By Jono Kinkade
The crowd spilled out the door of the Watsonville Brown Berets’ office Oct. 12 to hear Fernando Mendoza Perez’s report on the tumultuous political state in Oaxaca, Mexico.Mendoza, a Oaxacan elementary school director and National Education Workers’ Union representative, spoke about the clash between protestors and the Mexican government which has lead to eight reported deaths. Protestors are concerned with budgetary issues surrounding education, health and social projects. "The APPO [the Spanish acronym for the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca] came together officially after June 14 of this year when the governor used his strong-handed tactics to incur pressure on all the social groups and the teachers union," Mendoza told City on a Hill Press (CHP). Mendoza mentioned a few of the government’s "heavy-handed tactics," such as cutting the teachers’ salary by 50 percent and imprisoning leaders of the protests. The protesters in Oaxaca barricaded the town center to block federal military and police from entering the city after gunmen opened fire in the crowd on June 14. The gunmen, who were in civilian clothing, were accused of being paramilitary forces hired by the government to discredit the APPO. "These tactics have been used in politics for a long time," Al Rojas, a labor organizer with Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior, told CHP. Rojas noted that the protests in Oaxaca are symptomatic of bigger problems within Mexico.According to Rojas, neoliberal policies undertaken by the Mexican government have forced almost four million Mexicans to leave places like Oaxaca seeking work elsewhere. Rojas sees Mendoza’s information campaign as an important way to get the news of the Oaxacan protests out."These are the avenues that we have in order to bring our messages," Rojas said. "It’s like back in my farm worker days when I was with the [United Farm Workers] right here in Salinas. We were denied access to the media because we did not have the economic and political power at the point, so we had to go to the streets, which is our only real weapon- which is what [Mendoza] is doing." Mendoza emphasized that he and fellow labor activists simply want to resume their normal lives as soon as possible."All we are seeking is a peaceful solution to this situation, so we can regain our tranquility and go back to our daily lives to continue to survive with our families," Mendoza said. Although negotiations have been underway between the federal government and the APPO, no agreement has yet been reached. Mendoza said that their demands are clear and not negotiable. "Our most urgent demands are for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz and for the military troops in Oaxaca to return to their bases," Mendoza said. "The military is to protect the sovereignty of the country, not to attack its people,"Mendoza is concerned that the violence will escalate as the military carries out more attacks to quell the protesters. The APPO has already observed military soldiers and tanks moving around the city, as well as helicopters surveying and dropping tear gas canisters.Although it is unlikely that former Mexican President Vicente Fox will remove Ruiz from office, it may be an option President-elect Felipe Caulderon considers when he takes office Dec. 1. The move could give Caulderon some much-needed popular support in the polarized nation.While the Mexican Senate may soon work to bring a solution acceptable to the APPO, at press time no decision has been made. Mendoza and the people of Oaxaca will continue to protest until their demands are met. The Mexican Consulate in San Jose diverted questions to the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., who could not be reached for comment. "All three political parties have a responsibility to create a just resolution to this issue," Mendoza said, hopeful that a peaceful resolution will indeed be reached. Others agree that if the conflict in Oaxaca is not resolved, it may become more violent. "The longer it goes on unresolved," said Jonathan Fox, UC Santa Cruz professor of Latin American and Latino/a Studies, "the greater the risk is for more repression and resistance."