Dear Family and Friends,
This is the third email in a series of three I am sending to everyone. Just to let everyone know, I am far away from the city right now, safe and sound, and I plan to stay away for a while. There is nothing more I can do right now. I hope that all of you in the states will continue to put pressure on the embassies and let them know that what is happening in Oaxaca is an absolute outrage that the international community will not allow. The conflict has reached a national level and I have been told (though I´m sure it is in the news in the states) that the PRD party has taken over the congress building in Mexico City to prevent Felipe Calderón from being inaugurated on the 1st. History is being made.


This day will go down in local history as the most intense fighting of the movement so far. Perhaps it will go down in national history as a battle of the revolution. We will remember November 25th alongside November 2nd and November 20th as a day that changed Oaxaca. On the 25th was planned another megamarch and everyone we talked to on the 24th seemed to be interested in going. Not everyone went, some people are scared or just full of bullshit, but the city was abuzz and it was clear this march was going to be a big one. The march was set to begin in the community of Santa María Coyotepec, about 10km outside the city. This community had its day in the movement October 29th, (the same day the Indymedia reporter from New York was shot and killed in gunfire in the community of Santa Lucia del Camino) when the Municipal President suggested that, and then allowed, Priístas from the community to attack the barricade that teachers (mainly from the coastal region) and their supporters had maintained for quite some time on the road that led out of town. The barricade also blocked the entrance to a government building. They attacked the unarmed teachers with machetes and sacked the camp. There were many injuries. I passed through the community the next day. There were several Priísta barricades blocking traffic from passing through the community and people had to go on foot, watching out for the posses of Priístas, armed with machetes that were patrolling the highway. All that remained of the teacher´s barricade were place where pots of corn had been knocked over in panic, scattering their contents all over the street, and charred piles of debris, some of them still smoking, of banners, tarps, and personal belongings. Municipal police, looking like soldiers, patrolled strategic parts of the wall of the government building.
This community, strongly Priísta, was set to be the starting point of the march. We did not go all the way to Santa Maria because we were afraid there would be confrontation before the march began. This did not happen. Busloads of people came in from the Sierra Juarez (the northern mountain region) to support the march. They had recently decided to align themselves with the APPO and convert the more powerful of two community-run radio stations they have there into a means of dispersing political information about the movement. They have a lot of weight to throw around and this alliance certainly helps the APPO. I don´t know how many people marched, but the march went on for as far as the eye could see, five by five. The day was clear and the sun was hot, a break from the cold we had been experiencing. We walked with the march for a while until the busses of our compañeros from the barricades at the university began to drive by. The busses fell in behind the march and the UABJO ambulance from the medical school that always accompanies marchers. In this ambulance rides the famous Doctora Bertha, a professor of the medical school from the Isthmus. She is famous because she is one of the major voices of Radio Universidad and she is very intelligent, level-headed and always gives the most accurate information and the best advice to callers. Of the three major voices of Radio Universidad, I enjoy listening to her the most. She has quite a sense of humor as well. She suggested that, since the PFP were spraying us with the tanquetas, we should start hijacking the trucks that are used to clean septic tanks and become the first movement in Mexican history to spray federal forces with shit. I kind of like the idea. We´ll see if we can get the locos in Cinco Señores to do it. People ran up to the ambulance to shake hands with the Doctora and thank her. I watched it all from a bus, which reeked of gas because it was full of Molotov cocktails.
The march was quite long (about 12km) and it took several hours to arrive downtown. When the march began entering the city, the busses broke away and took an alternate route to the Zócalo. The feeling of driving through the streets was exhilarating. The adrenaline started to pump through my body and I felt almost high, or maybe that feeling was from the gas fumes. (Just kidding.) I wish I could have captured the scene on video, but everyone was really freaked out by cameras and I didn´t want to rile up any of the kids from Cinco Señores. (Their little barricade gang will definitely go down in history.) It was just one of those moments that passes in life that you wish you could share with everyone on earth. I only hope I can do it justice with my words. They didn´t drive into town, they ARRIVED. I imagined busloads of Sandinistas rolling into Managua the 19 th of July to the cheers of the people. Many of the people who were walking on the street as they passed gave them the thumbs up or clapped or yelled their support. If you can imagine, five busloads full of teenagers,twenty-somethings, and their supplies (everything from big, homemade wooden shields to Molotov cocktails to vinegar and Pepsi, to buckets of rocks) dressed in black, covered with bandanas, ski masks, gas masks and hard hats passing by with arms, legs, heads and bodies draped out windows all over the place, shouting, ¨WE´RE GONNA KICK SOME PFP ASS TODAY!¨ (except they would be yelling that in Spanish) and waving cohetes. It was an absolute spectacle. They ARRIVED. They were absolutely a genuine ragtag pueblo security army. I think the adrenaline of simply remembering those moments is getting the best of me and I´d better move on.
They came fully loaded because there was no doubt that we were going to see a heavy confrontation. Just how heavy, we had not imagined. It would not be a matter of provoking the police. The march would take one lap around the Zócalo and people would congregate in front of the PFP on several sides. Then it would only be a matter of time before the police would start throwing gas grenades. They had to be able to defend themselves. It would have been absolutely idiotic to arrive unprepared to engage in combat. They slowly unloaded the supplies out of the view of the PFP and moved the busses into strategic points to blocks streets but also leave themselves with plenty of quick exits. The Pepsi and vinegar stayed on the bus, where it could be distributed to other streets and where we could administer it to people as they ran in and out of the battle zone, their eyes red and wet with tears, gasping. And that is how they came. We were two blocks away from where they threw the first bomb when it went off. It sounded twice as loud as it sounded on the 20th . It echoed through the streets so loud it seemed to shake the buildings. BOOM! It was a sound unlike any I had heard before this visit to Oaxaca.
All of a sudden it seemed like we were surrounded. The police were on the roofs of the buildings surrounding the square and the gas was coming not only from the lines of police but also from above. They were also shooting marbles and throwing rocks. From that height, if a marble had hit you on the head, you´d likely be knocked out, or worse. The safest place to go was the bus and I hopped on board, ready for the other woman to give me orders. Our job was partly assigned to us by our sex, but also because neither of us was planning to dive into the gas fumes to duel with Robo-cops and we were available. And we had people out there. And our men. She gave me basic instructions of what to do and how to administer vinegar-water and soda. We were accompanied by our bus driver, a kid of about 18 who was kind enough to drive us around with the understanding that the bus was for the exclusive transport of our tribe and that it would neither be used as a barricade nor burned. We took refuge from the gas raining down from above and prepared to do our duty, accepting the possible consequences.
We set up a watering station a block from the conflict. At this point, I stopped feeling the endorphins in my body. In fact, I mostly stopped feeling my body. I sprang into action like a machine delivering Pepsi to burning, gushing eyes and vinegar to menstrual pads that were used to reinforce the flimsy masks most people wore. My other half appeared and told me the gas masks had already stopped working. It was now a matter of how long a person could go without breathing and how long you could stand to feel your face and lungs on fire. Luckily, I was a few blocks away from the gas and my eyes were constantly stinging and dripping with tears, but my gas mask worked. At first I wore swimming goggles to keep the gas out of my eyes. I removed them for an instant to clean them. In that instant enough gas entered my eyes that when I put them back on my eyes were literally steaming. The goggles didn´t fill up with tears, but my vision was blocked by the vapor my eyes were emitting from exposure to the gas. I gave up on the goggles and just wiped at my eyes with my hands.
Lots of people I recognized and more that I didn´t would come running out of the smoky cloud of gas and I would pour Pepsi into their outstretched hands. They would slap it on their faces, rub it in their eyes, thank me, and then disappear back into the fray. There were media people all around, mostly independent media, and other gringos who were taking video footage for their own personal benefit. People were constantly yelling at them to turn off their cameras and threatening to take their cameras from them if they insisted on filming. We all pulled our scarves and bandanas a little tighter over our faces and went back to our business. Most of what I remember was the constant stream of dripping eyes and heaving chests that ran in and out of the combat. They ran in circles. They would go to the front, then exit to the side, clean their eyes and noses, and then run to the back and make their way toward the front again. There were other streets that were equally full of people and gas and violence that I can´t write about because I was not there and did not see them. I can only imagine they looked something like the street we were on.
Strategically, the PFP had the advantage in the downtown area. The center of city is old and the streets are very narrow. The people had the advantage on the 2nd because around the University are wide streets and open spaces. The gas dispersed more quickly and the people were able to stick together and fight the federal forces in a mass on one front. Downtown, combat was taking place on several streets and there was no communication between the different groups of people. The gas was thick and dispersed slowly, clinging to the ground. People who were separated by two blocks could hardly see one another. Even though the combatants outnumbered the police, the federal forces had the advantage. At some point a group of police and tanquetas left the Zócalo to circle around from another direction to create a trap. Someone saw what was happening and alerted everyone. Then, another group of PFP exited from a lower street connected to the Zócalo where there was not intense fighting and began to march up Reforma, where we were. We saw them coming from blocks away, but there was little we could do. All of the busses were being used for transportation of people and supplies and none of them were available to make a barricade. The only way to slow the advance of the police was to engage them. Since the tanks and other officers were circling around from several directions, it was likely that lots of people would be stuck. At this point night had fallen and it was difficult to make out anything.
As the police got closer and closer, I gave what Pepsi and vinegar I had left to those who were going to stay and fight it out. The explosions of gas were coming closer and the smoke was getting thicker. At this point, we both realized that there was nothing more we could do. The police had won and now it was a matter of escaping unharmed. We ran for our lives. I don´t know if I have ever run so hard in my life. People were running helter skelter through the streets trying to find their way out of the fog. We ran to our front door and hid in our apartment. The gas explosions came closer and closer until they were right outside our front door, and then they slowly got farther and farther away. After they were at quite a distance, we packed up and headed to Radio Universidad where we figured everyone would go to regroup. Mostly, we were trying to shake the feelings of absolute helplessness that were once again settling in.
100 people were officially arrested that night, and more just disappeared. At least 38 people were wounded. The accounts of what happened in other parts of the city after the organization was lost and people began to scatter were chilling. A group of people ran all the way to the medical school of the UABJO, thinking that due to the autonomy of the University, they might be safe inside. Survivors say that the police began shooting them with rubber bullets and then they just opened fire with 22s. The dead were grabbed by the police and taken away. Nobody knows how many people died on the 25 th because the bodies were stolen. There are so many military personnel interspersed with the PFP, we suspect that those who opened fire were soldiers and not actual PFP. As far as I have seen, the media has not reported any deaths from the 25 th and did not report on the incident at the medical school. Other groups of people were chased through neighborhoods all over the city. The whole city of Oaxaca filled with riot gas. At one point I opened the door of our apartment just for an instant and my nose immediately started to burn with the gas that still hung thickly in the air. I can only imagine that thousands and thousands of city residents and animals that had nothing to do with the conflict were affected by the gas, including the elderly and infants. There is a large difference anyone can note between the style of combat of the movement and the police. Rocks, marbles, cohetes and Molotov cocktails find their targets. The riot gas used by the federal forces covers large areas in a toxic blanket that does not distinguish between the target and the innocent. In this sense, I think their heavy use of the gas is disgusting.
People were hunted all over town. The account of the escape of one female compañera reminds me of a scene from a Hollywood action thriller. The was trapped with others on a street near the Santo Domingo Cathedral. The police had both ends of the street blocked and so she threw herself under a car and hid. The gas came from both ends and soon, the cloud was so thick she couldn´t breathe and she had to come out from her hiding place. She said she saw, just for a few moments, a space open between the ranks of police at one end of the street. She said she ran right at the police, yelling, ¨NOOOO.¨ They hit her on her legs with their batons as she passed, but she didn´t fall; she just kept running. She was able to make her way to a safe place and stayed there for the night. We were all sure she had been grabbed, but then, like a miracle, she showed up with hugs for everyone. Frantic calls came into the radio station from the Llano park, saying they were surrounded. A bus left Radio Universidad to go and rescue people. They were able to pick up some, but only a few.
The media stories show pictures of city workers with high pressure water hoses spraying down buldings downtown. One news source reported, ¨they are cleaning up the blood and the pain of the city.¨

NOVEMBER 29th, 2006

I am far away from Oaxaca city, writing this. Still, the news arrives and I have also looked on the internet to see what is happening. All of the papers are reporting massive abductions and arrests of those involved in the movement by police and Priístas. When you are picked up by police, you are likely to be beaten, tortured and thrown in jail without charges. When you are picked up by the Priístas, your life is in God´s hands. (So to speak.) Even one of the sons of Doctora Bertha was arrested, as well as the brother of Flavio Sosa, a major media figure of the APPO. It is getting really scary. Reports from Mexico City are also finding their way. The PRD has taken over the congress building to prevent the inauguration of Felipe Calderón. They say they will not leave the building until after December 1st, when he is supposed to be sworn in as President of Mexico. There were also rumors flying that the PFP would be called to Mexico City and that they would be replaced by the army. Many of the so-called PFP in Oaxaca are actually military in disguise, but a change of uniform would mean an change of rules. While they are disguised in the uniform of the PFP, they have to follow PFP orders. When they are in military uniforms, they have license to massacre. Horrible images of machine-gun massacres of the movement appear in my mind from time to time. Today, someone told me they had heard on the news that the PFP were going to stay in Oaxaca. If this is true, I am relieved. We know the PFP. We know their strategies, we know their weapons, and we know what they can and cannot do. They are a known enemy. If they are replaced by the military, it will be a whole new ballgame; it will be nothing but death. Things are truly getting very ugly here and I am glad to be far away from it all for short while.

Sincerely, Your Personal News Correspondent in Oaxaca