Oaxaca: police attack striking teachers

In a pre-dawn raid yesterday, Oaxaca state police with helicopters, tear gas and firearms evicted several thousand striking school teachers from the plant贸n, or ongoing protest encampment, they had been maintaining for two weeks in Oaxaca City’s central plaza. Witnesses said police fired and the crowd, and local radio reports claim two dead. Two police officers were being held hostage by teachers, state officials said. (Reuters, June 14) Mexico City leaders of the National Coordinating Body of Educational Workers (CNTE) also claimed two teachers had been killed in the attack, and six “disappeared.” (El Universal, June 15) Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz denied in an official TV and radio address that any teachers had been killed. (Notimex, June 14) Police also destroyed the equipment of Radio Plant贸n, a micro-station that has been continuously transmitting from the plaza. (Indymedia Mexico, June 14)

President Vicente Fox refused to condemn the police action, cloaking the issue in terms of states’ rights. Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar Valenzuela said the federal government repects the soveriegnty of the states, adding “never again will we have the presidential authoritarianism, never again the centralism; we have embraced democracy and we now have real federalism.” (Notimex, June 14) That same day five planes with 700 elite Federal Preventative Police landed in Oaxaca. (El Universal, June 14)

In Mexico City, the EZLN Sixth Commission鈥攖he Zapatista rebel delegation which has been touring Mexico鈥攊ssued the following statement (translation by Narco News):

Informative Bulletin from the Sixth Commission of the EZLN
(from the Other Mexico City)

June 14, 2006
1200 Hours

To all the adherents to the Other Campaign and the Sixth Declaration:

The Sixth Commission of the EZLN informs you that it has received the following confirmed information:

1. Police from the state government of Oaxaca, in unknown numbers, at approximately 4:30 this morning, attacked the camp that striking teachers from the state are maintaining in order to demand better working conditions and against the authoritarian government of Ulises Ruiz.

2. The governmental aggression was accompanied by at least one helicopter that dropped teargas. The facilities of “Radio Plant贸n,” an alternative radio station in which several adherent organizations to the Other Campaign of the Oaxaca Zapatista Network (ROZ in its Spanish initials) were destroyed in the attack. People are speaking of at least 12 teachers arrested, an undefined number of injured (one of them seriously hurt in the eye), and a woman who may have had her pregnancy aborted by the gases.

3. At this time (12:00) it has been confirmed that the teachers retook the Z贸calo (central square) in Oaxaca City and are occupying it, and that the police have regrouped.

The Sixth Commission of the EZLN makes an urgent call to all adherents at the national and international levels to CONDEMN THIS NEW DEMONSTRATION OF STATE REPRESSION with public statements and actions of support, and:

– Not to trust any information disseminated about these events in the mass media.

– To give credence to the information provided by the teachers’ movement of Oaxaca through channels that the movement itself determines, to the information confirmed in the alternative media, and to the Other Oaxaca.

– To stay attentive to any actions that our compa帽eros from the Other Oaxaca who participate in the teachers’ movement require.

For the Sixth Commission of the EZLN.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, June 14, 2006

All sources archived at Chiapas95.

See our last post on Mexico and the Oaxaca crisis.

  1. Background…
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 11:


    The 70,000 members of Section 22 of Mexico’s huge National Education Workers Union (SNTE) continued their militant mobilizations in the southern state of Oaxaca the week of June 5. The Oaxaca teachers went on strike on May 22 to demand a cost of living adjustment and an increased education budget; since then they have maintained a sit-in blocking 56 streets in the city of Oaxaca’s Historic Center.

    On June 5 teachers blocked off access to the state legislature. A legislative official, Marcelo Diaz de Leon Murieras, charged that the teachers broke into the building and looted and destroyed property worth a total of 230,000 pesos ($20,220). According to Section 22 secretary Enrique Rueda Pacheco, the teachers “just went in [to the cafeteria] to get some soft drinks because they were thirsty and some chairs to rest on.” The next day, June 6, thousands of teachers blocked the roads into the government-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) facility in Tlacolula municipality, north of the city of Oaxaca, from 8 AM to 4 PM, while other teachers occupied the tollbooths for the Mexico-Oaxaca highway in Huitzo municipality. Some 150 students seized the rector’s office at the Benito Juarez Oaxaca Autonomous University (UABJO) in support of the striking teachers. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 7)

    On June 7 the teachers held their second “megamarch” in less than a week, with an estimated 120,000 teachers and supporters walking 12 km to the Plaza de la Danza, where unionists and social activists held a “people’s impeachment” for Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The jury’s decision will be presented to the legislature as a formal petition for impeachment. Reporters said the demonstration was the largest in the state’s history. (LJ, June 8)

    On June 10 the strikers blocked shopping centers, banks, market places and bus terminals, and announced plans to boycott the July 2 national presidential and legislative elections. Section 22 secretary Rueda Pacheco said the teachers would blockade the local office of the Federal Election Institute (IFE) on June 11 as “the beginning” of the boycott. (LJ, June 11)

    Support for the Oaxaca teachers was the focus of one of three demonstrations held in Mexico City on June 10. In the morning some 4,000 teachers from the states of Michoacan, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Guerrero marched from the Angel of Independence in a demonstration called by the National Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a dissident rank-and-file caucus in the SNTE, to demand an end to violence against women, campesinos, unionists, students and teachers. The marchers said they would not allow “Oaxaca to become Atenco,” a reference to bloody police attacks on campesino activists and their supporters in Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco, two municipalities northeast of Mexico City in Mexico state, on May 3 and May 4.

    Thousands of unionists and veterans of the 1968 student movement marched in a separate demonstration in Mexico City’s San Tomas area to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the June 10, 1971, massacre of at least 23 student demonstrators by government thugs known as “The Falcons.”

    In the afternoon, The Other Campaign, a leftist movement promoted by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), held a third march, also in the San Tomas area, headed by the 1968 student movement veterans and Atenco’s militant Front of the Peoples United in Defense of the Land (FDPT). The marchers mourned 20-year-old Alexis Benhumea Hernandez, who died June 7 of injuries he received on May 4 when he went to Atenco with his father and brother to support the campesino activists. His skull was fractured by a police tear-gas projectile fired at close range, and he lay in a coma for 34 days before dying. Benhumea was an economics student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); he also studied mathematics, Russian and classical ballet. (LJ, June 11, 8; El Universal, Mexico, June 7; Comite Cerezo, June 8)

    (This was the second death from the Atenco incidents of May 3-4; Francisco Javier Cortes Santiago, a 14-year-old Atenco resident, was killed on May 3 by bullet of the type used by Mexico state police.)

  2. Teachers retake central plaza
    From Xinhua, June 16:

    Protesting school teachers in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca put up their camps again on Thursday at the city’s central square one day after police expelled them, Mexican news agency Notimex said.

    Before rebuilding their improvised settlement, teachers marched through the main streets of the city, capital of the Oaxaca state, led by Enrique Rueda Pacheco, head of section 22 of the National Education Workers Union, the report said.

    The march was also attended by parents, civil groups, students and parishioners from two of Oaxaca’s five most important churches.

    On Wednesday, some 2,000 police tried to evict the teachers from the city center, where they have been camping for 24 days demanding higher salaries and better working conditions.

    During the eviction, at least 30 people were injured and one student was beaten to death by police. The union leader, however, claimed that at least three people died during the police operation.

    Oxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has begun negotiating with the union, but no agreement has yet been reached, the report said.

  3. More details
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 18:


    Shortly before 5am on June 14, hundreds of state and local police agents used tear gas and pepper spray to break up an encampment that up to 40,000 striking teachers had maintained since May 22 in the central plaza of Oaxaca, capital of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The agents, including special riot police from the state attorney general’s office and the Oaxaca municipal government, were supported by a helicopter, from which an agent hurled dozens of tear gas grenades. The teachers fled into nearby streets as police agents destroyed their encampment, invaded the headquarters of their union, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), and smashed furniture there. Police agents also destroyed the equipment of the union’s radio station, Radio Planton (“Radio Sit-in”).

    The teachers regrouped in less than an hour. Armed with clubs and covering their faces with dampened cloths as protection against the tear gas, the teachers counter-attacked with rocks and hurled tear gas grenades back at the agents. Groups of teachers seized buses and used them as battering rams against the police. As of 9:30 AM the police had retreated and the teachers had regained the main plaza. The police arrested 10 teachers during the confrontation, but the teachers captured eight agents of the preventive police, including operational subdirector Margarito Lopez, and two men who were seen throwing tear gas grenades from a hotel.

    According to initial reports from Section 22 and local human rights groups, 92 people were injured in the confrontation and four were killed–two teachers and two children. On June 17 the federal government’s National Human Rights Commissions (CNDH) reported that 66 people, including teachers and police, received treatment for their injuries in local hospitals and a number remained hospitalized. The reports of deaths have not been confirmed. (La Jornada, June 15, 18; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, June 15)

    Section 22 went on strike to demand increases in cost of living adjustments and in the education budget. In addition to maintaining the encampment in the plaza, striking teachers blocked 56 downtown streets, held brief sit-ins at various government buildings and organized two “megamarches,” reportedly the largest demonstrations in the state’s history. The failed police assault on June 14 was Mexico’s third large-scale police operation in two months. Two workers died when police attempted to remove striking workers from a steel plant in Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan on April 20, and two people died in a police assault in Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco in Mexico state on May 3 and 4.

    In what he called an effort to “ease tensions,” on June 15 Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz agreed to release the 10 arrested teachers, to suspend 25 arrest warrants against Section 22 leaders and to pay for damage caused by the police attack, including the destruction of the Radio Planton equipment. Shortly before the arrested teachers were released, strikers held a ceremony in Secondary School 1 in which they freed seven of the captured police agents and the two men seized at the hotel; police subdirector Lopez was released a few minutes later. On June 16 the union agreed to negotiate the cost of living adjustments directly with representatives sent by the federal Governance Secretariat; teachers’ salaries are largely covered by the federal budget. (LJ, June 16)

    The June 14 police operation generated major protests in Oaxaca and other Mexican states. Hundreds of teachers occupied the state Education Secretariat offices in the neighboring state of Guerrero on June 14 to show support for the Oaxaca teachers. San Salvador Atenco residents issued an “alert” in support of the teachers and demanded a “people’s punishment” for Gov. Ruiz. (LJ, June 15)

    In Oaxaca itself, more than 1,000 people blocked the highway in Matias Romero in the eastern part of the state on June 15; the action was called by the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (UCIZONI) to support the teachers and to protest Ruiz’s “orchestrated repression” against teachers and indigenous communities. On June 16 tens of thousands of teachers and their supporters marched for six hours in the capital despite a rainstorm; this was Section 22’s third “megamarch” in less than two weeks. Organizers said 300,000 people participated, almost twice as many as in the June 7 march; the state Public Safety Secretariat put the number at 70,000, and the governor’s office said only 15,000 people marched. Signs called for Gov. Ruiz’s resignation, and leaflets pointed out that “the people had removed” Oaxaca governors in 1946, 1952 and 1977.

    Traditional leaders of Oaxaca indigenous communities also participated in the march, along with supporters of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), whose local deputies had condemned the strike. There were even members of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Gov. Ruiz’s party, “who think this was too much,” a leader of an indigenous Mixtec community told Hermann Bellinghausen of the daily La Jornada.

    In the southeastern state of Chiapas, teachers marched on June 16 to express solidarity with Oaxaca teachers and to push their own demands. Thousands demonstrated in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, and about 1,000 marched in San Cristobal de las Casas; there was also a march in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital. Also on June 16, supporters of “The Other Campaign” of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) occupied the Basic Education Institute in the state of Morelos and blocked the road between Tlaquiltenango and Jojutla. (LJ, June 16, 17, 18)

    There were calls for protests internationally. In New York, more than 40 people participated in an emergency rally outside the Mexican consulate on June 15. The protest was called by the small leftist Internationalist Group and was supported by a number of organizations, including the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at the huge City University of New York (CUNY). (Eyewitness report)

    During the June 14 operation Gov. Ruiz insisted that the federal government backed his actions, and he asked for reinforcements from the Federal Preventive Police (PFP). Federal governance secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza immediately turned down the request, at least publicly. Unnamed “government sources” told La Jornada that the administration of President Vicente Fox Quesada didn’t want more damage to its image on both the local and international level so soon before the July 2 presidential and congressional elections. Felipe Calderon, presidential candidate of Fox’s center-right National Action Party (PAN), is tied in the polls with the PRD’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The government wanted “to avoid having another Atenco happen that could tarnish the electoral process and hurt the PAN’s candidates,” one source said. (LJ, June 15)

    Local Section 22 has threatened to enforce a boycott of the national elections in Oaxaca. A new threat to the voting came on June 16, when union leaders representing some four million electrical, telephone and university workers announced plans for a national general strike on June 28, five days before the elections, to protest the Fox government’s “interference” in union affairs. The strike call was issued by the National Workers Union (UNT) to protest the government’s removal of Napoleon Gomez Urrutia as leader of the 250,000-member National Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) in February, which provoked wildcats and the April 20 confrontation in Lazaro Cardenas. In its May 2 convention the SNTMMRM decided to back Gomez Urrutia against Elias Morales Hernandez, who was named general secretary by the government. (EFE, June 16; ED-LP, June 28 from AP)

  4. If only you saw things from here..
    First forgive my spelling mistakes, my english is not perfect. I have just read this article and you make it seem like it’s the goverment’s fault all the violence in here, but it is not. Those stupid treachers and evil strickers are destoying what once was a beautiful city, my little brother has been left without education and already lost his school year, education is his only posibility of doing well in life, and they have take it away.. I worked in a tourism agency that has now fired me and several of my co workers because no one wants to come here anymore, and if they come there are no safe places to show them.. I am young and still live with my parents and they are economically stable, but they are struggling too every day in their way to work with the mafiestations and closed streets. jobs have also been lost in other areas that lived out of tourism, even the indigenous people who sold their merchandise to the tourist are now begging for money in the corners. So poor little represed teachers, yeah right! fuck em!! all they want at first was more money but when they saw they were not getting it they started calling the governor a killer and all that stuff that was made up.. no one thinks of all the peoples lives they are wrecking… in my opinion the federal goverment has done too little to do justice to all families affected by them, they should all be in jail or killed for all the damaged made to us. I am really angry this has been going on for too long now..
    I invite you, come here to stay, a moth, a week even, to see who is really affected