There was scarcely time for the blood to dry on the pavement, or for the teams of street cleaners to eliminate signs of ash and broken glass, when the Popular Assembly of the Peoples’ of Oaxaca (APPO) called for its next meeting on Sunday morning, the day when Ulises Ruiz declared that the struggle was over.
Saturday had seen the historic center of Oaxaca erupt into war, with Oaxaquenos fighting the police forces of the federal, state and city governments, plus unknown numbers of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) loyalists who wore civilian clothes. According to an article in Noticias on November 25, and repeated in La Jornada, more than 200 ministerial police (Policia Ministerial de la Procuraduria General de Justicia de Oaxaca, PGJO) in Oaxaca are more or less “out of control.” They are allegedly the ones responsible for the lightning-strike detentions of members of the APPO and members of other organizations who oppose Ulises Ruiz. They are commanded by the Oaxaca government.
Sources, claims Noticias, indicate that the federal government has taken control only of the Municipal and State police, but not of the ministerial agents assigned to the city of Oaxaca. Thus they don’t discount the possibility that violence was committed by them during the march of Saturday, November 18.
The federal government investigators agreed there is a state of ungovernability in Oaxaca which “cannot be solved by police actions, but only by obtaining and administering justice, social development, infrastructure and education; but in this moment the conditions are not there and the capacity to do these things is not there because the social justice demands of the APPO, and the organizations that belong to it, have been fully validated.”
On Sunday morning, in the stunned silence as a result from the previous night, the governor called for a support rally in Llano Park. With helicopters circling overhead, about 200 people turned out to celebrate his “victory.” A victory that included, according to his government, 149 arrests. According to La Jornada, there are about thirty-eight wounded, and possibly three dead. Those arrested in Oaxaca have been consistently subjected to torture, according to the Human Rights Network. The number of those disappeared is not clear. The number of vehicles burned add up to more than a dozen. Buildings burned include offices of Foreign Relations located on Pino Suarez Street and the Superior Tribunal of Justice building located on Juarez Avenue.
The confrontations erupted in different parts of the city after a peaceful march of protest from the government buildings of Santa Maria Coyotepec to the historic center. The APPO announced that because of the risk of violence, more than 200 of their state councilors would function as human shields for security during the march itself. The purpose of the march was to demand the departure of the governor Ulises Ruiz and the withdrawal of the federal forces from the state.
The APPO plan, to encircle the Federal Preventive Police (PFP in its Spanish initials) occupying the center zocalo, was carried out about five o’clock, with the APPO supporters standing a block or two away from the PFP lines. The PFP stationed shooters on “friendly” rooftops, and during the day had been searching the backpacks and handbags of person trying to enter the zocalo. Many entrances were simply blocked to foot traffic.
At about 5:00 the PFP began to react to the protesters. In my opinion, there were some young people present who wanted to go beyond verbal insults and attack the PFP so as to drive them from the zocalo. Furthermore, there is no doubt that some of the protagonists were infiltrators who sparked the physical fighting. During this time the APPO, by way of radio broadcasts. was asking for a pacific and calm protest. Given that there had been sexual abuse of Oaxaca women by police the day before, and that the numbers of the PFP had increased, it did seem inevitable that confrontation would erupt. By 2:00 the usually busy pedestrian streets were deserted, and virtually all the shops surrounding the zocalo were locked.
After about an hour of the show-down, the PFP began to shoot at the demonstrators. The state ministerial police and the PFP began moving into some specific areas such as the Llano Park, Crespo Street, the Abastos Center, and other points. In this sweep they arrested approximately forty, including twenty women. Several were wounded. There were no warrants or official causes for arrests other than possible affiliation with the APPO or with barricades.
The PFP together with state police had been waging this ongoing detention against the members of the social movement in Oaxaca. Vans carrying police in civilian clothes, as well as other PFP forces, were carrying out massive detentions in several places in the city, including in front of the University, against citizens who were not carrying identification.
In a related side-note, a PFP guard requested identification from a friend of mine, who is eighty-one years old, when he went shopping. He produced his senior identification card and was permitted to pass. He carried no bag or backpack. The challenge, though illegal, was permitted.
Battles were waged up and down the seven or eight blocks to the north and south of the zocalo, until they reached the ADO bus station on the main street of Ninos y Heroes de Chapultepec. Ironically, the bus station was crowded with tourists trying to flee the embattled city while the Government forces were dedicating themselves to making the city once again “safe” for the business and tourist industries. The teargas followed them to the bus station.
At the same time, the esplanade of Santo Domingo church was cleared and burned of APPO tents and tables. In the face of the overwhelming attacks, the APPO decided to retreat from the field, which happened around 10:00 PM, with the now-famous “La Doctora” of Radio Universidad assuring her listeners that the shame fell on the government, not the people, who struggle with dignity for their rights. Many people took refuge in friendly homes and were able to avoid the police sweeps.
Meanwhile, blockades had been placed on the super-highway Cuacnopalan-Oaxaca, in the municipality of Nochixtlan, located about 80 kilometers from the state capital, and in the toll booth of Huitzo, some 25 kilometers away, to try to impede the entrance of APPO sympathizers into the city. It is difficult to say how many people were prevented from arriving. For those already in the city, the so-called Radio Ciudadana was broadcasting advice to government followers to throw hot water and muriatic acid from their roofs onto APPO sympathizers. The radio broadcasters have been identified as Alexis and Marco Tulio, who affiliated with the PRI. “Be careful,” Radio Universidad explained, “there are many PFP who are electrifying the wires on the roads. The PFP are in unmarked vans. This is the seventh mega-march, bring your placards, your slogans, be ready but don’t fall into provocations.”
Marches have occurred almost daily in the past week. Maintaining a steady drumbeat, although not a loud one, women marched against the sexual assault of a woman by the PFP. Students marched against the presence of the PFP in Oaxaca, and more students from the Technological Institute of Oaxaca protested the detention and the torture of their peer, Eliuth Amni Martinez Sanchez, suffered at the hands of the federal agents during the confrontation on Monday, November 20. Martinez Sanchez was located in Tlocolula Prison, thrown onto the floor of a cell in, missing one fingernail, with a severe head wound, a broken nose and a broken kneecap. The lawyers who found him obtained his transfer to a hospital. Thereafter, students from the Technological Institute demanded that the Institute honor its commitment to close down if violence against students continued. The Institute is now closed.
Another personal aside: a young friend who is a medical student stopped by to say hello today during the strange silence of the morning. When the battle erupted, he had sensibly gone home to stay out of trouble, although, he told me, that he thought he identified people from Mexico City who were UNAM porros. No proof of that. In any case, as we chatted, he told me he will serve his obligatory public service year as a new doctor in a little town in the mountains.
“And what,” I asked him, “happens with a new doctor when there’s an unexpected emergency? I’ve seen those mountain ‘clinics,’ which seem to consist of nothing more than a cement-block room.” “We are instructed to send special cases down to the city,” he replied.
I asked, “And how is that done? Is there a helicopter ambulance?” He laughed.
“Well, how about an ambulance? I know some of those towns are seven or eight hours away.”
“The patient has to find a private car to take him down to the public hospital,” he told me. That ended our conversation.
Sunday night, the time of writing this commentary, the radio is announcing that there is a possibility of another battle and to defend the barricades around Radio Universidad, whose signal has been steadily interrupted by government blocking.
At this time Radio Universidad is saying that there has been an attack on the medical team at the Siete Principes area (the medical school area). Last night, the voice of “La Doctora” announced that the PFP and state police had entered the hospital dressed as medical doctors, and then were able to arrest patients. The radio is also announcing a march for Monday morning to protest the situation.
Not spoken is that only a week remains before the inauguration of Felipe Calderon as the president of Mexico. Today a meeting of member APPO states took place in Mexico City.