Oaxaca: siege ends at opposition newspaper

Another sign of de-escalation in Oaxaca? From AP, Dec. 11:

OAXACA – A labor group allied with the government of the southern state of Oaxaca announced on Monday that it was ending a controversial, 1 1/2-year blockade of the offices of Noticias, a newspaper frequently critical of state authorities.

Press groups had criticized the blockade as an attempt to silence the newspaper, which opposed Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who has been hit by six months of protests by striking teachers and leftists seeking to oust him.

Officials of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, or CROC, began handing over the offices of Noticias to the newspaper’s director, saying the “strike” was over. Picket lines were removed from the street outside the offices.

David Aguilar, a union representative, said the strike had achieved its goals and that the CROC “had acted within the framework of the law.”

While the union technically represents the workers at Noticias, almost none of the paper’s roughly 100 employees supported the strike, in which non-newspaper union activists erected a picket line around the offices and prevented employees from entering.

The strike was supposedly called for wage raises, but many saw it as political retaliation against the paper, which harshly criticized Ruiz, who has been accused of corruption, brutality and vote-fixing. The union has close ties to Ruiz’s government.

On June 17, 2005, supporters of a union dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI — of which Ruiz is a member — set up picket lines outside the Noticias. Some employees remained blockaded inside, but were eventually removed by police.

Seven months earlier, a gang of farmers had staged a violent takeover of a warehouse belonging to Noticias. The paper also accused the state government of being behind that attack, which officials described at the time as a land dispute.

Later, the PRI state government then tried to stop the paper from publishing from an alternative site.

Shortly after the strike started, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on Oaxaca officials to halt the blockade, which involved police confiscating copies of the newspaper and trying to block distribution.

“Your government has stated that this is a labor dispute, but the evidence does not support that claim,” the committee said in an open letter. “This is an attempt to stifle coverage of state authorities.”

See our last posts on Mexico, Oaxaca, attacks on the press, and the siege on Noticias.