Students Protest in Mexicali
On the crowded second floor of an office building in downtown Mexicali, Mexico, 80 students, workers, professors and youths awaited Carlos Reyes and the news he had to share from the state of Oaxaca in the south. Among the attendees were students from UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and universities in Tijuana and Mexicali.
The chaotic situation in Oaxaca has become almost a poster-child for Mexican activists as movements continue to spring up across the country opposing anything from military patrols to regional poverty to claims of federal election fraud in the recent standoff between ruling president Vicente Fox’s National Action Party candidate, Felipe Calderon, and the popular opposition candidate from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, Andres Obrador.
The November heat that blew through the room didn’t seem to faze any of the Calderon protestors.
The evening before, co-chair of UCI’s Socialist Organizer club, Coral Wheeler, walked across the Mexican border to meet with event leaders in Mexicali. The arguments that might have seemed like political hearsay on the American side of the fence suddenly took on a sense of immediacy.
‘The main purpose of the conference is to inform students and activists in the United States about what is happening in Mexico, especially in regard to the Convencion Nacional Democratica and recent developments in the state of Oaxaca,’ Wheeler said. ‘Much of what is going on is not being reported in the United States, and we felt that by meeting in person with activists in Mexico we could develop a more supportive relationship.’
Reyes has been invited here by Youth of the CND to share his insight on the recent social uprisings and military response in Oaxaca from his position as a leader in the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca).
The group formed in June 2006, in support of the teacher strike that started on May 22 when teachers from the city began a massive demonstration and barricaded much of the city center as part of a peaceful holdout. The teachers initially demanded higher wages and better student conditions, but APPO was subsequently launched when violence started to break out, upon which other citizens decided to form a more official coalition demanding further-reaching regional government reforms, including the resignation of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, governor of Oaxaca.
‘The kids in Oaxaca go to school without any supplies,’ explained Reyes. ‘Many are sick and hungry, and many are even without shoes.’
There was relative calm in the region until late October when a small group of unidentified armed men killed three people, including an American journalist, for unknown reasons. Residents claimed the attackers were connected to the federal police and that they purposefully paved the way for the military to declare the need for an invasion, which occurred at the behest of Fox.
The climax of the action was reached on Nov. 2 when, in direct defiance of the Mexican constitution, federal troops invaded the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca. One of their goals was to prevent APPO from making use of the university’s radio and television broadcasting systems.
‘There is a growing feeling among many activists that a pre-revolutionary situation is developing in Mexico,’ Wheeler continued. ‘Many American media outlets portray Obrador as stubbornly trying to hold onto power, when in fact millions of Mexican citizens believe him to be their rightful leader, as they continue to build up the CND.’
Residents of Oaxaca have also reported dozens of kidnappings taking place as federal forces snatch APPO activists and others off public streets without even exchanging a word. Many of those who disappeared have not been seen again.
Reyes doesn’t need any more inspiration. ‘The government wants to disorganize APPO by lying about us and by restricting our communication, but that will not happen. This is a national, if not international, movement that is quickly growing. If anything, the invasion by federal troops into Oaxaca united the people of Mexico even more.”