AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oaxaca's Slow Burn

While I have found it easy to begin this blog and post about national issues in Mexico - the war for petroleum principally up to this point - I have found it much harder to speak about Oaxaca, the city where I have lived for seven years. Perhaps I am too close to it, perhaps I feel that there is nothing I can say that has not already been and is not already being said better elsewhere - or perhaps it is that I share with local residents a taste of the same sense of desperation and discouragement born of being long at odds (and at long odds) with an oppressive regime that clings nominally to power in the face of widespread repudiation. "We've marched and marched," a Oaxacan friend told me, "and what has it gotten us? Nothing."

At first glance, it does seem that way. If anything, things seem much, much worse. Trucks armed with machine gun-toting cops do rounds on the streets, both downtown and in the outlying colonias. Relatives of former governors are kidnapped at high noon from prominent downtown restaurants. Top-level police officers are shot, also in broad daylight and also in very public places. Corpses are deposited in plastic right outside the State Judiciary Offices, or wrapped taco-style in a blanket and left by the house of the Director of Public "Security." Low-intensity warfare continues, picking off a person here, a person there, not enough to generate signficant media coverage: two Triqui Indians from the town of San Juan Copala, members of the community radio station "The Voice that Breaks the Silence" were the latest victims this past April 7th, ambushed and killed as they were making their way to Oaxaca City to attend a statewide conference on, ironically, the defense of the rights of the peoples of Oaxaca.

What has the conflict of 2006 gotten us? On one hand, an overt police state. In his book on the Oaxaca conflict, Professor Victor Raúl Martinez Vásquez from the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez, the State's public university, makes use of Edward Gibson's term "subnational authoritarism" to describe the example of Oaxaca as a state with a retrograde authoritarian regime in the midst of a (supposedly) democratizing national scene. While accurate, the term does not go far enough, as it is insufficiently descriptive of the desperate acts of state-sponsored terrorism that Governor Ulisses Ruíz and his cabal have resorted to in order to try to keep a lid on Oaxaca's slow burn. On the other hand, however, the fact that the trappings of the police state have become so overt shows just how tenuous Ruiz's hold on power truly is. What is truly moving Oaxaca now is not overweaning power but its exact opposite - a power vacuum, the child of governing institutions that have lost all face. Nature abhorring a vacuum, it of course finds itself being filled - by paramilitary operations and narcotrafico, to name two. Who knows if the police have been killed by disgruntled citizens, drug lords or by the government itself, settling old scores or trying to silence people who know too much? Above the "who" question lies the salient fact that no amount of "Nights of Lights" downtown can outshine: in Oaxaca there is no "gobernabilidad", no governability, no more real government (besides the pro forma one) than there has been since it essentially ceased functioning in June of 2006.

There is another force filling the vacuum. Also under the radar and invisible to most of the mainstream media, Oaxacans are organizing. They are organizing in ways that do not match traditional models of top-down leadership with media-hogging leaders, or even what was seen here two years ago. Going, in fact, beyond the APPO experience of 2006, they are learning from both the successes (non-hierarchical organization, cross-class community involvement, increased public awareness, lack of dependence on traditional political parties, decision-making by consensus,and just plain balls) and the failures (succeptibility to infiltration and actions that alientated public opinion, such as graffitti and seizing private property, an insufficient ability to explain their cause clearly and cogently to people who did not by nature sympathize), and are quietly laying the groundwork for the next chaper of this social movement, one that will see them pressing their demands with more order and discipline, perhaps, with fewer blood-rushing confrontations in the streets, but one with no less determination and commitment to achieving their ends: the end of the Ruíz junta, a release of all political prisoners, and a new state constitution that enshrines the right to initiative and referendum, just to name a few. And I would add, the urgent formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to the ones held in South Africa and Chile, that would clarify the crimes of the past, identify those responsible, and set the stage for both prosecuting and at the same time overcoming. The numberless dead and disappeared from the conflict, who my next-door neighbor contends she can sense lamenting in the night winds blowing across the Central Valleys from Ejutla to Etla to Tlacolula, demand it.

Postscript: 7:00 PM: Just put Google Ads on this blog to see how they would work, and 3 of the first 4 ads that came up were about...investing in oil! The crawler is clearly picking up mechanically on all of the references to oil in previous posts. One of the ads is for investment opportunities in Malaysia. One can only wonder if there is a site out there called "Deconstructing Malaysia" where the Google Ads are advertising new oil opportunities in Mexico. God help us.

Post-postscript, following morning: Looks like there is, in fact, a way to filter out undesirable or inappropriate ads - let's see if I can get that to work.

1 comment:

gilcolgate said...

Kurt: Good luck on controlling the google ads. Margie sends regards. Your writing demonstrates your usual high level of perception - esp the subtle feeling that "governing" is absent: proving the negative - diffiuclt but you do it well. Gil