"Teachers killed" in
Oaxaca police attack, says union
Several people were killed, according
to local union leaders, when thousands of state and federal police
attacked the encampment (plantón) of striking schoolteachers
in the central square of the Mexican city Oaxaca on 14 June. The
attack was a desperate move by Oaxaca state Governor Ulises Ruiz
Ortíz to crush the more than 50,000 striking schoolteachers,
who have been leading a massive movement calling for Ruiz Ortíz
of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to resign.
But it also fits in with what increasingly
looks like a 'strategy of tension' stoked up by Mexican President
Vicente Fox ahead of the July 2 presidential election. This strategy
has involved the violent attack on San Salvador Atenco, and similar
attacks on striking copper miners and citizens of the Isla Mujeres,
protesting against the establishment on their island of a rubbish
dump for the garbage from nearby tourist resort Cancun.
Several thousand police attacked the teachers'
encampment at 4.40am firing tear gas and brutally beating strikers.
According to the teachers' union SNTE police carried away several
bodies of people shot dead, which has led to the confusion about
the number of fatalities, with the Red Cross at one point reporting
11 dead, while the national teachers' union now puts the figure
at three or four. While the police wrecked the encampment and
set part of it on fire, there is no guarantee they can hold the
zócalo (central square)against a massive and popular movement.
The five-week old strike is much more
than a dispute over teachers' pay. The Oaxaca Section XXII of
the National Education Workers' Union (SNTE) has attracted massive
support for its demands, which include equal pay throughout a
state which is divided into three salary zones based on the supposed
cost of living. The teachers are also demanding an increase for
students receiving grants, which now amount to 450 pesos per month.
That's $40 US dollars. They're demanding decent schools, classroom
supplies, and government funding for uniforms which are out of
reach of so many poor families that the children stay at home.
The SNTE has skilfully contrasted the
lack of resources for education in Oaxaca with the evident corruption
of the PRI state government. Ruiz Ortíz has spent millions
of pesos on unnecessary building works in the central city area,
widely seen as a scam to siphon money to his business cronies.
Moreover, strikers allege that some 900,000 pesos has disappeared
into PRI funds. More than 800 local communities representing Oaxaca's
many ethnicities have supported the SNTE struggle, linking it
to their own demands, repudiating violence, assassination, the
holding of political prisoners, repression of the press and the
heavy hand of political bosses ("caciques"). Teachers
in Mexico, who are generally very badly paid but highly popular
in their local communities, have long been a centre of militancy
and the social movements.
Following the violence on 4 May during
the police attack on Atenco, the subsequent violence and rapes
committed against prisoners following the Atenco raid, the repression
of the Isla Mujeres protests and the attacks on the striking miners,
there is no doubt a generalised pattern of repression, a 'strategy
of tension', is emerging. Two things probably determine this -
the July 2nd presidential election and the 'Other Campaign', propelled
by the Zapatistas (EZLN).
The candidate of Vicente Fox's National
Action Party (PAN), Felipe Calderon, is running neck and neck
with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, candidate of the centre-left
Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). A 15 June opinion poll
result showed that Lopez Obrador has regained the lead, and has
about 35% compared with Calderon's 32%. Mexico's business elite
and the political right are waging a hugely alarmist campaign
against the politically very moderate PRD, alleging the country
is becoming 'ungovernable' and a PRD government would worsen this.
TV images of running fights between protestors and police obviously
contribute to the atmosphere of fear that Fox and the PAN (but
also the PRI) are trying to generate.
At the same time, many militant social
movements and political groupings have participated - more or
less critically - in the EZLN's 'Other Campaign' which aims to
create a broader alliance of social movements on an all-Mexico
level. The attack on Atenco was clearly designed to coincide with
the visit of Subcommandante Marcos as part of the Other Campaign
tour, and was constructed around a giant provocation - preventing
flower sellers setting up stalls on a piece of land owned by Wal-Mart
- which was clearly planned in advance. Marcos and the EZLN are
the other part of the climate of fear that the right wing media
is trying to generate.