Central America

Honduras: countdown to confrontation?

Honduran officials ordered the arrest of ousted President Manuel Zelaya if he returns to the country. Zelaya pledges to return in two days. Street clashes continue in Tegucigalpa.


Book Review:
Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca
by Diana Denham and the CASA Collective
PM Press, 2009

by Hans Bennett

“I am 77 years old. I have two children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren… My children are scared for me. It’s just that they love me. Everyone loves the little old granny, the mother hen of all those eggs. They say ‘They’re going to send someone to kill you. They’ll put a bullet through you.’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t care if it’s two bullets.’ I’ve become fearless like that. God gave me life and He will take it away when it is His will. If I get killed, I’ll be remembered as the old lady who fought the good fight, a heroine, even, who worked for peace… Hasta la victoria siempre. That’s what I believe.” So says Marinita, a lifetime resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Marinita was one of the many participants in the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion, whose first-hand account is featured in the new book released by PM Press, Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca.

Teaching Rebellion does just that: It teaches us why the 2006 rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico, was so impressive, and is something we can all learn from. Edited by Diana Denham and the CASA Collective, Teaching Rebellion provides an overview of the Oaxaca rebellion. It also gives numerous first-hand interviews from participants, including longtime organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists. The diverse interviews allow some of those who led themselves in rebellion to also speak for themselves. Political art is featured throughout the book alongside excellent photographs from the uprising.

The introduction, by Diana Denham, Patrick Lincoln, and Chris Thomas, summarizes the rebellion to contextualize the participants’ accounts. The story of the uprising begins with a teachers’ strike and sit-in that occupied over fifty blocks in the center of Oaxaca City, initiated on May 22, 2006, by the historically active Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union. When the government failed to respond to the teachers’ demands for more educational resources and better working conditions, thousands took to the streets demanding a trial for the hated state Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), believed to have gained office in 2004 through electoral fraud. Five days later, 120,000-200,000 marched and held a popular trial for Gov. Ruiz. Yet the major rebellion was still to come.

On June 14, the police used teargas, firearms, and helicopters to attack both the teachers’ sit-in at the city’s center and the union’s radio station—destroying their equipment and brutalizing the radio operators. This violent attack, meant to stifle the people’s resistance, backfired when the city rose in defense of the teachers. Transmission was taken up by Radio Universidad (at Universidad AutĂłnoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca) and thousands of supporters helped the union retake the city center that day. Two days later, 500,000 people marched through the city demanding that the federal government remove Governor Ruiz from office.

The next day, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed, eventually comprising over 300 unions, social organizations, indigenous communities, collectives, neighborhoods and student groups. The APPO’s autonomous, non-hierarchical approach in Oaxaca was “a new and original approach to political organizing,” Teaching Rebellion explains, but “it also drew from forms of indigenous self-governance, known as usos and costumbres. The APPO, an assembly by name, emphasizes the input of a diverse body of people who discuss issues and make decisions collectively; similarly, in many indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the assembly is the basis for communal governance. The customs of guelaguetza (which actually refers to reciprocity or “the gift of giving”) and tequio (collective, unpaid work for the benefit of the community) are the two traditions most deeply engrained in Oaxacan culture that literally fed the movement.”

With the June 14 police attack, the Oaxaca rebellion had begun. Teaching Rebellion continues, “in addition to responding to a police attack on striking teachers or a particularly repressive governor, the movement that surfaced in Oaxaca took over and ran an entire city for six months starting in June 2006. Government officials fled, police weren’t present to maintain even the semblance of responding to social harm, and many of the government institutions and services that we depend on daily were shut down. Without relying on centralized organization, neighborhoods managed everything from public safety (crime rates actually went down dramatically during the course of the six months) to food distribution and transportation. People across the state began to question the established line of western thinking that says communities can’t survive, much less thrive, without the intervention of a separate hierarchy caring for its needs. Oaxaca sent a compelling message to the world in 2006: the power we need is in our hands.”

The book’s introduction elaborates that after the June uprising, “no uniformed police were seen for months in the city of Oaxaca, but paramilitary forces terrorized public spaces occupied by protesters. These death squads, including many plainclothes police officers, sped through the city in unmarked vehicles, shooting at neighbors gathered at the barricades,” which were constructed around the city in defense against death squads and state repression. State repression began to escalate while negotiations were taking place between the APPO and the government, which only made the community more distrustful of the government. On October 28, 2006, over 4,500 federal police troops were sent to Oaxaca, attacking the barricades and retaking the historic city center where they set up a base that was maintained until mid-December.

On November 2, the police attacked the university campus, home to Radio Universidad, but “in what turned into a seven-hour battle, neighbors, parents, students, and other civilians took to the streets to defend the campus with stones and firecrackers, eventually managing to surround the police and force their retreat.” In another major conflict that month, on November 25, “thousands of protesters marched into the city center and formed a ring around the occupying federal police forces. After a well-planned police attack, several hours of chaos and violence ensued, leaving nearly forty buildings ablaze. Hundreds were beaten, tortured, and arrested that day, and many movement activists and sympathizers not arrested were forced underground.”

This final repression essentially ended the community’s occupation and control of Oaxaca City, but, Teaching Rebellion reports that the struggle is not over: “While a Supreme Court Commission has been named to investigate the human rights abuses, Oaxacans have little faith that a real difference will trickle down. Despite the dead-end government redress the air stirs with the force of a familiar slogan: ‘We will never be the same again.’ The city walls seem to share this sentiment, planted in the post-repression graffiti: ‘Esta semilla germinará,’ from this seed we will grow.”

The First-Hand Accounts
The many featured interviews illustrate the spirits of spontaneity, anti-authoritarianism, and self-defense that were fundamental to the uprising. There is Jenny’s account of accompanying the family of slain US independent journalist Brad Will. The family had traveled to Oaxaca to demand justice for Brad and for all victims of government repression. Cuautli recounts his experience working in the community topiles (basically a people’s police force), formed during the occupation of Oaxaca City, as community defense groups protecting people from government repression as well as “common criminals” who preyed upon other poor people.

Tonia, recalls the women’s “Pots and Pans March” of August 1, 2006, which sparked the spontaneous takeover of the Channel 9 television and radio station by thousands of women. “When we got to the Channel 9 offices, the security guard didn’t want to let us in… The women in the front were asking permission for an hour or two to broadcast, but the employees of Channel 9 said it was impossible. Maybe if they would have given us that one hour and cooperated, then it wouldn’t have gone any further. But with them seeing the number of women present, and still saying no, we decided, ‘Okay then, we’ll take over the whole station…’ Everyone was taken by the spontaneity of it all. Since no one had foreseen what would happen and no one was trained in advance, everything was born in the spur of the moment… One thing I liked is that there were no individual leaders. For each task, there was a group of several women in charge.”

In the middle of the night, August 21, 2006, paramilitary forces destroyed the antennas at the occupied Channel 9. The social movement took immediate action in support of the women, fighting off the police and paramilitary attackers at the antennas, and spontaneously deciding to occupy all eleven of the city’s commercial radio stations. Francisco, an engineering student and radio technician who first got involved with the movement when Radio Universidad was vandalized by apparent police infiltrators, describes these actions from the frontlines. He was working the night of August 21 at Radio Universidad when word went out that occupied Channel 9’s Radio Cacerola was down, and people were being attacked at the antennas at FortĂ­n Hill. Francisco recounts, “we got up from our seats and left immediately… We grabbed whatever was available: Molotov cocktails, sticks, machetes, fireworks, stones, and other improvised weapons. But what could we do with our ‘arms’ against Ulises Ruiz’s thugs, who carried AK-47s, high caliber pistols, and so much hatred? Still, we had a lot of courage, the group of us, and in that moment the only important thing was getting to the place where our compañeros were under attack… We made it thanks to our skilled but funny-looking driver, Red Beard, who wore round-framed carpenter goggles covering half of his face, a yellow fireman’s helmet, and red beard. In truth, we all looked pretty funny in our protective gear: leather gloves and layered t-shirts. But [what] wasn’t funny at all was the sound of bullets and screams that we heard on the other side of the hill as we continued onward.”

The busload from Radio Universidad arrived on the tail end of the government attack, and when they met up with their compañeros, they were told that police had shot and injured several people and destroyed the antennas. They searched for any injured compañeros who remained, then left to go help elsewhere. After visiting Radio La Ley, which had just been occupied, they were inspired to take over another station themselves and went to Radio ORO: “When we got there, we knocked on the door of the station and announced with a megaphone: ‘This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up. We are occupying this radio because they’ve taken away our last remaining means of free expression. This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up!’ The security guard opened the door and we entered, without anyone being hit, without insults—we just walked in.” Francisco concludes, “after the takeover, I read an article that said that intellectual and material authors of the takeovers of the radios weren’t Oaxacan, that they came from somewhere else, and that they received very specialized support. The article claimed that it would have been impossible for anyone without previous training to operate the radios in such a short amount of time because the equipment is too sophisticated for just anyone to use. They were wrong.”

Another account comes from former political prisoner David Venegas Reyes, who co-found VOCAL (Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty) in February 2007, for the purposes of challenging the more mainstream and hierarchical elements within the APPO. David, who in October 2006 was named representative of the barricades to the APPO council, recounts defending the barricades formed after the August 21 radio occupations: “We asked ourselves, ‘how can we defend these takeovers and defend the people inside?’… That’s when my participation, along with the participation of hundreds of thousands of others, began to make a more substantial difference. Because the movement stopped being defined by the announcements of events and calls for support made by the teachers’ union and began to be about the physical, territorial control of communities by those communities, by way of the barricades.”

David recounts, “We originally formed the barricade to protect the antennas of Radio Oro, but the barricade took on a life of its own. You could describe it like a party, a celebration of self-governance where we were starting to make emancipation through self-determination a reality. The barricades were about struggle, confrontation, and organization. We eventually started discussing agreements and decisions made by the APPO Council and the teachers’ union. There were a number of occasions where the barricade chose actions that went against those agreements, which in my view, only strengthened our capacity for organized resistance.”

David says VOCAL “stemmed from an APPO Statewide Assembly when it became evident that there were divergent perspectives with regard to the upcoming elections.” One side felt that the APPO movement “in all its plurality and diversity,” had purposefully excluded “political parties and any corrupt institution,” so getting involved with elections would “attack the unity constructed from diversity of thought and visions that exist within the movement.” The other side wanted to “act pragmatically and participate in the elections with our own candidates.” Those not wanting to participate in elections “that serve to legitimate repressive governments,” and who were distrustful of organizations that did, formed VOCAL. Consequently, VOCAL “turned into a diverse organization where a lot of anti-authoritarian visions and ways of thinking coexist—some rooted in indigenous tradition, like magonĂ­smo, and some more connected to European ideologies. A lot of compañeros who have no particular ideological doctrine are also active in the organization… What we all have in common is our idea of autonomy as a founding principle. We defend the diverse ways of organizing of pueblos and the rights of people to self-govern in all realms of life… Unlike other hegemonic ideologies, we don’t believe that to promote our own line of thought it’s necessary to exclude anyone else’s.”

In April 2007, David was arrested, “with no arrest warrant or explanation. They drove me to an unknown place, where they planted drugs on me, then tried to force me to hold the drugs so that they could take photos. When I refused, they beat me… Finally they presented me with the arrest warrant that accused me of being involved in the social movement and the acts of November 25th. The warrant accused me of sedition, organized crime, and arson. Even as the government fabricated the idea of accusing me of drug possession in an attempt to criminalize and discredit me, they already intended to present the arrest warrant of a political nature once I was in jail.”

On March 5, 2008, after nearly a year in prison, David was released, after he was judged not-guilty by the court on all political charges. However, the CASA Collective’s website reports that since drug charges were still pending, “he was released on bail and forced to report to the court every week for over a year, severely limiting his ability to travel.” On April 21, 2009, Oaxacan judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes found him not guilty on “charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin.” Following this verdict, David said, “This innocent verdict, far from demonstrating the health or rectitude of the Mexican legal system, was pulled off thanks to the strength of the popular movement and with the solidarity of compañeros and compañeras from Mexico and various parts of the world. The legal system in Mexico is corrupt to the core and is a despicable tool used by the authorities to subjugate and repress those who struggle for justice and freedom.”

Oaxaca: Three Years Later
Three years since the Oaxaca uprising that was sparked by the June 14, 2006 police assault on the striking teachers, the issues behind the rebellion have not been resolved, Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is still in office. A 2007 article, “The Lights of Xanica,” reported on the continuing struggle of the Zapotec community of Santiago Xanica in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca. In 2009, a controversial US military-funded mapping project in Oaxaca has met local resistance. In May, El Enemigo ComĂşn website reported that state and federal police forcibly evicted “community members who had been blocking the entrance to the mining project Cuzctalán in the municipality of San JosĂ© del Progreso since March 16.” Recently, Narco News reported on heated negotiations between the government and Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (initiators of the 2006 strike), as well as a robbery and murder committed by State Agency of Investigation agents at a bus terminal in Oaxaca City.

On June 8, 2009 the Committee in Defense of the Rights of the People (CODEP) reported the assassination of Sergio MartĂ­nez Vásquez, member of the State Council of CODEP, arguing that the “way in which it was done and due to some information gathered, everything points to the fact that the material actors of this assassination were paramilitary groups that Ulises Ruiz has operating in the region.”

On June 14, a march in Oaxaca City commemorated the three-year anniversary of the 2006 uprising, and on June 17, a protest encampment in the Zocalo of Oaxaca City was attacked by paramilitaries.

The future in Oaxaca is unclear, but it is certain that the people will continue to resist, and international solidarity with help to strengthen the local resistance.


Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist whose website is Insubordination Photo-Journalism.

This review first appeared June 23 on Upside Down World.


CASA Collective

El Enemigo ComĂşn

PM Press page on Teaching Rebellion

See also:

by Ramor Ryan, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, April 2009

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: indigenous protests in Oaxaca
World War 4 Report, March 24, 2009

Oaxaca: APPO activist freed from prison
World War 4 Report, March 10, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



A Textbook Case in Drug War Failure

from Frontera NorteSur

More than one year after Mexican soldiers were deployed in Ciudad Juárez to combat organized crime and drug trafficking, the CalderĂłn administration’s military strategy is in crisis. Killings continue at the same or worse rate as last year, and drugs continue circulating on both sides of the border.

Alarmed by infringements on civil liberties and human rights abuses, growing numbers of Mexican citizens are demanding the modification or curtailment of military operations on the streets. And day by day, the gulf widens between sectors of Mexican society and the Obama administration and US Congress, which are enthusiastically backing the Mexican government’s approach to the organized crime and drug problems.

On June 8, the legislative group of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the Chihuahua state legislature approved a resolution requesting that Gen. Felipe de Jesus Espitia Hernández, commander of the anti-drug campaign Operation Chihuahua Together, instruct his troops to not enter private residences without a legal warrant. The PRI is the governing party in both Ciudad Juárez and the state of Chihuahua.

Citizen complaints against soldiers in Ciudad Juárez and other parts of Chihuahua have multiplied since last year. Numerous allegations of torture, murder, forced disappearance, robbery, and general mayhem have been documented by different agencies and the local press. The official Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission is reportedly looking into 2,500 alleged torture cases involving military personnel and federal police assigned to Operation Chihuahua Together.

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) recently issued its first recommendations from Ciudad Juárez complaints presented in 2008. The first case involved 22 state police officers who were detained, while the second one concerned three residents of a subdivision who alleged they were robbed and treated badly by soldiers. In both instance, the CNDH recommended that victims be compensated for damages, that legal investigations be initiated, that administrative sanctions be levied against responsible parties, and that a memo be sent to military personnel reminding them to respect human rights. The CNDH’s recommendations can be accepted or rejected by recipient institutions.

Signs exist the army is beginning to hear the critics—at least partially. Quoting the Mexican Defense Ministry, the Mexico City-based Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) reported this week that the armed forces have sanctioned five enlisted men and one officer for a June 5 incident in which El Diario photographer José Luis González was pushed and hit by soldiers following a traffic accident González was attempting to cover. Soldiers and federal police have been blamed for numerous accidents in recent months. A second photographer, Ernesto Rodríguez of the PM newspaper, had his equipment taken by soldiers. According to CEPET, the five responsible soldiers are serving 15 days of in-house military arrest; the officer got a lighter sentence of 8 days.

Nonetheless, there is still no public word from the military hierarchy about two subsequent incidents, one on June 11 and the other last weekend, in which reporters and videographers for the Channel 44 and Channel 2 television stations, respectively, were physically prevented by soldiers and federal police from filming the scenes of a multiple homicide at the Las Palmas Motel and the excavation of a residential property where bodies were supposedly buried.

Commenting on the recent incidents pitting soldiers against reporters, Ciudad Juárez columnist Don Mirone contended that the latest obstructions to practicing journalism follow a long series of attacks on press freedom in the borderland.

“The situation is grave,” Don Mirone wrote. “For many years, the exercise of journalism on this border has been the object of aggression by part of organized crime and by part of the same municipal and state authorities.”

The army has its defenders in Ciudad Juárez. Juan Velázquez, a prominent criminal attorney with a military background, told the local press no crime fighting alternative existed at the moment.

“Who else could be entrusted with fighting an out-of-control and ferocious delinquency like the one we have?” Velázquez responded to an interviewer.

Nationally, the Mexican army’s drug war deployment continues enjoying public support, according to the latest poll announced by the non-governmental group Mexico United Against Delinquency. The group reported that 80% of respondents supported the use of the army against organized crime. Paradoxically, 76% of respondents said the overall public safety situation is worse today than one year ago, while only 48% considered anti-drug operations a success.

In Ciudad Juárez, soldiers are everywhere. Accompanying transit officers, who are notorious for skimming bribes from hapless drivers, heavily-armed soldiers now even act as traffic cops. Drivers and walkers entering Ciudad Juárez from neighboring El Paso, Texas, are subject to searches by Mexican soldiers stationed at international bridges, and pedestrians returning to El Paso could be forced to endure a bag search by more Mexican soldiers who, for all intents and purposes, are now acting as US border guards.

On the US side, the Mexican military campaign is complemented by new Department of Homeland Security operations that ultimately imply questioning and searching millions of people. For example, travelers headed into Mexico on one of the international bridges could be requested to produce identification and asked questions about carrying cash and weapons In the opposite direction, travelers headed north or west might run into a phalanx of curious US Border Patrol agents at El Paso’s Greyhound Bus Station, as well as more questioning and even dog-sniffing at checkpoints in New Mexico.

A day visitor to Ciudad Juárez could be forced to endure as many as five revisions from Mexican and US government agents before returning home. Perhaps not surprisingly, long lines await returning pedestrians at the Paso del Norte (Santa Fe) Bridge, which just celebrated a 900-day, $26 million renovation. On two recent weekend days, however, 45-minute waits were the rule even outside peak crossing times, and the number of visible inspectors, two to seven at a time, was pretty much the same number employed during much of the Bush era when crossings grew more cumbersome. On June 14, an older woman fainted in line as temperatures outside nudged 100 degrees.

A dynamic of criminalization and militarization could be costing the border economy dearly. On a recent Sunday afternoon, formerly a popular time for visitors from the US, a mere handful of tables were occupied at the main tourist market, many shops on Avenida Juárez stood empty and a group of barmen was the only visible life inside a once-hopping tourist bar.

Mexico City and Washington decided to tighten the vise on border travel at the very same time tens of thousands of people were without work in Ciudad Juárez’s maquiladora industry and the economy sputtered and crashed.

Until now, there is little evidence the security measures implemented by the CalderĂłn and Obama administrations are seriously undermining their stated targets: gangland violence and drug trafficking.

With nearly 800 murders tallied this year so far, the violence in Ciudad Juárez matches and will possibly even surpass the record blood-letting last year. Perhaps more posters than ever of disappeared young women (and a growing number of men, too) plaster the downtown section of the city, while a message scrawled on an exterior fence of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez campus, “Todos Somos Manuel”—We are all Manuel—cries for justice in the killing of university professor Manuel Arroyo, whose unsolved murder last month became another entry in the Hall of Impunity.

A recent story in El Diario de El Paso newspaper reported that drugs are widely available in a section of the US city known for its seedy bars and used car dealerships. According to the newspaper, $2 marijuana cigarettes and $10 cocaine hits are easily obtainable, despite notable drug seizures on the border.

“Buying and selling continue without problems,” said one purported drug retailer.

Elsewhere, drug traffickers continue to display the innovation that has characterized the business for decades. Capable of carrying 200 pounds of marijuana or cocaine, ultra-light planes that can fly low and avoid radar detection are reportedly in vogue, as are frozen shark carcasses, including the ones confiscated this week by the Mexican navy that contained nearly a ton of coke.

Interestingly, the current drug war paradigm was the object of criticism in a monograph posted last month on the website of the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. Criticizing the focus on supply-side, law-enforcement strategies promulgated by the US and Mexican governments, author Hal Brands contended that the anti-drug MĂ©rida Initiative launched by the two nations was unfolding at the expense of drug abuse prevention and treatment programs. While still supporting prohibition, Brands underscored the absence of effective anti-corruption and anti-money laundering initiatives.

Citing the failure of drug crop eradication programs in Colombia, Brands noted the persistence of poverty in Mexico, the gutting of social programs, the lack of economic and social development alternatives, and the uncontrolled rise in the cost of living south of the border as other important factors needing consideration. The drug dilemma is a complex one, Brands concluded, and a problem that requires comprehensive solutions.


This story first appeared June 18 on Frontera NorteSur.

See also:

from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, June 2007

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: CalderĂłn sees “historic crossroads” in narco war
World War 4 Report, June 27, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Iraq: US leaves behind “Dirty Brigade”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed June 30 “National Sovereignty Day” as US forces withdraw from Iraq’s cities. But many fear the US-trained Counter Terrorism Bureau that will be moving in.

The Andes

Obama pledges progress on FTA in meeting with Uribe

Barack Obama held his first meeting with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, pledging to move ahead with a Free Trade Agreement—in spite of expressed concerns about ongoing rights violations.