By Jono Kinkade
JALISCO, MEXICO-Blanca Lopez Pascual hid in a truck bed under a bundle of clothes when she left Oaxaca City, where Federal Police and protesters have been entangled in months of increasingly violent clashes.
Lopez Pascual went to Puerto Vallarta to sell hand-woven Oaxacan clothing in order to make some much-needed money to return to Oaxaca, where the economy has been in a standstill as the six-month-long struggle rages on.
"People don’t have work in Oaxaca," Lopez told City on a Hill Press in an interview in Puerto Vallarta. "There are no jobs, and some people can’t eat."
It began in May as a teacher’s strike in response to low wages and unsatisfactory school funding as protesters called for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. After tear gas canisters were dropped from helicopters and gunmen identified as paramilitary forces fired into the crowd, the protests intensified and the teachers-joined by over 300 different social organizations and municipalities-formed the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO).
"The government isn’t fixing the problems. In some of the little towns in the mountains [of Oaxaca], where there are Zapoteca people like me, there aren’t any classes," Lopez said.
On Nov. 26, thousands marched toward the city center, where the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) were stationed. According to news reports on Democracy Now! from John Gibler, an independent journalist who has been in Oaxaca City covering the events, the protesters encircled the town square.
"The APPO called for a 48-hour ‘peaceful siege’ of the Federal Police encampment, maintaining a full block of distance between the protesters and the police barricade. Within less than an hour however…a series of confrontations…[led] to a five-hour battle ending in gun fire," Gibler said.
Gibler also reported that armed paramilitary forces have been invading hospitals and houses in search of protesters, who in turn set four government buildings ablaze, as well as a few others privately owned buildings.
There have also been claims by APPO and Amnesty International that police officers or government officials in plain clothes have been shooting at protesters, though it is unknown how many deaths or injuries have occured. Brad Will, a 36 year-old American from New York, was killed on Oct. 27 while taking video footage of the protest.
As the protests carry on, the APPO and its supporters say their demands are simple.
"If Ulises [Ruiz] leaves office there will be no more problems in Oaxaca," Lopez Pascual said.
However, there appears to be no intention from Ruiz, a member of the conservative Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to resign, even though the Mexican Congress has asked him to do so.
Before Blanca Lopez Pascual came to Puerto Vallarta, she joined over 100,000 demonstrators in Mexico City to protest the Dec. 1 inauguration of President-elect Felipe Caulderon, who has been accused of stealing the July 2 election from leftist Institutional Revolution Party candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. At the Nov. 20 protest, Lopez Obrador inaugurated himself as the country’s ‘legitimate’ president.
"Lopez Obrador is good for us because he wants to help the poor people," Blanca Lopez said.
While the protests in Oaxaca and in Mexico City are addressing different problems, many around Puerto Vallarta and Mexico are watching with expectations that both the current waves in Oaxaca and the contentious Presidential inauguration will culminate into bigger problems.
"There are going to be big changes," Juan Carlos Guerrero, a Jalisco citizen, told CHP in a conversation in Puerto Vallarta. "You’ll see."
Gibler agreed in an interview with CHP, saying that while "it is impossible to say [what will happen], I bet it will be ugly."