Nov 13, 2006
On October 29, after weeks of hesitation, Mexican President Vicente Fox finally sent troops, backed up by armored vehicles and helicopters, into the city of Oaxaca. For months the population has been in rebellion against the governor of the state of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz.
Officially, Fox claimed to be restoring public order disturbed by ... the governor’s police. Fox decided to act when local plain-clothed police shot on demonstrators, killing at least three, including a young U.S. journalist. This threatened a still bigger outburst from the population. Up to that point, Fox had been perfectly willing to see the governor, head of a rival party, face these serious difficulties on his own.
The state of Oaxaca had long been under the control of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which for decades was the only party that ran the country. In 2000, the PRI lost the national presidency to the National Action Party (PAN) of Vicente Fox. But local PRI power holders like Ruiz used their hold over local offices to maintain their grasp over part of the spoils.
The movement began last May 22, when Ruiz sent armed forces to attack a teachers’ demonstration that was demanding a wage increase and more funding for the schools. The attack on the teachers only inflamed discontent in the population. The 70,000 teachers in the state sought and got support from hundreds of thousands of poor people, most of whom are Indians.
In June, following the attack on the teachers’ demonstration, the population rose up, supported by independent unions and municipal associations, paralyzing the capital city, Oaxaca. Three hundred eighty organizations came together in the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, hoping to substitute their authority for that of local administrations. Five national protest marches brought together hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Thirty local government offices were occupied, administrative buildings and courts were closed, and roads were blocked in an attempt to paralyze economic activity.
Starting in August, the city of Oaxaca was controlled by its population, which demanded the resignation of Governor Ruiz. Ruiz maintained himself in power only by surrounding himself with thugs and by using violence against the population. In five months, his thugs killed 15 militants of the movement.
When President Fox sent in troops, downtown merchants may have applauded, but the poor population didn’t agree. So now the situation is a kind of stand-off. The merchants hope that business resumes, and the governor hopes to maintain his position. But the population of Oaxaca, which has carried out months of struggle, hasn’t spoken its last word.