Federal Police Intervene in Mexico Unrest ; President Fox Dispatched Forces This Weekend in Bid to Quell Violent Protests in Southern Town of Oaxaca

Article excerpt

Five months after leftist protesters occupied the center of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, President Vicente Fox sent federal security forces this weekend to resolve a deadly conflict that has stained the image of a town famed for its colonial facades and gourmet food.

The move came after three men, including an American journalist, were killed Friday by gun-fire. But for many it comes five months too late, and at too high a price.

Like their counterparts in the US, Mexico's federal police are only ordered to resolve local or state conflicts in extreme circumstances. But this protest, which began in May as a teachers' strike for higher pay and morphed into an unwavering demand for the governor's resignation, has long since turned acute. Protesters have barricaded the center of town and chased local police from the streets. At least six people have been killed. Children have missed 100 days of class, and the tourist sector has lost millions of dollars.

Many say the violence has been left to simmer in large part because of a power vacuum after the July 2 presidential election, the closest in the country's history. Although the crisis is motivated by local factors, intervention has national consequences.

"The [Fox administration] has not stepped in because of how complicated the situation is politically," says Alberto Aziz, an analyst at the Center for Research and Higher Learning in Social Anthropology who has studied civil resistance movements in Mexico. "The federal government has not resolved it for the sake of a political alliance."

Political considerations

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who lost the race, has declared the presidential elections fraudulent and illegitimate. The ensuing political divisions have left many to believe that the only way to push through legislation is an alliance between the National Action Party (PAN), to which President Fox and incoming president Felipe Calderon belong, and the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party of Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz.

"This is an extreme expression of a power vacuum in Mexico politics," says John Ackerman, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "It shows the desperate need of the PAN to maintain PRI support. …