Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Battle Rages in Oaxaca Over the Weekend

What was supposed to be a peaceful eight-mile march to the Oaxaca City Center from the offices of the repudiated Governor of Oaxaca Ulises Ruiz ended in violent confrontations that spiraled into a five hour battle between police and protesters this past Saturday. These confrontations began less than an hour after the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) encircled the Federal Preventative Police (PFP in its Spanish intitials) for a "48 hour peaceful siege" of the PFP encampment in the Zocalo.

The offices Nueva Izquierda, the organization which the APPO leader Flavio Sosa represents, was attacked by a truck full of gunmen Sunday night. While 14 people slept in the offices, taking refuge after the "PFP Offensive" described in the text and links below, the attackers rammed the truck through the front door and burned the building (shown to the left after the fire as Octavio Velez saw it). According to La Jornada, thirteen of the those present inside at the time of the attack managed to escape. One has been classified as "diappeared." The low intensity war in Oaxaca is getting intense.

The Mexican League in the Defense of Human Rights has come out with a cronology of the events in Oaxaca on Saturday, saying that the PFP, specifically "police aggression, were "responsible" for the battle this past weekend. The report also talks about threats, provocation and violence by plain clothes "PRIistas," supporters of the Institutional Revolution Pary (PRI).

The authentic John Gibler (who recently published an article for Miami Herald's Mexican partner El Universal) reports today on Democracy Now, that police detained some 160 protesters and that there are unconfirmed reports of 3 protester deaths. What is known is that some two or three hours into the battle, police fired live rounds at protesters, in addition to massive amounts of teargas. Protesters also burned government buildings and broke windows on private business around the city, though it was unclear if certain business were specifically targeted or why.

Gibler also relays reports, confirmed by the director of the Hospital General Dr. Felipe Gama, that "plain-clothes gunmen, like the paramilitaries that have killed with impunity in the last months, entered hospitals around the city looking for injured protesters." Other witnesses claim that the gunmen threatened hospital staff with guns drawn and dragged some protestors from the hospitals.

The 160 people arrested were subjected to brutal beatings with batons and teargas fired at them from close range. Tear gas canisters fired at close range by the PFP have already killed one person in Oaxaca previously, and also killed Alexis Benhumea this past May in San Salvador Atenco.

The APPO also published a report on the confrontations, translated into English by Narconews. They identify some of the actors in the round-ups and arrests as Oaxacan ministerial police, which the PFP recently declared "out of control" for their violent, vigilante attacks and detentions of APPO members and others opposed to the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

During such "spontaneous" detentions, APPO supporters have endured torture at the hands of their kidnappers.

Gibler also reports that the APPO planned to reinstate their encampments at 8 AM this morning. I will be listening to Radio Universidad, which seems to be affected by some incomplete jamming of their signal, for updates. "La Doctora" is saying that there has been a "complete suspension of all constitutional rights in Oaxaca."

UPDATE: Radio Universidad is reporting that the PFP has threatened to invade the station in execution of a search warrent that has supposedly already been ordered. I have no confirmation yet of the warrent to search the radio station on the campus of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca. The radio announcersare calling for people to make an encampent in University City and to be prepared defend once again the autonomy of the university. Unlike US American universities, autonomous universities in Latin America are off limits to federal and state police unless they are called on campus by University administrators.

Nancy Davies has just published from Oaxaca an account of this weekend's events on Narco News. She writes:
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...

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 Niños 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, ... 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 Nochixtlán, 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, 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 Martínez Sánchez, 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.
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.

According to Radio Universidad, the PFP has taken many of them out of state, as far as Nayarit and to La Palma prison in the state of Mexico (where prisoners of the PFP operativo en San Salvador Atenco last May are still held).

In other news, the Oaxacan and Mexican prosecutors have reportedly decided to ignore prosecution of the shooters caught on tape firing the fatal shots that killed Bradley Will. They are reportedly hoping to prosecute the APPO members that escorted him to the hospital in ambulance, under the theory that the shots that hit him in the chest, fired by local police and politicians, did not kill him. Rather APPO members are said to have fired the fatal shots on him later as he lay bleeding. The theory is so ridiculous, contrary to witness reports, news from mainstream sources like El Universal, and contradictory to the photo and video of Will's murder that the politically motivated prosecution of APPO members for Will's death seems unlikely to be successfully carried out.

Al Giordano also talks about the difficulties of authentic reporting on Oaxaca street battles. CNN has also reported on the confrontations, describing them as an APPO riot. BBC has yet to write about this past weekend in Oaxaca. Neither of these sources ever published the names of photos of Brad Will's killers, insisting (contrary to reports in the Mexican media) that the shooters were "unidentified." With consistently poor reporting from these English language sources, I have generally avoided taking much information from them without confirmation in the Spanish language press.

For Background Information, I am reprinting a passage about the origins of the conflict below. It is taken from an article I wrote as Mexican Federal Police arrived in Oaxaca and took over the Zocalo city center.

Friday October 27th was the bloodiest day in the ongoing uprising in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Nancy Davies writes for NarcoNews
The dead have now been identified as Emilio Alonso Fabián, Bradley Will and Eudocia Olivera Díaz. The fourth reported death, of Esteban Zurita López, is at the center of accusations by both sides of the conflict, with each blaming the other.
Brad Will was a filmmaker from New York Indymedia killed while his camera recorded by police and paramilitaries according to locals. Diego Enrique Osorno, writing for Narco News, identifies Emilio Alonso Fabián as a teacher from the Los Loxicha region and Esteban López Zurita a resident of Santa Maria Coyotepec where one of the paramilitary attacks occurred.

Many analysts now believe that the October 27 attacks were part of an escalation planned by members of the repudiated Oaxacan government to draw the federal government into the conflict against the APPO and other protesters.

These murders occured as part of a massive coordinated attack by armed, often masked, individuals reportedly working for state political parties. Calling themselves "neighbors" they "acted with impunity" attacking protesters with firearms. Mexican Press has identified as active participants in the murder of Brad Will, the cheif of police (Seguridad Publica) of Santa Lucia del Camino, Avel (sic) Santiago Zárate, the chief of personel of the PRI affiliated City Council, Manuel Aguilar, and a local elected Delegate of the PRI, David Aguilar Robles.

However, the whole time that the violence against the protesters built up into "low-intensity warfare," the federal government threatened to send forces, which locals interpreted as a way to repress the Oaxacan people as the PFP had done in Atecno (where the Federal Preventative Police killed two young people, beat many others, deported foreigners, raped female prisoners, and hold more than 30 political prisoners to this date).

The PFP had not come until now for several reasons. One has to do with the fact that Oaxacan Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is from the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and President Vicente Fox is from the National Action Party (PAN). Fox and the PAN were unwilling to dirty their hands on behalf of an opposing political party, especially before elections or while Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party for Democratic Revolution (PRD) contested the victory of PAN candidate Felipe Calderon. The accusations that Calderon won the election fraudulently also explain why the federal government and the PAN will not pressure Ulises to step down. If Ulises, whose election victory has been contested as fraudulent, is thrown out of power by a popular uprising, then a dangerous precedent has been set for all of Mexican society as far as the political parties are concerned.

Al Giordano of Narco News also points out that the mathematics of a police repression in Oaxaca are different than Atenco. While the PFP sent about 3,000 agents into Atenco, a town of several hundred, the city of Oaxaca is inhabited by half of a million people, several thousand of which appear to be ready to fight at the barricades. The only thing worse than not sending in federal forces would be sending the forces in only to see them get chased out.


This all started as a routine labor strike by Section 22 of the Mexican teachers union (often referred to in Spanish language press as "el magisterio") and escalated into a state-wide revolt after state police tried to violently evict the encampment of striking teachers on June 14.

The teachers union and the newly formed Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca made the ouster of unpopular governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, widely considered to have won the election by fraud, their primary demand. As violence by police, paramilitaries and mercenaries escalated, the protesters began barricading their neighborhoods in self-defense. For example, after the Radio Universidad radio station used by the teachers union was attacked, protesters responded with a wave of radio station takeovers. But the protesters also began organizing to put their demand into action, declaring Gov. Ulises "banned" from Oaxaca, seizing government buildings and chasing out politicians from the local and state governments.

Violent attacks had for months been escalating against protesters, in what protesters said was part of Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz's repressive Operation Iron ("Plan Hierro"). Brad Will himself documented this with an article a week ago called "Death in Oaxaca". With the murder of the indigenous teacher Panfilo Hernandez, the death toll was at 9 for the protesters. Meanwhile, political parties and the commerical Mexican media were reporting that the protesters were killing people, often without saying the name of the supposed victim or the time and place of the supposed killing. The killing of dissident teacher Jaime René Calvo Aragón, (who argued for the teachers to return to classes) was blamed by the government on protesters, while protesters blamed the government or paramilitary mercenaries of the PRI of killing the teacher as a pretext to repress the protestors, as reported by La Jornada.

Reporting on this situation has been non-existent on BBC and CNN, though BBC ran a story on the killing of Brad Will, mis-identifying him as William Bradley. This line by the AP is typical of English language press "Fox, who leaves office December 1, resisted repeated calls to send federal forces to Oaxaca until Saturday, a day after gunfire killed a U.S. activist-journalist and two residents."

Of course, they fail to mention the fact that the shooters have been identified and linked to local politicians and police officials, according to the Mexican commercial press. This intentional lack of reporting shows how they want to show the story that the troops are returning to roses by residents who are sick of protesters. If the facts contradict that analysis, then those facts are left out of the article.

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