By John Williams

The movement for equality and democracy in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has come close to a standstill in the last few months.

At an event entitled “The People’s Resistance in Oaxaca: Short Films and Reportback” held in the Santa Cruz Veteran’s Hall on Friday, March 2, a large crowd gathered to hear the latest news from Santa Cruz travelers and reporters Vladimir Flores and Shannon Young.

The event began with a number of short films showcasing some of the most dramatic points of the movement, including the 700,000 strong mega-march through the zocalo, or plaza, last June, and the day the people of Oaxaca stopped the Federal Protective Police (PFP) from entering the University of Oaxaca on Nov.12.

In Oaxaca, the last year has been an extremely tumultuous one.  A teacher’s strike calling for higher wages and breakfast and shoes for children brought to light some of the major failings of the Oaxacan government, including the suspicious election policies of governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  The strike avalanched into a statewide movement demanding an end to Ruiz Ortiz’s government. The struggle was organized principally by the Popular Association of the People of Oaxaca (APPO by its Spanish initials) – a group that grew out of Section 22 of the Mexican National Teacher’s Union (SNTE).

Shannon Young, one of the speakers at the Santa Cruz forum, spoke about her coverage of a three-week-long march from Oaxaca to Mexico City. The march, which was held in support of a resolution to allow investigations into Oaxacan election policies, ended with demonstrations in front of the Mexican Senate.

“These were just ordinary townspeople who marched for three weeks straight and slept using sidewalk curbs as pillows,” Shannon said. “They were a lot older than me and I had trouble keeping up.  After the resolution failed, they went on a hunger strike for a week.”

This level of dedication was characteristic of the various actions organized by the APPO. The night of Nov. 25, however, saw a shift in the movement, according to a recent interview that The Organizer held with an original leader of the Oaxacan SNTE who was also an elected leader of the APPO.

The teacher-unionist, who requested that his name remain anonymous, said that the Ortiz government’s level of repression took a major upswing on Nov. 25, when the PFP and the army marched into Oaxaca city to quell demonstrations. Since then, over 400 activists have been arrested in the city, and 140 were sent to a detention center 1,000 miles away in Tepic, Nayarit, where reports of abuse have been rampant.

“They were accused of sedition and criminal activity for their role in organizing the peaceful demonstrations that called for the ousting of the corrupt and universally despised governor of the state, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz,” the source said during a phone interview.

Bradley Smith, who works with El Enemigo Comun in Santa Cruz, explained at the event that divisions within APPO emerged during the movement, creating conflict within the organization.  Members of the newly created Section 59 of the teacher’s union in Oaxaca accepted a wage increase in return for re-opening Oaxacan schools after a nine-month strike. The original striking group, Section 22, has officially refused to return, holding out for their original demands. This has led to a divisive dynamic, with dissident teachers being locked out of their classrooms, and students protesting for their original teachers.

“This has led to true divisions in the movement,” Smith said. “Neighbor is pitted against neighbor on the question of where the struggle goes from here.”

With the government actively working to break up the democratic Section 22, the union is divided over future actions to pursue. However, there have been continued uprisings in the outskirts of the city.

In the words of the still-dedicated Oaxacan teacher-unionist, “The repressive arm of the state has dealt a harsh blow to the popular movement in Oaxaca, this cannot be understated. But they have not succeeded in putting down the uprising in Oaxaca. If anything, people are angrier than ever, and they are defiant.”

Vladimir Flores, an organizer from Oaxaca who attended the Santa Cruz speaker forum said that, “the struggle of the teachers in Oaxaca is the same as the struggle for justice in Mexico.”