Oaxaca Unrest Continues

More of the dirty same in the southern Mexican state, where striking teachers, indigenous groups, students, and leftists have been trying to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz from power for about the past six months

To show support for protesters in Oaxaca, Mexico, local activists erected a tent in front of the consulate on Brazos Street and held a sit-in for five nights.
To show support for protesters in Oaxaca, Mexico, local activists erected a tent in front of the consulate on Brazos Street and held a sit-in for five nights. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

It's more of the dirty same in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where striking teachers, indigenous groups, students, and leftists have been trying to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz from power for about the past six months. They say Ruiz's 2004 election was fraudulent and that his government has consistently retaliated against dissenters. At least a dozen people have been killed during the unrest, according to Reuters. An e-mail update sent out earlier this week by the Mexico Solidarity Network, a U.S.-based activist organization, says that "after 172 days of popular resistance, 337 people have been arrested, many by paramilitary groups working in conjunction with Ruiz but outside of formal state authority, and 53 political prisoners remain in jail. At least 61 people are reported disappeared."

Clashes between protesters and police have been a regular occurrence in the city of Oaxaca ever since President Vicente Fox sent federal police to the area in late October. The Associated Press reports that, "Earlier this month, 30 people were injured during clashes between federal police and protesters after the officers tried to remove barricades on a street near the" Benito Juárez Autonomous University, where demonstrators established their headquarters after police drove them from their base in the city's main plaza. Classes at the university briefly started back up Monday, Oct. 13, "but lessons were suspended again amid security concerns," according to the AP. The MSN update reports that "schools across Oaxaca were scheduled to open on October 30, following an agreement reached the previous week between … the teachers union and the Interior Secretary to end a five-month strike, but most schools remained closed" due to ongoing unrest.

Activists have demonstrated at consulates across the U.S. in support of Oaxaca's protesters. In Austin, a small group erected a tent in front of the consulate on Brazos Street and held a sit-in from the night of Oct. 31 until Nov. 5. Native Oaxacan Omar Angel, one of the consulate "campers," said Monday that there's a sense of urgency to get Ruiz out of office because under Mexican law, if a governor resigns before being in office for two years, a new gubernatorial election can be held. But if a governor resigns after two years in office, the governor's party gets to appoint a successor. Come Dec. 1, Ruiz, a member of the country's long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will have been in office for two years.

"If they had elections, the PRI would lose," Angel said. (In Mexico's close, contested July 2 presidential election, the state of Oaxaca, one of the poorest in the country, went to the populist Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Conservative National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon was ultimately declared the winner, however; he will take office Dec. 1.)

Although Oaxaca's governor has some supporters, political pressure on him to resign is growing. According to MSN, "On Monday, Oct. 30, both houses of Congress approved non-binding resolutions calling for Ulises Ruiz to step down as governor. The Senate vote was unanimous … Ruiz challenged the legality of the resolutions, but the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that his challenges were without merit. … On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal called on the embattled governor to step down."

Reuters reported Tuesday that a senior aide to President-elect Calderon described the conflict in Oaxaca as "the nation's most pressing problem." If Calderon "manages to resolve the case of Oaxaca, he will have a better chance of resolving challenges at a national level," Alejandro García, mayor of the Oaxacan village of Guelatao, told Reuters. "If not, he is going to have a very difficult government."


For continuing coverage, see news.yahoo.com/fc/World/Mexico and www.narconews.com; for previous Chronicle coverage, see "A Letter to Mexico," Oct. 27, 2006.

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