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Julie Webb-Pullman: Adios Ruiz, Bienvenidos AEPO

Adios Ruiz, Bienvenidos AEPO

By Julie Webb-Pullman

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Oaxaca solidarity Poster On Car Door

Eight thousand members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) arrived in Mexico City Monday, having left their home on 21 September to march almost 500 kilometres to Mexico City to demand the ouster of their Governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. They accuse him “of irreparable damage to human patrimony, of the assassination of social leaders, of the mismanagement of state finances, of “ethnocide,” of violating United Nations and UNESCO decrees including the guarantee of individual liberties, of promoting violence in the state” and of being incapable of resolving conflicts through diplomatic means.

Since taking power in December 2003, Ruiz has systematically persecuted his political opponents, killing 38 leaders of indigenous’, workers’, and independent organisations, ‘disappearing’ a few more, and detaining and incarcerating more than 200 political prisoners.

Whilst his relentless repression, corruption, and abuses of human rights terrorised many into silence, the teachers of Oaxaca spoke for all when on Mexico’s Teachers’ Day on 15 May this year they said, Ya Basta! Enough!

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Senators Advising Decision Not Yet Made

The 30,000 teachers in the Zócalo (main square) that day were among 70,000 demanding a pay rise that recognises the cost of living in their city, which, whilst being designated a ‘poor zone’ thus only receiving minimal funding, in fact has similar costs to cities in the ‘expensive zone’ bordering the United States, where teachers are paid proportionally more in recognition of the higher cost of living. Whilst the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) accepted the 4% raise offered, the Section 22 members of La Co-ordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) of Oaxaca refused it, and decided to camp in the Zócalo until their demands were met.

Ruiz responded with the stonewalling and repression for which he had already become notorious. Narco News reported when the first attempt to seize the Zócalo occurred on 14 June, “As dawn broke, the Special Operations Police Unit and the Judicial Police clashed with protesters in a fight to control the main square, or Zócalo. The police used tear gasses of different types, which were launched by hand, by grenade launchers, and tossed from state government helicopters overhead. These gas canisters were dropped indiscriminately, as corroborated by one Narco News reporter who found 35 gas canisters along a single city block, all made in the United States.”

The deaths that occurred that day, and in the days since, now total eight, and there have been an estimated 40 more political prisoners taken. No wonder then that the teachers were soon joined by hundreds more social, workers’, indigenous and human rights’ organisations, to form the APPO, a broad social movement demanding more than just a fair pay rise for teachers, but a raft of social, civil and political rights.

In September the APPO held the First State Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (AEPO in its Spanish initials), saying “The central demand, for the departure of Ulises Ruiz, does not signify a struggle against a person, but against an economic and political structure…” and referring to the AEPO as “an alternative democracy to establish a new social pact, a new form of government which will also reconstruct the damaged social fabric…” (Written report (in Spanish) )

The APPO is very clear that it is not, and has no wish to be, a political party, preferring to organise by geographical location, work allegiance, social project or organisational allegiance. Delegates of the new AEPO body will be chosen in face-to-face participatory meetings of the group each will represent – farming communities, indigenous peoples, organizations, unions, outlying villages, towns, and municipalities. .

This socialist revolution of APPO/AEPO, based on the indigenous practice of usos y costumbres, the traditional face-to-face method of governing, and the Zapatista’s “Lead by obeying,” is a uniquely Mexican grassroots movement which has rapidly spread to other states.

This was most clearly demonstrated when the 8,000 APPO marchers from Oaxaca reached Mexico City, and their numbers swelled to 100,000 as supporters from other sectors and cities joined them. Currently there are two APPO encampments in Mexico City, one in the Zócalo, and one outside the Senate, a few streets away. And there they will stay until Ruiz goes.

Contrary to today’s reports in the mainstream media lauding a settlement of the ‘Oaxaca dispute’, the teachers´ pay rise was but the catalyst for far wider demands, and although acceding to the teachers’ request for fairer pay may see the Oaxaca Zócalo cleared and a return to work and school for many, until and unless Ruiz and all he represents are gone – corruption, exploitation, abuse of power, misery, hunger and early death - the ‘dispute’ is far from over.

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Senators Leaving

The Mexican Senate is this week debating whether Ruiz has the capacity to govern Oaxaca. Shortly before 5pm on Tuesday a delegation of Senators informed the crowd, “You will know tomorrow.” Meanwhile another delegation of Senators, including Tomás Torres on behalf of the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática), and Ramiro Hernández representing PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), are travelling to Oaxaca Wednesday to consider whether Ruiz is in control of the State.

Regardless of their conclusions, one thing is certain – the people outside the Senate already know. Ruiz will be stripped of his power, whether by the Senate, or the people of Oaxaca. And who and what will replace him is more likely to be as a result of the deliberations of the AEPO in Oaxaca in November, than those of the Mexican political parties in the Senate.


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