On Oct. 2, more than 10,000 students marched in the streets of Mexico City to observe the 38th anniversary of the 1968 massacre in which more than 300 protesters, mostly students, were murdered in the city’s Tlatelolco Plaza by government soldiers and police. Leading the march were members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), carrying a banner that read, “To avoid future repressions, punish the genocides of yesterday and today.” The APPO is worried, like the students it marched with, that the Mexican government might repeat the tragic error of a ruthless backlash against popular protest.
News from Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican state of the same name, reports dimmer hopes for an end to the five-month standoff between protesters and the state government. If widespread civil unrest, police abuse and political corruption in Oaxaca don’t sound familiar, listen up. Classes are picking up pace, and midterms are looming, or are already fast approaching, but there’s a need to tune in now. Here’s a recap of what has happened, and what’s happening now:
On May 22, a 70,000-person teacher strike for better pay broadened into a widespread protest against Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of rigging the 2004 state election in his favor, using police to violently suppress protests in June, and failing to respond to demands from Mexico’s poorest for desperately needed basic services.
On June 14, police entered an encampment of teachers in Oaxaca’s central square, spraying tear gas and using batons to evict the protesters, and in the process, injuring hundreds. June 14 was a watershed for many in Oaxaca, and marked the beginning of a larger movement that demanded for Ruiz’s ouster. Soon after June 14, the APPO formed, marking Ruiz’s removal its primary target, and in the meantime, assuming his role as governing body of the state.
The struggle to remove Ruiz can be placed in a larger context of larger, national frustrations with electoral politics in Mexico. Supporters of presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have contested the national election for three months, citing fraud. The senate can remove Gov. Ruiz, but doing so might support Obrador’s campaign for a vote recount. But either way, Ruiz has a responsibility to Oaxaca, and until he realizes his quickly vanishing mandate, the Oaxaca protesters will stand behind their barricades. And try as the state officials may to frame these protests as a radical insurgency that aims threaten democracy and destabilize the region, it is assuredly a pro-democracy movement that is fighting for justice for all people in Oaxaca.
Over the last five months, protesters in Oaxaca have barricaded over 40 city blocks to protect against attack by the police. They have covered many of the city’s walls with stencil and poster art, calling both for Ruiz’s resignation and portraying his regime as oppressive. With an official count of seven reported dead, and an unofficial count of deaths and abductions much higher, these attempts to take back the city and the state are justified.
Reports of a possible resolution in Mexico City to the standoff conflict with similar pleas for solidarity from APPO, which cite a massive buildup of soldiers, bulldozers and military jets in the area. It is hoped that negotiations among protesters, the state government and the national government will resolve this issue. But judging by the Mexican state’s previous marginalizing approach to similar struggles such as its treatment of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, any great concessions on its part to popular protest seem unlikely — at least more unlikely than a violent response.
What’s happening in Oaxaca is important. There isn’t much we can directly do for the situation one way or another from here, but let’s not demote this struggle to insignificance and obscurity. Let’s start talking about Oaxaca.
Elijah Barrett is a sophomore in Trumbull College.