Oaxaca Teachers Refuse to Budge, Reject Order from their Own Union Leadership to Return to Classes

Oaxaca Teachers Refuse to Budge, Reject Order from their Own Union Leadership to Return to Classes

National Senate Refuses to Resolve Oaxaca Stand-Off: APPO Must Find its Own Solutions

Commentary by Nancy Davies
Reporting from Oaxaca

Oaxaca, October 22, 2006

Another difficult night in Oaxaca; around 2 a.m. church bells rang furiously, the emergency sound, dogs ran up and down our street barking madly, and rockets exploded. I got out of bed and turned on Radio Universidad, which was reporting on the statewide assembly of Section 22 of the teachers’ union.

At 8 a.m., the radio broadcast an approximation of what happened and the position of Section 22...
First, on October 19, the National Senate of Mexico, voting along party lines, refused to intervene in the Oaxaca crisis. The possibility that the Senate would declare that the government of Oaxaca has “disappeared” came to nothing, leaving the peoples’ and teachers’ social movement – comprised of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), Section 22 of the national teachers union, Oaxacan communities and civil organizations – to find their own solution to the stalemate that grips the state of Oaxaca.

With 74 votes in favor and 31 against, the Senate accepted on Thursday afternoon the statement of the Internal Governance Commission not to declare a disappearance of powers in Oaxaca and not to proceed with the removal of the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The 31 votes against accepting the report were cast by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Labor Party (PT) and the “Convergence” party, while the 74 votes in favor were cast by an alliance of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), National Action (PAN) and “Green Party” (PVEM) legislators.

Meanwhile, during the time frame the senators were “considering” the issue (which in reality involved the formation of an alliance between the PAN and PRI) another teacher was murdered in a drive-by shooting on Wednesday, October 18. The primary school teacher, Pánfilo Hernández Vásquez coming out of an assembly with neighbors in the Jardín neighborhood, was shot twice in the abdomen. His death brings the total of movement murders, of teachers, APPO and indigenous leaders, to eleven since August (including the deaths of three members of the Triqui indigenous group – two men and a twelve-year-old boy – murdered in rural Oaxaca and left off of some versions of the death toll reported in the media).

By radio, the APPO called for citizens to strengthen and reinforce the barricades, maintaining the level of maximum alert decreed the night before. It was reported at the same time that as part of the government plan for “Operation Iron,” the state government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (“URO”) has completed renovating the prison in the city of Tlocolula, suggesting that it expects massive detentions of teachers and APPO members. The remodeling involves separating each cell into two, to double the holding size from 200 to 400. However, teachers, students and the APPO openly discuss that many of them will die by government-sponsored activities before they see their half-cell in Tlocolula.

Thousands of people had gone out to the streets on October 19 to show their allegiance to the APPO, which declared that it is preparing for the next phase of the struggle. APPO spokesman Florentino López Martínez announced that the Oaxaca people will continue to seek international support – for example, from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission – to pursue the demand for a declaration of failed government.

The state was in a grim mood, as the teachers’ union returned to its base for another consultation about returning to the classroom. Many teachers viewed themselves as facing a choice between death or continuing to fight. But for the first time, I saw on Saturday a spray-painted wall saying. “Rueda P, you are a traitor to the teachers and to the APPO.”  Enrique Rueda Pacheco, the head of the teachers’ union, had announced the return to classes on national television.  His declaration was “illegal,” in the sense that no consultation with the base – required under Section 22 principles ¬– had yet taken place. When teachers received their ballots to vote on the future of the strike, the ballot questions asked only when they thought classes should resume; continuing the strike was not offered as an option.

Rumors abound (stoked by the Commercial Media, which has got most everything wrong since the conflict erupted last May) about blocs forming within the movement that may split it, including the splinter teachers’ Central Committee for Struggle (CCL), which is affiliated with the governor’s PRI party and has also called for a return to classes.

The Wide Front for Popular Struggle (FALP, one of the more of important groups that make up the APPO) convened a meeting of the movement and the teachers to call for “the reflection of those forces which many times have acted and continue acting in an irresponsible manner, immature and excessively protagonist, and that many times have carried this movement to the brink, from which it has been difficult to extricate itself.” In a communiqué, the FALP stated: “One has to put above all the general interest and the continuity of the movement; one should not permit the goals of groups, often illusory, chimerical, to change the years of popular struggle in Oaxaca.”

Some teachers marched to Mexico City on foot, camped out and launched a hunger strike in anticipation of the Senate’s vote on the disappearance of powers. In a communication published in Noticias, the encamped teachers, wrote to their compañeros in the rank and file of the Oaxaca teachers’ union:  “The first accord of the state assembly on October 18, 2006 which says: the departure of URO is not revocable or negotiable, therefore, the consultation that appears to propose the return to classes, leaves us with the clear idea that within the teachers union there are positions which favor the state, shown by putting dates to this resolution, which squeezes our base for an immediate reply without the opportunity to think if this is the best way to achieve a dignified exit from the conflict that we face today; such an exit was being analyzed by the senators of the republic who, upon seeing the result of the state (teachers) assembly radically altered their decision. Of the 14 members of the Internal Governance Commission in the senate, 11 voted against and only 3 in favor of the disappearance of powers once they confirmed that that this teachers union was inducing their bases to lower the pressure which was being exercised, in place of waiting for the result of this commission as was agreed in the prior State Assembly (of teachers).”

The document goes on to cite the brutal repression of June 14, the ten assassinated companions, the four comrades imprisoned, the 500 kilometers walked to Mexico in the march, and the 21 teachers on hunger strike.

”While we agree there is a commitment to the children and parents, we also consider that the return to classes under present conditions does not guarantee in any way the security and physical safety of all the education workers and of the people organized in the APPO, as was shown in the cowardly assassination of the compañero Pánfilo Hernández Vásquez of the Sector Zimatlán tonight in the Colonia Jardín.”

Those camped in front of the Senate building in Mexico, and the hunger strikers camped out at the downtown Juárez monument, jointly agreed in their document that this is a movement of the rank and file, not of the leaders. Therefore individual teachers have the right to decide to return to classes or not, without subjection to the dates and conditions indicated. Thus Oaxaca waited anxiously for the result of the teachers’ vote. Once again callers to the radio station (now the resurrected Radio Universidad) were weeping, and others with great sadness reminded the teachers that the people have supported them, fed them, and lived with them on the barricades and encampments. Granting that callers are self-selective in support of the APPO, the constant stream of phone calls pleading for the teachers to hold on, was moving.

Many teachers remain committed to the APPO maxim that the departure of URO is not negotiable. In two previous votes, the rank-and-file have vowed to open classes only five days after Ulises Ruiz Ortiz leaves office. On Saturday, October 21, in third consultation vote by the membership of Section 22 across the state since the strike began, initial reports suggested that a majority of the teachers rejected Rueda’s call to return to classes, citing their obligation to honor their dead, as well as their promises to the people and the APPO.

The first result of the teachers’ consultation was received by telephone to Radio Universidad on Saturday. They were read on the air, declaring the vote in favor of continuing the struggle, with no return to classes. The initial vote results announced on Radio Universidad and in Noticias, reported that six of the eight regions had rejected the opening of schools before URO left.
However, when Rueda arrived at the teachers’ assembly, after hours of delay, the vote seemed to have shifted (or to have been shifted by Rueda). Now the vote was to return to classes, with figures like 25,000 in favor of a return, 15,000 against. The fight was on. Radio Universidad called on everybody to go to the teachers’ union hall to protest, with that loud clamor which woke those asleep.

On Sunday morning, the proposition has emerged that another consultation be held, to verify the teachers’ position. The questions for the new consultation are: first, do you agree to open the classrooms, and second, if yes, when? This indicates that Rueda’s ploy did not work.

Meanwhile Oaxaca must cope with its alarms. For example, the town of Villa Alta, in the Sierra Norte, issued a formal complaint on October 16 against the presence of military troops who give no explanation as to as why they are there, and have increased the fear among the people. Many small towns are inhabited only by elderly people who are strong in demanding their rights, but physically incapable of defending them. If conditions are so dictated, they might be living permanently under military control, similar to parts of the state of Chiapas. Furthermore, in addition to the rural towns, many cities are presently held by APPO sympathizers who expelled local PRI politicians and now occupy the government buildings. As the movement goes, so goes their fate.

Another example is the declaration by the human rights group of Oaxaca stating that armed police in civilian clothes were stationed outside the meeting place for the Dialogue for Oaxaca, which has entered the work-table phase. When the participants left the building they were followed by vehicles, which held 18 heavily armed men. This case of intimidation is one of many.

Ulises Ruiz (URO) first declared that he would once again reorganize his cabinet, and based on the teachers’ return to classes, issue a general amnesty. Immediately upon the teachers’ apparent Saturday rejection of resuming classes, he changed his statement to a threat to call in the Federal Preventive Police to clear the encampment and barricades by force. But URO does not control the PFP, the federal government does.

Therefore, once again the embattled state awaits some sort of resolution, now not just the standoff with URO, but also to relieve the exhausted teachers who have no income and bear the brunt of sleeping in the encampments. No way out, no way back, no way to separate the strands of the movement, the teachers, the indigenous, the rural towns, the workers and the citizenry of Oaxaca, appears clear. The only glimmer in the darkness is the creation of more and more APPOs, such as the newly formed assembly in the state of Mexico. As I’m listening to the radio, the strongest mood prevailing is determination to hold on, united if possible.


Banner: Rueda Pacheco, why don't you hold the consulta (vote) in the graves of the fallen compañeros?"

About Nancy Davies

I’m a little old lady in sandalias, Plebian Consort of George Salzman on whose web-site some of my essays are posted. I write in every genre, I teach English, I hang out in the Mexican sunshine. I am in love with Subcomandante Marcos although we’ve met only in the noösphere.

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About Nancy Davies

Biography
I’m a little old lady in sandalias, Plebian Consort of George Salzman on whose web-site some of my essays are posted. I write in every genre, I teach English, I hang out in the Mexican sunshine. I am in love with Subcomandante Marcos although we’ve met only in the noösphere.