A State of Oppression

    Gunshots, tear gas and imprisonment are not the usual topics of discussion for college students talking about Mexico. To the average student, the country is little more than a spring-break getaway or a daytrip to Tijuana. Tourist spots include marketplaces or strips of bars and clubs.

    Jennifer Hsu/Guardian

    But for thousands of people the state of Oaxaca, Mexico means poverty, political turmoil and social unrest. The region’s downtrodden atmosphere was the topic of “”Peace in Oaxaca,”” a dialogue sponsored by the Associated Students, International House and Migrants Rights Awareness on Feb. 23 in Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Great Hall.

    “”Our goal [for the event] was to educate people about the injustices that migrants and their families face on a daily basis,”” Thurgood Marshall College senior and MRA Representative Justin Jarvis said. “”There is little coverage on the issues in Oaxaca, and we wanted to empower people to create a difference.””

    Great Hall was full of attendees, varying from students who simply saw a flyer on Library Walk to notable faculty members. Conversations fluctuated from homework and midterms to current domestic and foreign political issues. The most common language was Spanish.

    Oaxaca is located in southern Mexico, and it is known for its natural beauty and diversity, featuring 16 groups of indigenous people. The city is a tourist location full of cathedrals and markets. The state is also the second-poorest in Mexico.

    According to Alejandro Torres, a peace mediator for the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, today’s most pertinent issues are centered on the stresses of globalization in Mexico and a demand to democratize the nation. That demand landed the Mexico government with a “”right-wing”” and authoritarian government.

    “”Mexico’s transition to democracy has failed,”” Torres said. “”Political structures are falling apart. Existing laws and institutions have diminished, the government that President Vicente Fox wanted to represent has gone.””

    Torres blamed the social and political unrest on Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, who has been in power since 2004, and his political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The regime has been accused of fraudulent electoral behavior and violent acts throughout Mexico.

    Political stress escalated in June 2006, when a 23-day strike by the Mexican National Educational Workers Union demanding higher wages was interrupted by tear gas and gunshots from local police forces.

    Additional demonstrators came to support the protesting teachers. The group of union members and demonstrators formed APPO days after the strike, calling for higher wages for teachers and the immediate replacement of Ruiz with a non partisan, non authoritarian and diverse system of government. APPO also declared itself the unofficial governing body of Oaxaca.

    “”We were united by the struggle,”” Torres said. “”A people of popular assembly refining reform in the source of oppression.””

    APPO organized peaceful marches and protests throughout Oaxaca, calling for street, union and town protests across the state; its demands were not well-received.

    On Nov. 2, police raided student protests at the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca, starting conflicts within the university system. On Nov. 25, the seventh APPO march was interrupted by federal police forces that again used tear gas and guns on peaceful protestors. More than 300 people were arrested in the fracas. Of those people, 73 are still imprisoned.

    “”The federal police came to intimidate,”” Torres said. “”But men and women are still fighting for their rights. We don’t want violence anymore.””

    Early media coverage marked APPO as the initiating factor in the violent protests. APPO took over media in Oaxaca to publicize its views, claiming that control of the media was the way to secure Oaxacans’ livelihood.

    Police presence in the region has grown dramatically over the past few months, according to Torres, who also added that the people are fearful and tense about what the future holds, and have lost their respect for state government. APPO is still demanding freedom, political change and the removal of the current state government. They champion indigenous rights, political accountability and equality.

    Torres said his fear is that the current government will remain in power, psychologically destroying the social movement and participation via support by the Mexican federal government and the PRI. Instead he hopes that there will be a growth in the fervor of the Oaxacan people to support political consciousness and participation. That way, a new state government could transform their way of life and give the people the freedom they seek.

    Torres concluded with pictures of Oaxacans protesting in the city streets and the future of the state.

    “”We, the people of Oaxaca, are flavorful,”” he said. “”And we have to change this way of life. Our situation is a global crisis. It calls us all to step up and make a difference.””

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal