Mexico: Oaxaca Teachers Rout Cops

From WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE ON THE AMERICAS, ISSUE #855, JUNE 18, 2006

Shortly before 5am on June 14, hundreds of state and local police
agents used tear gas and pepper spray to break up an encampment
that up to 40,000 striking teachers had maintained since May 22
in the central plaza of Oaxaca, capital of the southern Mexican
state of Oaxaca. The agents, including special riot police from
the state attorney general's office and the Oaxaca municipal
government, were supported by a helicopter, from which an agent
hurled dozens of tear gas grenades. The teachers fled into nearby
streets as police agents destroyed their encampment, invaded the
headquarters of their union, Section 22 of the National Education
Workers Union (SNTE), and smashed furniture there. Police agents
also destroyed the equipment of the union's radio station, Radio
Planton ("Radio Sit-in").

The teachers regrouped in less than an hour. Armed with clubs and
covering their faces with dampened cloths as protection against
the tear gas, the teachers counterattacked with rocks and hurled
tear gas grenades back at the agents. Groups of teachers seized
buses and used them as battering rams against the police. As of
9:30am the police had retreated and the teachers had regained the
main plaza. The police arrested 10 teachers during the
confrontation, but the teachers captured eight agents of the
preventive police, including operational subdirector Margarito
Lopez, and two men who were seen throwing tear gas grenades from
a hotel.

According to initial reports from Section 22 and local human
rights groups, 92 people were injured in the confrontation and
four were killed--two teachers and two children. On June 17 the
federal government's National Human Rights Commissions (CNDH)
reported that 66 people, including teachers and police, received
treatment for their injuries in local hospitals and a number
remained hospitalized. The reports of deaths have not been
confirmed. [La Jornada (Mexico) 6/15/06, 6/18/06; El Diario-La
Prensa (NY) 6/15/06 from correspondent]

Section 22 went on strike to demand increases in cost of living
adjustments and in the education budget. In addition to
maintaining the encampment in the plaza, striking teachers
blocked 56 downtown streets, held brief sit-ins at various
government buildings and organized two "megamarches," reportedly
the largest demonstrations in the state's history [see Updates
#853-854]. The failed police assault on June 14 was Mexico's
third large-scale police operation in two months. Two workers
died when police attempted to remove striking workers from a
steel plant in Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan on Apr. 20, and two
people died in a police assault in Texcoco and San Salvador
Atenco in Mexico state on May 3 and 4 [see Updates 847, 849].

In what he called an effort to "ease tensions," on June 15 Oaxaca
governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz agreed to release the 10 arrested
teachers, to suspend 25 arrest warrants against Section 22
leaders and to pay for damage caused by the police attack,
including the destruction of the Radio Planton equipment. Shortly
before the arrested teachers were released, strikers held a
ceremony in Secondary School 1 in which they freed seven of the
captured police agents and the two men seized at the hotel;
police subdirector Lopez was released a few minutes later. On
June 16 the union agreed to negotiate the cost of living
adjustments directly with representatives sent by the federal
Governance Secretariat; teachers' salaries are largely covered by
the federal budget. [LJ 6/16/06]

The June 14 police operation generated major protests in Oaxaca
and other Mexican states. Hundreds of teachers occupied the state
Education Secretariat offices in the neighboring state of
Guerrero on June 14 to show support for the Oaxaca teachers. San
Salvador Atenco residents issued an "alert" in support of the
teachers and demanded a "people's punishment" for Gov. Ruiz. [LJ
6/15/06]

In Oaxaca itself, more than 1,000 people blocked the highway in
Matias Romero in the eastern part of the state on June 15; the
action was called by the Union of Indigenous Communities of the
Northern Zone of the Isthmus (UCIZONI) to support the teachers
and to protest Ruiz's "orchestrated repression" against teachers
and indigenous communities. On June 16 tens of thousands of
teachers and their supporters marched for six hours in the
capital despite a rainstorm; this was Section 22's third
"megamarch" in less than two weeks. Organizers said 300,000
people participated, almost twice as many as in the June 7 march;
the state Public Safety Secretariat put the number at 70,000, and
the governor's office said only 15,000 people marched. Signs
called for Gov. Ruiz's resignation, and leaflets pointed out that
"the people had removed" Oaxaca governors in 1946, 1952 and 1977.

Traditional leaders of Oaxaca indigenous communities also
participated in the march, along with supporters of the center-
left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), whose local
deputies had condemned the strike. There were even members of the
centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Gov. Ruiz's
party, "who think this was too much," a leader of an indigenous
Mixtec community told Hermann Bellinghausen of the daily La
Jornada.

In the southeastern state of Chiapas, teachers marched on June 16
to express solidarity with Oaxaca teachers and to push their own
demands. Thousands demonstrated in Tapachula, near the border
with Guatemala, and about 1,000 marched in San Cristobal de las
Casas; there was also a march in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state
capital. Also on June 16, supporters of "The Other Campaign" of
the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) occupied the
Basic Education Institute in the state of Morelos and blocked the
road between Tlaquiltenango and Jojutla. [LJ 6/16/06, 6/17/06,
6/18/06]

There were calls for protests internationally. In New York, more
than 40 people participated in an emergency rally outside the
Mexican consulate on June 15. The protest was called by the small
leftist Internationalist Group and was supported by a number of
organizations, including the Professional Staff Congress, which
represents faculty and staff at the huge City University of New
York (CUNY). [Eyewitness report]

During the June 14 operation Gov. Ruiz insisted that the federal
government backed his actions, and he asked for reinforcements
from the Federal Preventive Police (PFP). Federal governance
secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza immediately turned down the
request, at least publicly. Unnamed "government sources" told La
Jornada that the administration of President Vicente Fox Quesada
didn't want more damage to its image on both the local and
international level so soon before the July 2 presidential and
congressional elections. Felipe Calderon, presidential candidate
of Fox's center-right National Action Party (PAN), is tied in the
polls with the PRD's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The government
wanted "to avoid having another Atenco happen that could tarnish
the electoral process and hurt the PAN's candidates," one source
said. [LJ 6/15/06]

Local Section 22 has threatened to enforce a boycott of the
national elections in Oaxaca [see Update #854]. A new threat to
the voting came on June 16, when union leaders representing some
four million electrical, telephone and university workers
announced plans for a national general strike on June 28, five
days before the elections, to protest the Fox government's
"interference" in union affairs. The strike call was issued by
the National Workers Union (UNT) to protest the government's
removal of Napoleon Gomez Urrutia as leader of the 250,000-member
National Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM)
in February, which provoked wildcats and the Apr. 20
confrontation in Lazaro Cardenas. In its May 2 convention the
SNTMMRM decided to back Gomez Urrutia against Elias Morales
Hernandez, who was named general secretary by the government.
[EFE 6/16/06 via Yahoo en Espanol; ED-LP 6/28/06 from AP]

Also in Update #855:

--Argentina: Chaco Indigenous Mobilize
--Paraguay: March Against US Troops
--Colombia: Community Leader Murdered
--Colombia: Soldiers Charged in Massacre
--Venezuela: Campesinos, Students March

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