More gunfire in Oaxaca as Mexican Senate mulls solution

Following an agreement reached late on Oct. 10, a Mexican Senate committee is pursue a constitutional process known as “desaparicion de poderes,” that could result in the fulfillment of the Oaxaca protesters’ demand to have Ulises Ruiz removed as the state’s governor. Committee members from all three major parties agreed to send a subcommittee to the conflicted state to investigate evidence that Ruiz’s government has ceased to function and can therefore be dissolved.

The decision came after members of the Senate’s Government Committee heard testimony from leaders of Oaxaca’s local Section 22 of the national teachers union, and their allies in the Oaxaca Popular People’s Assembly (APPO).

As the Senate committee meets behind closed doors, thousands of APPO activists and teachers, many having walked for 19 days from Oaxaca, maintain an ongoing encampment outside the Senate building. The encampment has closed Tacuba and Donceles streets in Mexico City’s Historic Center, and occupied the plaza in front of the National Art Museum.

It remains to be seen if the Senate will in fact move to dissolve Ruiz’s powers, or if Section 22 and APPO will agree to dismantle their barricades and return to work before this happens. Consultations with rank-and-file on this question are now underway.

Senators from Ruiz’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are firmly behind Ruiz, one of their own, and back the use of federal force to break the strike. The left-opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), on the other hand, openly calls for Ruiz’s ouster. That leaves President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN), the largest bloc in the Senate, as the swing vote on this issue.

PAN president Manuel Espino told reporters Oct. 10 the Senate lacks the legal status to declare on its own that a local government has ceased to function and therefore must be removed. “The Senate does not have the ability to decree the disappearance of power in any entity,” Espino said. “The Constitution is very clear.” That opinion was disputed by PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal, who said there have been 47 “desapariciones de poderes” in Mexican history, all of them declared by the Senate.

Espino’s comment also seemed to contradict fellow PANista Carlos Abascal, the government secretary who is handling the Fox administration’s negotiations with APPO and Section 22. Following the agreement with the APPO, Abascal said the senators “know what their responsibility is. They have to analyze this issue and resolve it.” (El Universal, Oct. 11 via Chiapas95)

On Oct. 11, masked protesters took over public buses and forced state government workers from offices in Oaxaca, despite the tentative agreement. The group of about 100 protesters repeatedly came under gunfire at as it roamed Oaxaca City in the commandeered buses. APPO leaders said one protester was wounded. News reports indicated the senators who planned to visit the city for the fact-finding mission had called off the trip.

Several government offices in Oaxaca had reopened in recent days after being vacant for months due to protest blockades, and protest graffiti was painted over. “They were wiping away our slogans, so we came out to prove that this city is ungovernable right now,” teacher Ruben Villavicencio said, clutching a can of spray paint. (LAT, Oct. 12)

The Senate delegation did arrive in Oaxaca City Oct. 12. Sen. Alejandro Gonzalez, of the PAN, said upon his arrival that the violence would not intimidate lawmakers and that their mission was necessary for the “benefit of the people of Oaxaca.”

If the senators judge that all three branches of the Oaxaca state government — the executive, legislative and judicial branches — have ceased to function, a Senate committee can call for the removal of the governor. Ruiz and a majority Oaxaca state legislature vehemently deny this has happened.(Seattle Times, Oct. 12)

Meanwhile, in the port of Salina Cruz, some 5,000 Section 22 teachers and APPO supporters marched in protest of the expanded presence of Mexican Navy troops in the city. They also demanded the release of teachers who had been arrested by the Salina Cruz municipal government. Navy helicopters circled above the march. (La Jornada, Oct. 11 via Chiapas95)

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