Federal police take Oaxaca City center; at least two more dead

On the order of President Vicente Fox, thousands of federal police backed up by army troops stormed past barricades in embattled Oaxaca City Oct. 29, seizing control of the city center from protesters who have held it for five months.

Police in full riot gear used water cannons, tear gas, helicopters and armored vehicles against protesters as they converged from all direction on Oaxaca’s main square, the zocalo, which in recent months has been a giant encampment for the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO).

APPO protester bearing rocks and sticks tried to resist the police advance. Buses shuttling police officers to the center of town were pelted with stones, and bonfires raghed in the middle of intersections. But by nightfall, the zocalo was ringed by federal riot police.

That night in Mexico City, with supporters of the Oaxaca protesters surrounded a hotel where the state’s Gov. Ulises Ruiz was thought to be staying and shouting: “Murderer! Murderer!”

The Washington Post cited local human rights workers as saying a 15-year-old boy guarding one barricade was killed by a tear gas canister.

Some protesters used syringes to draw blood from their arms and legs, then painted signs in their own blood decrying the repression. (WP, NYT, Oct. 30)

The president of Mexico’s official National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Jose Luis Soberanes, said two deaths had been confirmed since the federal forces entered Oaxaca, and at least 40 arrests. He also reported two federal police officers injured, and others detained by APPO activists. (La Jornada, Oct. 30)

APPO names the two killed in confrontations with the Federal Preventive Police as Social Security Institute worker Roberto Lopez Hernandez and nurse and APPO safety commission member Jorge Alberto Beltran.

The online Narco News also notes “reports from various sources that police are raiding the specific homes of APPO leaders. Whether these are federal or state police is not clear.”

Around 6 PM on Oct. 29, the signal of Radio Universidad, the main medium of communication for the APPO, was cut, and remains off the air. This happened just as the Preventive Police entered the campus of the Oaxaca state university, where the station’s facilities are located. (Narco News, Oct. 29)

The University City district around the Benito Juarez Oaxaca Autonomous University (UABJO) had become the last stronghold of APPO control in the state capital. UABJO’s rector Francisco Martinez Neri, in a statement transmitted over Radio Universidad before it went off the air, expressed his concern for violence if federal police try to take the campus. (La Jornada, Oct. 30)

Enrique Rueda Pacheco, leader the local Section 22 of the National Education Workers Syndicate (SNTE) told the national network Televisa that given the federal assult which has “generated conditions of violence, we obviously have to reconsider the question of returning to classes, which is now at risk.” Section 22 had days earlier signed an agreement with the federal Government Secretariat calling for Oaxaca’s striking teachers to return to classes Oct. 30. (La Jornada, Oct. 30)

The national daily La Jornada reported that by the evening of the 29th, all efforts by APPO leaders to contact the Government Secretariat had been fruitless. The paper said APPO leaders were calling for peaceful resistance, leaving the question of concrete actions to impede the federal assault “in the hands of the people.”

Indigenous Mixe leader Adelfo Regino told La Jornada: “Poor Felipe Calderon. After what has happened today, before he is even president he won’t be able to set foot in Oaxaca throughout his term.” (La Jornada, Oct. 30)

All above sources archived at Chiapas95

President Fox said the move to send in federal police was necessary because “radical groups, out of control, had put at risk the peace of the citizenry.” (NYT, Oct. 30)

Fox declared victory Oct. 30, saying, “The plaza and city were recovered for the citizenry of Oaxaca.” Again dismissing reports of two deaths, Fox described the operation as “bloodless.”

But the degree of federal police control of Oaxaca City remains uncertain. The Los Angeles Times quoted APPO leader Flavio Sosa saying the police had recovered only the area around the zocalo, after protesters ceded it in the face of overwhelming force. “The control of the rest of the city is in the hands of APPO,” Sosa said in a radio interview. “I want to tell you that we are not going to hand over control of the city. We are going to resist at every barricade.”

The LA Times said that on the afternoon of the 30th, protesters converged on the zocalo from three directions in a largely peaceful demonstration calling for the removal of federal police and the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz. (LAT, Oct. 30)

On Oct. 30, presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said federal police will remain in Oaxaca “as long as necessary to establish order in the city after five months of protests.” Aguilar said 4,500 officers had removed more than 50 barricades in Oaxaca City. He said that reports of two deaths in the police action are “categorically false.” He assured that the 70,000 striking teachers would begin their return to classes today. (El Financiero, Oct. 30)

Mexican stocks fell sharply Oct. 30. The peso currency also lost ground, slipping 0.60% to 10.793 per dollar (Reuters, Oct. 30)

Solidarity actions with Oaxaca are reported at various Mexican consulates around the world. The consulate in Barcelona, Spain, was beseiged by protesters who blocked the entrances Oct. 30. (Collectiu de Solidaritat amb la Rebellio Zapatista, Oct. 30)

We have received word by e-mail of an ongoing planton, or protest vigil, at the consulate in San Diego, CA. Supporters are urged to join the sit-in at 1549 India Street.

A protest was also held at Mexican consulate in New York City, at 39th St. between Park and Madison avenues, on the morning of the 30th. A protest was also held at the consulate Oct. 28, after local Indymedia jrounalist Brad Will was killed in Oaxaca. Further responses are being organized.

See our last post on Mexico and the struggle in Oaxaca.