The five-month popular occupation of Oaxaca, Mexico, was crushed on the 27-29 October when thousands of federal riot police invaded the city, killing at least three protesters and an American journalist working for Indymedia. Hundreds were reported to be injured. The city had been under the control of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), a coalition of indigenous, trade union and student activists created in response to the state governor Ulises Ruiz’s failed attempt to evict striking teachers in June.
Protestors used barricades made of corrugated iron, buses and lorries to defend the communications and transport facilities which they had seized. Although the roads were blocked, the government forces used riot police armed with machine guns, helicopters and water cannon to enforce their control. Although many put up brave resistance to the 4,000 police in battles lasting for many hours, the state’s force proved impossible to resist.
The APPO has long had the support of the vast majority of people in Oaxaca. It organised self-defence forces, as well as running its own “police” and radio stations. The main demand of the APPO was simply that Ruiz be forced to design — the right-wing government of Vicente Fox preferred to administer bloody “justice” upon the city rather than see his man lose his job. The process of the occupation of the city and APPO’s democratic control had however vastly radicalised the people of Oaxaca, far beyond the pay and conditions demands of the initial teachers’ strike.
The leadership of the teachers’ union SINTE did little to defend Oaxaca from the riot police’s onslaught. After negotiating with the government, Enrique Rueda Pacheco announced that the workers’ initial pay demand had been agreed to, so they should go back to work and start classes as soon as possible. While the pay increase was not in itself unimportant, after five months’ worth of struggle and in the atmosphere of the riot police’s onslaught, his position displayed his inability to relate to the grassroots — he sold out on their demand for Ulises Ruiz’s sacking.
The violence of the state attack was breathtaking, including the use of tanks and paramilitary forces allied to the government. As many as 5,000 troops were waiting in the wings around the city, ready to attack if the police failed to overcome the people. Indymedia reports that
their reporter Brad Will, who was standing behind a barricade, was shot dead from a distance of just 30 metres by a plain-clothes paramilitary.
In reaction to the weekend’s events there were protests and electronic-blocking of Mexican embassies and consulates around the world. Workers fighting back against the corrupt, repressive and violent Mexican political order deserve our solidarity.