Oaxaca: general strike, paramilitary backlash

Some 60 masked and mostly armed men, including “porros” (provocaterus) and municipal police, took over the local office of the Oaxaca daily newspaper Noticias in the town of Santa Cruz Amilpas Aug. 20. The municipal government is in the hands of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but nine days earlier, a group loyal to the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO), which is demanding the resignation of the state’s PRI governor, Ulises Ruiz, had seized control of the town hall. (La Jornada, Aug. 21 via Chiapas95)

Noticias—the state’s largest circulation daily, which has reported vigorously on the APPO struggle—has come under growing attack in recent weeks. On Aug. 9, two attackers, one armed with an Uzi submachine gun, assaulted the main Oaxaca City offices of Noticias. Six persons were wounded in the shooting, including newspaper vendors Isabel Cruz and Adrian Cervantes. After violent attacks were directed against Noticias in 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ordered the implementation of protective measures. (FronteraNorteSur news service via The Newspaper Tree, El Paso, TX, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 18, some 80,000 workers, represenitng some 20 unions in Oaxaca, held a “civic strike,” shutting down many services in the state for 24 hours. In addition to followers of the National Syndicate of Education Workers (SNTE), healthcare and hospital workers, federal social security workers and Oaxaca City municipal staff also walked off the job. Many local businesses and bus lines were also closed—whether out of solidarity or fear of violence. Two strikers were injured during the course of the day. Around noon, three people attacked a barricade set up by teachers and APPO members on the Cristobal Colon international highway. The teacher Benito Castro Juarez was shot in the chest and was hospitalized. The strikers say the attackers were plainclothes police, while the state government claims they were “apparently” common criminals making a getaway after a robbery. Later the teacher Antonio Marcos Ramos Sarmiento was knifed by an unidentified person at the end of a march. (La Jornada, Aug. 19 via Chiapas95)

In the early morning of July 22 unknown persons threw three molotov cocktails into the home of Cruz Lopez, a leader of Indian Organizations for Human Rights in Oaxaca (OIDHO) and an APPO supporter. (La Jornada, Aug. 15, cited in Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 20)

See our last posts on Mexico and the struggle in Oaxaca. See also our last report on attacks on the press in Oaxaca.

  1. More details…
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 27:


    On Aug. 20 about 70 assailants seized installations belonging to the daily newspaper Noticias in Santa Cruz Amilpas municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. According to the newspaper, state and local police participated in the attack, along with masked goons and the local mayor, Jesus Miguel Garza Quintana of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

    The state has been in turmoil since May 22, when striking teachers from Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), backed by the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), began sit-ins and militant protests. The demands escalated from pay raises for the teachers to the removal of PRI governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

    Noticias has been the only one of the seven newspapers in the state capital, also named Oaxaca, to oppose Gov. Ruiz consistently, with the result that it now has the widest circulation. Armed men attacked its main office in the capital on Aug. 9, and the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) warned on Aug. 11 that the staff was in danger. Noticias has had longstanding problems with PRI groups in Santa Cruz Amilpas, which is on the outskirts of the capital: PRI members seized the newspaper’s installations there twice in 2004. In the Aug. 20 seizure the PRI members began moving on to the property, apparently because local APPO members seized the municipal building on Aug. 9 and the PRI can no longer use it. (Noticias, Aug. 21; La Jornada, Aug. 21)

    Attacks on the opposition media became more violent the next day, Aug. 21. In the early morning, armed assailants seized the bstudios of Canal 9 of the state-owned Oaxaca Radio and Television Corporation (CORTV), which APPO and the teachers had been occupying since Aug. 1 and using to transmit their bulletins. The assailants fired on the station for a half hour–300 AK-47 shells were found on the street–and then smashed the station’s equipment. Driven out of CORTV, APPO supporters blocked roads throughout the capital and seized 12 radio stations; by noon they controlled the whole AM and FM dial. The
    state government insisted that it had nothing to do with the attack on CORTV, which state spokespeople suggested was a “self-attack” by the APPO. (LJ, Aug. 22)

    Early on morning of Aug. 22, agents of the Oaxaca state preventive and ministerial police, along with Oaxaca municipal police, arrived in 34 vehicles at the La Ley 710 radio station, which was occupied by teachers and APPO members. The agents, many of them masked, opened fire. “Alert, alert, companeros,” the radio announcer said, “they’re attacking us. Mobilize to the intersections by this station to write another glorious page in the history of Oaxaca!” One of the people who rushed to the defense of the station was Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, an official in the state Public Works Department and a strike sympathizer, according to the teachers. He was shot in the shoulder and died later that day in the Aurelio Valdivieso hospital. He was the second person known to have died in the three-month-long struggle; the mechanic Jose Jimenez Colmenares was shot dead on Aug. 10 during a march.

    Other deaths have been reported but not confirmed.

    State attorney general Lizbeth Cana Cadeza said on Aug. 22 that the shooting came from “criminals,” not the 400 police agents on the street that morning, who she said were engaged in an operation to clear barricades off the street. The APPO is an “urban guerrilla group,” she said. An APPO spokesperson, Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, denied the characterization. He confirmed that APPO had received an invitation from the federal Governance Secretariat to participate in negotiations that will be mediated by Miguel Alvarez of the Service and Consulting Office for Peace and the bishop emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who mediated in talks with the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the 1990s. No date or place had been set for the talks as of Aug. 22. (LJ, Aug. 23)