Grandma is radio voice of Oaxaca’s resistance

From El Universal, Nov. 7, via Chiapas95:

OAXACA – A combative grandmother known as Doctor Berta has become the signature voice of the insurgents in Oaxaca, where radio airwaves have become an essential tool of protesters.

With each day that passes in the 165-day-old street conflict, the importance of Radio Universidad grows, with protesters turning the station into a bastion and symbol, while their rivals, the backers of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, make it into a target of their anger.

At least that is the story being told by the students who are guarding the station on the campus of Benito Jua’rez Autonomous University at Oaxaca, or UABJO, and showed reporters machine gun bullet casings and bullet holes from an attack last week.

The station is located in a one-story building whose entrance has been barricaded by members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, orAPPO, the grassroots organization now leading the protests.

The distrustful students guarding the radio station refused to allow photographs to be taken of the broadcast facility, which has a studio with a table and three microphones.

The slogan “Todo el poder al pueblo” (All the Power to the People) was written on a wall inside near which three inexperienced announcers discussed the conflict.

Peering out from a corner of the room is an abandoned portrait of Benito Juarez, the Oaxacan political leader who governed Mexico during a turbulent period in the 1860s and early 1870s.

A few meters away, a thin, white-haired, simply dressed woman speaks with reporters at a university emergency clinic.

She is Berta Elena Muñoz Mir, a 58-year-old mother of three, grandmother of three and professor at UABJO medical school who also works at a civilian hospital.

Muñoz Mir is better known as Doctor Berta to her listeners, who have tuned in since August to hear her medical advice and reports, often phoned in, from UABJO neighbors on the street fighting.

With a serious voice that has a maternal tone, she urges Oaxaca residents to join the protests and provides advice on dealing with the tear gas fired by federal police sent into the city by President Vicente Fox last week.

“I am not the biggest talker and I don’t have the raspiest voice, but radio is a work tool,” Doctor Berta said, holding a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, in response to a question about her growing fame.

Regarding her support forAPPO, first as a doctor and now as a radio personality, Berta described herself as a “not very traditional grandmother.”

The activist said both she and her family had received death threats from unidentified individuals.

Revolutionary activities are not a new thing for Muñoz Mir, who took part in the 1968 student protests in Mexico City and appeared in a book by writer Elena Poniatowska on the events of four decades ago as “Berta, the doctor,” she said.

Berta also has extensive public speaking experience from both teaching at the university and a drama group she joined while a student.

The other announcers, almost all of them university students who are not majoring in broadcast journalism, help keep the nearly uninterrupted broadcasts going.

An architecture student told EFE that last Thursday, when federal forces tried to clear the avenue around the university, she was scared.

“It was a very tense time. We thought they were going to enter and arrest us,” the young woman said.

Getting the message out for the other side is Radio Ciudadana, a station rumored to have been organized by the state government and that went on the air in mid-October from an undisclosed site.

Radio Ciudadana is the voice of those who want the long conflict, which many in Oaxaca see as the worst social and political crisis in the state’s history, to end.

The Oaxaca conflict began in May when 70,000 teachers walked off the job. Its transformation into a movement to oust Ruiz dates from June 14, when police used force to break up a sit-in by strikers in the main square of Oaxaca city, the state capital.

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