SAN FRANCISCO - September 29 - Global Exchange, an international human rights group based in San Francisco, is urging its members to contact outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox to call for him to refrain from using Federal force to put down civil unrest in Oaxaca. “Federal intervention in this situation is certain to escalate the conflict and poses tremendous and unnecessary risks to the people of Oaxaca City and State,” said Ted Lewis, founding director of Global Exchange’s Mexico Program.
In recent days Oaxaca Governor, Ulises Ruiz has publicly called on the federal government to send federal police or the army to quell the massive protests that have shut down state government in Oaxaca. Meanwhile Oaxaca State police have been witnessed and filmed carrying out armed raids against the protesters, shooting into marches and encampments.
The protest coalition “Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca” (APPO in Spanish) has wide support amongst the population in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca State and even across the country. And while most of the APPO actions have been civil in nature, the organization has maintained a position of using self-defense when police attack or make efforts to lift their encampments. Due to the number of APPO protesters and the scale of their organization across the city, it is very likely that any attempt to forcibly remove protesters would result in a serious and potentially lethal confrontation injurious to APPO members as well as uninvolved local residents.
Brief Timeline of the ongoing protest and repression in Oaxaca:
May 22: Teachers from Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers go on strike demanding pay increases, improved working conditions, and increased budget for school meals, uniforms and supplies.
June 14: Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) sends over 1,000 state police into the historic town center before dawn to break up the teachers’ protest camps using tear gas and beating protesters with clubs. The teachers regroup and take back over the town center only hours later.
June 16-July 25: Tens of thousands of citizens from Oaxaca City and across the state join the teachers protest camps and massive marches, demanding the ouster of Ulises Ruiz. The protesters form the “Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca” (APPO in Spanish).
July 26: The APPO initiates a series of direct actions meant to paralyze the state government and force Ulises Ruiz’s resignation, setting up protest camps outside of all state government buildings.
August 1: Three thousand women from the APPO march through town and then take over the state television and radio station, CORTV.
August 7-22: Civilian clad state and federal police and unidentified gunmen begin to shoot at protest marches and encampments and arrest APPO leaders on the street. On August 21 the gunmen destroy the CORTV transmitter; the following morning the APPO took over 12 local commercial radio stations (later in the week they release ten stations). That night, on August 22, the gunmen kill two protesters and wound several more. Images of gunmen in police trucks driving through Oaxaca City air on national and international television (Televisa and Reuters) on August 22. The APPO organizes over 1,000 barricades throughout the city to halt further incursions of gunmen or police.
August 29-September 20: Members of the APPO travel to Mexico City for talks with the Minister of the Interior, Carlos Abascal. The Interior makes several offers to address education and social equity issues in Oaxaca, but the APPO turns down all offers, maintaining their singular demand that Ulises Ruiz resign or be removed from office. Talks stall on September 20.
September 21: The teachers union and the APPO initiate a march of over 4000 people to Mexico City where they will set up a protest camp outside of Congress. The teachers and APPO protesters will walk over 300 miles through four states before arriving in Mexico City in early October.
September 24: APPO protesters clash with gunmen after storming a hotel where Ulises Ruiz was rumored to be conducting an interview. Gunmen shoot one protester in the arm.
September 25: Fox meets with eleven governors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party to discuss the conflict in Oaxaca. President Vicente Fox’s spokesperson, Ruben Aguilar, says that Fox will solve the problem in Oaxaca before November 30, the last day of his six-year term. Ulises Ruiz attempts to open schools, demand that teachers return to classes, and threatens to fire all those who do not return and hire substitutes. His attempt fails.
September 26: The Minister of the Interior, Carlos Abascal, submits a draft proposal for the use of federal police in Oaxaca. President Fox will decide whether to authorize the use of force.