Newspaper under siege in Oaxaca

Dozens of workers trapped in the besieged offices of a newspaper in Oaxaca managed to publish on Sunday despite what they call a bogus strike organized by politicians to silence the daily for its criticism of the state government. The standoff at Noticias, the largest daily circulation newspaper in the state of Oaxaca, began before dawn on Friday (June 17) when hundreds of people, apparently including police in civilian clothing and other outsiders, surrounded the offices and declared a strike seeking a 25% pay raise. Genaro Altamirano, the assistant director of Noticias, said the newspaper’s 102 union employees had no desire to strike and had agreed to a 6% pay raise. He said the “strike” was organized by a union headed by state Deputy David Aguilar Robles from Oaxaca’s ruling party, the PRI. Speaking by telephone from inside the newspaper’s offices, Altamirano said he and 30 other employees had been prevented from leaving and were rationing food and water. “Who knows when we’ll get out of here,” Altamirano said.

Ericel Gomez Nucamendi, the owner of Noticias, promised supporters at a rally on Saturday, “They will not bend us.” The newspaper, which used the Internet for printing and distribution during the standoff, used his words for its lead headline on Sunday.

Over the weekend, at least 100 people remained camped around Noticias’ offices, aggressively blocking the door. The building was hung with red and black strike flags. Police stand on the street corners, but have not intervened.

Altamirano and Gomez said the action was the latest in a campaign by Gov. Ulises Ruiz and other powerful politicians to shut Noticias for its criticism of the long-ruling PRI machine. Mexico’s rights ombudsman recently called on Ruiz to protect press freedoms after the newspaper’s warehouses were attacked last year. But a spokesman for the governor said the latest conflict at Noticias was a labor issue unrelated to state politics.

Noticias has written about corrupt practices under the PRI and criticized public works such as a controversial renovation of Oaxaca’s historic central plaza. It also has charged officials with trying to buy off newspapers with advertising dollars and does not accept government advertising itself. (Reuters, June 19)

Free Speech Radio News (audio online) reports June 20 that a tract of land owned by Noticias’ proprietor was also invaded by armed squatters recently, who left behind a cadaver which has still not been identified. The owners say this was also an attack organized by the PRI.

The controversial downtown Oaxaca redevelopment plan calls for cutting down century-old laurel trees, and has sparked several public protests. Two of the trees have already been felled. (AP, June 3) See WW4 REPORT #64

See our last post on conflicts in southern Mexico.