President Vicente Fox's Administration Finally Intervenes in Oaxaca Conflict, but Resolution May Be Difficult

Article excerpt

After weeks of sitting on the sidelines, President Vicente Fox's administration finally entered the bitter and sometimes violent conflict between the teachers union and the Oaxaca state government. In late August, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza agreed to sit down with members of Section 22 of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion (SNTE) to discuss demands for a salary increase. While there was a potential breakthrough on the issue of compensation for the teachers, the SNTE's insistence on the removal of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz remained a major obstacle in what has become a crisis in the capital city of Oaxaca. Ruiz is a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which has governed Oaxaca for several generations.

Abascal's decision to enter the talks offers a glimmer of hope for a resolution to the nearly five-month impasse between SNTE members and the Oaxaca state government regarding teachers' salaries. Members of Section 22 walked off the job at the end of May to press their demands for higher pay and other concessions from the Ruiz administration.

The walkout forced the cancellation of the last month of school for 1.3 million students in the Oaxaca school system. The strike has continued into the new school year, with students already missing the first month of classes.

The governor refused the request, arguing that his government did not have the 1.4 billion pesos (US$127 million) to cover the SNTE demands (see SourceMex, 2006-08-02).

Protestors paralyze state capital

Rather than meet the union's demands, Ruiz sent riot police to try to dislodge protestors from the Zocalo (central square), but the failed attempt only increased the SNTE's resolve. The Oaxaca government's refusal to meet the teachers' demands sparked a series of protests and acts of civil disobedience that have paralyzed the state capital.

The protests have grown beyond a mere dispute over teachers' pay, with several civic groups, farmers, students, and leftist organizations joining the SNTE in an umbrella organization called the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca (APPO) to denounce corruption under successive PRI governments and to demand that state officials take steps to improve living conditions in Oaxaca.

As a central demand, protestors are asking that Ruiz step down or be removed from office. Ruiz has served less than two years of his six-year term, after being elected by a very narrow margin in 2004 (See SourceMex, 2004-08-04).

To underscore their demands, APPO members have taken control of major installations in Oaxaca City, including a dozen radio and television stations and key municipal and state buildings. The movement succeeded in paralyzing most state government operations, forcing officials to work out of improvised headquarters and communicate via cell phones.

"Meanwhile, no one's working at City Hall, the police station, or the nearby state capital offices," said the Los Angeles Times. "Each of the buildings is blocked by hundreds of men and women living under tarps."

The tug-of-war between the protestors and the government has also become a battle for control of broadcast outlets. In August, unidentified assailants, thought to be linked to the government, destroyed the broadcasting equipment of Canal 9, which houses a public television and radio station that APPO had commandeered early in August to broadcast its version of events.

This prompted protestors to take control of several commercial radio stations, which they used to broadcast their demand for Ruiz's removal. "We have to take to the streets, people of Oaxaca, to remove...Ulises Ruiz from office," said the broadcast.

Other incidents contributed to the increased tensions, such as a drive-by shooting in late August at a barrier erected on a street by APPO. In the incident, a group of hooded assailants opened fire indiscriminately, killing a man at the site. …