working for the communities in Oaxaca up until the time of the Oaxacan uprising.

What we are seeing in Oaxaca is a breakdown of political system that is completely corrupt and deliberately abuses its citizens at will, using the legitimacy of the state to impose a government that only uses power to advance a personal agenda and that of a very small political oligarchy.  Since the start of  the present government, it was characterized by repression of political leaders, immediately killing them and imposing its repressive mode of government.

The result of the events which are occurring as we speak began with an annual demonstration by the teachers’ syndicate.  In the 14th of June, the state police attacked the teachers who were at the zocalo for the demonstration.

The response from the citizenry was immediate — hundreds of people joined the teachers strike and saw an opportunity to stop the continued abuses from the government.

I can only describe what is occurring as catharsis of the population, especially of the immense poor population of the city.

After the attack by the state and the immense response from the population, the most remarkable event in the politics of the movement has been the formation of a popular assembly of the pueblos of Oaxaca, also known as APPO.

The APPO organizations have been capable of resisting all the attacks from the state government, from spots attacking the protesters as a bunch of radicals to the death squads sent to kill people who were protesting at night.

The response of the APPO was to develop barricades to stop the death squads.  This resulted in a historic, animated political culture, with also a strong popular support.

Recently, the violence escalated when the international reporter died at the hands of the mercenaries paid by the governor.

Yesterday, there was an intervention by the federal police after the multiple deaths and probably also after the international pressure following the death of the international reporter.  The federal police killed at least 4 people and raped one woman during the intervention.  The response of the APPO is to maintain the protest until the governor resigns and the political system is reformed.

Ron: What groups were involved that you know of?  Also, I imagine that many people were unaffiliated.  What were their reasons for joining, in your estimate?

Tomas: This movement is composed of the poorest section of the population.  Old housewives who think of this as a parallel to the revolution of 1910 and are ready to resist for years, beggars who are tired of the abuses by the police or simply sympathize with the movement because they see no hope and future in their lives.  Mechanics, civil servants, citizens from the neighboring neighborhoods who have had their municipal presidents imposed on them.  Citizens from the poorest sections of the city.

Ron: From my understanding, PRI and its allies were responsible for the shootings that killed several people on October 27th.  Is PRI the only party responsible for the situation in Oaxaca or are other political parties also responsible?

Tomas: No, the PRI is seeing its last days, and it has resorted to the only thing that it knows, violence.

Ron: You’re in Oaxaca right now.  What the hell is going on?

Tomas: Hell is rising in Oaxaca, the force of the government against teachers, students, housewives, mechanics, peasants.  The whole city and the whole state is filled with federal police, local police, military.

Ron: How are the spirits of those in the rebellion?  Where do they get their food and water?

Tomas: There is ample popular support for this uprising which results in a steady flow of donations from communities and lay citizens who donate at different points.  Mainly this has been coordinated by using radio stations.  At this point, there is one station left, which is being broadcast through the internet at www.indymedia.org — you (those of you who can speak Spanish) can listen to what is going on as we speak.

The radio broadcasters who have little experience but a huge heart respond to the needs of the people on the barricades.  Yesterday, for example, they organized the installation of medical aid stations because the Red Cross got instructions from the governor and its director not to attend to the flurry of people who were shot at by the governor’s police.

Ron: Do you think there is a potential for armed conflict (beyond that seen already — which seems mostly to originate from the forces of the state)?

Tomas: Hmm, if the state continues on its support of a political figure who has lost completely popular support, especially from the poor, then we will see an escalation of violence. because the demands of the people after decades — some argue centuries — have been unattended.  Honestly, I think that this would continue as peaceful opposition, and hopefully we would see a more democratic state.  Only if the government continues its escalation of violence would we see a critical cyclical point in Mexico’s history.

Ron: If the federal forces are able to quash the rebellion, what kind of repression do you think will follow?  Indeed, based on past experiences, after the media leaves the region, what do you foresee happening to the movement, its participants and supporters, and the region in general?

Tomas: I think that the violence is going to be targeted at the organizers and the leaders of the movement.

Ron: In the greater scheme of things, how would you relate this to other struggles occurring in the Americas?  What relationship, if any, do you see the demands of the protestors have to the anti-imperialist/anti-global capitalism movements in this hemisphere and around the world?

Tomas: This rebellion reminds me of Bolivia, because of it indigenous component.  As in Bolivia, once the indigenous population decide that a government needs to be overturned, we see that they gain a determination that has caused it to fall.  In the case of Oaxaca, the most likely scenario is that the governor is going to be overthrown.  What we are seeing also is a political scenario that changes everyday.  The news today is that the political parties at the national level are all calling for the governor to resign.

If the movement maintains the level and determination that we are seeing, then this movement has a chance of playing an important role in national politics and possibly a shift in the neoliberal government of Mexico.

Ron: Anything more to add?

Tomas: I was at the scene five minutes before the reporter from Indymedia was killed.  I remember hearing the shots, people running all over the place, unarmed mechanics, housewives.  There was a woman there, I do not know if she was a teacher, I only remember her words, “This is our moment, we cant go on living like this, it is enough.  I went to school barefoot, and it makes me cry to see what happens here.  Our only future is the border with the United States.  It makes me sad to see our young finish a university degree only to work as taxi drivers.  This is our moment, we can’t let them continue to oppress us.”

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <rjacobs3625@charter.net>.

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