Oaxaca: APPO’s Flavio Sosa speaks

From the Associated Press, Nov. 9:

Wanted Mexican leftist says Oaxaca rebellion will spread
OAXACA, Mexico — Flavio Sosa is remarkably relaxed for a wanted man.

As the most visible leader of a leftist movement that has rattled the Vicente Fox administration, chased state police out of this southern Mexican city and challenged hundreds of federal troops — Sosa faces arrest warrants on riot and conspiracy charges.

He also has received death threats, no small worry in a city where there have been at least nine political killings since August, mostly of Sosa’s fellow leftists.

But sitting in a colonial plaza, just two blocks away from an encampment of police clutching rifles and riot shields, the 41-year-old activist couldn’t stop smiling.

“It’s no use living my life in fear and being scared every time I go out in the street,” he said. “This movement is beautiful. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

A former migrant worker who washed dishes in a New York diner, Sosa is one of the founders of the Oaxaca People’s Assembly, a leftist front trying to oust state Gov. Ulises Ruiz. The assembly formed in June after police violently broke up a protest by striking teachers demanding higher wages.

The assembly accuses Ruiz of rigging the 2004 election to win office and sending gangs of gun-toting thugs against his opponents.

But Sosa says the fight goes deeper.

He says Ruiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is part of a long line of Mexican politicians who have looked after the rich and ground down the poor. The Oaxaca unrest, he says, is the beginning of a social upheaval akin to the unrest in Bolivia that culminated in the December election of leftist Evo Morales, the nation’s first Indian president.

“Ruiz is just the detonator. We are living through a historic transformation in Latin America,” Sosa said. “Our movement shows that Mexico is part of the south, like Bolivia, not part of the north, like the United States.”

Sosa’s enemies, including Ruiz and Oaxaca’s Attorney General Lizbeth Cana, describe the bearded, long-haired activist as a “terrorist,” and an “urban guerrilla.”

For five months, Sosa and his supporters seized the city center, keeping out state police and driving away tourists from one of Mexico’s top destinations. They built barricades, burned buses and took over radio stations to broadcast calls for revolution.

The president on Oct. 29 sent 4,000 federal officers backed by helicopters and water cannons to push the leftists out of the city center.

But the violence persisted elsewhere as federal officers clashed with protesters using gasoline bombs and fireworks packed with glass and nails. Last week, 30 people were injured in confrontations with police.

Sosa claims the fighting is in self-defense.

Wanted by Oaxacan authorities, Sosa spends most of his time surrounded by supporters and hasn’t slept at home in months.

He has asked the church to grant him asylum. Church officials have not responded.

The portly leftist also says Mexico needs a hard kick to bring about change.

As a young man in 1986, Sosa dropped out of his university to work as dishwasher in a New York diner.

“I went looking for the American dollar,” he chuckled. “It was tough as an illegal migrant and I realized how little we have in my homeland.”

Returning to Mexico in 1989, he helped found the Democratic Revolution Party, the nation’s largest leftist group, and was elected to congress.

“I had high hopes we could make a difference through the ballot box,” he said.

He left the party in 2000 to support Fox in his successful bid for the presidency. In one photograph, Sosa and Fox appear arm in arm, their hands raised making the “V” for victory.

Sosa said Fox was the best bet to end 71 years of PRI rule in Mexico. But Sosa quickly became disillusioned with the conservative president, who leaves office on Dec. 1 after a six-year term.

He said Fox just looked after rich businessmen and made deals with old power brokers.

“Instead of trying to bring about real change, Fox lived with the dinosaurs and ended up trapped in a web of complicity,” Sosa said.

Critics say Sosa is an opportunist who joins with the highest bidder. A profile of him in the Mexican magazine Reporte Indigo paints him as a pistol-packing thug who is using the Oaxacan movement to carve out a fiefdom.

Sosa laughs at that.

“I wouldn’t even know how to fire a gun,” he said.

He also points out he is only one of many leaders in the assembly of leftist, trade union, student, Indian and neighborhood groups.

“We are all equal. But my big beard and big stomach have made me become the favorite leader of the press and the police,” he said.

Interior Undersecretary Arturo Chavez, whom Fox sent to Oaxaca to negotiate with the leftists, said they have no chief.

“They are a very hard group to bargain with,” Chavez said. “We talk to some leaders but then we are not sure if other leaders agree with them.”

The grass-roots nature of the movement empowers its followers, Sosa said, predicting it will grow to a national rebellion.

Three bombs in Mexico City on Monday, which caused property damage but no injuries, were claimed by guerrilla groups in support of the Oaxaca protest movement. Sosa said the assembly had no connection with the bombings, but did not condemn the blasts.

“Fox’s ineptitude will bring about a new revolution,” he said. Sosa has said he doesn’t expect things to be different under President-elect Felipe Calderon.

Meanwhile, President Fox isn’t looking so good. From Reuters, Nov. 9:

“I talk nonsense” quote gives Mexico’s Fox red face

MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is prone to verbal mishaps, put his foot in it again by admitting he talks nonsense, in an off-the-record comment splashed on front pages and played on television news.

Fox, who ended 71 years of one-party rule at elections in 2000, leaves office on December 1 and his government has been plagued with political upheaval as it stutters toward the finishing line.

“I can talk freely. Now I can say any nonsense. It really doesn’t matter, I’m on my way out,” Fox told the Spanish news agency EFE in an informal remark before a televised interview.

The comment, made last week, was part of a tape sent to clients by the agency. A U.S. Hispanic channel played the remark, which was then picked up by Mexican television and radio stations.

Several newspapers carried the comments on their front pages on Thursday and presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar criticized the Hispanic channel for broadcasting quotes that were not intended for public viewing.

It was the second embarrassment for Fox this week.

On Tuesday, Congress blocked a planned visit by the president to Australia and Vietnam because of political upheaval after bombs exploded in Mexico City and street clashes in a southern state.

Fox retaliated in a televised address to the nation that he felt “kidnapped” because legislators refused him permission to travel.

Milenio newspaper published a caricature of Fox in a clown’s suit and red nose. “You can kidnap my body but my soul will always be free to talk nonsense,” read the caption.

Fox, who will hand power over to fellow conservative Felipe Calderon, was embarrassed in 2002 when Cuban President Fidel Castro made public a recording of a phone conversation between the two leaders.

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive. is heard asking Castro not to stay long at a U.N. summit in Mexico so as to avoid being there at the same time as President Bush.

The call was seen by many in Mexico and the rest of Latin America as bad hospitality on Fox’s part.

See our last posts on Mexico and the Oaxaca crisis