Oaxaca: vote to end strike overturned

After a heated all-night assembly, on the morning of Oct. 22 delegates of 70,000 teachers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca voted down a proposal to end a strike that has paralyzed the capital city, also named Oaxaca, for five months. At the beginning of the assembly, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, general secretary of Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), announced that in a membership consultation held Oct. 19-20, teachers had voted 26,000 to 15,000 to accept an agreement negotiated with the federal Governance Secretariat (interior ministry) and return to teaching on Oct. 30. But union delegates charged that the voting was “rigged” because of the way the questions were presented, and decided to hold a new consultation Oct. 23-24. Many denounced Rueda as a “sellout” and “traitor.” Anger at Rueda is so intense that he tried to slip into the assembly through a back entrance while wearing dark glasses. (Reuters, Oct. 22; La Jornada, Oct. 21, 22)

The teachers went on strike for cost-of-living increases and better schools on May 22. After Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) tried to end the strike with a police assault on June 14, the teachers escalated their demands to include Ruiz’s removal from office. Indigenous communities and social movements joined the mobilization, forming a coalition, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Together the teachers and APPO have occupied the capital’s downtown area and many government offices for most of the last five months and have taken control of several radio stations.

The federal government, headed by outgoing president Vicente Fox Quesada of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), has negotiated on wage issues but refuses to discuss the removal of Ruiz. The federal Senate has the power to remove a governor, but on Oct. 19 senators from the PAN and PRI, along with the small Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM), joined to block efforts to oust Ruiz. The APPO and many teachers say they will not end their mobilization as long as Ruiz is in office. (LJ, Oct. 20)

The teachers say 10 strikers or supporters have been killed since the strike started. The most recent victim was Panfilo Hernandez Vazquez, an indigenous elementary school teacher. Several unknown persons in a blue Jetta without license plates pulled up to Hernandez on the evening of Oct. 18 as he was leaving a local APPO meeting in the Jardin section of Oaxaca city. They shot him three times in the abdomen at close range. (LJ, Oct. 19, 21)

Alejandro Garcia Hernandez, a sign painter, was shot in the early morning of Oct. 14 when a group of men in a vehicle opened fire on an APPO barricade near his home at the meeting point of the Aleman and Reforma Agraria neighborhoods in Oaxaca city. Garcia Hernandez and his wife and son brought coffee every night to the APPO members; that night he stayed briefly to help open the barricade so an ambulance could pass through. According to witnesses, a group of soldiers in civilian clothes left a nearby bar, got in their vehicles and then shot at the barricade, hitting Garcia Hernandez twice in the head. He died later that day in a nearby clinic. Witnesses found identity papers for the soldier Johnatan Rios Vazquez at the site. The state Attorney General’s Office (PGJE) said Rios Vazquez had been detained and was being questioned. (LJ, Oct. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 22

See our last posts on Mexico and the struggle in Oaxaca.